Citations:

Text #9147

Wadjenbaum,. Argonauts of the Desert

Excerpts from Introduction:

The structural analysis developed by Claude Levi-Strass invites one to compare the variants of a myth so as to define the rules that led to their transformation. … Levi-Strauss never tried to analyse the Bible with his method, except in a later article from 1988. In this he compared the strange utterance of Zipporah when she circumcised her son (Exod. 4:25-26) to a rite of the Bororos from Brazil, but he admits that the similarity found was only due to a mere coincidence… yet Levi-Strauss seemed to suggest that a proper structural analysis of the Bible could be done.

If we consider the biblical narratives as mythical (even though they recall some historical events) we can examine all the similar narratives found in the literatures of the neighbouring countries, starting with the closest: Syria (notably, the texts from Ugarit that tell of the mythology and religion which the Bible calls ‘Canaanite’), Phoenicia, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Such comparative work has been the object of numerous studies and publications. The main tendency since the end of the nineteenth century has been to think that the Hebrew Bible was born in an essentially Semitic literary context, borrowing notably from mythical themes in Mesopotamian literature. It is common agreed upon that the narratives covering the first eleven chapters of Genesis were inspired by Babylonian myths about the creation of the world and of humans, the herb of immortality, the flood and the confusion of tongues – respectively -found in such texts as the Enuma Elish, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Epic of Enerkar. On the other hand, the book of Kings contains elements that have been confirmed by Assyrian discoveries: some of the names of the kings of Israel and Judah from the ninth to the sixth century BCE have been found in Assyrian and Babylonian archives. The attacks on Samaria by Sargon KK in 782 BCE and on Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BCE have been confirmed by Assyrian and Babylonian sources. … From these facts, it is suggested that the biblical authors had knowledge not only of Mesopotamian mythology that harkens back to the third millennium BCE, which they used as a source for the prologue of Genesis, but also of royal archives proper to Judah and Israel that are the principal sources for the book of Kings. Finally, some biblical laws share obvious similarities with the famous Code of Hammurabi.

Biblical books from Genesis to 2 Kings are continuous… If Assyro-Babylonian literatures offer both mythical and historical parallels to the beginning and end of the Bible, what about all the intermediary narratives (such as the stories of the Patriarchs; slavery in Egypt and the Exodus; the biblical laws given to the people of Israel during their forty years of wandering in the desert; the conquest of the land of Canaan and the division of its territory into twelve tribes, including the period of dissensions that followed its conquest as related in the book of Judges; as well as the beginnings of the united monarchy of Saul, David and Solomon until the division of Israel and Judah into two distinct kingdoms that were eventually annihilated by Assyria and Babylon)? Are these traditions proper to Israel, or can we find similar narratives in the literature of another culture? This work tries to answer these questions through the literature of a country that is not so remote from Judea, a country that since the fourth century BCE spread its culture over the Near East by conquest – Greece. …

From the most exhaustive comparison possible between biblical narratives and Greek mythology, numerous similarities have appeared that cover the vast majority of the narratives in the books of Genesis to 2 Kings, for which very similar equivalents can be found in the texts of the main Greek authors. …

… the Bible borrows mythical literary and philosophical themes from the major Greek authors. Therefore, it would have to have been written after the death of one of the most important of them in 350 BCE, Plato, and after Judea had become a Greek province after the conquest of Alexander the Great. …

As the Bible was authored by one or more Judean scholars educated in the Greek fashion – an education based on literature and philosophy – it is a collection of writings that would have appropriated the Greek tradition in order to make it a national epic of the people of Israel. The Bible is a Hebrew narrative tainted with theological and political philosophy and inspired by the writings of Plato, one that is embellished with Greek myths and adapted to the characters and locations of the Near East.

… the Bible’s author(s) wanted to transpose – in the form of their own national epic – the Ideal State of Plato’s Laws, a political and theological project initiated in the Republic. The biblical story, recalling the foundation of a twelve-tribe State that is endowed with divine laws which enable it to live ideally, seems to be inspired by Plato’s Laws, probably the least known to moderns of the philosopher’s dialogues. … Biblical monotheism owes a debt to Plato. To enhance this platonic utopia with narrative, the biblical author(s) used Greek sources – Herodotus serves as a source for myths and stories in ‘historical prose’. Then come the great Greek mythological cycles: the Argonauts, the Heraclean cycle, the Theban cycle and the Trojan cycles by such authors as Homer, Pindar and the Tragedians…Its author(s) borrowed myths, split them up and transformed them according to need, yet traces were left, perhaps intentionally, of these borrowings. In Genesis-Kings there exists an opposition between the twelve-tribe Ideal State – a State governed only by laws, for which the plan is given by God to Moses and which is founded by Joshua – and the monarchy. The monarchy of the nations in Genesis and Exodus, and that of Israel in the books of Samuel and Kings, is one whose excesses will first bring Israel to division, and then to its eventual downfall. The biblical story from Genesis to Kings is a coherent and unified literary work… the Bible is first and foremost a collection of books – extremely well written, and too rarely read.

Whoever authored the Bible seems to have had access to reliable archives about the kings of Israel and Judah, which are regularly referred to in 1 and 2 Kings. Going back into the past, starting from these historical characters and events, from the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Judean elite to Babylon, the Bible’s author(s) created a masterful fiction, with the fictitious kings as the first causes of decadence: Saul the disobedient possessed king, David the adulterous murderer, and Solomon the apostate tyrant. Before that came the civil war of the tribes against the smallest of them, Benjamin – which explains why Israel later committed the fatal mistake of asking the prophet Samuel for a king. The period of the Judges is characterized by a lack of national unity against the external and sometimes internal enemies. Going further back to the foundation of the twelve-tribe State and the distribution of land via lottery, a form of immutable cadaster that was transmissible from father to son, was directly inspired by Plato’s Laws. Even before that was the wandering in the desert and Moses receiving the Law. Many of these laws can also be seen in the works of Plato. However, many biblical laws do not relate to Greek literature, and can be found in the Code of Hammurabi. As we will see, the Exodus – the great departure from Egypt – also derives from Greek sources. And in Genesis the Patriarchal narratives portray ideal characters faithful to God, who renounce any royal pretension and even the possession of the Promised Land. By following the revers stream of the Bible we are brought back to Babylon, Babel, as the place of departure of Abram to Canaan in Genesis 11, as well as the end of the journey for his Judean descendants in 2 Kings 24-25. This ‘snake biting its own tail’ construction can help us understand the presence of Babylon at the beginning and the end of the Bible. However, this does not necessarily mean that the Bible was born during the Exile. Babylon in the biblical narrative is a character, in the same way as Moses or Yahweh.

The thesis of a Bible born of the Hellenistic era, one that was inspired freely but mainly by Greek literature, gives rise to doubtful reactions because it seems innovative and goes against the dominant theories on the origins of the Bible. … the idea of a Hellenistic dating of the Bible … was long deemed unthinkable. …the Bible only appears in history in the Hellenistic era with certainty, both in terms of manuscripts and of knowledge of the Jews and their religion by Greek and Roman authors. Nothing seems to indicate that the Bible may have existed prior to that period. …

I came into the field of biblical studies like an ethnographer would have… like the ethnographer, I do not believe in the myths and deities of the subjects which I study. …Upon this anthropological basis, I consider Judeo-Christian religion… as I would any other. This must be specified in the very first pages in order to distinguish myself from the ‘believing’ scholars often involved in biblical studies. …

The difficulty of this work is in its confrontation with religious ideology, both Jewish and Christian, which still holds that the Bible is at the least very ancient, if not altogether of divine origin. As a social anthropologist it is my role to take into account the extremely strong resistance a comparative analysis of the Bible with Greek literature will provoke in some quarters; which may explain why a deep comparative analysis of the Bible with Plato’s Laws has not been done before….

I will only underline the religious bias that has kept biblical studies in a close circle; most scholars working in this field are believers, and the most important paradigms still given credit today have been fabricated by theologians, mostly Protestant (Wellhausen, von Rad, etc.) Even though there has been an evolution in recognition of the mythical character of some biblical narratives (at least for the oldest ones in the biblical chronology), they are still thought of as coming from authentic traditions proper to Israel. The idea of a Bible having borrowed its main themes from the Greeks goes against the belief of a divinely revealed text, or of its authentic and original character; the belief that there is something unique in the Bible, something unprecedented, precisely unprecedented by the Greeks. It must be immediately qualified that the biblical text is original and unique, yet its originality and uniqueness derive from how the narratives, most of them coming from the Greek tradition, have been assembled to form a unified and coherent fiction. …

I will show how biblical criticism has become a new version of the biblical myth – its continuation, that has allowed it to remain almost untouchable until the present, even though biblical criticism took the form of scientific speech that shattered religious dogmas. … the Yahwist and the Deuteronomist, objects of numerous publication, are mythical characters in the same sense as Moses and Josiah … in the modern version of the myth of the Bible’s origins. …

I propose to see the Bible as a ‘total social fact… The Bible is a collection of books, but it is also a social fact beyond its content; for it is the basis of two religions. … the relations between Judaism and Christianity are different than what the evolutionist vision of History indicates. If the Hebrew Bible is indeed a Hellenistic book, then Judaism and Christianity both developed in the Greco-Roman and Mediterranean worlds, and both share Hellenic and platonic roots. Neither of them recognize this common background, hidden by their shared belief in the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. The Bible is at the core of two religions, yet it appears that religion may not be a ‘response to a need of spirituality’ but a very efficient instrument of control of one social class over another. As per Pierre Bourdieu, the use of sacred texts and rituals confers legitimacy upon a dominant class over lower classes. This legitimacy hides a symbolic violence, meaning that it reproduces the vision of the dominant class from generation to generation by using ‘pious lies’, transmitted by a pedagogic authority. This never-manifested symbolic violence is at its paroxysm in the absolute denial of the Greek cultural origins of the Judeo-Christian religion. The demonstration of that origin is quite easy, whereas the most difficult part was the conception of the very idea of a Bible inspired by the Greeks, since scholarship on every level – from schools to universities, both secular and religious – had excluded this possibility. …

My skills as a social anthropologist then reside in my ability to describe the biblical phenomenon as a whole, not only in finding the literary sources of its theological and political project (the political dialogues of Plato) and in describing how these sources were adapted in the Bible itself, at the centre of the analysis, but also in analyzing the conditions of its perpetuation. In the present introduction I will treat apologetic works from Jewish and Christian writers of antiquity, who held that the Bible had inspired Greek literature. This shows how old this question is. … The present work may shatter the most deeply anchored belief in the Western mind, the belief in the Jewish origin of both the Old Testament and of Christianity. …We will question the reality of this schism between the two religions… I was personally struck, even mortified by these discoveries, not so much because it damages a belief that I do not have, but because of the simplicity of the solution. … my astonishment that a complete and neutral comparative study of the Bible with Plato had not been done before never decreases. All of this – reactions of hostility to the thesis and its absence during two millennia – are objects of analysis for the anthropologist.

Doubt, hostility and resentment, sometimes expressed verbally and violently, come possibly from the disappointment of my readers and listeners. They can neither conceive that the solution may be that simple nor that none have been known to say it before. Therefore, according to them, I must be wrong and my methodology must be naïve or insufficient. This resistance, this rejection a priori of the thesis, coming both from believers and non-believers, is a testament to the total success of the biblical project and the deep attachment of Westerners to the sacredness of the text.

Text #9148

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Basing his hypothesis on Wesselius’ foundation’s, Wajdenbaum argues that the Primary History - Genesis through 2 Kings - were written by a single author, a Hellenized Judean scholar who used Plato’s ideal state in The Laws as a primary source. As such, biblical Israel is a recreation of that twelve tribes State and the stories surrounding the birth, life and death of that State were inspired by Greek epics. Each chapter presents the biblical material and compares this to the Greek or Roman equivalents, discussing similarities and differences.

What is even more surprising is that there are a couple of stories in the OT that appear to have been inspired by Roman history, specifically, the Rape of the Sabine Women. That would suggest that the author of the OT Primary history had access to the (now lost) works of Diocles of Peparethus who was the source for the history of Fabius Pictor as we are told by Plutarch. Diocles’ own sources are unknown.

Obviously, the bottom line of all this research and unsettling conclusions is that the Hebrew Bible is certainly not a history of Israel and, as the archaeological record reveals, there probably was no early kingdom of Israel as described in the Bible yet it has been believed in for millennia as fervently as people believe that the sun will rise. The reactions to the above types of analyses are usually outright rejection even in the face of accumulating mountains of evidence that is considered conclusive in any other field of endeavor OTHER than Biblical Criticism. It is asked: if all this is true, how could generation after generation of scholars not have seen it? Wajdenbaum, trained as an anthropologist, is entirely competent to answer this question and he deals with it in his conclusions and that part of the book is well worth reading on its own.

Wajdenbaum proposes the Hasmonean era as being the most likely period in which the OT was established as the official national history of Israel and Judah. This was a time of a religious war between conservative and Hellenized Jews as described in the books of Maccabees, and part of the conflict may have been over whether or not this text was a real history of the Jews or not. The priests of the new Jewish state had the power to promote the Bible to sacred status and it was during the reign of the Hasmoneans that a man coming from Palestine, Antiochus of Ascalon, became the head of the Platonic Academy in Athens.

In a few generations, the Bible was accepted as the official history and after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the rabbinical tradition that evolved forbade the teaching of “Greek Wisdom” so a confrontation between the text and its Greek sources was prevented. Christianity, carrying aspects of Judaism into the Greco-Roman world, faced pagans who pointed out the obvious: that the OT was based on Greek sources. The Church Fathers turned those arguments against them and proposed the “Satanic Imitation” theory to cover a multitude of comparisons. When Constantine gave power to the church, the question was answered by persecution by the Church/State and soon, the Christian emperor Justinian, closed the Platonic Academy.

Most Biblical Criticism today is still conducted by “true believers” in the sanctity and primacy of the text and it is in the form of the perpetuation of this dogma rather than true study and research. The Bart Ehrman “Search for the Historical Jesus of Nazareth” debacle of recent times is a case in point. He falls back on his title that gives him (and only others like him - believers all) the legitimacy to speak authoritatively about the Bible. Real scientific critics are not allowed to enter the biblical field. If they do, they are shouted down or ignored away by the Churches that grant the authority. As Wajdenbaum writes:

… [T]he game of confrontation between different paradigms during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has only had the effect of diverting the quest for the sources of the Bible to within the Bible itself, a purely circular reasoning; Greek classical literature, although available in any university library, has remained confined to the fields of Greek studies and philosophy. …Thus, even if biblical studies took on an appearance of a scientific speech that challenged the religious dogma, it has not, until very recently, crossed the line of suggesting Greek sources as direct inspiration for the Old Testament, a most unthinkable idea. The ignorance of such a possibility, the reactions of surprise, doubt and sarcastic hostility to my even suggesting it, are the result of more than twenty centuries of symbolic violence, exerted partly on the tacit demand of the believers. …the maintaining of the Bible as a sacred text seems to have little to do with spirituality or belief; rather, it has to do with relations of power between the sacerdotal and aristocratic classes. […]

“In ‘Language and Symbolic Power’, Bourdieu raises the question of censorship in an intellectual field, based on his own critique of a text by Martin Heidegger. Censorship does not necessarily come from an external authority, or even from the subject that would censor himself. The mechanism comes from symbolic violence, and the ignorance that it supposes…’

“In the case of the Bible, entire generations of scholars felt that they were allowed to speak only of the J, E, D and P sources. The imposition of a precise form in that field goes by a mandatory recognition of the theories produced by theologians, under penalty of ejection. …The Biblical question is paradigmantic of Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic violence, as Christianity is the dominant ideology of the Western civilisation. The refusal to recognise the Western roots of that religion, presented as necessarily oriental and Semitic, is the source of the most unbearable and oppressive symbolic violence exerted on every subject, from believers to atheists, who all ignore that which they should know. … Christianity is Platonism for the People - that is the main ideology of our civilisation that has yet to be expressed in its objective truth.”

Text #9149

Wesselius. The Origin of the History of Israel

I shall first attempt to demonstrate that in both works in their present shape there is a common element, which, though well hidden and hitherto never noticed, is so characteristic that it is almost unthinkable that there would not be a direct connection between the two, namely the important position of the key figures of Joseph, the son of the patriarch Jacob, who became viceroy of Egypt, on the one hand, and King Cyrus, the founder of the great Persian empire on the other. … there are a number of rather precise parallels between individual members of the families of Joseph and Cyrus, and that on this basis we can postulate a striking congruence between the genealogy of the patriarchs and that of the Persian Median royal house, exposing a number of parallelisms between persons belonging to corresponding generations. The most surprising of these parallels is between the figures of Moses and King Xerxes, not in the description of their character, appearance or course of life, but in certain aspects of their careers as leaders of their people. It will be noted in this connection that the main subjects of Primary History and the work of Herodotus are surprisingly similar: a leader, summoned by the divinity, brings an enormous army into another continent across a body of water as on dry land in order to conquer a country there. In both cases, the conquest finally comes to naught when the last city remaining in the hands of the conquerors is reduced by means of a gruelling siege. … (p. 5-6)

To our modern sense of composition it is a rather remarkable and unusual procedure to copy structural elements from an existing literary or literary-religious work into a new one without the intention of a parody or paraphrase that would be evident to every educated reader. It would seem, however, that it was sometimes done in antiquity. … the general pattern is clear: in certain Israelite groups there was an accepted literary habit of reusing characteristic structural elements of certain highly valued and more or less classical books when writing a new work. … if such elements have been transformed in some way it is far more difficult to discern the relation, as the works may have very little likeness on the surface.

For this reason the possibility should be considered very seriously that this method of copying the structure of existing works for a new one was far more common than we have hitherto realized. By the very nature of this procedure the agreement will usually not be very striking: our usual classifications according to literary genre and contents will often obscure the parallel rather than reveal it. A direct application of the theory of literary transformation proposed here may be found in the well-known phenomenon of biblical stories that exhibit significant similarity of the use of certain expressions, personal names or structure of the narrative. More or less well-known examples are the story of Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38) in comparison with that of Amnon and the other Tamar (2Sam. 14), the elimination of the first three sons of Jacob and David from the succession, making way for the desired successors Judah and Solomon, and the story about the inhospitality of the inhabitants of Sodom (Gen 19) compared with the episode of the Levite and his concubine in Gibeah (Judg. 19)In has been remarked that in many such cases we are dealing with parallels between stories in the Pentateuch on one side and in Judges, Joshua and the books of Samuel and Kings, the Former Prophets of the Jewish canon, on the other, which are in this way apparently deliberately connected. On another level, it is well known that the story of the patriarch saying of his wife that she is his sister, with all the complications that result from it, is told three times in the book of Genesis, twice of Abraham and once of Isaac, and although these instances can hardly be completely independent from one another, each has its own distinct function within its context. It would seem that in all these cases structural elements of one story have been incorporated into another in more or less the same way that we meet elements of the work of Herodotus in the biblical historical work. We may be justified in concluding that in this way we have identified one of the leading principles of the literary composition of Primary History, which has largely remained unrecognized through its unexpectedness and location outside of current literary models.

All this does not mean, of course, that there is a really significant similarity between the figures of Cyrus and Joseph in character, appearance or way of life, and this is even more true for the other parallel figures and the events of their lives in Herodotus and Primary History. There is very little likeness, of course, between Xerxes, the tyrannical king par excellence, whimsical, cruel, magnanimous at times, but cowardly at heart, and Moses the God-sent law-giver and leader of the people of Israel, who is said to tower above all who have come since (Deut 34:10); or between the noble and hospitable Abraham, who wins his victory over the kings of the east through sheer valour, and the treacherous king Cyaxares, who gains his great victory over the Scythians through inviting them to a banquet, making them drunk and then attacking them suddenly. These pairs of persons are not similar, i.e. they do not really look like each other, but they are congruent: they undergo or commit similar acts, or there are other agreements that do not seem essential for the descriptions. The parallels do not therefore, link these persons only, but more especially the texts in which they figure, and in this case they connect Primary History very closely with the work of Herodotus. This purpose of the parallelism is stressed by making the family trees congruent also. … the position of these stories within their respective works seems to be too specific to be explained from a common model – apart from the problem that we know of no other work with this structural framework. The series of cases of deception in the first book of both works, both starting from making a member of the family concerned believe that a certain piece of meat is the venison brought to him, whereas it is, in fact, something completely different (two kids in the case of Isaac, and the flesh of a young median man with Cyaxares), and resulting in certain important changes in the lives of the key figures Joseph and Cyrus, are very much alike in spite of the evident differences of details, and would by themselves constitute a highly significant similarity. A coincidental occurrence of all these similarities at the same time seems very unlikely. When the congruence between the family trees and the persons figuring in them is added, coincidence can effectively be excluded as a cause. …

The next question is what direction the influence has taken… There is one very famous episode … where the priority of Herodotus’s account is very likely, namely the stories of the crossing of the sea by the people of Israel and by Xerxes’ army. In the latter case we are dealing with a reasonably well-documented historical event, in which a very real barrier for the Persian king’s army was crossed by means of two bridges of boats, to the amazement of the contemporaries. The case of the crossing of the Red Sea, by contrast, is regarded as highly problematic by many scholars who have commented on it. The indications for its location, for example, are so ambiguous that numerous identifications have been proposed for the place where it all happened, and nearly every body of water between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea (in the modern sense) has at some time been regarded as the correct location. If there is indeed a relationship between the two episodes, the Exodus account must be dependent on the Herodotus story, not the other way round. … What should be noted, moreover, for this event as for several others in Primary History, is that the parallel with the Histories is by itself sufficient to explain the course of events in Primary History, and that historically speaking the latter text provides empty information only: when the link with the Histories is observed, no independent claim to historical correctness results. …

The congruence of the genealogy of the well-known royal house of Persia with that of the patriarchs can only be explained as a borrowing of the latter from the former. It can also be observed that in some places the biblical account encounters certain logical problems. As noted… Moses’ position as a third-generation descendant of Jacob is especially difficult to explain unless one assumes a dependence of the biblical genealogy on Herodotus. (excerpts chapter 2)

Text #9150

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

One of the main discussions of Wesselius’ book is how the biblical author took himself out of the narrative, unlike Herodotus who is ever present, expressing opinions, belief, disbelief, and more. The Primary History of the OT was cleverly written as a “dossier”, cunningly setting up a more or less linear account of events while, at the same time, producing the effect of being a compilation of documents, stories, administrative texts and lists, etc. But the unity of the work is revealed in the intertextuality that binds the whole together as a single, massive, masterful, literary production.

Wesselius further discusses a three level division of the narrative which reveals that the author placed clues within the text for the attentive reader to figure out what he was doing and to draw the obvious comparisons. Even though there are conflicting or contradictory stories in the text, it is clear that the author intended the reader to draw from that the same ideas that were presented by Herodotus in his authorial voice of running commentary. The over-arching purpose of the text is to show the author’s belief about Israel’s special relationship with its God and his plans for his people.

Wesselius concludes that we can basically toss out the Wellhausen model of gradual accretion of texts and recognize that the production of the Hebrew bible was not a process of addition, selection, and redaction that is usually supposed, but the conscious production of separate works that were designed to look like collected dossiers, but were, in fact, composed as parts of a unitary work.

If one considers what Wesselius has demonstrated in this book, with Gmirkin’s and Louden’s work, and the follow-up to Wesselius, Philippe Wajdenbaum’s “Argonauts of the Desert”, it becomes obvious that the OT was a very late production indeed and almost no part of it is an original history of Israel though the author took care to utilize real historical elements at appropriate points, and certainly may have had some local tales and legends to add to the mix by building them up into important stories by utilizing the histories and myths of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and - shockingly - even the Romans.

The end result of all this is commented on by Wesselius in his conclusion:

“A significant part of what is regarded as common memory in large parts of the world - the biblical stories about Joseph, Moses, David and other generally known personages, and the all-important episodes of oppression in Egypt, Exodus, journey through the wilderness and conquest of the Promised Land - probably originated in their present form in the mind of one person only, a highly talented author… His masterful work with its threefold level of understanding, together with his choice for anonymous authorship, assured that the work rapidly became a tremendous success, and would be read, used and studied more intensely than any other work before or since. It formed the conceptual and historical framework for the rest of the books of the Hebrew Bible, and from there for the host of literature flourishing around the beginning of our era. From his work, in the final analysis, the great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam took their point of departure. Our anonymous writer truly was the most successful author of all time.”

And that’s the horror and tragedy of it all.

Text #9151

Gmirkin. Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus

Conclusions about the relationship between the Exodus story and Manetho’s account of the rise and fall of the Hyksos Dynasty must begin with an accurate appraisal of Manetho’s sources. An Egyptian king-list related to the Turin Canon formed the skeleton of his account of the Hyksos Dynasty XV. This was fleshed out by a negative account of the Hyksos conquest and oppression of Egypt and later expulsion taken from a late literary source that was influenced by the recent Persian conquest of Egypt as well as by the legend of Nectanebos. Manetho also drew on contemporary etymological speculation that interpreted the term Hyksos to refer to rulers of Shasu (Arab) descent. Manetho’s account was thus entirely based on native Egyptian sources, supplemented only by Hecataeus of Abdera’s Aegyptiaca.

Manetho predated the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of Jewish writings. This chronological consideration alone excludes possible influence of the Jewish Exodus story on Manetho’s account of the Hyksos. To the extent that Manetho’s account of the Hyksos was colored by later developments, it reflected native resentment against the conquest and occupation of Egypt by the Persians and the related occupation of parts of the eastern Delta by Arabs. Manetho’s account of the Hyksos Dynasty does not show familiarity with Jewish traditions equating the Hyksos with the Jews. Indeed, Manetho recorded an entirely different theory that some had proposed, identifying the Hyksos as Arabs.

Despite the eventual settlement of the Hyksos in Jerusalem and geographical Judea, Manetho did not bring the Hyksos into ethnic or historical relationship with the Jews except as an afterthought at the very end, when he equated the Hyksos migration to “Syria” with the colonization of Judea and Jerusalem recounted by Hecataeus of Abdera. Since he later mentioned Moses, founder of the Jewish nation, in connection with events in the Ramesside period, it may be questioned whether Manetho regarded the Jews as the original inhabitants of Jerusalem and “the land which is now called Judea.” Rather, Manetho may have viewed the Hyksos as the precursors of the Jews of Judea. …

That said, the parallels between Manetho’s account of the Hyksos and the Jewish Exodus account are numerous and striking. … Yet Manetho shows no trace of dependence or even awareness of Jewish traditions. This strongly suggests the possibility that Manetho was chronologically prior to the Exodus account and that the Pentateuchal tradition was dependent on Manetho. …

The evidence for the dependence of the Pentateuch on Manetho is of two types. First, there are the many details shared by the Exodus account and Manetho’s description of the Hyksos. Second - and at first glance paradoxically - there are the many other details in which the Pentateuch and Manetho were in diametric disagreement. … the points of agreement and disagreement are anything but random or arbitrary. Rather, there is a systematic, consistent, predictable pattern in the points of similarity and violent contradiction. This pattern is intrinsic to the nature of polemics and is easy to describe. On details that were neutral to the reputation of the Jews, the Pentateuch accepted Manetho’s account. The Pentateuch indeed accepted as much of Manetho’s account as possible, due to the authority and reputation of Manetho. But on details that reflected unfavorably on the Jews, the Pentateuch actively contradicted the account in Manetho. The purpose of the Pentateuch story was not to reject Manetho’s authoritative account in its entirety, based as it was on ancient Egyptian records. Rather, the authors of the Jewish Exodus story chose their battles carefully, accepting the basic framework of Manetho’s account, accepting whatever details were deemed harmless, ut rising to the defense of the Jews on every point of honor. Such was the essential character of polemical literature. … All major points of criticism against the Hyksos account were answered in the Jewish account. …

The evidence points to the Exodus account having been a response to Manetho rather than Manetho having responded to Jewish tradition. … Around 285 BCE Manetho incorporated into his history of Egypt an account of the Hyksos period based on native Egyptian records (and also countering Hecataeus of Abdera’s Aegyptiaca). Sometime after 285 BCE the Jews wrote the Exodus story in response to Manetho’s history. … There is no evidence that the Exodus account preserved an ancient or authoritative historical memory of Jewish residence in Egypt or of the Hyksos period. Rather, a number of features of the Exodus story appear specifically to reflect late and unhistorical traditions previously recorded only in Manetho. One may include among these features Manetho’s incorrect interpretation of Hyksos as signifying Shepherd Kings or shepherd-captives. Both interpretations were historically incorrect, yet both were incorporated into the Exodus account.Similarly, the details of the Hyksos oppression that actually derived from later Egyptian experiences under the Persians found their way into the Exodus account. The description of the excesses of the Hyksos unique to Manetho - pillaging and oppressing Egypt, spoiling the temples and attempting to exterminate the Egyptian people - were drawn from the relatively recent conquests under Cambyses and Artaxerxes III Ochus. Yet these details found response in the Exodus story, demonstrating the late date of the Pentateuch account and its specific dependence on Manetho. The Exodus story thus appears to have its foundation in polemics against Manetho rather than an independent memory of ancient historical events. […]

Manetho’s story of Osarseph and the polluted Egyptians drew exclusively on native Egyptian sources containing themes related to those in Ritual for the Expulsion of Seth and his Confederates, supplemented only by Hecataeus of Abdera. The many striking parallels with Exodus story, notably the expulsion motif, led many in the past to assume that Manetho’s account was a slanderous parody of the Exodus story. Yet Manetho shows no awareness of the Jewish Exodus account, but relied entirely on native Egyptian materials. The extensive parallels between Manetho and the Exodus story must therefore be accounted for in some other manner, and the only alternative is that the Jewish Exodus story account responds to Manetho. …

The association of Ramesses with the Exodus story appears to have derived from Manetho. These references to Ramesside locales create great difficulties for those who attempt to view the Exodus account as a historical memory. Following the biblical data, the Soujourn is commonly thought to have begun several hundred years before the Ramesside period, perhaps in the period of Hyksos domination, yet on first entering Egypt, the Israelites weer said to have been allocated territory in ‘the land of Rameses.” This obvious anachronism is explained by the relationship of the Pentateuch account to Manetho. If the Sojourn of the Pentateuch mingled data appropriate to the Hyksos and Ramesside periods, this is because the Pentateuch responded to stories in Manetho set in precisely these two eras. […]

Although Manetho identified Osarseph, the leader of the polluted Egyptians, with Moses, in the Pentateuch Osarseph was the model for the figure Joseph. The relationship between the names Osarseph and Joseph has often been noted. Most often it has been suggested that the name Osarseph substitues the Egyptian theophoric element Osar (from Osiris) for the Jewish theophoric element Yah. However, the only Jewish figure referred to in Manetho was Moses, which renders that suggestion dubious: if Osarseph was based on Joseph, why did Manetho report his identification with Moses? Given that Manetho made no connection between Osarseph and Joseph, a relationship between these figures is plausible only if the transformation took place in the opposite direction: that the name Joseph derived from Manetho’s Osarseph. Significantly, while Manetho identified Osarseph as an Egyptian priest from Heliopolis, Joseph - though not himself a priest - married one Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, and Egyptian priest from Heliopolis (On). … Much as Osarseph summoned the Hyksos from Judea, so Joseph summoned his relatives from Judea where they were settled, at his request, in Goshen. …

The Exodus story did not directly acknowledge the Egyptian slander that the Jews worshipped Seth-Typhon. And yet Exodus did acknowledge that Jewish animal sacrifices were an abomination to the Egyptians (Exod. 8:25-28; cf. Gen 46:32-34). It was partially for this reason that the Jew requested to be permitted to journey three days into the desert to sacrifice to their God (Exod 8:25-28). Interestingly, the god Seth-Typhon was viewed as god of the desert.

Finally, there was the Exodus itself. Although the Pentateuch emphasized the incompatibility of Jewish and Egyptian religion, it did not record Jewish acts of violence against the temples of Egypt. Quite the contrary, it claimed that the Egyptians prevented the Jews from practicing their religion. One Pentateuchal tradition does possibly imply a Jewish looting of Egyptian templs, however. Exodus 12:35-36 said that the Jews were instructed to spoil the Egyptians, and listed the loot they obtained as golden ornaments and clothes. This may have referred to golden vessels and gods’ robes from the temples. If so, it may display awareness of the tradition in Manetho that the Jews pillaged the Egyptian temples. In the Pentateuch’s account, it was claimed that this loot was not seized violently, but given voluntarily by the Egyptians out of love for the Jews.

The Pentateuch consistently denied that the Jews fought, enslaved or spoiled the Egyptians. In Manetho’s account the Hyksos and polluted Egyptians rebelled against Egypt and were eventually expelled into Syria (perhaps Judea) by the army of Ramesses. A forcible Egyptian expulsion of the Jews appears to lurk behind the story of the exodus. … the Pentateuch carefully avoided portraying the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh as military in nature. Instead, Moses fought Pharaoh with the weapons of magic. If there was a war, it was one-sided: the Jews were merely trying to leave Egypt, but Pharaoh sent a pursuing army with chariots. Here the parallel with Manetho’s account is striking, for Manetho reported that Ramesses’ army pursued the fleeing Hyksos and polluted Egyptians across the desert in a series of military encounters that drove them back into Syria. The Exodus account preserved the pursuit of Pharaoh’s army, but had it end badly for the Egyptians. …

In summary, the Exodus story contained extensive polemics against Manetho’s story of Osarseph and the polluted Egyptians (as well as his earlier story of the Shepherd Kings). The identification of the polluted Egyptians as Jews by some of Manetho’s contemporaries required a vigorous response. Details of the story that did not reflect badly on the Jews… were accepted in the Jewish version of events. The unjust employment of the polluted Egyptians as slave labor was enthusiastically adopted in the Pentateuch as demonstrat6ing the oppressive tyranny of the pharaohs. The authors of the Jewish Exodus story naturally denied that the Jews led an armed uprising against the Egyptians or looted their temples. Several Pentateuchal passages contained polemics against the tradition that the Jews suffered from leprosy or other maladies. There is a clear pattern of accepting details neutral or favorable to the Jews and vigorously contesting other details that reflected negatively on the Jewish reputation. While Manetho displayed no awareness of the Jewish tradition, the story of the Sojourn and Exodus of the Jews engaged in systematic polemics against Manetho.

This, in turn has two important implications. The first is chronological: the Exodus account must postdate Manetho. The second is historical: the navite Egyptian materials used by Manetho do indeed contain historical recollections of the Hyksos period and of the Remesside revival of the Seth cult, colored by the recent Persian conquest and contemporary negative attitudes towards the cult of Seth-Typhon; but the Jewish Exodus story did not draw on an independent recollection of actual events from the past and thus lacks a genuine historical basis. A search for the history behind the Jewish Sojourn and Exodus is misguided: these stories appear to contain nothing more substantial than polemics against Manetho. (excerpts from Conclusions in Chapter 7, pp. 187 -191)

Text #9152

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Gmirkin goes on to suggest that the figure of Moses was based on Nectanebos II (359-343 BC), the last pharaoh of Egypt who was forced into exile by Artaxerxes III Ochus, but was expected to return someday to save his people from Persian oppression. In some accounts, he was described as a magician and when he fled to Ethiopia, he carried with him all the loot he could gather. Gmirkin notes that Nectanebos was depicted as having used his magical powers to destroy his enemies by drowning them in the sea. Supposedly, this was based on the fact that Nectanebos won a battle against Artaxerses II in 353-350 BC when the rising of the Nile flooded the enemy positions. Additionally, part of Artaxerxes army drowned in the bogs of Lake Sirbonis in 343 BC. (The account of this event is found in Diodorus 16.46.5.) Gmirkin thinks that the authors of the Exodus story obtained these bits of their literary construction from ancient documents such as The Dream of Nectanebos, the Demotic Chronicle, and the Alexander Romance, all of which were available in early 3rd century Alexandria.

Gmirkin next tells us that the “land of Goshen” where the Israelites were confined upon arriving in Egypt was actually the “land of Gesham of Arabia”. This was a site of an Arabian garrison that guarded the canal constructed under Darius I in ca. 518-513 BC linking the Nile and the Red Sea. It was only in the 5th century BC that this area became known as the “land of Gesham.” This canal had been begun by Pharaoh Necho II (610-595 BC) who soon abandoned the project. It was completed by Darius I and later fell into disuse probably because of sedimentation. Then, the famous Pithom Stele documented the reopening of the canal under Ptolemy II Philadelphus.

The description of the land and route of the Exodus reflect geographical details of the Ptolemaic period when the itinerary was being written. The Exodus account specifies the location “Pihahiroth” which, as Albright pointed out, is an Aramaic expression meaning “mouth of the canal.” This suggests that the body of water that the authors of Exodus had their Israelites cross was the canal linking Lake Timsah and the Red Sea. This canal was wide enough for two triremes side by side, and was about 16 meters deep. It was a formidable obstacle on the Egyptian border and was part of Egypt’s defenses. If there had not been such a barrier, leaving Egypt would not have been a problem.

There were problems completing the canal and in 274/273 BC, Ptolemy II’s engineers solved the problem by inventing the water lock and the canal was then finished. This occurred at about the same time that the Exodus was being written and strongly suggests that the episode of the Crossing of the Red Sea was influenced by the invention of the water lock which was a technological marvel of its time.

… in Exodus the wall of water was effected by miraculous means, not mechanical. The water lock at Arsinoe was a contemporary symbol of Ptolemaic engineering genius. In the Exodus account, Ptolemy’s engineering marvel was in effect exceeded by Moses. … In the Exodus account, Moses’ miraculous ability indeed did Pharaoh Ptolemy one better: after the Israelites passed through, Moses used his powers to drown Pharaoh’s army. This event turned on its head the technological accomplishments. …The drowning of Pharaoh’s troops by Moses artfully combined the miracle-worker motif of Moses-as-Nectanebos, the theme of deliverance from the Egyptians, the idea of a wall of water, and the motif of the Jews eviction from Egypt. The Crossing of the Red Sea was truly the centerpiece of the newly composed Exodus Story, drawing from diverse strands from contemporary Alexandrian literature and culture. (Gmirkin, op. cit. p. 237 and footnote 111.)

Text #9153

Louden. "Homer’s Odyssey and the Near East

I will argue that Genesis shares more genres of myth in in common with the Odyssey than does any other ancient narrative. …

Why do commentators usually omit consideration of the substantial parallels between Homeric and OT myth. Modern audiences may, even without realizing, project their beliefs onto how they read ancient texts. Given the long dominance of Christianity and Judaism in the West, a majority of modern Western audience, whether consciously or unconsciously, may, on the basis of their faith, ‘regard biblical and Homeric narratives as opposites, seeing the former as “true” or “real,” but the latter as “false,” “unreal,” or “fictional.” Intentionally or unintentionally, faith has erected a wall between the study of the two narrative traditions. …

The Near Eastern parallels also serve as a challenge to the theory that Homeric epic descends from an Indo-European prototype, or largely reflects or conforms to an Indo-European inheritance. Though Greek is certainly an Indo-European language, and Homeric epic may very well retain some motifs from an Indo-European inheritance, the unproven assumption that it is largely or primarily Indo-European has, in my view, hindered study of arguably deeper and more numerous parallels Homeric epic exhibits with Near Eastern myth and epic. … the genres of myth, the narrative vehicles… suggest extensive interaction with non-Indo-European Near Eastern cultures. … The presence of the same genres in various Near Eastern traditions, many of which predate Homeric epic, suggests that not only does Near Eastern narrative offer a more germane context for interpreting the Odyssey, in many respects, but that the Odyssey may just as well be responding to Near Eastern mythic traditions as to the Iliad. …

OT myth’s relevance is evident in the close parallels three well-known myths offer to the Odyssey. Joseph, separated from his brothers and father for virtually the same length of time Odysseus is away from Ithaka, meets with them unrecognized, submits them to various painful tests, before revealing his identity to them. The recognition scenes serve as the climax to his narrative, as do Odysseus recognition scenes with Penelope and Laertes. The parallels suggest a highly developed form of romance, with intricate recognition scenes, is a mythical genre common to both Greek and Israelite culture…. Odysseus’ crew, confined on Thrinakia for a month, in revolt, sacrificing Helos’ cattle in a perverse ritual, offers extensive parallels to the Israelites’ revolt against Moses, and perverse worship of the gilded calf in Exodus 32. The myths of Johan and Odysseus suggest that Greek and Israelite culture both have a genre of myth we might think of as the fantastic voyage. …

As I will argue, the parallels are far too frequent and close (differences in tone and narrative agendas notwithstanding) for coincidence. … The Odyssey, for instance, uses theoxeny as episodes in the lives of warriors, Odysseus, Nestor, and Telemachos, whereas OT myth employs theoxeny as episodes in the lives of patriarchs Abraham and Lot. Because of the different type of characters featured, the respective instance have different modalities. The warrior Odysseus himself carries out the destruction of the suitors, as demanded by Athena, whereas in Genesis 19 destruction rains down from the sky. …

Greek myth is best understood as having a dialogic relationship with Near Eastern myth, and a particularly close and multifaceted relationship with OT myth… Israelite culture was not monotheistic as early as modern audiences might assume. The Israelites were fully polytheistic at an earlier period, and only gradually, over centuries… did a majority of their culture convert to monotheism. …

Recent work on the OT has dramatically brought forward the dates for when the texts reached a form like that which we have. … If we consider how widespread were Greek language and culture during the time in which OT narratives reached their final form, and how comparatively limited was the use of Hebrew, the likelihood that OT writers were influenced by Hellenistic culture, rather than the other way around, increases considerably.

… The episode at 2 Samuel 21:19, where Elhanan slays Goliath, Yadin argues that this is the earlier passage, that the story was later appropriated by the David tradition. Since the version of the episode is significantly shorter in the Septuagint, scholars see the Masoretic Text as a later expansion, reflecting the influence of Homeric epic. …

If Genesis is the book of OT myth, with the most parallels with the Odyssey, Jacob is the character that participates in the greatest number of genres of myth found in the Odyssey. Parallels and differences between Jacob and Homeric protagonists illustrate a key difference between the respective mythic traditions. The Odyssey has heroes, warriors, kings and their families as its protagonists and central characters, whereas Genesis, employing many of the same genres of myth, has patriarchs and their families as its protagonists. Menelaus wrestles with Proteus, as Jacob does with Yahweh (Gen 32:22-32); Nestor hosts a positive theoxeny as Abraham does in Genesis 18; Telemachos hosts a negative theoxeny as Lot does in Genesis 19; Odysseus’ recognition scenes closely parallel Joseph’s in Genesis 43-4. Genesis shares considerable parallels with the Odyssey because the Torah offers large-scale parallels, wandering and return, a nostos, sometimes put forth as a generic classification for the Odyssey.

My view of the Homeric gods is close to Allan’s recent study. He convincingly undermines long-held assumptions that the Homeric Olympians in the Odyssey are incompatible with those in the Iliad in their sense of justice, or that in both epics we should see them as amoral. Though he does not consider the Near Eastern texts with which we are here concerned, my own conclusion is that Homeric epic maintains very similar notions of justice, reward, and punishment, as does OT myth… When contemporary commentators argue that a specific act by a Homeric god is immoral or amoral, they do not place the act within an ancient context to see whether or not in other cultures of the same period, such as OT myth, a god behaves in the same manner, with a sense of justice perhaps equally at odds with modern notions. I will argue that Yahweh’s destruction of all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, or having the Israelites slay each other in Exodus 32 until over 3,000 die, are at least as problematic as Poseidon’s destruction of the Phaikian crew in Odyssey 13.

Text #9154

First. Jewish History in Conflict

According to Seder Olam Rabbah (SO), the work that forms the basis for almost all rabbinic chronology, the period from the defeat of the Babylonians by the Medeo-Persians until the beginning of Greek rule encompassed 52 years and spanned the reigns of three Persian kings. …

SO is a rabbinic chronological work attributed by the Talmud to R. Yose b. Halafta (2nd century CE). SO’s chronology of the Persian and Second Temple periods can be easily constructed from several passages within the work. According to the SO chronology:

  1. The length of the period from the defeat of the Babylonians by the Medeo-Persians until the beginning of the Greek period was 52 years.
  2. These 52 years spanned the reigns of one Medean king and three Persian kings: Koresh, Ahashverosh, and Daryavesh.
  3. The length of the period from the commencement of the building of the Second Temple in the reign of Daryavesh until the beginning of the Greek period was 34 years.
  4. The length of the entire Second Temple period was 420 years. The period of Persian dominion spanned the first 34 of these years, and the periods of Greek, Hasmonean, and Roman dominion spanned the followeing 386 years.

If the destruction of the Second Temple took place in the year 70 CE, the SO chronology would imply that the Medeo-Persian period commenced in the year 369 BCE, that the commencement of the building of the Second Temple was in the year 351 BCE, and that the entire Medeo-Persian period spanned only the years 369 to 317 BCE.

The conventional chronology was derived largely from the narrative works of Greek historians from the Persian period and from the astronomical tables of the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy (2nd century CE). According to the conventional chronology:

  1. The length of the period from the defeat of the Babylonians by the Persians until the beginning of the Greek period was 207 years.
  2. These 207 years spanned the reigns of more than ten Persian kings. These kings included: Cyrus, Cambyses, Darius I, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, Darius II, Artaxerxes II, Artaxerxes III, Arses, and Darius III.
  3. The length of the period from the commencement of the building of the Second Temple in the reign of Darius I until the beginning of the Greek period was 188 years.
  4. The length of the entire Second Temple period was 589 years. The period of Persian dominion spanned the first 188 of these years and the periods of Greek, Hasmonean, and Roman dominion spanned the following 401 years.

In the conventional chronology, the Persian period commenced in the year 539 BCE, the commencement of the building of the Second Temple was in the year 520 BCE, and the entire Persian period spanned the years 539 to 332 BCE.

A comparison of the two chronologies shows that the discrepancies of about 154 to 169 years exist between them…

This discrepancy is not merely a discrepancy between the conventional chronology and a chronology of the Persian period found in one ancient rabbinic work. SO’s chronology of the Persian and Second Temple periods is included in and adopted by the Talmud and is viewed by all authorities as implicit in the accepted Jewish count from creation. Any suggestion that the Persian or Second Temple periods were longer than the time assigned to them by SO is also an attack on the accuracy of the traditions of the Talmud and on the accuracy of the accepted Jewish count from creation. … The SO chronology, or something close to it, is also implicit in verse 11:2 of the book of Daniel. … Any suggestion that the Persian period spanned the reigns of ten or more Persian kings is an attack on the authority of this biblical verse.

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