2012-12-30

Why the Books of Moses should be dated 270 BCE (clue: “Rabbits”)

by Neil Godfrey
Promiscuous+Rabbit+Print

From https://www.jossandmain.com/

In Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch Russell Gmirkin presents a case for the Books of Moses, Genesis to Deuteronomy, being based largely upon the writings of Babylonian and Egyptian historians:

  • Berossus (278 BCE)
  • Manetho (ca 285 BCE)

His first task is to demonstrate that we have no evidence of any knowledge of the Pentateuch until after the appearance of those works.

In the previous post we overviewed Russell Gmirkin’s argument that there we have no evidence in Greek writings of any knowledge of the Pentateuch before the appearance of the Septuagint. Gmirkin shows that the authentic writings of Hecataeus of Abdera do reveal knowledge of Moses as a lawgiver, but the same writings do not show any knowledge of written Mosaic laws. Besides, as we will see in this post, the portrayal of Moses as the lawgiver followed the stereotypical pattern of leaders who led expeditions to found new Greek colonies: the laws were always given after the new settlement (with its cities, temple and tribal organization) was established in the new land.

This post explains how Gmirkin arrives at the date of around 270 BCE for the earliest appearance of the of the first books of the Bible. He concludes that

the first evidence of Pentateuchal writings is the Septuagint translation itself, probably dating to the late 270s BCE. (p. 72)

Disposing of three false witnesses

There are three remaining ancient texts that do claim these books of Moses were much older than 270 BCE.

  • Pseudo-Hecataeus: cited by Josephus in Apion, claims the existence of a scroll of Jewish law in the time of Hecataeus (the real Hecataeus was dealt with in the previous post);
  • Fragments of Aristobulus of Paneas: these speak of a Greek translation of the Jewish laws predating the Septuagint;
  • The Letter of Aristeas: also speaks of a Jewish laws (in Hebrew and Greek) prior to the Septuagint.

Before reading about these, recall from the previous post that Hecataeus of Abdera (fourth century BCE) wrote that Moses first founded the new settlement of Egyptians in Palestine and then gave them their laws. This, of course, is the reverse of the story found in the books of Moses and Joshua. What Hecataeus was relating was a stereotypical story of the way Greek colonies were founded. He demonstrates no knowledge of any writings of Moses. The following accounts, in one way or another, all took their knowledge from Hecataeus of Abdera and confused his account with evidence that he had read the Pentateuch.

Pseudo-Hecataeus

Certain writings ascribed to Hecataeus were quoted at Josephus, Apion 1.187- 204.

Speaking again of (Jewish high priest, Ezekias, in the time of Ptolemy 1 Soter), (Hecataeus) says: “This man, who had attained to such a position of honor and who was now part of our society, gathered together some of his friends and read to them his whole scroll. For it contained the story of their settlement and their political constitution. [that is, the 'books of Moses']

The authenticity of this material has long been debated . . . . The definitive treatment of this question, which settled the matter for most scholars, was Bar-Kochva’s book Pseudo-Hecataeus, which demonstrated that the essay purportedly written by Hecataeus contained considerable anachronistic material pointing to the late second century or first century BCE. Since then no scholar has seriously advocated the authenticity of the Pseudo-Hecataean account. (p. 72)

The Josephan reference to “Hecataeus” contradicts the genuine references to Hecataeus that inform us that the only knowledge the real Hecataeus had was from Egyptian priests. The accounts of the genuine Hecataeus assure us he had no knowledge whatever of Jewish scriptures or oral sources. It appears that a pseudo-Hecataeus had been crafted to explain how the writings of the real Hecataeus knew so much (e.g. the Exodus from Egypt) and so invented the story of a Jewish high priest reading the books of Moses to him.

Pseudo-Hecataeus consequently introduced a fictional account of an encounter between Hecataeus and a Jewish high priest in Egypt in order to explain Hecataeus’s apparent acquaintance with Jewish scriptures. (p. 74)

Both Pseudo-Hecataeus and Hecataeus’s Aegyptiaca (see previous post) refer to

  • first, Jerusalem being colonized before the law was given;
  • second, political institutions (and religious laws) being established by the founder

That is, the sequence in both accords with stereotyped Greek foundation stories. Pseudo-Hecataeus was entirely dependent upon Hecataeus’s Aegyptiaca.

Aristobulus (ca. 150 BCE)

Aristobulus likewise wrote that the Pentateuch had very ancient roots. His motivation was clear: he was “proving” that the great names of Greek literature and philosophy — Homer, Hesiod, Orpheus, Linus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato — owed their wisdom to Moses and the Jewish traditions.

In order to find evidence that the laws of Moses were written and translated into Greek at such an early date, Aristobulus also found (presumably in Hecataeus) early accounts of an exodus from Egypt, those people being settled in Palestine, with cities and a temple built by Moses, all followed by Moses giving them the law. Aristobulus seems to have taken this as close-enough reason to believe the Pentateuch was known very early.

The Letter of Aristeas

This letter presents a colourful narrative of how the Septuagint came to be written in Egypt by seventy Jewish priests sent from Jerusalem for that purpose. The same letter claims that before this event the Laws of Moses were well-known in both Hebrew and an earlier faulty Greek translation.

Gmirkin shows in detail that we have good reason to believe the author of this “Letter of Aristeas” was in fact Aristobulus himself. If so, it is hardly an independent witness.

To summarize, the fragments of Aristobulous and The Letter of Aristeas reflect the same date, provenance, social and philosophical outlook, unique exegetical approach, historical theories and even historical inaccuracies. Every datum is consistent with Aristobulus having penned The Letter of Aristeas. Given Aristobulus’s probable authorship of The Letter of Aristeas, then, the allusions to scriptures predating the Septuagint in The Letter of Aristeas will also have derived from Aristobulus’s misreading of Hecataeus. (p. 80)

Context Capture

LXX

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The Origin of the Septuagint

We have firm evidence that the Septuagint was being used at the time of Ptolemy IV Philopater who reigned ca. 221 to 204 BCE. Demetrius the Chronographer at that time used the Septuagint to compile his chronology of Genesis.

A few decades later we come to the time of Ptolemy VI Philometer and his tutor, Aristobulus. Aristobulus was clearly in a position to have access to the Alexandrian Library and historical material of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt. So we may accept that he was in a position to know when he says the Septuagint was produced under the patronage of Ptolemy II Philadelphus who reigned between 282 BCE and 246 BCE.

Unfortunately there are problems. Aristobulus is known to have made mistakes. For example, he wrote that Demetrius of Phaleron was librarian of the Alexandrian Library and supervised the creation of the Septuagint. In fact, Ptolemy II exiled Demetrius from Egypt at the beginning of his reign (and apparently arranged for him to die of an asp bite) and Demetrius was never the librarian of the Alexandrian Library.

But there is one detail Aristobulus gives us that may be a more certain clue to the date the Septuagint was composed. In the fictional Letter to Aristeas (recall that Gmirkin believes this to have been written by Aristobulus) he tells us that the Septuagint was written at the time Arsinoe II was the wife of Ptolemy II.

Cameo Gonzaga/ Камея Гонзага. Ptolemy II and A...

Cameoz: Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II, III c. BC, Alexandria. Hermitage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though this datum is in a fictional letter, it is nonetheless true that this Arsinoe, who was the full sister of Ptolemy II, did marry her brother (according to Egyptian royal custom) some time between 279 and 273 BCE. She died in July 269 BCE.

Now we come to stories of rabbits and sexual impropriety.

More significantly, these stories are supported by data found within the Septuagint itself when read against the tradition found in the Babylonian Talmud.

That Talmud informs us that the Septuagint avoids the word for “rabbit” (arnebeth) (substituting another meaning “short-footed”) because Ptolemy II’s wife’s name in Hebrew was Arnebeth (probably a Hebrew pun on Arsinoe). The composers were keen to avoid any appearance of mocking Ptolemy and his wife. Moreover, the Greek word for rabbit, lagos, was too easily connected with the family name of both Ptolemy and Arsinoe. Their grandfather, and father of the first Ptolemy, was Lagus. Theocritus, around 273 BCE, wrote a poem in which he called Ptolemy II a Lagid.

Now the rabbit was a symbol of promiscuity in antiquity, and Arsinoe had been married twice before she married Ptolemy. A certain Satodes of Maroneia wrote a lewd epigram in honour of their marriage and was promptly imprisoned for his efforts. Unfortunately he managed to escape to Crete. “Unfortunately” because there he was recaptured, bundled into a lead coffin, and dropped into the ocean.

So it appears the royal couple were rather sensitive to rumours of sexual impropriety and jokes about rabbits.

It is true that the Septuagint does avoid the use of the word for rabbit. It would seem that the reason for this was fear of offending the brother and sister “Lagids” around the time of 273 BCE – 269 BCE (the death of Arsinoe II).

Since the Septuagint provides the first objective external evidence for the composition of the Pentateuch, the date of the Septuagint translation becomes a terminus ad quem for the books of Moses. There exists no external evidence that the Pentateuch was written earlier than the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus. A proposed date of composition any time prior to 269 BCE is permitted by current evidence and must be seriously considered. (p. 86)

But there is evidence that something did indeed happen at the time of around 270 BCE. It is from that time that we see “an explosion of derivative Jewish writing in the third century BCE, both in Syria and in Egypt.”

  • Septuagint — Egypt — ca 273-269 BCE
  • 4QSam, 4QEx — Qumran — ca 250 BCE?
  • Astronomical Book of Enoch — Samaria — ca 250 BCE?
  • Pseudo-Eupolemus — Samaria — ca 250 BCE?
  • Book of Watchers — Judea — ca 240 BCE?
  • Demetrius the Chronographer — Egypt — ca 221-204 BCE
  • Testament of Levi — Judea — ca 220-200 BCE?
  • Genesis Apocryphon — Judea — ca 200-180 BCE?
  • Sirach — Judea — ca 180 BCE
  • Jubilees (final redaction) — Judea — ca 175-161 BCE
  • Apocalypse of Weeks — Judea — ca 170 BCE
  • Animal Apocalypse — Judea — 165, 163 BCE

Conclusion

The terminus ad quem evidence for the composition of the Pentateuch, decidedly at odds with the Documentary Hypothesis, allows for the possibility that the composition of the books of Moses took place as late as 273-269 BCE. There is no external evidence whatever for the Pentateuch — or any written precursor of the Pentateuch — prior to the Septuagint translation, even when such evidence would be expected under the Documentary Hypothesis. Rather, one only has evidence as late as ca. 400 BCE or what Wellhausen called “Oral Torah,” that is, an authority vested in the Jerusalem priesthood rather than in a written code of laws.

The first evidence that the Jews their laws to a figure called Moses appears in Hecataeus of Abdera’s Aegyptiaca (320-315 BCE), but this book does not yet provide evidence for the existence of actual books of Moses.

But with the Septuagint, the Pentateuch appears full-blown, in its present form. The absolute silence of external sources prior to the Septuagint translation regarding a Jewish law contrasts with a proliferation of Jewish writings using the Pentateuch following on the heels of the Septuagint. (pp. 87-88, my emphasis and formatting)

BerossusGenesis

  • Blood
    2012-12-31 01:28:57 UTC - 01:28 | Permalink

    Where does the Tanakh mention rabbits? And what does the Septuagint substitute for rabbits?

  • Nikos Apostolakis
    2012-12-31 12:56:39 UTC - 12:56 | Permalink

    How does Gmirkin deals with the different sources that the Documentary Hypothesis has identified? The fact that different portions of the Hebrew bible use different words for God etc. Is he addressing that?

    • 2012-12-31 13:15:10 UTC - 13:15 | Permalink

      I’ve addressed the Documentary Hypothesis in different posts and will be doing so again. In fact Gmirkin’s take on the DH will be my next when I turn again to his book, perhaps merged with Wajdenbaum’s. There are other explanations for the differences in the name for God. And we need also to be careful we are not using a circular argument when we say that different sources used different names. (How do we know they were different sources? They use different names for God.) But note that the names for God being used by different sources only applies to the period before Exodus 3.

      And the lines between stories are not always as clear cut as some reconstructions imply. At the same time some of the different sources do not necessarily have to have been injected hundreds of years apart.

      There are both elegant simplicities and fine complexities in the arguments.

    • 2012-12-31 21:01:53 UTC - 21:01 | Permalink

      It looks like my next post on the DH will be some days away. So in the meantime I’ll mention that Gmirkin does not dispute different sources for the Pentateuch. But he does reject the DH’s assumption that these sources are bound to widely divergent historical provenances and times.

      • Nikos Apostolakis
        2013-01-01 00:13:59 UTC - 00:13 | Permalink

        Thanks Neil. Quite some reading material.

    • Russell Gmirkin
      2013-01-01 10:09:43 UTC - 10:09 | Permalink

      First, let me comment that Neil Godfrey is providing a commendably high quality summary of my book.

      I don’t devote much space to the DH in Berossus and Genesis, other than to argue that the traditional dates assigned to the JEDP sources are certainly incorrect. I tend to broadly credit many of the traditional arguments used in the DH for the different sources J, E and P in Genesis, JE and P in Exodus-Numbers, D in Deuteronomy, JE P and D in Joshua, and some Deuteronomistic touches in Genesis-Numbers. However, I do not accept the Documentary Hypothesis as such. In Berossus and Genesis I show that both J and P traditions in Gen. 1-11 as well as JE and P traditions related to the Exodus all date to ca 270 BCE, when D must also be dated (given D’s use of JE traditions of ca. 270 BCE, and Deuteronomy as part of the Septuagint translation of ca. 270 BCE). I therefore reject the “diachronic” (sequential) model of J, E, D and P as distinct sources dated to different eras. Instead, I view these as “synchronic” (contemporary) voices of different authorial groups of ca. 270 BCE. Viewing the Pentateuch as a collaborative project among a group of diverse authors solves the long-standing problems regarding the relative sequence (and in some cases intertwining) of JEDP. The Septuagint tradition as found in the Letter of Aristeas suggests the presence of a group of highly educated Jewish scholars at Alexandria in 270 BCE who were in a position to collaborate on the authoring of the Pentateuch, using Greek sources from the Great Library of Alexandria such as Berossus, Manetho and (as Philippe Wajdenbaum argues) Plato. Although the Letter of Aristeas must be used with all due caution, a careful reading independently supports the theory of multiple, contemporary authors.

      Best regards,
      Russell Gmirkin

  • 2012-12-31 18:51:08 UTC - 18:51 | Permalink
  • 2013-01-01 09:38:51 UTC - 09:38 | Permalink

    FYI: Your work here was referenced by me in a posting over at LGF:

    http://littlegreenfootballs.com/page/292045_Magick_Dies_Hard-_Pentateuchal

  • Pingback: The Mother of all Conspiracy Revealed 2013 « Divine Abode News

  • 2013-01-03 07:46:33 UTC - 07:46 | Permalink

    Does Gmirkin explain how it would even be possible for there to be Greek/Roman writers to have had firsthand knowledge of the written Hebrew bible if none of them were (to my knowledge) able to read Hebrew? I wouldn’t expect ancient writers to have had firsthand knowledge of the contents of the HB if none of them could read it, and would necessarily get any of their information about the Jewish religion from non-literary sources; or at least sources that were in a language they could read.

    That was always my hidden assumption behind why so much apocrypha sprouted out from the publication of the LXX.

    • 2013-01-03 09:00:11 UTC - 09:00 | Permalink

      When he refers to the story of a Judean priest reading from the scrolls to an Alexandrian audience he comments that presumably it was understood he was reading from a Greek translation.

      It’s early morning and I might be missing your point, but what has always confused me is the absence of any external record of a culture that was supposed to be so unlike other neighbouring cultures/religions. It would have been the sort of thing one would have expected Herodotus to have remarked on. He didn’t need to be able to read the sacred texts of the Egyptians to learn about them.

    • Russell Gmirkin
      2013-01-03 12:08:35 UTC - 12:08 | Permalink

      The standard reference work, arranged in chronological order, is M. Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (3 vols.; Jerusalem, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1970).
      For the most part, Greek and Roman writers on the Jews wrote about the region or about well-known Jewish customs such as sabbath observance and special dietary laws. Where these writers do quote from the Jewish Bible, it is almost invariably from the Septuagint translation. (Even the Jewish authors of the New Testament used the Septuagint, not the Hebrew text.) None of the Greek writers who mention Judea or the Jews before the Septuagint (Herodotus, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Hieronymus of Cardia, Hecataeus of Abdera, Megasthenes, Clearchus of Soli, Berossus or Manetho) have any knowledge of Jewish writings. Hecataeus and Manetho know a figure called Moses, but nothing about him that comes from the Jewish Bible. The first quotes from the Jewish Bible (Septuagint) come from Apollonius Molon in ca. 80 BCE. Theophanes of Mytilene knew quite a bit about the Jews from his visit there with the Roman general Pompey in 62 BCE and quotes a line from the Pentateuch, probably translated by one of the Jewish dignitaries.

  • 2013-03-21 06:39:45 UTC - 06:39 | Permalink

    I just got around to reading this. Some brief thoughts: I’ll put the question of Manethos aside, since I’m not familiar enough to comment on it in any meaningful sense.

    The argument from the Elephantine texts is almost unshakable. For anyone who hasn’t read it, its essense is pretty straightforward. The Elephantine papyrii request Jerusalem’s blessing in rebuilding a temple at Elephantine. They do so c. 400 BCE. This is wholly irreconcilable with the conventional DH, where Jerusalem as the only cultic center should have been well established by this point. Since we don’t have Jerusalem’s response, it’s not quite as air-tight as Gmirkin would have it, but it’s good. Gmirkin is probably right to suggest that if we had Elephantine when the DH was proposed it would probably not exist in the form we recognize it.

    The single strongest literary case made is for Gen.1-11. Gmirkin is right to point out not only that it is heavily dependent on a rather short selection of texts, but those texts are of a fairly limited assortment. A massive majority of Gen.1-11 could be written with Standard Gilgamesh and the Enuma Elish. That majority could be expanded mightily with the addition only of a few variants of Gilgamesh. One or two more texts–all Babylonian–could easily round it out. Gmirkin is right to point out that this is really, really odd, and far better explained by deliberate, post hoc selection (perhaps with an eye to an illusion of antquity?) than the accruement and preservation over a millenia. Berossus seems as likely a source as any, and more likely than most. It’s difficult to imagine how else they would have gotten their hands on the particular selection they did.

    The dating starts to give me a little more trouble though. The Table of Nations is particularly important to his proposed date, with his dating of the ToN being particularly exegesis heavy. This is really all that can be done with what survives, but I’m of the opinion that in such situations it’s best to simply state that we don’t know, and view all arguments as fabrications. As any half-assed post-modernist will quite rightly point out, to do otherwise isn’t dating a text, it’s telling a story. Stories are fun and all, but they aren’t data, and don’t produce data, they can only be produced from it.

    The arguments against Hecataeus (touched upon in your post) make me nervous. Any time a section of a work is devoted to a nice long list of conventional readings we need to throw out I become hyper-skeptical, and would cheerily argue that such a response is not only appropriate, but the *only* appropriate one. I’ll offer more thoughts on it after a bit more time to digest, but to this point I don’t think it’s solid enough to justify such a bold conclusion.

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