The argument so far: Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible

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by Neil Godfrey

We have covered five of the six chapters in Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible. The final chapter covers a topic that for me is the most interesting of all, but before going there Gmirkin outlines what he has covered so far. He has presented “substantial new arguments for viewing the Primary History of Genesis-Kings as a Hellenistic Era composition that displays considerable influences from the Greek world” (p. 250).

He summarizes those “considerable influences” of Greek legal and historical literature:

  • its structural form as a nationalistic history, patterned on such works as the Aegyptiaca of Manetho (ca. 285 BCE) and the Babyloniaca of Berossus (278 BCE);
  • its integration of elements from discussions of constitutional history taken from Plato and perhaps Aristotle;
  • its incorporation of the Greek genre of the foundation story in its narratives about the patriarchal promises, the Exodus, wilderness wanderings and conquest of the Promised Land;
  • its characteristically Greek integration of narrative and legal content;
  • its Greek constitutional and legal content;
  • and its Greek conception of law as prescriptive, educational and useful for instilling citizen virtues.

The Influence of Plato’s Laws on Deuteronomy

Greek influences on the biblical text discussed in earlier chapters include the substantial use of Plato’s Laws. It is apparent that this particular philosophical text exerted a profound influence on the political thinking, educational philosophy and literary activities of the biblical authors. This is illustrated most decisively in the book of Deuteronomy, which was written according to directions laid out in Plato’s Laws as a speech to the gathered colonists of the nation about to be founded, recounting their laws suitably framed by hortatory introductions and other educational and rhetorical content.

(Gmirkin, 2017. p. 250)

So Gmirkin challenges the conventional view that Near Eastern literature, political systems and laws were the principal influence in the making of the Primary History, Genesis to Kings. These books were not produced by ancient Jewish scribes living in the centuries of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, nor were they even produced in the Babylonian captivity or in the ensuing Persian era when the colony of Jehud was first established. They were the product of a deliberate study of Greek writings, specifically those relating to laws, constitutions and foundation myths. Local Jewish traditions and laws were also woven into the new literature in the early third century BCE.

From my own readings of the debates between the “minimalists” and “maximalists”, especially the debates between Thompson and Dever, and each side’s analysis of archaeological reports, I am convinced that Gmirkin’s analysis is quite plausible. (See notes on Davies’ book at In Search of Ancient Israel.) Insofar as the conventional explanations of the origins of the Pentateuch have been necessarily embedded in assumptions that the books evolved over many centuries through the periods of the monarchy and Babylonian captivity, those models ought to be reassessed. Similarly for the writings of the historical books from Judges to 2 Kings and the books claiming to be by various prophets.

Gmirkin’s book is, I think, a significant contribution towards opening up new explanations given the material evidence both against such a literature appearing before the Persian era and for its appearance after the establishment of the Jewish colony. His thesis certainly makes sense of the character of the Primary History as literature: as literature, in its structure, genre, style, it is in very large measure unlike the writings of the Near East prior to the Hellenistic era; yet as literature it is very often comparable in themes, genres, styles to much of the Greek Classical and Hellenistic literary outputs.

Other authors have noticed and discussed similarities between Primary History, the Pentateuch in particular, on the one hand, and Herodotus, Greek foundation stories, other myths and Plato’s Laws, on the other. These earlier publications have generally sought to explain the similarities from an assumption that the Hebrew works were much earlier than the Hellenistic era. But if we have good reasons to date the Hebrew literary production no earlier than the Persian era then the observations of those earlier scholars suddenly take on a new life. We have a “simple explanation” for the common points they observed. Along with his own observations, Gmirkin appears to have brought some of those earlier observations into the light of the new context.

Before moving on to the remainder of chapter six, which as I said is for me the most interesting one of all, this may be a good place to collate the various posts relating to Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible.

You can also read an extended abstract or chapter by chapter outline by Gmirkin himself on his academia.edu page.

  1. Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible (2016-10-16)
  2. The Pentateuch’s Debt to Greek Laws and Constitutions — A New Look (2016-10-26)
  3. David, an Ideal Greek Hero — and other Military Matters in Ancient Israel (2016-11-12)
  4. Some preliminaries before resuming Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible  (2016-12-15)
  5. The Tribes of Israel modeled on the Athenian and Ideal Greek Tribes? (2016-12-16)
  6. The Bible’s Assemblies and Offices Based on Greek Institutions? (2017-01-22)
  7. Similarities between Biblical and Greek Judicial Systems (2017-01-28)
  8. The Inspiration for Israel’s Law of the Ideal King (2017-02-09)
  9. Bible’s Priests and Prophets – With Touches of Greek (2017-02-22)
  10. Primitive Democracy in Ancient Israel (2017-04-04)
  11. Mosaic Laws: from Classical Greece or the Ancient Near East? (2017-06-02)
  12. Plato and the Hebrew Bible: Homicide Laws (2017-06-05)
  13. Plato and the Hebrew Bible: Law-Giving Narratives as Greek-Inspired Literature (2017-07-26)
  14. Plato and the Hebrew Bible: Legal Narratives (esp. Panegyrics), continued (2017-07-26)
  15. Plato and the Hebrew Bible: Legal Narratives continued . . . Solon and Atlantis (2017-07-27)
  16. Plato and the Hebrew Bible: Greek Foundation Stories and the Bible (2017-07-28)
  17. Plato and the Hebrew Bible: Political Evolution in Literature (2017-08-05)


  • Yam
    2017-08-11 21:38:37 UTC - 21:38 | Permalink

    linguistically speaking the Hebrew Bible probably can be dated at any time.

    The Early Biblical Hebrew and the Late Biblical Hebrew are considered from some scholars styles and not a tool to date the texts.

    This document summarizes the argument from two books on the matter :

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-08-12 02:04:18 UTC - 02:04 | Permalink

      Yes. Linguistic debates, as I understand them (including the details of the article you linked), do not overturn the thesis of a Hellenistic origin of the biblical literature. Differences appear to have several possible explanations, including one of different scribal schools. According to the archaeological evidence that I have read it appears that the monarchic era lacked the critical mass of infrastructure and social complexity to sustain a scribal class capable of producing the biblical literature and lacked the sort of historical background from which such a literature is likely to emerge.

      Despite isolated features like the Flood story and some legal formats embedded within the larger corpus, biblical literature simply has no overall parallel in the Near East literature until we reach the Hellenistic era. Primary History really does look more like Herodotus than the Epic of Gilgamesh or Code of Hammurabi or Hittite treaties; Plato’s Laws really do echo throughout the Pentateuch; the foundation stories really are akin to those of the Greek world.

      • Yam
        2017-08-12 07:44:54 UTC - 07:44 | Permalink

        Not even the Persian period.


        It is extremely obvious that all the Hebrew Bible is post-exilic.

        As Lemche said in “The Old Testament: a Hellenistic book?” in
        “Bible and Hellenism” p. 65

        “If anything, Old Testament literature – the historical books as well as prophets – are obsessed with the idea of exile. A complete analysis of exilic motives in the first two parts of the Hebrew Bible has still to be done, but the towering theme of this literature is exile and the return from exile.”

        For me is enough to consider that Adam and Eve were expelled (exiled) from Eden cause they haven’t followed the laws.

        Abraham was a self-exiled.

        Moses and the Israelites were self-exiled.

        All those exiles were the progression of Israel to gather the Laws which they did not followed and became exiles again.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-08-12 13:14:40 UTC - 13:14 | Permalink

          I usually try to allow some room for the Persian period in my general statements to allow for Philip R. Davies’ theories to be included for consideration. (“Minimalists” need all the numbers they can get, right?) The Persian period did see the initial migration to Canaan, which as I think you allude to are the consistent themes of the early biblical story.

          Not sure I quite follow your last point(s), sorry. Abraham and Moses were only literary figures. I don’t know of any “second exile” if that’s what you are thinking of.

          Thanks for the Finkelstein link. There seems “hope for him yet” — I was disappointed with the book he co-authored with Silberman, Bible Unearthed. The authors appeared to be reading way too much into very scant data to affirm some sort of Josianic-era literary renaissance.

          • Yam
            2017-08-12 18:24:45 UTC - 18:24 | Permalink

            I am not saying that Abraham and Moses are not just literary figures, but that those two were self-exiled.

            With “second exile” I meant the first one was from Eden (for all humanity) and the second was just for the Israelites (the end of Kings).

            The Pentateuch is a story of progression for Israel to get the Laws.

          • Austendw
            2017-08-22 22:28:06 UTC - 22:28 | Permalink

            Hang on a second…. when you say “The Persian period did see the initial migration to Canaan,” what archaeological evidence do you have for such “migration”? The current archaeological consensus is that there is no evidence of any significant migration into Yehud (why “Canaan”?) during the Persian period, no discernable uplift of population, and that the population remained pretty sparse and took a long time to increase significantly. Indeed the archaeological record does not suggest any significant influx of foreign immigrants, at any time in the period from the Late Bronze Age (or earlier?) to the Hellenistic Age etc.

            This “initial migration into Canaan” is, on the evidence of archaeology, as illusory as Joshua’s “Conquest of Canaan”. I’m not sure whose arguments this might benefit – “maximalists”, “minimalists” or “in-betweeners” (assuming the latter are not a mythical creatures).

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-08-22 23:27:13 UTC - 23:27 | Permalink

              I don’t believe Davies was thinking of a “mass” migration of a Joshua scale. But it’s a long while since I have read the details and I would need to take time to check again points I only vaguely recollect now — there was data of some increases in population in certain areas, iirc. I need time to find his sources again, and to update myself with what has been published since.

            • Yam
              2017-08-23 10:20:45 UTC - 10:20 | Permalink

              If you consider and the conquests in the book of Judges (there is no reason not to), then this is going to “benefit” the minimalistic argument.

              Read this : https://kspronk.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/spronk-comparing-the-book-of-judges-to-greek-literature-art-2015.pdf

            • mbuckley3
              2017-08-23 21:02:40 UTC - 21:02 | Permalink

              A Persian-sponsored re-foundation of the Jerusalem cult by a cadre of ‘Yahwists’ need not have involved numbers sufficient to leave any archaeological footprint, yet would serve as a template for embellished stories of migration. An archaeological account is necessarily austere, ‘minimilist’ if you like.A narrative account is necessarily more speculative, presenting a hypothesis which attempts (more- or less- plausibly) to determine events which led to the development of the documents we have.

  • Blood
    2017-08-11 22:21:41 UTC - 22:21 | Permalink

    The world has too much emotional investment in the Bible being Semitic, ancient, and antedating Greek literature to ever acknowledge — much less seriously engage with — Gmirkin’s thesis. This is especially true in ground zero of Biblical studies these days, the USA, where the only allowable debate is whether the Bible is 100% true or only 80% true. Any student proposing a doctoral dissertation on the concept of Greek influence will be politely shown his error and persuaded to write on another, uncontroversial subject.

    It is somewhat surprising, however, in genuinely intellectual circles like late 19th century Germany, that the Documentary Hypothesis chronology was simply taken for granted and never challenged, except around the edges. But the divergence of “Hellenistic Studies” and “Biblical Studies” in academia plays the major role. Scholars specialized in one or the other, and the Hellenists never felt qualified to challenge the Biblicists (by which I mean Wellhausen, et al.), and the gap has only widened since then. We “know” that Genesis and Exodus were first written in the 10th-9th century BCE, because experts have been writing under that assumption for 150 years now.

  • Blood
    2017-08-12 00:53:10 UTC - 00:53 | Permalink

    There’s a book entitled “Between Moses and Plato : Individual and Society in Deuteronomy and Ancient Greek Law” by Anselm C Hagedorn (2004) that explores many of these same themes. I don’t think it’s been reviewed by Vridar.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-08-12 02:27:25 UTC - 02:27 | Permalink

      Hagedorn takes an anthropological approach, explaining certain similarities in the context of East Mediterranean culture, without there necessarily being contact between the two. Fellow commenter here, Austendw, may like that thesis. Russell Gmirkin cites Hagedorn’s book a number of times. I have read much of the book, but correct, it is not one I have discussed here, at least not yet.

      • Austendw
        2017-08-12 22:28:01 UTC - 22:28 | Permalink

        Yes indeed, Hagedorn sounds interesting. It’s an important issue for me, because the basis of the Gmerkin theory seems to rest on a binary notion of key cultures: Greek in the West, and the “Near Eastern”. Gmerkin’s cultural model seems to work like this: the Persian province of Yehud is “essentially” a near East culture, so should only show Near Eastern characteristics – defined in terms of Assyro-Babylonian-Persian. Therefore, if Judean literature shows any “essentially Greek” characteristics, they must have arisen from direct borrowing from Greek literature- they can’t have been home grown.

        This notion is illustrated by what you write above:

        “Greek genre of the foundation story” / “Greek integration of narrative and legal content” / “Greek constitutional and legal content” / “Greek conception of law as prescriptive,.. etc”

        Although these characteristics are found in Judean Literature, they aren’t “naturally” part of Judean literature, and are defined as Greek. Underpinning this seems to be the notion that Near Eastern culture is monumental: as Persian literature before the Greeks doesn’t have an interest in history and law etc, so it follows that Judean culture also couldn’t develop such “non-Near Eastern” ideas – and would have to borrow them from a non-native source: Hellenistic culture.

        I think that this simple and elegant solution is based on a basic misconception. For a start Greek culture isn’t essentially antithetical to Near East culture and was profoundly shaped by near Eastern culture: Neo-Hittite Syrian mythology informing Hesiod’s Theogony; the Phoenician alphabet (basically indistinguishable from the alphabet of Judah, Moab and Ammon) developing into the Greek alphabet; the “proto-Ionic/proto-Aeolic” column found throughout Iron Age Syro-Palestine, evolving into the Ionic capital in Classical Greece.

        Since Greek and Judean culture shared a significant common ancestry – not to mention Egyptian cultural influences – why would there not naturally be cultural similarities between them, distinguishing both from the ruling cultures of Mesopotamia and Persia? Both cultures developed in the shadow of those empires: Assyria, Babylon, Persia – so why mightn’t they develop somewhat similar (if not identical) attitudes to their place in the world, and at times similar (if not identical) interst in history, governance, law? (Both shared scribal culture in terms of alphabetic writing, ink & parchment – as opposed to pictographic cuneiform, stylus & clay, which may not be insignificant.)

        So, as far as I am concerned, there is no clearly stated reason why the “foundation story” can’t be considered as much a Judean genre as a Greek one. And the same issue lies behind my criticism of Gmirkin’s approach to the question of the killing of the goring ox in Exodus. Dangerous animals aren’t killed in Babylonian law. They ARE killed in both Greek and Judean Law. Gmirkin insists the only explanation is that this is a “Greek idea” imported into Judea from Plato. But does he explain why it couldn’t be a Syro-Phoenecian idea inherited and developed (albeit not identically) in both Judea AND Greece, and so “belong” naturally to both, without any direct borrowing?

        We all know that the way you frame a question determines the answer. By asking: “why does a Greek literary genre appear in Judean literature?” one has already pre-determined Greek “ownership”, Greek priority, and determined that the genre must be a foreign import. One answers the question in the question.

        I repeat, none of what I am saying is meant to deny the possibility of Hellenistic literature influencing Genesis-Kings – eg: I have no in-principle objection to the idea that a knowledge of , say, Herodotus might have encouraged the editorial process that shaped the existing Judean literature into a (somewhat) coherent, connected narrative. (That’s not Gmirkin’s idea at all – because unless I’m mistaken, he doesn’t believe there was much in the way of a Judean literary tradition at all, until Hellenistic writers provided both literary models, content and polemic incentive.) But I AM insisting that OTHER historical and cultural connections between Judea and its neighbours and overlords are ALSO relevant in many crucial areas. Allowing this longer period of literary and editorial activity explains the very complex texture of Genesis-Kings, which the Hellenistic model more or less sidesteps.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-08-13 03:20:45 UTC - 03:20 | Permalink

          So, as far as I am concerned, there is no clearly stated reason why the “foundation story” can’t be considered as much a Judean genre as a Greek one. And the same issue lies behind my criticism of Gmirkin’s approach to the question of the killing of the goring ox in Exodus. Dangerous animals aren’t killed in Babylonian law. They ARE killed in both Greek and Judean Law. Gmirkin insists the only explanation is that this is a “Greek idea” imported into Judea from Plato. But does he explain why it couldn’t be a Syro-Phoenecian idea inherited and developed (albeit not identically) in both Judea AND Greece, and so “belong” naturally to both, without any direct borrowing?

          I think it helps to keep the argument plied to details, as you are doing here.

          I should point out that what I wrote was on the goring ox detail was:

          The goring ox

          On Ancient Near Eastern law concerning death by a domestic animal, Gmirkin observes:

          Deaths that resulted from a dangerous animal that was not properly controlled, such as a goring ox (LH 250-1; LE 54-5) or a vicious dog (LE 56-7), were treated as instances of negligent homicide. Penalties could include either death (LH 229-30), the payment of a slave (LH 219, 231) or of silver (LE 54-7). The animals were not punished (Katz 1993: 163-9). A common element of the crime necessary for prosecution was that the culpable party had received warnings from neighbors or the authorities about the dangerous structure or animal (LH 228-30; LE 54-8; cf. Barmash 2005: 139-40). . . . (p. 80, my bolding)

          Gmirkin begins his discussion by pointing out the clear similarities between biblical and Mesopotian laws (LH = Laws of Hammurabi; LE = Laws of Eshnunna)

          I then quoted Exodus 21:28-32.

          Followed by pointing out that Gmirkin explicitly says the similarity between biblical and Mesopotamian laws is “uncontroversial”.

          Like the laws of Hammurabi and Eshnunna the Pentateuch required a compensatory penalty on the owner of the animal when that owner had been given warning about the danger his animal posed. The similarity is uncontroversial, Gmirkin comments.

          But unlike those laws Exodus did penalize the ox. Compare Plato’s Laws 9.873d-e

          If a mule or any other animal murder anyone, — except when they do it when taking part in a public competition, — the relatives shall prosecute the slayer for murder, and so many of the land-stewards as are appointed by the relatives shall decide the case, and the convicted beast they shall kill and cast out beyond the borders of the country.

          I concluded with the heading “On Balance” — so it was not a dogmatic insistence that only one interpretation is at all possible or valid.

          On Balance

          Such are some of the more prominent contacts between biblical and Greek laws that are absent from Mesopotamian law.

          Gmirkin is presenting a scholarly argument in a scholarly manner and not writing a dogmatic “this is it and there is no room for debate”.

          Next, while we are addressing the particular point of the goring ox, certainly there is no reason to believe that the stoning of the animal could not have derived from local Jewish law. It is possible. The point is, in my view, that there is simply no evidence extant for any local Canaanite (or Levantine) law requiring the death of the ox.

          Yet we do have evidence in a neighbouring culture for the penalty of the killing the ox. And there is no doubt, I think, that the biblical laws are certainly influenced by the Mesopotamian laws, so we know there is cultural borrowing.

          On the basis of the surviving evidence, it appears that the simplest explanation is that the Hebrews borrowed elements from both neighbouring cultures — or if we are looking at Hellenistic times, they borrowed one detail from the politically ruling culture and another from a neighbouring culture.

          It is possible that the killing of the ox was taken from local laws, but we have no evidence for that thesis so it remains untestable. Yet we do have evidence for Gmirkin’s thesis.

          • Austendw
            2017-08-13 07:56:58 UTC - 07:56 | Permalink

            It’s a bit difficult to continue this, because I’m not sure where you stand vis-a-vis Gmirkin.. whether you are agnostic regarding his thesis, or a whole-hearted supporter, so I am discussing with you what I am arguing with him. Makes for a bit of confusion.

            However, you say: “It is possible that the killing of the ox was taken from local laws, but we have no evidence for that thesis so it remains untestable. Yet we do have evidence for Gmirkin’s thesis.”

            We have evidence, but his thesis is untestable too, because there is no control: ie we have no way of knowing if this similarity is egregious or normal for East Mediterranean cultures – ie whether the similarity needs explanation as direct borrowing from Plato (which I think is what Gmirkin is saying, or is his argument here different from his approach to Berossus & Manetho? Looks like I’m going to have to bite the bullet and buy the book.) Even if even if we say that on balance there are “prominent contacts between biblical and Greek laws that are absent from Mesopotamian law” – which I agree is true – that doesn’t give us any explanation of how and why and when those similiarities arose. And wqhen we are discussing human history, culture and literature, “simple” answers have no appeal at all, as far as I’m concerned.

            I am a little sorry that you have concentrated on the ox, however, since my central “philosophical or methodological problem is the definition of genres as “Greek,” when that Greek “ownership” or priority is precisely what is in question.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-08-14 03:07:13 UTC - 03:07 | Permalink

              Appreciate the clarifications.

              I am very open to Gmirkin’s thesis because I have been persuaded that a Hellenistic origin of the biblical works is very plausible on the basis of arguments from Thompson, Lemche and other “minimalists”. As a rule I try to present arguments I read to some extent at an arms-length because I know my own views are constantly in flux and one view is always open to challenge and revision, and I try to some extent to allow readers to get some idea of the arguments presented without too much intrusion from me. Sometimes I am thinking that I’d like to do more reading around a particular point to get a fuller understanding of the reasons for the author’s arguments, its strengths, weaknesses and alternatives.

              (A few years ago a classicist complimented me on my treatment of an article he wrote, not because I was “pushing” his argument, but because I was able to present it with some objectivity — see the comment of John Moles in the side-bar.)

              I think concentrating at one point on a specific issue is helpful. That doesn’t imply that our entire viewpoint stands or falls on that one point. Only that a particular case helps clarify exactly what at least some of the issues are of concern.

              You are correct that we don’t have sufficient evidence to know fully and without doubts what alternative explanations might be valid or true. That’s the nature of working with ancient historical sources, no doubt we both accept that understanding.

              I take on board your point about “genre”. I will try to keep that in mind in the next post and others. It is “genre” that most persuades me of the Greek influence as more significant in the end than Near Eastern influences.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-08-13 03:25:00 UTC - 03:25 | Permalink

          As for the argument concerning foundation stories, there are quite a number of details that go into the making of a foundation story. Is it likely that two neighbouring cultures would arrive at the same complex literary form completely independently of each other? Even Weinfeld attempted to explain the points in common by hypothesizing a third-party genre, now lost, as a source of both.

          • Austendw
            2017-08-13 09:20:45 UTC - 09:20 | Permalink

            Again the issue becomes fuzzy because I don’t at all have a problem with the notion that they aren’t COMPLETELY independent, and that in the Eastern Mediterranean cultural soup, influences were floating thither and yon.That’s quite different from saying the Biblical foundation stories are, lock stock and barrel – in content and form – taken from a proprietory Greek model, discovered in Alexandria – which I THINK is Gmirkin’s thesis.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-08-14 03:08:38 UTC - 03:08 | Permalink

              Adapted, that is; for instance, the personal narrator is missing from most of the biblical texts.

  • mbuckley3
    2017-08-20 21:37:06 UTC - 21:37 | Permalink

    Many thanks for your industry in summarising Gmirkin’s work. In his effort to escape the ‘black box’ of the Persian period, he seems to have substituted a black box of implausibly narrow dimensions, given the complexity of the material. Whatever Manetho’s actual text, no-one suggests he invented his material ex nihilo, ditto the OT writers; once we have traditions, strands, layers to account for, we need more time than Gmirkin allows.
    However, his discussion of colonies/foundation stories is immensely suggestive if applied to the actual period of colonisation. Morton Smith’s basic aperçu from way back, that Herodotus would have found Nehemiah a perfectly recognisable figure as the Persian-backed ‘tyrant’ of Jerusalem still holds good. It’s quite clear that the western arm of the Persian empire depended not only on ‘Greek’ armies but on a substantial cadre of ‘Greek’ administrators, engineers and artists; the eastern Mediterranean was a relatively uniform culture with local variations, thus it is legitimate to interpret events in Palestine using ‘Greek’ models. Reconstructing Ezra/Nehemiah as the founding of a colony, with attendant cultic reform and literary production , makes sense in a fifth/fourth century environment. The Persian ‘black box’ remains a plausible hypothesis to explain the material !

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-08-22 00:39:34 UTC - 00:39 | Permalink

      The Book of Nehemiah was quite likely composed in the Hasmonean era.

      It is, of course, fiction. It is a nice (albeit ideological) novella. http://vridar.org/?s=clines+nehemiah

      Further, the abstract from Finkelstein, Israel. 2008. “Archaeology and the List of Returnees in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 140 (1): 7–16. doi:10.1179/003103208×269105.

      The archaeology of the places mentioned in the list of returnees seems to show that it does not represent Persian-period realities. Important Persian-period places not mentioned in the list support this notion. The archaeology of the list leaves two main options for understanding the reality behind it. According to the first, the list portrays late Iron II places. According to the second, it was compiled in the late Hellenistic (Hasmonaean) period and represents the reality of the time. The latter solution, also proposed as a possibility for the understanding of Nehemiah 3 — Finkelstein, in press), raises significant difficulties, as it has far-reaching implications regarding the date of the final redaction of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Yet, without extra-biblical sources to support a Persian-period date for the list of returnees, the archaeological evidence cannot be ignored.

      • mbuckley3
        2017-08-22 20:21:26 UTC - 20:21 | Permalink

        My apologies for confusing a general point by introducing Nehemiah. I was merely adding a footnote to Austendw’s well-made contributions; that in a shared C5/C4 eastern Mediterranean culture ( “proto- Hellenistic” ?) the common practice of colonisation gave rise to structured literary genres (foundation stories, new legal codes etc) ; this provides the context-in-time to locate much of the OT, subsequent to a colonising of Jerusalem in the Persian period; and allows us to use ‘Greek’ material to sharpen our focus.

        As for ‘Nehemiah’, “it is, of course, fiction”- thanks for the link to your witty postings! Like most fiction, there’s the nagging feeling that it’s based on something actual (“fragments”, a “template” ?), and Morton Smith was never shy of proposing a re-orienting hypothesis (part of his charm). The murky temptations of writing narrative ancient history are not restricted to ‘biblical studies’, of course. Tenured Roman historians still issue stock caveats about the farrago that is the Historia Augusta, then ruthlessly plunder it to write a less than compelling fiction of their own !

    • Austendw
      2017-08-22 22:55:18 UTC - 22:55 | Permalink

      Thanks for your comments.

      I agree entirely with your comment “Whatever Manetho’s actual text, no-one suggests he invented his material ex nihilo, ditto the OT writers; once we have traditions, strands, layers to account for, we need more time than Gmirkin allows.” Your comment about Manetho is apposite: Gmirkin himself allows that the association of Seth-worshipping Hyksos with Jews could date back to a perception of Egyptian Jews’ support of Cambyses, significantly undermining the argument that Manetho’s book is the primary source for the biblical “response” to those ideas.

      But even more critical for me is Gmirkin’s incredibly narrow time-frame: no more than nine years by my reckoning – during which a Pentateuchal text as stratified and complex as we have is written, supplemented, internally commented upon, reshaped etc etc. It’s simply not enough time.

      • Yam
        2017-08-23 09:53:09 UTC - 09:53 | Permalink

        Gmirkin in “Berrosus Manetho” p. 175 writes :

        “The outrages attributed to Artaxerxes III Ochus have more of aclaim to historicity. The reports that Artaxerxes III slew the Apis and Mnevis bulls were likely true;32 the alleged madness of Cambyses appears to have been modeled on the later outrages under Artaxerxes.”

        Later on the same page :

        “It thus appears that the final fall of Egypt to Artaxerxes III Ochus colored Manetho’s account of the conquest of Egypt by the Hyksos.”

        That’s why you cannot claim that the response was based on previous developments.

        • Austendw
          2017-08-23 21:17:49 UTC - 21:17 | Permalink

          Well you might have a point if the Exodus narrative had clear references to Apis and Mnevis bulls, but I cannot see that any details of the Exodus narrative are so precisely related to details of Manetho’s account as to obviate the notion that the Biblical writers were familiar with the popular Egyptian association of Jews with Seth-worshipping Hyksos (as Asiatic fifth columnists, as it were), and developed a polemical response to that idea long before they read about it in Manetho.

          • Yam
            2017-08-24 05:18:16 UTC - 05:18 | Permalink

            The point here is that the Hyksos invention in Manetho’s account was colored by Artaxerxes conquest. In the OT the whole thing was inverted, Israelites came peacefully and selected as governors( Joseph), later on were enslaved (in Manetho Egyptians are enslaved) and then conquered Canaan, the way Hyksos in Manetho’s account conquered Egypt.

            In general chapter 7 can clear things up for you.

            Also I do not think that OT created a response to the accusations of Jews with Seth-worshipers, but on the Hyksos accounts, that’s what Gmirkin is saying.

            I believe that they embraced the idea of syncretising aspects of Seth to their god.
            Even Gmirkin says the same thing in p. 283 :

            “The Exodus account appears to have adopted many negative powers of Seth-Typhon as positive powers of Yahweh that demonstrated his superiority over the gods of Egypt.”

            My suggestion is to read or re-read the book, especialy chapter 7 and Appendix F. Seth-Typhon and the Jews.

            • Austendw
              2017-08-26 18:45:10 UTC - 18:45 | Permalink

              I really have read the relevant chapters and Appendix F a number of times, honestly I have. And I simply don’t believe Gmirkin’s overall argument is particularly convincing.

              His method is hardly rigorous. You mentioned slavery above. Manetho’s text says that the Hyksos “treated the whole native population with the utmost cruelty, massacring some, and carrying off the wives and children of others into slavery.” Standard invasion tactics this – kill the men, enslave the women & children. Is the Biblical slavery of the Hebrews really a response to this? Perhaps, perhaps not. Gmirkin stresses that: “the enslavement of the Egyptians by the Hyksos appears to have been a novel feature introduced by Manetho”… which might clinch it, except that he adds: “…or rather his demotic source.” So why couldn’t the demotic source be the source? Actually Gmirkin himself offers a quite different Manetho source for the salvery motif “The unjust employment of the polluted Egyptians as slave labor” (p 213) which I think is actually far, far more plausible – but this narrative didn’t originate with Manetho.

              I agree with Gmirkin’s argument that the story of Osarseph referred to Seth-worshippers, not Jews. The crucial question is: when did it become associated with Jews in the popular Egyptian imagination? I can’t see any justification for thinking it was particularly recent (“more recent oral traditions”… whatever that actually means) since in Appendix F Gmirkin dates the Egyptian association of Jews with Seth-worship to the Persian period (and why not Saite, for that matter?) So there was ample opportunity for the Biblical stories to develop in response to that earlier tradition.

              For me the nature of the Biblical text shows many narrative dissonances, layers, odd fragments, contradictions. I think that fractured text is better explained as a response/reaction to earlier Egyptian tales of leprous Seth/ass-worshipping Egypto-Jews, developed and elaborated in various ways over time, rather than Gmirkin’s notion of a direct response to Manetho written a mere 15 years earlier than the LXX.

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