In my essay, “‘Everything Is Wrong with This’: The Legacy of Maurice Casey” (Widowfield 2021), I mentioned a few core ideas that I’ve been meaning to expand upon here. My recent reading of Richard Carrier’s review, in which he said my brief article “should be required reading for anyone keen to evaluate these kinds of arguments” (Carrier 2022, p. 190) has spurred me to write again.
Back in 1979 when he was engaging with Géza Vermes over the Son of Man Problem, Joseph Fitzmyer remarked his interlocutor’s analysis completely ignored any notion of historical stages in the gospel tradition. Specifically, when did “the Son of Man” enter the early Christian lexicon? This question has special interest for those of us who think the evangelists considered it to be some sort of title. However, Fitzmyer noted that the “distinction in the levels of the gospel tradition . . . [was] strangely lacking in Vermes’ discussion of the whole matter.” (Fitzmyer 1979, p. 65) Continue reading “Expanding on My Essay in Varieties of Jesus Mythicism: Part 1″
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image [LXX εικόνα], according to our likeness [LXX όμοίωσιν]; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image [LXX εικόνα], in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27)
RG focuses on two interesting details here.
1. Whereas plants, sea creatures, land animals are made “after their own kind”, mankind is made in the likeness of the gods — made in the genus of God.
In Gen 1:26 the Septuagint renders … “in our image according to our likeness” with …. “according to our image and according to [our] likeness”,. . . using the double κατά (“according to”) . . . . The κατά phrases . . . echo the phrase κατά γένος (“according to [its] kind”) of the preceding verses, suggesting more strongly than in the Hebrew that humankind belongs to the γένος [=race, genus] of God, or, at least, highlighting the contrast with the animals more strongly than in the Hebrew. (Loader, 27f)
2. In creating mankind we read God for the first time saying “Let us…”, that is, “Let us make man in our image.”
The language employed here, which points to some form of gathering of the gods, who state their intention to create humans in their image, implicitly recognizes older, polytheistic traditions. The announcement of their collective decision to make humankind suggests the divine council as narrative context (Westermann 1984: 144). Creation in the divine image is distantly reminiscent of Mesopotamian regnal imagery, where the king was created in a god’s image . . . , but here it was all of humanity that was created in the image of the gods. It is likely that both male and female gods were here envisioned, since humans were created “in the image of the Elohim… male and female” (Gen 1:27). (Gmirkin, 136)
“Let US . . .“
Various attempts have been made to explain God saying: “Let us….”. Westermann (cited by RG) believes the most economical explanation is that “Let us” implies a council of gods involved in the decision to create humans. Compelled to find out what was behind that interpretation I turned to Westermann who cited Schmidt and Schmidt, it turned out, said everything Westermann said except in German. (The price one sometimes pays just to be sure!) — Here is a synopsis of Schmidt’s (Westermann’s) argument:
Is it the Trinity speaking?
An early church view was that God was speaking as the Trinity. There is nothing else in Genesis to suggest the Trinity so we can put that view aside.
RG in another forum discounted the “plural of majesty” explanation:
I did a pretty thorough independent research on that whole “plural of majesty” thing. This theory was first put forward, as near as I can discover, after the time of Elizabeth I, who famously started the English custom of monarchs referring to themselves as “we”. I can find no evidence that this was earlier put forward as an explanation of Elohim, and no evidence of any ancient god in the Mediterranean or Ancient Near Eastern world in any language referring to themselves in the plural. I haven’t found other academics who have undertaken a similar study on the history of scholarship on this topic, so don’t cite me as a source, since there’s always the chance that I missed something. . . . .
Esther 8.8 allegedly has Ahasuareus refer to himself in the third person, but I don’t read it that way. In any case that is different from referring to himself in the plural (which I can’t find anywhere in Esther or elsewhere of a king or god in the biblical text). . . .
Is it a plural of majesty?
Another is that we have a “plural of majesty” … as in the monarch saying “we” where lesser mortals would simply say “I”. Exegetes who have worked on the view that Genesis was written very early have discounted that possibility because a clear instance of a “plural of majesty” only appears elsewhere for the first time in the mouth of the Persian king in the Book of Esther. (RG, though, does argue for a post-Persian era composition of Genesis.)
Is it a council of gods?
Note that God is found speaking of “us” in other books of the Old Testament whenever he is in a council with other divine beings. [See the insert below for references.] But again, many scholars have been reluctant to accept the view that God is addressing a council of gods in Genesis because they are convinced that the (“priestly”) author would never have thought to imagine God as a “first among equals”.
Is God talking to himself?
Another view: are we reading here God turning over an idea in his mind, speaking to himself? The problem with that view is that there is nothing in the declaration to suggest a pondering: the words are a proclamation, an announcement, of what “they” are about to do.
After weighing up the above options, Schmidt concludes that the sentence here is a relic from a polytheistic era. Both Schmidt and Westermann conclude that the saying originated in the context of a heavenly court of divine beings but continued as a form of speech even after the idea of a heavenly court was no longer part of their belief system. No doubt many later readers and copyists did treat it as a form of speech and ignored its original and literal meaning. But that leaves open the question of why the first author chose to use the expression. For RG, we have here one more instance of a borrowing from Plato:
In light of Plato’s Timaeus, the appearance of a multiplicity of gods becomes entirely comprehensible. (Gmirkin, 136)
In Timaeus the Demiurge or Craftsman God first created the universe and then in a subsequent stage delegated the creation of humanity to the other gods he had also created. That Creator God addressed these lesser deities to explain why he wanted them to be the ones to create humankind:
Once all the gods had been created — both those that traverse the heavens for all to see and those that make themselves visible when they choose — the creator of this universe of ours addressed them as follows: ‘Gods, divine works of which I am the craftsman and father, anything created by me is imperishable unless I will it. Any bond can be unbound, but to want to destroy a structure of beauty and goodness is a mark of evil. Hence, although as created beings you are not altogether immortal and indestructible, still you shall not perish nor shall death ever be your lot, since you have been granted the protection of my will, as a stronger and mightier bond than those with which you were bound at your creation. ‘Now mark my words and apprehend what I disclose to you. Three kinds of mortal creature remain yet uncreated, and while they remain so the universe will be incomplete, for it will not contain within itself all kinds of living creatures, as it must if it is to be perfect and complete. If I were to be directly responsible for their creation and their life, they would have the rank of gods. To ensure that they are mortal, and that this universe is truly whole, it is you who must, in fulfilment of your natures, imitate the power that I used in creating you and turn, as craftsmen, to the creation of living creatures. . . . .
After this, he handed over to the younger gods the task of forming their mortal bodies. When they had also created any further attributes a human soul might require, and whatever went along with such attributes, he left it up to them to govern and steer every mortal creature as best they could, so that each one would be as noble and good as it might be, apart from any self-caused evils. (41a – 42e; Waterfield translation)
20 For the celestial court, cf. 1 Kings 22:19—22; Isa. 6:8; Ps. 29:1-2; 82; 8926—7; Job 1:6; 2:1. In Job 38:7, divine beings are present at creation. The present interpretation is found in Gen. R. 8:3; Rashi. (p. 353)
Sarna in his commentary on Genesis supports the interpretation that “Let us” is a pointer to a heavenly court:
Let us make The extraordinary use of the first person plural evokes the image of a heavenly court in which God is surrounded by His angelic host.20 Such a celestial scene is depicted in several biblical passages. This is the Israelite version of the polytheistic assemblies of the pantheon — monotheized and depaganized. It is noteworthy that this plural form of divine address is employed in Genesis on two other occasions, both involving the fate of humanity: in 3:22, in connection with the expulsion from Eden; and 11:17, in reference to the dispersal of the human race after the building of the Tower of Babel. (Sarna, 12)
The image of God
What does the expression — “image of God, after our likeness” — mean? The fact that these words are not explained in Genesis indicates that it was well enough understood not to need further explanation at the time it was written (Schmidt, 136). So we must look for parallel usages. If we turn to Mesopotamian creation stories, however, we search in vain:
Can a precursor of the tradition be found in the ancient Orient? Although the similarity between God and man is repeatedly stated there in that man is said to be created from clay and the blood of the gods or even in the divine image, the expression “image of God” hardly has its home in the (Babylonian) creation myths. (Schmidt, 136f – translation. Cited by Clines who is cited by Gmirkin, 136)
Archaeologist Yonatan Adler of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has authored a new book, The Origins of Judaism: An Archaeological-Historical Reappraisal. The findings of Adler are consistent with other books I have blogged about over the years setting out a case for the history of “biblical Israel” being a late theological construct, composed no earlier than the Persian era (ca 500 to ca 300 BCE) and even arguably as late as the Hellenistic era (especially after 280 BCE). The works I have posted about have taken one of two approaches to the question of the Bible’s origins: archaeological studies and textual analysis.
No archaeological evidence has been found to support the stories of the patriarchs, the exodus, and the united kingdom of Israel: rather, the archaeological evidence indicates that those scenarios never happened. The biblical narrative is, in Adler’s words, “a living declaration in the present, a call to action in the here and now” (p. x). The other approach has been to analyse the biblical texts and to re-examine what has long been a mainstay of biblical studies, the Documentary Hypothesis (DH). These studies have often questioned the very early dating of any of the Bible, many positing a date as late as the Persian era for most of the writings and some even arguing for the Hellenistic era. (Currently, I have been blogging about Russell Gmirkin’s new book, Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts.)
I look forward to posting more from Yonatan Adler’s book after I have completed other commitments. Until I do, here are a few excerpts of particular interest in the context of Russell Gmirkin’s thesis that the Pentateuch was composed as late as around 280 BCE.
First, it is best to be clear about what Adler is addressing (my bolding throughout):
. . . this book takes as its starting point the lived experiences of the Jewish people as they have actually practiced their Judaism over the centuries through the observance of the laws of the Torah in their everyday lives. It is this practical Judaism, rather than the biblical tradition about it, that stands at the center of the present book. The aim of this study is to apply systematic historical and archaeological methods to seek the earliest evidence for the emergence of precisely this practical Judaism within the routine lives of ordinary people in antiquity. (pp. x.f)
It should be stressed that our focus here is on the Jewish way of life centered on practices rather than beliefs. (p. 5)
Adler’s study is not exclusively on the archaeological finds. He also refers to textual evidence: Philo, Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. As we have seen in various other posts (especially those relating to Philip Davies, Thomas L. Thompson, Niels Peter Lemche, Keith Whitelam) new questions arise when we begin with the archaeological evidence and seek to explain the texts in that “real life” context:
One of the major advantages of archaeological evidence over texts lies in the fact that the material remains tend to reflect the “real” rather than the “ideal.” (p. 22)
On the evidence for observance of dietary laws:
Prior to the second century BCE, there exists no surviving evidence, whether textual or archaeological, which suggests that Judeans adhered to a set of food prohibitions or to a body of dietary restrictions of any kind. (p. 49)
On ritual purity practices:
Lacking earlier evidence, the second century BCE remains our terminus ante quem for the beginning of widespread Judean observance of the ritual purity practices enshrined in the Torah. (p. 86)
On the law against carved images:
[T]he year 131 BCE would be our terminus ante quem for when a prohibition against figural images was first put into practice. (p. 112)
On the instruction in Deuteronomy to bind sacred words between one’s eyes and engrave them on doorposts:
No evidence for the observance of any practice resembling either tefillin or mezuzah is available from any time before the middle of the second century BCE. (p. 131)
Circumcision, the Sabbath, the annual feasts (Passover, Atonement, Sukkoth), the seven-branched candlestick (menorah):
[C]ircumcision was widely practiced among first-century Judeans, for whom the rite not only served as an identity marker that distinguished Judean from Gentile but also—and perhaps even more importantly—was regarded as a central commandment of the Torah. Laws surrounding the Sabbath prohibitions were also widely observed at this time by Judeans both in Judea and throughout the Mediterranean world, and the precise parameters of these regulations were concurrently being discussed and debated by exegetes of the Torah. A plethora of literary evidence attests that both the Passover sacrifice and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were practiced by first-century-CE Judeans on an impressively wide scale. The main ritual associated with the Day of Atonement was observed at this time through fasting, a practice described by first-century authors as universal among contemporary Judeans. There is good reason to believe that both of the two central rituals associated with the Festival of Sukkot, residing in booths and taking the four species, were observed by Judeans in the first century CE on a very broad scale. And finally, a seven-branched menorah as prescribed by Torah law undoubtedly stood in the temple in the first century CE, and both texts and archaeological finds suggest that Judeans living at the time were well aware of both its existence and its general appearance.
All these elements of first-century-CE Judaism are attested in the first century BCE, and some also in the second century BCE, but none are clearly attested to prior to this.
. . . .
[A]ll the practices examined here characterize Judaism in the first century CE and are attested to one degree or another in the first century BCE and in some cases also in the second century BCE. As with all the practices analyzed until now, the trail of evidence ends once we reach beyond the second century BCE. Prior to this time, we have good reason to think that certain practices (most saliently, the practice of fasting on the Day of Atonement) were completely unknown.(pp. 167, 169)
In summary, evidence for the existence of the synagogue prior to the first century CE is spotty at best. (p. 188)
Throughout this book, in chapter after chapter, it has been shown that the earliest surviving evidence for a widely practiced Judean way of life governed by the Torah never predates the second century BCE. . . .
Our analysis in the present chapter has led us to conclude that the Judean way of life during the Persian period was more likely governed by cultural norms and traditions inherited from the Iron Age than by anything resembling some kind of Torah law. A central element of what it meant to be a Judean at this time was veneration of YHWH and participation in the cultic worship of this deity, although it remains unclear to what degree this might have excluded the possibility of veneration and worship of other deities. . . . The origins of practices such as [a taboo against eating the “hip sinew” and perhaps also circumcision] may reach back to extraordinarily early epochs, possibly to before the emergence of any kind of distinct “Israelite” identity.
In all these cases [i.e. some form of “Passover” ritual, as well as of a seven-day period probably coinciding in time with what we know of as the Festival of Unleavened Bread], however, there is little reason to interpret the evidence as reflecting practices that were somehow legally mandated by anything akin to a Mosaic law. A conjectural Persian- period Judean way of life thus reconstructed, bereft of any sort of Torah as its regulating principle, can hardly be said to resemble Judaism in any meaningful way.
The roughly two centuries between the conquests of Alexander the Great circa 332 BCE and the founding of an independent Hasmonean polity in the middle of the second century BCE remain a far more conducive epoch in which to seek the origins of Judaism. . . . Here I have explored the possibilities that the Pentateuch came to be adopted as authoritative Torah by Judeans either during the Early Hellenistic period, when Judea found itself under foreign domination by the two great Hellenistic kingdoms, or during the Late Hellenistic period, after the Judeans had gained autonomy under the leadership of the priestly Hasmonean family. . . . [I]t would not be wrong to view Judaism as having emerged out of the crucible of Hellenism, which dominated the cultural landscape of the time. In a poetic way, it seems only fitting that our English word “Judaism” itself is the result of a Hebrew/Greek hybrid, rooted etymologically in the Greek rendering of the Hebrew “yahudah” merged with the Greek suffix “-ismos.” (pp. 235f)
Adler, Yonatan. The Origins of Judaism: An Archaeological-Historical Reappraisal. The Origins of Judaism. Yale University Press, 2022.
Genesis 1 is not a science text. It is primarily a theological myth but it is theology and myth wrapped around a contemporary scientific understanding of how the earth and heavens came into existence. Russell Gmirkin in Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts sets out a case for the author(s) of Genesis 1 being well-read in the Greek literature of the third century BCE and composing an account designed to promote piety among the wider communities of Samaria and Judea.
Like Plato’s Craftsman God who shaped and ordered the primeval elements into a beautiful cosmos, the creator deity of Genesis 1 appears to stand apart from the chaos as he commences his work of “purposefully”, “intentionally”, fashioning everything to be “good”. He does this mostly by a process of dividing and separating elements, assigning each new item its appropriate name, and expressing satisfaction in the “goodness” of the completed product. In all of the above, Plato would have recognized in Genesis 1 a brief theological-scientific summary of his own understanding of how the creator god made the heavens and the earth. But there would have been a few details Plato disagreed with. The author of Genesis 1 was up to date with scientific theories that had been developed since Plato’s time.
The First Day
God said, “Let there be…” — Xenophanes: a supreme being set all things into motion by thoughts of his mind alone.
God said, “Let there be…” — Plato: Divine purpose
God separated the light from the darkness — Empedocles; Hesiod and Plato – cosmos was formed by separating its primary elements
God saw the light was good — Plato: God was good and creating the cosmos in his perfect image
Light appears before the sun is formed — Empedocles’ theory of aether; Zeno; also Hesiod and Plato
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night” — Plato: the importance of names
Evening and morning were the first day — Plato: God’s first act of creation was time (days and nights and other means for measuring time)
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Gen 1:3)
How could a god create by merely saying a word? We are not reading about a magic performance because the command is not directed at any particular object to become something else. Plato does not express the idea of God creating by command, as RG notes. Rather,
The best parallel is perhaps provided by the natural philosopher Xenophanes, who held that the omnipotent supreme being effortlessly set all things into motion by the thoughts of his mind alone (Simplicius, Physics 23.11, 20; Sextus Empiricus, Against the Mathematicians 9.144; cf. Jaeger 1936: 45; Flannery 2010: 84) (Gmirkin, 126)
God saw that the light was good
He was good, and in him that is good no envy ariseth ever concerning anything; and being devoid of envy He desired that all should be, so far as possible, like unto Himself. (29e)
He fashioned the All, that so the work He was executing might be of its nature most fair and most good. (30b)
The separation of elements was a prominent theme of Greek science:
and God separated the light from the darkness (Gen 1:4)
But first, how could there be light before the creation of the sun? Hesiod wrote in Theogony, 123-125:
From Chaos were born Erebos [Darkness] and black Nyx [Night];
from Nyx were born Aither and Hemera [Day]
Aether is the light sky, created before the sun and stars.
The four elements together constitute unqualified substance or matter. Fire is the hot element, water the moist, air the cold, earth the dry. . . . Fire has the uppermost place ; it is also called aether, and in it the sphere of the fixed stars is first created ; then comes the sphere of the planets, next to that the air, then the water, and lowest of all the earth, which is at the centre of all things. (Diogenes Laertius, explaining the theory of Empedocles.)
Day and night were the first acts of God’s creation:
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Gen 1:5)
. . . and Plato agreed. After creating the various elements themselves, Plato’s god began by creating time — “days and nights” — and the various heavenly bodies by which time was to be measured. The author of Genesis delayed those measuring devices until the fourth day.
For simultaneously with the construction of the Heaven He contrived the production of days and nights and months and years, which existed not before the Heaven came into being. And these are all portions of Time; even as “Was” and “Shall be” are generated forms of Time (Timaeus 37e)
The Second Day
Separation of earth and sky — Plato: Thus it was that in the midst between fire and earth God set water and air (Timaeus 32b)
And God made the dome in the middle of the waters — Plato: God is the Creator
And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Gen 1:6-8)
I have often read that passage as an account of some sort of iron dome in the sky, but though the idea of a metallic vault with holes to enable rain to fall is found elsewhere in the Bible it is not, RG points out, what is described in Genesis 1.
The air, which was lighter and warmer than the earth and seas, but not as light or hot as the tenuous realm of fiery aether, formed an intermediate zone between the earth and upper skies. It is evident that this airy region is designated in Genesis 1 as the expanse of the heavenly dome or firmament (raqia), since it is given the name Sky (Gen 1:8) and it is in this same sky that the fowl were later said to fly and in which the sun, moon, and stars were placed (Gen 1:17, 20). Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, the word raqia designates a metallic vault or dome above the earth, supported by the highest mountains, and as firm as a brazen mirror, and having doors and windows through which the rain and snow fell (Gen 7:11; 28:17; Ps 78:23), as in the Ancient Near Eastern mythical cosmogony. But no such meaning attaches to the term raqia here. Rather, raqia here appears as a simple legacy from the older, pre-scientific language usage, an old term for the sky familiar to the intended audience of Genesis 1, but used there without its mythical linguistic baggage. Rather, raqia is best understood as a simple reference to the dome of the sky. (p. 129)
The Third Day
Separation of earth and seas — Anaximander, Heraclitus, ….
God said, . . . — as above
Spontaneous generation of plants — Empedocles, Archelaus, Democritus, …
and it was so — as above
Plants are not “living souls” like animals — Zeno
God called the dry land “Earth”…. — as above
Plants emerge before the sun is formed –– Empedocles
God saw that it was good — as above
Classifications of plants (domestic and wild) — Plato, …
And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:9-10)
Recall from earlier posts the theories of Greek science that notion of like bodies being attracted to like, and the heavier sinking below while the lighter ones rose to the top, the dry elements gathering separately from the wet, the hot from the cold.
Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Gen 1:11-13)
Here we find a disagreement with Plato and Aristotle and a preference for the views of Zeno, the founder of Stoic philosophy. While Plato and Aristotle classified plants with animals (“living souls”) because they all possessed some ability to move, however limited, Zeno said that plants were not “ensouled creatures”.
[Gen 1:11-13] makes the claim, common in Greek science, that the first plant life sprung up from the earth by spontaneous generation. According to theories proposed by several natural philosophers, the seeds of life were present throughout the mixture of elements in the primordial chaos. (p. 131)
After initially generating spontaneously from the earth, the plants thereafter reproduced by means of seeds. Again, we have a scientific classification, this time of plants into two kinds according to their manner of propagating seeds.
Notice, also that plants are said to emerge before the sun is created. Compare the view of the Greek philosopher Empedocles who said
that trees were the first animals to grow up from the earth, before the sun was unfolded around it and before night and day were separated… They grow by being raised out by the heat in the earth, so that they are parts of the earth just as embryos in the abdomen are part of the womb. (Aetius 5.26.4)
The Fourth Day
Let there be lights… two great lights… — “description of heavenly bodies as lights or lamps (maor), a term also used for clay lamps and candlesticks (Ex 25:6; Num 4:9, 16; Ps 64:16). This indicates that the sun, moon and stars were viewed as vessels containing fire an idea also advocated by several noted philosophers (Anaxmines, Empedocles, Heraclitus), but contrary to the theory of Anaxagoras …” (p. 132)
God said, . . . — as above
set them in the dome of the sky — that is, in the atmosphere (as per various Greek philosophers)
and God made two great lights — as above
signs, seasons, years and days — the technical terms used here overlap with those in the Astronomical Book of Enoch (“signs” = points of the equinoxes and solstices). Commentaries generally say Enoch borrowed from Genesis, but it is possible that the Genesis author borrowed from Enoch (VanderKam, p. 97). RG states that he will discuss these matters in a future work on Babylonian and Samaritan scientific and mythical traditions in Genesis 1-11.
for signs and for seasons and for days and years. . . to give light upon the earth — Plato: the heavenly bodies were created and set in their motions for the benefit of humanity on earth; they were thus “proofs” of divine benevolence. (Other Greek philosophers disagreed, claiming they were thrown into their orbits and took on their characteristics by natural and unplanned processes.)
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years. And let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Gen 1:14-19)
Plato disagreed with other natural philosophers like Anaxagoras who understood the heavenly bodies to have been thrown into the upper regions because of their lighter nature and were ignited by clashing together, and such like. For Plato, there was nothing “natural” about the “design” of the orbits of these bodies: they were carefully set in their orbits by a divine intelligence for the benefit of humankind.
Along with the theology, RG points to three scientific details (concepts found among the Greek philosophers) here: these heavenly bodies were fire-containing vessels, were in the airy part of the heavens; and were useful for calendrical purposes.
The Fifth Day
Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures — an implicit endorsement of the Greek theory of panspermia, that the seeds of life were scattered throughout all primeval matter.
So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind — Contradicts the scientific opening pointing to spontaneous generation of the sea life and water-birds from the ocean. Here God fashions the sea life and water birds.
God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply — The word for “blessed” is a command: God is commanding them to reproduce sexually after their initial emergence/fashioning.
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures (LXX ψυχών ζωσών), and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. (Gen 1:20-23)
If the opening statement depicts spontaneous generation the later sentence has God making the sea creatures. For RG, this contradiction arises from the author attempting to impose a theological account on top of what was understood to be the scientific process.
The Sixth Day
Let the earth bring forth living creatures — Spontaneous generation was a widespread Greek scientific notion for the origin of living creatures.
And God said . . . God made — as above
Classification by air, water and land animals; four-footed and many-footed; domestic and wild animals and plants — scientific classifications comparable to those found in Plato. But Plato had four classifications: another one for heavenly life forms, that is, the gods or stars — omitted in Genesis.
God saw that it was good — as above
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle (LXX τετράποδα [=tetrapods]) and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:24-25)
RG posits that the author of Genesis is overlaying scientific concepts with a theological narrative. One of the scientific concepts here is said to be reference to life forms, plants and animals, according to classifications such as are found among the early Greek natural philosophers. Here we have two types of animals: the wild and the domestic; four-footed and those that “creep”, presumably those with many more legs or no legs. With that understanding in mind, it is interesting to compare Greek scientific concepts with a list of created life forms in an early Mesopotamian creation account:
Plato speaks of four classifications of living forms:
And so there are four kinds of living beings in the universe:
the heavenly gods (i.e. including the stars),
winged creatures that travel through the air,
those that live in water,
and finally those that go on foot on dry land. (Timaeus 40a)
Of the different kinds of land animals, Plato wrote:
. . . animals of this kind have four or more legs, and the more mindless they were, the more such underpinning the gods gave them, to draw them even closer to the ground. As for the most mindless of them, the ones with their whole bodies level with the ground, the gods made them without feet, since they no longer needed them at all; these are the creatures that crawl along the ground. (Timaeus 92a)
and further, land animals were classified into the wild and the tame:
. . . all animals [are] divided into tame and wild. For if their nature admits of domestication they are called tame; if it does not, they are called wild. (Statesman 263e-264a)
And there were two kinds of plants:
These living beings are now cultivated trees, plants, and seeds, which have been reclaimed by agriculture for our use from their original wild state, before they were ever cultivated. (Timaeus, 77a)
and the cultivated plants were further subdivided:
as for cultivated crops — both the dry sort (that is, our staple and all the others we use as foodstuffs, which we collectively call ‘pulses’) and the arboreal sort (not only the sources of our drink and food and oil, but also the produce of fruit-bearing trees which, though hard to store, exists for the sake of our amusement and our pleasure) (Critias, 115b)
The ideas set out in the preceding chapters of Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts begin to find their “real-life” application in chapter 5. This chapter, “Genesis 1 as Science”, is a verse-by-verse commentary drawing on the preceding discussions.
MT = Masoretic text = Hebrew Bible
LXX = Septuagint = Greek translation of a Hebrew version that preceded the MT
Genesis 1:1 comes with three and a half pages of analysis.
When God began to create the heavens and the earth (1:1 MT; New Revised Standard Version)
Not Creation Ex Nihilo
This opening verse is sometimes thought to describe God creating the universe from nothing, ex nihilo. But the idea that God created everything from nothing is not found in the Bible. Gmirkin cites Gerhard May as pointing out that the explicit notion of an ex nihilo creation first appeared as late as the Christian Church Fathers in the late second century.
RG justifies his claim that Gen 1:1 does not speak of God actually creating “the heavens and the earth” on the grounds that:
it is only in later verses in Genesis 1 that we read of the actual creation of heavens and then the earth
Genesis 1 uses formulas (eg “And God said, ‘Let there be…'”) to describe God’s creative acts and no such formula is found in 1:1
and in the conclusion of this section we read “and thus the heavens and earth were finished”, indicating that the creation took place over six days out of pre-existing primordial chaotic matter.
In other words, Genesis 1:1 is a heading and the actual creative acts follow.
The idea that the universe emerged out of chaotic matter conforms to Greek scientific views that held that the universe in some form (even as chaotic matter) had to have always existed.
Is 1:1 a title of what follows, then? Every other block of narrative in Genesis has a title or “superscript”. But no, it is not a title, RG concludes. Rather, RG goes one step further and argues that the opening verse is a very condensed counterpart to Plato’s prologue to his account of creation in Timaeus. The prologue of the creation account in Plato’s Timaeus contains the following details:
that the ordered visible world had a clear beginning point (it existed in a realm of “becoming”)
that the cause of this beginning of an ordered cosmos was God (the word translated “began” or “beginning” in the LXX, ἀρχῇ [arche], means both “beginning” and “cause” and is used frequently in Timaeus)
that God was a being who existed apart from or outside the universe
God is presented as an artisan, a craftsman (or Demiurge), a personality with a purpose.
All those details are elaborated upon in a scientific discussion in Timaeus 27d to 29d.
Excerpts from Plato’s prologue:
. . . . . Now everything that becomes or is created must of necessity be created by some cause, for without a cause nothing can be created.
. . . . was the world, I say, always in existence and without beginning? or created, and had it a beginning? Created, I reply, being visible and tangible and having a body, and therefore sensible; and all sensible things are apprehended by opinion and sense and are in a process of creation and created. Now that which is created must, as we affirm, of necessity be created by a cause. But the father and maker of all this universe is past finding out; and even if we found him, to tell of him to all men would be impossible. . . . .
. . . . If then, Socrates, amid the many opinions about the gods and the generation of the universe, we are not able to give notions which are altogether and in every respect exact and consistent with one another, do not be surprised. Enough, if we adduce probabilities as likely as any others; for we must remember that I who am the speaker, and you who are the judges, are only mortal men, and we ought to accept the tale which is probable and enquire no further. (Benjamin Jowett translation)
From Chaos to Cosmos: Plato and Zeno
1:2 MT – The earth was waste and empty (tohu wabohu) and darkness covered the face of the deep (tehom) and a divine wind (ruach) swept over the face of the waters (mayim).
1:2 LXX – But the earth (γῆ) was invisible and unformed (ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος); and darkness was upon the abyss (ἀβύσσου). And God’s spirit (πνεῦμα Θεοῦ) bore upon the waters (ὕδατος).
What we read here is not total and utter chaos, but a beginning with raw material differentiated into earth, deep waters, and air. That’s not from Plato but it is from another early philosopher, one who founded the Stoic school, Zeno. (Zeno was a contemporary of those whom RG is submitting as the authors of Genesis.) Darkness implies that there is light somewhere but not directed towards the materials from which the cosmos was to be created. Interestingly, Plato understood darkness to be a material element — a form of dense air that lacked minute sparks of fire.
For Plato, the chaos at the beginning did not differentiate the elements of fire, earth, air and water. Zeno, on the other hand, proposed that fire was the basic element and from fire arose air, and from air was formed watery stuff, and from water a sediment of earth fell and coalesced into earth. From that condensed gooey muddy mass air arose, and from the air emerged aether, and when air moved as wind it threw clouds together so causing lightning — and hence light itself — to emerge.
Plato did attribute the start of creation to a good and intelligent creator god. He also said that (as per the LXX above) the primordial chaos was invisible. He had some concept of darkness as a substance that could rest on matter.
For Zeno, the four elements could be discerned in some sort of stratification in the chaos at the start. And since movement was a divine attribute, air in motion, or wind, was a divine element from which eventually came light.
Where does God enter Zeno’s picture? For Zeno, there were two types of active (divine) elements: fire and air. Fire, in turn, was subdivided into physical fire — a fire that consumed its fuel — and a spirit or god-fire that did not consume matter. (Compare Moses seeing the burning bush where God is said to be a fire that does not consume the bush.) For Zeno, only corporeal elements could move corporeal elements. The spirit fire, god, was thus the prime mover that initiated the orderly arrangement of the universe out of the chaos and even inhabited everything. Plato, on the other hand, thought of God as a transcendent, non-corporeal but anthropomorphic figure who spoke to bring about the cosmos — although other biblical authors did give God a fiery body.
So at the expense of some contradiction with what follows (e.g. the earth and water being separated on a subsequent day of creation) the author of Genesis 1:2 appears to have followed ideas from both Plato and Zeno.
RG breaks up his discussion into a series of categories (viz. an overview of Plato’s ideas; the cosmogony in Genesis compared with that of Greek philosophers; the stratification of the elements; the divine wind; ontology and a discussion of Greek and Hebrew terms) which, though thorough, means certain ideas are discussed repeatedly under each heading. The point of such detail and repetition is to prepare the reader for the final overview comparison of Genesis 1:2 and Greek cosmogonies.
Gmirkin, Russell E. Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. Abingdon, Oxon New York, NY: Routledge, 2022.
(Unfortunately for the progress of this series on RG’s new book, I was lately sidetracked into reading related to further exploration of the evidence we have for events affecting Jews and Christians between the events of 70 and 135 BCE. This was in part inspired by follow-up reading to Witulski’s view of Revelation being a product of the Hadrianic era, and led to further investigations into the background conditions that appeared to form the matrix from which both Christianity and rabbinic Judaism emerged. I look forward to posting more about thoughts arising in the future.)
Creation of man in God’s image is probably one of the most striking analogy to Plato’s work. . . . It is the most openly expressed in Timaeus. (Niesiołowski-Spanò 2007:118)
In Timaeus Plato gives his vision of the creation of the world, one that seems close to that of Genesis yet at the same time far more sophisticated. (Wajdenbaum 2011:92)
If you are wondering how well-known Timaeus was throughout the ancient Greek-speaking world . . . .
It would be a serious mistake … to conclude that the Timaeus was only read and studied by professional philosophers or students of philosophy. The very fact that it was regarded as the ‘Platonists’ Bible’ meant that its influence inevitably filtered down to men of letters and even those who had received only a smattering of learning. Indeed the Timaeus was the only Greek prose work that up to the third century A.D. every educated man could be assumed to have read. (Runia 1986:57)
We have seen the evidence Russell Gmirkin [RG] set out for the authors of the Pentateuch drawing upon Plato’s works so it is against that background that this focus on Genesis and Timaeus proceeds. Chapter 4 of Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts “examines various lines of evidence that indicated Genesis 1 did in fact draw on the Timaeus“.
RG’s discussion engages with several related scholarly views and the current mainstream understanding that he is challenging. It is a somewhat technical presentation, examining the textual structures and how related Platonic themes (science, philosophy, myth) are expressed through each. For better or worse, I have decided to touch on the more obvious overlaps between Genesis 1-2 and Timaeus with little comment. I imagine you, dear reader, are sitting with fellow critical jurors.
First to the witness stand is Martin Rösel [MR]. MR listed clear indications that the Greek version of Genesis made liberal use of terms from Timaeus. MR’s explanation for these references was that the translators felt free to modify, even change, the original Hebrew text.
e.g. Thus Genesis 1:2, in Hebrew, speaks of the earth being “empty and void” but the early Greek version of Genesis is unusual in that it speaks of the earth being “invisible and unformed”, an expression reflecting Plato’s cosmology in Timaeus.
But under cross-examination of further studies, MR’s explanation that the Septuagint (LXX) was a very free translation of a Hebrew text could not stand up. The DNA evidence demonstrated that the LXX was an attempt to hew closely to the literal Hebrew original and not a free translation. The LXX can make for awkward reading in ways that indicate that the translators struggled to maintain faithfulness to a Hebrew source.
But what was the Hebrew source of the Septuagint? It was not our current “Masoretic text” (MT). Interestingly, in some places where the LXX disagrees with the MT, other earlier Hebrew versions do match the LXX translation (e.g. the Samaritan Torah, a Dead Sea Scroll fragment).
the LXX was not a free translation of the underlying Hebrew text . . . but rather a literal translation of a non-MT text [an earlier Hebrew text] of Genesis (RG, 86)
What does the mainstream scholarship say about all of this? The dominant view is that there were Hebrew and Greek versions of the Pentateuch long before our current MT and LXX. Neither of these earlier, now lost, texts could have reflected Plato’s Timaeus. It is acknowledged that Timaeus did influence some parts of the LXX of the third-century BCE. The question remains, though, Why is the LXX so different from the MT?
Next witness: Emmanuel Tov.
What version of Genesis 1 came first? The MT or LXX?
Definitely the MT. A copy was kept in the temple and was used as the standard by which all copies were measured.
Where did the LXX come from?
I can’t help but think that it came from a tradition that stood opposed to the temple authorities.
Why, then, does the Letter of Aristeas say that the temple authorities sent a Hebrew text to Alexandria for translation into Greek?
I don’t believe that that story has any truth to it. It is total fiction. The LXX had to come from a group opposed to the Temple authorities. The temple authorities would have sent a copy of the MT and the LXX would be far closer to the MT than it currently is.
But then where did the LXX come from?
I can’t say anything other than what I have said already.
Next witness: Four figures enter the dock — the Book of Watchers, Demetrius the Chronographer and the Book of Jubilees and Qumran (Dead Sea Scroll) fragments. All of these testify to being the first to quote or allude to biblical writings. Not one is any older than the third century BCE.
It . . . goes beyond the evidence to assume that the Hebrew Bible in any form, whether MT or proto-LXX, significantly predates the Septuagint translation. (RB, 88)
Next witness: Timaeus, the astronomer created by Plato. Timaeus is asked about the three different creation narratives or myths he described to his companions: the creation of the cosmos; how the elements that enabled and brought about order emerged from primordial chaos; the creation of mortal plant and animal life, including humans. The court asks Timaeus to outline his presentation. He does so:
I began by telling my audience, Socrates among them, that I was going to describe how “in the beginning” the universe was “generated” (Greek “genesis”), that “in the beginning”, a good God “made” the “heaven and earth”.
The Greek words in quotation marks match those in the LXX of Genesis 1. The judge instructs Timaeus to stop “finger-quoting” and get to the point and list only the details of the visible creative process.
If I restrict myself to the order of the creation of the visible universe….
(continuing the series on Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts) ….
If the authors of Genesis were inspired by Plato’s discourse on the origins of the cosmos in Timaeus how can one explain the obvious contrast between Plato’s lengthy scientific and philosophical reasoning and the simple narrative in Genesis 1:1-2:3?
To answer this question Russell Gmirkin [RG] begins by explaining that there were “seven distinct modes of Greek discourse on cosmogony” and that authors adapted their rhetoric according to the particular audiences each had in view.
1. Scientific Discourse: Natural philosophers most often wrote for their elite, wealthy and educated peers. “Schools” or “universities” were established by prominent thinkers (e.g. Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum) and cosmogonies were written to expound their underlying philosophical reasoning.
2. Revealed Myth:Parmenides of Elea wrote cosmogonies addressed to two different audiences. In Way of Truth he wrote a detailed scientific discourse for his educated peers. In Way of Opinion he wrote a cosmogony in the form of a myth that was being taught by the goddess Justice or Necessity.
In this mode of discourse, the aim was not to achieve knowledge but to induce belief in the theories being presented. Here Parmenides appears to have anticipated Plato, who advocated implanting beliefs in the citizenry as a necessary precursor to achieving true knowledge in a select few . . . . It appears that Parmenides (like Plato) saw a social utility in presenting theories of cosmogony to the general public under divine authority, since he named the appropriate goddess as Necessity or Justice, “who steers the course of all things,” suggesting that a mythical account on cosmogony that recognized a divine steering principle was needed to ensure a pious and just citizenry. It appears that the populace was induced to believe not only that this account of the origins of the universe was divine, but also had the endorsement of the scientific educated elites. The poetic form of the discourse may have been intended to enhance its appeal to the masses. (pp. 66f)
3. Myth as Discourse (Enchantment): Plato taught that in an ideal government philosophers should rule and oversee all aspects of education from infancy to adulthood. The curriculum for the young had to consist of myths that fostered “good” behaviour. These myths needed to be attractive to all ages, especially the young, and hence were to be relayed in songs, poems, theatrical performances and public readings at festivals. Existing myths that told of gods were useful but first had to be censored by the philosopher rulers to remove from them every negative and immoral act of the gods. Nothing bad about the gods was to enter the minds of the citizens. Education was to encompass the whole society, from mothers telling infants nursery rhymes to entertaining performances (singing, reading, acting) for the young and adults.
The aim and intended reception of discourse by myth was to induce belief, and thereby implement societal conformity to theological and ethical norms. Myth, whether in the form of song, story or theatrical performance, was chosen as the medium for inducing belief, due to the pleasant, entertaining, enchanting character of the myth . . . Myth was thus the chosen rhetorical tool to condition the emotions and convey theological and ethical truths on a pre-rational level to intellectually unsophisticated audiences. (p. 68)
Genesis 1 reads as an authoritative story. It was not entirely a myth like other creation myths. It presented a scientific account of the moving power over the primordial chaos bringing about a series of separations that led to day and night, earth and sea, the spontaneous generation of life forms from the ocean, and so forth.
A story format was highly suitable for instilling beliefs about God’s fashioning of the universe for audiences of all ages and was easily understood by school children and even the youngest children, important target audiences under Plato’s system of education. (p. 68)
The second creation account (Genesis 2:4ff) follows up the cosmogony with a mythical narrative about the origins of animals and humans, the reason humans dominate the animals, the introduction of sexual reproduction and clothing, etc. It is a story easily understood by all, from the very young to the old. The beginning of the account may be a subtle reminder of Greek myths:
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created . . . — see Gen 2:4 for the Hebrew text
Here is the thesis that Russell Gmirkin [RG] is buttressing in Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts:
Plato’s writings, including Plato’s Laws, envisioned theologically trained educated elites ruling the nation and creating a national literature to shape the beliefs and character of the ordinary citizenry, both youths and adults (Gmirkin 2017: 255-61). The creation of the cosmogony of Genesis 1 should be understood as part of just such a national literary enterprise under the direction of the ruling class elites. (p. 75)
The thesis has been the subject of earlierbooks that have been discussed in detail on this blog. In support of that interpretation RG analyses the Genesis creation chapter to demonstrate its relationship to Greek “philosophical” ideas and in particular, Plato’s Timaeus.
Anyone familiar with Timaeus will be immediately thinking, But Timaeus contains a very lengthy explanation of the origins of our cosmos and Genesis 1 is, well, extremely short. Yes, but Plato also said something else that is most pertinent to this discussion that is alluded to in the above quotation. Hear out RG. I will do my best to present his analysis and comparisons fairly and accurately.
The ancient Greek science context of Genesis
Ancient Greek science was a process of inferring how and why the observable world came about and worked the way it did but the idea of carrying out experiments to test ideas had to wait for a future time.
We have clear demarcations between the study of the origins of the universe and the study of the origins of societies. Not so ancient Greek thinkers. For them, the “history of nature” bracketed all in one course the question of the origins of the universe, of life, of humankind, of social institutions, of technologies, of political systems.
The questions they asked were:
What was the nature and origin of the “stuff” from which the cosmos came about?
What were the forces (e.g. floating and sinking, separation of matter by winnowing), and the origins of those forces, that acted on that “stuff” to cause it to behave the way it did?
How did those forces cause the cosmos to come into existence?
The thinkers were not called “scientists”. Aristotle called them “students of nature” or “writers on nature” (see the Loeb edition of Aristotle’s Physics). Later authors called them “philosophers” and that’s the common label attached to them today. RG addresses the problematic state of the evidence for our knowledge of what these natural philosophers theorized but we do have some general ideas, however provisional, and he provides an interesting set of entries for them to enable us to get some idea of the intellectual context RG is arguing for Genesis 1. (The links are my own, of course, and not RG’s) Continue reading “Genesis = Science + Myth + Theology — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 3a]”
The creation account in Genesis 1 is unlike other creation myths from the ancient world.
There are little hints in the chapter that the author was aware of more dramatic myths of gods fighting monsters and in the process creating the cosmos, but unlike those myths Genesis 1:1-2:3 appears to be . . .
. . . a radical purification and distillation of all mythical and speculative elements, an amazing theological accomplishment!
This account of creation is unique in this respect among the cosmogonies of other religions. . . . But the atmosphere of Gen., ch. 1, is not primarily one of reverence, awe, or gratitude, but one of theological reflection. . . . But just this renunciation also mediates aesthetically the impression of restrained power and lapidary greatness. (Rad 1972, 64)
In an earlier edition of his commentary Gerhard von Rad skirted along the sides of Russell Gmirkin’s thesis:
Some terms: Ionic refers to one of the four Greek tribes: Ionians, Dorians, Achaeans, Aeolians Natural philosophy: theories about the natural world, nature Cosmogony: theories on the origin of the universe Theogony: Account of the origin of the gods Theomachy: Account of war among gods
One can speak . . . only in a very limited sense of a dependence of this account of creation on extra-Israelite myths. Doubtless there are some terms which obviously were common to ancient Oriental, cosmological thought; but even they are so theologically filtered . . . that scarcely more than the word itself is left in common. Considering [the author’s] superior spiritual maturity, we may be certain that terms which did not correspond to his ideas of faith could be effortlessly avoided or recoined. What does the term “tehōm” (the “deep”) in v. 2, the word for the unformed abysmal element of creation, still have in common with the mythically objective world dragon, Tiamat, in the Babylonian creation epic? Genesis, ch. 1, does not know the struggle of two personified cosmic primordial principles; not even a trace of one hostile to God can be detected! The tehōm has no power of its own; one cannot speak of it at all as though it existed for itself alone, but it exists for faith only with reference to God’s creative will, which is superior to it. In our chapter this careful distillation of everything mythological (but only this) reminds one of the sober reflections of the Ionic natural philosophers. (Rad 1961, 63)
But Rad was writing from the conventional perspective that what we read in Genesis was the product of centuries of thought, writing and re-writing. Rad seemed to think that his 1961 reference to the Ionic natural philosophers was even a potential distraction so he dropped it in the revised edition. For Gmirkin [RG] the Ionic philosophers were indeed the key to understanding why the creation account of Genesis is, as Rad observed, “unique”. But that possibility, as we noted in the previous post, has not entered into the discussion as a possibility until now.
Before addressing those “sober reflections of the Ionic natural philosophers” RG explores the different types of cosmogonies that the people of Israel surely knew about from their neighbours. His text is packed with details and references. It is not a quick, light, read. Ideas set out in one place reappear in support of a more comprehensive view later in the chapter. Fortunately, I am the kind of reader who appreciates more detail rather than less and recontextualized repetitions rather than dangerous shortcuts. To address the key ideas here, though, I need to stand back and rethink and distil all that I have read. (That’s part of my excuse for not posting sooner. Another reason is that I have been sidetracked with other books that have newly arrived on loan and in the post.)
RG begins his survey of ancient creation myths with theogonies. The famous Greek one is Hesiod’s Theogony. The first god was Chaos and from Chaos was “born” Gaia or Earth, and so forth. You can see how it goes from a diagram I have borrowed from Karen Sonik‘s publication:
RG discusses the comparable anthropomorphisms of Babylonian and Canaanite gods. Those cultures have left us no comparable theogonies, however. Of particular interest, of course, is that for the Greeks it all began with Chaos: we are aware of a similar origin in the opening words of Genesis.
A better-known class of myths are the theomachies. The Titan Kronos (the Roman Saturn) castrates Ouranos and inaugurates a new (golden) age in which humankind was created; later Zeus led his supporters in a war against Kronos and the other Titans; each successive event introducing a new era. But these Greek “wars of the gods” were not related to the creation of the cosmos. For that we turn to the Babylonian story of Marduk killing the sea monster Tiamat, cutting her body apart and using it to form the sky and earth – and from her blood creating the first humans who also incorporated some divine element from the slain god. Tiamat reminds us of the Hebrew word for deep as we saw in Rad’s quotation above. RG also draws our attention to further instances of overlaps with Genesis – Marduk being interpreted as light and wind which he used as weapons against Tiamat.
All of the above is far from the kind of creation narrative we read in Genesis 1.
Similarities between the Pentateuch and Greek literature have long been noted and discussed in scholarly literature, but most of those discussions have assumed that the Greeks and the authors of the biblical books were independently drawing on Asiatic stories or even that some Greeks were exposed to translations of parts of the Pentateuch. (Evangelia Dafni is one such scholar who today argues for that latter position; Franz Dornseiff once argued for the former.) Others have flatly denied any serious or significant analogies between the Pentateuch and Greek works, relegating supposed parallels to coincidence or over-active imaginations. That dreaded fourteen letter word comes to mind: “parallelomania“.
Russell Gmirkin [RG] has a new book, Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. My blog posts on his two earlier books are archived at Berossus and Genesis and Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible. I anticipate doing a chapter by chapter review of his new work on Genesis 1-11.
Genesis 1-11 or the Primordial History covers the span of time from Creation and the misadventures of the first humans, through the Flood and up to the Tower of Babel story. It stops prior to the introduction of Abraham and the beginning of Israel’s story. The Primordial History stages characters with enormous life-spans, a talking snake, angels with flaming swords, a god walking the earth, “sons of god” mating with women to produce “men of renown”, a world-wide flood that reminds us of the Epic of Gilgamesh and a divine intervention to confound the languages of humanity and scatter them across the earth. Before all of that we read how God created heaven and earth, beginning with the creation of light days before he made the sun! These chapters are clearly a different type of unit from the rest of the Pentateuch. Where does it all come from?
Even within chapters 1-11 exegetes have long noted a sudden break between the seven-day creation (1:1 to 2:3) on the one hand and the detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, (2:4ff) on the other. How did two accounts, one seeming to contradict the other, come to be placed side by side? And what are we to make of the different names of God: Elohim and Yahweh Elohim?
Forgive me, but I have an aversion to the term “Near East” given its imperialist Eurocentric origin and perspective. Besides, from where I live in Australia the regions of the Levant and Mesopotamia are “Far West”.
The ideas explored in RG’s new book will be a challenge-too-far for some readers who have been immersed in the Documentary Hypothesis and its assumption that the writings of the Bible evolved over centuries from the time of the biblical kingdoms of Israel-Judah (from 900 BCE) and were more or less completed by the end of the Persian era in the fifth century, that is, before the conquests of Alexander and the onset of the Hellenistic period. This traditional view holds that the first five books of the Bible grew out of the literary matrix of Mesopotamia and Syria-Canaan. Possible Greek influence is not even considered.
In his earlier books RG explored the case for a Hellenistic date for the Pentateuch and this new volume is a continuation of those earlier works. His aim is to see what happens when we compare a wider range of possible influences — adding Greek data into the mix — on the Primordial History. I hasten to point out that RG by no means denies influence from the Levantine-Mesopotamian region. But the devils are in the details when identifying the most likely sources of transmission. It is not an either-or discussion but a modified form of both-and, albeit with some adjustments concerning what the evidence indicates about who was responsible for the transmission and when.
In his opening chapter RG explains
how he will go about identifying the sources behind the Primordial History
an overview of the history of the scholarly views of Genesis 1-11 and where his own research fits.
I saw you last week on Compass and have since read your book about your experience in Hillsong. It was a most enjoyable read — your conversational style, your humour, sharing your pain, your observations, your joys, your caring.
I was reminded painfully (and sometimes with some brief moments of joy and appreciation) of my own experience in a religious cult. You were brought up in yours; I chose mine when in my late teens. Yours was what my cult would have called a “free and easy” one; by contrast I would describe mine as very tightly controlled and regimented. But your book has opened my eyes to see how similar the two different cults have been and are.
When I first left my cult I went straight for the libraries and bookshops to find books to read works that would help me make sense of my experience. What astonished me at the time was learning that though we had always thought of ourselves as unique, as a church teaching a way of life that could be traced back to the first and second chapters of Acts, and that no other church claiming to be Christian was the least bit like us, — what I learned was how very, very, similar, alike, we were to Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hari Krishna or Moonies,. . . . you name it, they all share the same horrendous modus operandi (as you also came to learn). We could never imagine ourselves being like yours — Pentecostal, tongues, inviting outsiders to fellowship without prior vetting, music-dominated services, feel-good preaching — we were opposed to all of that stuff but your book has shown me that we were still the same.
Cults come in many guises.
But there are the same fundamental techniques of manipulation. There’s the same black-and-white thinking. I smiled when I read that you didn’t understand a word your first-year sociology lectures were talking about. I, too, could not make sense of my initial course in sociology. A minister had said things like our daily routines should be private and not the subject of study and I sure as hell could not make sense of trying to study how our lives worked according to scientific models. What I did not recognize at the time was that that sort of thinking was totally contrary to all I understood about life as something between “me and God and my church” — I could not recognize that I was living in a fairy tale world patterned after the Book of Revelation and Bible Prophecy.
There is the busy-ness of it all. That’s another common feature. There is no time for anything else. After our daily studies and meditations at home and our week-night bible studies and our other week-night speaking clubs and our weekly all day worship time and our other fellowship or “doing the work” time — there was no time to do anything but maintain the mind-game of fighting to hold oneself all together.
And the judgmentalism. Church members often commented to me that they expected me to become a minister eventually but what they did not know was that I had “confessed” to our authorities certain private doubts and alternative readings of the Bible (I actually came to realize I knew more about the Bible than those trained in our Bible Colleges) — and personal weaknesses. The authorities knew things that would always mean I would be deemed with some suspicion, some degree of wariness. I could continue to attend so long as I shut up about it all.
You mention gays. Yes, they “did not exist” in our church, either. Though looking back I can now see what I failed to see at the time about some of my associates. I knew then that they were struggling with a pain I could not fathom but now I can see what they were going through, or at least the root cause of their unfathomable pain in such a church.
The church — yours and mine — cannot understand “man’s ways” which are the “ways of the devil”. I think of the many people who needed just a little wisdom that could be gleaned from some basic understanding of psychology, people, say, with pasts that involved PTSD, with people who are at various points on the autism spectrum, with drug addicts, . . . our churches are pretty much guaranteed to make their conditions and suffering worse. But for a time they will continue to put on a brave face and play make-believe with their “new self”.
And yes, why is it that your church began in much the same way as ours — with a man who would today be condemned as a sexual predator and who sought some sort of escape from his personal failings by means of some charismatically shared visions.
And the pain of leaving and leaving it all behind. Discovering that one’s friends, one’s “brothers and sisters in Christ”, are nowhere to be found. They are behind cement walls and out of sight and hearing range. They are not fearing enough for your salvation to come looking for you. You are dead to them. That was one of the hardest parts, as you know. Discovering that people you believed were spiritual family, closer than your physical family, only cared for you insofar as they saw you as part of their “body of Christ”. Leave it and you vanish like a fly out the window.
When you wrote the book it was clear you were still working through your feelings about leaving. It took me some years to do the same. Quite some years. I went through various stages as you have done. I think by now I really do have it pretty much for most part out of my system. I think that because I no longer write about it as much as I used to and I have less interest in engaging with the topic as I used to.
What is also frustrating is seeing others leave only to turn to some other idionsyncratic cultish world of their own. They missed the point.
I have since studied other movements like the radicalization of extremists, in particular suicide bombers and Islamist terrorists. I wrote about various studies about those persons on this blog and was always mindful of how similar the recruitment processes and experiences of those young men and women were to yours and mine. Now we see new forms of extreme right-wing radicalization and conspiracy theory groups: there we see the same processes at work only without the religious cloaks that we are familiar with.
When I left my cult, I thought for a while I would enter a world of enlightenment and freedom. That was only partly true. I — and no doubt you, too — can see “mind-control” and radicalization techniques at work a mile off, whether it’s in the world of religion or politics or some other social movement – or should that be “antisocial” movement.
It was a good and refreshing reminder of the world of the cult experience, Tanya, and I thank you for your book. I hope others who are beginning to question their experience with Hillsong or something similar read it and find assurance through it — assurance that they are not mad, but very normal, and that they are saner than they have ever been for having those doubts.
P.S. And omg, what a relief it is to be rid of that Hillsong Prime Minister who boasted he was secretly laying hands on every victim of a natural disaster that he touched, and who had no respect for fundamental democratic norms, and the rest… oh the pentecostal/cult smugness that just reeked through!
I have added a new page in the right column under Archives By Topic to allow easy access to the complete list of recent posts on Revelation presenting Thomas Witulski’s second century date for the work. The page also includes all other posts that have discussed Revelation from various perspectives.
But since we’re here right now, here is a copy of that page:
Annotated list of Vridar posts on the Book of Revelation
This post concludes my reading of Thomas Witulski’s three works proposing that the Book of Revelation was written at the time of Hadrian and the outbreak of the Bar Kochba War.
The first series, taken from Die Johannesoffenbarung und Kaiser Hadrian, covered Hadrian’s identification with Zeus, his popularity as a Nero Redivivus, and his propagandist Polemon’s activities in Asia Minor and their impact on Christians there;
the second series with Die Vier Apokalyptischen Reiter Apk 6,1-8 surveyed the years of Trajan’s conquests, the widespread Jewish rebellions and the consequences of their savage suppression, represented by “the four horsemen of the apocalypse”;
this third round has dipped into Apk 11 und der Bar Kokhba-Aufstand to see how W understands the measuring of the temple and the two witnesses of Revelation 11.
I prefer to read works cited for myself to gain a fuller knowledge and understanding of the evidence and interpretations being raised. This has been especially helpful since I rely on machine translations of the German works and sometimes it has been a struggle to be sure I have grasped the exact idea W has sought to convey. The wider reading has led me sometimes to go beyond W’s specific content but I hope I have made it clear whenever I have done so. With this final series some of the works I have wanted to read have still not reached me so I may later return to expand on one or two parts of the discussion. I do appreciate critical comments that some readers have added. It may take me a few days to catch up with them but they are always important to help keep us honest and thorough in our explorations of this text and what it can tell us about early Christian history.
W’s final chapter brings together his analyses of the text and examination of the primary evidence for the events of the early second century.
A Contemporary Interpretation of the Measuring of the Temple (Rev 11:1-2)
I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.
If read against contemporary history, W concludes, this passage can be interpreted as an allusion to Hadrian’s visit to the province of Judea in 130 CE and his efforts to embed a Hellenistic-Roman culture that was opposed to “Old Testament” Jewish thinking. The rebels’ program to rebuild the Yahweh sanctuary in Jerusalem and to reinstall a temple priest cult should also be understood in this context.
For W, the measuring presupposes that the buildings are not yet constructed (or have been destroyed) at the time of the writing of the Apocalypse. This corresponds to the conditions in Jerusalem on the eve of the Bar Kochba revolt as Cassius Dio describes them.
W cites the many works that have discussed the thesis that Hadrian’s decision to rebuild Jerusalem as the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina. The question in part focuses on the contradictory ancient sources. We only have an epitome of Cassius Dio’s History and that condenses the original words to:
At Jerusalem he founded a city in place of the one which had been razed to the ground, naming it Aelia Capitolina, and on the site of the temple of the god he raised a new temple to Jupiter. This brought on a war of no slight importance nor of brief duration, for the Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign races should be settled in their city and foreign religious rites planted there. (LXIX, 12, 1f)
Eusebius, however, informs us that Cassius Dio’s “cause” was rather the “result” of the war:
The climax of the war came in Hadrian’s eighteenth year, in Betthera, an almost impregnable little town not very far from Jerusalem. The blockade from without lasted so long that hunger and thirst brought the revolutionaries to complete destruction, and the instigator of their crazy folly paid the penalty he deserved. From that time on, the entire race has been forbidden to set foot anywhere in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, under the terms and ordinances of a law of Hadrian which ensured that not even from a distance might Jews have a view of their ancestral soil. Aristo of Pella tells the whole story. When in this way the city was closed to the Jewish race and suffered the total destruction of its former inhabitants, it was colonized by an alien race, and the Roman city which subsequently arose changed its name, so that now, in honour of the emperor then reigning, Aelius Hadrianus, it is known as Aelia. Furthermore, as the church in the city was now composed of Gentiles, the first after the bishops of the Circumcision to be put in charge of the Christians there was Mark. (Church History, 1.6)
It is in theory possible to harmonize the two accounts and hypothesize that Hadrian’s declaration of his plan to build the new capital led to the outbreak of the war and that he completed that task after the war’s end. The critical question of what exactly Hadrian accomplished prior to hostilities remains. In the words of one of the scholars W references,
The contradiction can easily be understood if we examine it from a historical perspective. Hadrian declared his will to rebuild the famous and sacred city of the past around 130 CE, on the occasion of his voyage to the east. He may even have accomplished some practical steps toward the actual foundation, including the pomerium. At that stage, the Jews, who could not bear the idea of a new Greek-Roman city being built in place of their historical and sacred capital, decided to rebel. Only after the suppression of the revolt, in 135 CE, was the city actually built.
As is well known, Hadrian accompanied the foundation of Aelia Capitolina by two symbolic anti-Jewish acts. The name of the Provincia Iudaea was changed to Provincia Syria Palaestina, and the Jews were expelled from the city and its region. There is no reason to believe that Hadrian would have contemplated such symbolic acts were it not for the Bar Kokhba revolt. It seems likely that the Emperor intended to enhance his reputation as a builder and restorer of ruined and unfinished monuments and as a benefactor of cities. It also seems likely that the Emperor expected to be embraced and admired by the citizens of Iudaea, and particularly by the Jews, for rebuilding the famous city of Jerusalem, as did the citizens of many other cities, including Gerasa (Jerash) of Arabia.
Though such an interpretation cannot be proved, it seems to me very reasonable. The conclusion that Hadrian had in mind the restoration of a city named Hierosolyma is more likely than the conclusion that he had decided on a completely new name already as early as 130. It should be remembered that although Jerusalem was indeed ruinous at that time, it was not totally deserted, and life had begun to be revive[d]. The replacement of the famous historical name Jerusalem by Aelia Capitolina was a very severe and symbolic act, analogous to the changing of the name Iudaea into Syria Palaestina, or in short, Palestine. In both cases the Imperial administration intentionally suppressed Jewish national feelings. (Tsafrir, 32f — recall that coins personified Judea in Greco-Roman dress)
In trying to make the most of Cassius Dio’s words through his epitomizer, Xiphilinus, Eliav concludes,
67 Such a characterization of the writer’s intensions (sic) may be the reason that, as Isaac has already pointed out . . . this passage, unlike other descriptions found in Dio, focuses wholly on the temple built by Hadrian without mentioning any other urban actions (of the kind mentioned later in the Chronicon Paschale).
To summarize, the clause describing Hadrian’s actions on the Temple Mount bears the stamp of a Christian writer such as Xiphilinus (or any one before him). This conclusion is derived from content gaps in the structural design of the passage, from its vocabulary, and from the theological tendencies it reflects. Dio’s original version has been lost, but it might be possible to reconstruct it using the clues in the second segment. Describing the events from the Jewish perspective, Dio tells of the Jews’ dissatisfaction with the foreign shrines placed in their city (ίuερά άλλότρια έν αύτή ίδρυθήναι). It may be that the first segment described the same situation, that is, Hadrian’s founding of a foreign city and building a pagan shrine (or shrines) there. In the course of paraphrasing this passage, a later writer turned the situation into a theological confrontation between Hadrian and the Jewish God. This writer re-situated the pagan shrine, shifting it from the city in general to the Temple Mount in particular. Moreover, he painted a neutral act customary in the establishment of a new colony in the harsh colors of a religious confrontation by using a “loaded” verb and referring to the temple by a name familiar to both Jewish and Christian readers.67
This conclusion extracts the historical barb from the story of the pagan shrine on the Temple Mount, and shows it to have been planted by a religiously motivated writer. (Eliav, 142f)
W’s view is that hopes for a rebuilt temple were dashed and that the author feared the war would end in defeat. If the fate of Jewish rebellions in the time of Trajan had not been warning enough, it appears that the fate of the Jewish rebels was sealed when Hadrian called Severus from Britain to suppress the uprising.
The historical reference of Rev 11:1-2a to the first phase of the Bar Kokhba revolt becomes even more conclusive if it is assumed that the decision to (re)found Jerusalem as the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina and, in connection with this, the decision to erect a pagan sanctuary there can be dated to the time immediately before the military escalation, i.e. around 130 AD. Then the statements of Rev 11:1-2a could be referred to these decisions of Hadrian without any problems: The apocalyptist is supposed to measure the temple, the θυσιαστήριον [= altar] and the people worshipping there for the purpose of rebuilding or reconstruction. (W, 306 – translation)
The prophecy of 11:2b that the nations will trample the city of Jerusalem underfoot, robbing it of its religious identity,
. . . corresponds entirely to the Hellenistic-imperial ideology propagated by Hadrian in the context of his visit to the province of Judea, which will ultimately win the day and leave no room for the continued existence of a more or less independent Judean state with a decidedly Old Testament Jewish religiosity inherent in and shaping it. (ibid)
The author wrote the Apocalypse soon after the outbreak of the Bar Kochba war. He used the future tense because he felt its doomed outcome to be inevitable.
A Contemporary Interpretation of the Two Witnesses (Rev 11:3-13)
(Continuing the series outlining key points of Thomas Witulski’s case for a contemporary interpretation of the Book of Revelation: the two witnesses being Bar Kochba and Eleazar.)
Back to Josephus. Year 70 CE. The siege of Jerusalem.
Josephus writes that he had pleaded with his countrymen to give themselves up to the Romans and save their Temple. The zealots, led by John, despised his words. But many, including those of the upper classes, did choose to side with the Romans.
(111) As Josephus spoke thus, with groans and tears, his voice broke down with sobs. (112) Even the Romans were moved by his distress and admired his determination; but John’s men were the more incensed with the Romans and eager to get hold of Josephus. (113) However, many citizens of the upper class were moved by this address. Some of them were too frightened of the partisan guards to move, though they had given up themselves and the city for lost; but there were others who, watching their opportunity to escape, sought asylum with the Romans. (114) Among them were the high priests Joseph and Jesus and several sons of high priests, namely three sons of Ishmael who was beheaded in Cyrene, four of Matthias and one of another Matthias. This man had run away after the death of his father who had been murdered with three sons by Simon son of Giora, as explained above. Many other citizens of good family went over with the high priests. (115) Caesar received them with all possible kindness and, realizing that foreign customs would make life distasteful for them, he sent them to Gophna and ordered them to remain there for the time being; he even promised to return every man’s possessions as soon as he could after the war. (116) So they retired willingly and with complete confidence to the little town that was allotted to them . . . (Jewish War, VI – Cornfeld edition)
If the above account can be trusted, it appears that many religious leaders and landowners sided with the Romans and retained or had their status and possessions returned to them at the end of the war.
. . . it does not seem unlikely that many of these “new settlers”, so useful and acceptable to the Romans, remained rooted in their new locations, becoming masters of properties whose original owners had either been slain, or taken prisoner, or had fled the country. (Alon, 63)
Others were not so fortunate:
Naturally, there were Jews whose land was confiscated outright by the Roman government itself. This was the treatment meted out to anyone suspected of anti-Roman activity. The process continued even after the fighting was over. After Vespasian had taken Beth Aris and Kfar Taba in “Idumaea”, having killed ten thousand in the process and captured one thousand Jews whom he sold as slaves, “he expelled the remainder and stationed in the district a large division of his own troops, who overran and devastated the whole of the hill country.” (Alon, 62)
The war thus brought in its train major changes in the distribution of land ownership through: 1) the loss of ownership-title by those who remained on the land, and who could thus be thrown off their property at a moment’s notice; 2) total confiscation from resisters and political undesirables; 3) government lease or grant to non-Jews . . . ; but occasionally as out-right grantees), who would then clear the Jewish inhabitants right off the land; and 4) simple transfer of title from Jewish to non-Jewish owners. (Alon, 63)
In a later rabbinic account we read a memory of those days:
One of the wealthiest men of Jerusalem before its destruction, Nakdimon b. Gorjon, most probably perished during the siege of the capital. After the catastrophe his daughter is found by R. Johanan b. Zakkai and his disciples starving and picking grains of barley from horses’ dung, and, when questioned by the rabbi, explained that the money of her father and her father-in-law was all gone. Such cases of utter impoverishment may have been numerous, while such as continued on their property may also have been many. (Büchler, 30)
But many Judeans were not opposed to Rome and only wanted peace. We have accounts of some of them attempting to undo the marks of circumcision — as well as some being re-circumcised when the rebellion broke out. A Sibylline oracle from Egypt’s Judeans praised Hadrian in quasi-Messianic language. Even rabbinic literature documents memories of Hadrian in positive terms. After 70 CE many Judeans did re-establish a religious life that can be interpreted as the formal beginning of rabbinical Judaism. See articles on Johanan ben Zakkai and related links. (Each of these points could be extended to a post of its own but I am trying to just skim along the highlights of W’s discussion.)
Still, Hadrian’s program ran into a diametrically opposing religious outlook of many other Judeans: Ezekiel 37 promised Israel would be freed from the gentile nations and submit only to God; God would be the one to protect and save them, not Hadrian.
For Thomas Witulski (Apk 11 und der Bar Kokhba-Aufstand : eine zeitgeschichtliche Interpretation) it is important to see the visit (adventus) of Hadrian in the above context. The character of such a visit could quite conceivably have provoked an uprising of nationalist-religious Jews who were disadvantaged as a result of the impoverishing situation following the war with Vespasian and Titus. One can imagine the bitterness of these Judeans not only against the Romans but particularly against their compatriots who profited from Roman rule.