In Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch Russell Gmirkin presents a case for the Books of Moses, Genesis to Deuteronomy, being based largely upon the writings of Babylonian and Egyptian historians:
- Berossus (278 BCE)
- Manetho (ca 285 BCE)
His first task is to demonstrate that we have no evidence of any knowledge of the Pentateuch until after the appearance of those works.
In the previous post we overviewed Russell Gmirkin’s argument that there we have no evidence in Greek writings of any knowledge of the Pentateuch before the appearance of the Septuagint. Gmirkin shows that the authentic writings of Hecataeus of Abdera do reveal knowledge of Moses as a lawgiver, but the same writings do not show any knowledge of written Mosaic laws. Besides, as we will see in this post, the portrayal of Moses as the lawgiver followed the stereotypical pattern of leaders who led expeditions to found new Greek colonies: the laws were always given after the new settlement (with its cities, temple and tribal organization) was established in the new land.
This post explains how Gmirkin arrives at the date of around 270 BCE for the earliest appearance of the first books of the Bible. He concludes that
the first evidence of Pentateuchal writings is the Septuagint translation itself, probably dating to the late 270s BCE. (p. 72)
Disposing of three false witnesses
There are three remaining ancient texts that do claim these books of Moses were much older than 270 BCE.
- Pseudo-Hecataeus: cited by Josephus in Apion, claims the existence of a scroll of Jewish law in the time of Hecataeus (the real Hecataeus was dealt with in the previous post);
- Fragments of Aristobulus of Paneas: these speak of a Greek translation of the Jewish laws predating the Septuagint;
- The Letter of Aristeas: also speaks of Jewish laws (in Hebrew and Greek) prior to the Septuagint.
Before reading about these, recall from the previous post that Hecataeus of Abdera (fourth century BCE) wrote that Moses first founded the new settlement of Egyptians in Palestine and then gave them their laws. This, of course, is the reverse of the story found in the books of Moses and Joshua. What Hecataeus was relating was a stereotypical story of the way Greek colonies were founded. He demonstrates no knowledge of any writings of Moses. The following accounts, in one way or another, all took their knowledge from Hecataeus of Abdera and confused his account with evidence that he had read the Pentateuch.
Certain writings ascribed to Hecataeus were quoted at Josephus, Apion 1.187- 204.
Speaking again of (Jewish high priest, Ezekias, in the time of Ptolemy 1 Soter), (Hecataeus) says: “This man, who had attained to such a position of honor and who was now part of our society, gathered together some of his friends and read to them his whole scroll. For it contained the story of their settlement and their political constitution. [that is, the ‘books of Moses’]
The authenticity of this material has long been debated . . . . The definitive treatment of this question, which settled the matter for most scholars, was Bar-Kochva’s book Pseudo-Hecataeus, which demonstrated that the essay purportedly written by Hecataeus contained considerable anachronistic material pointing to the late second century or first century BCE. Since then no scholar has seriously advocated the authenticity of the Pseudo-Hecataean account. (p. 72)
The Josephan reference to “Hecataeus” contradicts the genuine references to Hecataeus that inform us that the only knowledge the real Hecataeus had was from Egyptian priests. The accounts of the genuine Hecataeus assure us he had no knowledge whatever of Jewish scriptures or oral sources. It appears that a pseudo-Hecataeus had been crafted to explain how the writings of the real Hecataeus knew so much (e.g. the Exodus from Egypt) and so invented the story of a Jewish high priest reading the books of Moses to him.
Pseudo-Hecataeus consequently introduced a fictional account of an encounter between Hecataeus and a Jewish high priest in Egypt in order to explain Hecataeus’s apparent acquaintance with Jewish scriptures. (p. 74)
Both Pseudo-Hecataeus and Hecataeus’s Aegyptiaca (see previous post) refer to
- first, Jerusalem being colonized before the law was given;
- second, political institutions (and religious laws) being established by the founder
That is, the sequence in both accords with stereotyped Greek foundation stories. Pseudo-Hecataeus was entirely dependent upon Hecataeus’s Aegyptiaca.
Aristobulus (ca. 150 BCE)
Aristobulus likewise wrote that the Pentateuch had very ancient roots. His motivation was clear: he was “proving” that the great names of Greek literature and philosophy — Homer, Hesiod, Orpheus, Linus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato — owed their wisdom to Moses and the Jewish traditions.
In order to find evidence that the laws of Moses were written and translated into Greek at such an early date, Aristobulus also found (presumably in Hecataeus) early accounts of an exodus from Egypt, those people being settled in Palestine, with cities and a temple built by Moses, all followed by Moses giving them the law. Aristobulus seems to have taken this as close-enough reason to believe the Pentateuch was known very early.
The Letter of Aristeas
This letter presents a colourful narrative of how the Septuagint came to be written in Egypt by seventy Jewish priests sent from Jerusalem for that purpose. The same letter claims that before this event the Laws of Moses were well-known in both Hebrew and an earlier faulty Greek translation.
Gmirkin shows in detail that we have good reason to believe the author of this “Letter of Aristeas” was in fact Aristobulus himself. If so, it is hardly an independent witness.
To summarize, the fragments of Aristobulous and The Letter of Aristeas reflect the same date, provenance, social and philosophical outlook, unique exegetical approach, historical theories and even historical inaccuracies. Every datum is consistent with Aristobulus having penned The Letter of Aristeas. Given Aristobulus’s probable authorship of The Letter of Aristeas, then, the allusions to scriptures predating the Septuagint in The Letter of Aristeas will also have derived from Aristobulus’s misreading of Hecataeus. (p. 80)
The Origin of the Septuagint
We have firm evidence that the Septuagint was being used at the time of Ptolemy IV Philopater who reigned ca. 221 to 204 BCE. Demetrius the Chronographer at that time used the Septuagint to compile his chronology of Genesis.
A few decades later we come to the time of Ptolemy VI Philometer and his tutor, Aristobulus. Aristobulus was clearly in a position to have access to the Alexandrian Library and historical material of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt. So we may accept that he was in a position to know when he says the Septuagint was produced under the patronage of Ptolemy II Philadelphus who reigned between 282 BCE and 246 BCE.
Unfortunately there are problems. Aristobulus is known to have made mistakes. For example, he wrote that Demetrius of Phaleron was librarian of the Alexandrian Library and supervised the creation of the Septuagint. In fact, Ptolemy II exiled Demetrius from Egypt at the beginning of his reign (and apparently arranged for him to die of an asp bite) and Demetrius was never the librarian of the Alexandrian Library.
But there is one detail Aristobulus gives us that may be a more certain clue to the date the Septuagint was composed. In the fictional Letter to Aristeas (recall that Gmirkin believes this to have been written by Aristobulus) he tells us that the Septuagint was written at the time Arsinoe II was the wife of Ptolemy II.
Though this datum is in a fictional letter, it is nonetheless true that this Arsinoe, who was the full sister of Ptolemy II, did marry her brother (according to Egyptian royal custom) some time between 279 and 273 BCE. She died in July 269 BCE.
Now we come to stories of rabbits and sexual impropriety.
More significantly, these stories are supported by data found within the Septuagint itself when read against the tradition found in the Babylonian Talmud.
That Talmud informs us that the Septuagint avoids the word for “rabbit” (arnebeth) (substituting another meaning “short-footed”) because Ptolemy II’s wife’s name in Hebrew was Arnebeth (probably a Hebrew pun on Arsinoe). The composers were keen to avoid any appearance of mocking Ptolemy and his wife. Moreover, the Greek word for rabbit, lagos, was too easily connected with the family name of both Ptolemy and Arsinoe. Their grandfather, and father of the first Ptolemy, was Lagus. Theocritus, around 273 BCE, wrote a poem in which he called Ptolemy II a Lagid.
Now the rabbit was a symbol of promiscuity in antiquity, and Arsinoe had been married twice before she married Ptolemy. A certain Satodes of Maroneia wrote a lewd epigram in honour of their marriage and was promptly imprisoned for his efforts. Unfortunately he managed to escape to Crete. “Unfortunately” because there he was recaptured, bundled into a lead coffin, and dropped into the ocean.
So it appears the royal couple were rather sensitive to rumours of sexual impropriety and jokes about rabbits.
It is true that the Septuagint does avoid the use of the word for rabbit. It would seem that the reason for this was fear of offending the brother and sister “Lagids” around the time of 273 BCE – 269 BCE (the death of Arsinoe II).
Since the Septuagint provides the first objective external evidence for the composition of the Pentateuch, the date of the Septuagint translation becomes a terminus ad quem for the books of Moses. There exists no external evidence that the Pentateuch was written earlier than the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus. A proposed date of composition any time prior to 269 BCE is permitted by current evidence and must be seriously considered. (p. 86)
But there is evidence that something did indeed happen at the time of around 270 BCE. It is from that time that we see “an explosion of derivative Jewish writing in the third century BCE, both in Syria and in Egypt.”
- Septuagint — Egypt — ca 273-269 BCE
- 4QSam, 4QEx — Qumran — ca 250 BCE?
- Astronomical Book of Enoch — Samaria — ca 250 BCE?
- Pseudo-Eupolemus — Samaria — ca 250 BCE?
- Book of Watchers — Judea — ca 240 BCE?
- Demetrius the Chronographer — Egypt — ca 221-204 BCE
- Testament of Levi — Judea — ca 220-200 BCE?
- Genesis Apocryphon — Judea — ca 200-180 BCE?
- Sirach — Judea — ca 180 BCE
- Jubilees (final redaction) — Judea — ca 175-161 BCE
- Apocalypse of Weeks — Judea — ca 170 BCE
- Animal Apocalypse — Judea — 165, 163 BCE
The terminus ad quem evidence for the composition of the Pentateuch, decidedly at odds with the Documentary Hypothesis, allows for the possibility that the composition of the books of Moses took place as late as 273-269 BCE. There is no external evidence whatever for the Pentateuch — or any written precursor of the Pentateuch — prior to the Septuagint translation, even when such evidence would be expected under the Documentary Hypothesis. Rather, one only has evidence as late as ca. 400 BCE or what Wellhausen called “Oral Torah,” that is, an authority vested in the Jerusalem priesthood rather than in a written code of laws.
The first evidence that the Jews their laws to a figure called Moses appears in Hecataeus of Abdera’s Aegyptiaca (320-315 BCE), but this book does not yet provide evidence for the existence of actual books of Moses.
But with the Septuagint, the Pentateuch appears full-blown, in its present form. The absolute silence of external sources prior to the Septuagint translation regarding a Jewish law contrasts with a proliferation of Jewish writings using the Pentateuch following on the heels of the Septuagint. (pp. 87-88, my emphasis and formatting)
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31 thoughts on “Why the Books of Moses should be dated 270 BCE (clue: “Rabbits”)”
Where does the Tanakh mention rabbits? And what does the Septuagint substitute for rabbits?
See Leviticus 11:6.
The Hebrew word for rabbit, arnebeth, can be seen in the Hebrew http://bible.cc/leviticus/11-6.htm and http://interlinearbible.org/deuteronomy/14-7.htm
The equivalent verse in the LXX (Leviticus 11:5 / Deut 14:) — http://bibledatabase.net/html/septuagint/03_011.htm There the word is dasupous/δασυποδα. Gmirkin writes that this means “shaggy-foot”, though understandably translations into English have tended to prefer “rabbit”.
How does Gmirkin deals with the different sources that the Documentary Hypothesis has identified? The fact that different portions of the Hebrew bible use different words for God etc. Is he addressing that?
I’ve addressed the Documentary Hypothesis in different posts and will be doing so again. In fact Gmirkin’s take on the DH will be my next when I turn again to his book, perhaps merged with Wajdenbaum’s. There are other explanations for the differences in the name for God. And we need also to be careful we are not using a circular argument when we say that different sources used different names. (How do we know they were different sources? They use different names for God.) But note that the names for God being used by different sources only applies to the period before Exodus 3.
And the lines between stories are not always as clear cut as some reconstructions imply. At the same time some of the different sources do not necessarily have to have been injected hundreds of years apart.
There are both elegant simplicities and fine complexities in the arguments.
I have created a new category for posts that address the Documentary Hypothesis: http://vridar.wordpress.com/category/religion/ot-archaeology-literature/documentary-hypothesis/
It looks like my next post on the DH will be some days away. So in the meantime I’ll mention that Gmirkin does not dispute different sources for the Pentateuch. But he does reject the DH’s assumption that these sources are bound to widely divergent historical provenances and times.
Thanks Neil. Quite some reading material.
First, let me comment that Neil Godfrey is providing a commendably high quality summary of my book.
I don’t devote much space to the DH in Berossus and Genesis, other than to argue that the traditional dates assigned to the JEDP sources are certainly incorrect. I tend to broadly credit many of the traditional arguments used in the DH for the different sources J, E and P in Genesis, JE and P in Exodus-Numbers, D in Deuteronomy, JE P and D in Joshua, and some Deuteronomistic touches in Genesis-Numbers. However, I do not accept the Documentary Hypothesis as such. In Berossus and Genesis I show that both J and P traditions in Gen. 1-11 as well as JE and P traditions related to the Exodus all date to ca 270 BCE, when D must also be dated (given D’s use of JE traditions of ca. 270 BCE, and Deuteronomy as part of the Septuagint translation of ca. 270 BCE). I therefore reject the “diachronic” (sequential) model of J, E, D and P as distinct sources dated to different eras. Instead, I view these as “synchronic” (contemporary) voices of different authorial groups of ca. 270 BCE. Viewing the Pentateuch as a collaborative project among a group of diverse authors solves the long-standing problems regarding the relative sequence (and in some cases intertwining) of JEDP. The Septuagint tradition as found in the Letter of Aristeas suggests the presence of a group of highly educated Jewish scholars at Alexandria in 270 BCE who were in a position to collaborate on the authoring of the Pentateuch, using Greek sources from the Great Library of Alexandria such as Berossus, Manetho and (as Philippe Wajdenbaum argues) Plato. Although the Letter of Aristeas must be used with all due caution, a careful reading independently supports the theory of multiple, contemporary authors.
FYI: Your work here was referenced by me in a posting over at LGF:
I was noticing traffic coming in from Little Green Footballs. FWIW, I have updated the time-line you linked to in your artilcle, too.
Does Gmirkin explain how it would even be possible for there to be Greek/Roman writers to have had firsthand knowledge of the written Hebrew bible if none of them were (to my knowledge) able to read Hebrew? I wouldn’t expect ancient writers to have had firsthand knowledge of the contents of the HB if none of them could read it, and would necessarily get any of their information about the Jewish religion from non-literary sources; or at least sources that were in a language they could read.
That was always my hidden assumption behind why so much apocrypha sprouted out from the publication of the LXX.
When he refers to the story of a Judean priest reading from the scrolls to an Alexandrian audience he comments that presumably it was understood he was reading from a Greek translation.
It’s early morning and I might be missing your point, but what has always confused me is the absence of any external record of a culture that was supposed to be so unlike other neighbouring cultures/religions. It would have been the sort of thing one would have expected Herodotus to have remarked on. He didn’t need to be able to read the sacred texts of the Egyptians to learn about them.
The standard reference work, arranged in chronological order, is M. Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (3 vols.; Jerusalem, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1970).
For the most part, Greek and Roman writers on the Jews wrote about the region or about well-known Jewish customs such as sabbath observance and special dietary laws. Where these writers do quote from the Jewish Bible, it is almost invariably from the Septuagint translation. (Even the Jewish authors of the New Testament used the Septuagint, not the Hebrew text.) None of the Greek writers who mention Judea or the Jews before the Septuagint (Herodotus, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Hieronymus of Cardia, Hecataeus of Abdera, Megasthenes, Clearchus of Soli, Berossus or Manetho) have any knowledge of Jewish writings. Hecataeus and Manetho know a figure called Moses, but nothing about him that comes from the Jewish Bible. The first quotes from the Jewish Bible (Septuagint) come from Apollonius Molon in ca. 80 BCE. Theophanes of Mytilene knew quite a bit about the Jews from his visit there with the Roman general Pompey in 62 BCE and quotes a line from the Pentateuch, probably translated by one of the Jewish dignitaries.
I just got around to reading this. Some brief thoughts: I’ll put the question of Manethos aside, since I’m not familiar enough to comment on it in any meaningful sense.
The argument from the Elephantine texts is almost unshakable. For anyone who hasn’t read it, its essense is pretty straightforward. The Elephantine papyrii request Jerusalem’s blessing in rebuilding a temple at Elephantine. They do so c. 400 BCE. This is wholly irreconcilable with the conventional DH, where Jerusalem as the only cultic center should have been well established by this point. Since we don’t have Jerusalem’s response, it’s not quite as air-tight as Gmirkin would have it, but it’s good. Gmirkin is probably right to suggest that if we had Elephantine when the DH was proposed it would probably not exist in the form we recognize it.
The single strongest literary case made is for Gen.1-11. Gmirkin is right to point out not only that it is heavily dependent on a rather short selection of texts, but those texts are of a fairly limited assortment. A massive majority of Gen.1-11 could be written with Standard Gilgamesh and the Enuma Elish. That majority could be expanded mightily with the addition only of a few variants of Gilgamesh. One or two more texts–all Babylonian–could easily round it out. Gmirkin is right to point out that this is really, really odd, and far better explained by deliberate, post hoc selection (perhaps with an eye to an illusion of antquity?) than the accruement and preservation over a millenia. Berossus seems as likely a source as any, and more likely than most. It’s difficult to imagine how else they would have gotten their hands on the particular selection they did.
The dating starts to give me a little more trouble though. The Table of Nations is particularly important to his proposed date, with his dating of the ToN being particularly exegesis heavy. This is really all that can be done with what survives, but I’m of the opinion that in such situations it’s best to simply state that we don’t know, and view all arguments as fabrications. As any half-assed post-modernist will quite rightly point out, to do otherwise isn’t dating a text, it’s telling a story. Stories are fun and all, but they aren’t data, and don’t produce data, they can only be produced from it.
The arguments against Hecataeus (touched upon in your post) make me nervous. Any time a section of a work is devoted to a nice long list of conventional readings we need to throw out I become hyper-skeptical, and would cheerily argue that such a response is not only appropriate, but the *only* appropriate one. I’ll offer more thoughts on it after a bit more time to digest, but to this point I don’t think it’s solid enough to justify such a bold conclusion.
and subsequent literal or elegant translations: Wikipedia: Hexapla (Septuagint)
Google: Irenaeus Hexapla, Epiphanius Hexapla
I find Friedman’s ideas the most convincing, especially regarding the existence of repetitions and contradictions, but this is still an interesting take on the whole subject.
Richard Elliott Friedman is just an advocate of the Documentary Hypothesis (“DH”). A big problem with the DH is that it treats the Pentateuch as history and, therefore, identifies doublets and contradictions as the interweaving of stories from multiple sources. When we’re dealing with histories and historians, however, they tell us that they have two or more sources with different stories, we don’t have to infer those sources from the fact that there are contradictions. This is one big reason to question the classification of the DH as a history. As you dig into the Pentateuch and Primary History, it becomes clear that it is not a history, that it is a literary work about a people and nation that did not exist in history.
FYI – there are plenty of better explanations for the existence of repetitions and contradictions, but you can’t see them as long as you retroject modern expectations of literature in a literate society on ancient literature aimed at an illiterate society. How would one write a book for people who can’t read?
Not sure if I understand….. Few DH supporters, I’m sure, would consider Noah’s Flood or the story of Adam and Eve as history, yes?
My understanding of one of the reasons for the weakness of the DH thesis from a “minimalist” perspective is that there is little to no evidence for early literary stories extant in the geographic regions at the times it proposes.
I’m synthesizing a fair amount of what I’ve read into a conclusion that the assumed genre of the Pentateuch as history guided the conclusion that doublets indicate two different historical sources of the same story (often representing two different oral traditions). I’ve seen DH theorists explicitly refer to the fact that historians often site multiple sources for different accounts of the same event, and it is clear that the analogy to how historians work is central to their explanation for doublets.
Please note that I am not arguing that DH theorists believe that all the stories in the Bible are literally true, I’m just focused on their approach to doublets.
Understood. On the other hand, however, is there necessarily a contradiction with the multiple source theory (the interweaving of multiple sources) and, say, a single authorship of the Pentateuch (or even of the Primary History)?
I disagree with both your points, Scot. The advocates of the DH think the Pentateuch was assembled from different sources because the clues — the doublets, the consistent use of different language, the contradictions, etc. — indicate differing points of view from different groups at different times.
It matters little if scholars believe parts of the Pentateuch reflect real history. Friedman seriously believes there was a Tabernacle. On the other hand, he argues that the flood story is an adaptation of a much more ancient Mesopotamian myth that entered the Hebrew scripture by way of two separate tradition streams.
Scot: “There are plenty of better explanations for the existence of repetitions and contradictions, but you can’t see them as long as you retroject modern expectations of literature in a literate society on ancient literature aimed at an illiterate society.”
I disagree with you completely. In fact, I would argue that all of the competing explanations come off as ad hoc at best and desperately apologetic at worst.
While it is clear that the Pentateuch was touched by many hands (“authors,” if you will) over time, I find the doublets to be among the most speculative evidence of that fact in spite of the fact that doublets seem to have been the starting point of the DH.
“I disagree with you completely. In fact, I would argue that all of the competing explanations come off as ad hoc at best and desperately apologetic at worst.”
Competing explanations for doublets or the DH? I’m speaking solely about doublets. And which competing explanations for doublets are you talking about? I doubt you’ll find mine among them (and they certainly are not apologetic).
Could you describe your explanation in a paragraph or two?
You are the one who completely disagreed with me without knowing what you disagreed with. Please, you go first.
In any event, I suggest you read Double Narratives in the Old Testament, the Foundations of Method in Biblical Criticism by Aulikki Nahkola for a good summary of the evolution of how doublets have been interpreted leading up to and including as part of the DH. I have accurately stated the genesis of the DH’s view of doublets as beginning with the assumption that the “historical” books of the OT were, in fact, historical.
By the way, I’m not trying to play games here, but this is actually a quite complicated topic. The majority view of doublets bundles together so many assumptions that unfortunately rest on the hubris of modern scholars and their mistaken belief that ancient literature must have conformed to the norms of modern literature and, specifically, modern histories. The majority view of doublets forms the foundation of the DH’s assumption that the Primary History could not have been written/compiled by a single author, that it must have instead evolved over several centuries leaving the doublets as “welds” between stories written by different authors relying on different oral sources, and that the compilers must have been too stupid, too lazy, or too afraid to buff out those welds.
But there is evidence that the Primary History was written/compiled by a single author or contemporaneously by a school of authors, and if that is the case, the majority view of doublets (and the DH) is just plain wrong. This reopens the possibility that the doublets of the Primary History were intentional literary devices, which leads to some interesting questions (and a different way of reading doublets).
I’ll gladly read Nahkola’s book if I can find a copy the doesn’t break the bank. What is it about these De Gruyter titles, anyway?
For now, just a few points of clarification. SG: “The majority view of doublets bundles together so many assumptions that unfortunately rest on the hubris of modern scholars and their mistaken belief that ancient literature must have conformed to the norms of modern literature and, specifically, modern histories.”
I think the majority view at the moment is rather in flux. Support for the DH (at least in its classical Graf-Wellhausen form) continues to erode as extremely conservative and apologetic authors stick to their belief in Mosaic authorship while on the left, minimalism seems to render all such arguments rather moot.
I’m also convinced that most modern scholars now recognize that the ancient authors and collectors of Hebrew traditions were completely comfortable with what we would call contradictions. The Qumran community, for example, kept different versions of books; the variations and differences didn’t seem to bother them at all. The notion of a fixed canon didn’t appear until much later.
SG: “. . . it must have instead evolved over several centuries leaving the doublets as ‘welds’ between stories written by different authors relying on different oral sources, and that the compilers must have been too stupid, too lazy, or too afraid to buff out those welds.”
First of all, since it’s a Documentary hypothesis, we’re talking about written documents being fused together at some later point by a redactor or group of editors. And the assumption is not that they were too stupid, lazy, or afraid, but that they (1) wanted a single document that reflected all traditions, and (2) that (see above) they were comfortable with the diversity that exists within those different documents.
I can loan you a copy of Nahkola’s book via Dropbox. Please email me with your email address, and I can send a link.
I have not encountered any apologetic arguments to counter the DH. I am more in the minimalist camp.