I should follow up my previous post with a clarification of Weinfeld’s argument as he presented it in his 1993 book, The Promise of the Land. The bolding is mine for the benefit of those who don’t want to read lots of text but just hit the highlights.
As is well known, most of the genres of biblical literature have their counterparts in the ancient Near East. Creation stories, genealogies, legal codes, cultic instructions, temple-building accounts, royal annals, prophecies, psalms, wisdom literature of various kinds—all are widely attested in the cognate literatures from Mesopotamia, the Hittites, and the Egyptians. The only genre lacking such counterparts is that of stories about the beginning of the nation and its settlement, which are so boldly represented in the Patriarchal narratives and the accounts of the Exodus and the conquest of the Land. The contrast is especially striking when we compare the first eleven chapters of Genesis with the rest of the book. In Gen. 1–11 we find stories of creation, the food story, and lists of world ancestors before and after the food—literary types all well established in Mesopotamian literature. From [Genesis] chapter 12 onward, however, no parallel with the ancient Near East can be shown—not in content, of course, which reflects the particular nature of Israel, but also not in form. This kind of storytelling might be expected in the great cultures of the ancient Near East, but we look for it in vain. The lack of this genre is quite understandable given that, unlike Israel, the large autochthonous cultures were not cognizant of a beginning of their national existence.
On the other hand, this genre would be expected in the Greek sphere, which like Israel was based on colonization and founding of new sites. (pp. 1-2)
Weinfeld appeals to the quotation from Plato which I used as a header in an earlier post as evidence of the popularity of the foundation story genre in the Greek world:
Weinfeld offers us some biographical background to his interest in the question of biblical and Greek parallels and was encouraged to find he was not alone:
My thoughts on this problem took further shape when, more than ten years ago, I participated in a seminar on the Aeneid conducted by the late H. Wirszubsky. What concerned me especially in the seminar discussion was the central idea of the work: the mission of Aeneas to found a city that would rule the world, an idea strikingly similar to that found in the book of Genesis, in which Abraham and his seed are to become, like Aeneas, a great nation (gôy gadōl : Gen. 12:1 ff.) that will rule peoples (Gen. 27:29).
I have been pondering this question ever since. I had the feeling that the composition of the patriarchal stories is based on a model similar to that of Aeneas. Because the Aeneid is modeled on foundation stories prevalent in Greek colonies, the so-called Ktisissagen, I saw in the patriarchal stories, with their promises for the inheritance of the land of Canaan, a reflection of the same genre.
I was pleased to discover that one of my colleagues at the University of Tel Aviv, Jacob Licht, was elaborating a similar idea and applying it to the Exodus–Sinai cycle. He suggested that I publish his thesis in a journal I edited, Shnaton 4 (1980), which I was eager to do. Licht’s point of departure was Deut. 27:9:
“Today you have become the people of the Lord your God,”
which he took as a proclamation of establishment. He rightly connected it with the foundation stories so widespread in the Greek world and so boldly expressed in the Roman epic of Virgil. Both Licht and I drew the same analogy, though from different points of departure: I was asking about the patriarchal promises, while he was interested in the Exodus-Covenant traditions. The two approaches could be combined, as they are in the Pentateuch itself, but my main focus in this book is the Aeneas-Abraham analogy. (pp. 2-3)
At that point Weinfeld begins the discussion that I distilled into table format in my previous post. I made some brief comments on his own thoughts about an explanation for the similarities but will elaborate those here.
What was the motivation for the creation of these kinds of stories about the first ancestors? Apparently, at the end of the second millennium, the formation of petty states in the eastern Mediterranean area led to the development of the genre of foundation stories as we find them in the Greek sources.“Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?” declares the LORD. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?” — Amos 9:7 (NIV)
Amos 9:7 may serve as evidence: Amos compares the establishment of Israel with the establishment of Aram, originating in Kir, and the establishment of Philistines, coming from Kaphtor. As is well known, the Aramaeans—like the Israelites—formed a league of twelve tribes (Gen. 22:20–24), and as may be learned from Amos’s prophecy, they also preserved memories of the native home they had left behind. The same pattern applies to the Philistines, though we do not have precise information about the formation of their league. (p. 18)
The same idea, Weinfeld suggests, is expressed in description of Nimrod founding the various cities of Assyria and Babylonia. Genesis 10:8-12 (KJV)
And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth.
He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.
And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah,
And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city.
Similarly with the Danites in Judges 18:27-29
And they took the things which Micah had made, and the priest which he had, and came unto Laish, unto a people that were at quiet and secure: and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the city with fire.
And there was no deliverer, because it was far from Zidon, and they had no business with any man; and it was in the valley that lieth by Bethrehob. And they built a city, and dwelt therein.
And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born unto Israel: howbeit the name of the city was Laish at the first.
And of the founding of Jerusalem according to Josephus in Wars 6.10
But he who first built it. Was a potent man among the Canaanites, and is in our own tongue called [Melchisedek], the Righteous King, for such he really was; on which account he was [there] the first priest of God, and first built a temple [there], and called the city Jerusalem, which was formerly called Salem.
To interject with my own comment here (though consistent with Weinfeld’s argument), each of the above passages contains motifs distinctive in the foundation stories: the need for the blessing of a god; piratical raiding; heroic founder building cities and their temples.
Weinfeld writes that the foundation genre consisted of two parts:
the first part describes the migration of the ancestor, and the second describes the settlement.
Russell Gmirkin demurs on this point, however, when he remarks in an endnote:
According to Weinfeld (1993: 19), “The genre of foundation stories consists of two parts: the first part describes the migration of the ancestor, and the second describes the settlement.” The two phases were discussed at 1993: 19-21. This generalization does not universally hold true, because charter myths with ancestral land promises are sometimes lacking for historical foundations in the classical period, when consultation of the oracle at Delphi provided an alternative means of legitimizing colonial territorial conquests. (Gmirkin, 2017, p. 238)
(I am currently working on a post addressing different versions of the founding story of Cyrene and how they changed over time with different genres and related for different purposes.)
But to continue with Weinfeld’s interpretation:
In contrast to Joshua, the settler, Abraham is a wanderer. The story about Aeneas reflects—as interpreted by Schmid—the legend about the hero-ancestor and not about the oikist who was the settler. In Israel as well as in Rome, the epic composers were aware . . . of the chronological-historical gap between these two stages. Just as Aeneas is the first ancestor of the nation, “the pater,” and not the first settler, so is Abraham “the father”—and not, like Joshua, the conqueror and settler. (p. 19)
The Roman story changes after the time of Aeneas and moves into a period of settlement with Romulus and Numa, the founder of Rome’s religious or cultic institutions.
In Israel, these two figures correspond to Joshua and Moses, only in reverse order: first Moses, the legislator, and then Joshua, the settler. In one respect Romulus parallels Moses and not Joshua, and that is in the legend of exposure: like Romulus and Remus, who are cast into the Tiber and then rescued, Moses is cast into the Nile and rescued. (p. 20)
Weinfeld sees the two-stage process also in the accounts of Carthage and Cilicia.
Carthage was founded in 814 B.C.E., but tradition related its foundation to Azoros (= Zor) and Carchedon (= Carthage) of the late thirteenth century, as told by Philistos of Syracuse in the first half of the fourth century B.C.E.
The same pattern applies to Mopsos, the eponymous hero of “the house of Mpš” in Cilicia, whose heroic deeds belong to the second millennium B.C.E.; the actual ethnic existence, however, of Mopsos’s people (= the Danunians in the Karatepe inscriptions) is attested in the first millennium. (p. 20)
According to Weinfeld, in referring to a study demonstrating the two-stage process of Western Phoenician colonization, the two stages in the stories may reflect actual historical processes.
The first phase comprises the beginning of a connection with the indigenous population (for purposes of trade), which is followed by a second phase involving a great influx of new settlers into the area and representing real colonization. These two stages are reflected in the traditions of both Roman and Israelite history . . . (p. 21)
Hopefully the above offers a clearer idea of Weinfeld’s thoughts behind his discussion of the parallels set out in the previous post.
Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)
- I’m interviewed on Harmonic Atheist - 2021-07-07 01:52:20 GMT+0000
- a little break - 2021-07-01 10:35:02 GMT+0000
- The Incarnation of The Name – Continuing Nanine Charbonnel’s Sublime Paper Figure Jesus Christ - 2021-06-22 02:14:39 GMT+0000
If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!