Genesis to Kings, the work of a single authorship?

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by Neil Godfrey

I am copying here a comment that Philippe Wajdenbaum made in relation to another post. (I have reformatted the original.)

Many thanks for this post, and for the quality of your blog. Russell Gmirkin’s “Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible” is a most important book that will elicit a paradigm shift in biblical studies, as seen in its current positive reception.

Here are some of my arguments for Genesis-Kings’ unity:

In “Argonauts of the Desert”, as well as in several articles, I have proposed that Genesis-Kings (also called the Primary History) is the work of a single author, or at least the same team of scholars, who took inspiration from Greek classical texts such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. See also:

The demonstration of Genesis-Kings’ literary unity relies first on its consistency as a continuous narrative, as shown by Spinoza (“Theological and Political Treatise”, chapter 8), and second on the distribution of its Greek-borrowed material, shown by Wesselius regarding the use of Herodotus. Whereas both placed this redaction during the Persian period, Russell Gmirkin has convincingly shown in “Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus” (2006), that the Hellenistic era offers the most plausible period for Judean and Samaritan scholars to have had access to and emulated Greek sources, most probably in the Library of Alexandria.

In my article “From Plato to Moses: Genesis-Kings as a Platonic Epic” (in “Biblical Interpretation Beyond Historicity: Changing Perspectives 7”, edited by I. Hjelm and Thomas L. Thompson, 2016, also available on the Bible and Interpretation website), I have pointed out that

  • the Pentateuch seems to borrow significantly from the Odyssey (the wanderings of the Patriarchs and Israel, Joseph’s story as a rewrite of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca),
  • whereas Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings seem to borrow predominantly from the Iliad (the many battle scenes, especially in 1-2 Samuel).

Yet, there are motifs from the Iliad in the Pentateuch and from the Odyssey in Joshua-Kings. This distribution of Homeric motifs interestingly corresponds to how Virgil modelled the first six books of the Aeneid on the Odyssey, and the six next books on the Iliad. In my opinion, this logic in the distribution of themes can be observed regarding most of the Greek sources used by the author of Genesis-Kings (such as the Greek mythical cycles of the Argonauts, Heracles, Thebes and the Trojan War), and tends to show its literary unity.

Regarding the use of Plato, I have tried to show that a “Platonic framework” encompasses Genesis-Kings. Genesis uses several myths from Plato about

  • the creation of the world (Timaeus / Gen. 1),
  • the split of a primordial androgynous human (Symposium / Gen. 2)
  • and the Golden Age (Statesman / Gen. 3; combined with Hesiod’s story of Prometheus and Pandora).

The Exodus narrative,

the liberation of slaves by a reluctant leader who had been freed beforehand, seems an adaptation of Plato’s famous Cave Allegory in Republic 7 (combined with the story of Battus, the founder of Cyrene).

After receiving some of their divine laws, some of which are borrowed from Plato’s Laws, Moses and the Israelites perform a ritual for accepting these laws (Exod. 24) that seems borrowed from a similar ceremony in Plato’s Critias.

The confection of the Tabernacle’s furniture by a craftsman based on a divine model echoes Plato’s theory of imitation of divine types in Republic 10.

The book of Joshua narrates the foundation of the Ideal twelve-tribe state, with the division of the land by lot into twelve tribes and its subdivision into paternal plots of land, according to the model found in Numbers, which is itself based on Plato’s Laws.

Judges, Samuel and Kings depict the gradual downfall of this state, due to the increasing faults of Israel and Judah’s kings. This demise of a state that should have been ideal and eternal seems borrowed from Plato’s tale of Atlantis in Critias. Solomon’s riches and grandiose temple in Kings resemble that of Atlantis, and God’s decision to destroy Israel and Judah at the hands of its enemies echoes the fate of Atlantis, punished by Zeus because its kings neglected the divine laws with the passing of generations.

The final catastrophe of Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians and the beginning of the Exile is reflected in Genesis’ narrative of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden for disobeying the divine commandment, which seems the trace of a ring composition.

Best regards,
Philippe Wajdenbaum

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22 thoughts on “Genesis to Kings, the work of a single authorship?”

  1. So…The dual narratives of Genesis are the work of a single author?

    I’m sorry, but Friedman’s hypothesis makes more sense to me. It seems rather clear to me that what we have received in the scriptures is the product of a really poor attempt at ‘harmonization’, possibly to please, or not upset, certain influential congregants. Then, the deuternomists came along and felt it needed extension, elaboration, along with probable redaction and editing. From my point of view, none of this would exclude the influence of Greek philosophical thought….just not ‘unified’ or singular.

    1. Again, many thanks to Neil for this post.

      The approach of the documentary hypothesis is one that believes that these texts were poorly written. The documentary hypothesis imagines that the biblical “redactors” had several sets of redundant and yet contradictory stories before them, and mingled them together quite clumsily. Rather, the later dating (Persian and/or Hellenistic eras) and the demonstration of the use of Greek sources tend to show literary unity (see my others comments under Neil’s original post), and to understand the biblical texts as high literature. In this perspective, the doubled narratives appear as deliberate.

      In Genesis as Dialogue, Thomas L. Brodie argues, convincingly in my opinion, that Genesis was written by a single author who created intentional diptychs. The idea that the text as we have it is the result of the editing of various irreconcilable documents relies on the potentially circular reasoning that the existence of these alleged independent documents, of which there are no tangible traces, can be proven solely through the apparent difficulties found in the biblical texts. However, Brodie invokes Occam’s razor: appeal to lost unverifiable documents should only be a last resort, only when no existing text that could be potential sources can be found (Genesis as Dialogue, 421). Greek texts, as it happens, present material that seem candidates for being the sources of the Hebrew Bible. In this case, the comparative reasoning is far less circular and less speculative in that the Greek texts are verifiable and tangible terms of comparison.

      The documentary hypothesis and the Greek influence hypothesis are mutually exclusive. For instance, the laws of Plato provide laws similar to the Pentateuch’s that transcend the alleged distinction between P and D material (Argonauts of the Desert, 61-62). The same goes with the biblical narratives and their Greek counterparts: we can find entire sequences in the same order in both the Bible and Greek texts and/or mythical cycles, regardless of the alleged JEDP distinctions. For instance, the Joseph story in Genesis 37-50 is, according to Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? a mixture of J, E and P. In the Greek influence hypothesis however, the Joseph story appears as a rewriting of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca in books 14-24 of Homer’s Odyssey, as argued by Brodie, Bruce Louden and I (see the references in my article “From Plato to Moses”). Both narratives present similar episodes in almost the same order. It would therefore seem quite improbable that a continuous Greek text would present the same sequence of episodes than a biblical narrative that was supposedly created on the basis of various, originally independent texts edited together. In other words, it seems very unlikely that Greek texts and biblical texts would have reached similar end-results independently of each other.

      1. I’m sorry, I’m not seeing why you assert that the Documentary Hypothesis and the Greek influence hypothesis are mutually exclusive. Please explain, because I can well imagine one or more of the DH editors/redactors drawing upon other literary sources, including Greek influence.

        Please, explain to me why it is there are two separate and partially conflicting creation stories in Genesis? What literary purpose did that serve for a single author? That such scripture is being asserted to be the work of a single author seems to wish to claim, what, schizophrenia and delusions for that author?

        1. Most probably, the biblical authors did have local Judean/Samaritan sources regarding cultic practices that have no equivalent in Greek texts, and had access to reliable historical data as seen in Kings. Beyond that, I don’t believe that there ever were J, E, D and P sources. I try to explain that in many cases, we can see how a given Greek text or narrative was directly adapted into a biblical narrative or law, rendering the hypothesis a pre-existing local Judean/Samaritan source less likely. Unverifiable hypothesized documents (J, E, D and P) should give way to actual, real, verifiable texts; in this case Greek texts.

          Brodie regards the two accounts of creation as indeed different, but not necessarily as evidence of two different traditions. I quote:

          “In the creation diptych (1:1-2:24) the two panels (1:1-2:4a and 2:4b-24) are quite dissimilar, yet they are variations on a single literary form. In ancient literature, creation stories consisted of “two basic types” […]: stories about creation as a whole; and stories about the creation of something specific, especially about humankind. These are precisely the two types found in Genesis 1-2. First there is an account of creation as a whole, the process which takes seven days (1:1-2:4a). The there is an account of the creation of humankind (2:4b-24). Genesis has combined the two basic types and adapted them to its own purposes. In particular, it has adapted that it complements the first. […] What is important is that, despite their serious differences, the two accounts follow the two basic versions of a single literary type.” (Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue, 125).

          I would add that Genesis’ first chapter seems to rely in many respects upon Plato’s Timaeus, a dialogue about the creation of the world by a transcendent deity. The second chapter of Genesis speaks of a divine surgery on the first human that resulted in the distinction between man and woman, who become one flesh in marrying. This echoes Plato’s myth of the androgyn split in two by Zeus in the Symposium. If we were to believe Gen. 1 is from the P source and Gen. 2 from the J source, as per the documentary hypothesis, that would mean either that all these parallels are mere coincidence, or that both P and J had read Plato independently of each other. In my opinion, the same author consistently adapted several of the myths found in Plato’s dialogues. Although myths about creation and primordial humanity might seem too general to compare, the core of similar laws in Plato’s Laws and the biblical legislative books allow for such comparisons.

          1. What I see as the big difference between the 2 creation accounts in Genesis is that the first describes the primordial state as having the land underwater whereas in the second the primordial land is dry and cannot grow anything for lack of water. They appear to be stories originating in different places with different dangers to human survival. None of this excludes the Hellenic influence. Obviously the Judeans had whatever folk tales of their own (that underwent their own evolution over the ages, especially with contact with various other cultures) and some of that served as part of the input for the formation of the Hellenic-influenced retelling.

          2. I don’t want to intrude on Philippe’s discussion, but I will note that Greek influences are found across the board in material traditionally attributed to JED and P sources under Documentary, Supplementary, and Neo-Documentary Hypotheses. This does not directly bear on whether distinct JEDP voices can be detected in the Pentateuch, but it does necessarily situate all such sources in the Hellenistic Era.

            My next book dealing with Greek sources in the Primordial History reinforces Philippe’s remarks on Plato’s Timaeus and Statesman as sources in Genesis 1-2. I see significant use of Timaeus throughout Genesis 1-3, in both J and P materials, as well as the use of Plato’s Critias, Statesman, Cratylus and Protagoras (but probably not Symposium) in Genesis 2-3.

            1. In response to “probably not Symposium”. Also Symposium has a clear influence in Genesis 1-3: the separation of the androgyne as the fore runer of the two human sexes (Pl. Symp. 190 c-e) and the creation of Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2.18-25). As Phillippe Wajdenbaum notices in his book “Argonauts of the Desert” page 96 this nice parallelism was already noticed by Eusebius P.E. 12,12. The significance of this parallelism lies, as usuall in the various Greek motives of the Bible, in the fact that it has no parallel motive in any other ancient near-eastern culture (Egyptian, Asyrian, …) as far as I know.
              Austendw writes (third post below) that the various Greek motives in the Bible can be probanly explained by (quote) “common east-Mediterranean cultural traditions; earlier and more diffuse cultural connections etc.” This legitimate view was already held by Cyrus Gordon in his influencial book “Before the Bible” and by Michael Astour in his well known book “Hellenosemitica”. But this view of “common east-mediterraenian background” can be usually convicingly refuted. E.g., in Russel Gmirkin’s book “Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible” the author compares with vast, resourcefull and detailed scholarship all the many Platonic (and Athenean) Laws found in the Pentateuch with other ancient near-eastern cultures, and usually the result is that the these influences are very anemic (if any) as compared with the Greek influence on the Pentateuch.

              1. The commonly proposed parallel elements between Gen. 2.21-24 and Symposium 189c-193e are: (1) An interpretation of Adam as an androgynous creature whom God separated into male and female (the “rib”); and (2) The desire for males to unite with females to be one flesh again.

                The differences are: (2) in the (seemingly comic) account by Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium, there were actually three original sexes, man-man, woman-woman, and man-woman; (2) these round creatures each had four arms, four legs, four ears, two faces in opposite directions, and moved by rolling like balls; (3) all three sexes were gigantic, and a threat to the gods, motivating Zeus to cut each in half to weaken them (not for the purpose of companionship); (4) the desire to reunite with their original half was seen as the origin of the three varieties of love, namely, man-man, woman-woman, and man-woman.

                It seems to me that the speech by Aristophanes was intended as comedy (e.g. the threat to cut them in half again, so they would hop on one leg instead of walk on two), and the differences with Genesis outweigh the similarities. Further, I would question whether Adam was androgynous in light of his being termed a “man”, and in terms of consistency with Plato’s Timaeus, where man was created first, and woman later, and where there is a different etiology of the sexual differences of man and woman. Also, why does God remove “one” (MT and LXX) tsela = beam / plank / board / chamber, and why is woman “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The interpretation of Hebrew tsela as rib seems correct to me. Much as I am open to a Greek parallel, I don’t find the case for Adam’s androgyny compelling. The desire to reunite as one flesh, however, does seem to possibly be a valid parallel.

                By the way, I found your article on the parallels between the story of Rebekah at the well in Genesis 24 and that of Odysseus and Nausicaa in Thompson and Wajdenbaum (eds), The Bible and Hellenism excellent and quite compelling, with 48 different points of comparison.

              2. Hello Russell and Yaakov,

                In addition to Eusebius’ recognition of the parallel, we may note that in the rabbinic tradition, some interpreted the creation of Eve from Adam’s “side” as the splitting of an original androgynous first human being (cf. Genesis Rabbah 8.1). The rabbinic texts use the Greek loan-word androgynos, which indicates that they most probably lifted this interpretation from (indirect or direct) knowledge of Plato’s Symposium. Of course, none of these later interpretations prove dependence from Genesis 2 upon the Symposium. Dennis R. MacDonald however argues that such recognitions of parallels in ancient apologetic or interpretative writings may be a criterion for modern comparisons (Luke and Vergil: Imitations of Classical Greek Literature, 13).

              3. That is all perfectly true about the interpretations found in Eusebius and rabbinical literature, but the androgyny motif belongs to reception history. To determine the original author’s meaning, one can look at the translation of tsela (plank, board, etc., rib) into Greek as pleuron (rib, e.g. at Herodotus 4.64.2). In addition, there is the parallelism between Gen. 2.21 and Gen. 2.23 where rib matches as synonymous with bone.

                MT: Gen. 2:21 tsela (plank, board, rib) and bshr (flesh) || Gen. 2.23 otzim (bone) and bshr (flesh).

                LXX: Gen. 2:21 Pleuron (rib) and sarka (flesh) || Gen. 2.23 ostoun (= “osteo,” bone) and sarka (flesh).

                These seem strong indicators to me that tsela was originally a reference to the rib bone rather than a female anatomical term.

              4. Hello Philippe and Russell

                Here is my response to Russell’s posts. (It took me time to prepare it.)

                Russell’s first post says: “the differences [between Pl. Symp. 190-192] with Genesis outweigh the similarities”, but also says: “The desire to reunite as one flesh, however, does seem to possibly be a valid parallel”.

                A Close reading of Pl. Timaeus 73d-79 and Symp. 190-192 reveals several parallels with the creation of mankind in Genesis 2.

                1) Man was created before woman, and woman was created out of man.

                This is manifest in Gen. 2.7 (Adam created) and 2.21-23 (woman created out of Adam’s rib). This stands perfectly parallel with Pl. Timaeus where the building of man is described in 73d-76e saying in 76d (quote): “those who were constructing us knew that out of men (Gr. andrwn) women (Gr. gynaikes) should one day spring.” (All Greek to English translations here and below take Bury’s translation in LCL.) And the creation of woman is described later on (after the creation of man) ending in 91d with (quote): “In this fashion women and the whole female sex have come into existence”. These passages must have been in Russell’s mind saying in his first post that Adam cannot be an androgynous in light of (quote) “Plato’s Timaeus, where man was created first, and woman later”. I agree with this observation, but this inconsistency already exists in Plato’s own two accounts (Tim. and Symp.) on the creation of humankind, and as will be shown below the author of Gen. 2 combined these two accounts.

                2) Man was created out of earth (soil).

                This is manifest in Gen. 2.7 “And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground”. (I take the American Standard Version (ASV) translation.) This is again perfectly parallel with Pl. Tim. 73e-74c where: a) man’s bone is made out of kneaded earth (material) (Gr. ghn) by moistening it with marrow placing it in fire and dipping it in water alternately several times until it became un soluble neither by fire nor by water. See also Tim. 64c: “bones and hairs and all our other parts that are mainly earthy”. b) Man’s flesh was also made out of earth by mixing and melding it with fire and water; see Tim. 74c. Later on God attached the bones by sinews and made this skeleton wholly covered with flesh (Tim. 74d-75c).

                3) Man was built of bone and flesh.

                “And the man said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen.2.23). As we saw above God made first man’s bones (Tim. 73e) and then flesh (74c).

                4) Man became alive by breath

                After creating man’s body from earth-material “(God) breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2.7). Similarly in Timaeus right after the creation of man’s body (bone and flesh) from earth (Tim. 73e-77e), God created man’s breathing system, described in Tim. 78-79. In this system the nose (or nostrils) plays an important role: in fact the word “nose” appear there three times (rinos in 78c, from root ris (nose), mykthron (nostrils) in 79c, and rinas (nose) in 79e). This is reflected in Gen. 2.7 where god breaths the breath of life through man’s nostrils (and not through the mouth, as one would expect). The Greek root pnew (breath) appears (in various forms) eight times in Tim. 78-79, while in Gen. 2.7 “breath” appears twice. Also the Greek root zaw (live) appearing three times in Tim 78-79 is echoed as “living” twice in Gen. 2.7. The Greek psyche (soul) appearing many times in Timaeus is reflected as Hebrew nefesh (soul) in Gen. 2.7.

                The next three parallels with Gen 2 will come now from Symp. 190-192.

                5) A “chirurgical” act of dissection to produce two sexes.

                “And Jehovah God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof”” (Gen. 2.21). This “chirurgical” act finds a parallel in Pl. Symp. 191a. God dissects everyone into two, thus producing two sexes out of the androgynous one. Admittedly, the dissected man-man and woman-woman types didn’t produce two sexes, but the very “chirurgic” act of dissection in both texts, observed already by Eusebius, Genesis Rabbah 8.1, is striking enough to claim dependence of Gen. 2.21 on Symp. 191a. Also Rashi on “male and female he made them” (Gen. 1.27) refers to Gen. 2.21 saying: “But according to a Midrashic explanation, He created him at first with two faces, and afterwards He divided him”.

                6) Healing the place of dissection.

                After taking out man’s rib God healed the place of dissection: “and (he) closed up the flesh thereof” (Gen. 2.21). Similar acts of healing and “cosmetic” operations by Apollo (as a god of healing, see Symp. 197a)) appear in Symp. 190e-191a. After the dissection Zeus bade Apollo turn their faces and half-neck to the section side, (quote): ”in order that every one might be made more orderly by the sight of the knife’s work upon him; this done, the god was TO HEAL them up”. Then some more cosmetic operations with the belly are described (resulting with our navel), ending with (quote): “For the rest, he [Apollo] smoothed away most of the puckers and figured out the breast with some such instrument as shoemakers use in smoothing the wrinkles of leather on the last; though he left there a few which we have just about the belly and navel, to remind us of our early fall”.

                7) Mutual desire to become ONE flesh again.

                “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be ONE flesh” (Gen. 2,24), and “Unto the woman he (God) said… and thy DESIRE shall be to thy husband” (Gen. 3.16). Note that verse 2.24 beginning with “Therefore…” explains this mutual desire in the former united form. This motive of mutual desire between the two parts because of their formerly united form finds several parallels in Pl. Symp. 191a-193c. (Admitted as valid parallel by Russell.) The passage begins with: “Now when our first form had been cut into two, each half in longing for its fellow would come to it again; and then would they fling their arms about each other and in mutual embraces yearn to be grafted together…” (191a-b). Also: “Thus anciently is mutual love ingrained in mankind, reassembling our early estate and endeavoring to combine two in ONE” (191c-d). And similarly in 192e everyone is yearning (quote): “to be so joined and fused with his beloved that the two might be made ONE”. The expression “and they shall be ONE flesh” in Gen. 2.24 echoes expressions like “yearn to be grafted together” (Sym. 191b) , “endeavoring to combine two in ONE” (191d), and “the two might be made ONE” (192e).

                8) Leaving father and mother

                “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife” (Gen. 2.24). This has a striking parallel in Plato Laws 776a: “The man who marries must part from his father and mother”.

              5. Yaakov,

                These detailed comments are very valuable, and I intend to incorporate some of your observations into my discussion of Genesis 2 in a forthcoming book that is nearing completion. I’ll contact you shortly by email to inquire how you would like to be cited.

                This informal consortium of biblical Platonic scholars in one thread on Vridar is unexpected and I suppose a bit historic. (Way to go Neil Godfrey!)

      2. You say: “The approach of the documentary hypothesis is one that believes that these texts were poorly written. The documentary hypothesis imagines that the biblical “redactors” had several sets of redundant and yet contradictory stories before them, and mingled them together quite clumsily. ”

        But followers of the documentary hypothesis (or other fragmentary, supplementary and redactional models) don’t necessarily believe the texts were “poorly” written, or mingled “clumsily” – merely that the editorial process left traces, which, with careful, detailed critical attention, can be detected in the fabric of the text itself. Not just “diptychs” (or even triptychs), but duplications and fractures that correspond with pronounced differences in style, vocabulary, grammatical mannerisms, cultic, ethical, social, political notions, all of which converge to suggest different “documents” or “literary strata”.

        Alternatively, you may agree with Jan‐Wim Wesselius that these apparent rifts and contradictions were intentionally created by the writer (ie: that the text is purposely “poorly written”), to fool the reader into thinking the text is derived from disparate documents – a sort of forgery hypothesis that I think is too clever by half.

  2. I am grateful for these comments and the opportunity to discuss these challenging objections, to which I will try to respond collectively by explaining why multiple authorship (according to the documentary hypothesis) and the Greek influence seem incompatible in my opinion.

    The Greek influence hypothesis as posited by Brodie, Wesselius, Gmirkin, Kupitz and I (despite differences in the respective identified sources and periods of redaction) imply direct links between biblical texts and their purported Greek sources and a rejection of the documentary hypothesis. As I have explained in several of my comments, the distribution of the Greek parallels transcends the alleged distinction between the sources of the DH, which creates a logical impossibility to reconcile both paradigms. If, as argued by several readers here, we were to maintain the distinction between these four sources on the one hand and yet accept a Greek influence on the other hand, we would have to imagine that both the Greek and biblical traditions underwent a similar process of evolution. Whereas it is theoretically possible, we can see such an evolution in Greek literature, from archaic poets Homer and Hesiod to classical authors of the fifth century, up to Plato’s proposals for writing an approved literature with specific guidelines as seen in both the Republic (Argonauts of the Desert, 89-91) and the Laws (Gmirkin, Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible, 250-95). Plato was a reader and a critic of Homer, Hesiod and Herodotus. Plato was displeased by the traditional representations of the gods by Homer and Hesiod and meant to censor and rewrite them. Here, we see an actual theological literary reformation of older sources. In many respects, the biblical narrative from Genesis to Kings appears as what Plato would have obtained, in that it seems to have rewritten Greek myths according to a “Platonic filter”.

    For instance, Zeus lied to Agamemnon by sending him a false dream spirit who promised him victory (Iliad 2.1-50). Plato criticized this passage as an example of motifs that would not be accepted in his literature: gods never lie (Republic 382e-83b). We find a very similar yet distinct story in Kings, in that the biblical god almost lied to Ahab by promising him victory through the falsely inspired prophets, but eventually the truth was revealed to Ahab through Micaiah’s true prophecy (1 Kings 22:1-23), so that the biblical god ultimately did not lie. It is as if the biblical author(s) corrected the Homeric narrative to make it suitable with Plato’s criticism of that very passage (Argonauts of the Desert, 90, 278-81).

    The alleged evolution within the Primary History is deduced through the relative (and quite arbitrary) dates of the sources of the DH. The traditional dates of the DH would place J and E probably somewhere before or around the times of Homer and Hesiod; D and P some time after; and all centuries before Plato. If we are to say that the DH (or another combination of multiple local authors) and the Greek influence are compatible, we would have to assume, for instance, that the Joseph story was lifted from Odysseus’ return to Ithaca independently by all three alleged sources, J, E and P, with an end-result similar to the initial Greek source. Dtr, the alleged late seventh-century author of Kings, would have corrected the Homeric narrative of the lying spirit sent to Agamemnon along a similar reasoning as seen Plato’s criticism of it in the Republic, yet almost three centuries before Plato ever lived. Then, a century later, the P author would have divided biblical Israel into twelve tribes which were to each receive a portion of the promised land by lot, two centuries before Plato imagined a similar division for his own ideal state, which is based on Greek traditions (see Gmirkin’s discussion of the Greek tribal system in Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible, 19-22 and end-notes). Likewise, the alleged final redactor in the fifth century would thus have blended D and P laws that would result in thirty common laws with a text Plato would write only a century later. Such reasoning would almost prove the Church Fathers right regarding their claim of Plato being the one who borrowed from the biblical books! But it happens that Plato’s sources can be identified in Greek legislative literature. How are we then to understand that both Plato’s Laws and the Pentateuch in its final form according to the DH present similar laws, if P and D were separated by roughly a century?

    Plato’s Laws contains references to several floods in ancient times, followed by a patriarchal era during which the first cities were founded, and then came the need for legislation (Laws, book 3). After this historical reconstruction, Plato discusses the many laws of his state. Eusebius of Caesarea argued that Plato had borrowed this very structure from the Pentateuch, with Genesis’ flood and patriarchal era followed by the legislative books; but I believe that such claims must be reversed (Argonauts of the Desert, 68-69), and that this common structure is yet another argument for the Pentateuch/Primary History’s continuity.

    Both common laws and common narratives plead in favor of direct borrowings from texts to texts, without oral intermediaries. Whereas there will remain difficulties in the biblical texts, these need not necessarily be the result of the editing of multiples authors, as shown by Brodie. To be sure, there were multiple authors and sources used by the biblical author(s), only these were not those partial drafts of the biblical books imagined by the DH, but in many cases, these were Greek authors and texts. If there ever was a source we should call “P”, that would be P for Plato.

    1. Philippe

      I’m afraid I get a little irritated by the way you (like Russell Gmirkin in his Berossus book) consistently rebut criticism of your notion of a single author, by turning the whole issue into a binary opposition of the Documentary Hypothesis (traditional, 19th Century) versus your “Hellenistic” theory (modern, revisionist) – as if there has been no development of biblical criticism since Wellhausen, and no other meaningful positions from which to question your theories.

      But there have been many and various developments. For some adherents of the DH, amended chronologies have been proposed; Van Seters rejected the DH hypothesis entirely, and he and others have proposed various Supplementary theories – his “D” is late monarchic, his Yahwist (= roughly JE) is exilic and his P is post-exilic still. The Neo-Documentary Hypothesis avoids discussion of dates entirely but sticks to the notion of four distinct literary strands, with different attitudes, combined by a single, necessarily later, redactor. Other European scholars (Romer, Schmid, Kratz) generally agree about P, but have allocated non-P material very differently, proposing that they are either pre-P fragments or post-P supplements, of which some are dated well into the Persian period, and some – but only some – are as late as the dates you propose.

      It isn’t a simply choice between DH and your “Hellenistic” proposal.

      Furthermore, the strength of your argument depends on the strength of your argument for direct, unmediated literary borrowing from Plato and other works of Greek literature, and if I am honest, I frankly do not see a methodology that is rigorous enough to prove anything more substantial than broad parallels and familial similarities that could be explained in ways other than direct borrowing from Hellenistic texts (eg: common east-Mediterranean cultural traditions; earlier and more diffuse cultural connections etc.)

      As regards the unitary nature of just the Pentateuch, you propose that the Mosaic Laws, written by a single author, were derived (mostly) from Plato’s laws. Can you give a plausible explanation why this single writer should have split these laws into four distinct legal corpora: (1) The so-called Book of the Covenant (Ex 21-23); (2) the short, so-called “Ritual 10-commandments”, (Ex 34) that repeats some of the previous code with amendments; (3) the so-called Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26); and (4) the Deuteronomic Code (Deut 12-30) which seems to intentionally subvert the first corpus, and has nuanced differences from the others? There are numerous overlaps and disagreements between the various corpora. (eg: the injunction against boiling a kid in its mothers milk appears three times: Ex. 23:19, 34:26; Deut.14:21). Does that textual architecture really support the notion of a single author adapting a single Greek book?

      1. Dear Austendw,

        I am arguing for the logical difficulty to reconcile both the theory of multiple authors for the Pentateuch/Primary History according to any variant of the DH and the fact that similar narratives (sometimes in the same order) and laws are found in Greek texts that are each attributed to one single author. I chose the more traditional dates of the DH in my collective response because a reference to R. E. Friedman’s work was brought forward in the first comment. Certainly, there have been refinements and amendments to the traditional model, such as a displacing of the identified sources to later periods. Yet, I believe that these amendments do not resolve the initial problems inherent to the paradigm itself, and that criticism regarding the incompatibility with the direct Greek influence remains valid with any of those variants.

        The DH might be compatible with a vague, diffuse and therefore minimal Greek influence, perhaps during the Persian era. We would have to imagine that each of the biblical sources came into contact with Greek material, directly or through a third culture, at same point in time. It would seem impossible to trace the chronology of such parallels, and therefore these similarities should be treated as secondary, if not irrelevant, in the search for biblical sources. This is precisely what biblical scholarship has done, under the assumption of this common background. This theoretical prejudice does not consider the intertextual links between Greek authors, which the biblical narratives sometimes reproduce (i.e., Plato’s use and criticism of Homer, Hesiod and Herodotus). If both paradigms were compatible, this would leave us with two potential sources for one same biblical passage, a hypothetical one from the DH, and a tangible one from Greece. We would therefore have to assume that it was the original biblical source that had a similarity with the Greek source, whether from direct borrowing or chance. Again, it is theoretically possible, but then poses a logical problem in that the “final” biblical text provides multiple parallels with several Greek texts regardless of the distinctions of the DH, as I have explained in my previous comments with several examples. This multiplies series of increasingly improbable coincidences.

        The main objection to the paradigm of the DH is that it provides relative dates to the several sources or fragments almost solely based on the apparent contradictions and redundancies in the Pentateuch, with little to no consideration for external potential sources. It advocates that the original sources have been superseded by the final version and are only attainable through what remains of them in the biblical texts. This exposes the model to circularity and subjectivity. On the other hand, the Greek influence hypothesis advocates for verifiable, existing texts. Brodie (Genesis as Dialogue, 495-501) recognizes that the DH has some internal consistency and is therefore a tempting model, but ends up creating its own problems more than providing answers.

        Russell Gmirkin demonstrates in Berossus and Genesis, Exodus and Manetho (28-33) that the Elephantine papyri are evidence for the Pentateuch’s non-existence during the Persian era, which tends to disprove the documentary hypothesis, as the latter places the Pentateuch’s final (or, say, central) redaction during this period (with some scholars indeed accepting possible later additions). Up to the late fifth century, the Judeans of Elephantine, who were in contact with Jerusalem’s religious authorities and did observe a festival of unleavened bread, did not however possess any biblical literature, whether in its alleged “final version” or alleged “sources”. They asked Jerusalem’s authorities for funds to rebuild their own temple in Egypt that had been burned by the Egyptians, in a blatant contradiction with Deuteronomy’s principle of there being only one temple of God. Scholars conveniently argue that this remote community was not up-to-date, but that is an ad-hoc response to one of the many empirical objections against this model and dating.

        Plato’s Laws provide about thirty common laws with the Pentateuch, and is a text that can be dated firmly around the half of the fourth century. Thirty common laws might not seem much, and certainly does not cover all of biblical legislation, but still it is an objective term of comparison, which biblical scholars have neglected while initially creating their diachronic model. The different legislative books of the Pentateuch all contain laws that happen to be also found in Plato’s Laws. If on the one hand, biblical legislative books were conceived based on the alleged sources of the DH, and on the other hand, Plato’s Laws were conceived based on Greek legislative sources, it is legitimate to ask, and not merely rhetorically, the DH to explain how Plato’s Laws, as the text of one same author, end up so similar to the Pentateuch. Gmirkin has demonstrated that the biblical legislation provides a number of distinctive features and laws that have no equivalent in Ancient Near-Eastern literature but well in Greek legislation and specifically in Plato’s Laws, which shows that the convenient “common background” rebuttal is less than obvious. The possibility that Plato’s Laws and the Pentateuch attained this level of similarity independently of each other seems quite low. This probability is increasingly lowered when we consider the combined biblical parallels with Homer, Herodotus and Plato; all the more since the biblical narratives seem to have been rewritten along Plato’s guidelines from both the Republic and the Laws.

        As demonstrated by Russell Gmirkin, Plato’s Laws is more than a mere code of law, it is the project for creating a national literature based on a legislation that should be presented as ancient. It provides a blueprint for a hypothetical legislator who is given advice on how to embed laws with narratives to convince the people of the divine and ancient origin of the laws. The Pentateuch therefore corresponds to the product one would obtain if one were to adopt Plato’s guidelines: laws embedded with narratives. And yet, like the Church Fathers, but tacitly, biblical scholarship argues that the final product came before its model. Gmirkin addresses the various Pentateuchal law collections as presenting distinctives traits of Greek law collections, and he demonstrates the particular affinity between the Deuteronomic Law Code’s literary form and Plato’s legislator delivering a speech to the gathered colonists (Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible, 193-206 and end-notes).

        Alternately, some would argue that the Greek parallels are due to the hand of a later “final redactor” who reworked a pre-existing material. Thomas Römer argues for instance that the story of Jephthah’s daughter is an obvious reiteration of the sacrifice of Iphigenia, and must therefore be a late addition to Judges. However, similar clear Greek parallels appear consistently in any book of the Primary History. The sacrifice of Iphigenia did not land by mere chance in Judges, its presence is due to a coherent use of motifs borrowed from the Trojan War, from both Homeric and non-Homeric sources, interspersed along Genesis-Kings. By studying the numerous and systematic parallels with the main epics of Greek mythology, such as the Trojan War, the Argonauts, Heracles and the cycle of Thebes, as well as Herodotus’ Histories and Plato’s dialogues, one can observe how these actual tangible sources were dismantled and rearranged along the story of the life and death of a Platonic ideal state. This provides a consistent and coherent model for understanding the Primary History as the work of a talented author working during the Hellenistic era. The core of original local material would appear by elimination in mostly religious laws with no equivalents in other literature, and in the historical data regarding the kings, perhaps lifted from the sources cited in the Book of Kings.

        1. Hi Philippe

          Thanks for that very considered response. I’ve addressed some of the points your make above in another post (https://vridar.org/2018/11/29/when-is-a-parallel-a-real-parallel-and-not-parallelomania/, but I’ll make just a few comments here:

          (1) I remain unconvinced by what I take to be Gmirkin’s over-interpretation of the Elephantine letters.
          Contact between Elephantine & Jerusalem did exist but there are clear indications of strain. Yohanan the high priest didn’t respond at all to the request to rebuild the temple at Yeb and finally, after three years, it was the governor of Yehud who permitted the temple to be rebuilt (though animal sacrifice was henceforth forbidden).

          The notion that the temple at Elephantine was “in a blatant contradiction with Deuteronomy’s principle of there being only one temple of God”, is I think a serious mis-reading of Deuteronomy. The prohibition against more than one temple is explicitly stated to refer to “the land that Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance” (Deut. 12:8-14 ; unlike the pre-settlement time “as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit”. But this prohibition does not explicitly extend to foreign lands, which Deuteronomy does not legislate for (which, I might add, is a very significant and revealing omission). As temples outside Palestine were not expressly prohibited, it was quite viable for the priest Onias IV (or III) to build yet another temple to Yahweh in Leontopolis around 170BCE – about 100 years after the LXX circulated the Deuteronomic law in Greek. Though, at a later date, the Talmud might have been expected to consider this temple anathema, attitudes to this temple and its personnel were in fact somewhat ambivalent, and certainly not completely hostile. Isaiah 19:19 was also a significant factor in the defence of an Egyptian temple.

          From the extant Elephantine papyri we know that an authoritative Pentateuch in its final form certainly didn’t exist. But, if we don’t assume it was written by a single author, we cannot assert with anything like equal assurance that, for example, the distinct legal corpora of the Pentateuch weren’t circulating in some sectors of Judean society (though not Elephantine). We cannot even assert that various narratives, or collections of narratives, had not been written down. If any such texts did exist in a pre-Pentateuchal, pre-amalgamated stage, they clearly didn’t have canonical status – they were just “literature” – and none of these texts would have obviated the need for authoritative priestly. Just because there was no definitive and canonical Torah, and the Judeans weren’t yet the “people of the book”, we should not conclude that there was no literature at all.

          (2) My problem with Gmirkin’s analysis of the similarities between Plato and the Pentateuchal laws, is that (a) sometimes the parallels, while real, are not so close as to demand that the biblical laws have to be direct emulations of Plato and (b) some of the parallels actually dissolve upon closer examination of details and context. And example that comes to mind is his suggestion that the stoning of the goring ox in Exodus must be derived from Plato. The contexts and rationales of the animal-execution elements in the two collections are sufficiently different to cast serious doubt on the suggestion that the idea of the animal-execution was just copied from Plato and grafted onto the ANE-derived goring-ox laws.

          I’m afraid I haven’t read what Gmirkin writes about the various Pentateuchal Law collections, or why he or you think that the author of the Primary History would have wanted to complicate the picture by introducing variations and disagreements between the overlapping laws of the various Pentateuchal codes.

          1. Hi Austendw,

            Let us sum up the discussion at this stage. Proponents of the (various versions of the) DH argue that the apparent doublets using specific vocabulary and inner contradictions are clear evidence of multiple literary layers in the Pentateuch, and remain unconvinced at the single author hypothesis of Genesis-Kings, either with Brodie’s attempted harmonization, Wesselius’ contention that such discrepancies are intentional, or my argument that specific Greek (from Homer, Herodotus, Plato) texts offer series of parallels with biblical texts regardless of the alleged distinction of the DH. In accordance with Brodie’s appeal to Occam’s razor, I have also argued for the methodological need to search in existing sources rather than in hypothetical sources. But the suggested parallels between biblical and Greek literature are considered by some, if not weak, at best due to a diffuse common background, which would not exclude a diachronic model for the Pentateuch, whether according to the traditional DH or a more recent version of it. Like I was asked not to rely solely on the traditional version on the DH to refute its validity, I would hope that sceptical readers would base their legitimate and welcomed criticisms on an understanding of our arguments in their fuller extent, if possible as found in our respective publications.

            That “we cannot assert that the distinct parts of the Pentateuch did not exist” is a double negation that does little to actually prove their existence. Which brings us back to the minimalists’ core argument that the burden of proof lies with those who claim that the Hebrew Bible is centuries older than its first actual evidence in the Dead Sea Scroll. If the alleged distinct parts of the Pentateuch did exist in the fifth century, the priests of Jerusalem might have sent to the Judeans of Elephantine, for lack of a full Pentateuch, at least one of these alleged distinct sources, in order to update this observant but heterodox community with more orthodox principles. Whereas we should not over-interpret Jerusalem’s lack of response in one way or the other, the fact remains that there was no Pentateuch nor any of its alleged fragmentary sources in fifth-century Elephantine. Even if Deuteronomy’s cult centralization can be interpreted as applicable only within the Promised Land, other laws of the Pentateuch were addressed to all Israelites regardless of their location, and the inhabitants of Elephantine infringed on several of such biblical laws, which they seem to have ignored.

            If we can agree that this is evidence that there was no Pentateuch per se in the fifth century, this would displace its redaction to the fourth century at the earliest, which brings us to the time when Plato wrote the Laws. We might conveniently assume that both the Pentateuch and Plato’s Laws were conceived based on a diffuse common background, and that common laws landed somehow by chance in both texts. However, the demonstration of Plato’s Laws as a model for the Pentateuch does not rest solely on a law-by-law comparison (which does bear a strong weight), but also on the former seeming like a prototype for the latter, as extensively argued by Russell Gmirkin in the final chapter of Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible. Each parallel considered in isolation might be deemed unconvincing; but the strength of the comparative argument also relies on the accumulation and consistency of such parallels, which decreases the possibility of mere chance and increases the likelihood of direct dependence.

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