When is a parallel a real parallel and not parallelomania?

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by Neil Godfrey

The question of parallels has been raised in different posts and comments lately on Vridar.

Firstly, I questioned Joseph Atwill’s claim that there was a parallel between Jesus calling disciples to become “fishers of men” beside the “sea of Galilee” and a scene in Josephus’ War where Romans kill drowning Judeans in a battle that had spread to a the lake of Galilee. I also took exception to his parallel between the act of cannibalism that Josephus narrates in the same work and the gospel accounts of the Passover.

Soon afterwards, I posted about parallels between the Hebrews Bible and certain Hellenistic myths and other literature in relation to the works of Russell Gmirkin and Philippe Wajdenbaum. Further, I posted something by a classicist, Bruce Louden comparing a scenario in the Odyssey with the biblical story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, to which I added further details between Greek myths and the Lot story identified by Wajdenbaum.

So am I being inconsistent in being critical of one of Atwill’s parallels but posting without critical commentary some of the work by Gmirkin, Wajdenbaum  and Louden?

One reader, Austendw, has posted a frequent criticism when this topic surfaces, and no doubt he speaks for many others. I copy just part of his comment:

And as for Saul in Mizpah, you relate Saul in hiding among the baggage, to Rachel hiding the teraphim in the saddlebag. The Hebrew says merely that Rachel “put” them in the saddle-bag; a nit-picking difference perhaps, but bearing it in mind reveals that, apart from the common place-name Mizpah, (a different Mizpah of course – it’s an extremely common place name in the OT), there isn’t a single verbal correlation between the two passages. Therefore your comment that Saul turns up like “Laban’s long-lost idol” (singular, though Laban’s teraphim were plural), strikes me as nothing other than your own imaginative eisegesis; you have imposed a meaning on the text and thereby constructed a parallel between the two stories that simply isn’t found in either of the texts themselves.

The details are indeed very different. But what is it, then, that makes it a “genuine” parallel in the minds of some others? Are we stretching different images almost to breaking point to make them seem somehow, even bizarrely, like one another? Is it reasonable to compare a person hiding in baggage and another person putting an incriminating object in a saddlebag?

Ideal Type compared with specific details

In order to try to understand what is going on here, to help us understand if we are manufacturing artificial parallels or discovering “real” ones, here is something written by Robert Price in The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems. Price is addressing a concept developed by the sociologist Max Weber, the Ideal Type. (Ideal relates to the world of ideas, not perfect ideals.)

The third commandment is to remember what an Ideal Type means. Conveniently forgetting it, many have ignored the importance of the Mystery Religions, the Θεηνο αλεξ (divine man),10 the dying and rising gods,11 Mystery Religions, 12 and, most recently, Gnosticism,13 for the historical Jesus question. An Ideal Type is a textbook definition made up of the regularly recurring features common to the phenomena in question. The Ideal Type most certainly does not ignore points of distinctiveness of the member phenomena, nor does it presuppose or require absolute likeness between all members of the envisioned category. Rather, the idea is that if discreet phenomena possess enough common features that a yardstick may be abstracted from them, then each member may be profitably measured and better understood against the yardstick. If the Ideal Type of “religion” includes the feature “belief in superhuman entities,” then we do not conclude that Buddhism is not a religion after all. Rather, we turn around and use the yardstick of what is generally true of religions to better understand this particular exception.

Nor do we conclude that, since all members of the proposed category do not match up in every respect, that there is no such category after all. There is a natural range of variations on the theme, and it is only the broad theme that the Ideal Type sets forth. Neither do we expect that all typical features will be present in all specific cases. We do not deny there is such a thing as a form of miracle stories just because not every one of them contains, say, the feature of the skepticism of the onlookers, though most do.

(Price, 30, my emphasis)

Structure compared with specific details

Claude Lévi-Strauss

In a recent post I used the term “mythic grammar” in the title, borrowing it from Bruce Louden where he compared certain stories of Odysseus and Lot. That term brings us back to Claude Lévi-Strauss and his pioneering of structural analyses of myths. Grammar is more than a single phoneme or a single word. It is a set of rules that structure our words to create a meaning. To understand grammar we don’t look at the meanings of single words alone but we look at their functions: verb, objects, subject, tense, etc. Better, in concentrated summary, as Lévi-Strauss puts it:

2.6 To sum up the discussion at this point, we have so far made the following claims: 1. If there is a meaning to be found in mythology, this cannot reside in the isolated elements which enter into the composition of a myth, but only in the way those elements are combined. 2. Although myth belongs to the same category as language, being, as a matter of fact, only part of it, language in myth unveils specific properties. 3. Those properties are only to be found above the ordinary linguistic level; that is, they exhibit more complex features beside those which are to be found in any kind of linguistic expression.

3.0. If the above three points are granted, at least as a working hypothesis, two consequences will follow: 1. Myth, like the rest of language, is made up of constituent units. 2. These constituent units presuppose the constituent units present in language when analyzed on other levels, namely, phonemes, morphemes, and semantemes, but they, nevertheless, differ from the latter in the same way as they themselves differ from morphemes, and these from phonemes; they belong to a higher order, a more complex one. For this reason, we will call them gross constituent units.

3.1 How shall we proceed in order to identify and isolate these gross constituent units? We know that they cannot be found among phonemes, morphemes, or semantemes, but only on a higher level; otherwise myth would become confused with any other kind of speech. Therefore, we should look for them on the sentence level. . . .

(Lévi-Strauss, 431)


Social-Political structures compared with Freudian and Jungian details

Let’s take an example from another much disputed concept, the Rank-Raglan class for a mythic hero. Biblical scholar Richard Horsley was having difficulty with the idea that the Jesus nativity stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke fit the details of the Rank-Raglan elements, so much so that Jesus looked more like the very opposite of what the R-R list was meant to identify.

When we focus on the particular details in the narratives rather than on the motifs similar to hero legends, then Jesus begins to look almost like an antihero, the very opposite of the typical hero.

Rank included the stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy as one of the principal illustrations of his hypothesized “myth of the birth of the hero.” He suggested that “a standard saga” could be reconstructed from “a series of uniformly common features” found in stories about such figures as Moses, Cyrus, Oedipus, Paris, Perseus, Romulus, and Hercules.

(I) The hero is the child of most distinguished parents; usually the son of a king.

(2) His origin is preceded by difficulties, such as continence, or prolonged barrenness, or secret intercourse of the parents, due to external prohibition of obstacles.

(3) During the pregnancy, or antedating the same, there is a prophecy, in form of a dream or oracle, cautioning against his birth, and usually threatening danger to the father, or his representative.

(4) As a rule, he is surrendered to the water, in a box.

(5) He is then saved by animals, or by lowly people (shepherds) and is suckled by a female animal or by a humble woman. After he has grown up, he finds his distinguished parents, in highly versatile fashion; takes his revenge on his father, on the one hand, is acknowledged on the other, and finally achieves rank and honors.11

Most of these features can be found in most of the summaries of stories about the heroes cited by Rank. The series of features is most evidently manifested by Cyrus, Perseus, and Romulus. At first glance, however, the Gospel stories about Jesus would not appear to fit very well into Rank’s series of features. . . . Of Rank’s six motifs, only parts of the first, third, and sixth apply to stories about Jesus. In many other respects he would appear almost to be an antihero.

Horsley then identified a serious limitation in Rank and Raglan analysis. Rank’s list of story elements was generated through a Freudian paradigm. For Rank, a box represented a womb. A father figure could be anyone in authority, even an unrelated king. Such an interpretation enabled quite complex narratives with multiple actors and actions to be reduced theoretically to a single relationship between two or three persons. Most of us will probably nod in agreement with Horsley when he says:

Rank’s Freudian scheme is objectionable as a psychoanalytical and psychosocial interpretation of symbol and myth. It personalizes or individualizes what should be understood at a transpersonal cultural level, where a more complex set of relations may be involved.

Jungian interpretations are also problematic:

Rank, the Jungians, and their avid recent readers were searching for the psychological or spiritual significance of the hero (birth) myth, with little thought for the sociopolitical circumstances or implications of myths that they viewed as analogous to (collective) dreams. But there is no reason to separate the psychospiritual dimension from the sociopolitical, much less to argue the validity of the one as opposed to the other.

So the Rank-Raglan list is flawed because of its narrow focus on specific images that would fit a particular psychological paradigm. Not every myth from his dataset matched every element.

Horsley, however, examined the same dataset of myths (primarily those of European/Hellenistic hertage) and found when viewed through a broader sociopolitical paradigm, the relationships among them all are seen to be more complete. Horsley’s sociopolitical paradigm as applied to the nativity episodes in myths. In the sociopolitical model we focus on relationships (authority figures, obstacles, threats, liberation and rescue, etc.):

If we attend more closely to the very “myths” cited by Rank, some significant revision of his descriptions of features becomes necessary. Thus

(1) it is not always the immediate parents who are “distinguished” (esp. royal) but often the paternal or maternal grandfather or other ancestor; and the hero is often the son of a god as well, with his mother often being a virgin.

(2) The difficulties preceding (or surrounding) the hero’s birth seldom include prolonged barrenness, but they do often include obstacles placed in the way by the present ruler. That factor, moreover, is often closely related to

(3): the birth prophecy is usually threatening not to the hero’s own father but, as just noticed, to the present ruler, who may or may not be related.

(4) The infant hero may indeed not always or even ordinarily be “surrendered to the water in a box,” but he is usually exposed or threatened with death in some way.

(5) The infant hero is often saved (and suckled) by animals or lowly people, but while many are then also raised by lowly foster parents, some are raised by “distinguished” or royal foster parents.

This correction of Rank’s descriptions better to fit the other hero myths he cites was done without taking the Jesus stories into account. Thus it is all the more striking that the stories about Jesus’ infancy display parallels to nearly all of the features integral to stories about the other heroes.

Horsley produced the above social and political analyses of Hellenistic myths and suggested it is striking that the Jesus nativity story from a Jewish-Palestinian world should match them so completely.

(1) Besides his distinguished royal ancestry, Jesus is born of a virgin and is the son of God as well.

(2) While the Jesus stories do not contain the motif of the mother’s prolonged barrenness, which is infrequent in the hero myths anyhow, they do involve the more frequent motif of obstacles thrown in the way by rulers: the journey made necessary by Caesar’s census decree.

(3) Closely connected, the prophecy of the child’s eventual heroism implicit in the Magi’s star is taken by King Herod as a direct threat to his own rule.

(4) Herod’s hostile reaction threatens death for the newly bom hero Jesus, who is “spirited away” (as in many of Raglan’s traditions as well as Rank’s).

(5) Especially if the “son of God” (distinguished parent) motif is emphasized in (1), then it is clearly the “lowly people” Joseph (foster father or stepfather) and Mary who rescue and raise the hero Jesus.

The series of parallels between the Jesus stories and the myths cited by Rank is impressive, especially considering that they constitute many of the central motives and relationships of the Gospel infancy narratives. More particularly, in terms of typical scholarly biblical studies, nearly all of these features and relations occur in the fundamental (often pre-Matthean and pre-Lucan) traditions to which the distinctive Matthean and Lucan interpretative touches have been added.

What Horsley has done is identify the elements or motifs of political and social relationships in the myths and it is those elements that make the Jesus nativity story a genuine parallel sharing many elements with other nativity myths such as those of Heracles, Perseus, Romulus and Cyrus.

Mythic grammar or structures

Compare Bruce Louden’s elements of the apocalyptic narrative, those myths in which a wrathful deity destroys an entire “world” or community but spares just one righteous individual who has proved himself worthy. I refer to the details elements at the beginning of my previous post. In its simplest form:

  • There is a prophecy of the destruction of a group by a wrathful deity.
  • A divine consultation limits the destruction of the group.
  • The group is destroyed and the favoured one divinely spared.

The earliest myth structured around these elements is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The goddess Ishtar, offended by Gilgamesh’s refusal to be her lover, requested of the sky god Anu a bull to wreak great destruction on earth but Anu insisted that the destruction not be total but must be limited. In this case the goddess was not particularly just and it was up to the hero Gilgamesh to slay the bull and end the slaughter.

We can recognize Ishtar as the offended deity, Anu as parallel to Zeus, the more powerful deity who ensures that the more devastating of her threats will not be enacted, settling on the less threatening of her two angry wishes. Furthermore, we recognize in her threat of greater destruction a close parallel to Helios’ threat to go down and shine in Hades (12.382-83). I suggest, then, that the second half of the narrative pattern, together with the Lot narrative and the Gilgamesh divine council, may be seen as a subgenre of apocalyptic narrative, depicting a “local” or partly contained version of the destruction of an entire race.

(Louden, 71)

The details are obviously quite different — Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Lot — but the motifs or “grammatical elements” are the same. They are built with the same type of structure.

The reason I dispute Atwill’s attempt to link the lake of Galilee killings and the mother’s cannibalism in Josephus’ War with “fishers of men” and Passover in the gospels is because I think the connections are made by linking specific details in the stories instead of showing how they are comparable in terms of story structure, motifs, or “grammatical elements”.

This essay has turned out to be much longer than I anticipated so I will leave it there for now and perhaps return for more posts covering other aspects requiring explanation.

Horsley, Richard. 2006. The Liberation of Christmas: The Infancy Narratives in Social Context. Reprint edition. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock Pub.

“Ideal Type.” 2018. Wikipedia. November 27, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ideal_type&oldid=863143464.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1955. “The Structural Study of Myth.” The Journal of American Folklore 68 (270): 428–44.

Louden, Bruce. 1999. The Odyssey : Structure, Narration, and Meaning. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press.

Price, Robert M. 2011. The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems. American Atheist Press.


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  • Philippe Wajdenbaum
    2018-11-29 03:17:57 UTC - 03:17 | Permalink

    To avoid redundancy, I will respond only here to Austendw’s objections to my Genesis-Samuel comparison. My arguments in the comment are a brief summary from my more detailed article, Jacob and David, the Bible’s Literary Twins, in Anthropology and the Bible, edited by Emanuel Pfoh (Gorgias 2011). In this article, I referred to Lévi-Strauss’ method of structural analysis, which calls for a synchronic and diachronic analysis of a myth.

    Rachel put the teraphim under her saddle-bag and sat on it so that Laban would not find them. That is called hiding, and a saddle-bag may be considered a piece of luggage, which in my opinion allows for a comparison with Saul, Rachel’s descendant through Benjamin, hiding in the luggage. Within Genesis, we have the motif of Laban searching for his stolen teraphim in Rachel’s tent, and further we have Joseph ordering his intendant to plant his cup in Benjamin’s bag, and then searching for it; both brothers being Rachel’s sons. Much like Jacob said that the one who would be found with the teraphim should die, so did Juda said the same regarding the one who would be found with Joseph’s cup. Within Genesis, it seems fair to say that some narratives were meant to rhyme with each other. I believe that this can be extended to further books, which I attribute to the same author. The idea of comparing Saul to an idol is not only warranted by the comparison with Rachel’s stolen teraphim, but also with Samuel’s warning that by electing a king, Israel is rejecting God’s rule over them, which is the main motif of the books of Samuel and Kings. The successive kings of Israel will increasingly neglect the laws and some will worship idols. The occurence of the name of Mitzpah, although these are most clearly different places in both texts, is in my opinion a valid semantic parallel uniting both texts.

    Laban looks for his teraphim, asks his fleeing son-in-law Jacob, searches his younger daughter Rachel’s tent who pretends that she has her periods, and renounces finding them. Saul, Rachel’s descendant, searches for his son-in-law David, sends men in his younger daughter Michal’s room, and she pretends that David is ill, and the men do not find David but only the teraphim. I believe that these narratives do rhyme with each other, by a game of substitutions and inversions. Over-emphasizing their respective differences is not evidence for their independence.

    In addition, Bruce Louden shows how Rachel stealing the teraphim from her father, fleeing with Jacob, and Laban pursuing them, is reflected in how Medea helped Jason steal the Golden Fleece from her father Aetes, who pursued them (Louden, Homer’s Odyssey and the Near East, 144, 149).

    • Anat
      2018-11-29 06:02:59 UTC - 06:02 | Permalink

      Do you think the Primary Historian(s) intended the idol/Saul parallel to be obvious to their audience or was it a commentary for personal consumption? (Or was the parallel there in the first place?) Because the way to make such a connection obvious is to use the same words. It is common in traditional rabbinic commentary to make a point that identical or similar phrases used in different contexts show cause-and-effect or irony. But here in Genesis 31 although there is a description of Rachel placing the teraphim in the saddle/cushion there is no use of a word for ‘hiding’ (anything using the root ‘חבא’) although it could have easily been used there. Instead we have Laban feeling for the teraphim, which reminds me of Isaac feeling to identify the person who brought him the food and who was requesting a blessing. The motif of deception runs through the Jacob cycle – first we saw Jacob fleeing because he was correctly accused of theft and deception, and now he fled while being falsely accused of theft, with the Joseph/Benjamin instance closing the cycle (and along the way there were more acts of deception by Jacob’s various sons). The case with Michal using covered teraphim is stronger because of the shared teraphim as well as the repetition (with variation) of the story of a younger sister as a preferred bride.

    • Austendw
      2018-11-30 11:16:15 UTC - 11:16 | Permalink


      How one evaluates parallels is, in the end, pretty subjective and, after all, all literature is a collaboration between the writer and the reader. What matters is the implications one draws from them; different degrees of closeness of the parallels might imply different processes. You argue that parallels within the biblical corpus imply that they were written by the same author and parallels with Greek culture imply that they were “borrowed” from the Greek. I don’t quite understand the former argument, and for the latter, I simply don’t think the parallels are close enough to insist on direct borrowing.

      I am more sympathetic to Bruce Louden’s comment, which Neil quotes in another context, that “as both accounts share a considerable number of motifs, a similar “grammar” underlies each myth.” Whereas you seem to argue quite the opposite, that a motif in the biblical account that tallies with a Greek has been consciously borrowed from the Greek text by the Biblical author.

      I think this illustrates two quite different understandings of the relationship between the cultures of Greece and the Levant. You (and Gmirkin) seem to picture things in a rather binary way (but correct me, please, if I misunderstand): there is Greek culture, an there is ANE culture and these are in some ways mutually exclusive. The biblical writers were ANE writers, therefore any motifs present in the biblical writings that also appear Greek literature need special explanation – they are originally Greek motifs (in some exclusive, proprietorial way) that have been consciously imported or “appropriated” from Greece. This must be a rare event that couldn’t happen very often (as, you believe, the DH would demand).

      On the other side, Louden accepts that that there could be a “grammar” shared by both the Greek and biblical writers; this implies a sphere of cultural interpenetration, a shared cultural background throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. As a result of this, Greek/Biblical parallels aren’t anomalous, unexpected, or in need of special explanation (ie: direct borrowing). Guy Darshan (in an essay that Russell Gmirkin draw attention to on these pages, gives a very interesting account of this sort of cultural osmosis in his essay The Origins of the Foundation Stories Genre in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Eastern Mediterranean, (JBL 133, 4 (2014), 689–709).

      I find his view of a “porous” relationship of the cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean to be plausible, and consistent with evidence from non-literary spheres. It explains Greek/Biblical parallels but crucially also gives room for what I believe is a fractured, multi-layered, “tessellated” biblical text to grow, editorially, over time. (I am not necessarily insisting on the traditional DH explanation, but recognizing that this texture and layering is a real phenomenon.)

      • Philippe Wajdenbaum
        2018-12-01 00:17:08 UTC - 00:17 | Permalink

        I have not presented Greek and ANE cultures as mutually exclusive. What I do argue for (as per Brodie) is that once we have identified potential sources in existing texts (whether Greek or not, but they happen to be Greek in many cases), this renders the paradigm of hypothetical sources invalid and incompatible. In Argonauts of the Desert (12-14), I explain that early oriental influence upon Greece does not exclude Greek influence on the Orient at later periods, and that many comparative works of past scholarship assumed a displacing of literary motifs almost solely from East to West. If anything, relentlessly arguing for a Greek influence upon the Hebrew Bible is rather meant to surpass this binary and obsolete rift present in much of earlier scholarship and to some extent still present in the mind of the public. The Hebrew Bible is shown in this perspective of the rewriting of Greek sources as sophisticated, mimetic literature, that was able to make the sum of ANE, Greek, Judean and Samaritan materials. Ancient authors, whether in Greece or the Near East, creatively imitated their predecessors, leaving clues for their readers pointing at their sources of inspiration. This is verifiable in the many intertextual links between ancient Greek and Roman authors. We do not think less of Apollonius of Rhodes for multiplying in almost every single verse of his Argonautica myriads of references to Homer, Pindar, Herodotus, Euripides and others. We do not think less of Virgil for being able to include simultaneously references to both Homer and Apollonius, reproducing into his own epic the intertextual links between the two, thereby creating a complex multi-level structure, and in another language than Greek. Rather, we marvel at this artistry. The Greek influence hypothesis promotes the Hebrew Bible to the same level of sophistication as these Greek and Roman works, in that it was able to refashion material from Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus and others along Plato’s literary advice in the Laws and the Republic.

        Whereas Bruce Louden does speak of “common grammar” to similar narratives, he nonetheless also considers Greek possible borrowings from the Hebrew Bible, albeit at a much earlier period than the Hellenistic era. Studying the oriental influence upon Homer’s Iliad (The Iliad: Structure, Myth and Meaning, 2006) and Odyssey (Homer’s Odyssey and the Near East, 2011), Louden has been brought to notice that Homeric and biblical parallels are not, through their number and accuracy, of the same nature than Homeric parallels with other ANE literature. Louden therefore distinguishes between an oriental influence upon the formation of early Greek mythology or literature, and a possible Greek influence upon biblical literature. Louden considers the possibility of the Phoenicians and the Philistines as intermediaries between Greece and Israel, and argues for an early Greek influence upon Near-Eastern narratives. Regarding the similarities between the Odyssey and Genesis, he writes:

        “I suspect, but cannot prove, that this indicates diffusion, one culture borrowing from the other. The parallels strike me as too numerous to be explained by mere generic resemblance… it would seem far likelier that OT myth is influenced by some form of Greek myth than vice versa.” (Homer’s Odyssey and the Near East, 320-21). “The parallels, and the divergences, suggest to me both that the Odyssey, in some form, served as a model for individual parts of Genesis (particularly the myth of Joseph) and that, like the Odyssey, the redactors linked together many different genres of myth to form parts of a larger nostos, return story” (Ibid., 324).

        In a 2013 article (Iapetus and Japheth: Hesiod’s Theogony, Iliad 15.187–93, and Genesis 9–10, Illinois Classical Studies 38), Louden shows that the name of Japheth in the biblical flood story seems derived from Hesiod’s Iapetus (cf. Argonauts of the Desert, 107-8, which Louden cites). Iapetus was the grand-father of the flood survivor in its Greek version, Deucalion, and through him the ancestor of Ion, who is found in its Hebrew form Yavan as the son of Japheth in Genesis 10. Ham seeing Noah’s nakedness can be interpreted as the euhemerized and euphemized version of Cronus’ castration of Uranus; both Ham and Cronus having a brother named Japheth/Iapetus. As in the case of Plato’s androgyne and Adam and Eve, rabbinic tradition seems to have noticed this parallel, with some interpreting Ham’s deed as a castration. Although the son-god castrating his father appears in more ancient ANE accounts as well, the occurrence of the name of Japheth in Genesis resonates with Hesiod’s Iapetus. Louden concludes “… Japheth, who is absent from all other Near Eastern accounts, may well derive from the Hesiodic, or an earlier version of Iapetus” (Iapetus and Japheth, 21: see also R. K. Gnuse, who argues for both J and P being familiar with Hesiod [Greek Connections: Genesis 1–11 and the Poetry of Hesiod, Biblical Theology Bulletin 47, 2017]).

        Whereas Louden’s or Gnuse’s approaches leave room for the DH model and earlier dates, in my opinion however, the parallels with Hesiod are better accounted for in the perspective of a rewriting of Greek mythology through Plato’s guidelines. Plato condemned the Hesiodic narrative of Uranus’ castration and meant to somehow censor it (Republic 377b), which I believe is why the biblical narrative appears as its euhemerized and euphemized version (Argonauts of the Desert, 89, 108). Moreover, Noah’s blessing upon Japheth is a clear marker of the Hellenistic date of the Pentateuch/Primary History. Noah blesses Japheth by wishing that he will expand and live in Shem’s tents (Gen. 9:27), seemingly referring to the Greek presence in the Levant (again, rabbinic interpretation read it that way, but considering it as true prophecy). Whereas some would argue that biblical Japheth was also the ancestor of the Medes and Persians through Madai, which would make Noah’s prophecy possibly refer to the Persian era, Balaam’s prophecy about fleets from Kittim (Num. 24:24; Kittim being the son of Yavan in Gen. 10), along with Noah’s, can be interpreted as an ex-eventu prediction regarding the Greek invasion of the East by Alexander’s troops (Argonauts of the Desert, 77).

  • Scott McKellar
    2018-11-29 05:13:00 UTC - 05:13 | Permalink

    The census of 6 CE, and the associated journey to Bethlehem, come from Luke’s version of the Jesus story. The bits concerning Herod come from Matthew, and place Jesus’ birth no later than 4 BCE, when Herod died.

    By picking elements from two very different and incompatible stories, Horsley gives Jesus perhaps an unfair advantage in qualifying as a Rank hero.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-11-29 14:00:35 UTC - 14:00 | Permalink

      The Christmas story itself is based on both Matthew and Luke as a composite story so it follows that the mythical Jesus is a composite of Matthew and Luke. (Horsley actually rejects Rank’s elements because they rely only upon elements that can have a Freudian interpretation.)

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