Daily Archives: 2019-01-30 10:41:38 UTC

Waco (the background story)

James Haught of Daylight Atheism has posted the historical pathway that led to the Branch Davidians and the Waco disaster beginning from the Millerite movement of 1843 and 1844.

The Story Behind Waco’s Tragedy

David who had a thing for feet sees Bathsheba washing her . . . .

It’s a story of dashed idealism, sordid and cruel moments, the power of belief, and too much that I can personally relate to. I watched the TV mini-series on the Waco story late last year and, as I expected, found myself too easily able to identify with some of the followers. My experience was with the Worldwide Church of God. Not that that was my only experience with religion, but it was the one that echoed aspects of the Branch Davidians history.

One moment in the movie that left me shaking my head in all too believable “disbelief” was when one of the most loyal followers of Dave Koresh was challenged by an outsider pointing to some of Koresh’s blatant moral failings. With unshakable faith the loyal follower replied that he wished with all his being that God had chosen anyone else except Vernon Howell (who took the name Dave Koresh) to be his prophet because he could scarcely imagine a less likeable person, . . .  BUT, he was the one God had chosen, and he had to accept that, and submit to God’s will.

How often did the ministry in the Worldwide Church of God, especially the upper leadership, find opportunities to preach the message of King David, a “man after God’s own heart”, chosen by God, and David’s moral failings, his adultery, his murders, made no difference. Those who rebelled against this David when he was getting older and losing his grip on the kingdom were the ones led by Satan against “God’s anointed”.

The hypocrisy, the self-serving message, it’s all sickening in hindsight. But that’s how many of us were. If it hadn’t been the Armstrongs I suppose in another time and place it could have been Vernon Howell and it could have been me there. The one “saving grace” for the Worldwide Church of God was that it’s top leader was old and had no desire to give up his comforts or put himself in any serious physical risks. Those things come so much more easily to one in his early 30s. (For a number of years we were seriously expecting our leader to be given a vision or sign that would be the signal for us to “flee” to a “place in the wilderness”.)

James Haught rounds off his post

it’s unsettling to realize that some people among us are capable of believing far-out fantasies, enough even to die for them

I think there’s a slight misunderstanding in there. The processes that lead some of us to join extremist political groups responsible for terrorist attacks, I believe, are very similar to those that lead some into extremist religious cults. The radicalization processes are the same. It’s not that some people are somehow predisposed to believe or act out bizarre things (maybe some are, but they aren’t usually the ones who are accepted into extremist groups) but that so much depends on a person’s background experiences, close integration with a supportive social group, and circumstances at the time. Thankfully many people find that hard to believe because they cannot imagine themselves in the sort of condition and circumstances that begin to subtly lead them into a gradual acceptance of “the bizarre”.

 

The Sons of Jacob and the Sons of Heracles

We used to be taught that the first invasion of a Greek people into the Greek peninsula was the Dorian invasion. (Today that event appears to be generally regarded as mythical.) The Dorians of Greek myth were the Heracleidae, the descendants of Heracles, who undertook an “exodus” from the Peloponnesus and some generations later returned to reclaim and conquer their “promised land”. (Image from Wikimedia)

How reliable as historical records are the genealogies of patriarchs and the different tribes of Israel?

1977 saw the publication of Robert Wilson’s thesis, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World, a work that set the main framework for further studies of biblical genealogies. Wilson used two different studies of genealogies as a basis for comparing and understanding what the biblical ones were all about:

  1. Anthropological studies of oral tribal cultures, African and pre-Islamic Arabian;
  2. Amorite dynastic lists of Babylon and Assyria.

The genealogies found among African and Arab oral cultures were considered relevant because the biblical genealogies were believed to have derived from oral traditions. Wilson concluded that such genealogies preserved historical memories:

Although we have seen no anthropological evidence indicating that genealogies are created for the purpose of making a historical record, genealogies may nevertheless be considered historically accurate in the sense that they frequently express actual domestic, political relationships.7

7 Genealogy, p. 189

The use of oral traditions among current and recent tribal societies as a doorway into the biblical genealogies was rejected by John Van Seters who set out his reasons in several works. In In Search of History, for example, he wrote in response to Wilson’s Genealogy

It is, to my mind, highly questionable whether functional explanations of variations in genealogies based on anthropological analysis of oral societies can also apply to literary variations. Wilson does not examine the many contemporary literary genealogies in the Greek world.

(p. 48n)

If you took no notice of the title of this post then the predicate in the last sentence just alerted you to where this post is headed, at least if you are already aware of this blog’s interest in the relationship between the “Old Testament” and Greek literary culture (e.g. posts on books by Gmirkin, Wajdenbaum, Wesselius…). Expect in coming months another author to be added to those, Andrew Tobolowsky, author of The Sons of Jacob and the Sons of Herakles.

Andrew Tobolowsky

Tobolowsky points out that there is a significant structural difference between Babylonian and Assyrian royal genealogies on the one hand and those genealogies found in Genesis and the books of Chronicles on the other, is that the former are “linear”, that is, lists from father to son, while the latter are “segmented”, that is, following “multiple lines of descent, forming a kind of family tree.”

As Van Seters points out specifically about Wilson’s treatment:

On the one hand his Near Eastern linear genealogies, which derive from highly structured literate societies, bear very little resemblance to the segmented genealogies found in the book of Genesis. On the other hand, his discussion of the segmented genealogies and their comparison with Genesis is based upon anthropological studies of oral traditions in illiterate societies and this has created an artificial social and form-critical dichotomy.

Abraham Malamat, who generally embraces Wilson’s formulation, nevertheless adds:

Biblical genealogies represent a unique historical genre within the literature of the ancient Near East. I have here in mind not the so-called vertical lines of individuals such as the royal or priestly pedigree, which are common anywhere, but rather the ethnographical tables contained in the Book of Genesis… even more so… the ramified and wide-spread genealogies of the various Israelite tribes, assembled in the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles. All these have no equal anywhere else in the ancient Near East.

As a result, as Van Seters pointed out and others have since confirmed, the better comparison with biblical genealogical discourse, especially as it is found in the book of Genesis, is neither the traditions of preliterate cultures nor linear king lists but the complex, literary genealogies that were particularly popular in the world of Greek myth.

(p. 4 — my highlighting)

Tobolowsky dates the creation of these biblical genealogies to the late Persian period. I suspect Russell Gmirkin whose books we have discussed here would suggest a later time, that of the Hellenistic era.


Tobolowsky, Andrew. 2017. The Sons of Jacob and the Sons of Herakles: The History of the Tribal System and the Organization of Biblical Identity. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Van Seters, John. 1983. In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History. New Haven: Yale University Press.