Archaeological Support for Gmirkin’s Thesis on Plato and the Hebrew Bible

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by Neil Godfrey

Neils Peter Lemche (link is to my posts referencing NPL) has reviewed archaeologist Yonatan Adler’s The Origins of Judaism (link is to my post on Adler’s book) and related its evidence and argument to the work of Russell Gmirkin’s Plato and the Hebrew Bible. — on which I have posted in depth here.

Lemche’s review is available on the website of the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament but Yonatan Adler has made it available to all through his academia.edu page.

The key takeaways in the review, I think, are:

This book is not written by a traditional biblical scholar but by an archaeologist having his background not in biblical studies but in Judaistic studies. . . .  His task is accordingly not to trace the development of the Torah as if it is something given from Israel’s very beginnings but to find out when its commandments were understood to be normative.

And the “trick” is to follow the normative methods of historical research as it is practised (as far as I am aware) in most fields outside biblical studies:

. . . Adler’s trick: Not to assume in advance what the Bible tells us about the institutions of ancient Israel but to trace the time when the commandments behind these institutions are operative.

And further — what I have found to be so outrageously controversial among so many with an interest in “biblical studies”:

Adler’s methodology is impeccable and indeed factual. His basis assumption is like Occam’s razor: If there is no trace of something, there is no reason to assume that this something existed.

And the point that I have posted about so often here:

The conclusion is that when we move backwards beyond the Hasmonean Period we have no evidence of the [biblical] commandment being followed.


There is simply no evidence in the written or in the archaeological material that the rules of the Torah were ever followed before in the 2nd century BCE at the earliest.

I’m glad he introduced the Mesopotamian law codes that too many have casually assumed lie behind the biblical laws:He notes correctly that the very concept of a written law was unknown in the ancient Near East — the famous Babylonian law codices were scholarly or academic literature as generally accepted today. Never do we find a reference to the Codex Hammurabi in the thousands and thousands of documents of court decisions which have survived.

And then we move close to where Russell Gmirkin’s research has taken us:

However, the idea of the Torah as a written law to be followed by any person accepting its jurisdiction, is something different, and Adler looks to Greece for seeing this function of the law as a written document.

and it follows that Adler’s research . . . .

only supports the assumption that the Hebrew Bible originated within a context which was definitely impressed by Greek ideas.

Sadly Niels Peter Lemche finds it advisable to warn Yonatan Adler of a hostile reaction that many of us who have attempted to discuss these issues dispassionately with so many biblical scholars have come to expect:

But he should be prepared for what may be sent in his way in so far as his study is of the utmost importance for the present reorientation of the study of the origins of the Bible.


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12 thoughts on “Archaeological Support for Gmirkin’s Thesis on Plato and the Hebrew Bible”

  1. So, I immediately thought of the fifth century BCE stories of the “found” documents and the “Returnees” and the campaign to enforce monotheism from that point onwards? It sounds as if that effort, if real, didn’t have much impact if Torah law wasn’t being practiced until the second century BCE at the earliest.

    1. Could you provide some more info on these stories and documents?

      The Elephantine Papyri of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, when combined with other evidence, indicate the simultaneous existence of three temples (Elephantine, Samaria, and Judea) and polytheism, and in the third century BCE we know of the existence of a private temple in the Levant as well as polytheism.

    2. May I recommend the lqte Bernd Jörg Diebner’s article “The Invention of the Swefer Hattorah in 2 Kings 22: The Structure, Intention, and Function of Legends of Discovery”, in Bernd J. Diebner, Failed Methodology and Ideology in Canonical Interpretations of Biblical Texts: Changing Perspectives 9, Copenhagen International Seminar. Edited by Ingrig Hjelm. Translators Niels Peter Lemche, Ingrid Hjelm and Jim West (London: Routledge, 2024 …) just out.
      Diebner was the centre of a Copenhagen School-like movement in Germany out of Heidelberg. I have sometimes referred to him, lost least his wonderful remark about biblical studies: You cannot prove it, but it is a fact. Diebner’s article can also be found in this volume.

  2. Thanks for sharing the link to Niels Peter’s review of Adler’s book.

    I don’t think Adler’s book provides support for any of the books Gmirkin has written, it simply doesn’t eliminate any of Gmirkin’s theses as impossible, i.e., Adler’s book does not falsify Gmirkin’s books.

    That should come as no surprise because Gmirkin was well aware of the state of the archaeological record even when he wrote Berossus and Genesis. See, e.g., his discussion of the Elephantine Papyri. It is the gap between the history of the Bible and the history indicated by the archaeological record that animates Minimalism.

    1. And yet if Gmirkin’s proposal were as easy to falsify as his opponents claim it to be, then appealing to the archaeological evidence might be expected to refute his claim easily. I remember at least one of his opponents on the Biblical Criticism forum claiming that we have definite pre-273 BCE Pentateuch manuscripts, for example.

      1. Yeh, and it was when the moderator of that forum mocked and ridiculed the thesis along with ad homina towards those who espoused it, after I asked him to give a supported argument to justify his take, responded that he had not studied it so was unable to do so. That — along with the moderator giving serious space to a proudly self-declared anti-intellectual — told me as plain as could be that it was not a serious forum.

        1. Dear Neil,

          Send me your email, and I will forward the appendix to my collection of articles to be published in May next year (Equinox), If I Forget You, Jerusalem. 272 BCE is the date to go for, and the death of Abimelek AKA Pyrrhus presents this date.


          1. ooooh! https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/forget-jerusalem/

            Table of Contents

            1. “If I Forget you, Jerusalem!”

            2. Emphatic Time in the Old Testament
            3. Justice as Pre-existing World Order
            4. Messiah in the Book of Isaiah
            5. Old Testament Texts as Rewritten Literature
            6. Psalm 2: Between Past and Future
            7. The Introduction to David’s Psalms: New Reflections on Psalm 2
            8. Sociology and Prophetical Literature

            9. History and Memory in the Old Testament
            10. On History, Sociology, and Theology: Old Testament Perspectives
            11. On Historical Memory in the Historiography of the Old Testament
            12. Ezra and the Pentateuch
            13. What have We Done & Where are We Moving? … a Change of Paradigm
            14. Après le déluge: The Copenhagen School or Chaos?

            15. The History of Israel’s Religion and the History of Israel: Identical or Different
            16. Geography as Memory
            17. Israel and its Land
            18. Israel as an Ideological Construction
            19. The Relevance of Social-critical Exegesis for Old Testament Theology

            272 BCE – A terminus a quo

      2. We don’t!
        Strictly speaking the earliest reference to anything LXX-like would be Hezekiel the Tragedian’s play, Exodus, maybe from around 200 BCE. By the way, Hezekiel was from Alexandria.

        1. Sir,

          Your involving yourself in a conversation which I was involved in astounded me in a good way – but I am deeply honoured that you would deign to reply to my comment directly.

          I am, of course, fascinated by your apparent assertion that Pyrrhus’s death inspired the author of Judges in describing Abimalek as dying when a woman threw something at his head and seriously injured him.

    2. As I remark in my review, Adler is not a biblical scholar but an archaeologist who special field the post-biblical ear. He was very surprised when I told him when we met in Lund in March that parts of biblical studies simply falls in with his own results about the torah. But get the book. It is not very expensive. When I saw the add, it took me less than five minutes to get the Kindle version. Later I also bought the paper version.

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