Hellenistic Era Bible Hypothesis continued

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by Neil Godfrey

I was glad to move on from the discussion of circularity underlying the conventional dating of the biblical texts when I posted the following to point out other relevant questions. I have only slightly edited and added here to what I posted to the earlywritings forum on 20th Feb. (All posts in this series are archived at Dating Biblical Texts.)

The following copy of my forum post is only a list of 5 headers that introduce questions that need to be discussed more fully in order to fruitfully explore the Hellenistic era provenance for the Hebrew Bible. Nothing more, only brief summary notes introducing the need for further thought.


There is more to the Hellenistic provenance thesis than the simple fact of the circularity of the methods of dating the OT books by the past conventional scholarship — -[the circularity is something that] so far not even [my critic] has denied. . . .

Archaeology reveals . . .

I recently added quotes from scholars setting out the findings of archaeology relevant to the story of Joshua’s invasion of Canaan in a discussion post here.

1. The archaeological evidence of pre-Hellenistic Judea-Samaria has demonstrated that major moments of biblical history are fictions. The “invasion” of Canaan by an “Israelite” ethnic group never happened. The most that can be said about the “Kingdom” of David and Solomon is that it was little more than a village incapable of extending dominance over any area of note. (Jamieson-Drake saw evidence of development from a “lower-order society” to a “chiefdom” in Jerusalem, which falls far from the level of “a state”.)

Why write fiction?

2. The question must arise, then, why such stories were told? Were the stories derived from historical memories? Archaeology has suggested that is unlikely. A fundamental and inescapable fact of any literature is that it must reflect the ideas and beliefs and understandings that are part of its own cultural matrix. One specific feature of the narrative of David is that it shares on the one hand anachronisms that belong to the Persian kingdom and on the other hand Judean territorial ambitions of the Hellenistic era. One might therefore wonder if the stories were told to express hopes for imminent greatness, or at least as an attempt to identify with other great powers, whether of the past and/or present.

But what kind of fiction?

3. The literary structure and style of the Primary History (Genesis-2 Kings), as other scholars (not those arguing for a Hellenistic origin, by the way) have shown, is comparable to the Histories of Herodotus. The closest genre to the Primary History is found in the Greek world. Another comparable genre is the autobiographical narrative. Some scholars have attempted to explain this observation by speculating that Greek works were well known to the subjects of the Persian empire or that even the biblical books were known to the Greeks and influenced the Greeks. One needs to look for the explanation that raises the fewest difficulties or questions.

Nothing uniform — why?

4. There are widely variant styles among the biblical books. One can explain this fact by positing a long period of evolution and various cultural influences over centuries. One can also explain the same fact by positing contemporary regional differences. As one scholar noted, imagine if all we had about Socrates were the writings of Plato and Xenophon. Would we have to assume that there was a vast time gap between the two accounts since they are so different in both content and style?

What kind of society?

I addressed this question in more detail in my post of little over a week ago: The Problem with an Early Date for the Hebrew Bible

5. One ought also to look at the kind of socio-cultural-economic society that would be required to produce the biblical literature. Here again the archaeological evidence can be interpreted in favour of the Hellenistic period. But this is a much larger topic of its own. The argument emerges from other hypotheses.

The scholars I have had in mind while setting out the above five points, with one exception, have not been advocates of the Hellenistic origin of the biblical literature. The archaeological evidence that discounts the historicity of “biblical history”, the comparisons with Greek literature and Persian royal ideologies, — all of these are found in works of scholars who never entertained a Hellenistic time setting, as far as I am aware. Philip Davies himself (with whom I began in the opening post) always argued for the Persian era for the Primary History and Prophets. But there are also problems with a Persian era setting that disappear if we move the compositions of the books to the third century.

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Neil Godfrey

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4 thoughts on “Hellenistic Era Bible Hypothesis continued”

  1. As to “why write fiction?” Other than as a source of personal expression, one motive seems clear, that much of the OT was written to give a glorious back story to a frequently oppressed people.

    Also, I tend to think of the “Conquest of Canaan” was a metaphor for the “hill people,” aka Canaanites, aka Israelites, converting the shore people, aka Canaanites, to monotheism. Since that effort (to covert to monotheism) only took off under King Josiah and took centuries, an example of their glorious triumph might be useful.

    What is shocking is that the writings describing a rage-filled, vengeful, bestial Yahweh were considered by those authors as leading people to Yahweh worship. It seems a major trope for the creation of Christianity that many Jews were sick to the teeth of being threatened, coerced, and abused by priests and their god.

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