2024-01-09

Where does John the Baptist fit in History? (Or, the Place of Fact and Opinion in History)

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by Neil Godfrey

Until a few days ago it seems that I had either missed or forgotten about a 23,256 word essay from 2015 that rebuts the arguments of some works that I had posted about setting out a case for the inauthenticity of the John the Baptist passage in Josephus’s Antiquities. Not to worry, since it has now engaged my attention and I must leave a response “somewhere on the internet”, however belated.

First things first: What is the point of this discussion?

One can argue at length that Josephus did indeed write the John the Baptist passage but that won’t change the fact that the passage remains disputable. And as long as the passage remains disputable, then the only honest way to handle it in any discussion is to be upfront and admit its debatable status. The question of authenticity will remain a matter of (hopefully informed) opinion. And we know how the saying goes: you are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts.

This means that when it comes to engaging in historical discussion, we can’t say “Josephus wrote about John the Baptist” in a way that creates the impression to less informed readers that that is a certain fact. It is always obligatory to say something like, “While some scholars disagree. . . .” It’s even more honourable to say it with good grace and respect. No sneering words like “fringe” or “hyper-sceptical” allowed. Even better, it is appropriate to simply ignore disputed evidence entirely insofar as a hypothesis relies upon “certain facts”.

Indeed, the mere “fact” that the question of authenticity of the passage elicits so many lengthy discussions, setting out hypotheses for and against, is evidence enough that the question is not and perhaps never can be settled.

What is the point of this discussion, then? The discussion cannot transform debatable data into certain facts. The more often the question of authenticity is discussed, the more reminders we have that caution is required.

So in the next post I’ll begin to respond in some depth to Peter Kirby’s 2015 post.

In the meantime, what follows is a mini-essay that I found myself composing in an attempt to highlight the differences between opinions and facts in historical research. . . .

Facts and Opinions in History

Historical reconstructions are built on historical facts but the mortar that holds those edifices in one piece is opinion, or hypothesis. If one is convinced that it is a sure fact that Josephus wrote about John the Baptist then one is entitled to reconstruct a historical scenario from that point — but only if one makes it clear that its foundation is hypothetical. One’s own convictions should never be presented as facts in any serious or honest discussion. (It seems silly to have to write that sentence, but I have seen so many biblical scholars engage with their audiences and present their personal interpretations and views as if they are undisputed truth even while knowing full well that those same points are debated among their peers.)

Positivism – too often misunderstood: A dominant approach to history in the nineteenth century was what we know as “positivism”. Some professors of biblical studies or religion have repeatedly declared that an “unrealistic” demand for “certainty” and “facts” belongs to the “bad old positivist” past. (The implication is that one should not protest over the lack of evidence for some of their theoretical reconstructions of Christian origins/the historical Jesus.) Those statements betray an embarrassing ignorance of what positivism means. Historians always rely on “certain facts” such as “Julius Caesar was assassinated”, “the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 CE”, etc. Positivism, however, goes one step further and declares either that those facts are all the history we can know about (that is, we cannot discover causes, results, motivations, behind those “facts”) — or else we can objectively discern causes, results etc in a way that produce scientific laws of history. That’s positivism in a nutshell. Historians always seek out “certain facts”. Positivism is more than that. (See Collingwood, The Idea of History, pp 126ff)

Don’t misunderstand me, though. Historical works are rich in hypotheses, opinions, debatable interpretations — but all of those “iffy bits” are ideally attempts to understand the agreed upon facts and their significance for this or that historical question.

Take one topic from the history of Australia. White settlement here began as a “dumping ground” for convicts after Britain lost the American colonies. That is a fact. (Let’s not get into some of the post-modernist notions that would dispute that point.) But was it the primary reason for Britain’s claiming of Australia and establishing a colony here as most of us have been taught in years past? Now that is debatable. If historians factor in the impact of another datum, the first global war, the Seven Years War of 1757-63, which highlighted Britain’s need for a secure base for sea power that could project into southern and eastern Asia, another perspective on the reason for Britain’s colonisation of Australia emerges. Convicts, the contingencies of global naval power, trade routes, wars — all of these are the “facts” of history. But what makes history interesting is researching those facts and attempting to interpret them, to understand their significance, if any, in how subsequent events turned out. Facts plus (informed) opinions make history.

Admittedly, sometimes facts and opinions do get blurred. Again, the most notable instance of the blurring of what is fact and non-fact involved “the history wars” in which historians fought over whether it was a “fact” that Australian pioneering settlers were truly guilty of mass murders of Aborigines. Or were those claims ideologically driven gross exaggerations, even falsehoods? Major battlegrounds for that “history war” were the multiple archives where researchers flocked in order to dig further into the evidence and to produce more (and more detailed) documented facts. The battle was fought over facts and how to interpret diaries and letters, newspaper reports, court transcripts, government correspondence, police records, etc. Opinions clashed over how to interpret the information uncovered, but the information itself was first established as the authentic records of settlers, government officials, etc. The facts of the records were front and centre of the debate.

Time to return to that John the Baptist passage in Josephus’s Antiquities.

It is one thing to debate the significance of any particular passage written by an ancient author, but it is quite another to enquire into whether a particular passage has been interpolated by some other hand. Opinions will differ. One generation of scholars might generally ignore the passage in Antiquities about Jesus because it was deemed corrupt while another generation might consider it partially authentic and therefore of some use in historical reconstruction.

In the next post I’ll address some of the details in Peter Kirby’s 2015 essay.


2024-01-04

How Did Scholars View the Gospels During the “First Quest”? (Part 1)

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by Tim Widowfield

I received an email a few weeks ago [4 Jan. edit: make that a few months ago], in which the sender asked some questions that deserve an extended response. If and when I have the time, I will add more to this post, but I at least would like to start with a broad outline of my understanding of the history of life-of-Jesus research — both in the ways it was actually conducted and in the ways it is currently “remembered.”

Here’s the text of the email:

Hello, I am a fan of Vridar, and I found a comment that you posted in an article that you wrote. The article is at https://vridar.org/2014/05/14/what-do-they-mean-by-no-quest/.

The comment that you made is “One thing that struck me recently while reading and re-reading material related to the Quest, including books from the 19th and early 20th century, is how often authors will state matter-of-factly that “of course” the gospels aren’t biographies. This whole gospels == biographies debate seems rather new and not well argued. But since believing that they are biographies is useful for their narrow purposes, it has become the consensus position among today’s scholars.”

I have a few questions regarding this comment.

1. What books from the first Quest, say plainly that the gospels aren’t biographies?
2. Do they know of Greco-Roman biographies?
3. Do they list reasons why they aren’t biographies?
4. How is the current understanding not well argued?

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am eagerly anticipating your response.

Before continuing, I just want to say I’m stunned that nine years have passed since I wrote that post. Where does the time go?

What Biography?

First of all, the general consensus in the 19th century held that the canonical gospels contained biographical material, but were obviously not like modern biographies. Many modern scholars who write on this subject annoyingly imply that this assessment is somehow new. Nobody thought that was the case, and nobody confused popular biography or hagiography or legendary biography with modern biography.

The question was simply: Can we use the materials at hand — namely, the aforementioned biographical material — to create a broad historical outline of Jesus’ life. In some cases, they referred to such a sketch as a “historical biography” or “scientific biography.” However, as we know from reading Albert Schweitzer and William Wrede, the authors of these “lives of Jesus” made two fatal errors: (1) assuming that Mark, as the first written gospel, could be trusted as an unbiased historical account, and (2) psychologizing Jesus far beyond the limits of reasonable conjecture.

What Quest?

Holy Grail Tapestry

Second, the somewhat sensational title of the English translation of Schweitzer’s A History of Life-of-Jesus Research, (Eine Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung), colors the way we perceive the task at hand. You may suspect that I’m overstating the case, but I think this change of focus is crucial. In the original German, the title — and in fact, the entire work — centers on the scholars and their research. Schweitzer had intended the original title, Von Reimarus zu Wrede, as the attention grabber, but in subsequent editions it was dropped in favor of the subtitle, and in the German world is referred to as History of Life-of-Jesus Research (without the indefinite article).

In English, the very word “quest” evokes a kind of mystic medieval landscape — a verdant, rolling countryside populated with devout knights-errant finding venerated objects, killing mythical beasts, fighting rivals, and saving damsels in distress. In this case, the aim of our quest is not piety or glory, but instead the Jesus of history. Schweitzer’s survey of scholarly research has thus become a romantic historical mission. Continue reading “How Did Scholars View the Gospels During the “First Quest”? (Part 1)”


2023-05-10

The Troubled “Quiet” before the Jewish Diaspora’s Revolt against Rome: 116-117 C.E.

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by Neil Godfrey

After having frequently questioned the claims that the first Jewish War that began under Nero and ended with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE was motivated by messianic hopes, it is time for me to state where I believe evidence for popular enthusaism for the advent of a messiah does emerge. It is in the aftermath of what might justifiably be described as the “trauma” of the loss of the Temple at the hands of Titus. This is also the period in which many scholars see the critical shaping of what became Christianity and Judaism as they are know today.

This post is the third in a series covering the main ideas of a book by Livia Capponi, Il Mistero del Tempio = The Mystery of the Temple :

  1. Reconstructing the Matrix from which Christianity and Judaism Emerged
  2. Rebellion of the Diaspora — the world in which Christianity and Judaism were moulded

Here we survey the period Eusebius described as “stasis”, the pause before the eruption of the bloodbath in early 116 CE. Warning: some of the subject matter is complex insofar as it looks at confusions of similar sounding names in the records.

I follow Steve Mason’s preference for the term “Judean” over “Jew” for the most part. Mason explains:This is not because I have any quarrel with the use of Jews. . . . But our aim is to understand ancient ways of thinking, and in my view Judeans better represents what ancients heard in the ethnos-polis-cult paradigm. That is, just as Egypt (Greek Aegyptos) was understood to be the home of Egyptians (Aegyptioi), Syria of Syrians, and Idumaea of ldumaeans, so also Judaea (Ioudaia) was the home of Judeans (loudaioi) — the only place where their laws and customs were followed. Jerusalem was world-famous as the mother-polis of the Judeans, and Judaea was Jerusalem’s territory. That is why Judeans (like other immigrants) did not enjoy full citizen rights in Alexandria, Antioch, or Ephesus and could face curtailments of privileges or even expulsion. With other non-natives, and like foreigners in Jerusalem, they lived outside the homeland on sufferance.” — (Mason, p. 90)

The argument in brief

In brief, the argument is that Trajan began his reign with positive relations towards the Judeans, motivated largely by his need to secure his supply lines in his war against Parthia as any desire to continue Nerva’s comparatively liberal policies. There are several reasons to believe that the Judeans had their hopes raised for the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple and for that reason many in the diaspora were encouraged to return to Judea. 

This post is a survey of the evidence from which the events leading to the revolt of 116-117 are reconstructed, with particular focus on the Acts of the Pagan Martyrs and rabbinic legends.

Events

A new era promised for Judeans?

96/97 CE — Capponi states that the emperor Nerva introduced a new era of improving relations with the Judeans of the empire when he abolished the tax that had been imposed on them all by Vespasian from the time of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. She points to Goodman’s discussion of coins issued by Nerva in 96/97 in support of this claim. Goodman writes:

Nerva coin reads fisci Judaici calumnia sublata – Wikimedia Commons

The precise import of the legend on his coins, FISCI IUDAICI CALUMNIA SUBLATA, is debated and debatable. The term sublata is otherwise unattested on Roman coins, and, although it was not uncommon to advertise remission of taxes, an abusive term (calumnia) in reference either to the treasury responsible for taxes, or to those who brought accusations to the treasury, or to the whole notion of the tax, is extraordinary, and perhaps only possible when a new emperor wished to make an exceptionally strong statement of disassociation from the previous regime. Many historians have asserted that the beneficiaries of Nerva’s new policy were non-Jews maliciously accused of Judaizing, but it seems to me equally, if not more, likely that Nerva’s reform was aimed at native, practising Jews. ‘Fisci ludaici‘ should mean ‘of the treasury of Judaea’ or ‘of the Jewish treasury’. As Hannah Cotton has pointed out to me, the motif of the palm tree was used explicitly to denote Judaea on Roman coinage. Thus the malicious accusation that has been removed (calumnia sublata) may have been the very existence of a special Jewish treasury, with its invidious tax which singled out Jews, unlike all other inhabitants of the empire, for payment of annual war reparations after unsuccessful revolt.  (Goodman, 176)

When Nerva died, Trajan sought to perpetuate the sense of a new era which had been associated with his predecessor. — Horbury, 303

98 CE — Trajan becomes emperor and follows Nerva’s moderate and more liberal policies. First, towards the Greek elites in Alexandria of Egypt. In 98 CE Trajan issued the following letter to the city of Alexandria:

Aware that the city has distinguished itself by its loyalty to the Augustus emperors, and having in mind the benefits that my divine father has conferred on you […], and having personal feelings of benevolence, I commend you first of all to myself, and then also to my friend and prefect Pompey Planta, so that with all care I may assure you the enjoyment of continued peace (eirene), prosperity (euthenia) and the common rights of each and all . . . (P. Oxy., 42 3022 Greek text available at papyri.info).

It is in the end not very surprising that university students of history, with some knowledge of the sources for, say, Tudor England or Louis XIV’s France, find ancient history a ‘funny kind of history’. The unavoidable reliance on the poems of Horace for Augustan ideology, or in the same way on the Eumenides of Aeschylus for the critical moment in Athenian history when the step was taken towards what we know as Periclean democracy, helps explain the appellative ‘funny’.  — Moses I. Finley  Ancient History: Evidence and Models p. 12

Some time between 107 and 113 CE it appears that relations between Trajan and the Alexandrian elites soured. The evidence Capponi relies on may appear unusual: it is a series of accounts that are generally understood to be fictional entertainment, variously known as the Acts of the Pagan Martyrs, Acts of the Alexandrian Martyrs, and the Acta Alexandrinorum — though the preferred title by one scholar is simply Alexandrian Stories. Historians do use these stories in their historical reconstructions but with “caution”.

Since the literature is not widely known, let me provide some insights into what historians have said about it as a source.

Acts of the Pagan Martyrs

From Andrew Harker’s study (Loyalty and Dissidence in Roman Egypt) of this literature,

The Acta Alexandrinorum tell the stories of the heroic deaths of Alexandrian Greek nobles. The favoured form of these stories is a record of their trial scene in the imperial court, usually presented as the official minutes (acta), with only a small amount of narrative. The Acta Alexandrinorum recycle the same archetypal story where a group of Alexandrian ambassadors travel to Rome and, on arrival, face a hostile emperor who has allied himself with their enemies, usually the Jewish community resident in Alexandria. . . .

Some of the stories have an historical, and perhaps a documentary, basis and use historical personages, but all surviving examples have been fictionalised to some extent. (p. 1 Harker)

– – –

The Acta Alexandrinorum literature was read in Egypt from the Augustan period to the mid-third century AD. (p. 2 Harker)

The literature is equally hostile to Romans, Jews and also Egyptians; that is all non-Greeks. . . . Alexandria was not a remote, isolated city that had unique problems with Rome, but very much part of the wider Hellenic Mediterranean world. . . .

The casting of the Romans and Jews as the judges and accusers of the Alexandrian heroes certainly would not have worked if there were no history of long-standing tension between the Alexandrian Greeks and the Romans and Jews. (p. 175 Harker – my highlighting)

. . . were truly popular and had a readership that covered a wide social spectrum in Roman Egypt. (p. 177 Harker)

From the scholar who is acknowledged as the first modern researcher into the Acts, Herbert Musurillo:

It is frequently a difficult task to determine when a piece of literature has been written primarily for propaganda (the literary characters being mere pawns in the presentation of a thesis), and when its aim is primarily entertainment, though with sharp political overtones. (p. 275 Musurillo)

. . . a study of the motifs which occur so frequently in the Acta indicates that they were intended to nourish the current prejudices of the interested circle-prejudices of an anti-Roman as well as an anti-Semitic nature-and to stir up their pride in an irretrievable past. (p. 275 Musurillo)

From the renowned classicist, Arnaldo Momigliano, whom Livia Capponi also cites:

It must therefore be ruled out that our documents have any partisan, pro- or anti-Semitic stance. However, just by reading them, it is also clear that they do not have the objectivity of truthful reports collected accurately but unofficially by listeners. Such reports undoubtedly form the basis of these “Acts” and thus explain the very plausible and often certainly true reports they give us as well as their contradictions. But it hardly needs saying that not only some details, such as the miracle of Serapis, but also whole episodes cannot be derived from these accounts. The whole episode of Fiacco’s corruption, with its mysterious colors, is invented. Therefore, given the current state of our knowledge, we are faced with these two facts in order to solve the literary problem constituted by these “Acts”: 1) the authentic and documentary background of their narratives; 2) the lack of any neutrality in their elaboration. . . . .

At least given our current knowledge, this collection of ‘Acts’ therefore seems to me to be understood as a novel with no higher purpose than ordinary novels; a novel built on historical data and thus usable, albeit with caution, as historical testimony. (p. 797f, Momigliano — translation.)

And finally from another historian of the Judean wars against Rome, William Horbury:

To move to the border between documents and literature, Alexandrian anti-Jewish and also anti-Roman feeling under Trajan and Hadrian breathe from the papyrus acts of the ‘pagan martyrs’. (p. 12 Horbury)

. . . events in Alexandria at the time of the revolt do receive some light from sources of a more anecdotal and publicistic kind. The ardently pro-Hellene, anti-Roman and anti-Jewish Acts of the Alexandrians, Greek accounts of trial scenes preserved in papyri, form a kind of propaganda literature presenting some analogies with Christian martyr-acts. A. Bauer’s 1898 description of the Acts of the Alexandrians as ‘pagan martyr-acts’ went together with an emphasis on their literary and fictional rather than documentary and archival character which has been developed further in subsequent study. On the Jewish side they can be compared with publicistic political literature including Philo’s tracts on events in 38, and Sibylline oracles. Later examples of such literature are the rabbinic anecdotes noted above, on the destruction of the basilica-synagogue and the slaughter of Alexandrian Jews by Trajan; these form a further source for Alexandria in the revolt. Slippery as the Acts of the Alexandrians are for the historian, they give a valuable impression of the kind of rumour and gossip which will have circulated in the times of Jewish-Greek conflict, with a strong impact on events.

Two sets of Acts in particular have been discussed in connection with Alexandrian Jewish unrest under Trajan – the Acts of Hermaiscus, pointing to the earlier years of Trajan, and the Acts of Paulus and Antoninus, referring to Jewish unrest in the city towards the end of Trajan’s reign, and in the view of many also suggesting a Jewish presence in Alexandria after Hadrian’s accession. (p. 212 Horbury — my highlighting)

Trajan’s Council “filled with Judeans”

So with the above assurance and caution we continue with Capponi’s historical reconstruction. The particular Alexandrian story of relevance, the Acts of Hermaiscus, begins when Greek elites elect representatives to sail to Rome to deliver complaints about the Judeans to the emperor Trajan. The Judeans hear what these Greek leaders are doing and respond by electing their own delegation to defend themselves. . . .

. . . They set sail, then, from the city, each party taking along its own gods, the Alexandrians (a bust of Serapis, the Jews…) . . . and when the winter was over they arrived at Rome.

The emperor learned that the Jewish and Alexandrian envoys had arrived, and he appointed the day on which he would hear both parties.

And Plotina [Trajan’s wife] approached (?) the senators in order that they might oppose the Alexandrians and support the Jews.

Now the Jews, who were the first to enter, greeted Emperor Trajan, and the emperor returned their greeting most cordially, having already been won over by Plotina. After them the Alexandrian envoys entered and greeted the emperor. He, however, did not go to meet them, but said: ‘You say “hail” to me as though you deserved to receive a greeting — after what you have dared to do to the Jews! .. .’

There is a break in the text and we pick up with Trajan speaking to the Alexandrian Greeks:

‘You must be eager to die, having such contempt for death as to answer even me with insolence.’

Hermaiscus said: ‘Why, it grieves us to see your Privy Council filled with impious Jews.’


Caesar said: ‘This is the second time I am telling you, Hermaiscus: you are answering me insolently, taking advantage of your birth.’

Hermaiscus said: ‘What do you mean, I answer you insolently, greatest emperor? Explain this to me.’

Caesar said: ‘Pretending that my Council is filled with Jews.’


Hermaiscus: ‘So, then, the word “Jew” is offensive to you? In that case you rather ought to help your own people and not play the advocate for the impious Jews.

As Hermaiscus was saying this, the bust of Serapis that they carried suddenly broke into a sweat, and Trajan was astounded when he saw it. And soon tumultuous crowds gathered in Rome and numerous shouts rang forth, and everyone began to flee to the highest parts of the hills …. 

So Trajan is believed to be currying favour with the Judeans.

Capponi suggests the likely target of Hermaiscus’s complaint was the presence of Tiberius Julius Alexander Julian, son of the Alexandrian Judean Tiberius Julius Alexander, among Trajan’s closest advisors. He was also a general:

The presence of Julian as a leading soldier in the war that brought Trajan into contact with the Jewish communities of Mesopotamia seems to have been a strategic choice of the emperor, who probably aimed to secure the support or at least the non-belligerence of the Jewish communities present in the territories to be conquered. (p. 52)

The Babylon fortress was located on the Nile.

Around the same time Trajan was immersed in preparations for his coming war against Parthia in the east. Contracts and treaties were being made with the peoples of the Caucasus, Bosporus and Cappadocian regions for grain supplies. Capponi adds,

Everything suggests – even if the information is scattered in sources of a very different nature – that that year [112 CE] Trajan also prepared an alliance with the Jewish communities. The Jews of Alexandria and Egypt controlled land and river communications in Pelusium and near the fortress of Babylon and Alexandria, and thus their alliance had a specific role in the war tactics planned by the emperor. That waterways were strategic is also testified by the construction, around 112, of a canal linking the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea, the Trajanos potamos. (pp. 50f)

We have seen that Trajan began his reign continuing Nerva’s policy of relieving the burdens the Flavian emperors had inflicted on the Judeans. Coins minted in the Galilean city of Sepphoris may be further indications of Trajan’s favourable attitude towards the Judeans.

The emperor had evidently taken an important measure in favour of the Jews, perhaps, as mentioned, as compensation for the scandal of the fiscus iudaicus, the confiscations, the destruction of the Temple and the exile suffered after 70. Perhaps one should consider the presence of Trajan-era coins from the mint of Sepphoris with the eloquent legend (“Trajan granted”) as further evidence of financial movements taking place before 113. (p. 53)

See Judaism and Rome: City-Coin of Sepphoris depicting the head of Trajan and a palm tree for a discussion of this coin and its symbolism.

Finally, Capponi suggests that the fictional depiction of the statue of the god Serapis weeping and alarming those present at the hearing before Trajan, may point to religious antagonisms lying behind the narrative. In no other Alexandrian martyr stories do symbols of the respective gods — a statue and, perhaps, a scroll of the Torah(?) — feature. Their presence delivers the message that the god of Alexandria is superior to that of the Judeans.

The Edict of Rutilius Lupus following a “battle” between Romans and Judeans

October 115 CE, the Prefect of Egypt, Marcus Rutilius Lupus, reprimands Alexandrians for their recent violence against the Judean population. The violent mob consisted of slaves and their Greek masters were held responsible for their actions. The prefect reminds the Greeks that they have long had no excuse for taking matters into their own hands — not since the historic Roman massacre of Judeans in the early days of the first war against Rome (66 CE). The Roman leader of the two legions at the time of that massacre was in fact the aforementioned Judean, Tiberius Julius Alexander, the father of the Judean close to Trajan. Alexander had managed to call his legionnaires back from their killing of the Judeans but the rest of the Alexandrians continued their rampage and a total of 50,000 Judeans were said to have been murdered.

The incident that led to Lupus’s edict may be connected to another of the Acts of the Alexandrian Martyrs, namely the Acts of Paul and Antony.

The Acts of Paul and Antoninus: the theatre riot

The story in summary pieced together from a broken text. While the emperor in this account is often said to be Hadrian, Capponi rejects the conjectural grounds for that identification and believes Trajan is preferable. The events take place when the prefect Lupus was absent from Alexandria, in 114 or 115 CE, there had been a riot in the city theatre. A mime play had parodied Trajan as a Judean king and drunkard. Riots followed.

In the riots that followed, the Jewish community of the city was involved and fires broke out. Rutilius Lupus had arrested some Jews and condemned the mime, but had guaranteed favourable treatment for the Alexandrians. Shortly afterwards, however, noblemen from Alexandria had mobilised slaves, apparently about sixty, for a punitive action against the Jews. According to the texts, the Alexandrians had kidnapped the Jews from prison and killed them, sparking further riots. . . .

The trial had ended with Antoninus being sentenced to be burnt at the stake, a fact that by its severity suggests the extent of the riots. (pp. 62f)

Antioch: Acts of Claudius Atilianus and the “Day of Tyrianus”

The same genre of literature as the Alexandrian Acts has been found at Antioch, another major city with a history of Greek-Judean tensions, often violence, in the Roman period. Judeans in Antioch accuse Claudius Atilianus, a Greek noble, of responsibility for deadly anti-Judean violence. (Claudius expresses divine reverence for the emperor, probably a snide hint against the Judeans who did not believe in his divinity.)

When [Trajan: originally Tyrianus = Claudius Atilianus?] seized Lulianos and Pappos at Laodicea [in Syria], he said: “If you are of the people of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, let your God come and save you from my hand, as He saved Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.” They said to him: “Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were upright men, and King Nebuchadnezzar was a worthy king and fit that a miracle should be wrought through him, but you, you are an evil king, and it is not fit that a miracle should be wrought through you, and we are deserving of death and if you do not slay us, the Omnipresent has many executioners — many bears, many lions, many snakes, many scorpions that can harm us, and if you kill us, the Holy One, blessed be He, will exact vengeance for our blood from you.” It was said that he had not even left that place when a Roman dispatch came to him and they split his head with clubs and logs.(Megillat Ta’anit 31, trans by Zeev)

Rabbinic stories speak of an anti-Judean governor or Roman magistrate of Syria around this time named Tyrianus, and Capponi suggests that the name Atilianus has been confused through assonance into Tryrianus, so that possibly the Antioch trial before Trajan focuses on the same hero (to the Greeks of Antioch) or villain (to the Judeans of Antioch). There are multiple rabbinic accounts, however. According to William Horbury (p. 165) the Jerusalem Talmud refers to Trajan while the Babylonian Talmud has Tirion or Tyrianus, which suggests that the Day of Tyrianius”, a holiday that had supplanted another honouring the rebels against Antiochus Epiphanes in the time of the Maccabean rebellion, is reinterpreted as Trajan’s Day.

Capponi thus interprets the Acts of Claudius Atilianus as an account of the death of a Syrian governor for illegally executing Judeans. In Rabbinic legend the two Judeans he executed were financiers of Judean migration back to Judea in order to rebuild the Temple and in one account the governor’s name was confused with Trajan. We will return to this little datum.

It is probable that the Atilianus documented in the judicial record that has come down to us on papyrus was a Roman authority in Syria, tried before the emperor and then killed in Antioch, for illegally putting Jews to death in Laodicea. That there were trials and sentences in the arena could be recalled in the rabbinic account by the allusion of the two brothers to a probable death by the mouths of bears and lions – an obvious symbol of ad bestias condemnation during the games – if Tyrianus had not killed them first in some other way. (p. 66)

The Martyrdom of Ignatius

Re-enter Ignatius. We have posted about him before. (Roger Parvus suspected he was the Peregrinus of Lucian’s satire.) Livia Capponi follows the reconstruction of Marco Rizzi who in turn has a new look at a sixth century record. The table below is adapted from the one in Rizzi’s chapter (p. 126).

Possible Chronology for the Trial and Execution of Ignatius
January 115 Earthquake in Antioch, whose apocalyptic interpretation ignites Judean Diaspora revolts in 115 and/or 116.
January – August 115 Possible trial against Judean and Christian Antiochenes before of Trajan in Antioch; capture, trial, and condemnation of Ignatius who is sent in chains to Rome. Ignatius is accused of having insulted Trajan.

August – September 115

‘Battle’ (μάχη) between Judeans and Romans in Alexandria. Trajan orders the combatants to lay down their arms. Possible pacification also in Antioch and within the Christian community. A new bishop is substituted for Ignatius.

Revolt (στάσις) goes on in Alexandria, due to some slaves of prominent Alexandrians.

The restored “peace” was the occasion for Ignatius to give thanks that the church in Antioch has “now found peace” — in his second group of letters: Philadelphians, the Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp.

14 October 115 Edict of Rutilius Lupus. See above
January 116 Trajan conquers Ctesiphon in Parthia
February 116 The Roman Senate decrees three days of ludii in the theater. Possible martyrdom of Ignatius
Spring 116 Judean Revolt in Mesopotamia and elsewhere

Pappus and Lulianus

We now meet up again with the executions that were celebrated in the “Day of Tyrianus”.

Claudius Atilianus (Tyrianus?) was condemned by Trajan for unjustly ordering the deaths of two Judean brothers. In rabbinic legend their names are Pappus and Lulianus and, as mentioned above, they came to be remembered as martyrs slain by Trajan. Since Capponi refers to Horbury as “the foremost expert” (“il maggiore esperto”) on the legend of Pappus and Lulianus I will quote Horbury’s description:

To put together some of the scattered notices, Pappus and Lulianus were rich men, the pride of Israel, whose execution fulfilled the prophecy ‘I will break the pride of your power’ . . . ; they set up banks from Acco to Antioch to aid those coming into Judaea . . . ; after their arrest they were offered water in a coloured glass, to make it appear that they had drunk idolatrous libation-wine, but they would not receive it . . . ; before Trajan slew them in Laodicaea, they exchanged bitter repartee with him, and told him that their blood would be required at his hands – and ‘it is said that Trajan had not moved from there before a despatch came from Rome, and they knocked out his brain with clubs’ . . . . Their commemorative day displaced an existing ‘day of Tirion’ (perhaps a Maccabaean commemoration), according to the Talmud Yerushalmi . . . : ‘the day of Tirion ceased on the day that Pappus and Lulianus were slain’. Instead of ‘Tirion’ a parallel passage in the Babylonian Talmud . . . has ‘Turianus’, Trajan. A ‘day of Tirion’ is placed on 12 Adar in an old list of commemorative days when fasting is not permitted . . . . A narrative of their activity and deaths had then probably begun to take shape well before the middle of the second century.

On the basis of these traditions Pappus and Lulianus have been viewed as leaders of revolt under Trajan or Hadrian. (p. 265)

A return of Judeans to Judea? Horbury cites further from rabbinic legends:

. . . ‘In the days of Joshua ben Hananiah, the empire decreed that the house of the sanctuary should be rebuilt. Pappus and Lulianus set up banks from Acco to Antioch, and supplied those who came up from the Exile . . . ’ (Ber. R. lxiv 10, on Gen. 26:29). Here they facilitate Jewish entry into Judaea, along the Antioch–Acco (Ptolemais) road, a main route to Judaea which had been paved to aid Roman military access from Syria after the Jewish-Samaritan conflicts about the year 50. The likely Roman reaction to this is suggested by the prohibition of immigration to increase the Jewish population in Alexandria decreed in earlier times by Claudius: ‘I bid the Jews . . . not to introduce or admit Jews who sail down from Syria or Egypt, acts which compel me to entertain graver suspicions; otherwise I shall take vengeance on them in every way, as instigating a general plague throughout the world’ (P. Lond. 1912 = CPJ no. 153, lines 88–9, 96–100).

Any Roman permission for temple rebuilding, as recounted in the midrash here, would have come, if at all, at a time other than that of the Jewish revolts during Trajan’s Parthian war. It can perhaps best be envisaged under Nerva and in the early years of Trajan . . . . Apart from this point, however, the reference to the temple is apt enough. Hope for a restored temple was, irrespective of any decree, part of the complex of aspirations for Jewish revival which was sketched from revolt coinage, the Eighteen Benedictions and other prayers . . . , and it could indeed help to evoke the immigration described. (pp. 266f)

Which brings us to the question of messianic hopes among the Judeans of the Diaspora as a contributor to their revolt against Rome.

That will be the subject of the next post.


Capponi, Livia. Il mistero del tempio. La rivolta ebraica sotto Traiano. Rome: Salerno, 2018.

Goodman, Martin. “The Fiscus Iudaicus and Gentile Attitudes to Judaism in Flavian Rome.” In Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome, edited by J. C. Edmondson, Steve Mason, and J. B. Rives, 165–77. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Harker, Andrew. Loyalty and Dissidence in Roman Egypt: The Case of the Acta Alexandrinorum. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Horbury, William. Jewish War under Trajan and Hadrian. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Mason, Steve. A History of the Jewish War, A.D. 66-74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Momigliano, Arnaldo. “Un Nuovo Frammento Dei Così Detti « Atti Dei Martiri Pagani ».” In Quinto Contributo Alla Storia Degli Studi Classici E Del Mondo Antico. II, 2:789–98. Storia e Letteratura: Raccolta di Studi e Testi 136. Rome: Ed. di Storia e Letteratura, 1975.

Musurillo, Herbert, ed. The Acts of the Pagan Martyrs: Acta Alexandrinorum. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954.

Rizzi, Marco. “Jews and Christians under Trajan and the Date of Ignatius’ Martyrdom.” In Jews and Christians in the First and Second Centuries: The Interbellum 70‒132 CE, edited by Joshua J. Schwartz and Peter J. Tomson, 119–26. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2017.

Zeev, Miriam Pucci Ben. Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, 116/117 CE: Ancient Sources and Modern Insights. Leuven ; Dudley, MA: Peeters Publishers, 2005.



2023-05-02

Reconstructing the Matrix from which Christianity and Judaism Emerged

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by Neil Godfrey

How we would love to know more about the times between the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the crushing of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE. That period is surely a decisive one for how both Christianity and Judaism developed into what they are today. Some have suggested that this period saw the actual births of both Judaism and Christianity as distinct religions in the forms we recognize today.

We have Josephus to inform us about the first Jewish war of 66-73 CE. But we have no comparable contemporary historians of the Bar Kokhba war and only scant hints about “troubles” in the in-between time. We recently posted a series on Thomas Witulski’s thesis that the Book of Revelation was written in response to the events in the times of Trajan and Hadrian, in particular the days of the Bar Kokhba rebellion. In that series we saw that the red horse and its rider in the apocalypse arguably represented the widespread uprisings of Jews in the time of Trajan and the black horse and especially the pale horse depicted the horrific consequences of those revolts (around 115-117 CE).

There are different kinds of history.

There is straight narrative history that interprets known events from the reliable sources. The facts are rarely in doubt but their meaning and significance may be open to debate.

There is historical work that analytically dissects statistics.

There is investigative history that seeks to uncover “what really happened”, such as when there is an interest in settling some current controversy, such as how indigenous peoples were treated by imperial powers.

And then there are hypothetical reconstructions based on a fresh interpretation of sources. This last type is not “an established fact” in the sense we can say “Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC”, so it will be open to debate. Readers will want to know the grounds for the various details proposed and I hope to make those clear in these posts.

The historian Livia Capponi has attempted to fill in that gap with her reconstruction of events in what she describes as “a circumstantial history” (“una storia indiziaria” (p. 75). Her book is published in Italian and is titled, in English, Mystery of the Temple — the Jewish Revolt Under Trajan = Il Mistero Del Tempio: La Rivolta Ebraica Sotto Traiano (2018).

The basic argument presented is this:

  1. Before the revolts of 116-117 CE relations between Rome and Judea were unstable but not openly hostile.
  2. In 96 CE the emperor Nerva abolished an odious tax on Jews and initiated a policy of relative tolerance.
  3. The next emperor, Trajan, sought the support of the Jews (as part of his efforts to safeguard his supply line in his war against Parthia) by authorizing the preparation of a road for exiles to return to Judea and a promise to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
  4. If messianic expectations were aroused in the wake of Trajan’s policies they soon turned violent when it was learned that Trajan’s tolerance included the integration of the proposed temple into the Greco-Roman pantheon. There is evidence that Trajan and his general Lusius Quietus (we met him briefly in the post on the red horse) dedicated monuments to pagan gods in Jerusalem.

Some readers will be aware that I have expressed doubts that there were popular messianic movements extant in Judea or the Diaspora prior to 70 CE — remarks about a “world ruler from the Orient” in Josephus and others notwithstanding. (See posts listed under Second Temple Messianism.) But there is evidence that messianic hopes were alive after the catastrophe of 70 CE. Messianic pretenders do seem to appear across the landscape. Such has been my view so I was particularly keen to read Capponi’s thesis about that time.

Livia Capponi has taken a fresh look at the sources — Jewish and others, both primary and secondary — and attempted to uncover what can be learned about the feelings of Jews at this time and what was happening that led to the widespread violence and its bitter aftermath.

Above all, an attempt is made to explain how, from an initial policy of tolerance and an attempt by Trajan to mend the trauma of the loss of the Temple in 70 through Jewish initiatives, he arrived at the bloody repression of the revolt, which swept away the Jewish communities from Egypt, Cyrene and Cyprus, and which led rabbinic literature to portray Trajan as ‘the wicked one’. The compromise of the Temple was probably associated with a form of ‘integration’ of the Temple itself into the Greco-Roman pantheon, evidenced by the construction in Jerusalem of statues and monuments to the emperor and to deities such as Jupiter and Serapis. This policy, normal for the Romans, but aberrant and unacceptable to the Jews, probably explains why Trajan and his general Lusio Quieto in Jewish sources were associated with Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria, author of the desecration of the Temple in 167-164 BC, and the Syrian general Lysias. The Diaspora revolt was in the eyes of the Jews a new Maccabean revolt.

The hypothesis is presented and discussed through a re-reading of the historiography on the years 115-117 (in which many problems still exist, also due to incidents in the transmission of sources), and of contemporary documents (papyri and inscriptions). Finally, an attempt is made to integrate into the framework of the Western sources some suggestions drawn from texts composed in a Jewish environment, materials that are extremely difficult because they are enigmatic and expressions of a religious conception, not a desire for historical reconstruction.

(pp. 11f, translation)

I will be posting some of the details from Livia Capponi’s book over the next few weeks.


Capponi, Livia. Il mistero del tempio. La rivolta ebraica sotto Traiano. Rome: Salerno, 2018.


 


2023-04-10

BRUNO BAUER: Criticism of the Pauline Letters – in English

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by Neil Godfrey

Machine translated by Neil Godfrey from Kritik der paulinischen Briefe – March 2023

  1. Contents of the three volumes
  2. Section 1: Origin of the Galatians Epistle
  3. Section 2: Origin of the First Corinthians Letter
  4. Third and Last Section – a. 2 Corinthians
  5. Third and Last Section – b. Romans
  6. Third and Last Section – c. The Pastoral Epistles
  7. Third and Last Section – d. The Letters to the Thessaslonians
  8. Third and Last Section – e. Ephesians and Colossians
  9. Third and Last Section – f. Philippians
  10. Third and Last Section – g. Conclusion

 

I compiled the table below to illustrate Bruno Bauers’s conclusion (see “10. Third and Last Section – g. Conclusion”) on the order in which the New Testament works were composed:

Pastorals The final documents
Philippians

1 Thess Philip Eph Col

Galatians

Acts – Luke  ?=====? 2 Corinthians

Possibly Part 2 of Romans precedes Acts-Luke – but not absolutely certain

Part 3 of Romans

Ur-Luke

1 Corinthians 

part 1 of Romans

1st Gospel Document The earliest document

 


2023-03-15

From Humble Beginnings: A Tale of Two Divinities — Jesus and Apollo

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by Neil Godfrey

Apollo with bow and lyre. National Gallery of Art

Have you heard it declared that no-one would make up a story about Jesus coming from such a nothing-back-of-the-woods place as Nazareth? No, no, the argument goes — if anyone were to make up a story about Jesus they would have impressed their readers by having him hail from some place of renown.

I don’t recall off-hand what led me into reading an obscure French work from 1927 about Pythagoras, but that work in turn led me to once again pick up the Homeric Hymns of all things. This time a light flashed above my head: I found myself confusing the goddess Leto with Mary urgently looking for a place to give birth to her child and finding nowhere … except a humble stable! And Nazareth — how could a messiah possibly come from Nazareth?

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. — John 1:46

Now before you roll your eyes a second time let me explain. I am NOT saying that the story of Jesus’s humble origins are a direct, intertextual creation inspired or shaped by the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. What I am saying is that the idea of a great divinity having a very humble earthly beginning was a motif, a trope, a concept, an idea that was part of the cache of ancient Greco-Roman culture. (A quick persusal of some chapters in The Reception of the Homeric Hymns did persuade me, though, that the hymns were certainly part of the collective knowledge of literate persons in the first and second centuries of this era.)

Let’s have a look at the passage of interest in Hymn 3, to Apollo, as translated by Michael Crudden.

The hymns begins with a picture of all gods on Olympus rising up in awe when the great Apollo enters, all except for his father and mother, Zeus and Leto.

According to Greek mythology, Apollo was born on this tiny island in the Cyclades archipelago. Apollo’s sanctuary attracted pilgrims from all over Greece and Delos was a prosperous trading port. (Unesco)

Next, Leto is called the blessed one for having given birth to such a mighty son. Apollo is called a “joy for mortals”. The poet ponders where to begin his tale and decides to sing of the time of Apollo’s birth on the island of Delos.

The time came for Leto to give birth and we read of her traveling a great distance to find the appropriate place, at least a welcoming one. She traversed populous Crete, and the countryside of Athens, and Aigina’s isle . . . .

And, famed for its ships, Euboia; Aigai, Eiresiai too,
And, near to the sea, Peparethos; Athos the Thracian height,
And the topmost peaks of Pelion; Samos the Thracian isle,
And the shadowy mountains of Ida; Skyros, Phokaia too,
The precipitous mount of Autokane; Imbros the firm-founded isle,
And mist-enshrouded Lemnos; holy Lesbos—the seat
Of Makar, Aiolos’ son—and Khios that lies in the sea,
Sleekest of isles; rugged Mimas, and Korykos’ topmost peaks;
Dazzling Klaros too, and sheer Aisagea mount;
Samos with plentiful waters, precipitous Mykale’s peaks;
Miletos, Kos—the city where dwell the Meropes folk —
Precipitous Knidos too, and Karpathos swept by the wind;
Naxos, and also Paros, and rocky Rhenaia too

Over so great a distance in labour with him who shoots
From afar [Apollo was an archer] went Leto, seeking whether amongst these lands
There was any that would be willing to furnish her son with a home.

But there was no room at the inn….

But they trembled much in fear, and not one dared, despite
Her rich soil, to welcome Phoibos [a name for Apollo], until queenly Leto set foot
Upon Delos

The rich and famous chose not to welcome Leto and her son-to-be.

Delos https://www.greece-is.com/rise-fall-delos-visible-island/

Leto plaintively asked Delos….

and, questioning her, gave voice to winged words:
‘Delos, would you be willing to be the seat of my son,
Of Phoibos Apollo, and furnish him with a rich shrine on your ground?’

But how did Delos compare with all the above that Leto had just passed through? Leto said to Delos,

you’ll not, I think, abound in cattle or flocks, nor will you bear corn or grow an abundance of trees.

And Delos knew it well enough and said in reply:

‘Most glorious Leto, daughter of mighty Koios, I would
With pleasure welcome the birth of the lord who shoots from afar,
For in truth in men’s ears I am of dreadfully grim repute,
But in this way might gain great honour.

Delos’s inferiority complex over her stony, barren appearance got the upper hand, though, so she poured out her fear:

. . . . this dreadful fear
Pervades my mind and heart, that, when [Apollo] first sees the Sun’s light,
Holding the isle in dishonour—since stony indeed is my ground—
He may with his feet overturn me and thrust me under the sea.
There always great waves without ceasing over my head will break,
While he will reach some land that is pleasing to him . . .
. . . But the many-footed beasts
And black seals will make their lairs upon me, homes that will be
Secure for lack of people.

Fear not, Leto reassured Delos. First, with the promise that Delos would become the most famed central sanctuary in all of the Greek world and beyond:

. . . But if you possess a shrine
Of Apollo who works from afar, all humans, assembling here,
Will bring you their hecatombs: vast beyond telling the steam of fat

Will always be shooting upward, and those who possess you you’ll feed
From a foreigner’s hand, since there is no richness beneath your soil.’

And finally with an oath declared that Delos would have honour above all other isles.

‘Now let the Earth know this, and also broad Heaven above,
And the down-dripping water of Styx, which is the blessed gods’
Greatest and most dread oath: here Phoibos will always have

His fragrant altar and precinct, and will honour you above all.’

Isodore Levy, author of that book on the influence of the legend of Pythagoras in the Greek and Jewish worlds, was drawing quite different links with the gospels, between Apollo and Jesus. But they can wait for another post. I found the above of most interest for now. Never again will I allow anyone to get away with trying to say that Jesus really did have to come from Nazareth because no-one would make up a story about a god-man (or a figure near enough) coming from some place of no reputation.


Crudden, Michael. The Homeric Hymns. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.



2023-02-21

Could Plato Really have Influenced Judaism and the Bible?

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by Neil Godfrey

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it. — Karl Marx
We call that a ridiculous state of intellect in a man, Socrates, which is concerned only with divine knowledge. — Plato
Stranger Every architect, too, is a ruler of workmen, not a workman himself.
Younger Socrates Yes.
Stranger As supplying knowledge, not manual labor.
Younger Socrates True.
Stranger So he may fairly be said to participate in intellectual science.
Younger Socrates Certainly.
Stranger But it is his business, I suppose, not to pass judgement and be done with it and go away, as the calculator did, but to give each of the workmen the proper orders, until they have finished their appointed task.
Younger Socrates You are right.

Statesman 259e-260a

Who would ever have thought Plato and Karl Marx might have agreed on anything? Well, up to a point.

I have posted on Russell Gmirkin’s view that the Hebrew Bible, in particular its first five books (the Pentateuch), were influenced by Plato’s writings, especially his Laws, but the question that must be asked and answered is, Were Plato’s works ever used to attempt to change the real world?

This post is a collation of passages I’ve taken from Plato’s Cretan City by the classicist Glenn Morrow demonstrating how Plato’s Laws were more than a mere theoretical exercise. I include references to what Morrow has to say about Plato’s influence beyond his writings.

From the Preface

No work of Plato’s is more intimately connected with its time and with the world in which it was written than the Laws. The other dialogues deal with themes magnificently independent of time and place, and Plato’s treatment of them has been recognized as important wherever human beings have thought about the problems of knowl­edge, or conduct, or human destiny. But the Laws is concerned with the portrayal of a fourth-century Greek city — a city that existed, it is true, only in Plato’s imagination, but one whose establishment he could well imagine as taking place in his day. (xxix)

Compared with the Re­public, the Laws has the special value of presenting its principles not in the abstract, but in their concrete reality, as Plato imagined they might be embodied in an actual Greek city. (xxix)

Chaeronea

There are references to Chaeronea in the quotes. Chaeronea is the site of the battle where Philip of Macedon ended Greek independence. It is usually taken as the event that divided Greek history from that of the Hellenistic Age.

Relevance in the territories conquered by Alexander the Great

If Plato was writing about a new colony, and the Greek age of colonization was long past, what relevance could there be for Samaria and Judea?

The establishment of colonies was a habit of long standing among the Greeks, less evident in Plato’s century than it had been in earlier days, but still regarded as the best way to deal with a surplus of popu­lation (707e) or with a discordant faction in a city (708bc). The great age of colonization during which the Greeks had spread them­selves and their culture all over the Mediterranean area, from the northern shore of the Black Sea to the western coast of Spain, was a thing of the past; but the tradition was kept alive by the Athenian cleruchies and other more pretentious establishments in the fifth and fourth centuries, and another era of colonization was to begin soon after Plato’s time with the conquests of Alexander. Such new cities always started their political life with a set of laws especially designed for them, and a competent legislator was often called upon to ad­vise the founder, or the sponsoring city, in the task of legislation. The great Protagoras was asked to draw up the laws for Pericles’ ambitious colony of Thurii in southern Italy; and Plato himself, according to one tradition, was invited to legislate for the new city of Megalopolis in Arcadia set up after the defeat of Sparta at Leuctra. We see, therefore, that the Athenian Stranger [a key participant in the conversation in the Laws] is in a historically familiar situation, and the conversation he carries on with his companions is but an idealized version of the discussions that must have taken place on countless occasions among persons responsible for establishing a new colony.

Furthermore, it was a situation that might confront Plato or a member of the Academy at any time. Plato’s deep and lifelong in­terest in politics, in the broadest sense of the term, is evident from the large place that the problems of political and social philosophy occupy in his writings. His theories of education, of law, and of social justice are inquiries carried on not merely for their speculative in­terest, but for the purpose of finding solutions to the problems of the statesman and the educator. It may well be affirmed, when we view Plato’s work as a whole, that he was more concerned with practice than with theory. (3f – for the additional detail and sources found in the original footnotes check out full text online at archive.org)

One might even imagine that Alexander and Aristotle would send re-educators to Samaria after its rebellion to advise more loyal persons on the best way to constitute an ideal state.

One footnote that I must add here:

= Plato is indeed, contrary to what is often believed, much more concerned with practice than with theory.
= Plato only came to philosophy through politics … Philosophy was originally, for Plato, nothing but hindered action.

“Platon est en effet, contrairement à ce qu’on croit souvent, beaucoup plus préoccupé de pratique que de théorie.” Robin, Platon, Paris, 1935, 254. Similarly Dies, in the Introduction to the Bude edn. of the Republic, v: “Platon n’est venu en fait à la philosophie que par la politique . . . La philosophie ne fut originellement, chez Platon, que de l’action entravée.” But we must not suppose that for Plato theory was a substitute for action. Indeed the scientific statesman, he says in Polit. 260ab, cannot be content with theoretical principles alone, but must supplement them with directions for action . . .  Cf. also Phil. 62ab.

Plato’s Academy mosaic — Pompeii (Wikimedia)

Plato Meddling in Politics

Did Plato do anything personally to try to make a difference?

From these statements we must infer that one purpose of the Acad­emy which Plato founded and directed during these years, perhaps at times its chief purpose in his eyes, was the training of statesmen, or legislative advisers, imbued with the insights of philosophy. How did the Academy prepare its members for the practical work of legislation and constitution making? By the study of mathematics and dialectic, of course, for the statesman must first of all be a philosopher; but also, it seems clear, by the study of Greek law and politics. It must not be forgotten that in the Republic the education of the philosopher guardians includes more than the abstract sciences. The fifteen years of mathematics and dialectic are to be followed by fifteen years of service in subordinate administrative posts before the candidate for guardianship is completely trained. The Academy was not a polis and it could not offer its students the advantages of actual experience in office; but it could encourage them to gain a wide knowledge of the history and characters of actual states. This it certainly did, attracting students from all parts of the Greek world, and therefore possessing within its own membership considerable resources for a comparative study of laws and customs. Plato himself had traveled . . .  (p. 5)

and further,

On one occasion that we know of Plato had himself taken a hand in politics, when the death of the elder Dionysius of Syracuse in 367 had brought his young and promising son to the throne. Dion, the uncle of the young tyrant, had become Plato’s devoted follower during the latter’s earlier visit to Syracuse, and he now saw an opportunity of bringing about a political reform. He persuaded the young tyrant to invite Plato to Syracuse, and himself sent an urgent request that Plato should come and take the young man’s educa­tion in hand. Plato acceded, but with some reluctance, he tells us, because he feared the young Dionysius was not sufficiently stable in character to make promising material for a philosophical ruler; but his doubts were outweighed by his friendship for Dion, and by his feeling that he should make an effort, at least, when there was an opportunity of putting into effect his ideas of law and government. This mission at first seemed likely to succeed, and Plato may have collaborated with Dionysius on legislation for the resettlement of the Sicilian cities of Phoebia and Tauromenium. But the court at Syracuse was filled with supporters of the tyranny, opposed to re­forms of the sort Plato and Dion had in mind. . . . This history, unhappy though its outcome, shows that Plato’s principles were meant to be applied to the actualities of fourth-century politics. Some prominent members of the Academy later took part (though Plato refrained) in Dion’s later expedition against Syracuse and were associated with him in his brief period of power after the overthrow of Dionysius. These later events would only confirm the reputation that the Academy had as a center of political influence. (7)

The rumours and traditions…

There are other evidences of the influence of Plato and his Aca­demic colleagues on fourth-century states and statesmen. There is a tradition that Plato was invited by the Cyrenians to legislate for them; and another . . . that he was asked to draw up the laws for the Arcadian city of Megalopolis. Both these invitations Plato declined; but in the second case he seems to have sent Aristonymus to act in his stead. Plutarch names several members of the Academy who were influential as legislators or ad­visers to statesmen and rulers. Aristonymus was sent to the Arcadi­ans, Menedemus to the Pyrrhaeans; Phormio gave laws to Elis, Eu­doxus to the Cnidians, and Aristotle to the Stagirites. Xenocrates was a counsellor to Alexander; and Delius of Ephesus, another Academic, was chosen by the Greeks in Asia to urge upon Alexander the project of an expedition against the Persians. Thrace, he says, was liberated by Pytho and Heraclides, two Academics; they killed the tyrant Cotys, and on their return to Athens were feted as “benefactors” and made citizens. Athenaeus tells us, on the authority of Carystius of Pergamum, that Plato sent Euphraeus of Oreus as adviser to King Perdiccas of Macedon; later Euphraeus seems to have become the champion of the independence of his native city, and was slain when the city was reduced by Philip. Hermeias, the tyrant of Atarneus and friend of Aristotle, may have studied in the Academy; and the Sixth Epistle is a letter supposedly written by Plato commending to him two students of the Academy who are coming to live near Atarneus. Finally, at Athens there must have been many persons prominent in public life, like the generals Chabrias and Phocion, who were former students of Plato. We know that the orator and states­man Lycurgus, who came into power after Chaeronea, was such a former student; and the legislation of Demetrius of Phalerum, at the end of the century, shows clear traces of Plato’s influence, through Aristotle and Theophrastus. 

Some of this evidence is of questionable value, but its cumulative effect is to show that the Academy was widely recognized as a place where men were trained in legislation, and from which advisers could be called upon when desired. It is easy therefore to under­stand why Plato should have devoted the closing years of his life to the composition of such a painstaking piece of hypothetical legisla­tion as the Laws. It expresses one of the main interests of his philo­sophical mind; and it may also have been intended as a kind of model for use by other members of the Academy. Plato had indeed set forth in the Republic the principles that should guide a legislator, but they are expounded in very general terms, with little specific legislation. In the Laws, however, the author descends into the arena of practical difficulties, and we can see why he thought it necessary to do so. For if the ideal, or any worthy imitation of it, is to be realized, it has to be exemplified concretely—among a people living in a specific setting in time and place, possessing such-and-such qualities and traditions. This translation of his political ideal into the terms of fourth-century Greek politics was, as he says, “an old man’s sober pastime” (685a, 712b), but it was a form of amusement that he must have thought would give guidance to actual statesmen. (8ff)

Plato, like a Political Demiurge

Plato’s conception of the legislator’s task in bringing his ideal into existence becomes clearer if we consider the analogous work of the demiurge in ordering the cosmos as described in the Timaeus. In both cases the craftsman must be attentive not only to the design he wishes to realize, but also to the materials in which it is brought about. It may seem to some persons unworthy of the divine Plato to occupy himself with such things as the laws of inheritance, the reg­isters of property, the procedures of election, the regulation of funeral expenses; or with the organization of songs, dances and athletic contests ; or with questions of drainage and water supply. A large part of the Laws consists of just such materials—materials on a par, cer­tainly, with the discussion of respiration, the mechanism of vision, or the functioning of the liver and spleen that we find in the Timaeus. For the cosmic demiurge such attention to his materials was necessary, if he was to operate on the world of Becoming and remold it in the likeness of the Ideas. Similarly the political demiurge cannot neglect the understanding of his social and human materials if he is going to construct a state that resembles the ideal. Just as the world crafts­man in the Timaeus has to use the stuff that is available, with its determinate but unorganized and irregularly co-operating powers, so Plato has to use the Greeks of his day, with their traditions of free­dom and respect for law, and their fallible human temperaments. They are not always the best adapted to his purpose, but as a good craftsman he selects them carefully and handles them with skill, so as to create a likeness as close as possible to the ideal. (10)

When Rome faced Carthage

Plato informed details of Rome’s demands on Carthage?

Was Plato’s condemnation of sea power later used by the Romans to justify the destruction of Carthage? “… [T]he Roman offer that the Car­thaginians should settle at least eighty stades from the sea corresponds exactly to the suggestion of the Laws.” Momigliano…  (100)

Compromise and Distortions

Athenian institutions were a distortion of Plato’s recommendations?

There is a closer parallel between Plato’s program for the agronomoi and the two-year term of ephebic training introduced at Athens, or drastically reformed after the battle of Chaeronea, and it is not unlikely that his proposals had some influence upon at least the later form of this institution.87

87 . . . It is generally agreed that there was a reorganization about 335, and it is possible that the Laws left its mark upon it. The account Aristotle gives of ephebic training in his day (Const. Ath. xlii, 3-4) contains some features that resemble Plato’s program for the agronomoi, but it also exhibits some striking differences, and these have usually not been noted. The Athenian program was for youths just turned eighteen; Plato’s is to take place somewhere between the ages of twenty-five and thirty. The former was obviously a preparation for citizenship and the military obligations that citizenship involved at Athens; whereas Plato’s seems rather a preparation for office, of men whose full citizenship had been attained some years before. Of course ancient readers, like some modern ones, may have overlooked these differences in purpose and in details; but if the Athenian program reflects Plato’s ideas, it does so dimly and with distortion. (190)

Guardians of the Law in the Real World

Continue reading “Could Plato Really have Influenced Judaism and the Bible?”


2023-02-12

Two Covenants: Israel and Atlantis — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7f]

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by Neil Godfrey

Russell Gmirkin concludes his second last chapter with a look beyond Genesis to highlight the plausibility of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias influencing some of Exodus, Deuteronomy and Joshua.

In Critias Plato was composing an account of Athenian origins and its political organization, a politogony. Gmirkin cites Naddaf’s The Greek Concept of Nature which I turned to and read how various Greek poets and philosophers were interested in writing accounts that began with a cosmogony, then moved on to an anthropogony or zoogony, and finally came to a politogony — all of which seems to me to encapsulate the structure of Genesis and the Pentateuch: creation of the cosmos is the opening chapter, then the creation of humans and how humans came to be organized as they are across the inhabited world, and finally how thbe nation of Israel came about with its laws, priesthood, tribal organization as well as how its relations with other peoples originated. After writing the above I quickly checked the early chapters of Gmirkin’s book and found he had made just that point from the outset.

Plato’s account of Atlantis is set in mythical time: the god Poseidon married the mortal, Cleito, and fathered five pairs of twins who became princes ruling the ten tribes of the land. These ten leaders ruled independently as kings but swore allegiance to be one with each other in loyalty and policies and keep forever the laws of Poseidon. Those laws were inscribed on a pillar and kept in the temple. Gmirkin is, of course, prompting us to compare this scenario with the organization of Israel and its covenant with Yahweh.

One can point to the many obvious differences between Plato’s Critias and the biblical book of Exodus. My own approach to such comparative studies is to examine how unique the comparisons are and whether we can find in those similarities explanations for the differences that go beyond the ad hoc. The most significant place where a comparison must begin is the fact that in the following scene we look in vain, as far as I am aware, for parallels in the literature of the Levant or Mesopotamia.

National Covenant with Yahweh || National Covenant with Poseidon

Some similarities between Plato’s Critias and the scene of Israel swearing obedience to their god at Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus:

Exodus 24:3-8 Critias 119e-120b
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (4) And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. And whatsoever bull they captured they led up to the pillar and cut its throat over the top of the pillar, raining down blood on the inscription.
He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. And inscribed upon the pillar, besides the laws, was an oath which invoked mighty curses upon them that disobeyed.
(5) He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. When, then, they had done sacrifice according to their laws and were consecrating (120a) all the limbs of the bull,
(6) Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. they mixed a bowl of wine and poured in on behalf of each one a gout of blood, and the rest they carried to the fire, when they had first purged the pillars round about.
(7) Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”

 

And after this they drew out from the bowl with golden ladles, and making libation over the fire swore to give judgment according to the laws upon the pillar and to punish whosoever had committed any previous transgression; and, moreover, that henceforth they would not transgress any of the writings willingly, nor govern nor submit to any governor’s edict (120b) save in accordance with their father’s laws.
(8) Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” And when each of them had made this invocation both for himself and for his seed after him, he drank of the cup and offered it up as a gift in the temple of the God

The similarities between the passages were pointed out by Philippe Wajdenbaum in Argonauts of the Desert and Gmirkin has gone another step in spelling out specific points for comparison:

  • the moment of the creation of a new nation is identified in a single episodic event;
  • all the tribes of the nation are assembled and participate;
  • a sacrifice seals the event, with bulls representing the tribes;
  • there is an altar with an associated pillar or pillars;
  • blood is (a) splashed about to consecrate the place of sacrifice and (b) poured into ceremonial vessels;
  • laws are inscribed on the pillar or altar [in Exodus the laws were written in a book, but later in Deuteronomy and Joshua they were inscribed in stone: see below];
  • a solemn oath or covenant to obey all the words of the law;
  • strong curses invoked for disobedience to the laws [see below – Deut 27, 28, 29];
  • the oath is binding on those present as well as their descendants [Deut 28].

Such strong and systematic literary parallels exist between Exodus 24 and no other passage in Greek literature.29 Conversely, no literary parallels exist between Exodus 24 and Ancient Near Eastern literature or inscriptions, where there is no example of citizens entering into a covenant to obey a law collection, and where indeed the laws carried no prescriptive force.

29 A minor difference is that in Exodus 24 and Deuteronomy, it was the entire assembled children of Israel who were enjoined to obedience to the laws and who were entered [into] the covenant, whereas in Critias it was the ten princes who ruled in the kingdom of Atlantis.

(Gmirkin, 237, 241 — bolding is my own in all quotations)

Here is a little more detail on the inscribing of laws on pillars in the Greek world. It comes from another work cited by Gmirkin. (I have replaced Greek quotes with translations taken from the same work by Hagedorn or added my own translations alongside Greek text.) Continue reading “Two Covenants: Israel and Atlantis — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7f]”


2023-02-09

Table of Nations and other Post Flood events — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7d]

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by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Taylor & Francis (Routledge) for the review copy

The survival of humans and animals in an ark owes more to Mesopotamian than Greek antecedents, but the division of the known world into 70 nations in Genesis 10 follows Greek patterns of the genealogical organization of nations descending from eponymous founders . . . (Gmirkin, 230)

The Table of Nations

Once again Gmirkin detects a Greek-like interest in scientific thought of the day. (Compare earlier posts focused on the scientific interests underlying the creation chapter.)

The writings of the philosopher Anaximander of Miletus included the book Genealogies, which cataloged nations and migrations of peoples, supplementary to his creation of the first map of the world. (Gmirkin, 232)

Anaximander’s map of the inhabited world (Naddaf, 111)
Genesis 10, the “Table of Nations”, describes the post-flood division of the earth among (as traditionally acknowledged) 70 nations.

Compare Deuteronomy 32:8-9 that in its original wording (as established in part by reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls) says Yahweh (YHWH) was one of a host of lesser gods who was assigned a particular nation to possess:

When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God; The Lord’s (Yahweh’s) own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share.

The number of 70 nations may have derived from a Canaanite tradition that said the consort of the “most high god” (El) had 70 children.

At Ugarit we read in the Baal myth of ‘the seventy sons of Asherah (Athirat)’ (šb’m. bn. ‘atrt, KTU2 1.4.VI.46). Since Asherah was El’s consort, this therefore implies that El’s sons were seventy in number. (Day, 23)

Each nation acknowledged its own god(s):

Babylon (Bel-Marduk, Nebo, Tammuz), Mizraim or Egypt (the Queen of Heaven), the Canaanites (Baal and Asherah), the Arameans (Hadad) and Sidon (Ashtoreth). Later in Genesis we encounter other nations whose gods appear in later biblical books: the Philistines (Dagon), Moab (Chemosh) and Ammon (Molech or Milcom). (Gmirkin, 231)

Recall that Plato portrayed the primeval world as various localities divided up among the gods, the gods ruling the people assigned to them (or those they created) in their respective regions.

Also — though Gmirkin does not refer to the event in this chapter (he had raised it in another context earlier)  — compare the division of the cosmos among three divine brothers.

There are three of us Brothers, all Sons of Cronos and Rhea: Zeus, myself [Poseidon], and Hades the King of the Dead. Each of us was given his own domain when the world was divided into three parts. We cast lots, . . . (Homer, Iliad, 15. …) see below for a discussion of the relevance to Genesis.

I add these other possible links to Greek myth here to reinforce the case for the Hellenistic sources for the Bible. Gmirkin’s work, as the title itself makes clear, is primarily addressing the case for Plato’s Timaeus and its companion composition Critias lying behind Genesis 2-11.

 

Given the monotheism of the Bible, we expect to read that all founders are human.

Gmirkin does not discuss in this volume other studies that suggest the mythical origins behind the biblical account of Noah cursing Canaan, son of his youngest son, for “seeing” him naked when he was drunk:

Noah’s interactions with his sons, and how their offspring are thought to become progenitors for all humankind, may be based upon myths in which the main characters were originally gods, an instance of Euhemerism. Like Euhemerus, Israelite authors could interpret the gods acting in the primeval myths of other cultures as really having been “illustrious humans, later idealized and worshiped as gods.” (Louden, 87f)

The Bible itself takes the same road [as the Greek philosopher Euhemerus], as humans replaced the gods of Greek mythology. (Wajdenbaum, 108)

And

While these two mythic types [see adjacent column] are extant in several different traditions, the versions in Genesis 9, though highly truncated, not only seem closest to the forms the same two mythic types assume in Greek myth but also correspond in four particulars absent from the other known versions:

      • the corresponding names, Iapetos/Japheth;
      • the altered sequence given of the punished sons;
      • the connection with the eponymic Ion/Javan;
      • and the closely corresponding wordplays (yapt/Yepet, Τιτήνας/τιταίvoντας). (Louden, 87f – my formatting)

Great Ouranos [=Heaven] came, bringing on night, and upon Gaia =Earth] he lay, wanting love and fully extended; his son, [=Cronos] from ambush, reached out with his left hand and with his right hand took the huge sickle, long with jagged teeth, and quickly severed his own father’s genitals (Hesiod, Theogony, 176ff]

Plato thought that such a scandalous story should be censored. . . (Plato, Rep. 377 b). It seems likely that the biblical writer recycled that story but modified the detail of Cronos castrating his father into Ham seeing his father naked; it is most noteworthy that some Jewish midrashim interpret Ham’s deed as an actual castration. . . . (Wajdenbaum, 108)

Now behind Genesis there seems to lie a story in which Noah’s sons did more than see him naked: Gen 9:24 “When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his young son had done to him …” What can this have been but castrating him? The association of Iapetus with Kronos, and hence with the castration of Ouranos, suggests that he is the same figure as Japheth youngest son of Noah. (Brown, cited by Louden, 87)

And

I suggest, then, that to connect the Flood myth with stories set in subsequent eras, Israelite tradition utilized a combination of two common types of myth set in primeval times: one in which intergenerational conflict among gods resulted in a son taking power by castrating his father, the former king of the gods; and another in which three brother gods draw lots to determine their own portions of rule and to establish hierarchical relations between themselves.  (Louden, 87)

See also What Did Ham Do to Noah?

See the previous post for the flood event being the beginning of historical time. Once, he [= Solon] said, he wanted to draw them into a discussion of ancient history, so he launched into an account of the earliest events known here: he began to talk about Phoroneus, who is said to have been the first man, and Niobe; he told the story of the survival of Deucalion and Pyrrha after the flood, and the tales of their descendants; and he tried, by mentioning the years generation by generation, to arrive at a figure for how long ago the events he was talking about had taken place. (Timaeus 22a-b)

Genesis 10:1-32

Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood.

The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.

And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan. And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtechah: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. . . . And Mizraim begat Ludim, and Anamim, and Lehabim, and Naphtuhim, And Pathrusim, and Casluhim, (out of whom came Philistim,) and Caphtorim. And Canaan begat Sidon his first born, and Heth, And the Jebusite, and the Amorite, and the Girgasite, And the Hivite, and the Arkite, and the Sinite, And the Arvadite, and the Zemarite, and the Hamathite: and afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad.

19 And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha.

20 These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations.

21 Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born. The children of Shem; Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad, and Lud, and Aram. And the children of Aram; Uz, and Hul, and Gether, and Mash. And Arphaxad begat Salah; and Salah begat Eber. And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan. And Joktan begat Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah, And Hadoram, and Uzal, and Diklah, And Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba, And Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab: all these were the sons of Joktan.

30 And their dwelling was from Mesha, as thou goest unto Sephar a mount of the east.

31 These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.

32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.

While it is now widely acknowledged that the genealogical structure of Genesis, and especially the division of nations in Genesis 10, is broadly indebted to Greek antecedents . . . a specific indebtedness to Critias and Timaeus has generally escaped consideration. (Gmirkin, p. 232)

Critias 113e-114c

By copying this section of Critias below I do not intend it to be read as a direct hypotext for Genesis 10. Rather, what one finds in common with Genesis 10 is the cogently brief account covering the description of how an entire land was divided up, with geographic markers for verisimilitude, with geographic names taken from founding figures, and other details you may discern for yourself:

[Poseidon] fathered and reared five pairs of twin sons. Then he divided the island of Atlantis into ten parts.

He gave the firstborn of the eldest twins his mother’s home and the plot of land around it, which was larger and more fertile than anywhere else, and made him king of all his brothers, while giving each of the others many subjects and plenty of land to rule over.

He named all his sons. To the eldest, the king, he gave the name from which the names of the whole island and of the ocean are derived — that is, the ocean was called the Atlantic because the name of the first king was Atlas.

To his twin, the one who was born next, who was assigned the edge of the island which is closest to the Pillars of Heracles and faces the land which is now called the territory of Gadeira after him, he gave a name which in Greek would be Eumelus, though in the local language it was Gadeirus, and so this must be the origin of the name of Gadeira.

He called the next pair of twins Ampheres and Evaemon;

he named the elder of the third pair Mneseus and the younger one Autochthon;

of the fourth pair, the eldest was called Elasippus and the younger one Mestor;

in the case of the fifth pair, he called the firstborn Azaes and the second-born Diaprepes.

So all his sons and their descendants lived there for many generations, and in addition to ruling over numerous other islands in the ocean, they also, as I said before, governed all the land this side of the Pillars of Heracles up to Egypt and Etruria.

 

I omitted a section in the above chapter. The reason, again, is to cast an eye beyond what Gmirkin discusses and to note other Greek influence. Here we have a vignette breaking into a genealogy that reminds us of a famous Greek poetic genealogy of heroes who were born from gods.

The genealogies of the Old Testament, especially the Book of Genesis, are much more closely comparable to the Hesiodic ones [than to Mesopotamian lists], both in their multilinearity and in their national and international scope. (West, 13)

And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city.

The [Greek] genealogies are not homogeneous. They contain folktale, fiction, and saga in very varying proportions. These variations reflect the different sorts of material that were available in different regions for the construction of genealogies. (West, 137)

Fragments from Hesiod’s genealogy of founding Greek heroes:

Of mortals who would have dared to fight him with the spear and charge against him, save only Heracles, the great-hearted offspring of Alcaeus? Such an one was strong Meleager loved of Ares [= the god of war], the golden-haired, dear son of Oeneus and Althaea. From his fierce eyes there shone forth portentous fire: and once in high Calydon he slew the destroying beast, the fierce wild boar with gleaming tusks. In war and in dread strife no man of the heroes dared to face him and to approach and fight with him when he appeared in the forefront. But he was slain by the hands and arrows of Apollo, while he was fighting with the Curetes for pleasant Calydon. (fr 98 )

Aloiadae. Hesiod said that they were sons of Aloeus, — called so after him, — and of Iphimedea, but in reality sons of Poseidon and Iphimedea, and that Alus a city of Aetolia was founded by their father. (fr6 )

Abraham at War

The story of Abram’s military defeat of the coalition of Mesopotamian kings in Genesis 14 has motif and themes that are highly reminiscent of the conflict between Athens and Atlantis in Critias. The kings of Atlantis were portrayed as ruling righteously within their borders many years, until they engaged in a war of territorial aggression to enslave the peoples within the Mediterranean (Timaeus 24e, 25b; Critias 120d, 121b; cf. Gen 14:1-3). All would have been lost (Timaeus 25b-c; cf. Gen 14:4—12) had not the Athenians valiantly engaged the Atlantians in war and defeated them (Timaeus 25c; Critias 112e; cf. Gen 14:13-15). Abram similarly rose to the occasion, leading a small band that included Amorite allies (Gen 14:13-14) to rescue his nephew Lot from slavery, defeat the unjust invaders and liberate the local kings, much as the Athenians took the leadership of the Hellenes and defeated the invading forces of the Atlantians against overwhelming odds, liberating Egypt and the Greek world (Timaeus 25b-c). (Gmirkin, 232)

Abraham is presented as a national exemplar of righteousness and courage in war just as the Athenians were models worthy of their patron goddess of wisdom and courage in war, Athena.

A few pages later Gmirkin proposes that Joshua’s conquests of the Promised Land had a similar literary purpose.

Sodom and Gomorrah

There are many echoes of Plato’s Critias:

    • Yahweh’s portrayal as a terrestrial deity who dined and counseled with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18);
    • the ethical decline of the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20; 19:4-13), precipitating judgment from God (cf. Critias 121 b-c);
    • a cataclysm of fire from heaven (Gen 19:24-29; cf. Timaeus 22c-d);
    • the saving of a righteous few (Gen 18:17-33; 19:14-23);
    • and the re-founding of civilization (Gen 19:30-38, locally, in Moab and Ammon).

One also sees echoes of the catastrophe that ended the pre-flood world:

    • the evocative comparison of the Jordan plain with the Garden of Eden (Gen 13:10);
    • the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20; 19:4-13; cf. Gen 6:6-7);
    • the survival of a righteous few (Gen 19:14-23; cf. 6:14-18; 7:1; 9:1);
    • new tribes descending from the survivors of the cataclysm, (Gen 19:31-38; cf. Genesis 10).

These echoes point to the re-use of story motifs from Timaeus-Critias in both the biblical flood story and the story of Lot’s rescue from Sodom. (Gmirkin, 233, my formatting)


Day, John. Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan. London ; New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2002.

Gmirkin, Russell E. Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. Abingdon, Oxon New York, NY: Routledge, 2022.

Naddaf, Gerard. The Greek Concept of Nature. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006.

Wajdenbaum, Philippe. Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible. London ; Oakville: Equinox, 2011.

Louden, Bruce. Greek Myth and the Bible. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2018.

West, M. L. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: Its Nature, Structure, and Origins. Oxford Oxfordshire : New York: OUP Oxford, 1985.

Hesiod. Theogony. Translated by Richard S. Caldwell. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett, 2015.

Hesiod. “Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragments.” Theoi Classical Texts Library. Accessed January 19, 2023. https://www.theoi.com/Text/HesiodCatalogues.html.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Émile Victor Rieu. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1950.


 


2023-02-03

Sons of God, Daughters of Men … and “Giants” — Why are they in the Bible?

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by Neil Godfrey

In Genesis 6 we read a most cryptic detail that leaves us wondering what it is all about:

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. . . . There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth . . . 

On “giants” — a whole post or two could be written on this word. Suffice it for our purposes to note that the Hebrew word is “nephilim”. Nephilim, from the root nāpal, literally means “fallen ones” (cf Ezekiel 32:27 “They lie with the warriors, the Nephilim of old, who descended to Sheol with their weapons of war.”) We may think of them as mighty warriors now departed from the earth, heroes of old, and not necessarily as gigantic in stature — although many of them were depicted as larger than average. (cf Hendel, 21f)

We have been covering Russell Gmirkin’s book, Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts, but as I was poring through the background reading I found myself drawn back to the question of why the story of the flood in Genesis begins with an account of “sons of god”, or as the Hebrew also allows, “sons of gods”. Why did the Genesis author open his flood story with such a curious episode?

Let’s begin at the beginning — with the noncontroversial fact that Mesopotamian myth lies behind the biblical story of Noah’s flood. But let’s also examine how Mesopotamian and Biblical narratives are so very different from each other.

In Mesopotamian flood myths the gods did not use the flood to punish humankind because of its immorality or violence. No, it was not a moral judgement sent by any of the gods. It was a decision of convenience and comfort: a god was complaining of overpopulation and the resultant noise of so many people on earth keeping him awake.

Cuneiform tablet with the Atra-Hasis epic in the British Museum. Wikimedia

The land grew extensive, the people multiplied,
The land was bellowing like a bull.
At their uproar the god became angry;
Enlil heard their noise.
He addressed the great gods,
“The noise of mankind has become oppressive to me.
Because of their uproar I am deprived of sleep. (Atrahasis myth as quoted in Hendel, 17)

Significant here is what happens after the flood. The flood marks a dividing line between two different ages:

To prevent future overpopulation, the gods take several measures: they create several categories of women who do not bear children; they create demons who snatch away babies; and . . . they institute a fixed mortality for mankind. The restored text reads: “Enki opened his mouth / and addressed Nintu, the birth-goddess, / ‘[You,] birth-goddess, creatress of destinies, / [Create death] for the peoples.'” Death, barren women, celibate women, and infant mortality are the solutions for the problem of imbalance that precipitated the flood. (Hendel 17f)

Here we find that although there were myths of great floods, the primary myth about the dividing of mythical from “historical” time was the Trojan War. And this mythical saga opened, like the Genesis flood story, with gods and mortals marrying and producing heroic figures.

In previous posts we have seen Gmirkin’s argument that the Genesis author began his flood narrative with gods marrying women under the influence of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias. What I am interested in doing here is examining the wider tradition of that same Greek myth of gods and mortals and how other accounts more directly linked this myth with the end of the primeval world. There are additional influences from this wider world of Greek myth on the Genesis author, I believe.

The Trojan War as the Divider between Mythical Time and Historical Time

Surviving Greek tales of gods living on earth with humans are compiled in a work called the Catalogue of Women. This poem begins with gods (or sons of older gods) marrying mortal women and producing heroic figures.

The Catalogue . . . does not begin with an account of the flood but with a remark about the union of the gods with mortal women to produce the heroes who are the subject of the Catalogue. This strongly suggests that the [biblical author] has combined this western genealogical tradition and the tradition of the heroes with the eastern tradition of the flood story. (Van Seters, 177)

In this myth the chief god, Zeus, decided to put an end to the mixing of divine and mortal races by means of war: he manoeuvred events to bring about the Trojan War that was meant to kill off the semi-divine heroes. Many of these heroes were taken to the Fields of the Blessed but the point of their demise was to re-establish a clear division between gods and humans. (There is no general moral condemnation of these heroes in Greek myth, nor, as Gmirkin stresses in his own work, is there moral condemnation against these figures in the biblical narrative.) From the time of the Trojan War the “age of myths” basically comes to an end and “real history” begins.

Returning to the question of why Genesis 6:1-4 is such a brief account (so brief the author must have assumed his readers knew the larger story), it is interesting to learn that brief synopses of longer tales are also found in Hesiod’s Catalogue of Women. This work, too, often reads much like a compendium of mere outlines of myths.

As in the Theogony, the genealogies were interspersed with many narrative episodes and annotations of greater or less extent. We can see that these narratives were often very summary; but they are there, and are an essential ingredient in the poem. A large number of the traditional myths, perhaps the greater part of those familiar to the Greeks of the classical age, were at least touched on and set in their place in the genealogical framework. Thus the poem became something approaching a compendious account of the whole story of the nation from the earliest times to the time of the Trojan War or the generation after it. We shall see when we come to study its contents more closely that its poet had a clearly defined and individual view of the heroic period as a kind of Golden Age in which the human race lived in different conditions from the present and which Zeus terminated as a matter of policy. We shall also see that he organized his material with some skill so as to convey his sense of the unity of the period in spite of the multiplicity of genealogical ramifications. (West, 3)

The first readers or audiences were expected to know the details of what could be abridged so they could maintain their focus on the larger plot.

In Greek myth, the intermarriage of gods and mortals was the opening scene of the tale that led Zeus to destroy the race of heroic demi-gods and so restore a new world with a clear division between the divine and human. These myths were anything but consistent, however, and other accounts offered a different reason for Zeus deciding to depopulate the earth through the Trojan War. One other reason was that the earth was simply becoming overpopulated. It is possible that the Greeks borrowed this idea from the Mesopotamian myth (see above where a god complains about the noise so many people were making) but it is also possible — since there is a comparable Indian myth — that the concept had a more general Indo-European origin (Hendel, 20).

So we have different motives for Zeus’s decision to destroy the old world and bring about a new one: Continue reading “Sons of God, Daughters of Men … and “Giants” — Why are they in the Bible?”


2023-01-25

Demigods, Violence and Flood in Plato and Genesis — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7c]

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by Neil Godfrey

Is it possible to set forth a plausible case that the Genesis author of Noah’s Flood was inspired in any way by his reading of Plato’s myth of Atlantis? There can be no doubt that the author was influenced by an ancient Mesopotamian story so let’s establish that undeniable source for Genesis with Russell Gmirkin’s own acknowledgement:

The traditional view of scholars is that the Genesis flood derived from sources extant no later than the time of the seventh to sixth-century Babylonian captivity. Gmirkin expands the field for literary comparison to include third-century BCE Hellenistic-era works and identifies Berossus as the Genesis’ author’s source for the Mesopotamian myth. In the words of another author, Philippe Wajdenbaum,

Even if the most ancient version of the deluge comes from the Sumerian tradition, and even if the biblical writer knew of this tradition, he inserted it into a platonic framework. . . . The first eleven chapters of Genesis are indeed inspired by Mesopotamian myths, but there is a more recent Greek layer that is just as obvious. The evolution of humankind in the Bible—from the ideal life in Eden to the degeneration that led up to the deluge, and from the discussion of patriarchal life to the gift of laws— is all found in Plato’s dialogues. (Wajdenbaum, 107)

In the Primordial History, the Mesopotamian flood story, with its survival of Utnapishtim and his family and servants in a boat, had undeniable literary parallels to both the J and P versions of the Noachian flood. (Gmirkin, 10 — J and P are scholarly abbreviations pointing to different sources thought to lie behind the biblical literature: for a critical discussion on J and P in the Genesis Flood see Rendsburg on Genesis and Gilgamesh: Misunderstanding and Misrepresenting the Documentary Hypothesis (Part 2))

What, then, is Gmirkin’s view of that “more recent Greek layer” that Wajdenbaum (see the side box) speaks about?

Here are the common elements between Plato’s story of Atlantis and the Genesis Flood:

    • Both stories are preceded by a “golden age” of innocence and abundance when the deity (Poseidon, Yahweh) ruled directly with his people;
      .
    • Both stories depict a descent into corruption after sons of gods marry mortal women: in the myth of Atlantis immorality increases over generations as the divine element in the demigods becomes diluted through ongoing marriages with mortals; in Genesis the corruption is said to happen following the sons of the gods taking women and producing “nephilim”. (An important note needs to be injected here for those of us conditioned to think that Genesis 6 is referring to demons (“sons of god/s”) descending to earth to take human women. That interpretation arose later in Jewish tradition with works like Enoch and Jubilees. There is no suggestion in Genesis 6 that these “sons of god/s” were demonic or evil. They are introduced, rather, as producing “men of renown”, though they later descended into violence.)

      This image from https://www.greece-is.com/the-search-for-atlantis/ is a brilliant reminder that Atlantis was created entirely from Plato’s imagination.

.Plato’s Critias 121

[After earlier describing the god Poseidon taking the human girl Cleito and with her producing generations of highly renowned kings, the first named Atlas … ] But when the divine portion within them began to fade, as a result of constantly being diluted by large measures of mortality, and their mortal nature began to predominate, they became incapable of bearing their prosperity and grew corrupt. Anyone with the eyes to see could mark the vileness of their behaviour as they destroyed the best of their valuable possessions; but those who were blind to the life that truly leads to happiness regarded them as having finally attained the most desirable and enviable life possible, now that they were infected with immoral greed [or “lawless ambition”] and power.

Zeus looks down, sees the degeneration, and decides to pass judgment:

Zeus, god of gods, who reigns by law, did have the eyes to see such things. He recognized the degenerate state of their fair line and wished to punish them, as a way of introducing more harmony into their lives. He summoned all the gods to a meeting in the most awesome of his dwellings, which is located in the centre of the entire universe and so sees all of creation. And when the gods had assembled, he said . . . 

Genesis 6:1-12

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. . . . There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Yahweh, like Zeus, sees the corruption and announced judgement:

Then [Yahweh] saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And [Yahweh] was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. . . . 

The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.  So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 

Continue reading “Demigods, Violence and Flood in Plato and Genesis — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7c]”


2023-01-23

Primeval History from Cain to Noah — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7b]

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Taylor & Francis (Routledge) for the review copy

Continuing the series discussing Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts . . . .

The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden in Eden (note, not expelled from the land of Eden but only from Eden’s Garden) generally coincides with the Greek mythological Age of Zeus that succeeded the idyllic golden age of Kronos:

The proliferation of cities, kings and technology broadly conforms to the rise of civilization and self-sufficiency in the Age of Zeus in Greek sources from Hesiod to Plato. (Gmirkin, 210)

So let’s recap with Hesiod’s poem Works and Days:

The gods desire to keep the stuff of life
Hidden from us. If they did not, you could
Work for a day and earn a year’s supplies;
You’d pack away your rudder, and retire
The oxen and the labouring mules. But Zeus
Concealed the secret, angry in his heart
At being hoodwinked by Prometheus,
And so he thought of painful cares for men. (lines 42ff)

Hesiod wrote of the change Zeus sent through Pandora:

Before this time men lived upon the earth
Apart from sorrow and from painful work,
Free from disease, which brings the Death-gods in.
But now the woman opened up the cask,
And scattered pains and evils among men.
Inside the cask’s hard walls remained one thing,
Hope, only, which did not fly through the door.
The lid stopped her, but all the others flew,
Thousands of troubles, wandering the earth.
The earth is full of evils, and the sea.
Diseases come to visit men by day
And, uninvited, come again at night
Bringing their pains in silence, for they were
Deprived of speech by Zeus the Wise. And so
There is no way to flee the mind of Zeus. (lines 90ff)

Hesiod pictured successive races, each having to suffer more than the previous one:

Far-seeing Zeus then made another race,
The fifth, who live now on the fertile earth.
I wish I were not of this race, that I
Had died before, or had not yet been born.
This is the race of iron. Now, by day,
Men work and grieve unceasingly; by night,
They waste away and die. The gods will give
Harsh burdens, but will mingle in some good. (lines 196ff)

Hesiod addresses his instruction to a nobleman, Perses, appropriately given that the nobility saw themselves as direct descendants of Zeus:

O noble Perses [literally, “Perses, of the genus of the gods], keep my words in mind,
And work till Hunger is your enemy
And till Demeter, awesome, garlanded,
Becomes your friend and fills your granary.
For Hunger always loves a lazy man. (lines 299ff)

And so Adam was charged with the toil and hardship to survive:

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread (Gen 3:17-19)

Moving ahead to Cain’s exile from the land of Eden, we cover here chapters 4 to 6 that are each widely understood to be derived from different source material. In chapter 4 Gmirkin identifies Plato’s broad narrative framework although the detail of the text originated elsewhere.

Genesis 4

Genesis 4

16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. 17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city . . . 

The problems in the narrative that have long confused readers — where did Cain get his wife? how could he build a city without other people? — disappear if read against the background of Plato’s myth in Critias, his successor to Timaeus. With Critias in the background we can picture Cain being expelled from the land of Eden, which was Yahweh’s territory, into another region of other people ruled by another deity.

Unlike omnipresent depictions of Yahweh in Psalms, Amos, Jonah, here one could escape beyond that god’s presence.

Plato’s Critias 109 b

Once upon a time, the gods divided the whole earth among themselves, region by region. . . . So each gained by just allocation what belonged to him, established communities in his lands, and, having done so, began to look after us, his property and creatures, as a shepherd does his flocks . . . 

. . . and called the name of the city after the name of his son—Enoch.

18 To Enoch was born Irad;

and Irad begot Mehujael,

and Mehujael begot Methushael,

and Methushael begot Lamech.

19 Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. 

20 And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. 22 And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron.

Lists of inventors were popular in both the Greek world and the Ancient Near East (Gmirkin, 210)

Yahweh Elohim was the god of the land of Eden and its people.

Cassuto in his commentary (pp. 228ff) argues that the grammatical construction of the key passage better suggests that it was Cain’s son, Enoch, who built the first city, Irad — which would coincide with the Babylonian tradition that the first city was Eridu.

 

The firstling of those cities, Eridu, she gave to the leader Nudimmud. (The Eridu Genesis — Jacobsen, 518)

These Apkallü . . . are the wise men known from mythology who rose from the sea in prehistoric times to reveal science, social forms and art to man. Since for the Sumerians there was something supernatural about these concepts, a primordial revelation was necessary. . . .

Ninagal . . . the blacksmith’s work; . . . Nungalpiriggal is . . . the inventor of the lyre (or the harp) . . .  (Dijk, 45, 49)

The fish-figurines …. the apkallus, often occurring in groups of seven . . . represent Oannes and the other fish-like monsters who, according to Berossos’ account, taught mankind all crafts and civilization. (Riener,  6)

First therefore he who introduced to the Greeks the common letters, even the very first elements of grammar, namely Cadmus, was a Phoenician by birth . . . The healing art is said to have been invented by Apis the Egyptian . . .  Atlas the Libyan was the first who built a ship, and sailed the sea. . . . (Eusebius, Prae X, v… vi)

Demeter – gave cultivation of grain; Dionysus, – viticulture; Apollo, the calendar and lyre; Prometheus, fire… (Seters, 83)

Arion … invented and named the dithyramb. . . . Glaucus … the inventor of the art of welding. . . .  (Herodotus, I)

With Genesis 5 we begin a new genealogy from Adam, the ten generations up to the Flood. Gmirkin first set out his case for this section being derived from the Hellenistic era author, Berossus in Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus. While Mesopotamian years for each pre-flood generation was measured in the tens of thousands (totalling approximately two hundred thousand years) Plato spoke of a beginning closer to ten thousand years before his time, and a calculation of the Bible’s beginnings are shorter still.

The most that can be inferred from Genesis itself is that the Primordial History is set a few thousand years in the past, approximately in line with contemporary Greek theories. Although Genesis 5 also adopted a scheme of ten long-lived patriarchs before the flood, under the influence of the Babyloniaca of Berossus (Gmirkin 2006: 107-8), its chronological scheme is more in line with Greek than Mesopotamian estimates of the age of the world. (Gmirkin, 213)

Calculations for the time of creation vary, and the differences between the Hebrew and Septuagint versions are most pronounced. But those who are intrigued by the common calculation that Adam was created 1656 or 1657 years before the flood will be interested in how Cassuto relates this figure to the Mesopotamian methods of calculation:

Of the round numbers referred to, which are composed according to the sexagesimal system, one is 600,000—sixty myriads— a high figure that indicates an exceedingly large amount. Now 600,000 days make 1643 solar years of 365 days each. If we add seven plus seven, as was done in the case of Methuselah’s years, we obtain exactly 1657. We have here, then, a pattern similar to that of the Babylonian chronology: a number based on the sexagesimal principle with the addition of twice times seven. (Cassuto, 261)

Genesis 5

Genesis 5

This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters. So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.

Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. After he begot Enosh, Seth lived eight hundred and seven years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died.

Enosh lived ninety years, and begot [a]Cainan. 10 After he begot Cainan, Enosh lived eight hundred and fifteen years, and had sons and daughters. 11 So all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years; and he died.

12 Cainan lived seventy years, and begot Mahalalel. 13 After he begot Mahalalel, Cainan lived eight hundred and forty years, and had sons and daughters. 14 So all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years; and he died.

15 Mahalalel lived sixty-five years, and begot Jared. 16 After he begot Jared, Mahalalel lived eight hundred and thirty years, and had sons and daughters. 17 So all the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred and ninety-five years; and he died.

18 Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and begot Enoch. 19 After he begot Enoch, Jared lived eight hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 20 So all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years; and he died.

21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. 22 After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

25 Methuselah lived one hundred and eighty-seven years, and begot Lamech. 26 After he begot Lamech, Methuselah lived seven hundred and eighty-two years, and had sons and daughters. 27 So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years; and he died.

28 Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and had a son. 29 And he called his name Noah,[b] saying, “This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.” 30 After he begot Noah, Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years, and had sons and daughters. 31 So all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years; and he died.

32 And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Despite several of the same or similar names appearing in Genesis 4 and 5, in a different order (Westermann 1984: 348-9), it is noteworthy that no narrative connections were made with the seven generations of the line of Cain in Genesis 4, nor any attribution of important inventions to Seth’s descendants, nor any anecdotes regarding the growing violence of the pre-flood world. Genesis 4 and 5 thus appear to be independently authored narratives of the antediluvian world, linked only by the artificial coordination of these two accounts at Gen 4:25-26 (cf. Westermann 1984: 338). The names common to the two genealogies suggest they both made use of related antecedent source material whose character cannot now be recovered.

The narrative objective of Genesis 5 appears to be extremely limited: to give a detailed chronological framework for the antediluvian world. (Gmirkin, 211)

Westermann, 349

Westermann’s inability to consider the possibility that the author of Genesis was indebted to Berossus is evident when he wrote:

Before the discovery of the cuneiform texts, one had seen the prototype of Enoch in the seventh king of the list of Berossos, Evedoranchos = Enmeduranki. It was said of him that he was taken up into the company of Shamash and Ramman and was inducted into the secrets of heaven and earth. Since the new discoveries have shown that the parallel between the series of ten in Berossos and Gen 5 is no longer tenable, one can no longer maintain a dependence of what is said of Enoch in Gen 5 on the seventh king in Berossos (nevertheless U. Cassuto still does). (Westermann, 358)

The Cassuto reference to which W. refers:

In the Babylonian tradition, the seventh king in the list of ante-diluvian kings—who thus corresponds to the Biblical Enoch, the son of Jared—is likewise distinguished from the other monarchs. His name appears as Enme(n)duranna in the list of kings; as Enmeduranki in another document, belonging to the worship of the diviner-priests (K. 2486); and as (this is apparently the correct reading) in Berossus. The inscription K. 2486 records all sorts of wonderful tales about this king. Although the text has been badly damaged, the essential subject-matter, despite the obliterations, is clear, to wit, that Enmeduranki was beloved of the gods Anu, Bel, Šamaš and Adad, and that these deities, or some of them, (made him) an associate of theirs, (placed him) on a throne of gold, and transmitted to him their secrets, the secrets of heaven and earth, and gave him possession of the tablets of the gods, the cedar rod, and the secret of divination by means of pouring oil upon water (a method of divination that was also known among the Israelites . . . ). Enmeduranki was regarded as the father of the diviner-priests— their father in the sense that he was the originator of their doctrine, and also in the physical connotation of the term . . .  every diviner-priest (barû) claimed descent from him. (Cassuto, 282f)

Poseidon pursuing yet another mortal woman

We have seen how Plato described the newly created earth being divided up among the various gods and goddesses, with each pair of deities appearing to create their own first humans from the dust of their respective allotted territory. Athena and Hephaestus gave their first humans of Attica or the city of Athens, divine forms of government, wisdom, crafts, prowess in war, and so forth. The god Poseidon was given the region beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, the land of Atlantis. Poseidon … well, read for yourself Plato’s account of what happened next…

Genesis 6

Continue reading “Primeval History from Cain to Noah — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7b]”


2023-01-09

“Garden of Eden” : Mesopotamian Perspectives

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by Neil Godfrey

I couldn’t resist. I had to add the evidence for the competition to the previous post. There with reference to Russell Gmirkin I set out the evidence for the biblical Garden of Eden being inspired by Greek literature. I know many would prefer I find something that adheres to a more conventional perspective, an account owes more to Mesopotamian traditions. So here are the closest scenarios from that part of the ancient world that I can find that might remind us of Genesis’s Garden of Eden. I will leave it to you to compare them with the Greek writings.

There was the garden of the gods; all round him stood bushes bearing gems. Seeing it he went down at once, for there was fruit of carnelian with the vine hanging from it, beautiful to look at; lapis lazuli leaves hung thick with fruit, sweet to see. For thorns and thistles there were haematite and rare stones, agate, and pearls from out of the sea.  (Epic of Gilgamesh)

So Gilgamesh passes through a garden not for humans but for the gods on his way to see Utnapishtim, the Sumerian version of Noah.

There is a Sumerian description of “a land of immortality”, Dilmun:

In Dilmun the raven utters no cry,
The ittidu­-bird utters not the cry of the ittidu-­bird,
The lion kills not,
The wolf snatches not the lamb,
Unknown is the kid­devouring wild dog,
Unknown is the grain­devouring . . ,
Unknown is the widow,
The bird on high . .s not his . . ,
The dove droops not the head,
The sick­eyed says not “I am sick­eyed,”
The sick­headed says not “I am sick­headed,”
Its (Dilmun’s) old woman says not “I am an old woman,”
Its old man says not ”I am an old man,”
Unbathed is the maid, no sparkling water is poured in the city,
Who crosses the river (of death?) utters no . . ,
The wailing priests walk not round about him,
The singer utters no wail,
By the side of the city he utters no lament.

(Myth of Enki and Ninhursag, in Kramer, 144f)

In the Babylonian myth of Marduk humans are made to serve the gods:

In “A Bilingual Version of the Creation of the World by Marduk,” man is likewise made for the sake of the gods. There the gods solemnly proclaim Babylon as the dwelling of their hearts’ delight; but, in order to induce them to stay there, Marduk and Aruru create the race of men so that these might attend to the needs of the gods by building their sanctuaries and maintaining their sacrifices. According to a third version . . . humankind was brought into being because the gods desired to have someone to establish the boundary ditch and to keep the canals in their right courses; to irrigate the land to make it produce; to raise grain; to increase ox, sheep, cattle, fish, and fowl; to build sanctuaries for the gods; and to celebrate their festivals. All this man was to do for the benefit of his divine overlords, because “‘the service of the gods” was his ‘‘portion.”’ A similarity to this last tradition is found in the second chapter of Genesis, which mentions as man’s destiny the cultivation of the soil (vs. 5) and the development and preservation of the Garden of Eden (vs. 15). But this work obviously was in his own interest; the Lord God did not ask for any returns. (Heidel, p. 121)

Enkidu – represented the original untamed, savage man in the Gilgamesh epic

Another story from the same region introduces humanity as wandering nomads apparently leading a brutish life until a god has pity on them and decides to “bring them home” to profitable employment serving the gods.

Nintur was paying attention:
Let me bethink myself of my humankind,
(all) forgotten as they are;
and mindful of mine, Nintur’s, creatures
let me bring them back,
let me lead the people back from their trails.

May they come and build cities and cult-places,
that I may cool myself in their shade;
may they lay the bricks for the cult-cities
in pure spots, and
may they found places for divination
in pure spots!

(The Eridu Genesis)

From Optimism to Pessimism

Thorkild Jacobsen discusses this text and notes the sharp contrast with the Genesis account of humankind’s beginnings:

In the “Eridu Genesis” moreover the progression is clearly a logical one of cause and effect: the wretched state of natural man touches the motherly heart of Nintur, who has him improve his lot by settling down in cities and building temples; and she gives him a king to lead and organize. As this chain of cause and effect leads from nature to civilization, so a following such chain carries from the early cities and kings over into the story of the flood. The well organized irrigation works carried out by the cities under the leadership of their kings lead to a greatly increased food supply and that in turn makes man multiply on the earth. The volume of noise these people make keeps Enlil from sleeping and makes him decide to get peace and quiet by sending the flood. (p. 140)

and

The “Eridu Genesis” takes throughout, as will have been noticed, an affirmative and optimistic view of existence: it believes in progress. Things were not nearly as good to begin with as they have become since and though man unwittingly, by sheer multiplying, once caused the gods to turn against him; that will not happen again. The gods had a change of heart, realizing apparently that they needed man.

In the biblical account it is the other way around. Things began as perfect from God’s hand and grew then steadily worse through man’s sinfulness until God finally had to do away with all mankind except for the pious Noah who would beget a new and better stock.

The moral judgment here introduced, and the ensuing pessimistic viewpoint, could not be more different from the tenor of the Sumerian tale; only the assurance that such a flood will not recur is common to both. (p. 142)


Heidel, Alexander. The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation. Second edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.

Jacobsen, Thorkild. “The Eridu Genesis.” In “I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood”: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11, edited by Richard S. Hess and David Toshio Tsumura, 129–42. Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns, 2018.

Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Sandars, N. K., trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh; Reprinted with revisions. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.


 


2023-01-08

The Garden of Eden — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7a]

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Taylor & Francis (Routledge) for the review copy

This post continues the series discussing Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts.

After the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden we enter a new series of adventures that find their counterpart in the next book by Plato, Critias. Here we are led to understand that the land of Eden was only one part of the created world and that Cain, on being exiled from Eden itself, enters another land presumably inhabited by other peoples removed from the presence of the god Yahweh Elohim. We read names renowned for inventing the various crafts and arts of civilization and the building of the first cities. We read of “sons of gods” marrying mortal women and producing heroic warriors. We read of violence spiralling out of control and of Yahweh deciding to end it all by wiping out all humanity and every living thing in a cataclysmic flood. He is persuaded, however, to spare one family to start anew. Finally, new ethnic groups are once again scattered across the world from the tower of Babel.

We know the story but as long as we are sure that it was composed long before the classical era of Greece (from the fourth century BCE) and look only to possible antecedents in the Mesopotamian region then we will miss the remarkably distinct parallels with Greek myth. Yes, there is no doubt that the Flood story in Genesis is derived from an early Babylonian story, and the tower of Babel is obviously focused on Babylon, — no question there. But keep in mind that “Hellenistic” culture was initially about blending, uniting, the cultures of the east and west, of the lands once ruled by Persia with the values and ideas of their Greek conquerors.

This is Russell Gmirkin’s contribution to the way we view the Bible — to test the possibility that Genesis and its companion literature were written as late as the Hellenistic era:

The current chapter shifts the focus to Critias, Plato’s sequel to Timaeus. The use of Critias as a model for the antediluvian world in Genesis has not previously been proposed by biblical critics. While Timaeus was concerned with the origins of the kosmos, of life and death, and of human moral sensibilities and failings, Critias presented a tale set in earliest mythical times that laid out the devolution of ideal political institutions, established by the gods, into a spiral of ambition and violence divinely punished by cataclysmic earthquake and flood that ended the Age of Heroes and overflowed the mythical continent of Atlantis. (p. 199 — my highlighting in all quotations)

Genesis is an odd mix. It begins with a stately account of creation in six days — all in coherence with the scientific thought of the Hellenistic era — but then shifts to mythical tales of talking snakes and “sons of gods” marrying mortal women. In Gmirkin’s view, it is as if we are reading a work that “consciously mimic[s] Plato’s Timaeus (the scientific and theological narrative) and Critias (mythical narrative).”

Jan Brueghel – Wikimedia

I had initially expected to post a discussion of the entire seventh chapter but instead have resolved to post a series of smaller units, each one covering one aspect of the primeval history from Cain to Babel. Instead of quoting Gmirkin and others he references, I have decided to cut to the chase and allow you to see for yourselves how episodes from Genesis compare with Greek literature. My quotations are selective. I have omitted details that do not find correspondence. For example, Plato’s account of Atlantis speaks of building a palace for Poseidon. Gmirkin remarks that in Genesis, since Yahweh Elohim converses with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it can be assumed that he has a temple or mansion of some kind there, too. But of course if that is what the Genesis author and his audience took for granted it is not mentioned. So I have omitted from my selections Plato’s description of the god’s palace.

Russell Gmirkin additionally discusses other options that have been proposed as models of the Garden of Eden: the royal parks of the kings of Assyria, temple gardens of Mesopotamia, and other Mesopotamian mythical stories such as Gllgamesh. He finds little strong comparison in any of those alternatives. (See the post following this one for some instances of what have ben considered “Garden of Eden” parallels in ancient Sumerian literature.) Why would a supply source for pagan temples be an inspiration for the Genesis author? Or why the hunting grounds of an Assyrian king?

Genesis 2-3

Plato

Homer, Hesiod, Pindar

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7) [Athens] was founded first, when the goddess received your rootstock from Earth and Hephaestus (Timaeus 23e)

There lived on this hill a man who was one of the original earth-born men of the land. (Critias 113c)

we’ve also heard from many about the kingship exercized by Kronos, And . . . that earlier men were born from the earth (Statesman, 269a-b)

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.

The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. . . .

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, 

where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.)

The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. . . . 

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. 

Now the serpent . . . said to the woman, . . . The woman said to the serpent . . . 

. . . the serpent said to the woman “. . . your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom . . . *

Yahweh Elohim . . . was walking in the garden in the cool of the day . . .

(Gen 2:8-14, 25; 3:1-8)

Poseidon, as a god, easily organized the central island [of Atlantis]. Once he had fetched up two underground springs — one warm, the other flowing cold from its source — and caused all kinds of food to grow in sufficient quantities from the soil . . . . the island by itself provided them with most of the necessities of life. . . They had everything, [precious stones and metals] that could be mined from the ground, and in fact in many parts of the island there was dug up from the ground something which is now no more than a name, although in those days it was an actual fact and was second in value only to gold — orichalc [which gleamed like fire]. . . . Everything aromatic the earth produces today in the way of roots or shoots or shrubs or gums exuded by flowers or fruits was produced and supported by the island then. . . . Any water which overflowed was channelled to the grove of Poseidon, where all the various species of trees grew to be beautiful and extraordinarily tall thanks to the fertility of the soil, . . . Streams descending from the mountains drained into it, and it made a complete circuit of the plain, . . . and then the water was allowed to discharge into the sea.  (Critias 113e – 114e. 115a, 117b, 118d)

Trees and flowers and fruit, grow in proportion; and again, the mountains contain stones likewise, whose smoothness, transparency, and beauty of colour are in the same proportion; it is from these that the little stones we value, sardian stones, jaspers, emeralds, and all such, are pieces; but there, every single one is like that, or even more beautiful still. . . . But the true earth is adorned with all these things, and with gold and silver also, and with the other things of that kind as well. For they are plainly visible, being many in number, large, and everywhere upon the earth. (Phaedo 110d-111c)

. . .  the parts of the world-order having everywhere been divided up by gods ruling over them; moreover divine spirits had divided living things between them, like herdsmen, by kind and by herd, each by himself providing independently for all the needs of those he tended, so that none of them was savage, nor did they eat each other, and there was no war or internal dissent at all. . . . But to return to what has been reported about a life for human beings without toil, the origin of the report is something like this. A god tended them, taking charge of them himself,  . . . they had an abundance of fruits from trees and many other plants, not growing through cultivation but because the earth sent them up of its own accord. For the most part they would feed outdoors, naked and without bedding; for the blend of the seasons was without painful extremes, and they had soft beds from abundant grass that sprang from the earth. What I describe, then, Socrates, is the life of those who lived in the time Kronos . . . Well then, if, with so much leisure available to them, and so much possibility of their being able to get together in conversation not only with human beings but also with animals – . . . to do philosophy, talking both with animals and with each other, and inquiring from all kinds of creatures whether any one of them had some capacity of its own that enabled it to see better in some way than the rest with respect to the gathering together of wisdom, the judgement is easy, that those who lived then were far, far more fortunate than those who live now. (Statesman, 271c-272c)

. . . the Elysian plain at the world’s end, . . .  where living is made easiest for mankind, where no snow falls, no strong winds blow and there is never any rain, but day after day the West Wind’s tuneful breeze comes in from Ocean to refresh its folk. (Homer, Odyssey IV, 563-569)

The gods, who live on Mount Olympus, first Fashioned a golden race of mortal men; These lived in the reign of Kronos, king of heaven. And like the gods they lived with happy hearts untouched by work or sorrow. Vile old age never appeared, but always lively-limbed, far from all ills, they feasted happily. Death came to them as sleep, and all good things were theirs; ungrudgingly, the fertile land gave up her fruits unasked. Happy to be at peace, they lived with every want supplied, (Hesiod, Works and Days, 110-120)

But with nights equal forever, with sun equal in their days, the good men have life without labor . . . . Beside the high gods they who had joy in keeping faith lead a life without tears. . . . . But they who endure thrice over in the world beyond to keep their souls from all sin have gone God’s way to the tower of Kronos; there winds sweep from the Ocean across the Island of the Blessed. Gold flowers to flame on land in the glory of trees; it is fed in the water, whence they bind bracelets to their arms and go chapleted . . . (Pindar, Olympian Ode 2)

 

* I have added, rightly or wrongly, to Russell Gmirkin’s notes of comparisons Plato’s suggestion that the impulse for conversation between humans and animals was “the getting of wisdom.” For another interpretation of Plato’s influence on the Genesis temptation narrative see The Temptation in the previous post.

(There is one other detail that I might develop later: Gmirkin explains certain contradictions in Genesis 1-2 as the consequence of different authors being responsible for different sections, so that the scientific portion of Genesis 1 had one author while the myth of Adam and Eve another. That may be so, but I also note that Plato himself is not consistent and while at one place he speaks of an idyllic age without need for technology and other time he describes technologies in that ideal world of the past. He didn’t seem to worry if he told a different version when a different purpose for the story was called for. Plato could also write both highly technical “scientific” discourses as well as dramatic and colourful myths within the one work.)


Gmirkin, Russell E. Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. Abingdon, Oxon New York, NY: Routledge, 2022.

Plato. Timaeus and Critias. Translated by Robin Waterfield. OUP Oxford, 2008.
Plato. Phaedo. Translated by David Gallop. Clarendon Press, 1977.
Plato: Statesman. Translated by C. J. Rowe. First published 1995, Reprinted with corrections 2005. Warminster, England: Liverpool University Press, 1995.

Hesiod. Theogony ; Works and Days. Translated by Dorothea Wender. Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1973.
Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by E.V Rieu. Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin Books, 1946.
Pindar. The Odes Of Pindar. Translated by Richmond Lattimore. The University of Chicago Press, 1947.