Category Archives: Ancient Religious Cultures

“Religious culture” is used instead of “Religion” because our concept of religion does not match what was often the thinking and practices in ancient cultures. This category includes temple and priestly practices as well as mythical ideas related to gods and the supernatural. Jewish religious culture is placed under Biblical Studies.

“Demons Crucified Jesus ON EARTH” – according to ancient sources and modern analysis

If you still think that to say that “rulers of this age” (demons) crucified Jesus means that they crucified him in one of the heavens you have missed my recent post,  What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”. More easily forgivable, you have also missed or forgotten a series by Roger Parvus back in 2013, in particular A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 7: The Source of Simon/Paul’s Gospel.

In the first of those posts I quote from the Gospel of Nicodemus (also known as the Acts of Pilate) the crystal clear belief that the head demon was responsible for crucifying Jesus on earth.

Roger Parvus presents the argument that Paul believed Jesus descended to earth where he was crucified by the demonic forces. Parvus’s argument draws upon an analysis of the Ascension of Isaiah to support his case.

While it is certainly not impossible that demons who are busy fighting each other in the lower heavens could also crucify a Jesus who had descended from upper heavens for that purpose, I personally favour Roger Parvus’s view. Jesus descended to earth for a short time for the sole purpose of being crucified, descending into hell, being resurrected and returning to his original place in heaven.

 

What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”

In the previous post we looked at the arguments that “the rulers of this age” were human authorities or a combination of spiritual and human authorities as set out by Robert Ewusie Moses (REM) from his Duke University Doctor of Theology thesis of 2012, Powerful Practices: Paul’s Principalities and Powers Revisited. We now begin the case for the earliest known interpretation (Ignatius, Marcion, Justin) that the rulers of this age were spiritual or angelic beings.

Where to begin? REM notes that the literature on this view is “immense” so I start by putting REM’s thesis aside and consulting some of that literature. We have spoken of the older scholarship overwhelmingly viewing the “rulers of this age” as spirit powers so let’s look at some of that seriously older scholarship.

 

Otto Everling, 1888

Everling, Otto. 1888. Die paulinische Angelologie und Dämonologie: Ein biblisch-theologischer Versuch. Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. http://archive.org/details/diepaulinischea01evergoog. pp. 11-25

The rulers of this age

  • have wisdom but not the wisdom of God
  • are currently (present tense) in the process of losing their power
  • crucified the Lord of Glory

No class of humans meet all three characteristics. Furthermore, it stretches credulity to think that Paul or anyone would have extrapolated from the actions of Caiaphas, Annas and Pilate that all the rulers of the earth, this cosmos or age, were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, let alone that anyone would have understood Pilate to have been a representative of “the wisdom of this age”.

That Paul had angelic powers in mind is supported by contemporary literature that do speak of angels has having a certain wisdom but a wisdom that is limited as well as power over this world

Paul wrote elsewhere of angels being currently in the process of losing their power and that that loss of power will be complete after Christ has finished his reign: 1 Cor. 15:24.

Satan himself is said to be a ruler of this world: John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, Eph 2:2, cf 2 Cor 4:4, and the ruler of this time of iniquity: Barnabas 18:2. Satan’s knowledge was known to be incomplete as we read in Ignatius’s letter to the Ephesians 19:1.

In Paul’s mind this world is populated not only with humans but with angelic powers. He speaks of himself as one of those doomed to die in the arena of the “cosmos” or world as a spectacle to both people and angels in 1 Cor 4:9. In Paul’s world, angels were active and were destined to be judged by human followers of Christ, 1 Cor 6:3. Satan himself worked on God’s behalf to destroy the flesh of sinners: 1 Cor 5:5. This last passage reminds us of the Destroying Angel working on God’s behalf in the Old Testament. Another reminder of that Destroying Angel is the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:5-10.

Paul also spoke of a servant of Satan attacking his flesh: 2 Cor 12:7.

Paul and his contemporaries understood that their struggles were against heavenly powers, wicked spirits and that these beings had power over flesh and blood. But good spirits were also there to serve the righteous: e.g. Heb 1:14.

Otto Everling’s discussion of this hidden world of angels is far more extensive than I can outline here. Hopefully I have at least hit on some of his main points. read more »

Stonehenge — Coincidences, Assumptions and Theories

Fascinating. Stonehenge’s location may be related to a certain natural landscape feature that quite by chance coincided with the sun’s coordinates for the midsummer solstice.

So I learned last night from a doco that featured the theory of Mike Parker Pearson. Gullies running from the stonehenge in a line pointing to the position of the midsummer solstice sun on the horizon were long assumed to be manmade simply because of that alignment. Elementary, My Dear Watson.

Archaeological excavations on those pathways, however, apparently led to the realization that they were not manmade at all but were a geological structure, presumably gouged out by a retreating glacier long before Stonehenge itself.

(Okay, don’t tell me everyone else knew that and I am the last to catch up!)

If so, then we evidently have an explanation for the location of Stonehenge, way out there in the otherwise middle of nowhere.

 

 

Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.

Angelic rulers

I continue my recent post, Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change: this post begins to address  Gene Miller’s argument that when Paul wrote that the “rulers of the age” crucified “the Lord of Glory” he meant human, worldly authorities, viz. Pilate, crucified Jesus. Miller’s article, “Archontōn tou aiōnos toutou—A New Look at 1 Corinthians 2:6–8,” JBL 91 (1972) 522–28, was published in 1972. Why bother with a 46 year old article? In the previous post we saw indications of its continuing relevance in major commentaries. In 2001 Chris Forbes of the Department of Ancient History (not a theologian!) described Miller’s article as presenting a

particularly forceful case . . . [arguing] that (at least for this verse) the view common since Cullmann that both human rulers and their angelic/demonic counterparts are intended “needs finally to be laid to rest”. (Forbes, p. 68)

We start with Miller’s translation of 1 Cor 2:6-8

Yet we speak of wisdom among the mature, not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are being brought to an end; on the contrary, we speak of the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God decreed before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew. For, if they had known (it), they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:6-8).

Miller opens with two passages that scholars have used to argue that “rulers of this age” refers to supernatural powers.

[Héring] cites especially Col 2:15, where the hostile powers over whom Christ triumphs in the cross are called archas kai exousias, and Rom 8:38, where archai is used to describe one of the forces which might be thought to separate men from the “love of God.”

Let’s look at those two passages:

When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Col 2:15 NASB)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities [=archai], nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers , nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38f NASB)

Miller responds to these verses as follows:

It is immediately apparent that in neither case is there any certainty that the reference is to supernatural or spiritual powers. This is particularly true of the passage in Romans; in fact, the context of the passage seems to favor the opposite conclusion. Paul mentions specifically “angels” (angeloi) and “powers” (dynameis); the archai, then, might reasonably be supposed to be human authorities. This interpretation would certainly be consistent with the situation of the church in the first century. (p. 522)

So we see that Miller presents no argument to justify interpretations that contradict what was the virtual consensus in 1972; rather, he simply asserts that “there is no certainty” that spiritual powers are meant. I would have thought that the passage in Colossians that speaks of Jesus having disarmed the rulers could not possibly be saying that Roman rulers were suddenly disarmed by the death and resurrection of Christ.

But Miller wants us to look “particularly” at Romans 8:38 because, he asserts, the context actually suggests that Paul means human rulers. After all, Paul mentioned angels and powers in the same sentence and since these obviously refer to heavenly beings it surely is “more likely” that he must mean human rulers when he speaks of “principalities/archai” in between those two — so Miller asserts. The only way I can follow Miller’s reasoning here is that he begins with the assumption that Paul must surely have been talking about Pilate, full stop.

As we saw above, Miller’s essay has been cited as a persuasive argument so presumably a good number of scholars are inclined to view such an assertion sympathetically. read more »

Jesus, a new Dionysus Triumphantly Entering Jerusalem?

The last few days I’ve been distracted from my planned reading and posting as a result of reading something quite unexpected by Andreas Bedenbender in Frohe Botschaft am Abgrund: das Markusevangelium und der Jüdische Krieg. Since I don’t read German (except sort of through machine translators) and since most of Bedenbender’s references are in German, and since I don’t sit in a major library, that has been no easy task. But the gist of the surprising suggestion arises from one particular Greek word behind the passage in the Gospel of Mark about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, 10:8 (RSV):

And many spread their garments upon the way; and others branches (στιβάδας), which they had cut from the fields.

Branches cut from the fields, presumably from trees in the fields. Would not they become an obstacle for any donkey trying to navigate the road? Other evangelists do not use that word, “branches”. Compare:

Matthew 21:8 uses κλάδους, also translated as “branches”, but not the same word as in Mark.

Luke 19:36 scraps that Markan detail completely and says only that the crowd spread their garments on the ground. No branches at all.

John 12:13 uses a different word again, “branches of palm trees” (τὰ βαΐα τῶν φοινίκων), and more sensibly than in Mark implies that they were waving them rather than setting up an obstacle course for the donkey.

Now it appears that Mark’s word for “branch/branches”, (στιβάς / στιβάδας), is unique in the Bible:

For στιβάς is found, for example, in Euripides and Herodotus, but in the New Testament it is nowhere except in Mark 11:8. It is missing in the LXX, in the Greek Pseudepigraphen to the AT, in Philo and Josephus. What, then, did Markus take after “straw-shafts,” when “branches” were within his reach? That κλάδος, which he used in 4:32 and in 13:28, will scarcely have disappeared! (Bedenbender, p. 312, adapted from machine translation.)

So Mark elsewhere used the more common word for “branches” and that makes his use of “stibas” in the triumphal entry scene more odd.

Andreas Bedenbender does not argue “strongly” for Jesus’ triumphal entry in the Gospel of Mark being invested with Dionysiac allusions, but he does point to some details that make the question reasonable. read more »

Myths of Salvation Among Greek Gods and Heroes

Chiron sacrifices himself for Prometheus

If you are open to sceptical questions about Christianity and are not very familiar with ancient Greek literature and mythology you may find the few notes below of interest.

When I first read the following passages (quite some time ago now) I was struck by the way motifs that later became central to Christianity are woven throughout the mythical tales.

After Prometheus had saved mankind from Zeus’s plan to destroy him, Zeus bound him to a rock and ordained an eagle to eat from his liver every day, with the wound healing overnight ready for a fresh dinner the next day — forever.

But a son of Zeus, Heracles, was eventually destined to release Prometheus from his torment.

The poet Hesiod from the 8th or 7th century BCE wrote:

And ready-witted Prometheus he bound with inextricable bonds, cruel chains, and drove a shaft through his middle, and set on him a long-winged eagle, which used to eat his immortal liver; but by night the liver grew as much again everyway as the long-winged bird devoured in the whole day.

That bird Heracles, the valiant son of shapely-ankled Alcmene, slew; and delivered the son of Iapetus from the cruel plague, and released him from his affliction — not without the will of Olympian Zeus who reigns on high, that the glory of Heracles the Theban-born might be yet greater than it was before over the plenteous earth. . . .

The fifth century BCE playwright Aeschylus explained in more detail why Prometheus had to suffer:

PROMETHEUS:

However, you ask why he torments me, and this I will now make clear. As soon as he had seated himself upon his father’s throne, he immediately assigned to the deities their several privileges and apportioned to them their proper powers. But of wretched mortals he took no notice, desiring to bring the whole race to an end and create a new one in its place.

Against this purpose none dared make stand except me—I only had the courage; I saved mortals so that they did not descend, blasted utterly, to the house of Hades. This is why I am bent by such grievous tortures, painful to suffer, piteous to behold. I who gave mortals first place in my pity, I am deemed unworthy to win this pity for myself, but am in this way mercilessly disciplined, a spectacle that shames the glory of Zeus.

But Prometheus knew a secret. He knew that Zeus himself was destined one day to be overthrown from his position as chief of the gods. (That particular hero, we elsewhere learn, was destined to be the semi-divine Achilles. But that’s another story.) The mortal Io (who was later to become the mother of the line that produced Heracles) is talking with Prometheus in his misery: read more »

Five Foundation Myths of Cyrene

The “historical” founder of the colony of Cyrene was a Greek named Battus (an unlikely founder since he spoke with a stutter) who is said to have ruled in the years leading up to 600 BCE.

Contemporary archaeologists agree: Cyrene, the Greek colony in Libya, had its beginnings in the second half of the seventh century B.C. The presence of some objects dated to the Late Helladic III A and B periods on the site clearly points to more ancient contacts between Greece and the Mediterranean coast of Africa; nothing, however, before the middle of the Archaic period indicates the development of a city in the Greek sense of the term. Such is the interpretation of the archaeologists . . . (Calame, Claude. Myth and History in Ancient Greece: The Symbolic Creation of a Colony, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 2003. p. 35)


The ancient myth of the founding of the Cyrenian kingdom comes to us from a number of sources, including several of Pindar‘s poems (in particular the Pythian Odes 4, 5, 9), the history by Herodotus, (book 4), the epic poet Apollonius of Rhodes who wrote about Jason and the Argonauts, and the Cyrenian poet Callimachus.

Herodotus, writing as a “historian” presents us with a rationalised version of how Cyrene was founded as a Greek colony. He eschews in this context tales of gods and demigods and myths. But the other sources mentioned above are more willing to leave us the popular legends of how this great ancient Greek colony of Libya came to be.

Pindar gives us two stories: one begins seventeen generations before our stuttering founder Battus; but another begins even earlier, back in mythic time when only gods “made history”.

Pindar’s accounts of the foundation stories

read more »

Explaining Zodiacs in Ancient Synagogues

We don’t expect to find the sun god Helios and images of the zodiac, complete with near naked human figures, in Jewish synagogues. So how should we understand these pagan mosaics in synagogues? The best (most completely) preserved are at Hammat Tiberias, Beth Alpha and Sepphoris.

Beit_alfa01
At Beth Alpha. Helios in the centre on his four horse chariot.

–o–

ZodiacMosaicTzippori
At Sepphoris

–o–

At Hammath Tiberias
At Hammath Tiberias

I was intending to post about Yaffa Englard’s explanation for these apparent anomalies simply because I found easy access to “Mosaics as Midrash: The Zodiacs of the Ancient Synagogues and the Conflict Between Judaism and Christianity” by Englard in a 2003 edition of Review of Rabbinic Judaism. But one thing led to another and before long I was catching up with Rachel Hachlili’s Ancient Synagogues — Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research (2013). Hachlili lists a score of different interpretations. About the only thing most (not all) of them seem to have in common is that they work hard at avoiding any suggestion that the Jewish synagogues indicated an interest in astrology.

It is surprising to find the zodiac design depicted on synagogue mosaic pavements in view of its pagan origin, and all the more so as the mosaics, lying inside the main entrances, would have been immediately visible to anyone entering the synagogue. This widespread use of a ‘pagan’ motif over several centuries invites many questions as to its meaning and function in the synagogue. (p. 386)

The following is Rachel Hachlili’s list of interpretations that are out there. I have broken up her lengthy paragraphs into a numbered list. read more »

Plato’s Thought World and the Bible

Updated 5 hours after original posting. New section beginning with Monthly Religious Festivals added. 

Previous in this series:

  1. Plato’s and the Bible’s Ideal Laws: Similarities 1:631-637  (2015-06-22)
  2. Plato’s and Bible’s Laws: Similarities, completing Book 1 of Laws  (2015-06-23)
  3. Plato’s Laws, Book 2, and Biblical Values (2015-07-13)
  4. Plato and the Bible on the Origins of Civilization (2015-08-13)
  5. Bible’s Presentation of Law as a Model of Plato’s Ideal (2015-08-24)
  6. Plato’s and the Bible’s Ideal States (2015-09-21)

The ideal state can only begin with the second generation

First generation to receive the laws has to die off before the state can be established on a secure footing:

Plato’s Laws, Book 6:

Laws 752 b-c Deuteronomy 1:34-39
Athenian. Let us remember what a courageously mad and daring creation this our city is.

Cleinias (of Crete). What had you in your mind when you said that?

Athenian. I had in my mind the free and easy manner in which we are ordaining that the inexperienced colonists shall receive our laws. Now a man need not be very wise, Cleinias, in order to see that no one can easily receive laws at their first imposition. But if we could anyhow wait until those who have been imbued with them from childhood, and have been nurtured in them, and become habituated to them, . . .  if this could be accomplished . . . -then, I think that there would be very little danger, at the end of the time, of a state thus trained not being permanent.

34 “And the Lord heard your words and was angered, and he swore, 35 ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!’37 Even with me the Lord was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there. 38 Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. 39 And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.

.

Twelve commanders, governors. . .

read more »

Hidden Meanings and Memories

It’s not always a happy experience to get to know too much about some of our favourite talents. Forgive my latecomer status to this little bit of knowledge — but I have just learned that Alice in Wonderland contains a number of scenes that were inspired by the author’s disdain for Darwin’s theory of evolution. Charles Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll) was as reactionary as one could get in Victorian times. Thanks to Rachel Kohn’s Radio National program, The Spirit of Things, for alerting me to the “low down” on this work and its author: Decoding Alice in Wonderland. That led to David Day’s article, “Oxford in Wonderland.” Queen’s Quarterly 117.3 (2010): 403+

Alice_par_John_Tenniel_21One of the historic turning points in human intellectual history in this new era took place a few hundred yards from Lewis Carroll’s residence. This was the famous 1860 Oxford Darwinian Debate in which the bombastic anti-Evolutionist Wilberforce was verbally eviscerated by the rational pro-Evolutionary Thomas Henry Huxley. Known as “Darwin’s Bulldog,” Huxley’s victory became emblematic of the triumph of progressive rational science.

In Wonderland, Carroll’s satire of the Darwin debate takes place in the strange smoke-filled Kitchen of the Ugly Duchess. The Oxford counterpart of the Duchess’ Kitchen is one of the grand sites of the university: Cardinal Wolsey’s Great Kitchen. Built during the reign of Henry VIII, Oxford’s Great Kitchen has a massive hearth for roasting entire pigs and, like the Duchess’ Kitchen, was frequently filled with smoke.

The Great Kitchen was also the one part of the university that was directly under the authority of the Bishop of Oxford. Samuel Wilberforce, the son of the anti-slavery movement’s “Great Emancipator” William Wilberforce, was known to parliamentarians and political pundits as “Soapy Sam” because of his brash and illogical debating style. He was the perfect model for the logic-chopping, moralizing, and argumentative Ugly Duchess.

In this fantastic “Kitchen of Creation,” one can imagine these insane cooks mixing up a mad biological soup. Evolution is gone berserk. Uniformed fish and frog footmen seem to have just stepped out of the primordial ooze. A constantly shape-shifting baby appears to demonstrate “survival of the fittest” by preferring beatings to affection. Strangest of all, Alice’s attempt to nurse this child results in a strange backward form of evolution: from a boy into a pig.

Well, I always hated that ugly duchess and baby scene anyway!

Speaking of parallels there was an interesting article a while back on Εις Δοξαν looking at the eleventh labour of Heracles in which he was ordered to recover some golden apples:  read more »

Curious Contacts Between John’s Gospel and the Asclepius Myth

I’ve been trying to think of something worthy of posting on this Easter Sunday, 2015. All I can come up with at the moment is a subject I’ve had on the back burner for some time, namely the handful of references in the Fourth Gospel (FG) that remind us of Asclepius. Longtime readers may recall Neil’s description from his review of Jesus Potter Harry Christ.

Asclepius the gentle and personally accessible deity, lover of children, gentle, exorcist and healer, and one whose cult was considered at certain times the greatest threat to Christianity.

Several scholars have remarked upon the parallels in terminology and legends that surround both Jesus and Asclepius. Of course, the most obvious things that come to mind would include the designations of savior (sōtēr | σωτήρ) and healer or physician (iatros | ἰατρός). But I’m more interested for now in the specific events or ideas presented in the Gospel of John.

Rod of Asclepius
Rod of Asclepius (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bronze Serpent and the Rod of Asclepius

I’ll start with the most obvious connections and proceed to the more tenuous. The most prominent correlation between Asclepius and the FG has to be the brazen serpent.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (John 3:14-15, KJV)

In the United States, especially, we tend to confuse the caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius. We should associate the caduceus with the god Hermes; hence, it’s a symbol for traders, heralds, or ambassadors. The Rod (or Staff) of Asclepius, on the other hand, is a symbol of healing.

The bronze serpent or Nehushtan in the Hebrew Bible also had specific healing properties.

And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:9, NASB)

Oddly enough, we read that during Hezekiah’s reign, the bronze serpent was destroyed as a part of his reform movement. read more »

The Rank-Raglan Hero-Type (and Jesus)

heroHis mother is a virgin and he’s reputed to be the son of a god; he loses favor and is driven from his kingdom to a sorrowful death—sound familiar? In The Hero, Lord Raglan contends that the heroic figures from myth and legend are invested with a common pattern that satisfies the human desire for idealization. Raglan outlines 22 characteristic themes or motifs from the heroic tales and illustrates his theory with events from the lives of characters from Oedipus (21 out a possible 22 points) to Robin Hood (a modest 13). A fascinating study that relates details from world literature with a lively wit and style, it was acclaimed by literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman as “a bold, speculative, and brilliantly convincing demonstration that myths are never historical but are fictional narratives derived from ritual dramas.” This book will appeal to scholars of folklore and mythology, history, literature and general readers as well. (Blurb from online edition of The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama by Lord Raglan) 

The 22 typical incidents in mythical tales

(1) The hero’s mother is a royal virgin;

(2) His father is a king, and

(3) Often a near relative of his mother, but

(4) The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and

(5) He is also reputed to be the son of a god.

(6) At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather, to kill him, but

(7) He is spirited away, and

(8) Reared by foster-parents in a far country.

(9) We are told nothing of his childhood, but

(10) On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.

(11) After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,

(12) He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor, and

(13) Becomes king.

(14) For a time he reigns uneventfully, and

(15) Prescribes laws, but

(16) Later he loses favour with the gods and/or his subjects, and

(17) Is driven from the throne and city, after which

(18) He meets with a mysterious death,

(19) Often at the top of a hill.

(20) His children, if any, do not succeed him.

(21) His body is not buried, but nevertheless

(22) He has one or more holy sepulchres.

The first thing that needs to be clear is that Lord Raglan has drawn these parallel motifs from what he terms “genuine mythology” — meaning “mythology connected with ritual”. That excludes mythical tales of the King Arthur sort. Raglan is interested in myths that appear to have been associated with ancient rituals as acted out in dramatic shows (e.g. the Dionysia, May Day rituals, Passion plays) and religious ceremonies. The sorts of myths under examination should be clear from the following words in chapter 13 of The Hero:

The theory that all traditional narratives are myths—that is to say, that they are connected with ritual—may be maintained upon five grounds: 

  1. That there is no other satisfactory way in which they can be explained. . . .
  2. That these narratives are concerned primarily and chiefly with supernatural beings, kings, and heroes. 
  3. That miracles play a large part in them. 
  4. That the same scenes and incidents appear in many parts of the world. 
  5. That many of these scenes and incidents are explicable in terms of known rituals.

The Hero is close to a century old now so much of Raglan’s discussion is dated, but not all. It is still worth reading, I think, especially where he discusses misconceptions that lead moderns into assuming historicity of many ancient persons and arguments for the link between rituals and myths. It is certainly essential reading for anyone who intends to take up a serious discussion on the relevance of the twenty-two motifs identified as parallels across so many myths.

Common errors in using the 22 points

Often discussions of Raglan’s 22 characteristics of the myth-hero falter for the following reasons:

  1. Discussions are often about counting points and deciding the historical or non-historical likelihood of a figure according to a number total.
    • Raglan makes it clear, however, that the numbers alone do not address something else that is far more important for assessing someone’s historicity.
  2. Discussions very often fail to account for the real meaning or significance of the 22 characteristics.
    • They therefore make assessments based on the letter rather than the spirit of mytho-types.
  3. Discussions centre around the truncated list form of the 22 points.
    • As a consequence the full meaning of some of those points is lost and discussions go awry on misunderstandings.

1. When historical persons are on the list

The emphasis many place upon the number count for assessing historicity no doubt derives from Raglan’s own assessment early in his book: read more »

Rendsburg on Genesis and Gilgamesh: Misunderstanding and Misrepresenting the Documentary Hypothesis (Part 1)

Landscape with Noah's Thank Offering (painting...
Landscape with Noah’s Thank Offering (painting circa 1803 by Joseph Anton Koch) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Doubting the Documentary Hypothesis

Back in October of last year I mentioned that I wanted at some point in the future to take a more detailed look at Gary Rendsburg’s audio course on Genesis, with special emphasis on the Documentary Hypothesis (DH). As you recall, Rendsburg doubts many of the claims advanced by DH scholars, especially Julius Wellhausen.

While he would grant the existence of another tradition behind the book of Leviticus (i.e., the Priestly or P source), as well as behind the book of Deuteronomy (i.e., the Deuteronomist, D), Rendsburg rejects the idea of trying to separate sources in the book of Genesis. He prefers to understand the text as a unified whole.

As with many DH-doubters, Rendsburg reserves a special level of skepticism (if not outright disdain) for the notion that two separate sources comprise the story of the Great Flood (Gen. 6-9). In his 2004 article, “The Biblical Flood Story in the Light of the Gilgameš Flood Account” (in the pricey Gilgameš and the World of Assyria), Rendsburg insists that we cannot split the story into the supposed P and J (i.e., Jahwist or Yahwist) sources, because:

If one reads the two stories as separate entities, one will find that elements of a whole story are missing from either the J or the P version. Only when read as a whole does Genesis 6-8 read as a complete story, and — here is the most important point I wish to make — not only as a complete story, but as a narrative paralleling perfectly the Babylonian flood story tradition recorded in Gilgameš Tablet XI, point by point, and in the same order. (Rendsburg, 2004, p. 115)

He finds the very idea worthy of derision.

That is to say, according to the dominant view of biblical scholars, we are supposed to believe that two separate authors wrote two separate accounts of Noah and the flood, and that neither of them included all the elements found in the Gilgameš Epic, but that when the two were interwoven by the redactor, voilà, the story paralleled the Gilgameš flood story point-by-point, feature-by-feature, element-by-element. (Rendsburg, 2004, p. 116, emphasis mine)

Rendsburg unwittingly provides an object lesson in how conservative scholars habitually misunderstand and misrepresent the DH. In this and subsequent posts we’ll look at his thesis, as he put it, point by point.

Two sources: separate and complete?

Prof. Rendsburg makes the common mistake of assuming Wellhausen believed that the flood story in Genesis could be separated into two complete sources. But, in fact, he said no such thing.

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Castration of Ouranos and the Drunkenness of Noah

cronos-003This post complements my previous one about the Ham “seeing his father’s nakedness” story developing in three stages:

  1. Originally the story was an adaption of the myths of the youngest son castrating his father (the motive: to maintain an inheritance)
  2. Then it was more delicately shifted to a story of illicit sex
  3. And finally most bashfully of all the story left readers wondering if all Ham did was “have a look”.

Philippe Wajdenbaum (whose book, Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible, I have discussed a few times before) gives a more detailed comparison between the Ham-Noah narrative and the Greek myth.

Recall that a number of scholars — Wajdenbaum among them — argue that Genesis was written relatively late, even as late as the second century by which time the Greeks had spread throughout the Near East. Such a late date opens a window for another perspective on how the story found its way into the Bible.

First recap the Genesis narrative — Genesis 9:20-27 (KJV)

20 And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. 21 Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

24 So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. 25 Then he said:

Cursed be Canaan;
A servant of servants
He shall be to his brethren.”

26 And he said:

“Blessed be the Lord,
The God of Shem,
And may Canaan be his servant.
27 May God enlarge Japheth,
And may he dwell in the tents of Shem;
And may Canaan be his servant.”

Japheth is to be enlarged. That is, expanded — even into the tents of Shem. Hence the argument that this prophecy reflects a time after Alexander the Great’s conquests and the Hellenization of the Near East.

Greeks migrated everywhere -- the dark green and more. Map from http://www.atlasofworldhistory.com/
Greeks migrated everywhere — the dark green and more. Map from http://www.atlasofworldhistory.com/

Now we have more justification to compare the Greek myth as found in Hesiod’s Theogony. (I suspect Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch, our authors discussed in the previous post, were less enthusiastic about the comparison with the Greek version of the myth if they embrace a more traditional date for Genesis.)

Here is Hesiod’s account of the birth of the youngest son who was destined to castrate his father, Uranus (Heaven), and his older brother Iapetus:

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