What Others have Written About Galatians – Pierson and Naber

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by Neil Godfrey

I have copied here a translation from an 1886 publication of …

… two researchers from different fields of knowledge …. A. Pierson is the theologian …, whose work has made him known as an astute and fearless critic …. S. A. Naber, on the other hand, is a philologist and thus offers a guarantee of complete impartiality. The work therefore also claims to have brought the truth to light along a path that has hitherto been almost untrodden. The motto taken from Galen, which compares ordinary exegetes with those quacks who triumphantly cure a sick patient suffering from dropsy, reveals the opinion that the authors have of the exegesis of the New Testament to date. Why are there so many obscure passages in the New Testament which, despite all attempts at explanation, have only become more and more incomprehensible and where the work of the exegetes, instead of removing the difficulties, has only piled up new ones? The answer to this question is: because the New Testament consists of writings which are not homogeneous in themselves, but represent a basic text which has been revised and interpolated many times. (Steck, 18 — translation)

The original publication, Verisimilia, is in Latin. As per my original intent to address only the first two chapters of Galatians I post here only as much as is directly relevant — again with all bolded highlighting being my own. I have added text boxes with the relevant passages (Young’s Literal Translation) from Galatians for easy reference. (Some text references might not align correctly, presumably misprints, but the contents of the text boxes should make the argument followable.) —– One more note: Pierson and Nabor refer to “Bishop Paul” in order to identify the author of various interpolations into an originally thoroughly Jewish document as belonging to the later “episcopal age” of the church.

This epistle consists of two parts: one historical (1:1–2:14) and the other dogmatic and paraenetic (2:14–6:18). The transition from the former part to the latter is made through verse 2:14, the first part of which is historical and the latter part dogmatic. More will be said about this below.

The fact that the part we have called historical is beset by such grave difficulties should not seem surprising to us; for the things recounted in it reveal a varied origin and are mixed and confused in remarkable ways. We believe we will be able to show that these accounts are not to be attributed to a single writer, as they contain diverse and plainly contradictory statements about himself. We will compile in one place what we have observed about this matter.

He denies that there are two Gospels (1:9) and writes that the Gospel he opposes is not different from his own.

I wonder that ye are so quickly removed from Him who did call you in the grace of Christ to another good news; that is not another, except there be certain who are troubling you, and wishing to pervert the good news of the Christ; but even if we or a messenger out of heaven may proclaim good news to you different from what we did proclaim to you — anathema let him be! as we have said before, and now say again, If any one to you may proclaim good news different from what ye did receive — anathema let him be!

He solemnly curses others (1:8); then, as those who give advice and exhortation in a kindly manner often do, he repeats what he had once said, although saying it once was entirely sufficient.

He does not wish to please other men (1:10), but his disciples will judge whether he has achieved this in his ministry (2:2: μήπως εἰς κενὸν τρέχω).

10 for now men do I persuade, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if yet men I did please — Christ’s servant I should not be. . . .

22 and I went up by revelation, and did submit to them the good news that I preach among the nations, and privately to those esteemed, lest in vain I might run or did run (μήπως εἰς κενὸν τρέχω)

He was set apart from his mother’s womb and called by God’s grace (1:15) and until manhood advanced in Judaism and persecuted and attacked the Church of God.

He speaks of Jesus as if he were an image or leaven that had long been hidden in the heart (1:16: εν εμοι) and likewise speaks of Jesus as if he were a mortal man, whose brother he even knew (1:19). Continue reading “What Others have Written About Galatians – Pierson and Naber”


What Others have Written About Galatians – J. C. O’Neill

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by Neil Godfrey

The fact that a century of such patient and devoted scholarship has yielded so few agreements on difficult passages and fundamental issues makes me think that the nine­teenth-century debate is not yet over. (O’Neill, 8f)

John Cochrane O’Neill had a reputation for being a controversial critic but his attempt to sift through the many variant manuscripts (and to resolve the remaining inconsistencies even when those sources agree) was driven by a desire to “get to the truth about Paul”. O’Neill was not afraid to engage with that earlier “unmentionable” critic among theological circles, Bruno Bauer. Contrary to Bauer’s view, however, O’Neill viewed the interpolator or glossator of the epistle to the Galatians as a person who respected Paul and wanted to expand the original text in ways that did honour to Paul:

[Bruno Bauer] … argued that the epistle could not have been written by Paul to the congregations to which it purported to be addressed, and that all the ideas and most of the expressions were clumsily derived from Romans and the Corin­thian correspondence—indeed, could often only be understood if one knew the original setting. The author of Galatians was, in short, a compiler.

Apart from a brief introduction, the whole part devoted to Galatians— seventy-four pages— is packed with precise, well-argued exegetical observations. The only general weakness in his argument is that no compiler would have made such a bad job of compilation as this author seems to have done; a compiler is more likely to have produced a smooth and understandable epistle than this. The more Bauer vents his sarcasm on the compiler for clumsi­ness in using his sources, the less likely does he make the hypothesis that a compiler was at work. (O’Neill, 4 — bolded highlighting is mine in all quotations)

O’Neill turns the obscurities in Galatians into evidence for the fundamental authenticity of the epistle:

How are we to explain that Paul was an independent apostle, who yet thought he should have his preaching approved in Jerusalem; that the Jerusalem leaders, James, Cephas, and John, solemnly agreed to approve his special work, and yet Cephas was able to act in such a way that Paul had to call him to book publicly at Antioch? The obscurity of the situation as it is pre­sented in Galatians has given a foothold to those who wish to deny completely the authenticity of the book, but it remains an obscurity that is as good a guarantee as any of authenticity, for what falsifier would be so implausible and obscure?

I shall suggest that some of the difficulties have arisen because glossators tried to explain difficulties and fill in details. But, how­ever much the picture has been retouched and repainted, the strong master-strokes have not been completely obscured, and on these we must fix our eyes. They may not fit our preconceptions, but nor do they fit the conceptions of the second-century Church. I think that the clue to the strange relations between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders has been given by the Danish New Testament scholar, Johannes Munck (1904-65). He argued that the Jeru­salem leaders and Paul agreed that the conversion of the Gentiles, as well as the conversion of the Jews, was part of God’s plan for the world; they differed about strategy, the Jerusalem leaders holding that the Gentiles would come in when Israel had re­sponded, and Paul holding that the conversion of the Gentiles might well have to ‘precede that of the Jews. Munck’s exegesis of Galatians I do not find satisfactory, but his insistence that Paul and the Jerusalem leaders could agree that there were two different and distinct missions to be carried out alongside one another pro­vides the key to the relationships at the centre of the epistle. (9f)

Each of us may have our own ways of responding to the argument that I have highlighted with yellow background.

O’Neill is far from dogmatic about his proposed interpolations and glosses and makes no secret of his motive:

I cannot hope to have been completely right at every point in assigning this verse to Paul, and that to a glossator, and the other to an interpolator . . . 

I hope [that] an historical study that removes obscurities and explains the meaning of the words will help to clear the way for a fresh conviction that Paul was in fact an apostle of the Son of God. (10, 13)

Following are the main points of O’Neill’s analysis of Galatians 1 and 2. I have added the table format and text of Galatians alongside O’Neill’s arguments or references to them.

Galatians 1-2 with passages O’Neill considers additions to the original epistle crossed through. References to O’Neill’s discussion that is available publicly on archive.org. I have copied quotations that I think will be of most interest to readers.
1 Paul, an apostle — not from men, nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who did raise him out of the dead —
2 and all the brethren with me, to the assemblies of Galatia:
3 Grace to you, and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ,
Explanation on page 19
4 who did give himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of the present evil age, according to the will of God even our Father,
5 to whom [is] the glory to the ages of the ages. Amen
Explanation on pages 19f
6 I wonder that ye are so quickly removed from Him who did call you in the grace of Christ to another good news;
He could hardly mean that the defection or threatened defection of the Galatians from his teaching, serious as it was, was complete defection from God. He regarded Jews who failed to acknowledge Jesus Christ as still worshipping God, even if they did not wholly obey him (Rom. 10.2; cf. 9-4f). Bruno Bauer adduced the idea that defec­tion from Paul’s position was defection from God as evidence that the true author of Galatians was far removed from the time and circumstances of Paul.1 I cite in support of the possibility that Paul here refers to his own preaching the sentence in Gal. 5.8: ἡ πεισμονὴ οὐκ ἐκ τοῦ καλοῦντος ὑμᾶς [=This persuasion is not from him who calls you] where it is possible that Paul referred to himself. If Paul had meant in 1.6 that the Galatians were defecting from God, he would hardly have called that to which they were defecting evayyeXiov, in however qualified a sense. (21)
7 that is not another, except there be certain who are troubling you, and wishing to pervert the good news of the Christ;  Explanation on pages 20f

Verses 6 and 7 as amended may be paraphrased like this.  “I marvel that you are changing over so quickly to some other good news—which is not really good news at all. I would marvel, had there not been people who are disturbing you and wanting to pervert the good news of Christ.”

8 but even if we or a messenger out of heaven may proclaim good news to you different from what we did proclaim to you — anathema let him be!
9 as we have said before, and now say again, If any one to you may proclaim good news different from what ye did receive — anathema let him be!
10 for now men do I persuade, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if yet men I did please — Christ’s servant I should not be. Explanation on pages 23f
13 for ye did hear of my behaviour once in Judaism, that exceedingly I was persecuting the assembly of God, and wasting it,
14 and I was advancing in Judaism
above many equals in age in mine own race, being more abundantly zealous of my fathers’ deliverances,
15 and when God was well pleased — having separated me from the womb of my mother, and having called [me] through His grace —
16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might proclaim him good news among the nations, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood,
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem unto those who were apostles before me, but I went away to Arabia, and again returned to Damascus,
18 then, after three years I went up to Jerusalem to enquire about Peter, and remained with him fifteen days,
19 and other of the apostles I did not see, except James, the brother of the Lord.
20 And the things that I write to you, lo, before God — I lie not;
21 then I came to the regions of Syria and of Cilicia,
22 and was unknown by face to the assemblies of Judea, that [are] in Christ,
23 and only they were hearing, that `he who is persecuting us then, doth now proclaim good news — the faith that then he was wasting;’
24 and they were glorifying God in me.
These verses have been interpolated into Paul’s argument by a later writer who wished to glorify the apostle. The argument is irrelevant and anachronistic, the concepts differ from Paul’s con­cepts, and the vocabulary and style are not his. . . . .

The interpolation is anachronistic because it regards Judaism as an entity distinct from Christianity. Jews at the time used the term ’Ιουδαϊσμος to describe their faith in opposition to heathenism (2 Macc. 2.21; 8.1; 14.38; 4 Macc. 4.26; synagogue inscription in Frey, C.I.J. I.694), but the use of the term in a Christian context seems to imply that Christianity is a system completely distinct from Judaism. Paul was well aware of the tragic gulf that had opened up between those Jews who believed in Jesus Christ and those who refused to believe, but he still held fast to the fact that “theirs were the fathers” (Rom. 9.5), that the fathers of those who believed in Christ were also the fathers of the unbelieving Jews. But this interpolation speaks in the terms to be found in the Apostolic Fathers of the second century, when Judaism had be­come a foreign entity (Ignatius Magn. 8.1; 10.3; Philad. 6.1).

The concepts employed are rarely found in Paul, or are entirely absent. In verse 23 πίστις [=pistis/faith] is used of the Christian religion, as in Acts 6.7, and the only possible parallels in Paul are at 3.23-5, 6.10, and Rom. 1.5, all passages that are of doubtful authen­ticity. . . . 

Because he was employing old traditions, the interpolator did not regard his additions as illegitimate. He saw himself as en­riching a treasured epistle by an edifying reminiscence of the conversion of St Paul, which could appropriately be put onto his lips. (pp 24-27)

2,1 Then, after fourteen years again I went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, having taken with me also Titus;
2 and I went up by revelation, and did submit to them the good news that I preach
The verse should then be translated, “But I went up in obedience to revelation, and I submitted the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles, but to the authorities in private, lest I be running or had run in vain”. . . .

The commentators who . . . take it to refer to the apostle’s fear, try to avoid the implication that Paul himself is afraid of anything. They suppose that the words “must be taken to express his fear lest the Judaic Christians, by insisting on the Mosaic ritual, might thwart his past and present endeavours to establish a Church on a liberal basis” (Lightfoot). This strained interpretation is required because the commentators relate the last clause to the very act of submitting the gospel, but the reading I have adopted relates the last clause to the privacy of the con­sultation. The apostle submitted the gospel privately, in case he was running in vain.

The tortuous interpretation cited from Lightfoot, and followed by most commentators, seems necessary in order to avoid a blank denial of all that Paul has been insisting on in the first chapter of the epistle. If his commission was given by God and if he made no attempt to please men, he could not have admitted to asking the Jerusalem leaders to tell him whether or not he was in the right. Yet we cannot deny that the whole of this second chapter of the epistle portrays the Jerusalem leaders as authorities exercising a quasi-judicial power. As Lightfoot shrewdly notes, to his own discomfort, the natural drift of verse 2 is “slightly favoured by οὐδέν  προσανέθεντο [=nothing added], ver. 6”. . . . .

But what can be the point of submitting to the judgement of the Jerusalem apostles if the judgement did not concern the very thing that Paul has insisted in chapter 1 was beyond human judgement, his preaching to the Gentiles? What else can the Jerusalem apostles be deciding than that Paul has been right or wrong from the very beginning? They were deciding, I believe, no such general issue, but simply the concrete particular issue whether they, as the leaders of Israel that had acknowledged her Messiah, would accept the Gentiles who had also acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, but without becoming proselytes, as the firstfruits of the obedience of the Gentiles which had been promised. Had they decided not to accept Paul’s work, Paul would have known that his race had been in vain. This would have been a staggering blow to him, meaning that Israel was not yet ready to accept one of the promised messianic signs, but the blow could not strike at his personal commission from God.

Paul deliberately sought private audience so that, if the autho­rities were not yet ready to accept the Gentiles, the refusal would not have been public, and Paul would not have had to labour against the disappointment the Gentile Christians would have inevitably suffered at their first rebuff. He would have continued to work for a response from the Gentiles, and he would have con­tinued to hope for an acceptance of these Gentiles by the repre­sentatives of Israel, the leaders in Jerusalem.

What was the content of this commission, which hitherto we have described generally as the commission to preach to the Gentiles? We must now be more precise. The commission was to preach Jesus Christ to the Gentiles without at the same time asking that they become Jews. That commission Paul could never give up to please men, but at the same time that commission had to be carried out, had to be submitted to the test of history, and could have proved, for the time being, fruitless. The first test was successful, and the Gentiles began to believe. The second test might have been unsuccessful, but it too succeeded. The repre­sentatives of Israel acknowledged Paul’s work, did not compel Titus to be circumcised, and laid no conditions … on the Gentile congregations through Paul their representative. (28ff)

3 but not even Titus, [instead, “my companion”] who [is] with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised —


It is easy to see how the name could have been added to the text. The original may well have been, … “But not even my companion, who is a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised” .

Explanation on pages 30ff

4 and [that] because [even] of the false brethren brought in unawares, who did come in privily to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that us they might bring under bondage,
5 to whom not even for an hour we gave place by subjection, that the truth of the good news might remain to you.
6 And [now] from those who were esteemed to be something — whatever they were then, it maketh no difference to me — the face of man God accepteth not, for — to me those esteemed did add nothing,
Without the particle, the whole phrase goes easily with the preceding verb: “for not even my companion who was a Greek was compelled to be circumcised on account of the false intruding1 brothers who came in to spy out the freedom we have in Christ Jesus” . The intruders must have been intruders into the church at Antioch, otherwise we should have to suppose, on the previous argument, that they managed to penetrate into the private meeting between Paul, Barnabas, and Titus with the “pillars” in Jerusalem. But then there would be nothing to “spy out” ; the meeting was openly concerned with the issue. This description of the false brothers must apply to their activities away in the churches from which Paul has come. The sense of verses 3 and 4 is that the pressure brought by these agitators was not suffi­cient to lead even to the requirement that a Greek received by the Jerusalem congregation be circumcised, much less that Greeks in a Greek environment be circumcised. (32f)

The original text of 2:3-6 O’Neill conjectures as follows:

Not even the one who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised, because those who came in unawares, to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that us they might bring under bondage. Not for an hour did we yield in subjection. Of those esteemed to be something, whatever they were then, it maketh no difference to me — the face of man God accepteth not, for — to me those esteemed did add nothing…

Explanation on pages 33-36

7 but, on the contrary, having seen that I have been entrusted with the good news of the uncircumcision, as Peter with [that] of the circumcision,

8 for He who did work with Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, did work also in me in regard to the nations,

9 and having known the grace that was given to me, James, and Cephas, and John, who were esteemed to be pillars, a right hand of fellowship they did give to me, and to Barnabas, that we to the nations, and they to the circumcision [may go],

10 only, of the poor that we should be mindful, which also I was diligent — this very thing — to do.

11 And when Peter came to Antioch, to the face I stood up against him, because he was blameworthy,

12 for before the coming of certain from James, with the nations he was eating, and when they came, he was withdrawing and separating himself, fearing those of the circumcision,

13 and dissemble with him also did the other Jews, so that also Barnabas was carried away by their dissimulation.

14 But when I saw that they are not walking uprightly to the truth of the good news, I said to Peter before all, `If thou, being a Jew, in the manner of the nations dost live, and not in the manner of the Jews, how the nations dost thou compel to Judaize?

15 we by nature Jews, and not sinners of the nations,

16 having known also that a man is not declared righteous by works of law, if not through the faith of Jesus Christ, also we in Christ Jesus did believe, that we might be declared righteous by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law, wherefore declared righteous by works of law shall be no flesh.’

17 And if, seeking to be declared righteous in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, [is] then Christ a ministrant of sin? let it not be!

18 for if the things I threw down, these again I build up, a transgressor I set myself forth;

19 for I through law, did die, that to God I may live;

20 with Christ I have been crucified, and live no more do I, and Christ doth live in me; and that which I now live in the flesh — in the faith I live of the Son of God, who did love me and did give himself for me;

21 I do not make void the grace of God, for if righteousness [be] through law — then Christ died in vain.

Explanation on pages 37 to 46

Paul shows that he was not afraid to stand up to Cephas— whose authority as one of the “pillars” he has already acknowledged—in order to show Cephas that he was a transgressor. How much more should the Galatians stand up to men without any such authority who try to persuade the Gentiles to give up their status as the Gentile part of God’s economy in the messianic age. (44)

. . . .

The first sentence in verse 20 has a different view of the life of a Christian from that expressed in the rest of verse 20 and in verse 21. The ego dies to be replaced by Christ, and the Christian man is substantially changed. In the rest of the verse, on the other hand, the Christian man undergoes not a change in substance but a change in the centre of his trust. The death he went through did not change his nature but changed his allegiance. He still lives in the flesh, expecting death and resurrection with Christ.

I conclude that the first sentence of verse 20 is a perfectly understandable gloss on Paul’s argument. Paul’s mention of death could not but suggest to a theologian living in the Hellenistic world the mystical change of nature whereby an initiate was in­corporated into the divine life and deified. Compare the prayer to Hermes, “ Come to me Lord Hermes, as babies to women’s wombs . . . I know you, Hermes, and you know me. I am you and you are I.” (45f)

O’Neill, John Cochrane. The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. London: S.P.C.K., 1972.


Dying and Rising Gods? Scholars are Divided

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by Neil Godfrey

Some argue….

Some argue that it is misleading to speak of “dying and rising gods.”65 Greece (Eleusis) and the East did know of dying gods; there were always two, usually an older female goddess and a younger male partner who dies. The older female mourns, and death is partially abolished, but Gerd Theissen argues that there is never a real resurrection.66 Osiris is killed violently, struck or drowned by his brother Set, then cut to pieces. The overcoming of death is not resurrection: Osiris rules as king of the underworld. The ritual around the fate of dying deities is lamentation: cult members join the female deity in mourning the loss of the partner deity. Cult members do not experience the death themselves but lament it. Other scholars argue that . . . .

Balch, David L. “The Suffering of Isis/Io and Paul’s Portrait of Christ Crucified (Gal. 3:1): Frescoes in Pompeian and Roman Houses and in the Temple of Isis in Pompeii.” The Journal of Religion 83, no. 1 (2003): 49.

So what do the #65 and #66 cited sources say?

65 Gerd Theissen, The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), pp. 58-59.

It is certainly true that in antiquity we find belief in dying gods. Here there are always two gods: an older female deity and a younger partner deity, usually a male partner. The younger partner deity suffers death. The older one mourns this. In the conflict between life and death, death is partly abolished – but there is never a real resurrection.19

The following survey shows that most of these deities come from the East.20 Only in Eleusis do we find a genuinely Greek cult:

Original area of dissemination Older female deity Younger partner deity
Eleusis Demeter Persephone
Mesopotamia Ishtar Tammuz
Ugarit Anath Baal
Phoenicia Cybele Attis
Phrygia Cybele Attis
Egypt Isis Osiris

In the Greek view the gods are really immortal. They live at a distance from death. But the myth which underlies the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries shows that even the world of the gods is not spared the intervention of death. That is even more true of the Eastern gods. The intervention of death is described in different ways. In the first three cases, with Persephone, Tammuz and Baal, the young partner deity is carried off into the underworld and kept there. In the last three cases the deity is killed violently: Osiris is struck or drowned by his brother Seth and then cut in pieces. Attis castrates himself and dies. Adonis is killed by a wild boar. The overcoming of death is not resurrection. Osiris rules as king of the world of the dead. Persephone has to spend four months of the year in the underworld. The corpse of Attis does not decay. Flowers rise from the blood of Adonis. It is therefore misleading to talk of ‘dying and rising gods’. There are dying gods who wrest some ‘life’ from death by compromises.

Only some of these deities were worshipped in mystery cults, i.e. in cults which were not celebrated in public but into which individuals had to be initiated. Thus there were mysteries of Demeter, Cybele and Isis. At best one could see an analogy to Christian baptism as a dying with Christ in these initiation rites. But that would be to overlook an important difference: the festivals (whether public festivals or ‘private’ mysteries) in which the fate of the dying deities is celebrated are all associated with rites of lamentation; the adherents of the deity join the older female deity in mourning the loss of the partner deity. The adherents thus do not experience the death themselves, but lament it. They identify more with the older, mourning, deity than with the younger, dying, deity, even if there are also the beginnings of the latter identification.

19. For the following remarks cf. above all Dieter Zeller, ‘Die Mysterienkulte und die paulinische Soteriologie (Rom 6, 1-11). Eine Fallstudie zum Synkretismus im Neuen Testament’, in Hermann P. Siler (ed.), Suchhewegungen. Synkretismus kulturelle Identität und kirchliches Bekenntnis, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1991, 42-6.

20. The table of different partner deities reproduced below comes from Dieter Zeller, Christus unter den Göttern. Zum antiken Umfeld des Christusglaubens, Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk 1993, 42. There is more information about the individual cults in Hans-Josef Klauck, Die religiose Umwelt des Urchristentums I. Stadt- und Hausreligion, Mysterienkulte, Volksglaube, Stuttgart, Berlin, Cologne: Kohlhammer 1995, 77-128.

(Theissen 58f)

66 Theissen, p. 58, citing Dieter Zeller . . . . See also A. J. M. Wedderburn, Baptism and Resurrection: Studies in Pauline Theology against Its Graeco-Roman Background (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1987); Walter Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 23, 27, 87, 99-101. See Frederick Brenk, review of Ancient Mystery Cults, by Walter Burkert, Gnomon 61 (1989): 289-92.

The question with which we started out, the possibility of influence of the ideas of the mysteries upon Christian ideas about resurrection led us to steer a hazardous course between the Scylla of so tight a definition of ‘resurrection’ that some Christian accounts of the phenomenon of Christ’s resurrection would be excluded, and the Charybdis of overlooking fundamental differences of substance between various myths and the Christian story. . . .

But once a deity is seen as a symbol of, for instance, the natural cycle of vegetation, or perhaps even came into being as a symbol of that cycle, then it would seem appropriate to speak of that deity’s death and resurrection. But is it? A number of scholars have insisted that it is far more appropriate to speak of the deity’s return. That point may be granted; the vegetation deity returns only to die again; it does not effect any final victory over death, at least not qua vegetation deity, although it may as a god of the dead or a solar deity. Nor, in the Graeco-Roman world, did its devotees see their own destinies in terms of resurrection. . . .

It is when Christians came to express in their own terms the beliefs of non-Christians that we find the tendency to describe those beliefs as including the resurrection of the deity or of his devotees. Now it is true that this means that they saw in those beliefs at least a superficial similarity to their own. But that need not mean that the similarity was anything more than superficial. It is quite another thing to suggest that those beliefs somehow generated the Christian ones. Had the dominant Christian claim been, for instance, one to the effect that Jesus had ascended, had been snatched up to heaven, either pagan (or indeed Jewish) beliefs could have been adduced as possibly influential in the formation of the Christian belief, but ‘resurrection’ is another matter and it is this that is the dominant expression of Christian beliefs about Jesus and also of Christians’ beliefs about their own destiny.

(Wedderburn, 208, 209, 210)


. . . . the pagan evidence for resurrection symbolism is uncompelling at best.

To sum up, there is a dynamic paradox of death and life in all the mysteries associated with the opposites of night and day, darkness and light, below and above, but there is nothing as explicit and resounding as the passages in the New Testament, especially in Saint Paul and in the Gospel of John, concerning dying with Christ and spiritual rebirth. There is as yet no philosophical-historical proof that such passages are directly derived from pagan mysteries; nor should they be used as the exclusive key to the procedures and ideology of mysteries.

(Burkert, 23, 101)

Other scholars argue that . . . .

….. Other scholars argue that Osiris is indeed raised from the dead.67

(Balch, 49)

And where does that citation lead us? Continue reading “Dying and Rising Gods? Scholars are Divided”


What Others have Written About Galatians – Joseph Turmel

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by Neil Godfrey

Joseph Turmel, alias Henri Delafosse

The previous post presented a historical Dutch language criticism of Galatians and here I offer a sceptical analysis from France. I have selected from Henri Turmel’s discussion those paragraphs that address Galatians 1-2, — as per my earlier explanation. In my coming post on J.C. O’Neill’s detailed discussion, both Bergh van Eysinga and Turmel are overlooked in the historical survey of criticism. O’Neill pulls back hard on the reins of those critics who have doubted the historical Paul wrote the bulk of our epistle. But before that post, here is Turmel’s take. Note how different are the interpretations of these verses.

Turmel follows Alfred Loisy in the view that the Paul of Acts is closer to the historical Paul than the Paul of the epistles. The Galatian apostle is a Marcionite.

The original text (French) is from

Turmel, Joseph. La Seconde Épître Aux Corinthiens, Les Épîtres Aux Galates, Aux Colossiens, Aux Ephésiens, À Philémon: Traduction Nouvelle Avec Introduction Et Notes. Paris: Rieder, 1927. — pages 67-73

I have made it available on archive.org.

As for the archive.org project itself, please do add your signatures to the petition in their legal battle.

Paul’s words are in italics.

The Marcionite writing is in straight characters.

The Catholic redaction is small type.

3. Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles.

I pass to the long piece which goes from I, 8 to III, 5 and, among the assertions which one meets there, I note first of all those which relate to the apostolate of Paul. According to I:16 Paul was charged with announcing the Son of God “among the Gentiles”. According to II, 2, he explained to the Christians in Jerusalem the gospel he was preaching “among the Gentiles”. The notables recognized that the gospel (II, 7) had been entrusted to him “for the uncircumcised”. Therefore (II,9) it was agreed that Paul and Barnabas would address “the Gentiles”. In a word, Paul is the apostle of the Gentiles.

Let us now open Acts. Paul, immediately after his conversion (IX, 20) preaches in the synagogues of Damascus. Later (XIII, 5) he announces the word of God in the synagogues of Salamis of Cyprus. In Antioch of Pisidia (XIII, 14) he preaches in the synagogue. Driven out of Antioch he goes to Iconium and there again (XIV, 1) he goes straight to the synagogue. But there are cities where the Jews are not numerous enough to have a synagogue. Such is the case of Philippi. What does Paul do? He conjectures that, if there is no synagogue, there must at least be a modest oratory, and that this oratory must be placed near a watercourse where ablutions can be performed. When the Sabbath arrived (XVI, 13), he went to the small river that flowed near the city. There he finds women gathered. He speaks to them and one of them, Lydia, “a God-fearing woman”, is baptized with her family. In Thessalonica “the Jews,” says the author of Acts (XVII, 1), “had a synagogue.” Paul enters it and for three Sabbaths he speaks in it. Chased out of Thessalonica, he went to Beroea and went to the synagogue (XVIII, 10) to exercise his apostolate. In Athens, in Corinth, it is again in the synagogue (XVII, 17; XVIII, 4) that he speaks. And it is also in the synagogue of Ephesus (XVIII, 19; XIX, 8) that, during his two stays in that city, he preaches Christ.

It is true that in three places (XIII, 46; XVIII, 7; XXVIII, 28) he threatens the Jews to turn away from them and to turn to the pagans; but it is recognized that these threats belong to interpolated texts and do not deserve to be taken into consideration1 . It is also true that in Athens, after several weeks’ contact with the philosophers who swarmed the city and whose life was lived in the square, Paul spoke before a pagan audience which listened to him with excited curiosity. But this exceptional case aside, the fact remains that the apostle, wherever he went, carried out his propaganda in the synagogues or, as in Philippi, in places that served as synagogues. His listeners were partly Jews and partly proselytes. The latter were not always circumcised, which explains the case of the Galatians who were won over by Paul to the Christian cause while they were still uncircumcised, but they were affiliated with Judaism, they had ceased to belong to the pagan religion. Paul evangelized the Jewish world and its dependencies; he did not evangelize the Gentile world. And the long section of the Epistle to the Galatians that presents him as the apostle of the Gentiles is a fiction devoid of reality.

    1. Loisy, Les Actes des apôtres, p. 541, 692, 938


1.Paul an apostle not from men or by man, but through Jesus Christ and God the father who raised him from the dead, 2 and with me all the brethren in the churches of Galatia, 3 Grace and peace be yours from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this evil age according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

6 I marvel that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you to the grace of Christ for another gospel. 7 Not that it is another gospel, but there are those who trouble you and want to overthrow the gospel of Christ.


8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you any other gospel than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so now I say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel other than that which you have received, let him be accursed. 10 Now shall I plead my cause before men, or before God? Or am I trying to please men? If I still pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ. 11 I inform you, brothers, that the gospel which I preach is not of man. 13 For I received it not from man, nor was I taught by man, but by revelation from Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard how I formerly behaved in Judaism, how I persecuted excessively and ravaged the church of God. 14 I surpassed in Judaism many of those of my age and my race because of the immoderate zeal that I had for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when it pleased him who distinguished me from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, 16 to reveal his son in me to proclaim him among the Gentiles, immediately I consulted neither flesh and blood, 17 and I did not go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I departed for Arabia and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then1 after three years I went up to Jerusalem to meet Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw no other of the apostles except James the brother of the Lord. 20 What I write to you, behold, I declare before God that I do not lie. 21. Then I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was unknown to the churches of Judea which are in Christ. 23 Only they had heard it said: He who formerly persecuted us now proclaims the faith which he fought against. 24 And they glorified God in me.

1. Catholic interpolation intended to magnify Peter whom Paul wants to get to know, more precisely whom he wants to “contemplate”. It contradicts the context in which Paul displays his disdain for those who “appeared to be something.”

4. Paul is dead to the law.

In the same piece in which he claims the title of apostle to the Gentiles, Paul solemnly declares that the law no longer means anything to him. And he gives to his declaration this sharp turn (II, 19):

Through the law I died to the law that I might live for God.

Now, according to the Acts (XVIII, 18), before leaving Corinth, Paul took the Nazirite vow, which involved shaving his head. Upon arriving in Jerusalem (XXI, 26), he completed his vow in the temple accompanied by four indigent Nazirites, and it was in the midst of these sacred exercises that he was arrested by the Jews. But that is not all. In the epistle, Paul insists on behaving as a man dead to the law, and he refuses (II, 3) to allow his Greek companion Titus to be circumcised. However, in Acts XVI, 3, we see him circumcising Timothy, who, being the son of a Greek father, had not been circumcised. The two stories of Titus and Timothy have always puzzled exegetes. Nevertheless, until our time, it was believed that, with goodwill, they could be reconciled with each other. Today, it is acknowledged that they contradict each other,1 and that one of them was entirely invented to counteract the other. It is said that the fiction lies in the account of Acts, whose author intended to neutralize the text of the epistle. However, it is accepted that Paul indeed took the Nazirite vow.2 This concession is enough for us. The man who performed in the temple the rites imposed on a Nazirite could very well have circumcised Timothy, and there is no reason why he would have obstinately refused to circumcise Titus. In any case, he did not consider himself dead to the law; he did not believe that death to the law was an indispensable condition for life with God. Here again, the text of the epistle belongs to the realm of fiction, and the apostle it depicts has nothing in common with the historical Paul. 

    1. Loisy, p. 620.
    2. Id. p. 796.

5. God revealed his son to Paul.

The dissertation from I, II-III, 5 is not by Paul. Who is its author? Let’s see where it leads. Its author, who is dead to the law in order to live for God, adds that he was crucified with Christ and lives by the life of Christ. This mystical theology is exactly the same as we encountered in the Epistle to the Romans1. There too, we learned that the Christian grafted onto Christ dies with Christ and lives by the life of Christ. Now, we know that the section Ro., V-VIII was written by a disciple of Marcion.

1. L ‘Epître aux Romains, p. 29.

The dissertation from 1,11-III, 5 is of Marcionite origin. This origin gives us the key to various details that until now had remained mysterious. It specifically explains the revelation that Paul boasts about and the disdain he shows for the apostles. The Son of God whom Paul preaches is the good God, the God who came to earth to rescue men from the empire of the creator God, but whom men, blinded by the latter, did not receive or, which amounts to the same thing, did not understand. Therefore, it was not from human teaching that Paul could know this God. He would have always been ignorant of Him without a revelation. He received this blessing. God revealed His Son to him, meaning He revealed Himself with the ethereal garment He wore during His time on earth.

When Paul received his revelation, he at first avoided all contact with the apostles, who were men of flesh and blood, in that they believed in a carnal Christ destined to raise up the kingdom of David. His apostolate was carried out in Arabia and then in Syria and Cilicia. However, after fourteen years he went to Jerusalem. He would never have made this decision on his own, but a revelation forced him to do so. To obey God’s command, Paul went to Jerusalem and evangelized the Christian community there. He was the one who acted as an apostle, for he presented his gospel (II, 2), the gospel he had received from God, but nothing was presented to him, no attempt was made to instruct him (II, 6b). The three “pillars” of the Jerusalem community, James, Cephas and John, believed in his mission; they promised him to cooperate in his work among the circumcised and asked him to help them materially. The results of Paul’s apostolate in Jerusalem were therefore consoling. Unfortunately, they did not last. James returned to his carnal dreams, and Peter did not have the courage to resist him. Needless to say, everything in this account is fictitious except for the trip to Jerusalem and the collection for the poor, and these two facts have been distorted (the collection is presented as a help requested by the apostles).

II. Then, at the end of fourteen years, I went up again 1 to Jerusalem with Barnabas, having also taken Titus with me. 2 I went up there by virtue of a revelation and expounded to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, especially to those who were most respected, so that they would not run or have run in vain. 2. 3 But Titus who was with me and yet was a Greek, was not even forced to be circumcised, 4 because of the false brothers who had slipped in among us to invade the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us . 5 We did not yield to them even for a moment in the spirit of submission, that we might maintain the liberty of the gospel among you. 6 But on the part of those who appeared to be something – what they may have been in the past does not matter to me: God is no stranger to persons – therefore those who were the most seeing that the gospel had to me entrusted for the uncircumcised as he was entrusted for the circumcised to Peter, 8 for he who worked in Peter for the apostleship of the circumcised worked in me for the apostleship of the Gentiles, 9 and knowing the grace which had given me was granted, James, Cephas and John who were considered as pillars, gave me and Barnabas their hands as a sign of association so that we were for the pagans and they for the circumcised. 10 But they asked us to remember the poor, which I hastened to do. considered taught me nothing. 7 But, on the contrary, seeing that the gospel was entrusted to me for the uncircumcised as it was entrusted to Peter for the circumcised, 8 for he who worked in Peter for the apostleship of the circumcised worked in me for the apostleship of the Gentiles, 9 and knowing the grace that had been given to me, James, Cephas and John, who were considered as pillars, gave me and Barnabas their hands as a sign of association so that we would be for the Gentiles and they for the circumcised. 10 But they asked us to remember the poor, which I hastened to do.

1. Particle added by the Catholic editor who interpolated I, 18-20. The Marcionite editor obliged by Acts XI, 30; XII, 25 of leading Paul to Jerusalem did everything necessary so that the dignity of the apostle did not suffer. 

2. Catholic addition which safeguards the primacy of the apostles. It contradicts the context in which Paul claims to have his gospel from heaven.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch I resisted him to his face because he was reprehensible. 12. For before the coming of some from James he ate with the Gentiles. But after their arrival he withdrew and kept away for fear of the circumcised. 13 The other Jews concealed with him so that Barnabas himself was carried away by their dissimulation. 14 But when I saw that they were not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live as the Gentiles and not as the Jews, how can you constrain – do you want to Judaize Jews? 15 We are Jews by birth and not sinners among the Gentiles. 16 Now knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Christ Jesus, we also have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of law, because no flesh will be justified by the works of the law 1. 17 But if seeking to be justified by Christ we also are found sinners, is Christ then the minister of sin? Far from it1. 18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I constitute myself a transgressor. 19 For by the law I died to the law that I might live unto God. 20 I am crucified with Christ. I live, but it is not me, it is Christ who lives in me. Now that I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not reject the grace of God, for if righteousness is obtained by the law Christ and therefore died in vain.

1. This piece has its climax in 17 which responds to the same spirit as Ro. III, 5 and came from the same pen. See L ‘Epître aux Romains, p. 47.



Why Damn the Old and Create a New Method?

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by Neil Godfrey

They damned the old method, and self-consciously proposed a new method — not because they sought to create a new theological or scholarly party but because they believed the new method was forced on them by the nature of the Bible itself. Gunkel and his friends were convinced that Wellhausen and his school did not understand the religion of the Bible. If it was true that one understands as much as one has the power to love and to give honour, then the implicit challenge was that Wellhausen did not love enough and honour enough the religion he studied. — J.C. O’Neill, 115

Amen. — at least to the highlighted sentence. The same sentiment applies precisely to the reason underlying many of my posts relating to biblical studies. If I had some bee in my bonnet about Christianity such that I had a mind to “attack” or “undermine” or “expose” traditions, then the tone of my posts would be very different from what I believe it to be. The reason I select topics on which I sometimes take a radically different stance from the conventional wisdom is because I believe that much of biblical studies is held captive to tradition and theological bias. My background is in historical studies and I am interested in approaching Christian and Jewish origins from the perspective of the normative standards of research in other areas of historical inquiry.

As for the second half of that quote, I can’t say I “love” the Bible, but I do love research into understanding the Bible. Does an Assyriologist “love” the often cruel and superstitious inscriptions they must study? I doubt it. But they do love what they can understand and share about another culture and dimension of human experience. It is a sad (though inevitable) admission of the bias in which biblical studies has been held captive that one must justify one’s methods by declaring they are rooted in a “greater love” for the religion built upon them.

(P.S. — If I am completely honest and transparent I have to admit that the quotation I offered above had the impact it did because of my recent experience with the earlywritings forum where the moderator waxed at great length and in multiple comments that my interest was in trying to find some new and most extreme “out there” notion that I could, just to be different for the sake of being different, or “to create a party” as per the quote.)

O’Neill, J. C. “Gunkel Versus Wellhausen: The Unfinished Task of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule.” The Journal of Higher Criticism. 2, no. 2 (Fall 1995): 115–21.



What Others have Written About Galatians – Bergh van Eysinga

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by Neil Godfrey

The following is by the “Dutch Radical” Gustaaf Adolf van den Bergh van Eysinga (1874-1957). I have translated it from the Dutch with the assistance of machine translators. The 1946 Dutch work from which this chapter (#4) on Galatians is an extract is available at https://archive.org/details/eysinga-servieres/mode/2up

Bergh van Eysinga, G. A. van den. De Oudste Christelijke Geschriften. Servire’s Encyclopædie. Den Haag: Servire, 1946. pp 115-120

The bolding highlight is, as usual, my own.


Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

The well-known peculiarity of Paul’s letter is also found here, when Paul appears to be writing alone and with a staff of brothers (1: 2, 8 ff.). In order to reconcile the contents of this letter with the accounts of Paul’s travels in Acts, the Roman province of that name was assumed to be Galatia in the address, which encompassed much more than Galatia in the narrow sense, so that in this letter Paul would have been addressing congregations in Lystra, Derbe, etc. Schürer has rightly called this hypothesis a curious fallacy of criticism and sought the Galatians of the letter in Galatia proper, the central plateau of Asia Minor, the old Celtic country, the area of the river Halys. Nowhere does it appear that the inhabitants of Pisidia and Lycaonia were ever called Galatians. How could a letter with this address intend to exclude the actual Galatians? But then the great difficulty arises, that Paul, who is regarded as the founder of the Galatian churches (1: 6-9), has according to Acts never been to that mountain country. Furthermore, we are surprised by the assumption that they were susceptible to Pauline preaching and were considered to be very high as churches (3: 1-5), yes, even that they were able to understand this letter, which cannot be expected from an uncivilized mountain people. Loman therefore compared this letter to these readers with “Hegel for the Atchinese”. Supposing, however, that a short time ago they had been able to understand and agree with the profound Pauline Gospel, how can they now suddenly fall away and how can these spiritual Christians – not one, but all of them – become the prey of “someone” or “some” who are zealous for circumcision (l:6f; 3:1; 4:8-11; 6:12f)? How could they thus thwart Paul’s whole missionary work among them? As long as he was with them, everything went well (4:18), but as soon as he leaves, all those convinced Pauline Christians in all those Galatian congregations suddenly want to get circumcised.


Contrary to the tolerant spirit we know from elsewhere, where Paul becomes all things to all people to win them over for the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:19ff), this letter contains numerous vehement statements. Right from the start (1:8), there is a curse, and it is repeated (1:9); the designation: “foolish Galatians” (3:1,3); the words: “if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (5:2); “you who seek to be justified by the Law have severed yourselves from Christ; you have fallen from grace” (5:4). The sharpest statement is: “Oh, that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves (i.e., castrate themselves; Calvin found this too harsh and translated it as ‘perish’)” (5:12). However, everything said about this falling away is so vague that it could apply to many situations. When a specific circumstance is hinted at, the situation does not become any clearer: Paul had not intended to stay in Galatia, but illness forced him; “it was because of an illness (not: despite) that I preached to you” (4:13). Surely, it requires an extraordinary effort of body and mind to convert a foreign people, in an extensive land with many cities and without a specific center. Does this happen just incidentally and because of “illness”? People have speculated about the nature of this illness, thinking of epilepsy, malaria, leprosy; also an eye disease as a result of the stoning in Lystra (Acts 14:19). But illness or weakness is the traditional phenomenon that accompanies the gifts of the man of God, so that he does not boast in himself (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7ff).

If the writer wants to express the participation of the Galatians in Paul’s suffering, he falls into tremendous exaggeration: they received him as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus himself (4:14). How did these pagan-thinking and feeling people come to this not-so-obvious idea? Subsequently, it is said that they would have gouged out their eyes and given them to him, if that had been possible (only the word “necessary” would have made sense here), then it seems to be spoken to a small circle of intimate friends. However, one must not forget that Paul writes this to the congregations of Galatia! A clear proof of the artificiality of the whole. The conversion of Galatia is depicted as a miracle of God, and the Apostle as a superhuman being.


The historical part of the letter (1:6-2:21) contains a defence of Paul’s independence, but the whole is a fervent plea for the doctrine of justification by faith and not by works of the Law. Yet, something is always taken back from the sharpest statements. When Paul, 17 years after his conversion, goes to Jerusalem, it happens by higher guidance (2:2), but also out of fear of objections from some (2:1-10). He bitterly criticizes the Apostles there; he considers himself their superior and wants no fellowship (2:6), yet he presents his Gospel to them for judgment, and they force nothing upon him, indeed, they extend the hand of friendship to him (2:9). When Paul was converted by a revelation of Christ, he consulted none of those who were Christians before him (1:17). Allard Pierson drew attention to the improbability of this fact by the following parallel: a younger contemporary of Plato, born in Southern Italy, who as a fervent Sophist had rejoiced deeply over Socrates’ death, but comes to different thoughts a few years later, now realizes that thinking, feeling, teaching, living like Socrates, identifying completely with Socrates, is the one necessary thing. What does he do now? Quickly travel to Athens, where Plato and Alcibiades still live, who have seen, heard, and known Socrates? None of that. He travels to Egypt, stays there for three years, writes and speaks lifelong about Socrates and is considered by a gullible world to be the most credible witness about the wise man, the most reliable interpreter of his teachings and intentions!

The work of an earlier Pauline follower in the spirit of Marcion has been moderated in this letter by a more temperate, Catholicizing Paulinist. This dual origin is evident from the dual naming of the Rock Man, who is alternately called Cephas and Peter; and the capital of the Jews, which is referred to as Hierosalem and Hierosolyma. “Abraham’s seed” is used in one place (3:7, 29) as a title for believers, and elsewhere for Christ (3:16). There is only one Gospel, the Pauline one,—thus says the original, uncompromising author; there are two Gospels, for the more Jewish-tinged one is also recognized,—thus says the Catholic editor, who offers something for everyone (1:6). Alongside the sharp opposition to circumcision, there is indifference to this practice (5:6; 6:15). Although the Galatians are immediately instructed in the Pauline Gospel, they are expected to have a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament and especially the Law.


Gnosis (Marcion) and the emerging Great Church (Justin) are the two factors that we may constantly assume in the emergence of the canonical Pauline collection. Van Manen has attempted to restore the shorter letter as Marcion possessed it and made its higher originality plausible. Tertullian calls Paul, in opposition to Marcion, “your Apostle.” Original Paulinism considers revelation the highest authority, not tradition or Scripture (1:16). Christians are spiritual people; the Jewish is the carnal; just as God stands in opposition to the world, so also to the Law, which is powerless to save people and even brings them under a curse (3:3, 10). The Spirit, freedom, and the Gospel take its place. Mystical piety speaks from the words: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (2:20). The Law was ordained through angels (3:19), added to the promise given to Abraham, and “because of transgressions”; this has been interpreted as “to restrain transgressions”; but Augustine and Calvin heard from it: “to increase transgressions.” The letter to the Romans (4:15; 5:13, 20; 7:11ff) sheds the necessary light on this. Indeed, many otherwise incomprehensible passages in our letter are clarified by what we remember from previous letters. If it says: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us” (2:13), we naturally ask: why is the Law a curse? Romans 1-2 provides the answer. One must know the whole complex of ideas developed there to understand this enigmatic expression. Thus, one must have read Romans 4 to understand the unprepared word: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (3:6). “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (3:27) is a combination of Romans 6:3 and 13:4. One thinks of the mysteries, where putting on the garment of the god makes one a god. If those who belong to Christ are called Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise (3:29), we must recall how Romans 9:6ff distinguishes between descendants according to the flesh and according to the promise. The impossibility of a man coming up with the idea of being in labor again over children he has already brought into the world (4:19) only becomes understandable when one remembers 1 Corinthians 4:14ff, where Paul appears as the father of the congregation because he gave them spiritual life. The follower of this metaphor made something absurd out of it. The writer claims to have previously said that those who commit various sins will not inherit the Kingdom of God (5:21). However, we do not find this word earlier in our letter, but in 1 Corinthians 6:9ff.


It can be said that the content of this writing is a brief summary of the system that the author developed in Romans. This already refutes the view of the Tübingen School, which suggested that this letter, as the sharpest and most uncompromising expression of Paul’s anti-legalistic spirit, would have been his first work, after which he wrote more calmly in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans. Bruno Bauer, Steck, and Van Manen reverted to the old traditional order of these letters. Whoever compiled them in their present form has clearly assembled them as parts of one book.


Only after 70, with the fall of Jerusalem and the dispersal of the priesthood, could the story arise that Christ had appeared some time ago and founded a new community. Christianity, as an authoritative world religion, claims the legitimate inheritance of the Jewish hierarchy. Jerusalem already appears in this letter as servile (4:25), Judaism as a closed entity, and in direct opposition to Christianity.

When we see that the differences of origin, social position and sex in the Christian community have been erased, then this phenomenon finds its parallel in the congregations of the Mystery Cults. Those who surrender to the Redeemer are one (3:28; cf. Rom 10:12).



Allard Pierson, de Bergrede e.a. Synoptische fragmenten, Amst. 1878: 98-112. — Loman’s Nalatenschap I, Gron. 1899. — Rudolf Steck, Der Galaterbrief, Berl. 1888. — Mijn: Pro domo in N.T.T. 1923: 186 w.. — Heinrich Schlier, Der Galater-Brief, Gött. 1941. — W. C. van Manen in T.T. 1887: 382 vv.; 431 w..


What Others have Written About Galatians – Robert M. Price

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by Neil Godfrey

To freeload off the Gospel of Luke’s prologue, inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order an account of those things which have been written in Galatians, I have decided not to add my own variant to their number, but to set forth one by one the accounts of our predecessors so that ye may understand the breadth of understanding that has gone before us, compare, and ponder.

I hope to cover the views of Bruno Bauer, G. A. van den Bergh van Eysinga, J.C. O’Neill, Joseph Turmel, and any others that come to mind along the way. (Suggestions welcome but not necessarily followed up.) My main focus will be on the first two chapters of Galatians since this exercise is partly an attempt to think more clearly about the questions I raised in my previous post. I should also add a range of commentaries where they focus on Galatians 2:6.

First off the rank will be Robert M. Price’s presentation of Galatians 1 and 2 from The Pre-Nicene New Testament.

In my view, Marcion wrote only what we read as chapters 3-6. The first two chapters, in their first form, were added subsequently by Marcionites as a rebuttal to the story in Acts, which attempts to co-opt Paul, and with him Paulinists (Marcionites, Encratites. Gnostics), for Catholic Christianity. (316)

Price makes some reasonable points, I believe:

Bruno Bauer, Rudolf Steck, W. C. van Manen, and others have observed numerous contradictions and anachronisms implying that the work is multi-layered, having gone through the hands of various redactors, and that even the original form was pseudepigraphical. Van Manen judged that Marcion himself wrote the first draft. I take Marcion as the author, partly because of the striking comment of Tertullian (Against Marcion, 5: chap. 3) that “Marcion, discovering the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians,… labors very hard to destroy the character of these Gospels which are published as genuine and under the names of the apostles.” If we take “discover” in its strongest sense, the comment implies no one had seen the epistle before. (315)

The translation and notes in the right hand column are Robert Price’s. The italics in Price’s translation indicate disputed passages that are not found in all manuscripts. I have added the green-ish shading to make them more easily noticed. I would normally use a more familiar translation (RSV, NIV, etc) but hopefully the publishers will not mind if I copy just the two chapters of Price’s worth-reading translation. Fresh translations, as Price himself points out, help us to read all too familiar passages afresh. I have highlighted in yellow the problematic passage discussed earlier, which agrees with Ken Olson’s explanation.


1Paul, an apostle, not sent from any human authority, neither by human beings, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, the one who has raised him from the dead, 2and with me, all the brothers,a to the congregations of Galatia:

a. “Brothers” denotes itinerant missionaries.
3May you enjoy the favor and the protection of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4the one who has given himself for the sake of our sins, so he might rescue us out of the present evil age in accordance with the will of our God and Father, 5to whom all worship is due throughout ages multiplied by ages. Amen.
6I am astonished that already this soon you are detaching yourselves from the one who called you by the favor of Christ, embracing a different message of salvation, 7which in fact is not another, only that there are some bothering you and intent on perverting the news of Christ. 8As for that, even if we or some angel from heaven should proclaim to you some message of salvation besides the one we proclaimed to you, let him be excommunicated! 9Let me just repeat that for emphasis. If anyone proclaims a message of salvation beside the one you first welcomed, let him be excommunicated!b b. This anticipates the claim that the Mosaic Torah was the gift of angels, not of God (cf. 3:19-20 below); thus a Judaizing gospel must be the creation of angels, too.
10Is that blunt enough for you? Am I ingratiating myself with my audience now or am I calling down God? Or am I mincing words to flatter men? For if I were still concerned to meet the expectations of mere mortals, I would have chosen some other task than being a slave of Christ. 11For I am letting you know, brothers, that the news preached by me is not human in origin, 12for it was not from human beings that I received it, nor was I instructed in it;c on the contrary, it was revealed by Jesus Christ.d 13You are acquainted with my actions while I belonged to Judaism,e how I went to insane lengths persecuting God’s community and laid it waste, 14and progressed in Jewish religion beyond many contemporaries in my race, being many times over a zealot for my ancestral traditions.f c. What lies in the background here is Paul’s instruction by Ananias of Damascus, as in Acts 9:17-19.
d. The same claim is borrowed for Peter in Matt. 16:16-18.
e. As Bruno Bauer and J. C. O’Neill point out, the use of this term is anachronistic, presupposing two distinct religions, which was not yet clear in Paul’s day. The word was used in the first century, but only to offset Judaism from paganism. It had not yet come to be used vis-a-vis Christianity. O’Neill brackets verses 13-14 as an interpolation, veering off the train of argument.
f. Note the seeming equation of Jewish zeal with the persecution of Christians.
15And yet, when God, who had watched over me since my umbilical cord was cut, 16thought it choice irony to reveal his Son to me,g and called me by his favor in order for me to proclaim him among the nations, I paused not to consult with flesh and blood, 17neither did I go up at once to Jerusalem to the apostles previous to me.h No, I took off for Arabia and went back to Damascus.i

18It was only after three years that I went up to Jerusalem to consult with Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.j 19But I did not so much as see any of the other apostles except for James, the Lord’s brother.k 20Now in this recounting, I swear before God: I am not lying!l 21From there I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

22And still I remained known only by reputation to the congregations in Christ of Judea.m 23They only heard rumors: “The one who persecuted us now preaches the very religionn he was then intent on destroying!”o 24And they worshipped God on account of my case.

g. Here we find the influence of Euripides’ Bacchae, where Dionysus hypnotically compels the conversion of his persecutor, Pentheus, as part of a death trap. See also the irony-laden words of Christ in Acts 9:16.
h. Again, contra Acts 9:26-27.
i. The writer presupposes the narrative of Acts since Damascus has not been mentioned previously, as it is in Acts 9.
j. He remembers the exact duration fourteen years later? This sounds like a narrator simply positing plausible times and seasons for the sake of a story.
k. In Tertullian’s treatise, Against Marcion, he does not mention this first visit, implying the text of Galatians did not yet mention it either. If it had, Tertullian surely would have made hay of it: it would have clearly implied Paul’s subordination to the Jerusalem authorities, a point Tertullian would have used against Marcion. He didn’t, though, implying that he didn’t have it to use. Thus, it is a later insertion designed to abet the notion that Paul did go to Jerusalem to submit himself to the twelve as soon as he was able. “Again” was added to 2:1 at the same time by way of harmonization. Tertullian mentions the visit of 2:1-10 apparently as the visit, not as a second visit.
l. Obviously, this is a rebuttal to another account, widely known, in which Paul was a delegate of mortal agencies and had at once submitted himself to the previous apostles. Either the writer is responding to Acts 9 or that was the common version, which our writer seeks to overthrow, rewriting history in the interests of later sectarian strife.
m. Contrary to Acts 9:28-30.
n. The term here literally reads “the faith,” generally considered to be post-Pauline usage.
o. This is a crucial admission that the whole notion of Paul as a persecutor is the product of popular rumor. In all probability it is a distortion of the Ebionite claim that Paul, as an anti-Torah Christian, had opposed the true Christian religion—theirs. In a later time, when few remembered the sectarian divisions of an earlier generation, this version was misunderstood as if Paul, a non-Christian, had physically persecuted believers in Christianity per se.

1Then, after an interval of fourteen years, I went up to Jerusalem again with Bar-Nabas, taking along Titus, too. 2And I went up, summoned by a revelation.p And I laid out before them the news as I proclaim it among the nations, in private session with those of great repute, for fear I might have been running off course.q 3But my companion Titus, a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised. He was willing to go along with it voluntarily as a concession.

4But on account of the pseudo-brothers who had sneaked into the sessionr in order to spy on our freedom from the Torah that we gentiles have in Christ, thinking they would enslave us, 5we yielded to them in submission but for an hour in order to preserve the news for you.s 6But as for those esteemed to be something greattwhat they were then makes no difference to me now; God is impressed by no man’s clout—those of repute added no proviso to me. 7On the contrary! Once they saw how I had been entrusted by God with the news for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, 8the one energizing Peter for an apostolate to the circumcised energizing me also, but to the nations, 9and acknowledging the favor shown me by God, James and Cephas and John, the ones reputed to be Pillars,u offered to me and to Bar-Nabas the good right hand of partnership, dividing the territory: we would henceforth go to the nations, they to the circumcised,v 10except that we should not forget the Poor,w the very thing I was eager to do in any case!

p. Note that he is not making an appearance in Jerusalem at the behest of any human authority, contra Acts 15:2.
q. Here we find a retrojection into imagined apostolic times of Marcion’s own visit to Rome to join the church there and voluntarily disclose his doctrine. Obviously at the time, he took seriously the reputation of the Roman Church for authority, disdaining it only after they had rejected his doctrine. In the same way, Muhammad very often in the Koran retells the stories of Israelite prophets, including Moses, Abraham, and Noah, in terms modeled quite closely upon himself and his conflicts.
r. He thus seeks to hide the fact that this Torah faction was part of the core group of Pillars, “those of repute. ” He implies that no one knew them at that time for what they turned out to be: Judaizing hardliners.
s. The reference is to the token circumcision of Titus, another version of which is told in Acts 16:3, where Timothy has been substituted for Titus.
t. Not coincidentally, in Acts 8:9 we find pretty much the same disdainful phrase characterizing Simon Magus. In Acts we are reading the other side of the same argument.
u. This is cosmic terminology denoting the Atlas-like function of upholding the vault of heaven, perhaps signaling a channel of communication with heaven, much like Jacob’s ladder, the axis mundi. Accordingly, James the Just is said to have served as high priest for the Jerusalem Church. After his death, it was possible for Jerusalem to fall because it no longer retained the protection of his presence. The exalted office of the Pillars would thus have been analogous to the later Jewish legend of the Fifty Righteous, whose presence on earth guaranteed God’s protection no matter how sinful everyone else became (Gen. 18:24-26).
v. As William O. Walker Jr. points out, vv. 7-9 must be an interpolation since they rudely interrupt the sequence of 6 and 10, where the original means the Pillars imposed no condition upon Paul and Barnabas except for the relief collection. Note that the interpolator slips and calls Cephas “Peter,” his more familiar name.
w. The Jerusalem Ebionim, in other words, for whom Paul is constantly raising money in his churches. This is a fictive version of Marcion’s own initial gift of a large sum to the Roman Church, which they refunded after deeming him a heretic. Its refusal is echoed in Acts 8:18-24; 21:20-26; 24:17-18; Rom. 15:16, 30. This proviso, representing tribute money to be paid the Jerusalem Church as the price of recognition of Paulinism, obviously should follow verse 6.
11But when Cephas arrived in Antioch, I stood up to him publicly because he was blatantly out of line.x 12For before a certain party arrived from James,y he used to dine with the gentiles,z but when this one arrived, he stood down, segregating himself, fearing the circumcision faction. 13And the rest of the Jews played hypocrite along with him so that even Bar-Nabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But as soon as I noticed they were not walking the straight path of the news, I said to Cephas in front of everyone: “If you, being a Jew, nonetheless live like a gentile,a where do you get off forcing the gentiles to Judaize?b 15Physically, we are Jews, not sinners from the nations, 16and since we know that a person is not accepted as righteous by virtue of deeds of Torah, but by belief in Christ Jesus—even we believed in Christ Jesus in order that we might be counted righteous by token of belief in Christ and not by deeds of Torah because no human being will ever be counted righteous by deeds of Torah. 17But if, in the very effort to be counted righteous through Christ, we were found to be sinners no better than the gentiles, does that make Christ a facilitator of sin? Never! 18But if I start to rebuild the very things I demolished, this is what makes me a transgressor. 19For it was by means of the Torah that I died relative to the Torah, escaping its grasp so I might live relative to God. 20I have been crucified alongside Christ. I live no more, but Christ now inhabits my body; as a result, what I now undergo in the flesh I endure by the belief in the Son of God loving me and giving himself up on my behalf. 21I for one do not presume to turn my nose up at the mercy of God: for if it is really through the Torah that salvation comes, then Christ’s death is moot!”c x. This was apparently because Peter signaled” he was promoting a different gospel that would involve Judaizing the gentiles (v. 14), thus incurring the curse of anathema (1:8-9).
y. This party consisted of delegates sent to check on the implementation of the Jerusalem decree dealing with basic kosher laws (cf. Acts 15:30-32).
z. Acts 10
a. Peter behaves like a gentile by eating non-kosher food, something implied here but made clearer in Acts 10:12-15; 11:3. See Frank R. McGuire, “Galatians as a Reply to Acts,” Journal of Higher Criticism 9 (Fall 2002), 161-72.
b. Against his better judgment, Peter decided to acquiesce to James by imposing the stipulations of the Jerusalem decree (Acts 15). The decree remains hidden here but nonetheless lurks in the background, as McGuire points out.
c. This impromptu speech corresponds very closely to that ascribed to Peter in Acts 15:7-11, but with a pinch of Romans added. Which apostle is credited with it turns on which one was the pioneer evangelist to the gentiles, an honor Acts gives Peter, while the epistles give it to Paul. German critics of the Tubingen school say Acts adapted the speech from Galatians, whereas Dutch critics claim Galatians adapted it from Acts.

As I remarked in the earlier post, or at least tried to suggest, that last passage (vv 11-21) does not come across as a realistic account of what Paul would have said in the circumstances. It is an artifice, a sermon, and as Price notes, it is built from other texts. It is not Paul — or at least it seems to me to be the work of a scribe crafting a letter through the character of Paul. A few years ago I posted how another section in these opening chapters appears to be intertextually crafted from Jeremiah: Sowing Doubt That an Emotional Paul Authored Galatians. Of course, we might think that Paul was so immersed in the scriptures that he could not help but express himself in scriptural language — in the same way I used the prologue to Luke’s gospel to open this post. But that would not explain the apparent link with Acts, as noted by Price:

After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

As for Galatians being a rebuttal to the character of Paul as portrayed in Acts, that could potentially make Galatians very much a latecomer. If we accept the arguments of Joseph Tyson (and I am one who has been persuaded by them up to now) Luke-Acts were not completed (taking the canonical form familiar to us) until the 120s CE. Justin writing a little later tells us that Marcion was still active in his day but I cannot think that Justin had ever heard of the book of Acts. The Gospel of Luke was in many respects an answer to Marcionism. Should we think Acts was attempting to refute Galatians and other writings of Paul rather than the author of Galatians taking issue with Acts? That’s something that I would need to take some time to study before reaching a conclusion, if I can at all. Hopefully in the meantime I will encounter publications that have tackled that question.



A Little Question of Past Tense Pillars in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians

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by Neil Godfrey

I have a question. How might we best explain the passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which he seems to imply that the pillars of the Jerusalem church, James, Cephas (Peter) and John, “were” pillars — in the past? How are we meant to understand those words?

Was Paul saying that though they were pillars of the church they were no longer generally so regarded at the time of his writing?

Was Paul saying that he himself regarded them pillars in the past but did so no longer?

Does the expression betray the hand of an author who was looking back on past history, after the passing of the generation of the pillars?

2 1Then, after fourteen years again I went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, having taken with me also Titus;

and I went up by revelation, and did submit to them the good news that I preach among the nations, and privately to those esteemed, lest in vain I might run or did run;

but not even Titus, who [is] with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised —

and [that] because of the false brethren brought in unawares, who did come in privily to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that us they might bring under bondage,

to whom not even for an hour we gave place by subjection, that the truth of the good news might remain to you.

And from those who were esteemed to be something — whatever formerly they were [= ὁποῖοί ποτε ἦσαν ; ποτε = once, formerly, at one time], it maketh no difference to me — the face of man God accepteth not, for — to me those esteemed did add nothing,

but, on the contrary, having seen that I have been entrusted with the good news of the uncircumcision, as Peter with [that] of the circumcision,

for He who did work with Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, did work also in me in regard to the nations,

and having known the grace that was given to me, James, and Cephas, and John, who were esteemed to be pillars, a right hand of fellowship they did give to me, and to Barnabas, that we to the nations, and they to the circumcision [may go],

10 only, of the poor that we should be mindful, which also I was diligent — this very thing — to do.

There are explanations and Ken Olson, whose contributions on the earlywritings forum I have very much appreciated, took the trouble to post me the following explanation. The specific questions of mine to which he was responding were not exactly the same as I mentioned above but I believe his response applies to any number of possible questions that might arise — though I’m willing to modify that claim if Ken objects. I have interspersed Ken’s reply with my own thoughts on the points he makes.

Paul is writing after the Antioch Incident (Gal 2.11-14) and after Jewish Christian missionaries have started preaching to his Gentile converts to Christianity that they must get circumcised and follow the Mosaic law in order to be part of God’s people. Paul thinks the Jerusalem church (including Pete and James) have gone back on the understanding they reached at the Jerusalem conference described in Gal. 2-1-10.

This is a reasonable inference for us modern readers to make. But there is nothing in Paul’s rebuke of Peter that points to a breach of prior agreement with the three pillars. If Paul had been offended by a breach of prior official understanding in Jerusalem, would not we expect him to make some reference to that fact, especially since Paul also associates the offending practice with “false brethren”? Rather, when Paul describes the change in Peter’s behaviour after representatives from James arrived, he implies that James had never accepted Paul’s view that gentiles were not to be “judaized”. Paul faults Peter’s behaviour as hypocrisy, not betrayal or having gone back on his word. Earlier he had even said that Jews who wanted gentiles to keep the Jewish laws were “false brethren”. Yet Paul has nothing to say about that view when confronted by the behaviour of Peter and, by implication, James?

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Paul follows with a lengthy sermon or exposition of his gospel that was surely not what he said in the heat of the moment. It certainly reads like a theological explanation that is coloured with some dramatic force by the conflict in the prior narrative:

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[d] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Paul really said all of that yet not a word about the prior agreement or betrayal by James or the view that such judaizers were “false brethren”? No, surely the dramatic narrative functions as a backdrop for this sermon for the readers’ benefit.

Back to Ken’s reply:

This is an angry letter because Paul feels betrayed both by the Jewish church and by his Galatian converts. Moreover, he wants to emphasize that his (law-free) gospel was given to him directly by God (Gal 1.1, 1.11-12). His authority does not derive from the Jerusalem church *and it never had*.

This is a problem for Paul, because it might look to outsiders like his authority to preach the gospel did indeed derive from the Jerusalem church. He is trying to minimize the contact he’s had with Jerusalem and to suggest that his gospel and his authority to preach it did not come from the Jerusalem church. Paul went to Jerusalem and laid the gospel he preached to the Gentiles before those of note ‘because of a revelation’ (Gal. 2.2). They did not summon him to give and account of his activity and had no authority to do so – he went up because of a revelation.

Is not there a problem here? On the one hand we read that Paul went up to Jerusalem “by revelation” — evidently to disabuse anyone of the idea that he was being summoned by the pillars — but on the other hand we read that he presented his gospel to them “lest he had been or might further be teaching in vain”. Surely there is an irreconcilable contradiction here, is there not? How can Paul say that he submitted what he taught to the pillars “in case it had been mistaken in some way” given his insistence that his gospel was not “from men”.

Moreover, he took Titus with him and he was not compelled to be circumcised (i.e., they did not insist Titus be circumcised. Also, they added nothing to Paul (i.e., he put his gospel before them and they did not insist that he add the requirement of circumcision or observance of the Mosaic law in general). They agreed that They asked only that he remember the poor (collect money for the Jerusalem church), which he was eager to do. They agreed that he and Barnabas should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (the Jews) and gave them right hand of good fellowship (i.e., they shook on the deal).

The good relationship Paul had (or thought he had) with the Jerusalem pillars at the time he met them (as narrated in Gal. 2,1-10) has been broken.

Galatians 2.6 (Berean literal): And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me;

ὁποῖοί ποτε ἦσαν, οὐδέν μοι διαφέρει, ‘whatever they were formerly makes no difference to me’

I take Paul to be saying that whatever reputation they had enjoyed among men ceased to be relevant in their dealings with Paul (i.e. Paul is not saying they ceased enjoying that reputation among human beings).

In his commentary on Galatians (1997) J. Louis Martyn writes:


PS Yes, that really is the shorter form of my reply.

I agree that Paul’s explanation that he went to Jerusalem “by revelation” was an implicit claim that he did not recognize the authority of James, Cephas/Peter and John over him. The problem remains, in my view, how Paul could at any time imply that he had recognized those three persons as “pillars”. If he says “whatever they were… I no longer regard them as such”, then he is saying something very unlike the Paul we otherwise know.

Paul insisted from the very beginning that his gospel was not from men, so much so that on his conversion he avoided Jerusalem altogether for many years. One has to conclude that he never personally regarded them as pillars. It follows that he could not have at any time without any qualification or explanation have called, or thought of them as, pillars.

But if Paul is saying that others had regarded them as pillars, how can he say in Galatians 2:6 that they “formerly were pillars” — unless they no longer exist at the time of his writing?

If Paul was using the past tense simply because he is talking about past events, it is nonetheless awkward to speak of a situation that still exists at the time of writing itself to also have been a past event — as if it is no longer applicable to the present. We don’t speak of last week’s debate by saying Trump debated Biden “who was (formerly) the president”.

Such is my reply that I had returned to the earlywritings forum to post, only to discover that, without warning or explanation, I had been “permanently banned”. So if any reader here has contact with Ken, do feel free to notify him of this post. Of course the views of others are also welcome.


Understanding Contradictions and Incongruities in the Bible – Or Not…

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by Neil Godfrey

A couple of months ago I posted Why Bible Authors Wrote Anonymously and with Contradictions. I was setting down in writing my thoughts as informed by my latest reading at the time. But doubts remained. In that post I said that ancient Near Eastern authors corrected details in an existing narrative by adding contradictory statements or narratives next to them. That didn’t answer the question, though: If they wanted to make a correction, why not replace the perceived error entirely?

Another perspective on that question is presented by Isaac Rabinowitz in his posthumous 1993 book A Witness Forever: Ancient Israel’s Perception of Literature and the Resultant Hebrew Bible.

Rabinowitz argues that the ancient Israelites, like other peoples in the region, attributed to words a power beyond their merely symbolic representations of their referents. To some extent I found myself sympathetic to the argument given that we see evidence of some cultures today seeming to have the same view. I am thinking of warnings on tv and radio for the benefit of first nations audiences that the ensuing program will contain images and names of the deceased. Words are considered to be more than mere sounds to be decoded for meaning. However, in the end, I found myself wishing that Rabinowitz had produced more explicit evidence to buttress the main thrust of his argument that for the Israelites words of themselves (apparently independent of social context) consist of magic power. Too much — especially given my lack of wider reading in this area — was left to a single interpretation of the data, and perhaps just a tad overly deductive. Still, the book does raise questions.

But what do we make of the following examples of repetition and redundancy in the biblical text? Continue reading “Understanding Contradictions and Incongruities in the Bible – Or Not…”


Finding a Place for King Josiah in the History of Biblical Israel

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by Neil Godfrey

The past few posts have set out the grounds that different scholars have either accepted the historicity of Josiah’s reforms (with varying degrees of certainty) or rejected it.

What we read of Josiah in 2 Kings 22-23 has engendered many questions, problems and hypotheses — theological, textual and historical. In this post I set out some of the various solutions to those questions.

First, recall a few of those problematic questions:

  1. Josiah is said to be one of the “good kings” of Judah, even the best since David. He is said to have restored the “true worship” of God and rid the land of idols. But then we read that Pharaoh kills Josiah and God punishes Judah by sending them into exile because of the sins of his long-dead predecessor!
  2. When Josiah hears the words of the book that was discovered in the temple he tears his robes and weeps. Because of his contrition the prophetess promises him a peaceful death. But his end was not peaceful at all. As mentioned above, we read that Pharaoh killed him.
  3. The prophetess even tells the king that God is going to punish the people of Judah and there is no indication of any hope for them. Yet we read that Josiah proceeds to lead the people in mass repentance — all in vain. God still punishes them. What was the point of the reforms and covenant renewal?
  4. Why do we read that Josiah felt it necessary to consult the prophetess about the book found in the temple when it is clear that he understands the message of the book very well and he acts on it accordingly?
  5. When we read about Josiah’s list of reforms we sense a disconnect from all that has gone before. There is no reference at all to those reforms having anything to do with the discovery of the book of the law.
  6. Later passages in the book of Kings imply that Josiah was one of the “bad kings”. This negative evaluation of Josiah is also found in the books of Jeremiah and Zephaniah. Why was his major reform of returning Judah to God ignored?

Proposed Solutions

Up to the 1940s scholars had generally looked at the first six books (Genesis to Joshua) as a self-contained unit with the following historical books being tied to those six with only a minimum of editorial commentary. The Pentateuch (Genesis-Exodus-Leviticus-Numbers-Deuteronomy) began with promises of the land of Canaan to the patriarchs and the book of Joshua (the sixth book) told of how those promises were fulfilled. Hence the Hexateuch made cogent sense: it began with the promises being made and concluded with them being fulfilled. The historical books from Judges to 2 Kings were of quite a different set of styles and themes.

Martin Noth broke with that assumption and analysis and influenced many to follow or only slightly modify his arguments. For Noth, the historical books through to 2 Kings began with Deuteronomy. An editor or editors had before them existing writings about the law, Joshua’s conquests, various judges, prophets and kings, and they brought these works together into a narrative unity, joining and interrupting the various segments with commentary that reflected key themes and ideology found in Deuteronomy. The result was “a Deuteronomistic history” that, despite some bright moments along the way, was doomed to end in disaster.

Noth’s Deuteronomistic editor(s)/author(s) was working with sources already in existence but these were augmented. The original book of Deuteronomy, for example, was thought to only include our chapters 5 to 30 but Noth’s Dtr (the standard abbreviation for this person or persons) added introductory and concluding chapters that addressed core themes found interspersed throughout the ensuing historical books.

One of the most conclusive and least disputed findings of scholarly literary criticism is that in the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings we are confronted with the activity of a Deuteronomistic author in passages both large – sometimes very small. Like all the other historical books in the Old Testament, this author’s work is anonymous, but we call him the “Deuteronomistic” author because his language and way of thinking closely resemble those found in the Deuteronomic Law and in the admonitory speeches which precede and follow the Law. Broadly following present academic practice, we shall refer below to this author and his work by the abbreviation Dtr.

It is generally considered that Dtr. is by a single “Deuteronomistic editor”, or rather by different “Deuteronomistic editors” closely resembling one another in their style . . . . (Noth, 4)

This style is distinguished by its simplicity, fluency, and lucidity and may be recognized both by its phraseology and more especially by its rhetorical character. . . .

The deuteronomic phraseology revolves around a few basic theological tenets such as:
1. The struggle against idolatry
2. The centralization of the cult
3. Exodus, covenant, and election
4. The monotheistic creed
5. Observance of the law and loyalty to the covenant
6. Inheritance of the land
7. Retribution and material motivation
8. Fulfilment of prophecy
9. The election of the Davidic dynasty . . .

What makes a phrase deuteronomic is not its mere occurrence in Deuteronomy, but its meaning within the framework of deuteronomic theology. . . . 

The most outstanding feature of deuteronomic style is its use of rhetoric. This is true of all forms of deuteronomic writing. . . . (Weinfeld, 1-3)

For over 40 pages of specific instances of Deuteronomistic style and rhetoric see Weinfeld’s Appendix A on archive.org

What is that style and theological flavour identified as Deuteronomistic? For a detailed answer by Moshe Weinfeld to that question see the extracts and link in the side box.

Our interest here is on the core theme of that history. For Noth, the story was a story of failure. The people of Israel time and time again apostatized from the Deuteronomist’s true worship and, from the vantage point of the author/s, ended their days in exile from their land. The northern tribes of Israel were deported by the Assyrians and the southern kingdom of Judah was exiled into Babylonia. Maybe it could be called a morality tale. Beware, we can see what has happened because of transgression of the laws of Yahweh. So beware.

Though highly influential, Noth’s interpretation seemed to be too easily dismissive of other more positive moments in that history. Were not the promises made to David that his dynasty would last forever unconditional? Does not the final chapter of Kings provide a hint of future hope with the raising of the captive king of Judah to royal favour? And how can one explain the glorious time of Josiah’s reformist rule?

Frank Moore Cross proposed another explanation for the combination of hope and despair in the Deuteronomistic history. For Cross, the first historical books were written or at least shaped in the gloriously hopeful days of good king Josiah. The historical work ended on a high note: Judah had repented, Josiah had cleansed the land of idolatry, and a king as great as David was once more on the throne. Sadly, a few kings later (587 BCE) and Judah was overrun by Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar, Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and a large portion of the population were deported. Around the middle of the sixth century another scribe, reflecting on the disaster that had overtaken Judah since the time of Josiah, picked up the historical tale and added the chapters of apostasy and failure following the time of Josiah.

Cross’s proposal had the advantage of somewhat explaining how the anomaly of the record of Josiah’s righteousness sat so awkwardly prior to the final doom of Judah. But if the evidence for the historicity of Josiah’s reforms is scant to non-existent, why is it included at all? And how do we account for other oddities in the Josiah narrative, some of which I listed at the beginning of this post?

Other scholars have proposed other refinements: Helga Weippert has suggested there were three redactions. The first Deuteronomist editor concluded the history with Hezekiah’s reforms; the second with Josiah’s reforms; and the third with the fall of Jerusalem. Rudolf Smend identified three different hands working over the same material: the first Deuteronomist redactor completed the historical book so that it concluded with the demise of the kingdom of Judah and its Babylonian exile; the second worked through the existing text by adding prophetic commentary and speeches and documenting their fulfilment; while the third worked at making the importance of the Deuteronomistic law more prominent at key points. There are other variants. Too many — and that’s the reason there has been such a wide gap between this post and my previous one: I have been tracking down and taking on board many of these various explanations — only to set most of them aside so I could conclude this series.

But there is a common thread through all of these proposed explanations. They view Josiah’s reforms as an unremovable fact of history that must be included despite the problems this raises in relation to their beliefs in God’s justice. They scarcely account for the difficulties raised by the Josiah portrait — a good king who leads his people in repentance is cast aside without his promised reward and the people are punished for the sin of a long-dead king.

An Alternative

But what happens if we consider the likelihood that Josiah never undertook any reformist program: that possibility has been raised in recent posts (see above). What happens if we imagine the historical chronicle without any mention of Josiah’s reforms? What if the first historical rendering did not conclude with Josiah’s reform but, knowing nothing of that reform, proceeded to trace the final demise of Judah and its Babylonian captivity?

In other words, What happens if we treat the Josiah reform story as a late interpolation into the earlier doomsday narrative?

Before answering that question, notice that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting it to be a valid scenario.

Possibly the most striking evidence that the Josiah reforms were not written by the same deuteronomistic author/s responsible for the larger and final portrayal is its violation of a fundamental premise of Deuteronomy: that repentance leads to forgiveness and mercy. Up until the story of Josiah the consistent message we have read is that if kings turn away from the sins of their predecessors they can avoid God’s wrath. Josiah completely undid the sins of his predecessor Manasseh:

Manasseh (2 Kings 21:3-6) Josiah (2 Kings 23:4, 8, 10, 12)
He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them.

He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.”

In the two courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts.

He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. . . .


The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem

Josiah . . . desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. . . .

10 He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek. . . .

12 He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the Lord. . . .

Scholars have written at length about the problems raised by the cruel fate of Josiah and the nation despite their wholehearted turning to Yahweh. It is often thought that among the exiles there emerged a crisis in understanding the ways of God. Rationalizations abound, but there is little evidence in any of the biblical writings to support these revisionist notions about the justice and will of God. Some scholars have seen in Josiah a foreshadowing of the death of a righteous messiah. The first difficulty with that interpretation is that in the story of the discovery of the book of the law the prophetess Huldah assures him he will die in peace. One more rightly must conclude that we have a text whose parts were written by authors “not talking to each other”.

There are other pointers to an interpolation. Immediately after the death of Josiah we read of the next king, Jehoahaz, that

He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his predecessors had done. (2 Ki 23:32)

Then of the following king, Jehoiakim, we read

And he did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his predecessors had done. (2 Ki 23:37)

Did not the author recall that immediately prior to these kings was a predecessor who was the greatest and most righteous king of all since David? How could that author lump Josiah in with those who had done evil just like all the rest?

Further …. we have other writings referring to Josiah yet are oblivious to any righteousness associated with his reign. One of these is the book of the prophet Jeremiah and the other is that of Zephaniah.

The only prophecy that the book of Jeremiah directly dated “in the days of king Josiah” was Jer. 3.6-11, in which the idolatrous whoredoms of faithless Israel (Samaria) were said to have been exceeded by her unrepentant sister Judah. Additionally, the book of Jeremiah stated that Jeremiah’s prophecies and warnings over a period of 23 years from the thirteenth year of Josiah to the fourth year of Jehoiakim went entirely unheeded. The Jewish people were destined for punishment for their disobedience and their having violated the divine covenant. Repentance by the Jewish nation or its kings could have averted disaster, but none took place in the years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. Indeed, the rise of Nebuchadnezzar was the direct result of the utter lack of repentance of the Jews during the preceding 23 years of Jeremiah’s prophetic activity (Jer. 25.1-14). It was precisely the utter lack of reform during those years that signaled doom for Jerusalem. There is thus not the slightest hint that Jeremiah’s author(s) were acquainted with changes in religious practices prompted by a purported discovery of the book of the law in Josiah’s eighteenth year. Quite the contrary, Jeremiah’s prophecies against Jerusalem and its rulers starting in the reign of Josiah were unremittingly negative and Jeremiah had nothing favorable to say of any of Judah’s kings after the time of Hezekiah. . . .

A speech in Jer. 44.2-30 to the exiles in Egypt contains significant literary parallels to the regnal evaluations of the last kings of Judah: the speech twice referred back to abominable sins committed in Judah and Jerusalem by their “fathers” and by “the kings of Judah” who made offerings to other gods, committed abominations, ignored the laws and statutes and did evil in the sight of Yahweh (Jer. 44.9-10, 21-24). This negative evaluation of the people of Judah, their ancestors and their kings forms a close verbal parallel to the negative evaluation of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim and their ancestors. Both painted a negative picture of the last kings of Judah and neither was compatible with Josiah or his generation having walked in obedience to the laws of Yahweh, especially in the matter of worship of other gods.

(Gmirkin, 15f, 29f)


A similar picture of Josiah may be inferred from the book of Zephaniah, whose prophecies were dated to “the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah” (Zeph. 1.1). Zephaniah predicted the coming of the day of the Lord to punish Jerusalem and make the land desolate, brought on as a result of idolatrous practices (Zeph. 1.4-6) and violence against the law (Zeph. 3.1-4). Jerusalem would not accept correction (Zeph. 1.4, 6; 3.1, 7); the kings’ sons and royal officials were singled out as sinners destined for punishment (Zeph. 1.8; 3.3). While these prophecies are connected to the figure of Zephaniah only in the Deuteronomistic superscription, one may reasonably infer that at the time the superscription was created, the Deuteronomistic editor knew nothing about the reign of Josiah that would rule out assigning these prophecies to his time. Specifically, the charges of Baal and Molech worship in Josiah’s days at Zeph. 1.4-5 appear to indicate that the Deuteronomistic editor was unaware of the cultic reforms of 2 Kgs 23.29

29 Attempts to harmonize Zephaniah and 2 Kings 23 typically overcome this difficulty by postulating that Zephaniah was written early in Josiah’s reign, prior to his initiation of cultic reforms. Such an approach assumes that both Zephaniah and 2 Kings 23 were both ancient, authentic witnesses to historical events under Josiah. It is preferable to maintain the literary integrity of both texts by acknowledging their dissonant content.

(Gmirkin, 16)

So it appears from evidence both within the book of 2 Kings and in writing outside 2 Kings that at some point there was no knowledge of the Josiah reforms currently in 2 Kings 23.

The alternative I am setting out here is entirely from Russell Gmirkin’s article published in the Journal of Higher Criticism over two years ago. It is available to all on his academia.edu page. You can read the full argument there.

Another piece of evidence that the 2 Kings 23 recital of Josiah’s reforms were not part of the original work is found in the comparison of Josiah with Moses. The comparison with David and the reminders of God’s promises to David is part of the Deuteronomistic language (see the insert box above and instances of the Davidic notices by the Deuteronomist in Weinfeld’s list at archive.org). Richard Elliot Friedman has detailed the allusions to Moses in Josiah’s portrayal, although note that Friedman is not himself arguing that the Josiah episode is an interpolation. He in fact concurs with Cross’s view (above) that the Josianic reform was the conclusion of the original book of Kings and argues that with Deuteronomy and references to Moses it formed an inclusio to the entire history. But the comparison of Josiah with Moses implicitly nullifies the comparison with David who cannot match the status of Moses. In the table below I have restricted the comparison of Josiah to the person of Moses and not to other passages relating to the law in Deuteronomy.

Moses Josiah
“There did not arise a prophet again in Israel like Moses . . .” (Deut 34:10) “There was no king like him before him turning to Yhwh with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might according to all the Torah of Moses, and after him none arose like him” (2 Kings 23:25). – REF acknowledges Jack R. Lundbom for observing this allusion
Moses burns and smashes the golden calf “thin as dust,” . . . and casts the dust on the wadi . . . (Deut 9:21). At the site of Jeroboam’s golden calf of Bethel, Josiah smashes the [high place] and burns it, “and he made it thin as dust . . .” (2 Kgs 23:15).

Josiah burns the statue of Asherah which Manasseh had set in the Temple, at the wadi Kidron, “and he made it thin as dust . . .” (23:6). The phrase [“made it thin as dust”] occurs nowhere but in the passages noted here. Josiah also smashes the altars which his ancestors had made and casts their dust into the wadi (v 12).

I have illustrated other proposals with diagrams. Here is one that helps us visualize what the biblical record looks like if the Josiah reform narrative were never part of the original deuteronomistic history. The first writing did not include or conclude with Josiah’s reforms. Rather, Josiah was among the “bad kings” that marked Judah’s decline after the good Davidic king Hezekiah. The story outline of the final chapters of 2 Kings is thus:

The Davidic Kings keep David’s “lamp” alight until Hezekiah; after Hezekiah the new king, Manasseh, followed the ways of the wicked king Jeroboam of Israel; Manasseh and Jeroboam are alike (for the extensive parallels between these two figures see Gmirkin, p.34), and both lead their kingdoms to ruin: Jeroboam set Israel on the path to Assyrian captivity and Manasseh set Judah on the path to Babylonian captivity.

The discovery of the book of the law in the temple of God was included in this anecdote as a classic final doomsday warning. This is not only a common enough motif in ancient literature but it is also the explicit reason Moses had the book of the law placed in the ark of the covenant. Recall Deuteronomy 31:24-29 —

24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: 26 Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! 28 Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to testify against them. 29 For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall on you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and arouse his anger by what your hands have made.” 

The prophetess speaks the words of “a female Jeremiah” (Jeremiah 19:3, 11, 25:7, and 7:20 — the comparison is Christoph Levin’s – p.366) and echoes the above words of Moses. The purpose of the book was not to provoke repentance but was to testify mercilessly against king and nation:

15 She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ (2 Kings 22:15-17)

Indeed, Russell Gmirkin’s case for the favourable presentation of Josiah is that it arose only after the completion of the book of Jeremiah:

It was only after the book of Jeremiah was completed that a new literary tradition arose in which Josiah was recast as a Deuteronomist reformer extraordinaire. Once both 2 Kgs 22-23 and the book of Jeremiah are understood as late literary accounts rather than archaic historical accounts, the problem of determining the relationship of the two becomes a simple matter of literary analysis rather than a torturous exercise in historical speculation, as in most past attempts to reconcile Jeremiah and Kings. It is only under the assumption that the reforms of Josiah described in 2 Kings and the prophecies of Jeremiah in Jer. 1-25 were both grounded in historical fact that a compelling need to reconcile the two literary traditions arises.

(Gmirkin, 21f)

Josiah’s reforms are an anomaly at many points:

  1. they violate the theology of the Deuteronomist author who promised salvation to the repentant;
  2. they are contradicted by independent works, Jeremiah and Zephaniah;
  3. they are contradicted by the ensuing text in 2 Kings that refer to the sins of the last kings of Judah;
  4. they present Josiah as a figure who stands beyond comparison with David (viz. with Moses);
  5. the blame placed on Manasseh for the Babylonian captivity only makes sense if Josiah was originally among the “bad kings” — or if the author added an explanation that Judah apostatized after Josiah’s death (Gmirkin, 28);
  6. the archaeological evidence indicates “business as usual” regarding worship of Asherah and idols at Josiah’s time.

I have skimmed the surface of the far more detailed arguments of Russell Gmirkin’s proposal by which the many problems of the Josiah report in 2 Kings 22-23 can be resolved. But one more salient feature must be added.

The book of the law that witnesses against king and nation is not the same one that Josiah acts upon. Or rather, the creator of the righteous Josiah had a different kind of book in mind from the one in the original judgement narrative. Rather than the book of the law that witnessed against the sins of the people, the author states that Josiah is acting on “the book of the covenant”. The covenant restored by Josiah culminated in a mass observance of the Passover and this aligns with the vignette of the Mosaic covenant at Sinai. God came down to show himself to Moses once more after he had broken the first stone tablets:

10 Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. 11 Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 12 Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. 13 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.[a] 14 Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. . . . 

17 “Do not make any idols.

18 Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt. (Exodus 34)

As did Josiah…

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah . . . . He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.

21 The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant. (2 Kings 23)

So we can add here a seventh point on which the Josianic reforms sit anomalously with the broader text: the book of the law with its pronouncement of curses has been redescribed as a book of covenant renewal.

How it happened

  1. The original document consistently set forth the sins of the kings in the wake of Hezekiah’s son Manasseh. The discovery of the book of the law in the temple was a climactic moment pronouncing the ultimate curses that were about to fall upon the nation.
  2. Another scribe, presumably unaware or only partially aware of that original writing, independently composed a biography of Josiah as an ideal king restoring a utopian covenant renewal with Yahweh.
  3. When that scribe (or another closely associated one) learned of of the detail whereby the prophetess delivered the curses from the book of the law, an additional scenario was added in which Josiah repented and a new statement by the prophetess was added acknowledging Josiah’s righteousness.
  4. When an editor decided to add this new idealistic biography of Josiah to 2 Kings, they made a few adjustments to “make it fit” between 2 Kings 22:1 and 2 Kings 23:verses but failed to create a smooth transition leading to his death and the subsequent notes about the wickedness of all kings in the wake of Manasseh.

A literary analysis of the closing chapters of 2 Kings thus provides evidence for multiple Deuteronomistic authors.

(Gmirkin, 87)


Russell Gmirkin is best known for his books setting forth the evidence for a Hellenistic provenance of the Hebrew Bible. If his arguments are sound then the traditional view that the book of Deuteronomy and a deuteronomistic history were authored or revised in the days of Josiah and soon after in the exilic period must be set aside.

An alternate model of Deuteronomistic authorial and editorial activity literary activity is to view it as the product of a relatively small group of Deuteronomist authors working contemporaneously and collaboratively. The interrelationship of [the original Josiah account and the subsequent somewhat clumsy Josiah reforms additions] already points to this conclusion. Given that the entire corpus of Deuteronomistic texts display awareness of Jerusalem’s fall and anticipate a return of exiles to the land of Judah, this would seemingly point to a date for this Deuteronomistic activity after ca. 450 BCE and conceivably as late as the early Hellenistic Era when we have the first external evidence for the book of Deuteronomy (the LXX of ca. 270 BCE), Kings (Demetrius the Chronographer, ca. 221-204 BCE) and Jeremiah (Dead Sea Scroll fragment 4QJera palaeographically dated to ca. 225-175 BCE). If we take these texts as roughly contemporary, this points to a date no later than ca. 270 BCE. The Deuteronomists should thus be situated within a relatively brief time span falling sometime within the period ca. 450-ca. 270 BCE.

(Gmirkin, 95)

Cross, Frank Moore. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Friedman, Richard Elliot. “From Egypt to Egypt: Dtr1 and Dtr2.” In Traditions in Transformation: Turning Points in Biblical Faith, edited by Baruch Halpern and Jon D. Levenson, 167–92. Winona Lake, Ind. : Eisenbrauns, 1981. http://archive.org/details/traditionsintran0000unse.

Gmirkin, Russell. “The Manasseh and Josiah Redactions of 2 Kings 21-25.” Journal of Higher Criticism, January 1, 2022. https://www.academia.edu/82084563/The_Manasseh_and_Josiah_Redactions_of_2_Kings_21_25.

Levin, Christoph. “Joschija Im Deuteronomistischen Geschichtswerk.” Zeitschrift Für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 96, no. 3 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1515/zatw.1984.96.3.351.

Noth, Martin. Deuteronomistic History. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981 [1943].

Provan, Iain W. Hezekiah and the Books of Kings: A Contribution to the Debate about the Composition of the Deuteronomistic History. Berlin New York: De Gruyter, 1988.

Weinfeld, Moshe. Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School. Eisenbrauns, 1992.

Weippert, Helga. “Die ‘Deuteronomistischen’ Beurteilungen Der Könige von Israel Und Juda Und Das Problem Der Redaktion Der Königsbücher.” Biblica 53, no. 3 (1972): 301–39. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42610051


Can we salvage history from beneath Josiah’s reforms?

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

by Neil Godfrey

My interest in these posts is in reviewing the basis for some historical fact behind the Biblical narrative of Josiah’s reforms. Other questions about the textual problems in 2 Kings 22-23 and difficulties with identifying in that passage the discovery of the book of Deuteronomy will come later.

So after discussing the evidence of seal images and amulet inscriptions, Christoph Uehlinger (UC) clarifies the question he is addressing:

Within the limits of this article, we may cut down the historical problem to the following question: Does 2 Kings 23 list measures that are most plausibly understood against the background of the political and religious situation of Judah during the latter part of the seventh century BCE than at any other period? (CU, 300 — all bolded highlighting is mine)

UC’s answer to his question:

At least two measures appear to be directed against cult practices or institutions whose introduction in Judah must have been originally connected with the Assyrian expansion and the accompanying reception of Assyro-Aramean traditions of astral cults:

    • the removal of the horses and chariots of the sun-god
    • and the suppression of the כמרים priests.

(300 – my formatting)

Horses and Chariots of the Sun God

Assyrian horse associated with temple of Sun God Shamash: Wikimedia Commons

2 Kings 23:11 (NIV)

He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melek. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.

The Hebrew word for “official” in that text (סָּרִ֔יס — saris) is understood to be an Assyrian civic title, not a local religious or priestly one.

The horses are probably living animals, not crafted statues, given that the Hebrew uses the word for “dedicated” or “ordained” as with priests (v.5) and not the word for “made” that is used in connection with roof top altars that were removed (v.12). Further, they appear to require the care of an official.

The connection between horse and sun-god has no tradition in Palestine itself but is typical of Assyria, especially during the late eighth and early seventh century (the time of Sargon and Sennacherib), when the horse was repeatedly represented as the symbolic animal of the sun-god.


The Assyrians used horses dedicated to the sun god for divination purposes. But as UC acknowledges, the Assyrians were no longer a presence in Judah at the time of Josiah, having been replaced by the Egyptians. At most, UC can suggest that since Assyria was long gone, the “time was ripe to come back to local [Yahwistic] custom”. He adds that removing cult horses would also have a cost-saving benefit.

“Idolatrous Priests”

2 Kings 23:5 (NIV)

He did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem—those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts. 

The word being translated as “idolatrous priests”, kemarim (כְּמָרִ֗ים), is of Syrian origin and associated with the moon god. Given the rarity of the term in the Hebrew Bible it may be inferred that these priests were no longer present after the exile, and if so . . .

It is therefore scarcely conceivable that their dissolution by King Josiah was only an invention of a post-exilic redactor. (305)

Roof Altars

2 Kings 23:12 (NIV)

He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the Lord. He removed them from there, smashed them to pieces and threw the rubble into the Kidron Valley.

Zephaniah 1:5 and Jeremiah 19:13 link roof-top worship to astral deities.

The passages quoted from the books of Zephaniah and Jeremiah, which assume that worship on the roofs continued after Josiah’s reform, therefore do not contradict the historicity of Josiah’s measures, since they remained confined to the temple and, again, affected a specific cult practice, namely sacrifice. (305)

Conclusion — and my response

CU thus suggests that the end of the seventh century “offers the most plausible religious-historical background for the three reform measures discussed above.” That may be so, but are we still not a step away from establishing whether or not any reforms took place at all?

UC underscores the following points:

  1. All three purges (horses/chariots, idolatrous priests, roof altars) relate to “practices that have lost their plausibility in view of the changed political climate with . . . lessened contacts with northern Syria and Assyria.”
  2. All three focus on the Jerusalem Temple.
  3. All three are associated with astral worship.

On the other hand, one may be inclined to think that points 1 and 3 had little relevance by the time of Josiah given that they are more closely associated with Syrian and Assyrian practices and those powers had lost their influence over Judah by Josiah’s time.

UC is seeking a midway between “minimalists” who rely on the archaeological witness to the exclusion of textual narratives that cannot be established as existing until generations later, and “maximalists” who rely on the textual narrative unless it can be proven in error. I am not so sure that a mid-way can be justified. Yes, UC can point to historical data that coheres in varying degrees with the biblical narrative, but by interpreting that data through the biblical narrative — even allowing for modifications to that narrative to make it fit the known historical and archaeological details — is still fundamentally a method that relies on a late text to through which to interpret much earlier data.

But how would/does UC respond to my misgivings? Here are five pertinent passages with my responses.


However, ‘methodological minimalists’ should not take their task too easily. Measures possibly taken under king Josiah in order to redesign the Judahite state cult cannot simply be dismissed because they are not explicitly mentioned as such in primary sources: such a conclusion would proceed from an argumentum e silentio which should be inadmissible for maximalists and minimalists alike. (285f)

“Simply be dismissed because …. not explicitly mentioned” can be taken as a pejorative put-down of the methodology of the “minimalists”. Rather, I don’t see any question of “dismissing” information that is “not explicitly” clear in the sources. Instead of “dismissal” of the “non-explicit” there is an attempt to examine each type of evidence in its own right. One might justifiably prefer to examine primary or archaeological sources independently of any other kind of evidence as the first stage of research. The second stage would be to examine the secondary narrative sources independently as far as possible against their verifiable provenance. In other words, the secondary sources for Josiah should, as far as possible, be studied as primary sources for the time and place from which they originate. Where we cannot be certain about their provenance, it is reasonable to see how the narratives might be explained in the context of the earliest period for which we can establish their existence. If nothing makes sense in that independently confirmed context, then we can test the narratives against earlier and more hypothetical periods of origin.

There is no argumentum e silento. The arguments are attuned to the voices of each type of evidence within its own verifiable context. Nor is this taking a “too easy” route. One might even say that the problems to be solved are doubled since we are grappling with two types of evidence, each on its own terms, instead of rationalizing them into a third source that is of our own making and that means we have to fudge the edges of both sources to make them fit with each other.


No serious historian should dismiss secondary sources on the sole argument that they cannot be confirmed with utter precision. On the other hand, we must of course endeavor to build only upon such secondary sources that plausibly fit the primary framework based on primary sources. (307)

Again, I wonder if I am right to detect another slight pejorative in the expression “with utter precision”. “Utter precision” might seem to imply that there can be room to fudge our data to make it fit a hypothesis. I don’t see anything wrong with accepting date ranges for known data (astral seal images, the influence of Assyrian cult in Judah, the silver amulets) and working with where they lead – whether stopping short of Josiah’s time or extending either side of it. Let the data speak without trying to refine it more precisely than it is.

When UC calls for using secondary sources “that plausibly fit the primary framework”, I think this and earlier posts have shown that his method is problematic. Rather than take the biblical narrative about Josiah’s cult centralization or purification or renewal, he has not UC actually changed the biblical narrative so that we come to imagine Josiah merely discarding practices that were no longer relevant in his time (e.g. Assyrian astral worship) or even undertaking a cost-saving measure? By reimagining the narrative to “plausibly fit” the primary evidence, has not UC actually replaced the biblical narrative with a new and different account that exists nowhere except in the historian’s imagination? Certainly, we can hypothesize that the author changed the facts before him to create a new narrative of more significant theological import, but why not simply hypothesize that the author drew upon known customs and traditions to create a historical fiction in a manner not very different from historical novelists do today?


The minimalist approach becomes extremely maximalist when it approaches the sources with inappropriate expectations, just to drop them as soon as they do not respond to gross questions. . . . We can know so little about the past, that we should endeavor to interpret adequately what little we have. (307)

There is an implicit circularity here, I think. Yes, we “know so little about the past”. And by all means we certainly “should endeavor to interpret what little we have.” It is not valid to see how we can make disparate sources from variable provenances throw light on each other until we first establish a valid argument that they are related in the way tradition and orthodoxy have led us to believe they are related. If we make invalid assumptions about the genre and provenance of our written sources we will almost certainly not be advancing genuine historical knowledge if we try to relate them to the real history behind their surface narratives. We would be in gross error if we found ourselves using Walter Scott’s novels to reconstruct medieval England, or Geoffrey of Monmouth’s saga to reconstruct a historical King Arthur. But this returns me to my response to point #One above.


Nothing remains for exegetes interested in historical research but to take note of the new methodological hierarchy which implies the necessary subordination of non-archaeological, secondary documentation, including the biblical texts, to primary data. (308)

Yes and no. Certainly there is a hierarchy of sources about any given time and place in the past. Primary sources, those produced in the time in question, surely take precedence. That does not mean we accept them uncritically because we know kings like to stretch the truth when making public boasts. But sources that derive from a later time need to be assessed according to what their authors could have known and what they wanted their audiences to read and believe. Those things may not cohere with the realities of the past. If those later sources can, however, demonstrate that they themselves are drawing upon “primary sources” since lost to us, then we are indeed fortunate in having more witnesses about the past to help us in our research.

But what is not allowed, in my view, is using a hierarchy such as the following:

  1. Exhaust all we can from primary sources
  2. Finding that we still lack much desired information, turn to secondary sources
  3. Use secondary sources to fill in the gaps.

No, valid historical research is not that simple. Here is a valid approach:

  1. Exhaust all we can from primary sources
  2. Finding that we still lack much desired information, turn to secondary sources to see if they contain evidence of further primary sources otherwise lost to us, (or see if they contain information that is evidently reliant upon lost primary sources otherwise lost to us)
  3. Use the data from primary sources evident in the secondary sources.


In the interest both of historical and theological research, we should therefore neither overstrain this link with historicist or biblicist naiveté, nor simply leap over the gap with dismissively minimalist assumptions. (308)

I hope my above responses have demonstrated that a valid “minimalist” approach is not “dismissive” of any justifiable source material.

Next post, I’ll consider another argument to explain the existence of the Josiah reform narrative in 2 Kings 22-23.

Uehlinger, Christoph. “Was There a Cult Reform under King Josiah? The Case for a Well-Grounded Minimum” In Good Kings and Bad Kings: The Kingdom of Judah in the Seventh Century BCE, edited by Lester L. Grabbe, 279–316. London: T&T Clark, 2007. https://www.academia.edu/19958547/Was_There_A_Cult_Reform_under_King_Josiah_The_Case_for_a_Well_Grounded_Minimum_2005_


Archaeological Evidence Behind the Narrative of Josiah’s Reform

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from the previous post, here are the archaeological finds that Christoph Uehlinger suggests should be considered when deciding whether or not we have evidence outside the Bible for the reforms of Josiah, circa 622 BCE, the last quarter of the seventh century. (The finds at Arad, you will recall, were dealt with in the previous post.)

1. Images on seals

Locally produced glyptic of the eighth and early seventh centuries shows . . . a stark tendency to portray astral symbolism, a tendency that is clearly related to growing Assyro-Aramean influence. (Uehlinger, 292)

Samples of astral seals from Keel & Uehlinger, pp 297, 303, 321

But this imagery is no longer found in the sixth century (Uehlinger, 292).

There is some tricky business involved when surveying all the seals because a number of them have come through the open market so provenance comes with a question mark. I am setting out here a very general picture on the basis of Uehlinger’s chapter.

There is one “family archive recording real estate transactions extending over two or three generations until the city’s conflagration in 587 BCE.

In a family archive [cited as the “House of Bullae”] containing records of transactions “over two or three generations until [Jerusalem’s] conflagration in 587 BCE. These seals . . .

. . . display a conspicuous reservation towards iconic designs and merely use decorative features and space fillers. . . . Clearly … neither iconic design in general nor astral symbolism in particular were en vogue among the literate Jerusalemites represented in the ‘House of the Bullae’ archive. (Uehlinger, p. 293f)

Worshiper facing a branch; plant and architectural (tree?) motifs (K&U, pp 356, 358)

Another collection depicts . . .

. . . architectural and vegetal or floral motifs which can be related tentatively to temple and/or fertility symbolism. (Uehlinger, p. 294)

Avigad, p 186

Uehlinger concludes:

. . . from the eighth to the sixth centuries, we may discern a clear evolution of preferences characterized by the rarefaction of iconic and otherwise deity-related seal designs.

(Uehlinger, p. 295)

A rough visual outline of the different types of seal collections and their predominant periods — based on my reading of Uehlinger.

2. Epigraphical sources

From the surviving inscriptions from the time of Hezekiah (circa 700 BCE) through to the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem (587 BCE) Uehlinger identifies “an expansion of Yahweh’s divine authority, which eo ipso implies a transfer of authority from other deities or divine entities and thus their relative deprivation of power.” (295) Further,

Hebrew and particularly Judahite inscriptions make it probable that between c. 700 and 587 Yahweh took over specific functions as provider of blessing and salvation from ‘his Asherah’.

(Uehlinger, p. 296)

Recall that “Asherah” is widely understood as a reference to Yahweh’s wife.

Uehlinger further finds significance in the absence of any reference to Yahweh’s Asherah in the greeting formulas appearing in letters from Arad dated from the time after Josiah, from the period 605-587 BCE.

Another epigraphical source is found in the pair of silver amulets from Ketef Hinnom that I discussed in a post not so long ago. Uehlinger notes that their inscription appears to extend Yahweh’s power to the underworld and as such would be a significant expansion of his power from what we know of him in earlier times. Yahweh’s salvation is described by means of a metaphor of restoration of light:

. . . this recalls the common Near Eastern concept of the sun-god who travels through the underworld during the night and literally ‘brings back light’ in the morning. . . .

From the end of the eighth century onwards, Yahweh himself was to a large extent perceived as a royal solar deity. . . . Once the idea developed that Yahweh could be active in the grave and netherworld and preserve the dead from evil, too, some sort of competition between the main deity of Jerusalem and other gods who were traditionally related to the netherworld (among them, mlk?) became inevitable.

If a cult reform ever took place under King Josiah, it must be plausibly situated within the religio-historical context implied by the afore-mentioned developments.

(Uehlinger, p. 297)

Unfortunately, as we saw in the earlier post about these amulets, the preferable date for them is “the late sixth or early fifth century BCE” — a period of Babylonian and Persian dominance and well after Josiah’s time. (But not necessarily “unfortunately” if we interpret the data as a long-lasting effect of Josiah’s reforms.)

Thus concludes my overview of Uehlinger’s discussion of potentially relevant archaeological evidence. (The temple remains at Arad were addressed in the previous post.) The full article is available via the link below.

In the next post I will focus on the literary sources, but even here the net will be cast over additional “facts on the ground”.

Till then, interested readers might like to compare their own responses to the above evidence with a comment by Juha Pakkala:

Several scholars have tried to find external fixed points for 2 Kings 22-23 by using archaeological finds [citation here to Uehlinger’s chapter being discussed in these posts] but so far one has only been able to show possible broader lines of development that could make sense if there were a reform. Clearly, the nature of the archaeological evidence is such that it would be difficult to find direct evidence for a specific event such as a reform. Archaeological evidence cannot distinguish between the reign of Josiah and 587 BCE, or between the reigns of Manasseh and Josiah. Therefore, much of the discussion about archaeolog­ical evidence is tied to attempts to validate or disprove what the Bible says. But the dangers and limitations of this approach have to be ac­knowledged. For example, if seals from Judah are increasingly aniconic towards the end of the monarchy, should we assume on the basis of 2 Kings 23 that iconographical representations of the divine were banned by Josiah? One cannot exclude this possibility, but 2 Kings 23 does not say anything about Yahweh’s iconic representations and it has often been shown that the ban on making an idol or other pictorial re­presentation of Yahweh belongs to the latest editorial phases of Deute­ronomy and 1-2 Kings. A cult reform would, for example, not explain why one would not carve a picture of an ibex or a flower, unless one assumes that Josiah’s reform included a systematic iconoclasm. In other words, the tendency to increasingly prefer aniconic seals cannot be directly connected with 2 Kings 23.

The main problem with these attempts is that we still know very little about the historical and religious context of the late 7th century BCE in Judah. Much of what is usually assumed about the religious context of the late monarchic period in Judah has been built on Josiah’s reform, or on an interpretation of what it is thought to have been.

(Pakkala, 218)

Keep in mind that Uehlinger acknowledges that archaeological evidence alone cannot establish the historicity of Josiah’s reforms. It is his “middle way” between “minimalism” and “maximalism” that I hope to address at the conclusion of this series.

Avigad, Nahman, and Benjamin Sass. Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals. 2nd edition. Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1997.

Keel, Othmar, and Christoph Uehlinger. Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel. Illustrated edition. Minneapolis, Minn: Augsburg Books, 1998.

Pakkala, Juha. “Why the Cult Reforms in Judah Probably Did Not Happen.” In One God – One Cult – One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives, edited by Reinhard G. Kratz and Hermann Spieckermann, 201–35. Berlin ; New York: De Gruyter, 2016.

Uehlinger, Christoph. “Was There a Cult Reform under King Josiah? The Case for a Well-Grounded Minimum” In Good Kings and Bad Kings: The Kingdom of Judah in the Seventh Century BCE, edited by Lester L. Grabbe, 279–316. London: T&T Clark, 2007. https://www.academia.edu/19958547/Was_There_A_Cult_Reform_under_King_Josiah_The_Case_for_a_Well_Grounded_Minimum_2005_ 


Did King Josiah Change the Course of History?

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by Neil Godfrey

A ChatGPT image of a young King Josiah ordering the destruction of pagan cult centres

Finally I am catching up with where I left my earlier discussion about the historicity of the reforms of King Josiah.

King Josiah — a sixteenth-generation, descendant of King David — declared all traces of foreign worship to be anathema, and indeed the cause of Judah’s current misfortunes. [He] embarked on a vigorous campaign of religious purification in the countryside, ordering the destruction of rural shrines, declaring them to be sources of evil. Henceforth, Jerusalem’s temple, with its inner sanctuary, altar, and surrounding courtyards at the summit of the city would be recognized as the only legitimate place of worship for the people of Israel. In that innovation, modern monotheism was born. . . .

Such an ambitious plan would require active and powerful propaganda. The book of Deuteronomy established the unity of the people of Israel and the centrality of their national cult place . . . .

(Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman pp. 2, 283 — all bolding in quotations is my own)

Josiah’s reform was nothing less than the beginnings of the religion from which Judaism and Christianity emerged, according to Finkelstein and Silberman:

Josiah’s messianic role arose from the theology of a new religious movement that dramatically changed what it meant to be an Israelite and laid the foundations for future Judaism and for Christianity. That movement ultimately produced the core documents of the Bible — chief among them, a book of the Law, discovered during renovations to the Jerusalem Temple in 622 BCE, the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign. That book, identified by most scholars as an original form of the book of Deuteronomy, sparked a revolution in ritual and a complete reformulation of Israelite identity. It contained the central features of biblical monotheism: the exclusive worship of one God in one place; centralized, national observance of the main festivals of the Jewish Year (Passover, Tabernacles); and a range of legislation dealing with social welfare, justice, and personal morality.

This was the formative moment in the crystallization of the biblical tradition as we now know it.

(F&S, 276)

What makes the reform of Josiah so controversial is the fact that Josiah has no mention in any extra-biblical sources. Although several Judahite kings are recorded, either by name or at least by office, Josiah is completely absent from the Assyrian texts so far, in spite of his alleged importance for Judah. Extant Egyptian records do not record Josiah’s death, even though Pharaoh Necho II is well known from both Egyptian and Mesopotamian sources. We are thrown back on the biblical text and archaeology for information about Josiah’s rule and his supposed religious activities. There is also the central question of the law book allegedly found in the Jerusalem temple and shown to Josiah. Since archaeology does not seem to give us a great deal of help, we rely more on the text than we would like, and a number of scholars are sceptical of the text’s story. (Davies, 383)

What is the evidence for this widely accepted scenario? The same authors concede in the same 2001 book, The Bible Unearthed,

Although archaeology has proved invaluable in uncovering the long-term social developments that underlie the historical evolution of Judah and the birth of the Deuteronomistic movement, it has been far less successful in providing evidence for Josiah’s specific accomplishments.

(F&S, 287)

If we had no Bible to tell us about Josiah’s reforms, would we know that there was definitely some kind of religious change in Josiah’s time from the archaeological evidence alone?

The importance of the question extends beyond the views of the two scholars just mentioned:

The reform accounts have had considerable impact on Biblical Stu­dies and the study of ancient Israel, its history and religion.

Many his­tories of Israel and introductions to the Hebrew Bible refer to the re­forms as important events that took place in the late 8th and late 7th centuries BCE. Many central or even defining concepts of later Ju­daism, such as cult centralization, exclusive worship of Yahweh, idol criticism and law-based religion, would have been introduced by one of the reforming kings. The reforms have also had considerable impact on the study of Biblical books. For example, because of the evident similarities between the Deuteronomy and 2 Kings 22-23, the dating of Deuteronomy is often connected with Josiah’s reform. Some scholars who have questioned the historicity of most events in 2 Kings 22-23 have still connected the Deuteronomy with King Josiah or the late 7th century BCE. The Deuteronomy would then be a witness to the reli­gious changes that took place during this time.

(Pakkala, 202)

In 2001 an article in Journal of the American Oriental Society by another scholar, Lisbeth S. Fried, concluded:

There is no archaeological evidence consistent with the assumption that Josiah removed cult sites from the Iron Age II cities of Judah, Samaria, Megiddo, or the Negev. Except for sites under the control of Edom and beyond Josiah’s reach, there were none to be removed. All had either been destroyed by Egyptian or Assyrian kings, or purposely buried in anticipation of such destruction. None was rebuilt. Neither the reforms of Josiah nor those of Hezekiah against the bāmôt [=”high places”] should be considered historical.

(Fried, 460)

Map from Wikimedia Commons; Israel Museum Model of Arad temple from Aharoni, p 26.

That reference to “purposely buried in anticipation of such destruction” is a reference to the discovery of a temple site at Tel Arad in southern Judah. (You read that correctly: Jerusalem did not possess the only temple in the kingdom of Judah during this era. Another temple from this time has been discovered at Moza, about seven kilometers northwest of Jerusalem). Of the Arad finds, Uehlinger explains,

. . . it is impossible to relate the archaeological evidence [of the Arad temple finds] to the biblical testimony about Josiah’s reform. The shrine’s cancellation is . . . an emphatically careful treatment of cultic paraphernalia within the building proper: two horned incense altars and a massebah [=sacred pillar] were all laid on their sides at their respective positions, a measure which seems to indicate an intention to preserve and not to destroy them. . . . While we cannot know the precise reasons of [sic] the cancellation, protective measures at a time when the southern border of Judah came under military pressure and Judahite defensive control could not be guaranteed anymore to provide the most reasonable scenario. This may have occurred during the years of Hezekiah’s revolt against Sennacherib, although other explanations are equally valid. . . . ‘In any case, the careful burial of the symbolic objects expresses the desire or hope for a restoration of cultic activities in the future’. This interpretation certainly does not fit the biblical report of a violent defilement of high places throughout the country—whether such a defilement took place under Hezekiah, or Josiah, or both.

(Uehlinger, 290)

Why might anyone seek to carefully hide cult items in this way? Citing Mordechai (Morton) Cogan’s Imperialism and Religion: Assyria, Judah and Israel in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries BCE, Lisbeth Fried points to a possible explanation:

Mordechai Cogan describes the effect of Assyrian attack on cult sites. During these attacks the sacred images were either destroyed, or most often, taken to Assyria or to other cities to pay homage to the Assyrian gods. Cogan reports numerous cases in which shrines were not restored until the image was returned . . .

(Uehlinger, 460)

But why was it not restored after the threat of foreign invasion was over? Fried suggests that by 701 BCE every other cult site in Judah had been destroyed by the Egyptian pharaoh or Assyrian kings leaving only the temple at Jerusalem standing.

The Temple’s miraculous survival in 701 after the demise of every other cult site may have given rise to the belief that the Temple in Jerusalem was the only place in which YHWH had caused his name to dwell. All other sites were anathema.

(Uehlinger, 461)

That sounds plausible but is also speculative and in fact surely begs the question: Why would not those associated with the hidden altars and sacred pillars have declared their own cult site divinely protected, too? No matter the answer, the fact of hiding sacred items for the sake of preservation does not testify to the violent destructions carried out by Josiah according to 2 Kings 23. Seeking to hide the presence of a temple from outside invaders is quite a different matter from any possibility of hiding it from one’s own community and authorities.

I will continue with Christoph Uehlinger’s discussion, however, because despite its setting aside the evidence of the Arad temple’s remains, in other ways it advances the strongest case I have been able to find for religious reforms by Josiah.

Uehlinger seeks a position that he might classify as mid-way between “minimalists” on the one hand who would rely exclusively on what the archaeological remains tell us, and “maximalists” on the other hand who would accept the Biblical account as reliable except where it is positively disproven.

‘Josiah’s reform’, regardless of whether exposed by ‘maximalists’ or ‘minimalists’, is essentially a scholarly construct built upon the biblical tradition; without that tradition no one would look out for a ‘cult reform’ when studying the archaeology of Judah of the Iron Age II C [=700-586 BE].

(Uehlinger, 279)

So the question becomes: To what extent, if at all, does the archaeological evidence provide reasonable grounds for the historicity of Josiah’s reforms. If it is true that . . .

without the biblical text, no archaeological findings or non-Biblical ancient text would have given any reason to assume a cult reform in Judah

(Pakkala, 218f)

. . . is it nonetheless the case that there is enough archaeological evidence to lend some credence to the biblical narrative and for a Josianic reform to remain a viable hypothesis? After examining that question it will be time to consider a literary analysis of the Bible’s story of Josiah’s reforms.

Next post will set out some of the evidence that gives Christoph Uehlinger reason to believe we should not discard the reasonableness of believing a major reform led by Josiah did take place.

Aharoni, Yohanan. “Arad: Its Inscriptions and Temple.” The Biblical Archaeologist 31, no. 1 (February 1968): 2–32. https://doi.org/10.2307/3211023.

Davies, Philip R. “Josiah and the Law Book.” In The Hebrew Bible and History: Critical Readings, edited by Lester L. Grabbe, Annotated edition , 391–403. New York: T&T Clark, 2018.

Fried, Lisbeth S. “The High Places (Bāmôt) and the Reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah: An Archaeological Investigation.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 122, no. 3 (2002): 437–65. https://doi.org/10.2307/3087515.

Pakkala, Juha. “Why the Cult Reforms in Judah Probably Did Not Happen.” In One God – One Cult – One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives, edited by Reinhard G. Kratz and Hermann Spieckermann, 201–35. Berlin ; New York: De Gruyter, 2016.

Silberman, Neil Asher, and Israel Finkelstein. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Free Press, 2001.

Uehlinger, Christoph. “Was There a Cult Reform under King Josiah? The Case for a Well-Grounded Minimum” In Good Kings and Bad Kings: The Kingdom of Judah in the Seventh Century BCE, edited by Lester L. Grabbe, 279–316. London: T&T Clark, 2007.


Two Ages and the Inventions of Four Religions

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by Neil Godfrey

One of my primary interests has been to understand how the religions of the Bible (Judaism and Christianity) and the Bible itself (both the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament and the Christian New Testament) came about. There are other far more important questions pressing on us at the moment and I will address those as well — but for now, it’s time to sum up what I have learned from reading through mountains of scholarly literature.

This post will only touch on the conclusions. The various roads to those conclusions, I hope, will follow — although much of the background relevant research has been posted over the years on this site.

Russell Gmirkin has published several scholarly books and articles that present a very plausible case for the the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), as well as some of the subsequent literature, being the work of authors and editors of the Hellenistic era (that is, from around 300 BC after the conquests of Alexander the Great) who were bringing together ideas and myths from the Samaritan-Judean worship of Yahweh into a new mix with Greek tropes and ideals. Such a notion is hard to accept at first if we have known nothing but the traditional Documentary Hypothesis (DH) of Biblical origins. The DH leads us to view the Bible as having is origins in the remote Iron Age (ca 1000 BCE, the purported time of David and Solomon) and through centuries of editorializing and additions it became what today we know as the “Jewish/Hebrew Bible” or the “Old Testament”. Niels Peter Lemche, according to my understanding, was the first to propose that we should rather look to the Hellenistic era (the time after the conquests of Alexander the Great from 334 BCE to his death in 323 BCE) for the origins of the Hebrew Bible. Since then, it would appear that Yonatan Adler has set out the archaeological evidence that would support the notion that the biblical religion did not emerge until the Hellenistic era.

Is the very idea that a new religious myth and a new concept of a supreme god could be “artificially” created and embraced by a mainstream of a community at all feasible? If we are to accept the view that the Hebrew Bible was an invention of scribes seeking to create a new myth of origins for disparate Yahweh worshipers (Samaritans and Judeans in particular, but also other Yahweh adherents), do we have any analogous enterprises that could help us accept that the such a development was to be expected — that it was not a bizarre outlier?

Yes we do. And not only does it exist, but it is located in the same time period and broader geographical area where we find the proposed Hellenistic origin of the Bible.

Not too long ago I attempted to illustrate the meaning of the term “Hellenism” or “Hellenistic” by pointing out that the term indicates an amalgam of Asian and Greek concepts. The Egyptian god Serapis was an invention of the Hellenistic era. This invention was an attempt to unite Greeks and Egyptians into a common community. The god had both Egyptian and Greek aspects merged into one. But there is more….

When Ptolemy I [a successor to Alexander] assumed power in Egypt, he faced the daunting task of uniting the various elements of the population—conquerors and conquered—to at least an extent where they tolerated each other. It has often been admired and extensively described how skillfully he proceeded, particularly in the perilous realm of religion, and how he managed to spare the feelings of the Egyptians without forcing the Greek spirit into the forms of Egyptian worship. As he set out to give the new center of the land a city deity—without such, no ancient foundation is conceivable, and here in Alexandria, as in Antioch, one stood entirely outside historical context, and therefore a city deity had to be created here as well—and as he began to establish a sacred center of his land in the new capital, he had to seek a god in whose worship Greeks and Egyptians could meet. No force on earth could have compelled the Egyptians to abandon their four-thousand-year tradition and turn to a Greek cult; but the king also did not want to make the Greeks Egyptians in their beliefs. Thus, it was only possible for something higher to unite both.

(Schmidt, translation from page 78 of Kultübertragungen [=Cult Transfers])


Those who created him must have been able to conceive of a god who had a part of the essence of each god and who therefore stood above them all; they may have had a sense that the countless gods worshiped by the world were ultimately only the emanation of a divine being, and they gave shape to this intuition and created a god whom they could interpret to the Greek as Greek and to the Egyptian as Egyptian: this was only possible if they created a universal god.

The details can wait for another post, but in short, the new god was Serapis. His statue looked Greek, but his name sounded Egyptian (a possible phonetic elision of Osiris and Apis). A myth of origin was created, too. It was declared that the first Greek ruler of Egypt (Ptolemy I) had a dream in which a numinous figure commanded him to send for a divine image from Sinope, a Greek area in northern Asia Minor. The newly created myth assured Greeks that Serapis was in many ways a familiar Greek god. Apart from looking Greek, his myth and name also contained hints of the Greek god Zeus of the underworld, or Pluto. The sound of the name Serapis, at the same time, strongly hinted at those thoroughly Egyptian deities of Osiris and Apis. So this new god was a creation of both Greek and Egyptian motifs. Its function was to bring Greeks and Egyptians together.


But his name would hardly have been chosen if another element had not also played a role: that it was possible, through slight phonetic changes, to create the belief that the name Sarapis was simply the Greek form of the Egyptian wsr-hp (Osiris-Apis). Thus, the possibility was given to conceive Sarapis as an Egyptian god and to implant in the Egyptians the belief that they worshipped one of their ancient gods only in a new form.

And on the other hand, it has also been understood to represent the god referred to by the name Sarapis to the Greeks as a Greek one. His image shows it, and it is often emphasized in literature how closely related he is to Pluto, and in the legend that tells of his introduction from Sinope, it is even explicitly emphasized that he is none other than Pluto. And the existence of such a detailed narrative, as found in Tacitus and Plutarch, can only be explained if it was intentionally fabricated for a specific purpose: the purpose was to derive Sarapis from Greek belief.

(Schmidt 79f – translation)

On a lesser scale the Hellenistic era also witnessed the creation of many new religious myths and family cultic associations to promote the prestige of new rulers and city-states — as I referenced in another post not too long ago.

Prior to the Hellenistic era the Yahweh religion was polytheistic. Yahweh had a wife. The Bible presents Yahweh as the sole god. Genesis narrates the erection of shrines and appeals to various gods that the casual reader can easily assume are early names of the god Yahweh in the book of Exodus: El Shaddai, El Olam, El Elyon,  Bethel ….

If it can be concluded that early in the Hellenistic era a new religious concept was built upon both the entrenched traditions of Greeks and Egyptians in such a way that neither tradition was offended, then it may not be too wide a step to imagine at the same time diverse Yahweh worshipers (viz. Samaritans and Judeans) constructing a narrative of mythical origins that both could embrace. The common god was, like Serapis, a universal deity, stripped of local particularizing appendages.

What of Christianity? We have here another potential analogue, also from the first two centuries of the Roman empire. In fact, the Schmidt work I quoted above came to my attention through a book by Troels Engberg-Pedersen discussing specific Greco-Roman influences on the shape of Christianity.

Photo by yours truly -British Museum

In the traditional (pre-Hellenistic and pre-Roman) Persian religion that we think of as Zoroastrianism, the god Mithras was not a major character. Yet in the second century CE the worship of Mithras, through a “mystery cult”, was widespread. This was the same period for which we have clear evidence of Christian growth.

The ancient [pre-Hellenistic and pre-Roman] cults in which Mithras appeared were public; in contrast, the Roman cult was secret, a mystery religion, and such religions appeared precisely during the Roman Empire

Without the Roman world, in fact, they would not have been possible. Previously, all religions were closely tied to specific states or peoples; one was born into one of them. . . . They primarily addressed the spiritual needs of individuals and were generally “more religious” than other cults of the time. Initiates of Isis and Mithra, like Christians, were missionaries. Regardless of their country of origin, those who accepted the premises of the new cult and wished to join were welcomed, as it constituted a spiritual homeland.

Common to all these religions is the fact that they emerged from a people who had lost their political identity . . . .

(Merkelbach, 82 – translation)

If the founder(s) of the Christian religion, whether that was Paul or another, put an innovative twist on some branch or branches of Judaism to create their new faith, and did so at the time of the early Roman empire, they were not alone. Some unknown “genius” appears to have done something similar in relation to the orthodox Persian religion to create a new cult focusing on the worship of Mithras.

The mysteries of Mithras constituted a new faith that no longer had much in common with that of the ancient Persians, except for the name of the god and some mythical episodes.

Once fixed, the system . . . did not undergo any substantial modification over time. Therefore, it cannot be the result of a long evolution but was necessarily conceived and structured in its entirety once and for all. In Geschichte der griechischen Religion (vol 2 p. 675), M.P. Nilsson states that the mysteries of Mithras were created as a whole by an unknown genius, and we can only confirm his opinion.

The place of origin of this cult is unknown, but its creator was well acquainted with the Persian religion. It will be seen how, probably very soon, the center of the new religion became Rome, the capital of the empire, from where that cult then spread to the provinces.

(Merkelbach 82f – translation)

The reference was to Nilsson, who wrote:

The conclusion is inevitable that the Mithraic mysteries are a unique creation of an unknown religious genius, who, based on certain myths and rituals selected by him and incorporating elements from the astrology prevalent at the time and from Greek beliefs, created a form of religion capable of conquering a place in the Roman world.

(Nilsson 675)

I do not suggest that Christianity mutated from Mithraism. Not at all — despite the embarrassment of some early Church Fathers attempting to grapple with a few overt similarities between the two religions. Rather, what is of particular interest is the emergence of two comparable religions around the same period and place as a result of deliberate invention to meet what were arguably comparable public needs.

If both Mithraism and Christianity were “invented” to meet certain needs of individuals who found themselves looking for a new community and identity, they may have been little different, in essence and function, from two earlier Hellenistic religions that were created to meet specific community needs of their day.

Engberg-Pedersen, Troels. Paul in His Hellenistic Context. T&T Clark, 2004.

Merkelbach, Reinhold. Mithras. Konigstein/Ts : Hain, 1984.

Nilsson, Martin P. (Martin Persson). Geschichte der griechischen Religion. Vol. 2. 2 vols. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1974.

Schmidt, Ernst. Kultübertragungen. Giessen: Alfred Töpelmann, 1909.