2022-09-25

Biblical Creation Accounts and Plato – 1

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by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, for sending me a review copy.

Similarities between the Pentateuch and Greek literature have long been noted and discussed in scholarly literature, but most of those discussions have assumed that the Greeks and the authors of the biblical books were independently drawing on Asiatic stories or even that some Greeks were exposed to translations of parts of the Pentateuch. (Evangelia Dafni is one such scholar who today argues for that latter position; Franz Dornseiff once argued for the former.) Others have flatly denied any serious or significant analogies between the Pentateuch and Greek works, relegating supposed parallels to coincidence or over-active imaginations. That dreaded fourteen letter word comes to mind: “parallelomania“.

Russell Gmirkin [RG] has a new book, Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. My blog posts on his two earlier books are archived at Berossus and Genesis and Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible. I anticipate doing a chapter by chapter review of his new work on Genesis 1-11.

Genesis 1-11 or the Primordial History covers the span of time from Creation and the misadventures of the first humans, through the Flood and up to the Tower of Babel story. It stops prior to the introduction of Abraham and the beginning of Israel’s story. The Primordial History stages characters with enormous life-spans, a talking snake, angels with flaming swords, a god walking the earth, “sons of god” mating with women to produce “men of renown”, a world-wide flood that reminds us of the Epic of Gilgamesh and a divine intervention to confound the languages of humanity and scatter them across the earth. Before all of that we read how God created heaven and earth, beginning with the creation of light days before he made the sun! These chapters are clearly a different type of unit from the rest of the Pentateuch. Where does it all come from?

Even within chapters 1-11 exegetes have long noted a sudden break between the seven-day creation (1:1 to 2:3) on the one hand and the detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, (2:4ff) on the other. How did two accounts, one seeming to contradict the other, come to be placed side by side? And what are we to make of the different names of God: Elohim and Yahweh Elohim?

Forgive me, but I have an aversion to the term “Near East” given its imperialist Eurocentric origin and perspective. Besides, from where I live in Australia the regions of the Levant and Mesopotamia are “Far West”.

The ideas explored in RG’s new book will be a challenge-too-far for some readers who have been immersed in the Documentary Hypothesis and its assumption that the writings of the Bible evolved over centuries from the time of the biblical kingdoms of Israel-Judah (from 900 BCE) and were more or less completed by the end of the Persian era in the fifth century, that is, before the conquests of Alexander and the onset of the Hellenistic period. This traditional view holds that the Bible grew out of the literary matrix of Mesopotamia and Syria-Canaan. Possible Greek influence is not even considered.

In his earlier books RG explored the case for a Hellenistic date for the Pentateuch and this new volume is a continuation of those earlier works. His aim is to see what happens when we compare a wider range of possible influences — adding Greek data into the mix — on the Primordial History. I hasten to point out that RG by no means denies influence from the Levantine-Mesopotamian region. But the devils are in the details when identifying the most likely sources of transmission. It is not an either-or discussion but a modified form of both-and, albeit with some adjustments concerning what the evidence indicates about who was responsible for the transmission and when.

In his opening chapter RG explains

  • how he will go about identifying the sources behind the Primordial History

and

  • an overview of the history of the scholarly views of Genesis 1-11 and where his own research fits.

To what shall we compare thee?

Continue reading “Biblical Creation Accounts and Plato – 1”


2022-06-16

Simeon The Just: The Forgotten Author Of The Hebrew Bible

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by Neil Godfrey

https://independent.academia.edu/BernardBARC

Another work by a French scholar (I have posted on quite a few* on this blog), and one that I am regretting not having engaged with sooner, is Simeon The Just: The Forgotten Author Of The Hebrew Bible. Author: Bernard Barc. The Preface to the book is online so I am confident in being permitted to repost it here, in translation, with attribution. It may pique your interest in knowing more about Barc’s thesis. I expect to be posting more as I continue to read and translate it. I see Barc passed away only last year. I have had the book since 2019 and am only now catching up with it so I am sorry I left it too late to take the opportunity to correspond with him. 

Preface

Who is the author of the Torah, or at least its final editor? In 2000, Bernard Barc published Les arpenteurs du temps. Essai sur l’histoire religieuse de la Judée à l’époque hellénistique (The Surveyors of Time. Essay on the religious history of Judea in the Hellenistic period), published by the Zebre Press in Lausanne. Biblical research was then marked by the theory of Reichsautorization that had appeared in Germany in the 1980s: several historians, such as Ehrard Blum and Peter Frei, developed the idea that the letter of Artaxerxes I (465-424) quoted in Ezra-Nehemiah 7:11-28 was one of several testimonies to the policy of the Persian Empire to guarantee the recognition and obligation of local rights by the authorities of the empire; such a policy implied the writing down of local laws, which then took their place in Persian law; the final redaction of the Torah, which can be symbolized by the name of Ezra, should be understood in the light of this policy of Persian imperial authorization. Bernard Barc was against this perspective: the final redaction of the Torah is much later; it must be related to the high priest Simon, son of Onias II, whom the author of Sirach praises at length in chapter 50 of his book and whose activity is situated in the years 220-195 approximately. In the eyes of Bernard Barc, this Simon is none other than Simeon the Just … , whose extreme attention to the Torah is recalled at the beginning of the Pirkevot. Bernard Barc’s book has sometimes been criticized as being too much about numerology, whereas it simply takes seriously the rules of gematria in Jewish tradition. It has also been seen as the approach of a specialist in gnostic texts projecting an esoteric way of thinking onto the Bible. It is true that Bernard Barc is the editor of some of the Nag Hammadi treatises and that he has contributed to the training of several of the Quebec copyists. But he is also a first-rate Hebraist, recruited by the French University in 1967 to teach biblical Hebrew; he was of great help to me when I was editing the volume of Numbers for the collection “La Bible d’Alexandrie”, published in 1994.

In the book that he is giving today, Bernard Barc broadens his scope to include the whole of the Hebrew Bible, of which Simeon the Just is, in his eyes, the forgotten author. By this he means that nothing is left to chance in the writing of the Bible, neither the division into books, nor the division into sections, open or closed, nor the use of words, none of which is superfluous, nor their occurrence in the order of the text, nor the spelling itself, whose variations are significant. The letter is therefore fundamental. And literal reading is essential, according to the rules that Bernard Barc sets out, for example when he explains the algorithm of biblical letters. But this literal reading of the Bible of Simeon that Bernard Barc engages in has nothing to do with the literal reading of the Antiochian school of the fourth to fifth centuries or with the historical-literal reading of the Bible that has been imposed in the scholarly world since the Renaissance: it is not a question of reasoning in terms of history and historical context, but of unfolding the meaning of the text as one goes along in its reading. As a result, sometimes the literal meaning that emerges is joined with what we would call the hidden or allegorical meaning. In fact, Simeon has a project, which can be defined in two sentences: first, history unfolds according to a divine plan conceived by the Most High God and implemented by his two hypostases, Elohim and YHWH; second, the design of the Most High is manifested in creation by numbers and letter-numbers organised according to an algorithm, in particular the perfect solar year of 364 + 1 days. As a result, Simeon obeys writing constraints, which Bernard Barc summarises perfectly in §108, and which he clarifies as his work progresses. 65 tables help the reader to visualise Bernard Barc’s deconstruction of Simeon’s project.

To read such a book with profit, one must get rid of our usual ways of approaching the Bible. You have to accept that Simeon functions somewhat like the great rhetoricians of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries or the Oulipo, illustrated by Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, Harry Mathews or Jacques Roubaud, among others. Simeon’s Bible is not an ordinary work of history, which investigates the past and recounts it in order to make it understandable. The past corresponds to God’s plan, which unfolds in history and which is accounted for by means of a limited number of rules of writing. Many biblical scholars will not agree to follow Bernard Barc, whose approach is too new to be immediately convincing. But even for these recalcitrant readers, there will be a good use of the book. Thus, for example, Table 15 in §93 on the explicit dates of the Bible will not fail to provoke reflection for a long time to come; why, indeed, these dates and not others? In § 216, Table 55 on a chronology of Universal History will impress even the most sceptical of readers.

I read these fascinating and abundant pages, but sometimes difficult to follow (especially § 134-141), with my questions as a specialist of the Greek Bible of the Septuagint and as a historian of the canon. In § 58, Bernard Barc suggests that the LXX was translated, not in Alexandria, but in Leontopolis, in the city of the Oniades refugees in Egypt. This is an idea that has never been put forward before. Some Septuagint scholars have argued that a rival version of the LXX, but not the LXX itself, originated in Leontopolis. Others have located the making of the Isaiah translation, and that book alone, in that city. But locating the LXX in Leontopolis and dating it to the middle of the second century contradicts all the ancient sources, which are unanimous about Alexandria and which place the translation in relation to Ptolemy Lagos or Ptolemy Philadelphus, at the beginning of the second century BC. Around 220, Demetrios the Chronographer seems to quote the text of the LXX. However, it is easy to understand why Bernard Barc favours a low date for the LXX: it allows us to attribute a central role to Simeon. But can we not imagine that Simeon is the heir of textual traditions prior to him, and of which the LXX is in certain cases the witness? Let us take the example of the five books of the Torah. In § 126-127 and 234, Bernard Barc draws attention to the fact that Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, but not Deuteronomy, begin with the letter waw, which means “and”; it is clear that, literally, Exodus is added to Genesis; Leviticus, to Exodus; and Numbers, to Leviticus; and that Deuteronomy is not. However, the LXX offers a notable difference from the Hebrew Massoretic text: Exodus does not begin with ‘and’, kai in Greek. Where the Hebrew text offers two sets, namely the first four books and Deuteronomy, the LXX has three: Genesis, Exodus-Leviticus-Numbers, Deuteronomy. However, the Samaritan Hebrew text and the Syriac Peshitta, normally translated from the Hebrew, offer the same text as the LXX. One must therefore ask whether the LXX, the Samaritan and the Peshitta do not attest the existence of a Hebrew text prior to that of Simeon, in which the story of the creation of the world and the patriarchs was set apart from the story of Moses and the Hebrews in the desert; by adding the waw at the beginning of Exodus, Simeon would have unified these two stories; however, in both cases, Deuteronomy would have constituted a specific whole, probably because the speaker is no longer God, but Moses.

I submitted to Bernard Barc the thoughts I have just outlined. He expressed his disagreement with me, with strong arguments that I summarize in a few sentences. According to him, it is not possible for Simeon to have introduced the complex arithmological architecture of which he is the inventor into a pre-existing Hebrew text. Indeed, if Simeon’s work had consisted in refining a Hebrew text at his disposal, it would have to have already presented, with a few details, the genealogical organisation of the biblical story and the names of the characters. There would thus have existed before Simeon a text that strangely resembled that of Simeon! One can only be sensitive to this argument, while recalling that the question of the historical character of Simeon the Just is delicate, since Flavius Josephus makes him the son of Onias I and thus places him at the beginning of the third century (Jewish Antiquities XII 43). It is true that the consensus of contemporary historians rejects this testimony and that they are practically unanimous in seeing in Simeon the Just the son of Onias II, as does Bernard Barc. But what can be suggested is this: Simeon could be the last link in a line of high priests who would have worked in the same direction for a century.

My remarks on the history of the canon have less impact on the theses put forward by Bernard Barc. He takes the perspective of the tripartite canon, Law, Prophets and Writings, which he nowhere discusses. Yet the oldest canonical reality we reach when reading the Bible itself is either the Law or the Law and Prophets. The latter designation does not refer to two sub-corpuses, on the one hand the Law, on the other the Prophets: in 4 Maccabees 18:10-19, the Law and the Prophets include not only Genesis, Numbers and Deuteronomy, but also Isaiah, Ezekiel, Psalms, Proverbs and Daniel; in the Gospel of John 12:34 and 15:25, under the mention of the Law is actually introduced a quotation from the Psalms. We are therefore dealing, not with a bipartite Bible, but with a bi-defined or bi-referenced Bible. This bi-defined Bible is that of the tannaim, who use the expression “the Law and the Prophets”. The tripartite Bible appears only in the 200s with the amoraim, who speak of the Law and the Prophets and the Writings. The texts that canon historians cite in support of the existence of the tripartite canon from the Maccabean period only prove that the expression “the Law and the Prophets” was felt to be inappropriate to account for books that are neither of the legal nor of the prophetic kind. So what is Simeon’s canon? Is it not the one designated by the Law and the Prophets? One may wonder whether the expression “the height of the double” in Sirach 50:2, which Bernard Barc comments on in § 64-68 and in which he sees the two tablets of the Law, could not designate the bi-referential canon, the Law and the Prophets.

Bernard Barc’s book is sure to raise further questions and discussions. We have not finished remembering this great forgotten man: Simeon the Just. 

Gilles Dorival
Professor Emeritus at the University of Aix-Marseille
Honorary member of the University Institute of France
(chair “Hellenistic Judaism and Ancient Christianity”)

The translation is by DeepL.

The introductory chapter offers a quite new viewpoint on why Genesis, for example, contains side by side, sometimes interwoven, stories that singly appear to be in opposition to each other. The particular focus is on the story of the Flood and Noah: two gods appear, one Yahweh, the other Elohim; different commands are given, two of each kind and seven of each kind, and so forth. I have a few other works to post about first but will return to Bernard Barc before too long.

Here is a snippet from the introductory chapter to prepare you for the sort of fresh thinking that is to come: Continue reading “Simeon The Just: The Forgotten Author Of The Hebrew Bible”


2021-12-21

From Hermes to Yahweh

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by Neil Godfrey

  We know the story of Elisha retrieving the iron axe head by having it float to the surface of a river. It is in 2 Kings 6:1-7:

The company of the prophets said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to meet.”

And he said, “Go.”

Then one of them said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?”

“I will,” Elisha replied. And he went with them.

They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water.

“Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!”

The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?”

When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float.

“Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.

Back in 1997 Yaaqov Kupitz drew attention to the similarity of the biblical story with one of Aesop’s fables:

In the Second Book of Kings (Kings II. 6: 4-7), a man is cutting down a tree on the banks of the Jordan to build a shelter when the iron blade (Hebrew barzel) of his axe falls into the water. He asks for help and Elisha, “the man of God”, throws a piece of wood into the river and the blade, literally the “iron”, begins to float. This miracle is in fact a fable by Aesop, Hermes and the woodcutter. A man is cutting down a tree on the bank of a river when his axe (Pélékoun in Greek) falls into the water. The man sits down and weeps. Hermes, the god of discovery, hears his cries, dives in three times and successively brings up a golden axe, a silver one and the original iron one. The woodcutter then retrieves his, ignoring the other two. Note that there is a moral to this story, whereas Kings only lists Elisha’s miracles. In the Book of Kings, the axe is metonymized by the material of its blade, iron, and the Greek sidéro, ‘iron’, can also mean ‘axe’…

Kupitz, Yaaqov S. “La Bible Est-Elle Un Plagiat?” Sciences et Avenir 86, no. Hors-Série (December 1997): 84.

Kupitz’s ideas were a special inspiration for Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert, a work discussed on this blog at various times. (Thanks to Russell Gmirkin for mentioning Kupitz in a recent comment and reminding me and bringing K’s 1997 article to my attention.)

The fable from Handford’s translation.

A man who was cutting wood on a riverside lost his axe in the water. There was no help for it; so he sat down on the bank and began to cry. Hermes appeared and inquired what was the matter. Feeling sorry for the man, he dived into the river, brought up a gold axe, and asked him if that was the one he had lost. When the woodcutter said that it was not, Hermes dived again and fetched up a silver one. The man said that was not his either. So he went down a third time and came up with the woodcutter’s own axe. ‘That’s the right one,’ he said; and Hermes was so delighted with his honesty that he made him a present of the other two axes as well. When the wood-man rejoined his mates and told them his experience, one of them thought he would bring off a similar coup. He went to the river, deliberately threw his axe into it, and then sat down and wept. Hermes appeared again; and on hearing the cause of his tears, he dived in, produced a gold axe as before, and asked if it was the one that had been lost. ‘Yes, it is indeed,’ the man joyfully exclaimed. The god was so shocked at his unblushing impudence, that, far from giving him the gold axe, he did not even restore his own to him.

The biblical account involves a God who, unlike Hermes, is not a trickster out to tempt and deceive mortals (at least not in the Elisha tale). Nor is the figure who loses the axe head threatened by the loss of his means of livelihood. Rather, the biblical tale is about a righteous disciple of the prophet. His work is a work of righteousness, a work for the benefit of the community of Elisha’s followers. The loss of the axe head means the workman is unable to fulfil a righteous act in returning a valued and necessary borrowed item.

The biblical account is about a god who would be embarrassed by the shenanigans of Hermes in the fable. Plato condemned the immoral and inconstant character of Greek gods. Yes, Hermes is in a sense righteous in the fable: but he is clearly going about the testing of the human’s character in a deceptive way. For the fable to “translate” to a tale involving a biblical deity and his righteous disciples, it must be shed of its deception. A simple, no-nonsense restoration of the “daily needs” of the servants of God is all that is required. The change has been so effective that many devout readers through the ages have interpreted the straightforward and staid tone of biblical miracles as evidence of their historical reality.

. . .

Here’s an older illustration. Interesting to contrast modern perspectives of how gods are portrayed for children:

https://www.oldbookillustrations.com/illustrations/mercury-woodman/

 


2021-10-11

Mary, Mary, who are you? – part 2

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by Neil Godfrey

In order to gain possible insights into the origins of persons and events in the gospels, we have, over the past year and more, been attempting to read the Scriptures with the same types of “midrashic” mindsets that ancient Jewish scribes exercised. What follows is from Portrait d’Israël en jeune fille: Genèse de Marie by Sandrick Le Maguer. You may not be persuaded by all of what follows but I hope it will at least make us wonder about the possibilities.

In Part 1 we saw that Miriam was associated closely with the miracle rock or “well” that produced flowing water for Israel as they wandered in the wilderness — the rock accompanying them on their trek. (The inspiration for this association arose from Numbers 20:1-2 we read first that Miriam died and then, in the following sentence, there was no water for Israel. Rabbis put two and two together and decided Miriam’s death had to be the reason: Moses this second time had to turn on the tap by speaking to the rock but, as we know, he struck it twice with his rod instead.)

Wisdom = Miriam = Well = Torah

Now early Jewish exegetes compared a well of water to the Torah, the Law. In Rabba Genesis 1:4 we find, as well, an equation of Wisdom with Law.

R. Banayah said: The world and the fullness thereof were created only for the sake of the Torah: The Lord for the sake of wisdom [i.e. the Torah] founded the earth (Prov. iii, 19).

The Hebrew word for well is “beer” (we wish!), as in Beersheba, etc., the three root consonants being beth, aleph, and resh: באר 

If you feel uncomfortable introducing such a late source as Rabba Genesis then you may prefer instead to savour the Damascus Document from among the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 6:4 there we read the same interpretation, this time while discussing Numbers 21:18

The Well is the Law, and its “diggers” are the repentant of Israel who went out of the land of Judah and dwelt in the land of Damascus.

Now the same three root consonants (beth, aleph, and resh), in the same order, also mean to “make clear and plain”, as we read in Deuteronomy 27:8 in connection with how the Law was to be written:

And you shall write very plainly [באר] on the stones all the words of this law.

Marc Chagall: Miriam Took a Timbrell. From Georgetown Frame Shoppe

We can transcribe this as baar. The point is that, as Maguer would say, we here have an “over-determination” of the link between the Law and the well. What is written clearly, plainly, the root for the word “well”, is the Law.

So where does Miriam enter?

We recall from Part 1 that in Exodus 15:20 Miriam is called “the prophetess”: hanaviah [הנביאה] – ha=the, navi or nabi=prophet, ah=feminine ending.

We have also seen indications that the numerical values in some words, or gematria, were an important element in rabbinic interpretations and that it is not unreasonable to think that this method was known very early. (Numerical techniques in the Gospel of John alone have been the subject of a monograph.) Now there are two types of gematria: one, row gematria, assigns a number in sequence from 1 to 22 to each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet; the other, classical gematria, does the same up to number 10 but then assigns multiples to the other numbers:

The row gematria value for “the prophetess” is 37; the classical gematria value is 73. A magical number, some might wonder.

Now the word for wisdom in Proverbs 7:4 is chokmah [חכ‎מה‎]. I am not taking this passage at random. We will see that it has a most significant connection with Miriam in rabbinic interpretations.

Say to wisdom [chokmah /חכ‎מה ‎], “You are my sister,” And call understanding your nearest kin

It turns out that, you guessed it, chokmah, het or chet-kaf-mem-he, also = 37 and 73.

Midrash Exodus is a late writing but we will see what thoughts it contains nonetheless and perhaps wonder about the provenance of such ideas. Midrash Exodus or Shemot Rabbah 1:22 associates each word or phrase with others in the Scriptures to find a message about the close watch God was maintaining over the fate of Moses. We see that Miriam is equated with the “Sister Wisdom” that we just read in Proverbs 7:4 — following the passage we addressed in our earlier post that makes us wonder if the evangelist describing the women “far off” from the cross expected readers to recall the image of Miriam:

And this is why the verse says “And his sister stood by from afar”, for she wanted to know what would be the results of her prophecy. And the Rabbis say the entire verse was said with the Divine Spirit. “And she stood” similar to (1 Samuel 3:10) “And G-D came and stood”. “His Sister” similar to (Proverbs 7:4) “Say to wisdom, she is your sister”. “From afar” similar to (Jeremiah 31:2) “From afar G-D is seen to me”. “To know what will happen to him” similar to (1 Samuel 2:3) “For G-D is all knowing”.

So we have Wisdom=Law=Well . . . the prophetess Miriam.

We have not exhausted the well, though. Wisdom is, according to the Scriptures, hidden. In Job 28:21 …

It is hidden [ne-alamah /  נעלמה ] from the eyes of all living, And concealed from the birds of the air.

Miriam “hid” her family relationship to the infant from Pharaoh’s daughter — according to that late Exodus Midrash 1:25.

But that word for “hidden” contains the same consonant roots — fair game for the wordplay that is the meat of midrash — as another description of Miriam, and a word that has become famous as the source for the prophecy of the virgin Mary. That word is “almah”, young girl or woman. Continue reading “Mary, Mary, who are you? – part 2”


2021-10-09

Miriam stood afar off

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by Neil Godfrey

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/352241

And his sister stood afar off [μακρόθεν in LXX], to know what would be done to him. — Exodus 2:4

1.22. And his sister stood afar off (ii, 4). Why did Miriam stand afar off? R. Amram in the name of Rab said: Because Miriam prophesied, ‘My mother is destined to give birth to a son who will save Israel’; and when the house was flooded with light at the birth of Moses, her father arose and kissed her head and said: ‘My daughter, thy prophecy has been fulfilled.’ This is the meaning of: And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel (Ex. xv, 20);’ The sister of Aaron,’ but not of Motes?—[She is so called] because in fact she said this prophecy when she was yet only the sister of Aaron, Moses not having been born yet. Now that she was casting him into the river, her mother struck her on the head, saying : ‘ My daughter, what about thy prophecy ?’ This is why it says: And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be the outcome of her prophecy. — Exodus Rabbah

And there were also women looking on from afar off [μακρόθεν], among whom also were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the least and of Joseph, and Salome — Mark 15:40

 

 

 


2021-10-07

Mary, Mary, who are you? – part 1

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by Neil Godfrey

On another forum lately there has appeared the question of why there are so many Marys in the gospels and why Jesus’ mother is given that name. With the partial exception of Jesus’ mother, they have no significant plot function at all. They appear then disappear with no obvious narrative role. What’s going on? These questions have arisen coincidentally at a time when I have returned to exploring the gospels as midrash, that is, as writings similar to the Jewish technique of creating new stories by rearranging passages from here and there in their Scriptures. So with the above questions in mind — why is Jesus’ mother named Mary and why so many Marys in the gospels — consider some of the early Jewish beliefs about Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. The stories as we know them all post-date the gospels.

This post is part one.

Prophet and leader of Israel

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. – Exodus 15:20

Miriam and Aaron began to speak . . .  “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” – Numbers 12:1-2

I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. – Micah 6:4

Ancient Dura Europos Synagogue fresco of Moses being drawn from the Nile.

As a prophet, Miriam was said to have predicted that the saviour of the people of Israel would be born to Amram and Jochebed, her parents.

When Pharaoh issued his decree to slay all newborn male children of the Hebrews, Amram, said to be a leading figure among the Israelites, announced that it would be better to divorce his wife to ensure Pharaoh’s will could not be carried out. The rest of the Israelite men followed his example and divorced their wives. Miriam, his daughter, was outraged against her father and sharply chastised him for neglecting his higher duty to God and the future of Israel: a saviour to deliver them had yet to be born, after all. More specifically, Miriam prophesied that her mother would give birth to a saviour who would rescue them all from Egypt.

Amram was humbled and remarried his wife. Meanwhile, God had restored Jochebed to her youthful state so she was, in effect, a virgin when she remarried her husband.

And a man went from the house of Levi” (Exod. 2:1). Where did he go? Rabbi Yehudah son of Zevinah said: He followed the advice of his daughter. A tannaitic source states: Amram was the greatest man of his generation. When evil Pharaoh decreed: “Every son that is born shall be thrown into the river” (Exod. 1:22), he said: We are toiling in vain. He got up and divorced his wife. They all got up and divorced their wives. His daughter said to him: Father, your decree is harsher than Pharaoh’s, for Pharaoh decreed only concerning the males, and you have decreed concerning the males and the females; Pharaoh decreed only in this world, and you, in this world and for the world to come; evil Pharaoh—perhaps his decree shall be fulfilled, perhaps it shall not be fulfilled, but you are righteous—certainly your decree shall be fulfilled. . . . He got up and brought back his wife. They all got up and brought back their wives. . . . (Sotah 12b)

. . . . —is it possible that she [Jochebed] was a hundred thirty years old and it calls her a daughter [young girl]? . . . Rabbi Yehudah said: Because signs of youth were generated in her. (Sotah 12a)

Then when Moses was born, Amram kissed his daughter in gratitude that her prophecy had been fulfilled. But when Moses was placed in the river Amram lost heart and slapped her on the head for prophesying falsely.

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took.. . .” (Exod. 15:20). The sister of Aaron, and not the sister of Moses? . . . : This teaches us that she used to prophesy when she was the sister of Aaron and say: In the future my mother will give birth to a son who will redeem Israel. And when Moses was born the entire house was filled with light. Her father stood and kissed her on the head. He said: My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled. And when they threw him into the river, her father stood and slapped her on the head. He said to her: My daughter, where is your prophecy? And thus it is written: “And his sister stood from afar in order to know what would be done to him” (Exod. 2:4)—to know what would come of her prophecy. (Sotah 12b-13a)

Yet Miriam did not lose faith and “stood afar off” watching over Moses to ensure his safety. We know how it ended. Miriam managed to retrieve Moses from the Egyptian princess so that his own mother could nurse him.

Miriam is, therefore, the one who prophesied the birth of the saviour of Israel, the one who forbade her father to divorce his wife (or at least to remarry her), the one who protected Moses and ensured his entry into the world. (Similarities and overlaps with any other Christian narrative are surely entirely coincidental.)

God rewarded Miriam for her courage and faithfulness: she was to become the ancestress of the kingship of Israel.

Ancestor of David

The full midrashic explanation of how Miriam is hidden behind several names in 1 Chronicles is a doozy: Miriam was deserted by men but married “for the right reasons” by Caleb, and changed her appearance, etc. And Caleb the son of Hezron begot [through] the woman Azubah and [through] Jerioth, and these are her sons: Jesher and Shobab and Ardon” (1 Chron. 2:18). . . . Azubah is Miriam. And why was she called Azubah? Because everyone left her at the beginning. “Begot”—but he was married to her! Rabbi Yohanan said: Whoever marries a woman for a higher purpose, the text considers it as if he begot her. “Jerioth”—because her face resembled curtains. “And these are her sons”—do not read “her sons,” but “her builders.” .. . “And Ashhur the father of Tekoa had two wives, Helah and Naarah” (2 Chron. 4:5). Ashhur is Caleb. And why was he called Ashhur? Because his face turned black from fasting. “The father of”— because he became like a father to her. “Tekoa”—because he dedicated his heart to his father in heaven. “Had two wives”—Miriam became like two women. “Helah and Naarah”—not Helah and Naarah, but in the beginning she was sickly, and afterward she was youthful. (Sotah 11b-12a)

In the Talmud (Sotah 11b) it is explained that the names used in I Chronicles (2:18) for Caleb’s wives Azubah and Ephrath are one or the other a pseudonym for Miriam. — Moshe Reiss, p. 190 n.13

Caleb son of Hezron had children by his wife Azubah (and by Jerioth). These were her sons: Jesher, Shobab and Ardon. When Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrath, who bore him Hur. Hur was the father of Uri, and Uri the father of Bezalel. — 1 Chronicles 2:18-20

To return to that Sotah 11b passage cited by Moshe Reiss, here is the relevant section:

David, who also comes from Miriam, as it is written: “And Azubah,” the wife of Caleb, “died, and Caleb took to him Ephrath, who bore him Hur” (I Chronicles 2:19) and, as will be explained further, Ephrath is Miriam. And it is written: “David was the son of that Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah” (I Samuel 17:12). Therefore, he was a descendant of Miriam.

The midrashic explanation goes back to the opening chapters of Exodus and the story of the two midwives who delivered the Israelite babies. Pharaoh, again we know the story, ordered the midwives to kill every newborn male but the midwives responded by pleading that the Israelite women were popping them out so fast that it was impossible to reach any of them in time to kill the infant. God was pleased so we read,

And it came to pass, since the midwives feared God, He made houses for them — Exod. 1:21

You don’t know what “made houses” means? Did God come down and make them each a bungalow? Rabbis debated the mystery line, too. One of those midwives, you guessed it, was Miriam albeit by another name. Miriam’s cipher was Puah (Exodus 1:15), the reasons offered being many: one, she cooed at the babies (pu pu…); another, that the word suggesting weeping and wailing over the threat to Moses’ life; yet another drawing upon an indication that the word meant defiant resistance, her attitude against Pharaoh. (By this time you will not be the least surprised to learn that the other midwife was Miriam’s mother, Jochebed, but we’ll leave that explanation aside for now.)

So back to the reward:

Rav and Shmuel disagree. One said: Priestly houses, and one said: Royal houses. According to him who said priestly houses, this refers to Aaron and Moses, and according to him who said royal houses, David also came from Miriam, as it is written: “And Azubah died, and Caleb took Ephrath, and she bore Hur to him” (1 Chron. 2:19). And it is written: “And David was the son of that Ephrathite . . .” (1 Sam. 17:12). — Sotah 11b

And so it was.

Mother of a martyr

Josephus writes that Hur, the one who, with Aaron, held up Moses’ hands to defeat the Amalekites (Exodus 17:10-13), was Miriam’s husband (Antiquities III, 2, 4) but another view appears in later rabbinic literature: Miriam was the mother of Hur. From this perspective, we re-read 1 Chronicles 2 (quoted above) and notice that Hur was said to be the son of Caleb and Ephrath, the alternative name for Miriam.

Hur was said to be murdered by the worshippers of the Golden Calf. Here is one of the rabbinical passages explaining what happened:

When Moses had gone up [Mount Sinai], he had agreed with Israel to come down at the end of forty days. When he delayed coming down, all Israel came together to the elders. . . . They said to them, Moses agreed with us that he would come down in forty days. Now here it is forty days and he has not come down. And in addition, six hours more [have passed] . . .  yet we do not know what has happened to him. So (in the words of Exod. 32:1 cont.) ‘Arise and make a god for us.’” When [the elders] heard that, [the elders] said to them, “Why are you angering Him, you for whom He performed all the miracles and wonders?” [But] they did not heed them and killed them. Then because Hur had stood . . . up to them with harsh words, they . . . rose up against him and killed him [as well]. Then all of Israel gathered around Aaron . . . Midrash Tanchuma 3

And so they threatened Aaron unless he made the golden calf.

Grandmother of craftsman of the Tabernacle

Following the genealogy of the tradition above, Bezalel, “filled with the spirit”, the skilled craftsman responsible for all the decoration and furnishings of the Tabernacle, was the grandson of Miriam.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. . . . — Exodus 31:1-5

We can’t prove a connection but it is interesting to wonder here about Jesus, son of Mary, a carpenter and builder of the church which in Christian literature was symbolized by the Tabernacle and Temple.

Miriam’s Well Illuminated Manuscript: Hagadot.com

Miriam’s well

Again in Midrash Tanchuma Buber Bamidbar 2, we see that the rock that miraculously supplied water for Israel accompanied Israel in the wilderness because of Miriam. When Miriam died the same rock ceased to supply water. The original narrative may not have had any cause-effect relationship in mind but rabbis did see one. One of the functions of midrash was, after all, to create new narratives that tied adjacent episodes in the Bible. We are aware that biblical narratives tend to be collections of many smaller units strung together “like beads on a string” and so were the rabbis. Midrash was one imaginative way they had of making more coherent links between these beads but the links had to draw upon selected words or oddities in the texts to tie them together. Here is a midrashic explanation that tied the death of Miriam with the next episode that began with the Israelites complaining about lack of water:

. . . as stated (in Micah 6:4): AND I SENT MOSES, AARON, AND MIRIAM BEFORE YOU. Thus through their merit, Israel was sustained. The manna was through the merit of Moses. [You yourself know that it is so. When Moses passed away, what is written (in Josh. 5:12)? THE MANNA CEASED ON THE NEXT DAY (i.e., the day after Moses died).] The clouds of glory through the merit of Aaron. You yourself know that it is so. When Aaron passed away, what is written (in Numb. 21:4)? BUT THE TEMPER OF THE PEOPLE GREW SHORT ON THE WAY, because the sun was shining down upon them (without a cloud cover). And the well through the merit of Miriam, since it is stated (in Numb. 20:1-2): BUT MIRIAM DIED THERE. NOW THE CONGREGATION HAD NO WATER. And how was [the well] constructed? Like a kind of rock. It rolled along and came with them on the journeys. When the standards came to rest and the Tabernacle arose, the rock would come and settle down in the court of the Tent of Meeting. Then the princes would stand beside it and say (in the words of Numb. 21:17): RISE UP, O WELL; and the well would rise up.  

To be finished in the next post.


Reiss, Moshe. “Miriam Rediscovered.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 38, no. 3 (2010): 183–90.

Steinmetz, Devora. “A Portrait of Miriam in Rabbinic Midrash.” Prooftexts 8, no. 1 (1988): 35–65.



2021-08-14

The Sacrifices to be Fulfilled by the Messiah Jesus (Charbonnel continued)

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by Neil Godfrey

I quickly glossed over Nanine Charbonnel’s discussion of what the various sacrifices meant in the Temple cult of Israel in my previous post. I need to back up and cover the key points of those sacrifices before moving on but I’ll try to do so without getting into the details of certain Hebrew and Greek words and manuscript lines.

Key point #1: The temple cult was essential for communion between God and his people. Cain and Abel could offer sacrifices anywhere because God was still on earth with them. After God left the planet a mediator or mediation ceremony of some sort was necessary to enable some form of communion between God and his people.

Key point #2: The covenant between God and Israel made at Sinai was made between God and Israel in the presence of each other; the people (it can almost be said) effectively saw God, stood with him, certainly experienced a theophany.

Key point #3: The temple cult enabled in some sense a repeat of that theophany, or at least a restored communion with God through a mediator and a mediating cult.

Key point #4: The cult of mediation required several sacrifices.

  • One of these was the “asham” or guilt/sin/trespass offering that was made as reparation for damage done to the relationship and thus established the condition for the subsequent restoration of communion or a close relationship with God. This “asham” offering was a particular type of “sin offering” (“hattath” offering) . . .
  • The other sacrifice of note here (there are others but these two are most to the point of the broader discussion) followed the sin offering for reparation above and was the “hattath” or sin offering. “Sacrifices for sin are sometimes called sacrifices of atonement. In Hebrew, they are simply designated by the word hattath, sin, rendered according to the case by sacrifice for sin or the victim offered for sin. A part of it was burned on the altar, the major part was eaten by the priest who thus absorbed the sinner’s guilt in some way.” (From https://leschretiens.fr/lexique.php#S)

Key point #5: The sacrifices came to cover the sins of the entire community of Israel. (That is, the temple cult was concerned with more than individual sins.)

Key point #6: The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52-53 offers his life as a sacrifice of atonement. He took on the sins of the multitude and had God lay all of Israel’s sins upon him.

Key point #7: In Hellenistic times (second century BCE) the temple cult of sacrifices was halted and a version of the Book of Daniel had the three Jewish martyrs praying from the fiery furnace that their sacrifice be a fulfilment of all that was necessary for atonement and restoration of the communion of Israel with God.

Key point #8: The same concept of sacrifice as accomplishing the goal of fellowship or communion with God is found in the Day of Atonement ritual. The High Priest undergoes various stages of purification to bring him ever closer to a place and condition where he can be in the presence of God who descends to grant his blessing on Israel. His ritual begins with an “asham” or “reparation for sin” sacrifice of a ram and culminates with a more elaborate sacrifice of a second ram, a sin offering that consecrates him and allows for a restored communion of God with his people.

Below I copy a translation of the key pages of Grappe and Marx from which Charbonnel extracts a quotation to explain these sacrifices and their significance for restoring Israel’s relationship with God.

We are now ready to move on to the next critical part of NC’s discussion.

From pages 92-96 of Sacrifices scandaleux?: sacrifices humains, martyre et mort du Christ by Christian Grappe and Alfred Marx. This section is discussed and quoted in part by NC (pp. 375ff). The bolded highlighting is mine to enable an easier scan for key points. Continue reading “The Sacrifices to be Fulfilled by the Messiah Jesus (Charbonnel continued)”


2021-04-14

4 Jewish Word Plays behind the Word Becoming Flesh / 3 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is detailed. But it is getting down to the nitty gritty of a case for the midrashic creation of the Jesus figure in the gospels.

Performative utterance: In the philosophy of language and speech acts theory, performative utterances are sentences which are not only describing a given reality, but also changing the social reality they are describing.
This post continues a series on Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier by Nanine Charbonnel

Nanine Charbonnel cites four intriguing instances.

A. I Am/I Am He/I and He … and we are all together

Many of us are familiar with Jesus declaring “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι) which echoes Yahweh’s self-declaration in the Pentateuch; less familiar are the moments when Jesus says, “I am he” (ἐγώ εἰμι αὐτός – e.g. Luke 24:39), and that sentence echoes the second part of Isaiah (אֲנִי-הוּא =  ’ănî = I [am] he; LXX = ἐγώ εἰμι = I am) and liturgies of the Jewish people. (I’ll simplify the Hebrew transliteration in this post to “ani hu” (= I he).

These self-identifications bring us back to Exodus 3:14 where God reveals himself to Moses at the burning bush: “I am he who is”, which in the Greek Septuagint is ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν.

But we need to look again at those words [hu ani] in Deutero-Isaiah:

In Isaiah 41:4; 43:10, 13; 46:4; 48:12; 52:6 we read God declaring,  I am he [ani hu] (=me him) אֲנִ֣י ה֔וּא

We will see that this expression, “I he” is related to the festival of Tabernacles or Sukkoth.

But first, we note that during New Testament times at the Feast of Tabernacles or Tents worshippers walked around the altar each day singing “O Yahweh save us now, O Yahweh make us prosper now”, which is a line from Psalm 118:25

נָּא הַצְלִיחָה יְהוָה אָנָּא נָּא הוֹשִׁיעָה יְהוָה, אָנָּא
na hatzlichah yhwh ana na hoshiah yhwh ana
now prosper us [we pray / beseech you] now save us [we pray / beseech you]

Now in rabbinic literature, in Mishnah Sukkah 4:5, we find another version of this liturgical sentence was said to be used during the temple ceremony.

Each day they would circle the altar one time and say: “Lord, please save us. Lord, please grant us success” (Psalms 118:25). Rabbi Yehuda says that they would say: Ani waho, please save us. And on that day, the seventh day of Sukkot, they would circle the altar seven times. 

הוֹשִׁיעָה וָהוֹ אֲנִי
hoshiah waho ani
save us [taken to be a substitute for the divine name by some scholars – see Baumgarten below] I (Hebrew); (confusingly, ana in Aramaic means “I”. By hearing the original Hebrew ana as the Aramaic ana, the transformation to Hebrew “I” follows.)

Both ani and waho may be considered “flexible” as I’ll try to explain.

  • ani in Hebrew means “I”
  • ana in Hebrew means something like “we pray” as above

Aramaic was the relevant common language in New Testament times, however, and it’s here where the fun starts.

  • ana in Aramaic means “I”

So we can see how the Hebrew “we pray” can become the Aramaic “I”.

If waho, והו, began as a substitute for the divine name it could when pronounced easily become והוא, wahoû, which is the Aramaic for “me”.

NC writes,

qui peut être une manière de dire ‘ani wahoû’, “moi et lui”.

Translated: which can be a way of saying …. “me and him”. (The “wa”  = “and”.)

Not cited by NC but in support of NC here, Joseph Baumgarten in an article for The Jewish Quarterly Review writes,

Mishnah Sukkah 4.5 preserves a vivid description of the willow ceremonies in the Temple during the Sukkot festival. Branches of willows were placed around the altar, the shofar was sounded, and a festive circuit was made every day around the altar. The liturgical refrain accompanying the procession is variously described. One version has it as consisting of the prayer found in Ps 118:25, אנא ה׳ הושיעה נא, אנא ה׳ הצליחה נא , “We beseech you, O Lord, save us! We beseech you, O Lord, prosper us.” A tradition in the name of R. Judah, however, records the opening words as follows: אני והו הושיעה נא. The meaning of this enigmatic formula has occasioned much discussion among both ancient and modern commentators.

In the Palestinian Talmud the first two words in the formula were read אני והוא and were taken to suggest that the salvation of Israel was also the salvation of God.

(Baumgarten, Divine Name and M. Sukkah 4:5 p.1. My highlighting)

The same idea is brought out by NC in her quotation of Jean Massonnet. I translate the key point concerning the “I and he” or “me and him”

This may be a way of closely associating the people with their God on an occasion when the Israelites might surround the altar; it was a great moment of the feast […] In a veiled form, one audaciously asked for salvation for the good of the people and of God, as if God – so to speak – was in distress with his people.

(Massonnet, Aux sources du christianisme…., p. 269, cited by NC, p. 317. My highlighting.)

NC adds, again translating,

we are the emphasing the last sentence. He adds: “the idea that God accompanies his people in distress is […] ancient and widespread”, see Isaiah 63, 9: “in all their distress it is distress for him”. On personal pronouns see Pierre Bonnard, L’Évangile according to Saint Matthew, p. 64, note.

Finally, one point I failed to mention earlier, recall our earlier discussions of the importance of gematria. In that context it is not insignificant that “ana YHWH” has the same numerical value as “ani waho”.

B. Dabar, a Word in Silence Continue reading “4 Jewish Word Plays behind the Word Becoming Flesh / 3 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)”


2021-04-12

Jewish Origin of the “Word Became Flesh” / 2 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)

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by Neil Godfrey

This post continues an exploration into the origin of the gospel figure of Jesus, in particular the case made by Nanine Charbonnel [NC] in Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier.

[To readers not so interested in the depth of these posts I have added an apology at the end.]

Though Jesus and Christianity appear to most of us as being very different from what we think of as Judaism, NC is setting forth reasons to believe that Christian beliefs about Jesus (that he was God in the flesh) were in fact natural adaptations of certain Jewish beliefs in the Second Temple era and prior to what we now think of as orthodox rabbinic Judaism. The view that early Christian and Jewish beliefs were much closer to each other than we tend to imagine today is not new among scholars. NC, therefore, can quote a critical work of the life of Jesus from the early 1800s in partial support of her argument that the figure of Jesus we read about in the gospels was initially created as a personification of various attributes of God.

Personified attributes of God in certain Jewish traditions

Pre-Christian Jewish thought has long been known to have personified various attributes of God. In 1835 David Friedrich Strauss in his Life of Jesus Critically Examined wrote:

We find in the Proverbs, in Sirach, and the Book of Wisdom, the idea of a personified and even hypostasized Wisdom of God, and in the Psalms and Prophets, strongly marked personifications of the Divine word; and it is especially worthy of note, that the later Jews, in their horror of anthropomorphism in the idea of the Divine being, attributed his speech, appearance, and immediate agency, to the Word (מימרא) or the dwelling place (שכינתא) of Jehovah, as may be seen in the venerable Targum of Onkelos. These expressions, at first mere paraphrases of the name of God, soon received the mystical signification of a veritable hypostasis, of a being at once distinct from, and one with God. As most of the revelations and interpositions of God, whose organ this personified Word was considered to be, were designed in favour of the Israelitish people, it was natural for them to assign to the manifestation which was still awaited from Him, and which was to be the crowning benefit of Israel,—the manifestation, namely, of the Messiah,—a peculiar relation with the Word or Shechina. From this germ sprang the opinion that with the Messiah the Shechina would appear, and that what was ascribed to the Shechina pertained equally to the Messiah: an opinion not confined to the Rabbins, but sanctioned by the Apostle Paul.

(Strauss, Life, Pt II Ch IV §64. Bolding is NC’s re the French translation)

Elijah Benamozegh (Wikipedia)

NC rightly remarks that many aspects of the texts of the New Testament would remain obscure without reference to the later Jewish writings. Talmudic writings, though late, certainly contain ideas, debates, sayings, that were known before the fall of the temple in 70 CE. NC goes further, however, and suggests that even the late Jewish mystical writings of the Kabbalah incorporate ideas much older than the Middle Ages. This is an area I have read too little about so all I can do at this point is repeat NC’s point and attach questions to them, especially when citing a Kabbalist.

In the nineteenth century, Joseph Salvador (in 1838), then especially the rabbi of Livorno Elijah Benamozegh (in a manuscript of 1863 which has remained unpublished, but written in French and having been sent to Paris, and which has just been published), La Kabbale et L’origine des Dogmes Chrétiens, have thrown very interesting light on these questions – if at least one accepts to name Kabbalah all that has not been accepted by rabbinical Judaism, and which must have had much more older than the Middle Ages alone. [machine translation of NC, p. 313. I have ordered a copy of La Kabbale but will have to wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive.]

NC further indicates that, according to Benamozegh, New Testament passages relating to the relationship between Father, Son, Holy Spirit under various metaphors and the incarnation of the Word of God are explained best by certain of those mystical notions, such as the Malkuth. The types of esoteric Jewish beliefs that entertained some of these ideas presumably from as early as the Second Temple era also would go a long way towards explaining the origins of various forms of Christianity (e.g. gnostic) that were delegated as heretical by what became orthodoxy. As mentioned, I know too little at this stage about Kabbalism to comment, although I have to add that the relevance of Kabbalist ideas to NC’s quest is underscored by Daniel Boyarin in Border Lines.

* e.g. Boyarin argues in The Jewish Gospels that the idea of a suffering messiah was a pre-Christian Jewish idea. Compare W. D. Davies in Paul and Rabbinic Judaism who also writes, How far are we justified in finding the same conception [suffering Messiah] among the Rabbis of the first century? Two factors ought to be borne in mind when we think of this question. First, that a methodical consideration is involved. We find an idea well attested in the early second century, and we have pointed out that the concept of the Servant of Yahweh of Deutero-Isaiah had become associated with that of the Messiah before the first century. We are led to the feeling that if the idea of the Suffering Messiah were not a burning issue in Christian theology the evidence before us would have led naturally to the assumption that it existed in the first century despite the absence of specific evidence. Moreover, in the second place, we must presuppose that behind the punning interpretation of והריחו in Isa. 11.3, as the burden imposed on the Messiah, and of חוליא (the sick) and חיורא (the leper) in Isa. 53. 4, there was probably a very long development.
We are now in a position to state the result of our discussion. It has led us to the conclusion which, in view of those ideas of the value of suffering and particularly of the suffering of the righteous and of martyrs which we enumerated above, we should have expected, namely, that the assumption is at least possible that the conception of a Suffering Messiah was not unfamiliar to pre-Christian Judaism. (p. 283)

So returning to Boyarin (with NC), some of whose more fascinating ideas cohere with other works by his scholarly peers*, NC directs us to this section of Border Lines:

This leads me to infer that Christianity and Judaism distinguished themselves in antiquity not via the doctrine of God, and not even via the question of worshiping a second God (although the Jewish heresiologists would make it so, as we shall see in the next chapter), but only in the specifics of the doctrine of this incarnation.78 Not even the appearance of the Logos as human, I would suggest, but rather the ascription of actual physical death and resurrection to the Logos was the point at which non-Christian Jews would have begun to part company theologically with those Christians—not all, of course—who held such doctrines.

78. It is not beside the point to note that, in traditional Jewish prayer from the Byzantine period to now, prayer to the “attributes” of God is known as well as prayer to the Ministering Angels (Yehuda Liebes, “The Angels of the Shofar and the Yeshua Sar-Hapanim,” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 6, no. 1-2 [1987]: 171-95, in Hebrew). These prayers were rectified by nineteenth-century Jewish authorities, who saw in them (suddenly?) a threat to monotheism.

[NC quoted the bolded part in the French translation. The passage above is from Boyarin, Border Lines, pp 125 and 294]

In the next section of this post, we will delve further into Boyarin’s discussion on the relationship between early Christianity and Judaism.

Innovative interpretations: theology of the Memra in the Targum

The Word: Logos (Greek); Memra (Aramaic) Continue reading “Jewish Origin of the “Word Became Flesh” / 2 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)”


2021-03-20

Another (major) pointer to a late date for the Pentateuch

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by Neil Godfrey

A question that for many years sat half-hidden, rarely if ever articulated, in the back of my mind — and no doubt in the minds of many readers with some awareness of ancient history: When did any culture in the ancient Levant start writing “books” as we would recognize them in, say, the first five books of the Old Testament?

It turns out that this question is discussed in a couple of contributions to a volume addressing the anthropologist Mary Douglas‘s insights into the literary structure of the book of Leviticus: Reading Leviticus. A Conversation with Mary Douglas, edited by John F. A. Sawyer.

Now Leviticus is certainly constructed with very ancient — “pre-book” — stylistic features, in particular, the “ring composition”. As Douglas explains:

In Leviticus’ favourite literary form, chiastic composition, the meaning is at the pivot or the middle of a series of parallel verses. On either side of the sections on leprosy there stand supporting verses on human reproduction like steps or like framing pillars. Within the series on a leprous person, two additional afflicted objects are introduced, a leprous garment, and a leprous house. The alternation makes an a–b–a–b pattern as follows:

a Leprosy of a person, diagnosis, 13: 1–46
b Leprosy of a garment, diagnosis, 13: 47–59
a′ Leprosy of a person, declaring clean and atonement, 14: 1–32
b′ Leprosy of a house, diagnosis and cleansing, atonement, 14: 47–53

When body, garment, and house are found in a carefully constructed set of rules, we have been warned. It signals a return to the body/temple microcosm. The reading is also returned to the early conceit of the ‘house-that-Jack-built’, the concentric pattern of one thing placed upon another and another. (p. 177)

An old technique for creating focus is to set up a series of concentric circles. Leviticus frequently places parallel cases in ascending order, so that the last includes the second and the second includes the first. They can be run backwards or forwards with the closure at either end. It is a very ancient formula. In Mesopotamia in the classical period, 2000 to 1500 BCE, the following magic incantation was recommended to wash a mote out of the eye:

Earth, they say, earth bore mud,
mud bore stalk,
stalk bore ear,
ear bore mote, . . .
the mote entered the young man’s eye.

A modern Hebrew example of concentric incorporation is the old doggerel recited by the children at the Passover ceremony:

Only one kid, only one kid, which my father bought for two zuzim . . .
And a cat came and ate the kid, which my father bought for two zuzim; only one kid, only one kid.
And a dog came and bit the cat which ate the kid, etc.
And a stick came and beat the dog which bit the cat which ate the kid, etc.

The English parallel is ‘The House that Jack Built’, which ends with a grand inclusive finale:

This is the stick that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that killed the rat, which ate the grain which lay in the house that Jack built.

Leviticus applies something very like this literary trope in a slow and measured fashion to the layers inside the body of a living being, and also to the body’s outer coverings. . . . (p. 54)

So Leviticus does in one sense remind readers of the earliest written compositions such as poetic epics that employed “ringing” or “concentric circle” techniques that were apparent aides to memory for oral performance. The term parallelism has been coined to discuss this very ancient and universal technique:

So far from being a local Semitic style, parallelism also governs the form of millennia-old Chinese poetry [Zongqi] and is found in oral literature throughout the world [Fox]. (p. 48)

We cannot deny that Leviticus is marked with some very ancient techniques. But it is still unlike any other “book” from very ancient times. It is not like an epic poem or list of proverbs that was constructed with such parallelism to assist the memory of the reciter.

Rolf Rendtorff responds to Mary Douglas’s analysis of Leviticus by delineating the characteristics that make it a standalone “book” even though it contains thematic links binding it to the other four books of the Pentateuch. It is a self-contained narrative about the Jerusalem cult and it is made up of a coherent structure, beginning, end, and middle, with the various parts threaded together with structures, themes and images that make it an organic whole.

“fifth-century Greek vases depict the reading of literature, such as the lyric poetry of Sappho, from scrolls. But this does not mean that the material read from papyrus rolls constituted a book in the sense of an integrated unit. Such scrolls were probably private texts, a collection of favorite poems written down for mnemonic purposes, either to be recited orally or to be committed to memory for oral performance as song.” KG. 37

Kathryn Gutzwiller continues Rendtorff’s discussion but her contribution is as a classicist, an outsider to biblical studies. For Gutzwiller it is important to distinguish the employment of ring composition from the creation of a book per see.

. . . I find another distinction to be necessary as well, one that separates the process of ring composition from the concept of the book.

In modern terms, the word ‘book’ has two different meanings that seem relevant to the topic at hand. The word refers to a physical entity, to pages bound in a volume, but a book is also an intellectual concept, that which is composed to be read as an integrated unit. While the physical entity and the intellectual construct normally correspond, this is not always the case, so that we may have a long book published in two or more volumes, each a ‘book’ in the physical sense. A similar situation prevailed in the ancient world. . . .  Books in [the physical] sense existed in Greece at least as early as the beginning of the sixth century, a period of time when the Greeks had extensive contacts with Egyptian culture. 

So when did books “in the intellectual sense” begin to appear?

The point at which the Greeks began to compose texts to fit upon a papyrus roll, and so to be books in both senses of the word, is difficult to determine. In all likelihood, the rise of prose literature in the late fifth century is connected with this phenomenon. (p. 37)

We easily think of Herodotus, the historian. Kathryn Gutzwiller suggests Herodotus was a transitional figure. Yes, he wrote an extensive history in prose, but we also know that there were oral presentations of portions of his Histories.

Soon afterwards we have the historian Thucydides who would have none of Herodotus’s popular “tricks”. His work, he announced in his opening, was not a pop piece to entertain for a moment but rather a monument to last forever.

I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time. (1.22.4)

Books — in both the physical and intellectual sense — began to appear in the Hellenistic era, explains KG: Continue reading “Another (major) pointer to a late date for the Pentateuch”


2020-11-03

How the Story of Solomon Emerged from Assyrian and Babylonian Elites — part 4

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by Neil Godfrey

My original plan for a single post has now stretched out into four. Time to wrap up with Russell Gmirkin’s explanation for the relationship between the Solomon narrative and Assyrian records of Shalmaneser’s ninth century conquests and subsequent (eighth century) Assyrian building accounts.

The close correspondence between Sennacherib’s building account of Solomon’s temple and palace suggests that the biblical authors were not only broadly familiar with the literary conventions of Mesopotamian building accounts but had actually read the cuneiform inscriptions at Sennacherib’s Palace Without Rival. One may posit Assyrian authorship of the building account in Kings by educated Assyrian or Babylonian scribes from Samerina who travelled back to Nineveh for the international celebrations associated with the Palace Without Rival (LAR, II, §§367, 394, 413, 424; cf. Russell 1991: 260-2).

(Gmirkin, 86)

The Method Behind the “Narcissistic Madness” of Kings

Through citations of primary and secondary sources Gmirkin directs readers to an explanation of the political propaganda functions of the Assyrian monuments with their boasting inscriptions, unparalleled architecture and grandiose sculptures. Sennacherib made it clear that the “glory” he displayed in his monumental works were meant to be seen by people coming from all parts of his empire:

367: Great slabs of limestone, the enemy tribes, whom my hands had conquered, dragged through them (the doors), and I had them set up around their walls,— I made them objects of astonishment.

394: Those palaces, all around the (large) palace, I beautified; to the astonishment of all nations I raised aloft its head. The “Palace without a Rival,” I called its name.

413: I placed pillars of maple, cypress, cedar, dupranu-wood, pine and sindu-wood, with inlay of pasalli and silver, and set them up as columns in the rooms of my royal abode. Slabs of breccia and alabaster, and great slabs of limestone, I placed around their walls; I made them wonderful to behold. That daily there might be an abundant flow of water of the buckets, I had copper cables(?) and pails made and in place of the (mud-brick) pedestals (pillars) I set up great posts and crossbeams over the wells. Those palaces, all around the (large) palace, I beautified; to the astonishment of all nations, I raised aloft its head. The “Palace without a Rival” I called its name.

424: 1. At that time, after I had completed the palace in the midst of the city of Nineveh for my royal residence, had filled it with gorgeous furnishings, to the astonishment of all the people . . . .

John Russell in Sennacherib’s Palace Without Rival explains:

A magnificent capital closely identified with the ruling monarch can, however, be a very useful tool for maintaining an empire. Subject peoples visiting the capital would have been greatly awed by the power implied by the sheer bulk and splendor of the monuments of Nineveh, thus reinforcing their inclination to submit rather than to rebeL The construction of the new capital, then, was not a simple matter of royal vanity, but was instead an integral part of Sennacherib’s imperial policy. In the course of his reign, Sennacherib made Nineveh the center of the world . . . . 

The key to understanding these images [the palace sculptures] would seem to be not in their subject matter, but rather in their audience and function. The reliefs in the more public areas of Sennacherib’s palace, such as the outer court and throne room, seem to be directed more to outsiders than insiders, and their predominant message is one of warning rather than affirmation. One of their principal functions is apparently to insure the stability of the borders of the empire through the threat of violence expressed in graphic and easily perceptible terms. The ideal of maintaining the flow of tribute from the edges of the empire to its center has not changed, but the reliefs now take a more active part in this process. Rather than presenting visitors to the more public spaces with passive images showing universal submission as a fait accompli, Sennacherib’s reliefs sharply confront them with the consequences of rebellion.

In the more private inner parts of the palace, by contrast, Sennacherib’s reliefs balance these images of conquest at the periphery with images of construction in the center, emphasizing for insiders not only the risks involved in rebellion but the benefits of good government as well. Thus, for audiences both outside and inside the palace circle Sennacherib transformed the role of palace reliefs from affirmations of universal rule into tools to help maintain that rule.

(Russell, 261 f)

Ahab’s Eclipse

I highlighted the words “The ideal of maintaining the flow of tribute from the edges of the empire to its center” because that ideal, Russell explains, had been the theme of Sennacherib’s father who depicted scenes of long lines of tribute bearers in preference to cruel images of the fate of rebels. We are reminded of the ideal utopian scenes of “happy subjects” submitting to Solomon. So much for fleshing out Russell Gmirkin’s citations. Back to his main argument (and one may want to recall the first post in this series for the Ahab context):

Megiddo under King Ahab, 9th century BC from Archaeology Illustrated

Although the Acts of Solomon credited Shalmaneser III with a building program of ancient monumental architecture that included chariot cities at Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor, and Jerusalem’s temple and palace, these fortresses and impressive buildings of an earlier era are best understood as historically having been constructed by Ahab of Israel. Archaeological evidence pointing to correlations between the temple building account and temple architecture of the tenth to eighth centuries BCE in the southern Levant fully supports the construction of Jerusalem’s temple by Ahab rather than a construction by a local king of Judah (much less Solomon). The attribution of Jerusalem’s temple and other ancient monumental constructions in the southern Levant to the legendary ruler Shalmaneser III (Solomon) was an expression of local patriotic pride among the Mesopotamian (Assyrian and Babylonian) ruling class of Neo-Assyrian Samerina [the Assyrian name for the province dominated by Samaria].

(Gmirkin, 86)

Here Come the Mesopotamians – and They Don’t Mix

According to Gmirkin, then,

— the Assyrian conquerors deported the local elites from the northern kingdom of Israel

— and replaced them with Assyrian and Babylonian officials and colonists who became the “new educated ruling class elites”.

Did not those Mesopotamians eventually lose their identity by merging with the local population? That’s a common view but Gmirkin refers to Mladen Popović’s chapter, “Networks of Scholars: The Transmission of Astronomical and Astrological Learning between Babylonians, Greeks and Jews” who appeals to network theory to dispute the popular notion. When we follow up that chapter we find that Popović presents evidence that the Babylonian elites maintained a strong identity that stood opposed to “popular” culture:

Babylonians and non-Assyrians engaged in royal scholarly networks. The late Assyrian empire had become bilingual and bicultural, with Aramaic becoming the international vernacular. At the same time, there is evidence for adversarial reactions among the Assyrian ruling classes to the rising importance of Aramaic. For example, to a request by the scribe Sin-iddina of Ur to reply in Aramaic, the king answers that the scribe should rather write to him in Akkadian. This example works both ways. On the one hand, it shows that ethno-linguistic boundaries were not strict: letters to the Assyrian king could be written in Aramaic. On the other hand, it demonstrates that such boundaries were not completely ephemeral. The sender of the letter may have asked for too much by requesting the king’s answer also be in Aramaic. The king retorts by raising the boundary and emphasizing its importance: he creates an ethno-linguistic sense of difference between the scribe and himself. While ethno-linguistic and cultural boundaries can be crossed, they are also maintained. However, in the Neo-Assyrian period such boundaries do not seem to have prohibited the accessibility and dissemination of Babylonian science.

If we look at evidence from the Neo- and Late-Babylonian periods, it seems that the Babylonian urban elite had stricter limitations for entry into the scholarly elite than the Assyrians.  . . . .

Through cuneiform culture the Babylonian urban elite is said to have expressed a high degree of self-consciousness. For example, a cuneiform text from Hellenistic Uruk shows that the Aramaeans were still considered a separate ethno-linguistic group by some Babylonians; the reference in the late Seleucid list from Uruk of kings and scholars to Esarhaddon’s counsellor Aba-Enlil-dari as the one “whom the Aramaeans call Aḫuqar” shows that the story of Aḫiqar was known but seen as part of “popular” Aramaic culture rather than cuneiform elite culture. The impression gained from cuneiform sources is of Late Babylonia as an imagined community of urban elites who retreated into the imaginary space provided by the temples and the schools, with cuneiform itself being the main distinguishing characteristic of this community. The Babylonian urban elites constructed a cultural identity for themselves, one that became more and more detached from the ethno-linguistic, cultural and political realities of Babylonia in the Hellenistic and Parthian periods. At the same time, evidence from Hellenistic Uruk seems to indicate that they cultivated strong ties with the Greek elite and the Seleucid rulers that ensured their small community thrived. This shows that despite a cultivated identity that seems detached from real life, Babylonian urban elites were also able to relate to changing ethno-linguistic, cultural and political realities and to do so to their own advantage.

(Popović, 170 f)

In the context of Gmirkin’s views, that statement about the Babylonian elites finding common ground with the other elitist Greek arrivals is of interest.

Popović regularly cites “Network Theory and Religious Innovation” by Anna Collar who emphasizes that

most social ties are ‘strong’, reflective of fundamental facets of identity. Social identity can be defined (somewhat simplistically) by group membership.

(Collar, 151)

Hence Gmirkin has justification for his view: Continue reading “How the Story of Solomon Emerged from Assyrian and Babylonian Elites — part 4”


2020-11-02

Solomon’s Palace and Temple as Re-worked Assyrian Accounts — part 3

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by Neil Godfrey

One of the main tasks of the historian is to compare and cross-reference sources. If different sources attest independently to the same phenomenon, the historical reliability of that phenomenon is greatly enhanced. Thus, the biblical description of Solomon’s Temple, the stone building model from Khirbet Qeiyafa, and the temple from Motza correspond to one another, hence confirming the historicity of the biblical tradition.

— Yosef Garfinkel and Madeleine Mumcuoglu, The Temple of Solomon in Iron Age Context

Garfinkel and Mumcuoglu have overlooked the most basic step in the above argument. Sources may cohere with one another but before concluding that they therefore testify to historical facts one must test whether they are indeed independent of one another. The historian’s task is to cross-examine the witnesses even (or especially) when they agree.

Before continuing with Russell Gmirkin’s analysis of the biblical account of the constructions of Solomon’s palace and temple we’ll hear a little more from Garfinkel and Mumcuoglu (with my bolded highlighting — as in all quotations):

Scholars of the minimalist school have argued that no temple at all was built in Jerusalem at the time of Solomon. According to the most extreme of these scholars, the description of the temple is entirely imaginary. Thus, an attempt has been made to remove the basis for legitimate study of the temple from an architectural or historical perspective and move all the attention to the literary and ideological levels (see discussions: Van Seters 1997; Smith 2006).

Two recent discoveries in the Kingdom of Judah have changed the picture (Figure 1). First, a building model dated to the 10th century BCE unearthed at Khirbet Qeiyafa in 2011 sheds light on some technical terms mentioned in the biblical text and enables us to overcome some of the difficulties (Garfinkel and Mumcuoglu 2013, 2016, 2018). Second, a temple dated to the 9th century BCE was uncovered in 2012 at Motza, 5 km west of Jerusalem (Kisilevitz 2015). These new finds clearly show that the architecture described in the biblical text existed in the same era and region. The new data bear out the historicity of the biblical text, even if it was rewritten and edited centuries after the actual construction of the building.

Figure 1. The Kingdom of Judah and the location of sites mentioned in the text.

(G&M, 2f)

You can download and read the full open-source paper by Yosef Garfinkel and Madeleine Mumcuoglu, The Temple of Solomon in Iron Age Context. Meanwhile, here are the finds they refer to that demonstrate that the biblical description of Solomon’s temple matched other ninth century temples of the Levant and Mesopotamia.

Compare this image and its note (from Solomon’s Temple and Palace):

And the comparable temple layouts:

A photograph of the Motza temple from an article by Kisilevitz:

G & M’s reconstruction of Solomon’s temple is thus:

and

Russell Gmirkin calls himself a “post-maximalist”. He does not deny the similarity between the biblical and Near Eastern building accounts and Iron Age (in this case the tenth to eighth centuries) archaeological finds, but he does deny the independence of the biblical account.

Before taking up the case for the dependence of the biblical description it is worth noting for us non-specialists that we are looking at a set literary type or form. We read about various literary forms of the ancient Near East appearing in the Bible and Gmirkin directs us to a study by Hurowitz that describes in detail the “well-known ancient Near Eastern pattern” of the “building account”. To quote Hurowitz,

In the first part of this study, more than twenty extra-biblical building accounts were analyzed and found to possess similar or nearly identical thematic structures. Despite certain flexibility and variability in the structure, all the stories examined preserved the same basic sequence of topics and central events, including:

(1) a reason to build or restore a building along with the command or consent of the gods to the proposed project;

(2) preparations for the project including enlisting workers, gathering and manufacturing building materials and laying the foundations of the building;

(3) a description of the building process and of the edifice under construction;

(4) dedication of the building by populating it, along with celebrations and rituals;

(5) a prayer or a blessing meant to assure a good future for the building and the builder. Some of the stories included an additional element:

(6) conditional blessings and curses addressed to a future king who will repair the building when it falls into ruin.

An analysis of 1 Kgs 5.15-9.25 showed that this building account as well is strikingly similar in its structure to the extra-biblical stories. The same can be said about other biblical building accounts—the building of the Tabernacle, the restoration of the Temple by the returnees from Exile, and the repair of the walls of Jerusalem carried out and reported by Nehemiah. Even Josephus’s account of the rebuilding of the Temple by Herod seems to have adhered to this structure. These stories share not only the same thematic structure, but display many common motifs, expressions and ideas as well. In the subsequent chapters the individual components of the building stories were examined, concentrating on 1 Kings 5-9. It was seen that, as far as ideas and linguistic usage are concerned, these components have parallels in many other extra-biblical building stories . . . 

(Hurowitz, 311. My formatting)

Impression of Palace Without Rival. — From the British Museum Blog

Gmirkin writes that there are “prominent Assyrian influences on the biblical description of the temple that point specifically to 1 Kgs 5:13-7:51 as originally a seventh-century BCE composition of Assyrian authorship.”

Many details in the description of Solomon’s temple directly parallel Sennacherib’s description of his Palace Without Rival in inscriptions dating to 694 BCE.

(p. 85)

Gmirkin lists in citation form a list of parallels but being me I want to check the sources and see for myself and for others who also like to inspect the details for themselves I have copied out the texts in full. Each heading is Gmirkin’s description of the parallel; I have copied and pasted the relevant text beneath each point.

Continue reading “Solomon’s Palace and Temple as Re-worked Assyrian Accounts — part 3”


2020-11-01

The Acts of Solomon as a Neo-Assyrian Composition — part 2

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by Neil Godfrey

In the previous post we saw that the biblical account assigned the same boundaries as the later Assyrian empire (150 years after Solomon’s near-namesake Shalmaneser III) to the kingdom of Israel in the time of Solomon.

And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life. (1 Kings 4:21)

From Wikimedia Commons

Obviously, Assyria itself is east of the Euphrates river but with a bit of checking I found that the Euphrates regularly features in Assyrian imperial inscriptions as the boundary beyond which their conquests extended westward:

In the Annals of Tiglath-Pileser I (1115-1076 BC):

(Thus) I crossed the Euphrates. The king of the land Tumme, the king of Tunube, the king of Tuali, the king of . . . altogether 23 kings of the lands of Nairi, combined their chariotry and army in their lands; and they advanced to wage war and combat.

Altogether 42 lands and their kings from the other side of the Lower Zab in distant mountainous regions to the other side of the Euphrates—the Hatti-land and the Upper Sea in the west—from my accession year to my fifth regnal year—I conquered. I subdued them to one authority. . . .

And the Annals of Assur-nasirpal II (883-859 BC):

I moved on from the land of Bit-Adini; (and) I crossed the Euphrates, which was in flood, in rafts (made of inflated) goatskins.

Thus one reads in Shalmaneser III’s monuments (859–824 BC):

In my 17th regnal year: I crossed the Euphrates. I received the tribute of the kings of the land of Hatti. . . .

In my 19th year: I crossed the Euphrates River for the 17th time. I received tribute of the kings . . . .

In my fourth regnal year: I crossed the Euphrates at its flood stage. I pursued after Ahum of Bit-Adini. . . .

In my tenth regnal year: I crossed the Euphrates River for the eighth time. I conquered the cities of Sangara of Karkamis.

In my eleventh regnal year: I crossed the Euphrates for the ninth time. I conquered 97 cities of Sangara (and) 100 cities of Arame.

In my 20th regnal year: I crossed the Euphrates River for the 20th time. I summoned the kings of the land of Hatti (for corvee work), all of them. I passed over Mt. Hamanu (Amanus).

In my 18th regnal year: I crossed the Euphrates for the 16th time. Hazael of Damascus trusted in his numerous troops; and mustered his army in great numbers. . . .  (this reference appears in four monuments)

An inscription of Adad-nirari III (811-783 BC):

I ordered to march to the land of Hatti. I crossed the Euphrates in its flood.

The Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III (1479–1425 BC) likewise boasted of reaching (even crossing) the Euphrates in the famous Battle of Carchemish.

Carchemish in map of eighteenth dynasty Egypt. Map from Crystalinks.

All that’s enough to satisfy me that the Euphrates river was considered to be a natural imperial boundary in Assyrian times.

The Second Stratum

I Kings 4:21 with its statement of Solomon’s empire extending from Egypt to the Euphrates belongs to Russell Gmirkin’s second stratum in 1 Kings 3-11. (See the earlier post for context.)

This second stratum of the biblical Acts of Solomon portrays Shalmaneser III/Solomon “as a great builder of monumental works of architecture in the southern Levant”. I have copied it at the end of this post.

There is one passage (I Kings 4:7-19) that is missing from the passages first listed as comprising this layer of text but that appears a few sentences later as if it should belong with the others. Its significance lies in its

correspondence of Solomon’s territorial holdings with Assyrian provinces in the southern Levant (1 Kgs 4:7-19, in which Assyrian provincial centers such as Megiddo, Gezer and Gilead figure prominently; but no sites from Judah appear; the prominence of trade with Arabia; and the affinities of the Solomon building account with Sennacherib’s Palace Without Rival. . . 

(Gmirkin, pp 84 f)

I Kings 4:7-9

Solomon had twelve district governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and the royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year. 8 These are their names:
Ben-Hur—in the hill country of Ephraim;
9 Ben-Deker—in Makaz, Shaalbim, Beth Shemesh and Elon Bethhanan;
10 Ben-Hesed—in Arubboth (Sokoh and all the land of Hepher were his);
11 Ben-Abinadab—in Naphoth Dor (he was married to Taphath daughter of Solomon);
12 Baana son of Ahilud—in Taanach and Megiddo, and in all of Beth Shan next to Zarethan below Jezreel, from Beth Shan to Abel Meholah across to Jokmeam;
13 Ben-Geber—in Ramoth Gilead (the settlements of Jair son of Manasseh in Gilead were his, as well as the region of Argob in Bashan and its sixty large walled cities with bronze gate bars);
14 Ahinadab son of Iddo—in Mahanaim;
15 Ahimaaz—in Naphtali (he had married Basemath daughter of Solomon);
16 Baana son of Hushai—in Asher and in Aloth;
17 Jehoshaphat son of Paruah—in Issachar;
18 Shimei son of Ela—in Benjamin;
19 Geber son of Uri—in Gilead (the country of Sihon king of the Amorites and the country of Og king of Bashan). He was the only governor over the district.

Gezer is not included there but see the Second Stratum passages at the end of this post for those references. I would also be interested in finding more indications of Arabia — they are not obvious from the names as listed in 1 Kings apart from 10:15, though the Queen of Sheba sounds significant.

Gmirkin refers readers to Finkelstein and  Silberman’s David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition is to the full text available at archive.org. It is freely available on archive.org so you can read the pages cited. They examine the evidence for the sites belonging to a good century after the supposed time of Solomon.

The monumental architecture attributed to Solomon in this later literary strata appears to reflect actual constructions under King Ahab of Bit Omri, building projects which included the monumental gates and fortifications at the chariot cities of Megiddo, Gezer and Hazor (Finkelstein and Silberman 2006: 163-7, 275-81; cf. 1 Kgs 9:15-19), and the temple of Yahweh and other impressive buildings at Jerusalem, which was arguably ruled from Samaria in earlier times.

(Gmirkin, 85)

Finkelstein and Silberman, p. 152

Such is further evidence Gmirkin advances for the Solomon narrative of 1 Kings being drafted from a memory (recorded in the “annals of Solomon/Shalmaneser”) of neo-Assyrian power over the region.

The Acts of Solomon is best understood as a Neo-Assyrian composition that incorporated translations of the cuneiform inscription at Ba’li-Ra’si into Aramaic and contained amplifications that included legendary accounts of international relations and his regional achievements as builder. This Neo-Assyrian text, authored and locally preserved by the educated ruling class of Neo- Assyrian Samerina [Samaria], celebrated Shalmaneser III as the first great Assyrian king whose rule extended to this region

(Gmirkin, 85)

That inscription at Ba’li-Ra’si is known from another public inscription, the “Black Obelisk“, produced in the time of Shalmaneser III. As we saw in the previous post, 

I (also) marched as far as the mountains of Ba’li-ra’si [near Mount Carmel] which is a promontory (lit.: at the side of the sea) and erected there a stela with my image as king.

(ANET, 280)

Next post we’ll look at Gmirkin’s discussion of Solomon’s building program.

The Second Stratum text:  Continue reading “The Acts of Solomon as a Neo-Assyrian Composition — part 2”


2020-10-31

Is Solomon’s Glory Based on the Assyrian Shalmaneser III’s Exploits? – part 1

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by Neil Godfrey

Here we [being to] conclude our overview of Russell Gmirkin’s chapter ‘Solomon’ (Shalmaneser III) and the Emergence of Judah as an Independent Kingdom by addressing his view that the Acts of Solomon that we read about in 1 Kings were sourced from records of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser. For context see the previous two posts:

In 1 Kings 11:41 we read a passage that indicates that the author was drawing on a written chronicle of Solomon’s deeds that he had been covering since chapter 3:

As for the other events of Solomon’s reign—all he did and the wisdom he displayed—are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon? (NIV)

(The passage says “other events” and I had always assumed that such passages in 1-2 Kings directed readers to information that was not covered in the biblical narrative. Here the annals/acts are interpreted as a source for the biblical narrative itself.)

Gmirkin informs us that “the identity of Solomon and Shalmaneser III was first suggested by [another scholar whose work we have featured on Vridar] Greg Doudna in private conversation c. 2000.”

Few critical readers of the Bible believe that Solomon’s kingdom stretched from the Euphrates river to Egypt yet that is what we read in 1 Kings 4:21

And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.

The Assyrian empire did rule “from the Euphrates” (Assyrian monarchs spoke of the Euphrates as the border of their kingdom beyond which their eastern empire stretched) to Egypt at its greatest extent in the seventh century BCE. (Shalmaneser III was of the ninth century BCE.)

From Wikimedia Commons

Gmirkin posits three literary strata in 1 Kings 3-11 and writes that the oldest of these that “[describes] campaigns and empire-building in the vicinity of the Euphrates river” is very similar to the genre of Assyrian inscriptions, listing the great deeds of a single king and publishing them in his lifetime. Readers will have questions and so do I and I am sure Russell will help us with responses. My first question is to ask what details in the first stratum of 1 Kings 3-11 suggest “campaigns and empire-building [specifically] in the vicinity of the Euphrates river”?

Below is a table enabling a quick comparison of that “oldest strata” as identified by Gmirkin in I Kings 3-11 and a selection of some portions I have pulled out of royal inscriptions of Shalmaneser III:

1 Kings 4:26 Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses, and twelve thousand horses.

27 The district governors, each in his month, supplied provisions for King Solomon and all who came to the king’s table. They saw to it that nothing was lacking. 28 They also brought to the proper place their quotas of barley and straw for the chariot horses and the other horses.

1 Kings 5:13 King Solomon conscripted laborers from all Israel—thirty thousand men. 14 He sent them off to Lebanon in shifts of ten thousand a month, so that they spent one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. 15 Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills, 16 as well as thirty-three hundred foremen who supervised the project and directed the workers. 17 At the king’s command they removed from the quarry large blocks of high-grade stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple. 18 The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and workers from Byblos cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple.

From the Kurkh monolith: From of the Hattinites, I received 3 talents of gold, 100 talents of silver, 300 talents of copper, 300 talents of iron, 1,000 copper vessels, 1,000 brightly colored garments (of wool) and linen, his daughter with her large dowry, 20 talents of purple wool, 500 cattle, 5,000 sheep. One talent of silver, 2 talents of purple wool, 200 cedar logs, I imposed upon him as his tribute. Yearly I received it in my city Assur. Haianu, son of Gabbari, (who lived) at the foot of Mount Amanus,—10 talents of silver, 90 talents of copper, 30 talents of iron, 300 brightly colored garments of wool and linen, 300 cattle, 3,000 sheep, 200 cedar logs, 2 homers of cedar resin (lit., blood of the cedar), his daughter with her rich dowry, I received from him. 10 minas of silver, 100 cedar logs, a homer of cedar resin, I laid upon him as his tribute; yearly I received it. Aramu, son of Agusi,—10 minas of gold, 6 talents of silver, 500 cattle, 5,000 sheep, I received from him. Sangara, of Carchemish,—3 talents of gold, 70 talents of silver, 30 talents of copper, 100 talents of iron, 20 talents of purple wool, 500 weapons, his daughter, with dowry, and 100 daughters of his nobles, . . . .

Both Solomon and Shalmaneser collected tribute –horses, chariots, harems, gold, silver, etc.

Gmirkin further points out that the “acts of Solomon” in 1 Kings 3-11 contain “many political references anachronistic prior to c. 840 BCE.” My question: What are some of these anachronisms? (Maybe they are mentioned later in the chapter but if so they have slipped while preparing this post.)

Continuing with a section of that “oldest stratum” is a suggestive common clustering of five kings (of a total of twelve) who allied themselves against Shalmaneser III:

1 Kings 10:28 Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. 29 They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans.

 

 

 

Shalmaneser III erected a monument at Mount Carmel testifying of his conquests of Syria and her allies, including Israel. (Map from Bible History)
Shalmaneser’s Kurkh monolith inscription: 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalry, 20,000 soldiers, of Hadad-ezer, of Aram; 700 chariots, 700 cavalry, 10,000 soldiers of Irhuleni of Hamath [a Hittite city] 2,000 chariots, 10,000 soldiers of Ahab, the Israelite, 500 soldiers of the Gueans [Kue] 1,000 soldiers of the Musreans [Egyptians], . . . . —these twelve kings he brought to his support; to offer battle and fight, they came against me.

Compare various inscriptions of Shalmaneser’s campaigns to subdue the Aramean city of Damascus with its allies that are listed together in Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts: I (also) marched as far as the mountains of Ba’li-ra’si [near Mount Carmel] which is a promontory (lit.: at the side of the sea) and erected there a stela with my image as king. At that time I received the tribute of the inhabitants of Tyre, Sidon, and of Jehu, son of Omri, Hadadezer, king of Damascus…, together with 12 kings of Hatti-land, rose against me. . . . I conquered Ashtamaku, the royal residence of Irhuleni of Hatti, together with 86 (other towns). . . . The tribute of Jehu…, son of Omri … I received from him silver, gold, a golden saplu-bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king, (and) wooden puruhtu. . . . The tribute of the country Musri; I received from him camels whose backs were doubled, a river ox (hippopotamus), a … (rhinoceros), a susu -antelope, elephants, … – (and) … monkeys. . . . The tribute of Karparunda from Hattina; I received from him silver, gold, tin, bronze, copper … ivory, (and) ebony-wood.

The Kurkh monolith (map from Sutori.com)

 And, of course, we have the similarity of the names:

Shalmaneser appeared as שלמו in the biblical text (Hos. 10:14), very close to the spelling of Solomon as שלמה (LXX Σολομών) in 1 Kings 3-11. 

(Gmirkin, 84)

Continuing the train of thought from the earlier posts in this series, Gmirkin explains:

The appearance of Shalmaneser III in the biblical text as a mighty king who ruled the territories south of the Euphrates is easily accounted for as a local tradition among the Assyrian ruling class in the later province of Samerina [Assyrian Samaria].

Next post we’ll begin with the second literary stratum “of the Acts of Solomon” in 2 Kings 3-11.


Gmirkin, Russell. 2020. “‘Solomon’ (Shalmaneser III) and the Emergence of Judah as an Independent Kingdom.” In Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays In Honour of Thomas L. Thompson, edited by Lukasz Niesiolowski-Spanò and Emanuel Pfoh, 76–90. Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies. New York: T&T Clark.

Luckenbill, Daniel David, ed. 1926. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia. Volume I, Historical Records of Assyria from the Earliest Times to Sargon. Ancient Records, First Series. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press. http://archive.org/details/LuckenbillAncientRecordsAssyria01.

Pritchard, James B., ed. 1969. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Third edition with Supplement. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. https://archive.org/details/AncientNearEasternTextsRelatingToTheOldTestament


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