The best explanation I have read for the meaning of the story of the 2 trees in the Garden of Eden came from Thompson’s The Mythic Past.
The Genesis story warns that wisdom will make Adam and Eve like gods and then they will die.
They eat of wisdom, and the wisdom they learn is that they are naked. That is what their wisdom is: knowledge of their nakedness. Sounds pretty dumb. How can that be called being made “wise”?
But the story continues. Adam and Eve have become as gods (elohim) or God — God himself said this, Gen.3:22 — and then are sentenced to death.
All their wisdom does for them is to cause them to see they are naked, and then die.
The story does not quite flow. This has opened it up for later generations imputing their own pet speculations of what exactly is the meaning of the fruit, etc. Continue reading “The Tree of Wisdom in the Garden of Eden”
Notes from Mandell and Freedman contd:
Intro One: Aims and methods
Many historians consider the Primary History of Israel as both a theological document and a historical one, even if only sometimes one can barely glimpse a historical nugget behind the myth. Yet Herodotus’ Histories is read differently: It is seen as essentially a historic book with no theological worth; or as a work where the mythic element was relegated mostly to the first 4 books leaving the remainder as essentially historical reporting.
Gerhad Von Rad (1944) was apparently the first to suggest that the Hebrews were the first to write “history” and that by giving it a theological meaning (that God’s purpose is being acted out through it, even in only behind the scenes) is what distinguishes it from Greek history. In other words, historians don’t consider references to the gods in Herodotus’ Histories of any worth or relevance to the overall work. (Some, however, do see more comparisons between Herodotus and his presumed near contemporary author of Chronicles.)
Is this difference in the way historians read Herodotus Histories and Israel’s Primary History justified? Continue reading “Herodotus and Bible History: Mandell & Freedman contd”
The following are preliminary notes from my reading of Mandell & Freedman’s Preface — mentioned in my earlier post re Herodotus and Primary History.
Both Herodotus’ History and Primary History:
- are national epics
- are divided into 9 books at some time in their history
- are about the same length
- begin with a prehistory that includes myths, fables, folk-tales and legends treated as factual
- and continue in this vein till well into their historical time
- change structural format at similar point: (Israel about to enter promised land; Persians about to fight on Greek mainland) — from this point on, with the “homeland” the focus of action, a new historical tone takes over (though still divinities and miracle intervene)
- instruct that history is guided by divine will.
(Though wars with the aim of conquest of another’s territory were common enough in history they were very rarely the topic of literature.)
The illusion of historical genre
Our misguided reliance on:
- Aristotle who classified Herodotus as an historian;
- and Cicero who called Herodotus the father of history.
In fact, Herodotus was not a sincere if naive reporter of tall tales, thinking he was passing on “the truth” of the matter. But this was the appearance he wanted his readers to accept.
Rather, Herodotus is classified in “the historic genre because the author successfully created that illusion by virtue of his superb literary craftsmanship.” (pp.xi-xii)
Herodotus the theologian
If we think of Herodotus as writing history we fail to apprehend the literary structure of his work “or the real and primal role that theology plays in it”.
“When we realized that the History is a theologically “charged” prose epic in which two different but related genres, the Documentary Novel and the Roman a Clef, are combined, we began to see that Herodotus was not simply a credulous collector of anecdotal data.” (p.xii)
Implied Narrator is not Real Author
Keep in mind the distinction between the narrative voice and the real author; the named narrator and the literal author; the implied narrator (ie. the literary persona whom the author depicts as the narrator) is not the same as the real author — although the real author may give his implied narrator his own name. (There is evidence this was understood by original audience.)
The implied narrator is a devoted worshipper of the god at Delphi.
Implications for literary analysis
So the implied narrator presents himself as giving real history from the Delphic viewpoint. But of the real author — we do not know that he held the same Delphic loyalties at all – we know that he knew the historical appearance was something he was creating through his narrative persona only. So Histories is only historical from the theological viewpoint of the implied Delphic worshipping narrative persona. It is not historical from a non-confessional viewpoint.
Ditto for Primary History. It is history from a theological confessional viewpoint, but from a nonconfessional viewpoint it is not history. From the latter perspective it is at best a religious document from which some historical data can be glimpsed.
This understanding leads to the rationale for examining both works from the “standpoint of Analytic Criticism, whereby any work, even a seemingly historical one, is to be treated as iconic” (p.xiii) — as a narrative/literary single whole. This enables us to study the literary structures and identify relationships between Herodotus Histories and the Primary History that would otherwise remain invisible.
Continuing my notetaking here from earlier post:
(A work in progress obviously — an attempt to grasp overview of the arguments)
Chapter 1 (my observations – with my commentary – on Wesselius)
- The genre of historiography in its modern sense is generally held to have arisen relatively late in history. Hence Herodotus is called “The Father of History”. (Till Hellenistic era we have annals and chrono lists but not interpretative history as a literary genre.)
Sara Mandell and David Noel Freedman compare Herodotus and Primary History (Gen-2Kings) : both divided into 9 volumes; both separate the 8th and 9th books in the middle of an episode; …. and many other points of comparison (not all agree on their significance).
Was Herodotus aware of the work of Ezra?
Hey… just recalled I have Freedman and Mandell’s work somewhere…. better go back and check that one first….
(Oh groan! i have just uncovered by Mandell and Freedman, heavily marked throughout — recognizing some of “my ideas” that I have obviously taken from sections of it….. Time for a much needed catch-up revision!!!!)
Something I’ve been wanting to start for ages is a compilation of notes from Wesselius’ book as much for my own interest as others. I know it’s not the most popular hypothesis in biblical studies, but gosh it is interesting and at least thought provoking, i think. By the time I finish I may well decide it has not a leg to stand on. That’s no worries. Either way, I am sure I will have learned much more about the relevant literary and archaeological and other worlds by the time I reach that point. But an opportunity came up in iidb for me to find an excuse to make a start, and this is it– just a start only! Let’s go…. with a view to refinement, elaboration, embarrassing deletions, up ahead…..
How justifiable is it to compare the arguments of the “Copenhagen School” that suggests the evidence favours, say, David being a theological and literary creation with certain arguments of the “Jesus mythicists”?
I’m thinking of Thompson’s “It is a fundamental error of method to ask first after an historical David or Solomon, as biblical archaeologists and historians have done. We need first to attend to the David and Solomon we know: the protagonists of Bible story and legend. The Bible does not hesitate to tell these stories as tall tales.” (The Mythic Past, p.45)
Compare Davies’ “So far, historical research by biblical scholars has taken a … circular route …. The assumption that the literary construct is an historical one is made to confirm itself. Historical criticism (so-called) of the inferred sources and traditions seeks to locate these in that literary-cum-historical construct.” (In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’, pp.35-37)
If we accept the nature of the old testament biblical literature as suggested by Thompson, Davies, Lemche et al (i.e. that it was composed largely as a literary founding myth which bears little if any relationship to real history — check out my above link to In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ for links to details), is it not a small step to seeing the first gospel as equally creative in its foundation myths for the ‘new and true people of God’? Are not the studies of the Gospel of Mark that offer the greater explanatory power for its various parts and characters those that analyze its literary context and nature (e.g. Tolbert’s Sowing the Gospel) in ways that leave much of the older discussions about traditions underlying various bits and pieces somewhat irrelevant?
Should not the real question ask for the origins and context of such a literary work, leaving it open as to whether the most satisfactory answer is to be found with a heroic founder or with something more complex, as some argue was the case with the literature about David?
One initial objection might be that the multiplicity of varying gospels argues against such a possibility but again we may well be reading the same phenomonon of rival scribal schools in dialog with one another as we appear to find among the OT prophetic and historical writings.
(I originally asked this question back in 2000 in JesusMysteries — my thoughts have only strengthened in this direction since.)
More occasional notes added here. This time a web page comparing the biblical story of the Exodus with Herodotus’s account of Xerxes‘ invasion of Greece. A table outlines dot points from the views of Dutch Head of Department of Semitic Studies in the Theological University of Kampen, Dr Jan-Wim Wesselius. Not everyone will have a chance to afford or borrow Jan-Wim Wesselius’ “The Origin of the History of Israel : Herodotus’s Histories as Blueprint for the First Books of the Bible” (Sheffield, 2002) so hopefully the link here will be of some interest to others. I make no comment myself here on the strength of Wesselius’s argument. Hopefully further discussion will come with time to do more reading on the various sides of the controversy.
moses, exodus, xerxes, primary+history, herodotus, bible+history,
In 1992 Philip Davies published a monograph that began a heated controversy over the origins of the Bible and what light archaeology shed on this question. Davies criticized conventional biblical scholarship for lacking the rigour found in archaeological studies of sites without theological significance. He argued that the archaeological evidence suggested that the Bible was composed as late as the Persian era and that the stories of Abraham, the Exodus, David and Solomon were mythical inventions. I have begun to summarize the argument of Davies’ book, In Search of Ancient Israel.
Book details: Davies’ In search of ancient Israel (Sheffield, 1997)
bible+archaeology, biblical+archaeology, bible+archeology, biblical+archeology, ancient.israel, bible.history, bible,