2012-02-28

Where did the Bible’s Jews come from? — Part 2

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by Neil Godfrey

Over a week ago I posted Where did the Bible’s Jews come from? Part 1 — a discussion drawn principally from Thomas L. Thompson’s The Mythic Past: Biblical archaeology and the myth of Israel. That first post covered the evidence that “Jewishness” originated as a religious rather than an ethnic label:

  1. the origin myth of Israel being unlike any other national or ethnic origin myth in that it is an etiology of a religious cult
  2. the fact that there has been far more continuity of the population of Palestine than commonly understood
  3. the worship of Yahweh was not unique to any one people in the ancient Near East, nor was Yahweh the sort of god often depicted in the Bible
  4. Jewishness was not a concept that was limited to a particular ethnic group or even “the Jerusalem cult” exclusively, as witnessed by the surviving evidence from diaspora groups
  5. the concept of Israel in the Bible’s narrative is theological and not political or ethnic (prohibitions on mixed marriages were a safeguard for the preservation of the religious cult rather than an ethnic group)

Thompson argues that modern readers have tended to overlook the literary character of the biblical stories and traditions, and the fact that Israel in these stories is a theological (not historical) construct or metaphor. The same misreading applies to the New Testament, too.

This post addresses the second part of Thompson’s argument, the evidence from Josephus and to a lesser extent from Philo.

In book 12 of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus recounts an etiology of the Jews of Egypt from deportations under Ptolemy ‘from the mountains of Judea and from the places about Jerusalem, Samaria and near Mount Gerizim.‘ These he describes as ‘two groups’ — nevertheless Jews all — who dispute about whether they should send their tribute to Jerusalem of to Samaria (Ant. 12.1.1). (p. 259-60, The Mythic Past, my emphasis)

What is the significance of this? It shows that in Josephus’ mind it was quite acceptable to think of a single functioning Jewish community in the diaspora that was made up of Jews of disparate origins and loyalties. (Thompson, p. 260) Continue reading “Where did the Bible’s Jews come from? — Part 2”


2012-02-16

Where did the Bible’s Jews come from? Part 1

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by Neil Godfrey

Kurdistan .Yazidis .Judaism . Christianity ....
Kurdistan. Yazidis. Judaism. Christianity. Islam. (Photo credit: Kurdistan Photo كوردستان)

This post is based primarily on a few pages in The Mythic Past by Thomas L. Thompson. It is slightly supplemented by fewer notes from a different but complementary discussion on the biblical meanings of “the people of God” in The Israelites in History and Tradition by Niels Peter Lemche. (All bold fonts for emphasis or highlighting key points for ease of reading are mine.)

I conclude with my own thoughts on what all of this means for the first of our Gospels.

The biblical tradition informs us of the meaning and understanding that the biblical authors’ contemporaries attributed to the past. Archaeological evidence points to a different reality of the past.

The religious understanding of Israel’s origin myth

The primary biblical referent for Israel’s ethnic and family identification is found in the stories and metaphors of “exodus”, “wilderness”, “exile” and “return”. Even in the Books of Kings the narrative is couched in the suspense of threats and promises of exile from the land. These themes centre on the motif of the children of Israel as the “people of God”, as Jahweh’s “first-born” and God’s “inheritance”.

These stories all are solidly rooted in the self-defining, grand epochal line of a God without a home or a people [and who was] searching for a people without a home or a God. It is in this metaphor that we find the foundation and matrix for the ethnographic metaphor of all Israel. This metaphor gives voice to the ‘new Israel’ with its centre in Yahweh’s temple of the ‘new Jerusalem’. This is an identity that is formed from the perspective of the sectarian theology of the way. (pp. 255-56, The Mythic Past by Thomas L. Thompson)

Compare Niels Peter Lemche’s observation of the nature of Israel’s origin myth: Continue reading “Where did the Bible’s Jews come from? Part 1”


2012-01-08

Who wrote the Bible? (2) Challenging the Documentary Hypothesis

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by Neil Godfrey

Русский: Распределение документов Йахвист, Эло...
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This post continues from my post some weeks ago in which I covered primarily Philippe Wajdenbaum’s account of the rise of the Documentary Hypothesis. At that time in one of the comments I explained I had paused to take stock of how best to address the challenge that has arisen against the Documentary Hypothesis. This is a study I undertook some years ago and so thoroughly enjoyed that it is easy for me to cover way too much detail. Maybe I will have to return to address some of the specifics in separate posts later. Once this is out of the way I would like to post another explaining how political anthropology offers a cogent explanation for the character of the biblical books as Hellenistic productions.

First, to recap the Documentary Hypothesis. This is the idea that the Old Testament was essentially a result of four separate sources that were originally written over a span of some centuries:

  • a Jahwist/Yahwist (J) written in the southern kingdom of Judah around the time of Solomon – 10th century bce / later shifted to the Babylonian Exile period:
    • Gerhard von Rad in 1944 “considers the time of Solomonic enlightenment to contain all the prerequisites for literary production, including history writing. It was first of all a time of political stability and economic prosperity. On top of this came the need of a new state to provide a history of its past. Finally the creative impetus following in the wake of the establishment of an Israelite state created this new literature.”
    • Subsequent scholarship revised this, arguing that “External circumstances were thought to provide the most likely background for this kind of literature.” (pp. 158-9 of The Israelites in History and Tradition, Niels Peter Lemche)
  • an Elohist (E) composed in the northern kingdom of Israel – 9th or 8th century bce
  • a Deuteronomist (D) in the southern kingdom of Judah at time of Josiah – late 7th century bce
  • a Priestly source (P) during the Babylonian Exile – 6th century bce

The dating of the sources is central to the hypothesis:

Essential to the history of scholarship expressed in Wellhausen’s synthesis [the DH is the result of W’s synthesis of two generations of OT historical-critical scholarship] was that these four discrete sources of the pentateuch were to be understood as literary documents created at the time of their written composition, and hence as compositions reflecting the understanding and knowledge of their authors and their world. (p. 2 of Early History of the Israelite People from the Written & Archaeological Sources, by Thomas L. Thompson.)

This meant, for example, that the Pentateuch was not a reliable source for the events it narrates, such as the Patriarchal period and Exodus.

But in recent decades biblical scholars are not so united in their acceptance of this explanation for the Bible or “Old Testament” portion of it.

Basically, the old consensus that had developed around the Documentary Hypothesis has gone, though there is nothing to take its place (Rendtorff 1997; Whybray 1987). Some still accept the Documentary Hypothesis in much its original form, but many accept only aspects of it or at least put a question mark by it. There has also been much debate around the J source (Rendtorff 1997: 53-5) and the P source (Grabbe 1997). It seems clear that the Pentateuch was put together in the Persian period (Grabbe 2004:331-43; 2006). (p. 44 of Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? by Lester L. Grabbe)

So where have the cracks appeared? Continue reading “Who wrote the Bible? (2) Challenging the Documentary Hypothesis”


2011-09-06

The Wandering Who?

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by Neil Godfrey

Gilad-Atzmon-The-Wandering-WHOFollowing is a review of Gilad Atzmon’s book. One part of what interests me about this sort of discussion is the inevitable comparison with any other similar experiences of losing one’s old identity and finding a new one. My own experience was in losing my identity as a Christian and becoming what many would call a secular humanist. I went through more than one iteration of Christianity (fundamentalist, liberal) but failed to appreciate the extent to which one’s identity can be entombed in such a belief at any level, until I left the “other-world” idea behind entirely. (One is constantly reminded that even “liberal Christians”, for example, can sometimes be just as arrogant in their humility, just as intolerant and hostile of other views, as the fundamentalist variety. The only difference for so many is that they change their targets or their levels of self-deception. But we are all where we are at and each of us has our own journey to follow.)

The original is at Gilad Atzmon’s blog here or on the VT site here.

Gilad struggled with the conflict between his early experiences as an Israeli Zionist and his awakening as a humanist

The Wandering WHO? navigates between thought-provoking personal experiences, historical and philosophical issues

by Paul J Balles

Gilad Atzmon, scholar, prolific writer and leading jazz saxophonist has authored the book The Wandering WHO? In it he astutely explores the identity crisis he himself experienced and one faced by many Jews.

Gilad struggled with the conflict between his early experiences as an Israeli Zionist and his awakening as a humanist.

His book reveals an innate ability to switch between the qualities of a down-to-earth artist (the successful sax player and word-smith) and the knowledgeable philosopher.

Without doubt, The Wandering WHO? will awaken many readers– pleasing some and disturbing others.

The pleased will include those who have experienced similar awakenings or resolved identity crises by continuously asking questions.

The book will also find welcome readers among those who have sought honest answers to the many contentious issues involving Jewish identity, Jewish politics and Israel.

The disturbed will include those Gilad might refer to as “separatist Jews…kind of a bizarre mixture of an SS commander and a Biblical Moses.”

Gilad will also face threats and complaints from those he calls “pro-war Zionist Islamophobes.”

He will undoubtedly find rejection from those who want “to stop proud, self-hating Jews (like Atzmon) from blowing the whistle.”

The Wandering WHO? navigates between thought-provoking personal experiences, historical and philosophical issues.

In the forward, Gilad tells the most remarkable story of his Jewish upbringing and the challenging questions raised by his early experiences as an Israeli Zionist.

In the chapters that follow, Gilad remarks that “Israel is the Jewish state and Jewishness is an ethno-centric ideology driven by exclusiveness, exceptionalism, racial supremacy and a deep inherent inclination toward segregation.”

Atzmon draws a distinction between Jews as: Continue reading “The Wandering Who?”


2011-06-26

Turning Blooms to Desert

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by Neil Godfrey

Now it’s all gone —

It’s not making headlines here but it should.

http://electronicintifada.net/content/now-its-all-gone-women-cope-siege-jordan-valley/10105

“Now it’s all gone”: Women cope with siege in Jordan Valley

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Electronic Intifada

24 June 2011

 Israeli military forces have demolished 27 houses in the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank over the last two weeks. More than 140 Palestinians have been rendered homeless by the demolitions, while Israeli settlement expansion continues to threaten more land and restrict water access — affecting the vitality of dozens of Palestinian villages in the area. Continue reading “Turning Blooms to Desert”


2011-04-28

Israel-Palestine: A Totally Unique Conflict in Human History

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by Neil Godfrey

The following post by Gilad Atzmon is copied from his blog with his permission.

GILAD ATZMON: TIME IS RIPE FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 27, 2011 AT 11:45AM GILAD ATZMON

It is slightly embarrassing for me to admit that sometime Zionists are actually well ahead of our favourite intellectuals in understanding the depth of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is not that they are more clever, they are just free to explore the conflict without being subject to the tyranny of ‘political correctness’, also being proud nationalist Jews- they do not need the approval of the Jewish left thought police.

I have recently come across a short Haaretz article by Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua*.

Yehoshua is a proud Zionist, He believes in the right of his people to dwell on Palestinian land. He is also convinced that the Jewish state is the true meaning of contemporary Jewish life. I guess that Yehoshua loves himself almost as much as I despise everything he stands for and yet, I have to confess, he seems to grasp the depth of the Israeli Palestinian conflict’s parameters slightly better than most solidarity activists I can think of. Continue reading “Israel-Palestine: A Totally Unique Conflict in Human History”


2011-01-25

The Great Betrayal of the Palestinians

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing my posts on the history of the Palestinians (from a Palestinian scholar’s historical research) seems superfluous now, given the in-your-face evidence of how the Palestinian Authority and PLO leadership has betrayed their people. The betrayal began with Arafat. He was the first to agree to be paid off to act as Israel’s policeman, with “foreign aid” in the form of police handcuffs from the U.S.

The principled Palestinian leaders, or would-be leaders, have long since been kidnapped (they were democratically elected in UN monitored free and fair elections, by the way) and incarcerated in Israeli prisons. But that crime is not nearly so well known, and the names of the victims are too numerous (and Arabic!) for anyone to recall, compared with the case of that solitary Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. (There’s a double irony in that last sentence that I hope is picked up — and more importantly followed up.)

One can only weep.


2010-11-01

Zionist racism and pro-Zionist gentile folly

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by Neil Godfrey

Even worse than Gilad Atzmon’s nightmare is the very likelihood that many Christian Zionists — gentiles themselves — will agree with Rabbi Yosef’s dream of a master race over the rest . . . .

In case the Goyim cannot find a purpose in their life, Israeli senior Sephardi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is there to help them out.  In his Saturday sermon Rabbi Yosef revealed that the sole purpose of Gentiles is to serve Jews.
“Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world.”  The Rabbi was also kind enough to provide the Goyim with some precise tasks. “Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat.
That is why gentiles were created.”

They may even console themselves that through their God they will refine Rabbi Yosef’s dream to allow a super-elite of believing Jews and other Christians at the top of the pyramid.

See for the full article: http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/gilad-atzmon-from-rabbi-yosef-to-marx.html


2010-09-08

Palestinian recognition of Israel, a Jewish state — Why?

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by Neil Godfrey

This post by Monzer Zimmo is found at http://alcanaanite.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/palestinian-recognition-of-israel-a-jewish-state-why/

Monzer Zimmo is a “Palestinian-Canadian living and working in Ottawa, Canada. Monzer is an advocate of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the peaceful creation of a bi-national-democratic state on all the territory of historic Palestine, where Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others live together as equal citizens; be and feel safe, secure, and at home.

Why do Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, and other Zionist leaders insist that “without Palestinian recognition that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, there will not be peace”?  They have declared themselves as such.  They enjoy the support of most European nations, United States of America, Canada, Australia, and many other countries in the world that have no problem whatsoever in describing the state of Israel as such.  Many Arab countries – with leaders suffering from near-sighted vision – would have no problem going along with that concept.  Almost every country with significant military, economic, or diplomatic power and influence either fully agrees with the description of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or has no real problem with it.  So, why does the Israeli leadership insist on demanding that recognition from the powerless, penniless Palestinian leadership?

Here are some thoughts in that regard: Continue reading “Palestinian recognition of Israel, a Jewish state — Why?”


2010-08-03

Israel Cannot Handle its Past

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by Neil Godfrey

From http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/gilad-atzmon-israel-cannot-handle-its-past.html

By Gilad Atzmon:

Israel cannot handle its past. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu decided this week to extend from 50 to 70 years the time state archivesremain classified. Israel realizes that it has too much to hide.

Haaretz reported this week (in its Hebrew edition only), that the first documents will be released to the public only in 2018 (1948+70). Many of the documents that are stored in the archive are relevant to the history of the first 20 years of the Jewish state: the mass expulsion of the Palestinian people,  the massacres in Deir Yassin,  Tantura and many others, the 1956 Suez conflict, the Israeli nuclear project and so on. Disclosing such documents may bring to light some facts that could “shatter myths and cause embarrassment to many entities and individuals” said the Israeli paper. I guess that president Shimon Peres is one of those ‘many individuals’.

In my latest work I elaborated on the concerning fact that history is foreign to the Jewish  religion, ideology and politics. Israeli and Jewish history are set as phantasmic tales. Facts and historical documents are either pushed aside, shoved under the carpet, eliminated or simply destroyed. As we all know, truth seeking is interpreted by Israelis and Zionist as anti Semitism or even holocaust denial.

As it seems, 50 years were not enough for Israel to tackle its original sin. The reason is simple, the crimes that are entangled with the foundation of the Jewish state have never been resolved. Millions of Palestinian refugees are still awaiting to return to their land. Israel is still driven by racist and supremacist laws. The Jewish state has never matured from its lethal philosophy of constant physical intimidation. Consequently, the IDF, the Mossad and the security services mounted pressure on the government to extend the classification status of these 50 year old documents. And no surprise, Netanyahu has provided the required extension.

Haaretz pointed out that it is slightly peculiar that PM Netanyahu, the son of Benzion Netanyahu, a Zionist historian, gave his hand to a crude attempt to conceal  historical research and truth seeking. I read Benzion Netanyahu, I actually learned a lot from him. Benzion wasn’t exactly an ordinary historian, he was a Zionist historian (as opposed to a historian of Zionism). He was there to give the Jewish national aspiration a contextual pseudo academic meaning. PM Netanyahu’s decision to hide facts for another 20 years is actually in line with his father’s philosophy.

A disclosure of the truth regarding Israel’s early days would reveal that the Jewish state was a murderous lethal attempt from its very beginning. As much as Zionist and Israeli leaders vowed publicly to make Jews ‘people like all other people’, behind closed doors they commanded their army and secret services to kill like their imaginary Biblical forefathers.

I would argue that from a historical perspective, Israel can keep sitting on its secret files as long as it wants. We do not really need the Israeli archive in order to examine the true murderous meaning of the Jewish state and the Jewish national project. However, the fact that Israel insists on hiding its past, means that there is a little bit of shame and consciousness left in this tribal collective. This is actually a positive sign.


2010-06-07

Jewish Ideology and World Peace by Gilad Atzmon

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by Neil Godfrey

If we want to understand religiously backed terrorism that “they” commit, we might first need to appreciate what our own religious heritage has contributed to the mix. The following is another by Gilad Atzmon.

Jewish Ideology and World Peace by Gilad Atzmon

Monday, June 7, 2010 at 11:41AM

” …then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)

“…do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…as the Lord your God has commanded you…” (Deuteronomy 20:16)

I am here to announce as loud as I can, there is no need for any ‘International’, ‘impartial’ or ‘independent’ inquiry into the latest Israeli massacre on the high sea. Though the Israeli opposition to such an inquiry is there to suggest that the Israelis have much to hide, the truth of the matter is actually deeper. If you want to grasp what underlies the Israeli deadly barbarism all you have to do is open the Old Testament. Continue reading “Jewish Ideology and World Peace by Gilad Atzmon”


2010-05-31

End the levity of the previous post. These are my comrades.

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by Neil Godfrey

Israeli Butchery at Sea by Gilad Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon

Monday, May 31, 2010 at 11:58AM Gilad Atzmon

As I write this piece the scale of the Israeli lethal slaughter at sea is yet to be clear. However we already know that at around 4am Gaza time, hundreds of IDF commandos stormed the Free Gaza international humanitarian fleet. We learn from the Arab press that at least 16 peace activists have been murdered and more than 50 were injured.  Once again it is devastatingly obvious that Israel is not trying to hide its true nature: an inhuman murderous collective fuelled by a psychosis and driven by paranoia.

For days the Israeli government  prepared the Israeli society for the massacre at sea. It said that the Flotilla carried weapons, it had ‘terrorists’ on board. Only yesterday evening it occurred to me that this Israeli malicious media spin was there to prepare the Israeli public for a full scale Israeli deadly military operation in international waters.  Make no mistake. If I knew exactly where Israel was heading and the possible consequences, the Israeli cabinet and military elite were fully aware of it all the way along.  What happened yesterday wasn’t just a pirate terrorist  attack. It was actually murder in broad day light even though it happened in the dark.

Yesterday at 10 pm I contacted Free Gaza and shared with them everything I knew. I obviously grasped that hundreds of peace activists most of them elders, had very little chance against the Israeli killing machine. I was praying all night for our brothers and sisters.  At 5am GMT the news broke to the world. In international waters Israel raided an innocent international convoy of boats carrying cement, paper and medical aid to the besieged Gazans. The Israelis were using live ammunition murdering and injuring everything around them.

Today we will see demonstrations around the world, we will see many events mourning our dead.  We may even see some of Israel’s friends ‘posturing’ against the slaughter. Clearly this is not enough.

The massacre that took place yesterday was a premeditated Israeli operation. Israel wanted blood because it believes that its ‘power of deterrence’  expands with the more dead it leaves behind. The Israeli decision to use hundreds of commando soldiers against civilians was taken by the Israeli cabinet together with the Israeli top military commanders. What we saw yesterday wasn’t just a failure on the ground. It was actually an institutional failure of a morbid society that a long time ago lost touch with humanity.

It is no secret that Palestinians are living in a siege for years. But it is now down to the nations to move on and mount the ultimate pressure on Israel and its citizens. Since the massacre yesterday was committed by a popular army that followed instructions given by a ‘democratically elected’ government, from now on, every Israeli  should be considered as a  suspicious war criminal unless proved different.

Considering the fact that Israel stormed naval vessels sailing under Irish, Turkish and Greek flags. Both NATO  members and EU countries must immediately cease their  relationships with  Israel  and close their airspace to Israeli airplanes.

Considering yesterday’s news about Israeli nuclear submarines being stationed in the Gulf, the world must react quickly and severely.  Israel is now officially mad and deadly. The Jewish State is not just careless about human life,  as we have been following  the Israeli press campaign leading to the slaughter,  Israel actually  seeks pleasure in inflicting pain and devastation on others.

(I have posted this in full. Previous correspondence with Gilad assures me that he would wholeheartedly approve of my copying this in full.)


2009-07-19

Feeling the hate from “our” side

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by Neil Godfrey

Posting two links that coincidentally attracted a similar header despite being experiences of two very different people from different parts of the world (Australia, USA) in contact with two quite different facets (university students, ultra-orthodox) of the one country (Israel). Posting the links in the interest of providing one more avenue for letting the other side of the story get an airing among western audiences.

Reporter feels mob’s hate in Holy City — raining spit.

Feeling the hate in Tel Aviv — cosmopolitan Israelis share their views.

For a more positive view of Israelis and slivers of hope I recommend Googling the words Jews and peace or Jews for peace.


2009-02-01

The irony

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by Neil Godfrey

I know of many Jews (Israeli and non-Israeli) who label their fellow Jews who are critical of Zionism and the ethnic cleansing and expansionist policies of successive Israeli governments as self-hating Jews. That charge would seem a bit hard to sustain in this instance.  The irony is twisted even further when one learns that the founders of Zionism (who flourished alongside other racially based nationalisms in their most rabid late nineteenth and early twentieth century phase) were in many cases nonbelievers who nonetheless openly proclaimed that they found their mandate forceful expulsion of Palestinians and ever expanding takeover of their lands in the Bible.

Why post this? Because I am appalled at the outrageous bias in mainstream western media reporting and anything that might graphically help expose its one sidedness is not a bad thing. Imagine the western media addressing the Palestinians in Gaza as the product of documented ethnic cleansing and expulsion policies, represented by a democratically elected government that had offered to recognize Israel’s existence along the terms of the Saudi peace plan, and whose citizens and leaders are routinely kidnapped and jailed in a foreign country, and that has been imprisoned by land, sea and air to the point of humanitarian catostrophe. . . .  But that will never be said in the mainstream western media. At least not unless it is callously hidden behind the pseudo-impartiality that insists on giving equal time to state sanctioned official lies and half truths.