Genesis to Kings, the work of a single authorship?

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by Neil Godfrey

I am copying here a comment that Philippe Wajdenbaum made in relation to another post. (I have reformatted the original.)

Many thanks for this post, and for the quality of your blog. Russell Gmirkin’s “Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible” is a most important book that will elicit a paradigm shift in biblical studies, as seen in its current positive reception.

Here are some of my arguments for Genesis-Kings’ unity:

In “Argonauts of the Desert”, as well as in several articles, I have proposed that Genesis-Kings (also called the Primary History) is the work of a single author, or at least the same team of scholars, who took inspiration from Greek classical texts such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. See also:

The demonstration of Genesis-Kings’ literary unity relies first on its consistency as a continuous narrative, as shown by Spinoza (“Theological and Political Treatise”, chapter 8), and second on the distribution of its Greek-borrowed material, shown by Wesselius regarding the use of Herodotus. Whereas both placed this redaction during the Persian period, Russell Gmirkin has convincingly shown in “Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus” (2006), that the Hellenistic era offers the most plausible period for Judean and Samaritan scholars to have had access to and emulated Greek sources, most probably in the Library of Alexandria.

In my article “From Plato to Moses: Genesis-Kings as a Platonic Epic” (in “Biblical Interpretation Beyond Historicity: Changing Perspectives 7”, edited by I. Hjelm and Thomas L. Thompson, 2016, also available on the Bible and Interpretation website), I have pointed out that

  • the Pentateuch seems to borrow significantly from the Odyssey (the wanderings of the Patriarchs and Israel, Joseph’s story as a rewrite of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca),
  • whereas Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings seem to borrow predominantly from the Iliad (the many battle scenes, especially in 1-2 Samuel).

Yet, there are motifs from the Iliad in the Pentateuch and from the Odyssey in Joshua-Kings. This distribution of Homeric motifs interestingly corresponds to how Virgil modelled the first six books of the Aeneid on the Odyssey, and the six next books on the Iliad. In my opinion, this logic in the distribution of themes can be observed regarding most of the Greek sources used by the author of Genesis-Kings (such as the Greek mythical cycles of the Argonauts, Heracles, Thebes and the Trojan War), and tends to show its literary unity.

Regarding the use of Plato, I have tried to show that a “Platonic framework” encompasses Genesis-Kings. Genesis uses several myths from Plato about

  • the creation of the world (Timaeus / Gen. 1),
  • the split of a primordial androgynous human (Symposium / Gen. 2)
  • and the Golden Age (Statesman / Gen. 3; combined with Hesiod’s story of Prometheus and Pandora).

The Exodus narrative,

the liberation of slaves by a reluctant leader who had been freed beforehand, seems an adaptation of Plato’s famous Cave Allegory in Republic 7 (combined with the story of Battus, the founder of Cyrene).

After receiving some of their divine laws, some of which are borrowed from Plato’s Laws, Moses and the Israelites perform a ritual for accepting these laws (Exod. 24) that seems borrowed from a similar ceremony in Plato’s Critias.

The confection of the Tabernacle’s furniture by a craftsman based on a divine model echoes Plato’s theory of imitation of divine types in Republic 10.

The book of Joshua narrates the foundation of the Ideal twelve-tribe state, with the division of the land by lot into twelve tribes and its subdivision into paternal plots of land, according to the model found in Numbers, which is itself based on Plato’s Laws.

Judges, Samuel and Kings depict the gradual downfall of this state, due to the increasing faults of Israel and Judah’s kings. This demise of a state that should have been ideal and eternal seems borrowed from Plato’s tale of Atlantis in Critias. Solomon’s riches and grandiose temple in Kings resemble that of Atlantis, and God’s decision to destroy Israel and Judah at the hands of its enemies echoes the fate of Atlantis, punished by Zeus because its kings neglected the divine laws with the passing of generations.

The final catastrophe of Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians and the beginning of the Exile is reflected in Genesis’ narrative of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden for disobeying the divine commandment, which seems the trace of a ring composition.

Best regards,
Philippe Wajdenbaum


Hidden Meanings and Memories

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by Neil Godfrey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of parallels there was an interesting article a while back on Εις Δοξαν looking at the eleventh labour of Heracles in which he was ordered to recover some golden apples:  Continue reading “Hidden Meanings and Memories”


Greek Myths Related to Tales of Abraham, Isaac, Moses and the Promised Land

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

by Neil Godfrey


The classical Greek myths related to the founding of the colony of Cyrene in North Africa (Libya) are worth knowing about alongside the biblical narrative of the founding of Israel. This post is a presentation of my understanding of some of the ideas of Philippe Wajdenbaum found in a recent article in the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, and that apparently epitomize his thesis, Argonauts of the Desert.

My recent post drew attention to the following mythemes in common to both the Phrixus and Isaac sacrifice stories. I’m not sure if my delineation of them is guilty of slightly blurring the edges of a strict definition of a mytheme, but they are certainly common elements.

  1. the divine command to sacrifice one’s son
    • real in the case of Isaac,
    • a lie in another in the case of Phrixus – P’s stepmother bribed messengers to tell the father the god required the sacrifice
  2. the father’s pious unquestioning submission to the command
  3. last-minute deliverance of the human victim by a divinely sent ram
    • direct command to the father in the case of Isaac
    • direct command to the sacrificial victim in the case of Phrixus
  4. the fastening of the ram in a tree or bush
    • before the sacrifice of the ram in the case of Isaac
    • after the sacrifice of the ram in the case of Phrixus
  5. the sacrifice of the ram
    • as a substitute for Isaac
    • as a thanksgiving for Phrixus

What is significant is that these narrative units in common to both stories exist at a level independent of the particular stories. They can be inverted and reordered to create different stories.

The question to ask is: Are these units similar by coincidence or has one set been borrowed from the other?

That particular detail about the ram in the tree or thicket is certainly distinctive enough to justify this question in relation to the whole set.

Firstly, given that it is no longer considered “fringe” (except maybe among a large proportion of American biblical scholars where the influence of ‘conservative’ and even evangelical religion is relatively strong) to consider the Bible’s “Old Testament” books being written as late as the Persian or even Hellenistic eras, and given the proximity of Jewish and Greek cultures, the possibility of direct borrowing cannot be rejected out of hand.

Secondly, the chances of the Jewish story of the binding of Isaac being influenced by the Greek myth is increased if both stories are located in a similar structural position within parallel narratives.

Both near-human sacrifice narratives serve as the prologues to larger tales of:

  1. divine promises of a land to be inherited by a hero’s descendants
  2. a special divinely chosen people
  3. a pre-arranged time schedule of four generations before the land would be inherited
  4. deliverance through a leader who initially protests because he stutters
  5. an additional delay because of human failure to hold fast to a divine promise
  6. a wandering through the desert with a sacred vessel
  7. guiding divine revelations along the way

Not only are both tales of escape from human sacrifice prologues to these larger comparable narratives, but they also serve as a reference point in both. They hold the respective longer stories together by serving as the origin point of the divine promises that guide the subsequent narratives of journeying to a promised land, and that origin point is referenced by way of reminder throughout the subsequent narratives.

The Biblical narrative is about much more than the way the children of Abraham inherited the land of Canaan, and here is where Philippe Wajdenbaum, in his 2008 doctoral thesis Argonauts of the Desert — Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible, draws attention to the extensive similarities between Plato’s writings and the Bible’s narratives. Both contain a general flood being the beginning of a new era in civilization, with a patriarchal age following, the rise of cities and kingship, and the development of laws and a description of an ideal state. The laws in the Pentateuch are often remarkably alike the laws proposed by Plato:

  • laws that require a central religious authority,
  • of a need for pure bloodlines (especially for priests),
  • laws that condemn homosexuality, witchcraft, magic,
  • laws of inheritance, boundary stones,
  • laws allowing slaves to be taken from foreign peoples only,
  • laws against the need for a king,
  • laws governing involuntary homicide,
  • laws regarding rebellious children,
  • laws against usury, against taking too much fruit from one’s fields,

and quite a few more, and often found listed in the same order between the Greek and Hebrew texts.

The ideal state, moreover, is divided into twelve lots of land given to twelve tribes. The king, it is warned, is subject to the vices of love, and this will lead to oppressive tyranny. One might think here of the sins of David and Solomon.

Wajdenbaum applies the structural analysis of myths as developed by Claude Lévi-Strauss to the Bible, and one can see his coverage is much more extensive than can be covered in a few blog posts. Here I am focussing only on structural place of the Phrixus/Isaac “sacrifices” in their respective wider narratives.

The Phrixus episode serves as the introduction to the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts, and this set of adventures functions as an explanation of the founding of the Greek colony of Cyrene in North Africa (Libya).

The Argonaut epic and the Bible narrative

I had earlier written a series of six posts on resonances between the Argonautica as told by Apollonius of Rhodes (they are found by starting at the bottom of this Argonautica archive) but this post is addressing Wajdenbaum’s thesis.

The full Argonaut epic is found in Pindar’s Fourth Pythian Ode. It had earlier been referenced in Homer’s Odyssey, XII, 69-72, in Hesiod’s Theogany, 990-1005, and in Herodotus (the foundation of Cyrene and the interrupted sacrifice of Phrixus). Euripides wrote two plays titled Phrixos, now lost to us. And of course Apollonius of Rhodes wrote the epic poem in imitation of Homer, The Argonautica.

The main sources for this epic relate it to the founding of Cyrene. (Pindar’s ode is even dedicated to the king of Cyrene.) This compares with the early Bible narrative from Abraham to Moses relating to the settling of Canaan.

Jason, leader of the Argonauts, belonged to the same extended family as Phrixus, all being descended from Aeolus.

Zeus was angry with the descendants of Aeolus over the attempted sacrifice of Phrixus by his father, and to appease his divine wrath Jason embarked in the Argo with a band of followers (the Argonauts) to retrieve the golden fleece. (This was the fleece of the ram that had saved Phrixus at the last moment from being sacrificed.)

Triton, son of the sea-god Poseidon, appeared in human form and gave one of the Argonauts, Euphemus, a gift of a handful of Libyan soil as a token of a promise that his descendants would return and colonize the land. Had Euphemus succeeded in keeping the soil to plant appropriately in his own home area, his descendants would have returned to colonize only four generations later. But since the soil was washed overboard and its particles landed on the island of Thera instead, seventeen generations would have to pass and Cyrene would have to be colonized by the descendants of the Argonauts after first settling in Thera.

This is the reverse of the order in which we read of the “sacrifice” and the promise in the Biblical narrative. There, Abraham is promised the land and afterwards prepares to sacrifice Isaac. The Argonauts seek to appease Zeus’s anger of the attempted sacrifice of Phrixus by retrieving the fleece of the ram that saved him, and the promise of the land of Cyrene for the descendants of the Argonauts is made afterwards.

Generations later, after the descendants of the Argonauts had settled on Thera, a direct descendant of Euphemus was commanded through the Delphic Oracle to lead his people to settle and establish Cyrene in fulfilment of the promise made at the time the Argonauts were retrieving the fleece of the ram that had saved Phrixus.

This descendant was known as Battus (a name that means “stutterer”). He argued against the divine command on the grounds that he was not a great warrior and that he had a speech impediment. But the Delphic oracle refused to listen to reason and made him do as he was told anyway.

Herodotus tells us that Battus ruled Cyrene for the familiar forty years.

We are reminded of the promise to Abraham that his descendants would settle in Canaan after four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. Egypt serves as a delaying detour on their way to their destiny as Thera was in the Greek myth.

God commands Moses to lead his people to Canaan by invoking his promise to give it to the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses at first refuses by pleading that he stutters. If Battus ruled the Argonauts for forty years, Moses (also once called a king and known as a king in Philo), led his people for forty years also.

This narrative structure joining Abraham to Moses echoes with accuracy the promise made to Euphemus and its fulfilment by his descendant Battus. Both Moses and Battus invoked their trouble speaking in order to avoid their divine mission and both ruled over their people during forty years. Therefore, the similarities between the interrupted sacrifice of Isaac and that of Phrixos appear as part of a similar narrative structure. It seems as though Abraham plays two different characters from the Greek epic: King Athamas who almost sacrificed his son (Phrixos) — an episode from the beginning of the epic; and the Argonaut Euphemus who received the promise of land for his descendants — an episode from the ending of the epic. The order of the episodes has been reversed. In the same way, the detail of the ram hung on a tree after the sacrifice in the Greek version appears inverted to the account of the ram stuck in the bush before the sacrifice in Genesis. (p. 134, my bold)

To repeat a few lines I quoted in my earlier post, but this time without the omissions:

Parallelisms must not be analysed in an isolated way, but one must try to find out the possible narrative structure that links the similarities together. In other words, the similarity between Phrixos and Isaac is not sufficient by itself to speculate about any possible borrowing. But, when placed in the wider framework of the epic of the Argonauts and the foundation of the colony of Cyrene, it allows us to question a likely influence of the Greek mythical tradition on the writing of the OT. (p. 134)

Philippe Wajdenbaum notes that his thesis supports the one advanced by Jan-Wim Wesselius’s in The Origin of the History of Israel: Herodotus’s Histories as the Blueprint for the First Books of the Bible that the narratives in Herodotus have influenced the biblical narrative.

But there is one significant clue thus far missing, Wajdenbaum remarks. What might the founding of a colony in Cyrene in Herodotus have to do with the settlement and kingdom established in Canaan by Israel? Wajdenbaum points to an answer:

We must investigate the writings of another famous Greek writer to find the description of a State meant to be a colony. A State that would be divided into twelve tribes and ruled by perfect god-given laws — the ideal State imagined by Plato in his Laws. (p. 134)

And that is the topic of future blog posts.

Island of Thera — today called Santorini. Image from Wikimedia