Why Bible Authors Wrote Anonymously and with Contradictions

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by Neil Godfrey

My title refers to the anonymous texts in both the Old and New Testaments and why among those anonymous works we encounter numerous contradictions, even within the same works.

I came across one of the clearest explanations to this question in David’s Secret Demons by Baruch Halpern. Halpern explains why “Near Eastern” writing is so different from Greek writing.

No historical text, and no myth, in the ancient Near East is said to have an author. The first authors of biblical texts are the prophets: Amos, Hosea, then Hezekiah’s prophets, in 701, Micah and Isaiah. In these cases; the texts are attributed to individuals for purposes of establishing the texts’ authority. Amos and Hosea, in particular, can be cited as having personally predicted the fall of Israel. Micah and Isaiah can be said to have foreseen the Assyrian devastation of Judah. But in Mesopotamia, textual composition is so anonymous that even astronomical advances have no authors, although the Greeks were able to name particular Babylonians who invented techniques of analysis. Likewise, in Israel, historiographic texts are purely anonymous.

The inverse is true in Greece. Starting with Homer, we have virtually no texts without a personal ascription. Philosophical works, poetic works, and historical works are all attributed to specific authors. Why the contrast? What is the difference between Greek and Near Eastern authorship or composition? Essentially, Greek texts are all open to public dispute. They are unambiguously partisan, and unambiguously controvertible as a result. From the start, authors attack Homer. Philosophers attack their contemporaries and predecessors. There is no hint that the revision of earlier thought is a private matter, inside of a collective tradition. The conflicts are individual and open.

Near Eastern texts, by way of contrast, are composed by a collective establishment. That authors are not identified is one signal. Another is that Near Eastern myths and historical texts correct antecedent texts without explicitly referring to them. Thus, Gen. 1, the creation story in which Israel’s God is infallible, corrects Gen. 2-3, in which Yahweh, creating humans, errs: it is not good that the man should be by himself, for example; or, having determined to make a mate for the man, Yahweh fails to reproduce him from the clay, and engenders animals instead in error. There is no reference in Gen. 1 to Gen. 2-3. Instead, the correction is quiet, indirect. (Halpern 129)


Halpern begins to explain

The adjustments, in the Near East, occur within a tradition. The unity of the tradition is unquestioned. . . .

Halpern even compares the Mesopotamian debates over myths and history with the way discussions today take place “within the traditions of Catholicism and of Orthodox Judaism”:

The elite has a sense of collaboration, a sense of collective identity. (130)

And the result is profound — especially in a culture where illiteracy rates are low. Some scholars have raised the question of whether certain imperial inscriptions were ever meant to be read by the public given that they are so inaccessible. The Behistun monument, for example.


Halpern answers that it would make no difference if the inscription were plastered on roadside billboards. It would make no difference to a wider community who could not read.

But their propagandistic aims indicate that the texts were indeed disseminated. The audiences that kings targeted were, at a minimum, the officialdom and army, but even more probably the citizenry of major communities. The texts must have been read or summarized at public events, and this informal means of dissemination may have been more effective than writing. That is, the outsider audience was almost wholly illiterate, while the insider audience had a higher literacy rate. (129)

So we have an elite literate group with a collective identity and knowing the codes and formulas of writing each kind of genre on the one hand, and an outside audience on the other.

Halpern is describing how a particular inscription of an Assyrian king boasting great conquests in fact, on close reading and decoding the literary play at work, conceals a quite different picture: a partial conquest of several places, ephemeral raids on others, and total conquest of but very few.

On the one hand, general audiences heard the inscriptions. Texts describing the king’s accomplishments are primarily directed externally — the unlettered reader will take the claims of the text at face value. For such readers, the conquest of 42 lands is understood to mean the enduring subjugation of 42 complete and independent political authorities. (130)


On the other hand, the expectation is that the insider audience, the elite, will analyze the language in detail. The insiders understood the conventions used to amplify achievement. The reason was, army officers and administrative officials knew how foreign relations stood, where the borders were, at the military and at the diplomatic level. Egregious falsification would leave the disgruntled placed to ridicule the king. So the spin, or rhetorical exaggeration, had to be applied within a framework of linguistic conventions that insiders understood and accepted. In other words, members of the elite had to understand how to discount the spin. And once they knew how to do so, they could be expected, unlike David …, but like Solomon threatening to cleave a baby in half, to see through the embellishments of others. (130)

Halpern invites us to imagine authors who were actively composing revisions to existing texts being impressed by, even applauding, the cleverness of the scribes whose work they were in critical dialogue with.

From Halpern’s discussion I imagine that the authors identified themselves as part of a community engaged in dialogue, debates, revisionist views, and so forth, with colleagues, peers, and literary rivals.

In sum, all Near Eastern royal literature is written for a bifurcated audience: the contrast in audiences is that of insider to outsider. (131)

Halpern’s discussion is primarily about historical writing but he opened the discussion to include myth. The modus operandi applies to most literature.

Understanding the gospels?

The title of this post includes the New Testament writings. Halpern was the one who opened the door to their inclusion in this literary tradition.

For a lucid articulation of the application of the same principle to the New Testament by David Friedrich Strauss starting in the 1830s, see Roy A. Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical Method from Spinoza to Kasemann (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995), 96-110. Note that the genre of apocalyptic literature is the ultimate reduction of the principle of insider::outsider literary orientation, excluding the outsider almost totally. (131)

Be warned, though. Harrisville and Sundberg expect the reader to be able to grasp a few of Hegel’s esoteric thoughts. Hegel was at the heart of many of the scholarly debates involving Strauss in his day.

Understanding scribes behind the gospels in this way explains much, I suggest. We can see how Mark’s narrative was rewritten so sharply by later evangelists who evidently had no interest in our understanding of historical fact and who clearly saw “midrashic” type rewriting as belonging to traditions that fluctuated between authoritative and debatable. The outsiders would hear and understand the stories literally while the insiders who knew the conventions knew very well what they were doing.

Affect on Hellenistic dating of the OT?

I’ll add a postscript on how this relates to the Hellenistic hypothesis for the OT.

By comparing motifs in the accounts of David and Solomon with Mesopotamian royal propaganda Halpern finds “an argument for dating the biblical texts.” The narrative of Solomon’s spendour is compared with Assyrian inscriptions:

Late Middle and early Neo-Assyrian royal historiography also manifests a special concern with aggregated totals of horses and chariots the king accumulates. Tiglath-Pileser I relates that he brought the numbers of chariots in Assyria’s service to a new high point, that he annexed land and population, giving the people contentment by satisfying their material needs. . . .

[I]in Shalmaneser III’s Year 22 annals, a typical text is as follows:

I directed plows in the lands of my country. Grain and fodder I made more plentiful than before, I poured out. Yoked horse teams of 2002 chariots and 5542 cavalrymen I attached to the forces of my country. . . .

. . . This sort of summary seems to be absent in later royal inscriptions. The capture of horses and chariots is related instead in reports of individual campaigns.

This theme is articulated concerning Solomon. His trade in horses is attested in 1 Kgs. 4:26(5:6); 10:25-29. And Tiglath-Pileser’s and his successors’ concern with agriculture, prosperity, and contentment is another theme shared with 1 Kgs. 3-10. The motif of satiety is common in Semitic royal inscriptions. Another shared motif is that of the feast, prominent both in the account of Solomon’s temple dedication and in the report of the dedication of Calah by Assurnasirpal II. We have already had occasion to mention the dedicatory feast in connection with David’s installation of the ark in Jerusalem.

These motifs did not disappear after the 11th century: they climax in one sense in the inscriptions of Assurnasirpal II. But inscriptions of the 10th and early 9th centuries no longer showcase them or bundle them together as earlier texts do. Thus, the theme of plenty recurs in inscriptions especially of Assurbanipal but even of Esarhaddon. But the rest of the Middle Assyrian complex is missing. Nor does the issue of prosperity occupy the key place it does in Middle Assyrian texts, even in the Aramaic inscriptions of the 9th and 8th centuries.

All these motifs are largely absent from accounts of biblical kings later than Solomon. It looks as though the royal ideal, particularly of the king as naturalist, reflected in 1 Kgs. 3 10 stems squarely from the late Middle and early Neo- Assyrian milieu.


There it is. Internal textual comparisons date the description of Solomon’s reign to the time of the Neo Assyrian empire. So Halpern quite reasonably concludes. But readers of my recent posts will know there is something missing. It is the wider comparison with Greek historiography. If all we had were a narrative about Solomon’s greatness alone then Halpern’s conclusion could be the final word. But when we read about Solomon’s acquisitions and the beneficence of his reign as it is embedded in a larger narrative of the Primary History (Genesis to 2 Kings), and against the testimony of archaeology that allows credence no room for the biblical description, we have a right to conclude that the biblical narrative draws upon a source contemporary with the Neo Assyrian empire. That is, a source later than the biblical Solomon’s reign but certainly long prior to the Persian era.

In Russell Gmirkin’s view, Halpern’s date should be assigned to the source used by the author of the Solomon tale. See “Solomon’s (Shalmaneser III) and the Emergence of Judah as an Independent Kingdom”

But even Halpern cannot avoid the Greek connection:

52 Menander in Josephus Ag. Ap. 1.120; Dius in Ag. Ap. 1.114-15. 

Later, in Chronicles, written in the 5th century, Solomon is far less a natural philosopher. Yet the ideal of the king as natural philosopher is also preserved for the 10th century in Tyrian annals reported by Menander of Ephesus. The source alleged that Hiram, contemporary mainly with Solomon, exchanged riddles and proverbs with Solomon; this tradition is elaborated in Dius,52 with a distinctly pro-Tyrian twist.

Halpern, Baruch. David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 2001.

Gmirkin, Russell. “Solomon’s (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, 2020. — see https://www.academia.edu/41548182/_Solomon_Shalmaneser_III_and_the_Emergence_of_Judah_as_an_Independent_Kingdom_

Other posts comparing Greek and Mesopotamian methods of introducing contradictory accounts into a single narrative:




The Hebrew Bible – Composed only 300 years before Christ?

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by Neil Godfrey

Below is a revised version of a post I submitted to the earlywritings forum. It is the first in a series setting out the foundational arguments for the Old Testament books being written as late as only 300 years before Christ, no earlier. The case being proposed is that our earliest books of the Bible did not have a heritage traced back to Bronze Age times, not even as far back as the kingdoms of Israel and Judah — nor even the “Babylonian Captivity” of the Judeans who were transported to Mesopotamia by Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century BCE. Rather, the proposition advanced here is that they were the creations of a time after Alexander the Great swept across “Asia” and just prior to the Hasmonean and Maccabean eras. The argument to be advanced is that the earliest books of the Bible originated in the Greek era, only a couple or so centuries before the Roman conquest and time of Jesus.

When we apply the fundamentals of historical methods as practised by historians in fields other than biblical studies we quickly see logical flaws at the heart of the conventional understanding that the sources for various biblical books (in particular the stories in Genesis and Exodus) go back as far as the times of David and Solomon.

Multiple sources and circularity

Several times I have engaged in the EarlyWritings Forum on the question of the how the Hebrew Bible came about over long centuries of accumulated writings and editings [i.e. the Documentary Hypothesis] and every time, it seems to me, the argument submitted to prove that the stories came about over long spans of time is the same: the evidence clearly shows us that different stories were combined into one. The classic illustration of this is the Flood story of Genesis. There can be little doubt that two different flood narratives are combined here. Sometimes the account says Noah brought in the animals two by two but in another place it tells us that there were seven of each kind! There are many more indicators to verify the point.

My response has been each time that I have no doubt that different sources were mixed to create the Genesis Flood account, but it does not necessarily follow that those different stories arose and came together over a long time period.

Think of it for a moment: An editor sees before him a story which says that the animals went into the ark two by two. That editor has in mind another story that he has acquired, one that says there were seven of each kind of animal. Now what is that editor likely to do if he wants to create a new single narrative? Would he be likely to keep the two by two account alongside the new one with the sevens? Or should we rather expect that he would delete the two by two references and replace them with what he prefers as the more valid story about the sevens?

What we have is a case of the editor deciding to combine details, even though contradictory, into one new narrative.

To me, that sounds like the editor had two different stories before him and he saw his role as being required to blend the two together, preserving the details of each, to create a single new authoritative story.

If that was the case, there is no reason at all to suppose that the Flood story as we have it is evidence of composition involving the accumulation of different sources over a long time span. It is no less reasonable to think that two interest groups created their own account and an editor was tasked with the job of making them one so that there was one narrative that all could respect as reflecting their own views. Such a project is conceivable as taking place from start to finish within months or even weeks, not necessarily centuries or even decades!

So how did the conventional notion of a centuries long evolution of the Bible come about? Biblical scholars, it is no secret to anyone, not even to themselves on the whole, do have interests that go beyond pure historical research. Even Julius Wellhausen, to whom we tend to attribute the modern notion of the “Documentary Hypothesis”, has been criticized for allowing his Protestant (anti-legalistic) bias to subconsciously influence his model of the “Documentary Hypothesis”. (The criticism has been directed at the widespread idea that “legalistic” texts were a late addition to the original “spiritual” and “prophetic” narratives found in the biblical canon.)

When hypotheses become facts

So much in biblical studies that passes for facts are actually hypotheses, or “theories” of a certain kind. But they are repeated so often it is hard to notice that they have no basis in the hard evidence. Look at this passage from Wellhausen:

With regard to the Jehovistic document [i.e. one proposed “early source” in the Bible], all are happily agreed that, substantially at all events, in language, horizon, and other features, it dates from the golden age of Hebrew literature, to which the finest parts of Judges, Samuel, and Kings, and the oldest extant prophetical writings also belong, the period of the kings and prophets which preceded the dissolution of the two Israelite kingdoms by the Assyrians. About the origin of Deuteronomy there is still less dispute; in all circles where appreciation of scientific results can be looked for at all, it is recognised that it was composed in the same age as that in which it was discovered, and that it was made the rule of Josiah’s reformation, which took place about a generation before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldaeans.


That’s from

His assertion of relative dating is grounded entirely in scholarly consensus, not in the evidence itself. No doubt those scholars who make up the “consensus” believed they had serious evidence for dating the book of Deuteronomy to the days of King Josiah — but we will see that really they did not. They relied entirely upon “what the Bible says”.

There does happen to be archaeological evidence indicating that prior to the Hellenistic era Judeans and Samaritans had no knowledge of the biblical laws. I am referring to the finds in a Judean colony in Egypt, the Elephantine papyri. (I have not posted nearly enough about this find and what various scholars have had to say about it, but hope to make up for that lack very soon.) The Documentary Hypothesis, it has been pointed out by at least one scholar in the biblical field, might well never have got off the ground had the Elephantine remains — indicating that Persian era Jews knew nothing of the Pentateuch — been discovered earlier and had more time to gain traction and wider and more focused attention than it had before the time of Wellhausen’s work.

None of this is to say that biblical scholars are unprofessionally “biased” or “unscholarly”. Of course they are scholarly and their biases are generally known and admitted and taken into account. But their work tends to be picked up by others and over time taken for granted as fact.

Independent evidence is critical

The fact remains that there is no independent evidence that the OT was composed prior to the Hellenistic era. That datum alone does not prove it was a Hellenistic product. But it does at least allow for the theoretical possibility that it was created in the Hellenistic era, and given that our earliest independent evidence for a knowledge of the Pentateuch is situated in the Hellenistic era, it is entirely reasonable to begin with that era when searching for the Pentateuch’s origins.

It also is a fact that scholarship has only cursorily (by comparison) begun noting echoes of Hellenistic literature and thought within the Pentateuch itself. Those are facts. Another fact is that Documentary Hypothesis is not without its inconsistencies and problems – another point I can post about in more depth.

Those facts do not prove that the Pentateuch was created in the Hellenistic era. But they do at least make it possible to ask the question. It makes it all the more necessary for anyone proposing an earlier date to ground their reasons in supporting independent evidence of some kind.

The meaning of “Hellenistic”

The Hellenistic provenance of the Pentateuch does not deny any use of pre-Hellenistic literature or sayings or concepts. Hellenization even means a uniting of Greek and Asian cultures, not a replacement of one by the other. So one should expect in any Hellenistic era hypothesis for the Pentateuch clear allusions to non-Greek (i.e. local Canaanite and Syrian) sources. Yes, we can identify where passages in the Pentateuch are borrowed from ancient Ugaritic (Canaanite) or Syrian sources, but employing local literature does not contradict the Hellenistic era hypothesis for the Old Testament.

The fateful year of 1992

My own understanding of the history of the scholarship in this area informs me that the floodgates to a more widespread acceptability in questioning the “deep antiquity” (pre-Persian era) origin of any of the OT books were opened by Philip R. Davies in 1992 with his publication of In Search of Ancient Israel. The irony was that Davies was only collating various criticisms and doubts about the conventional wisdom of “biblical Israel” that had been available to scholars for some decades. But by bringing these questions and doubts all together in one short publication (only about 150 pages of discussion) Davies’ work started something of an academic “kerfuffle”. [The above sentences are a paraphrase from memory of a review of Davies’ book but, apologies, I cannot recall their source.] Davies himself argued at length for a Persian era provenance of many of the OT books, but those who followed the evidence he set out could see that the way was also open for an even later period. Some scholars identified stronger links between the Pentateuch and Primary History (Genesis to 2 Kings) and Hellenistic literature than to anything earlier. One French scholar has even argued that the entire Primary History was composed by a priest in the Hasmonean era.

Davies certainly established the circularity of the arguments that much of the OT literature was composed in the times of King Josiah and the Babylonian captivity. He also brought together the archaeological evidence that indicates the very notion of “biblical Israel” (along with a kingdom of David and empire of Solomon) is as fanciful as King Arthur and Camelot.

The basics of historical inquiry

I opened this post with a reference to the methods of historians in nonbiblical fields. In short, those methods are nothing other than any journalistic or forensic or “common sense” method of trying to find out “what happened” — minus the theological provenance from which the quest is embarked upon. Start with what we know to be the most secure “facts” on the basis of collating independent evidence and working from there. Assuming that what we read in the Bible is a pathway to “the historical facts” is not safe: we need the support of independent evidence. Unfortunately, our cultural heritage has taught us too well that certain narratives about the past are “facts” (or at least based on facts) so that we find it very difficult to remove these from our minds when trying to see clearly the material evidence before our eyes.



Midrash: A Message from God, though not historically true

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by Neil Godfrey

Let us now turn to a famous story found in the Babylonian Talmud, b. Taanit 5b. While sitting together at a meal Rav Nahman asked Rabbi Yitzhaq to expound on some subject. After some preliminary diversions, Rabbi Yitzhaq said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan, “Our father Jacob never died.”

Rav Nahman was taken aback by this claim and said,  “But he was embalmed and buried.” How is possible to do such things to someone who has not died?

Rabbi Yitzhaq responds and says, . . . . “I am engaged in Bible elucidation,” and he then cites Jer 30:10, “Therefore fear not, my servant Jacob, says the LORD; be not dismayed, Israel, for I will save you from afar and your seed from the land of their captivity.” He continues, “Israel is compared to his seed; just as his seed is alive so too is he alive.”

At first sight, it appears that the midrashic statement denying Jacob’s death is being derived from Jer 30:10. However, if we look closer at the passage, we will find a fascinating distinction between the biblical deathbed scenes of Abraham (Gen 25:8) and Isaac (35:29), on the one hand, and that of Jacob (49:33), on the other. In the former scenes, two verbs, . . . “expired,” and . . . “died,” and one phrase, . . . “was gathered to his people,” are used to describe their deaths. Regarding Jacob, however, only two verbs appear: expiring and being gathered to his people. For the midrashist, the absence of any verb from the root . . . “to die”, in the description of Jacob’s death cannot be by chance, but must be understood as communicating to us the Bible’s message that Jacob did not die.

According to the story, Rabbi Yitzhak’s statement to Rav Nahman was made in a completely neutral context — that is, outside of any context whatsoever. Consequently, Rav Nahman understood this claim as being functionally parallel to a claim such as “Elijah did not die.” The characteristic position of rabbinic Judaism is, of course, that Elijah never died but is still alive; indeed, according to the rabbis, he is the heavenly recorder of human deeds. Rav Nahman therefore asked Rabbi Yitzhak: But Jacob was embalmed and buried, so how can you claim he did not die. Rabbi Yitzhak’s response, . . . . “I am engaged in Bible elucidation,” and the citation of Jer 30:10, is not given to tell us the source of his previous statement, for as we have just seen, its source is the absence of any mention of death in Jacob’s deathbed scene. What he is doing is saying the following:

“You have misunderstood me; my statement that Jacob did not die is not to be understood as a literal-historical depiction of historical facts, but as midrash.”

Midrash comes to tell us a story placed in the biblical text by God, having no necessary relationship to the actual historical events, but whose purpose is to give us a message from God. That message is being explained to Rav Nahman by Rabbi Yitzhaq’s citation of Jeremiah. God’s exclusion of any mention of Jacob’s death is a promise found midrashically in Genesis and explicitly in Jeremiah: for Rabbi Yitzhaq, Jacob’s nondeath is a promise that his seed shall exist forever.

This midrash and its surrounding narrative are important because they give what we desperately need in reading midrash: a cultural and theoretical context. The original misunderstanding by Rav Nahman and the final exposition by Rabbi Yitzhak show, as clearly as possible, that midrashic narrative is explicitly demarcated from the historical-literal reconstruction of past events. Midrash is the rabbis’ reconstruction of God’s word to the Jewish people and not the rabbis’ reconstruction of what happened in the biblical past.

(Milikowsky, pp. 124 f.)

The Bible’s stories are never questioned. They are always bed-rock “true history”.

But the rabbis added stories to those Bible events that are clearly not factual, but nonetheless meaningful and explantory.

Why should the rabbis develop a mode of discourse that tells the truth by means of fictional events, when the only literature they have in front of them is the Bible, which tells the truth by means of true historical events?

For the answer to that question Milikowsky finds a significant discussion on the importance of “good fiction” in Plato’s Republic. At this point, return to the previous post: Why the rabbis . . .

Now what we see in the Gospel of Mark at one level looks like midrashic narrative. For example, we have quotations from Malachi mixed with quotations from Isaiah and Exodus. In the opening scene we have re-enactments of a “man of god” spending time in the wilderness and returning to call out a certain people and performing miracles. It is all familiar to anyone familiar with the Old Testament narratives.

So what is going on here? The question inevitably arises: Does the author of the earliest gospel expect hearers to believe the story as genuine history or as a “message from God” which the Bible texts assert to be “valid” or “true” without necessarily being “historically true”? If the latter, it is surely easy to see why it would be understood and accepted as true on both levels: as a message from God and as genuine history.

Milikowsky, Chaim. 2005. “Midrash as Fiction and Midrash as History: What Did the Rabbis Mean?” In Ancient Fiction: The Matrix of Early Christian And Jewish Narrative, edited by et al Jo-Ann A. Brant, Charles W. Hedrick, and Chris Shea, 117–27. Symposium Series 32. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.


Why the Rabbis (and Gospel Authors, too) Wrote Fiction as “True History” — Duplicate Post

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by Neil Godfrey

Looks like I cleverly managed to publish the same post twice instead of deleting one of the copies. I have deleted the contents of this post and add this redirection:

Why the Rabbis (and Gospel Authors, too) Wrote Fiction as “True History”

Why the Rabbis (and Gospel Authors, too) Wrote Fiction as “True History”

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

by Neil Godfrey

Chaim Milikowsky

Chaim Milikowsky gives his answer to the question in the title, or at least he answers the question with respect to rabbinical literature. I have added the connection to our canonical four gospels, and I could with equal justice add Acts of the Apostles.

I read CM’s answer in Ancient Fiction: The Matrix of Early Christian And Jewish Narrative, but I see that the author has made the same work freely available online. (Oh, and I posted on CM’s chapter five years ago this month: Why Gospel Fiction was Written as Gospel Truth — a plausible explanation. I think that first post was less technical than what I intend this time round.)

Let me begin with the conclusion this time. The answer to the question in the title is found in a work once again by one of the most influential Greek thinkers in history: Plato. We have been looking at the influence of Plato on the Old Testament writings through the works of Russell Gmirkin and Philippe Wajdenbaum, but CM sees his influence on rabbinic midrashic story telling. I suggest that the evangelists have carried through the same fundamental type of story telling.

Here are the key passages in Plato’s Republic. After deploring mythical tales of gods that depict them lying, cheating, harming others, Socrates sets out what is a far more noble curriculum for those who would become good citizens. Myths of conniving and adulterous gods had no place. God must always be shown to be pure and good. Stories depicting the gods as immoral were to be removed from society; stories that had an edifying message for their readers were to be shared widely.

For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal; anything that he receives into his mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts. 

There you are right, he replied; but if any one asks where are such models to be found and of what tales are you speaking –how shall we answer him? 

I said to him, You and I, Adeimantus, at this moment are not poets, but founders of a State: now the founders of a State ought to know the general forms in which poets should cast their tales, and the limits which must be observed by them, but to make the tales is not their business. 

Very true, he said; but what are these forms of theology which you mean? 

Something of this kind, I replied: — God is always to be represented as he truly is, whatever be the sort of poetry, epic, lyric or tragic, in which the representation is given. 


(Republic, 378e-379a Benjamin Jowett trans.)

God himself will be portrayed as incapable of lying, but there will be a place for story tellers to fabricate stories that teach goodness and lead people to righteous character: Continue reading “Why the Rabbis (and Gospel Authors, too) Wrote Fiction as “True History””


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


Old Testament based on Herodotus? Acts on the myth we read in Virgil?

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by Neil Godfrey

Before continuing with the scholarship that questions the traditional view that many of the Old Testament books were stitched together from much older texts, let’s lay out on the table a very broad overview of the thesis of a Dutch scholar, Jan-Wim Wesselius (I love his homepage photo and caption), as published in The Origin of the History of Israel: Herodotus’ Histories as Blueprint for the First Books of the Bible. (This was the most expensive book I had ever purchased in my entire life, so I continue to guard it well.)

In this post I select just one detail that is not meant to persuade the sceptical (and scepticism is a virtue) but only to stimulate thoughts anew among anyone who has not traveled this road before. There is much more to be said along with the snippet of data I present here, and I have posted one of those snippets on vridar.info comparing Moses with Herodotus’ portrayal of the Persian king Xerxes (and the Plagues of Egypt with the catastrophes inflicting the army of Xerxes). A serious treatment comparing Herodotus’ Histories would need to start with a 1993 publication, The Relationship Between Herodotus’ History and Primary History by Mandell and Freedman. One of the more fascinating insights is that the Greek history is in many ways a “theological” history like the Bible’s historical books. The same lessons of the the role of the divine in and over human affairs are found like a unifying thread in both works. But such details are for another time.

To appreciate what is to follow it would help to have some knowledge of both Homer’s epics, the Iliad and Odyssey, and Virgil’s epic poem of the founding of the Roman race, the Aeneid. G. N. Knauer sums up the way Virgil did not merely serendipitously draw upon recollections of what he had read in Homer’s epics, but he clearly studied the structures of Homer’s epics and built his own epic upon a reassembling of that structure, perhaps in an effort to surpass the artistry of the original.

. . . Vergil clearly realized how Homer conceived the structure of the Odyssey and . . . therefore did not simply imitate sporadic Homeric verses or scenes. On the contrary he first analysed the plan of the Odyssey, then transformed it and made it the base of his own poem.

What is especially significant is that this is one case-study of how ancient literature very often worked. Reworkings of earlier masters was a highly respected skill.

I don’t think I’m alone in also thinking Virgil reworked a single epic out of Homer’s dual effort. The Aeneid is an epic poem of the travels of Aeneas, founder of the Roman race, from the time he fled the conquered and burning Troy until the time he found a secure place in Italy after many battles with the local Latin tribes. The Roman epic begins with the adventures of a long voyage of Aeneas to his destined homeland — just as the second Homeric epic, the Odyssey, narrates the adventurous travels of the Greek hero. The second half of the Roman epic recounts many battles reminiscent of Homer’s first epic, the Iliad. Both conclude with the climactic death in battle of a warrior protagonist — Hector and Turnus. (Of course, the Odyssey likewise ends in much bloodshed, but this action is actually a small part in a larger narrative of deception, plotting and homecoming.) So a very broad comparison of the larger structures of these epics looks like this:

But there’s more. Much more. Knauf also writes (my formatting and emphasis): Continue reading “Old Testament based on Herodotus? Acts on the myth we read in Virgil?”


Did a Single Author Write Genesis – II Kings? (Demise of the Documentary Hypothesis?)

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by Neil Godfrey

This post will open by taking us back thirty or forty years to a scenario in Old Testament scholarship that is remarkably similar to a debate taking place right now among New Testament scholars. I am currently reviewing a book, Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, that spotlights the flaws of the traditional approaches of form criticism and authenticity criteria to the studies of early Jesus traditions and the historical Jesus respectively. The editors of that book, Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, argue that attempts to pull apart the Gospels into various strata, pre-gospel Palestinian traditions and stories added by the early Hellenistic Church compiler-author, don’t really work. What is needed is an understanding and study of the Gospels in their final form, they conclude.

Compare the outcome of criticisms of the Documentary Hypothesis — the thesis that the Old Testament books can be pulled apart into different sources or strata — Priestly, Jahwist, Elohist and Deuteronomist (and a later Redactor).

This post continues from an article I posted on Christmas Day last year, Who Wrote the Bible? Rise of the Documentary Hypothesis. It continues with notes on Philippe Wajdenbaum’s case that the “Primary History” of the Bible (Genesis to 2 Kings) was inspired by the writings of classical Greek writings (especially Plato) and mythologies. It is, furthermore, best seen as the product of a single author writing in Hellenistic times. In my previous post on this book I included a quotation from chapter eight of Theological and Political Treatise by seventeenth-century Spinoza, to whom Wajdenbaum refers:

And when we regard the argument and connection of these books [Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings] severally, we readily gather that they were all written by one and the same person, who had the purpose of compiling a system of Jewish antiquities, from the origin of the nation to the first destruction of the city of Jerusalem. The several books are so connected one with another, that from this alone we discover that they comprise the continuous narrative of a single historian. . . . .

I have in the past posted in passing on another book with a similar theme, Jan-Wim Wesselius’ The Origin of the History of Israel: Herodotus’s Histories as Blueprint for the First Books of the Bible, and I have posted an overview of a section of that book on vridar.info. It is a pity that these sorts of books are priced out of the hands of most potentially interested readers. I have always wanted to post more on the Old Testament books, especially in comparison with other Greek works, in particular works of Herodotus and Plato, and hopefully will do so soon. Too many topics. Not enough time.

Here we continue with Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert, picking up where we left off in December last year. Here he discusses the “collapse of the consensus” on the Documentary Hypothesis and introduces his rationale for proposing a single author for Genesis to 2 Kings.

It is necessary first to overlap with a point made in that earlier post. I elaborate upon it beyond Wajdenbaum’s own brief presentation that was intended for a readership familiar with the scholarly literature.


Biblical scholars borrowed the idea that the final text was the creation of a final redactor who “cut and paste” from earlier variant texts.


Continue reading “Did a Single Author Write Genesis – II Kings? (Demise of the Documentary Hypothesis?)”


Correlations between the “Histories” of Herodotus and the Bible’s History of Israel

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by Neil Godfrey

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse synago...
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Both HerodotusHistory and Primary History (Genesis to 2 Kings)

  1. are national epics
  2. had been divided into nine books at some time in their history
  3. are both about the same length
  4. begin with a prehistory that includes myths, fables, folk-tales, and legends that are treated as factual
  5. and continue in this vein until well into historical time
  6. consist of a basic format that changes concomitantly and abruptly under similar circumstances:
    • in Herodotus’ History this happens when Persians are about to fight on the Greek mainland
    • in Primary History this happens when the Sons of Israel are about to enter the Promised Land
  7. take on a semblance of historical narrative once the “homeland” becomes the locus of action
  8. — albeit one that includes miracles, marvels, and divinities who act in or at least guide history
  9. think of historic causation as being intimately tied to the will of the divinity

This is from the preface (p. x) to The Relationship Between Herodotus’ History and Primary History by Sara Mandell and David Noel Freedman, 1993.

There’s much more. But this is just for starters to justify my previous post’s speaking of Herodotus and the Bible’s core historical narrative in the same breath.