Recent postings on the evidence for a Hellenistic matrix for the book of Genesis and wider reading around that evidence have led me to wonder if the author who chose a serpent to tempt Eve was having a subtle dig at the wisdom of the Greeks. (If you have read this notion before do let me know — I would not be surprised if I am recollecting an idea from an otherwise forgotten source.) It’s an entirely speculative thought so don’t attribute to me anything more than that.
Classics professor Page duBois wrote an article for Arethusa titled “On Horse/Men, Amazons, and Endogamy” (1979) in which she drew upon ideas of anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss to propose that in both literary and visual arts of the fifth century, the Greeks imagined Centaurs and Amazons as symbolic of barbarism – in particular, Persian “barbarism”.
Of course, I thought, and is not the serpent in biblical literature symbolic of Athenian culture? The serpent was the symbol of Zeus, after all — as noted in a little detail in one of my posts on Revelation. (Zeus, recall, was the chief god of the Greek pantheon.) The serpent was also the favourite pet and signifier, along with the owl, of Athena, the goddess of wisdom among other things. If the Greeks could depict “the other” as wild animals then why not the Hebrews? We do read in the Book of Daniel (a text of undeniable Hellenistic provenance) that other nations are ravaging beasts compared with the “humanity” of the “people of God”.
Now the serpent was more עָרוּם than any other beast of the field. (Gen 3:1)
עָרוּם (‘ā·rūm) is the word translated “crafty” and “cunning” in many Bibles, but the word is ambiguous in connotations. It can in other contexts be understood to refer to a most positive quality: prudence, sense, wisdom. The ambiguity opens up the possibility of an interesting question. And the serpent promises the wisdom of God, the knowledge of good and evil.
As I read and think about the case for Hellenistic influence on the Bible I am reminded of those studies of more modern societies subject to colonialism. The Greeks in Alexander the Great’s wake brought their culture into the areas they came to rule and I imagine people back then were not very different from people today: the conquered tend to adopt the culture of the conquerors but very often adapt it and make a mutation of it distinctly “their own”. By this process, they are able to turn the tropes of the victor back on their conquerors and assert their cultural independence, even equality of spirit.
I wonder if the author of the “fall of humanity” scene was taking the symbol of Greek culture and wisdom, the serpent, and ambiguously attributing to it a wisdom that could also be interpreted as deceit. Whoever wrote the Pentateuch was/were very likely in tune with Greek thought, surely even Hellenophiles to an extent, but the wisdom they promoted was not the enquiring wisdom of Socrates but the revealed wisdom of their god.
But I speculate. And wonder if I read the same somewhere a while ago.
The Greek poet Pindar informs us that Ixion was the first murderer, and a murderer of his kin:
He was the hero who, not without guile, was the first to stain mortal men with kindred blood (Pythian Ode 2:20)
Ixion did not kill his brother but in better-known versions of the myth he slew his father-in-law. (He had refused to pay him the dowry for marrying his daughter Dia.)
Destined to wander
In Genesis Cain relates the punishment that is in store for him:
Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me. (Gen 4:14)
One may compare what Plato wrote in Laws:
But if he fly and will not stand his trial, let him fly for ever; or, if he set foot anywhere on any part of the murdered man’s country, let any relation of the deceased, or any other citizen who may first happen to meet with him, kill him with impunity . . . (Laws 871 d)
One detail not mentioned by Wajdenbaum (not that I recall) I found of interest is a reason Plato give for the need for the murderer to go into exile. Recall that in Genesis we read that Abel’s blood cries out from below the ground:
The Lord said, “. . . Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” (Gen 4:10-12)
The idea of the murdered victim’s blood crying out is not far from the tale that Plato tells:
But let him not forget also a tale of olden time, which is to this effect: – He who has suffered a violent end, when newly dead, if he has had the soul of a freeman in life, is angry with the author of his death; and being himself full of fear and panic by reason of his violent end, when he sees his murderer walking about in his own accustomed haunts, he is stricken with terror and becomes disordered, and this disorder of his, aided by the guilty recollection of the other, is communicated by him with overwhelming force to the murderer and his deeds. Wherefore also the murderer must go out of the way of his victim . . . (Laws 864-865)
The time of exile in Plato’s Laws varies according to the circumstances of the crime.
None will harm him
My resources are limited and I have not been able to find confirmation of Wajdenbaum’s suggestion that one of Ixion’s descendants was a hero named Caineus (Kaineus, Caeneus). Caineus, a name reminding us of Cain in this context, of course, though the descendant of the first murderer was not an unlawful killer himself. But he did experience the hatred of his enemies, the Centaurs, who tried repeatedly to kill him with weapons but through some form of divine grace those weapons proved ineffective. (This particular observation is my own quirky contribution, not Wajdenbaum’s.) The scene, told in Roman times by the poet Ovid, is of Caeneus in battle with the centaurs.
‘Meanwhile Caeneus had consigned five men to death . . . Then Latreus, huge of limb and body . . . came flying forward. He was in the prime of life, midway between youth and old age, with the strength of a young man . . . and arrogantly poured out strings of taunts into the empty air. . . . . As he was hurling such abuse, Caeneus flung his spear and, striking the centaur just where horse and man were joined . . . Latreus, mad with pain, struck the unprotected face of [Caeneus] with his lance, but the weapon bounded back, just like hail from a roof top, or pebbles from a hollow drum. Then he came up close, and strove to thrust his sword into Caeneus’ side, but the other’s body was so hard that there was no place where the sword could enter. “All the same, you will not escape!” cried Latreus. “The edge of my sword will slay you, since the point is blunt! ” and, turning his blade sideways, he reached round Caeneus’ thighs, with his long right arm. The blow resounded as if marble had been struck and the sword blade shivered into pieces on that hardened skin. (Ovid, Metamorphosis XII, 472ff — The Centaurs did eventually put an end to Caeneus by burying him beneath piles of uprooted trees.)
Finds a place to rest and rule
But there is another Greek myth that appears as a digression in the work of the historian Thucydides. We read here of one who murdered his mother and was divinely ordered to wander a fugitive, with land being polluted in a way that prevented him from settling until he he reached a time and place where he could finally put down roots and rule his own place.
There is a story about them and Alcmaeon, the son of Amphiaraus. During his wanderings after the murder of his mother the oracle of Apollo is said to have told him to live in this place. The words of the oracle were that he could find no release from the tenors that haunted him until he could discover a place to settle in which, at the time when he killed his mother, the sun had never seen and was not in existence as land, all the rest of the earth was polluted for him Alcmaeon, as the story goes, was at a loss what to do, but in the end he observed this alluvial deposit of the river Achelous, and came to the conclusion that sufficient land might have formed there to support life since the time that he killed his mother (he had already been a wanderer for some time.) So he settled in the district near Oeniadae, became the ruler of those parts, and from the name of his son, Acarnan, gave the name to the whole country. This is the story told to us of Alcmaeon. (Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, II, 102)
Cain, too, finally found a place to rest and rule:
Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. (Gen 4:17)
As told by Steven Fry
IXION . . .
His first crime was one of simple greed. We are familiar with the idea of dowries, the practice of families of prospective brides paying to have their daughters taken off their hands. In the very earliest days things were done the other way around: prospective husbands paid the bride’s family for the right to marry their daughter. Ixion wed the beautiful DIA but refused to pay her father, King DEIONEUS of Phocis, the agreed bride-price. In retaliation the affronted Deioneus sent a raiding party to take a herd of Ixion’s best horses. Hiding his vexation beneath a wide smile Ixion invited Deioneus to dinner at his palace in Larissa. When he arrived Ixion pushed him into a fiery pit. This flagrant breach of the rules of hospitality was trumped by the even grosser sin of blood killing. The slaying of a family member was considered a taboo of the most heinous kind. With this action Ixion had committed one of the first blood murders; unless he was cleansed of his transgression, the Furies would pursue him until he went mad. (Mythos, p. 256f)
CAENEUS . . .
. . . . the sad end of a Lapith called Caeneus. He had been born a woman, Caenis. She was spotted one day by Poseidon who liked what he saw and took it. Entirely delighted by the experience, the grateful god offered Caenis any wish. She had taken no pleasure at all in the violation and asked that she might be turned into a man and thus avoid any indignity of that kind in the future. Poseidon, perhaps abashed, not only granted this wish but also bestowed invulnerable skin upon her – now him. Caeneus was present at the wedding of Pirithous and Hippodamia and fought the centaurs alongside Pirithous and Theseus. One of the centaurs, Latreus, mocked him for having once been a woman. Caeneus struck Latreus but was himself, due to his invulnerability, unharmed by a furious volley of counterstrikes. The other centaurs, discovering that their arrows and spears were bouncing off Caeneus’s impenetrable hide, resorted to heaping stones over him and hammering him into the ground with pine trees until he died by suffocation in the earth. (Heroes p. 396f)
Fry, Stephen. Heroes. Michael Joseph, 2018.
Fry, Stephen. Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold. London: Penguin, 2017.
Wajdenbaum, Philippe. Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible. London ; Oakville: Equinox, 2011.
We know the story of Elisha retrieving the iron axe head by having it float to the surface of a river. It is in 2 Kings 6:1-7:
The company of the prophets said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to meet.”
And he said, “Go.”
Then one of them said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?”
“I will,” Elisha replied. And he went with them.
They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water.
“Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!”
The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?”
When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float.
“Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.
Back in 1997 Yaaqov Kupitz drew attention to the similarity of the biblical story with one of Aesop’s fables:
In the Second Book of Kings (Kings II. 6: 4-7), a man is cutting down a tree on the banks of the Jordan to build a shelter when the iron blade (Hebrew barzel) of his axe falls into the water. He asks for help and Elisha, “the man of God”, throws a piece of wood into the river and the blade, literally the “iron”, begins to float. This miracle is in fact a fable by Aesop, Hermes and the woodcutter. A man is cutting down a tree on the bank of a river when his axe (Pélékoun in Greek) falls into the water. The man sits down and weeps. Hermes, the god of discovery, hears his cries, dives in three times and successively brings up a golden axe, a silver one and the original iron one. The woodcutter then retrieves his, ignoring the other two. Note that there is a moral to this story, whereas Kings only lists Elisha’s miracles. In the Book of Kings, the axe is metonymized by the material of its blade, iron, and the Greek sidéro, ‘iron’, can also mean ‘axe’…
Kupitz, Yaaqov S. “La Bible Est-Elle Un Plagiat?” Sciences et Avenir 86, no. Hors-Série (December 1997): 84.
Kupitz’s ideas were a special inspiration for Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert, a work discussed on this blog at various times. (Thanks to Russell Gmirkin for mentioning Kupitz in a recent comment and reminding me and bringing K’s 1997 article to my attention.)
A man who was cutting wood on a riverside lost his axe in the water. There was no help for it; so he sat down on the bank and began to cry. Hermes appeared and inquired what was the matter. Feeling sorry for the man, he dived into the river, brought up a gold axe, and asked him if that was the one he had lost. When the woodcutter said that it was not, Hermes dived again and fetched up a silver one. The man said that was not his either. So he went down a third time and came up with the woodcutter’s own axe. ‘That’s the right one,’ he said; and Hermes was so delighted with his honesty that he made him a present of the other two axes as well. When the wood-man rejoined his mates and told them his experience, one of them thought he would bring off a similar coup. He went to the river, deliberately threw his axe into it, and then sat down and wept. Hermes appeared again; and on hearing the cause of his tears, he dived in, produced a gold axe as before, and asked if it was the one that had been lost. ‘Yes, it is indeed,’ the man joyfully exclaimed. The god was so shocked at his unblushing impudence, that, far from giving him the gold axe, he did not even restore his own to him.
The biblical account involves a God who, unlike Hermes, is not a trickster out to tempt and deceive mortals (at least not in the Elisha tale). Nor is the figure who loses the axe head threatened by the loss of his means of livelihood. Rather, the biblical tale is about a righteous disciple of the prophet. His work is a work of righteousness, a work for the benefit of the community of Elisha’s followers. The loss of the axe head means the workman is unable to fulfil a righteous act in returning a valued and necessary borrowed item.
The biblical account is about a god who would be embarrassed by the shenanigans of Hermes in the fable. Plato condemned the immoral and inconstant character of Greek gods. Yes, Hermes is in a sense righteous in the fable: but he is clearly going about the testing of the human’s character in a deceptive way. For the fable to “translate” to a tale involving a biblical deity and his righteous disciples, it must be shed of its deception. A simple, no-nonsense restoration of the “daily needs” of the servants of God is all that is required. The change has been so effective that many devout readers through the ages have interpreted the straightforward and staid tone of biblical miracles as evidence of their historical reality.
. . .
Here’s an older illustration. Interesting to contrast modern perspectives of how gods are portrayed for children:
There was once a very pious man who lived in a city that had been taken over by very wicked people.
Messengers from the deity came to visit that pious man and were very impressed with his hospitality toward them even though he did not know they were divine persons on a divine mission. These messengers also witnessed the wickedness of those around him.
So the divine agents stepped in to help that pious man in his troubles with the wicked ones
First, they (the messengers) warned the pious man that the deity was going to destroy all those wicked folk.
Meanwhile the wicked people not only ignored the warning that they also heard but continued in their wickedness, including forbidden sexual behaviour.
The pious man was so pious that he even tried to warn the wicked doers that they were about to be destroyed but they ignored him.
Finally, all the wicked perish.
Further destruction awaits those who ignore a specific divine interdiction.
I dare say most readers would have recognized the story of Lot, his daughters and wife, and the people of Sodom.
Ancient persons more familiar with Homeric epics would have recognized the story of Odysseus’s homecoming.
I should emphasize that I am not arguing for influence between the Odyssey and the biblical account, nor a common source. Rather, I suggest that as both accounts share a considerable number of motifs, a similar “grammar” underlies each myth.
In Genesis 19 we read how Lot welcomed two strangers not realizing they were in fact angels. As we know, like Abraham before him he passed the hospitality test. Odysseus was similarly tested by a divinity in disguise:
Athene now appeared upon the scene. She had disguised herself as a young shepherd, with all the delicate beauty that marks the sons of kings. A handsome cloak was folded back across her shoulders, her feet shone white between the sandal-straps, and she carried a javelin in her hand. She was a welcome sight to Odysseus, who came forward at once and accosted her eagerly. ‘Good-day to you, sir,’ he said. ‘Since you are the first person I have met in this place, I hope to find no enemy in you, but the saviour of my treasures here and of my very life; and so I pray to you as I should to a god and kneel at your feet. (Odyssey, Book 13 Rieu translation)
The goddess Athene repeatedly helps and advises Odysseus in order for him to be able to reclaim his household from the evil suitors who have taken over everything of his. The suitors were all earnestly hoping to have Odysseus wife Penelope, but in the meantime they slept with Odysseus’s maidservants, wasting his resources, and acting violently towards strangers and guests, so that their “insolence and violent acts cry out to heaven.”
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:
and Plato’s dialogues, most notably the Laws (on an idea by Yaakov Kupitz).
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.
I have made a correction to a serious error in my recent post How Plato Inspired Moses: Creation of the Hebrew Bible. In that post I took credit for identifying many parallels between the Hebrew Bible and Plato’s Laws prior to reading Russell Gmirkin’s book. I should have acknowledged — and I have now made the correction — that my interest in Plato’s Laws was sparked by Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analsysis of the Hebrew Bible.
There are overlaps between Gmirkin’s and Wajdenbaum’s theses, but there are also a number of incompatibilities. I think Wajdenbaum’s view that a single author was responsible for the Primary History of Israel (Genesis to 2 Kings) faces a number of daunting hurdles. But both authors do raise serious questions and give us much to think about.
Recall that a number of scholars — Wajdenbaum among them — argue that Genesis was written relatively late, even as late as the second century by which time the Greeks had spread throughout the Near East. Such a late date opens a window for another perspective on how the story found its way into the Bible.
First recap the Genesis narrative — Genesis 9:20-27 (KJV)
20 And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. 21 Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.
24 So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him.25 Then he said:
“Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brethren.”
26 And he said:
“Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem, And may Canaan be his servant. 27 May God enlarge Japheth, And may he dwell in the tents of Shem; And may Canaan be his servant.”
Japheth is to be enlarged. That is, expanded — even into the tents of Shem. Hence the argument that this prophecy reflects a time after Alexander the Great’s conquests and the Hellenization of the Near East.
Now we have more justification to compare the Greek myth as found in Hesiod’s Theogony. (I suspect Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch, our authors discussed in the previous post, were less enthusiastic about the comparison with the Greek version of the myth if they embrace a more traditional date for Genesis.)
Here is Hesiod’s account of the birth of the youngest son who was destined to castrate his father, Uranus (Heaven), and his older brother Iapetus:
Several of the more recent posts have examined challenges to the traditional view that most of the Biblical books were composed during the late years of the Kingdom of Judah, in particular during the period of the Babylonian captivity, with a few latecomers in the Persian era. That conventional understanding has largely been based on an evolutionary model that sees the literature incorporated into the Bible being the result of a long process of oral traditions, variant traditions being mixed and matched by early editors with competing religious biases, and with later redactors putting finishing touches to certain books or the collection as a whole. Recent scholarship has seen explorations into the possibility the Bible was a very late composition, even later than the Persian empire, and even that the major historical portion of it, Genesis to 2 Kings, was composed by a single author. There have been an ever-increasing number of publications comparing that historical portion with Greek historical literature, in particular with the Histories of Herodotus and even later Hellenistic histories (e.g. Sara Mandell and David Freedman; Katherine Stott; J.W. Wesselius; Flemming Nielsen; Russell Gmirkin).
The next few posts in this series will look at the contributions of several scholars who have led this new perspective on the Old Testament literature and whom Wajdenbaum discusses in Argonauts of the Desert: Jacques Cazeaux, Philip R. Davies, Niels Peter Lemche, Thomas L. Thompson. I may add a few posts discussing other names along the way, and sometimes supplement Wajdenbaum’s descriptions based on my own readings of their works.
Unfortunately I have read nothing by Jacques Cazeaux, though the French titles of some of his books do certainly intrigue me and I’d love to follow them up. Till then, I rely on Wajdenbaum’s synopsis of his views.
We will find very accurate parallels [between the Bible and Plato’s political dialogues] that make that hypothesis [that the Bible is based on those and other Greek classical texts] certain. Therefore one must ask why such a comparative study with Plato has not been done before. (p. 28)
Wajdenbaum says the answer is simple:
The Bible could not resist such an analysis [comparing the Bible with classical Greek literature] as it demonstrates how almost every biblical narrative finds accurate parallels with Greek myths. If believers of Jewish and Christian faiths were aware of this, then the Bible could lose its credibility. Biblical scholarship has done all it could to maintain the Bible as a sacred text that is still relevant to modern society, as Hector Avalos argues. (p. 29)
How can such ancient texts continue to hold such an authoritative status for so many today? Wajdenbaum believes that one significant reason is that “the Bible has not yet been the object of a consistent and genuinely scientific analysis.” (p. 30)
Of course there has been a long tradition of scholarly analysis of the Bible, but that’s not necessarily the same thing. In an earlier post in this series I showed how Wajdenbaum argues that biblical criticism has generally been the construction of a variant of the Bible’s myth. Following Claude Lévi-Strauss, he argues that any retelling of a myth is itself a variant of the myth, and in rationalising the Bible’s story and self-witness of divine inspiration scholars have, in fact, only created alternative versions of those myths.
“Symbolic violence is the self-interested capacity to ensure that the arbitrariness of the social order is either ignored, or posited as natural, thereby justifying the legitimacy of existing social structures.” – Wikipedia
Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has explained how university scholars use symbolic violence to ensure their authority in their field. By presenting themselves as a legitimate institution, university scholars impose an arbitrary knowledge that is recognised by the masses as legitimate.
This post recapitulates earlier posts on the Documentary Hypothesis and introduces Philippe Wajdenbaum’s case for comparing the Bible with Classical Greek literature and finding the biblical author’s (sic) sources of inspiration there.
Baruch Spinoza‘s views of single authorship behind the historical books of the Bible;
the way biblical studies were influenced by the early Homeric studies evolutionary model that hypothesized disparate oral traditions being stitched together by later editors to create a final canon;
the failure of biblical studies to keep abreast of Homeric studies when they confronted the problems with their evolutionary hypothesis;
the contribution of Julius Wellhausen and the labeling of the J, E, D and P sources and the final redactor R;
Gerhard von Rad‘s fleshing out of these sources into historical provenances: J to the southern Kingdom of Judah, E to the kingdom of Israel, D to the time of Josiah, P to the period of Exile;
Martin Noth‘s qualifications and modifications to the Documentary Hypothesis: a Deuteronomist historian wrote Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings during the Exile, and a Redactor later found a way to harmonize the Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers with these Deuteronomist books;
F. M. Cross and R. E. Friedman who decided Noth’s Deuteronomist historian was rather two historians, one writing in the time of Josiah and the other during the Exile;
Thomas Römer‘s criticism of
Wellhausen’s hypothesis for its nineteenth-century German Protestant and royalist assumptions;
Noth’s views for their subjective mirroring of his personal situation with Nazi Germany;
Cross’s subjective transfer of American optimism and idealism of the founding fathers into the period of King Josiah.
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).
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.
Why, when different religions meet, does syncretism sometimes follow? What need does it fulfil? This was the question in the minds of Claude Orrieux and Édouard Will in Ioudaïsmos — Hellenismos; essai sur le judaïsme judéen a l’époque hellénistique, 1986, when they sought to understand the religious reactions of Judeans living in Judea when faced with acculturation pressure from Greek colonization in the wake of Alexander’s conquests. I am drawing this discussion from Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible, 2011. (These posts are archived here.)
That those peoples conquered by the Greeks and who embraced Greek religion the need met may seem obvious.
For the peoples who submitted to the Greeks, adopting Greek religion was a means of joining the ranks of their masters. (p. 40)
Before continuing, it is important to address another name appearing in this discussion — that of political anthropologist Georges Balandier. Balandier, as I understand from this outline, posits 4 possible reactions of peoples faced with acculturation:
Active acceptance or collaboration with the new powers; the peoples embrace the culture and lifestyles of the new masters.
Passive acceptance by the masses; people allow themselves to be dominated.
Passive opposition, such as fleeing, passive resistance, anxiety, expressed through utopian or messianic hopes and dreams.
Active opposition, which is not simply a rejection of the dominant culture, but often consists of using some aspect of the ruling culture as a weapon against the new masters.
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)
This post looks at the rise of the dominant scholarly hypothesis that the Old Testament came together through the efforts of various editors over time collating and editing a range of earlier sources. The structure and bulk of the contents of the post is taken from Philippe Wajdenbaum’s discussion of the Documentary Hypothesis.
The complete set of these posts either outlining or being based on Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible, are archived here.
Before the Documentary Hypothesis there was Spinoza.
Let us conclude, therefore, that all the books which we have just passed under review are apographs — works written ages after the things they relate had passed away. And when we regard the argument and connection of these books 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. . . . .
The whole of these books, therefore, lead to one end, viz. to enforce the sayings and edicts of Moses, and, from the course of events, to demonstrate their sacredness. From these three points taken together, then, viz. the unity and simplicity of the argument of all the books, their connection or sequence, and their apographic character, they having been written many ages after the events they record, we conclude, as has just been said, that they were all written by one historiographer.
So Spinoza was led to conclude (from the common style, language and purpose) that there was a single author (albeit one who used earlier source documents) and he opted for that author being Ezra.
Debt to Homeric Criticism – and left in the dust of Homeric criticism