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PERSIA & CREATION OF JUDAISM

Book 1. The Crisis of Sacred History

Jerusalem & Judaism Before the Return


 

Faith or Myth

 

Louis Rushmore reports that not long ago, the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review criticized belief in the infallibility of the bible, actually admitting people had been fooled by scholars and ministers in the past, and declaring it was time to stop fooling them. He wanted ministers and priests to accept inaccuracies that have always been there—the bible is not an infallible word of God. Such an admission, he said, might be impossible because ignorant “folk” insist on their bible being infallible. He must mean believers.

David Clines of Sheffield University has found that, though theology students are taught these things at college, they ignore them in their parishes and pulpits. The happy punters are simply kept in the dark. Van der Toorn, a Dutch biblical scholar, is also remarkably honest for those of his type. He says in Currents in Research: Biblical Studies—1998 that those involved in the study of religion always have, in one way or another, a personal stake in the matter and therefore cannot be expected to set an example of dispassionate scholarly enquiry.

Doubtless he says this because the study of Israelite religion is at present racked with ill-tempered disagreement between different factions. The central difference between them is whether faith requires the bible to be upheld or not—whether the bible really depicts the forward march of God’s unfolding revelation. Otherwise the different parties are in almost total agreement! In these pages we make no apologies for taking the view that much of the bible is myth—indeed “myth” is perhaps too noble a word and “lies” would be better because, unlike myth which is intended to edify, the founders of these biblical “myths” always intended to fool people.

Most of the relevant material has been available from time immemorial and it might be surprising that these matters are not settled. They are, of course, settled for believers in Christianity and Judaism, but if belief were sufficient, we should all be still expecting Santa Claus to fall down the chimney every Christmas with his sack of goodies. Today, even more so than in the time of Celsus, those who merely believe are fools. Whatever way one imagines the Creator, we have been created with intelligence, so to turn round and say that we are not meant to exercise it in case it tests our belief is absurd—not just absurd, a blatant insult to God, if God is who created us.

As soon as it is accepted that some of the biblical material might be in error, it is necessary to decide what is. Evidence, external to the bible and its proponents, is needed and archaeology is the most objective. Biblical archaeologists at one time had as their whole raison d’etre the aim of confirming the bible by practical research. With such a tendentious aim, they were not likely to interpret their finds objectively—nor did they! No reputable scholars deny that archaeology is the prime method of discovering facts about early Israel provided that it is not interpreted tendentiously and finds can be dated to a particular time.

The Golden Age of biblical archaeology—the period between the two World Wars—was dominated by William Foxwell Albright and his disciples—besotted biblicists to a man. A new generation of scholars in the 1960s and early 1970s dismissed their archaeological work as simplistic. They meant “wrong”. The earlier biblical archaeologists were ridiculed for circular reasoning—assuming the biblical stories, fitting their discoveries into their framework, then claiming the discoveries proved the bible! Modern archaeologists do not think the bible is the inspired “Word of God”, basing their views on the cumulative results of a hundred years of archaeology in the Holy Land.

And that is the trouble for those “scholars” whose knees are permanently bent, and not by excessive trowelling! Even James K Hoffmier, a professor at Wheaton College, declares the bible wrong about almost all the early history of Israel, based on the work of these archaeologists. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua have been rejected as historical figures. The Egyptian sojourn and exodus stories, along with Sinai wanderings and Joshua’s military entry into Canaan never happened. The United Monarchy left no traces. They are simply fictional. They are myths retrojected into Israelite history by anonymous biblical writers. The Old Testament is superstition and folk religion.

There is no archaeological evidence for a previous temple on the site of Herod’s. In other words there is no direct evidence even of a second temple, let alone the first. Nor does 1 Kings 6:2-36 make any note of the prominent rock—on which is now built the Dome of the Rock mosque—when it describes the first or Solomon’s temple. It seems impossible not to mention such a feature, so either the site of Solomon’s temple was different, or the whole story is fictional.

The history of Jerusalem and the inhabitants of the hill country of Palestine seems non-existent before about 700 BC, but whereas one faction sees this as evidence that much of the Old Testament is mythology written much later than most believers think, the other factions takes comfort in scraps of “proof”, however indirect, that the Old Testament accounts contain elements of true history.

Jerusalem

Much of the archaeological work that has failed to support the biblical story has been carried out in Jerusalem, notably under Kathleen Kenyon. Latterly skilled Israeli excavators have been busy in Jerusalem but much of their work has been left unpublished or even has been reportedly lost through disagreements. Not a little of this dissension will be due to the archaeologists not producing what Israeli nationalists would like to see.

The oldest part of Jerusalem is the hill south of the temple area where the city of David was considered to have been, and tombs found here have been dated to 3000 BC. A small building with benches along the walls might have been an early shrine but the evidence is that the people concerned were herdsmen. Several small villages dating to about 2000 BC have been found in the valleys around Jerusalem, but no sign of occupation in the city has been found at this period.

However, about 1800 BC signs of activity appear and several parts of a city wall have been found. The trouble is that very little of the town itself remains because of subsequent building work. Nevertheless Kenyon unearthed several large storage jars taken to indicate that the town was a regional centre of trade—a market town. This deduction ties in with the source of the clay of the jars being local farms of the period that seemed to produce sufficient milk for trade, that the jars were used for, and meat. Jerusalem at this time seemed to be quite prosperous to judge by the polished stone and faience beads that have been found and the inlaid bone for decorating furniture. It was obviously a regional centre of some wealth and importance with a popualtion between 1000 and 2500 people.

Egyptian References

Now a place called “Rushalimmu” has been noted on the Execration Texts found in Egypt and dated to this period. The Execration Texts were plainly some magic cursing ritual because the names of peoples, rulers and towns that the Egyptians wanted to defeat had been inscribed on to pots that had then apparently been deliberately broken. The magic is that commonly associated with names—that possession of the name gives possession of the owner of the name. This is a reason why the names of gods like that of the Hebrew god were kept secret. By forbidding anyone from uttering the name no enemies could discover the name of the god to get control of him.

The Egyptians were hoping that by breaking the names on the pots, they would facilitate the breaking of the resistence of the people, rulers or towns. Of course, there is no sure way of associating the excavated Jerusalem with Rushalimmu and, indeed, the excavated Jerusalem is hardly likely to have cause the Egyptians enough trouble to merit such a ceremony, but conceivably the excavated Jerusalem was the centre of a chiefdom and so might have been seen by the Egyptians as a potential nuisance. Unfortunately, this Jerusalem ceased to exist after a life of only about a hundred years. Perhaps Egyptian magic really worked!

About 500 years later the administrators of the Pharaohs were at the new town of Amarna busily archiving the Pharaoh’s correspondence. In the Amarna letters were six received from the scribe of the prince of “Urasalim”. If this is Jerusalem it was apparently a walled city and the assumption was that it continued the city of 1800 BC. Again, though, the excavations of Late Bronze Age Jerusalem do not bear out this deduction. There is no trace of a fortified city of this time. Not only are there no walls or towns, very few sherds of pottery can be definitely assigned to this time. There is a tomb on the Mount of Olives and traces of an Egyptian temple north of the city, but no city itself! If Jerusalem was occupied during the time of the Amarna letters, it was situated somewhere else.

Possibly, of course, the hills around Jerusalem at this period of history were all part of a chiefdom or small city state called Jerusalem. The main city itself perhaps was moved in 1800 for some reason and was still elsewhere when its scribe wrote to the Pharaoh. Since no trace of an alternative site for the town has ever been found either, a more likely solution is that the Urusalim of the Amarna letters was not a city at all but one of the Pharaoh’s country estates. Such an estate, especially in wild country, might well have been fortified. The letters mention a tribute of slaves. If the estate managers were in the habit of taking slaves locally in payment of tribute, the fortifications might have been necessary.

The real point, though, is that there is no way that archaeology supports the old idea of an ancient Jerusalem continuously occupied from the Middle Bronze Age. The possible appearance of Jerusalem in Bronze Age documents must refer to the district rather than a specific city. Scholars of all persuasions now recognize that the culture of the Judaean hills was continuous from the Late Bronze Ages to the Early Iron Age, precluding any foreign invasion or infiltration, and it was a culture based on smallholdings and villages living by husbandry and organized on the basis of kin. All scholars see these people as partial bandits raiding the civilized valleys but otherwise sharing the culture of the region including practices that later would be condemned.

United Monarchy and After

In the couple of hundred years preceding the supposed kingdom of David, Jerusalem was, in the bible, the city of the Jebusites, a small but well fortified town that David decided could be his capital. Besides the bible there is no historical evidence for this belief and the archaeological work is equally negative. Kenyon found successive built terraces of some size, but no city walls, no signs of occupation and no buildings that might have been public buildings. The Iron Age date of the excavation is certain from a complete jar found on the floor of the site and other sherds. Margreet Steiner judges the terraces to be part of a fortification, but for what purpose? It is the only fortification in the hill country in that period. Nothing suggests it is an Egyptian fort, and, indeed, everything suggests it is local, but perhaps the Egyptians made the locals build a watch tower, or the locals built one to watch for the Egyptians!

Iron Age II is the designation of the period when the United Monarchy of David and Solomon ruled the Levant in a powerful empire. In fact, several buildings large enough to have been administrative buildings are dated to the period but no pottery considered previously to have been typical of David and Solomon is found there! However, a large rampart has been found thought by some to be the “millo” mentioned in the bible. Others date it to the earlier period. Several unused or discarded parts of buildings have also been found and some have reliably been dated on style to the ninth century. Interestingly a bronze fist was discovered that seems likely to have been part of a statue of a god.

All of these are exciting finds, especially for those who want to see David and Solomon emerge into history, but the city seems to have had no population—there is no evidence of occupation—no houses! The buildings and fortifications are all high on the hill with no space for dwellings above and no sign of them below. In the Middle Bronze Age occupation and the later permanent occupation from the seventh century onwards, the walls were lower down so that dwellings behind were protected. Possibly the domestic part of the city was further north, but nothing has been found of it. What has been found here dates from a century later.

So, the Jerusalem of David was a small apparently administrative centre with no attached domestic quarter. No more than 2000 people could have lived within and presumably were administrators and those who serviced them. It must have been an administrative centre for a statelet but could not have been the capital of a state such as that of Solomon.

Other cities of the same type have been excavated from the tenth and ninth centuries like Gezer, Hazor, Lachish and Megiddo, all with apparently public buildings and few dwellings but grander ones than Jerusalem. They also suggest small city states that functioned mainly as administrative centres for a rural locality. Jerusalem, not a very significant settlement, not a very elaborate one, indeed barely more than a village in the tenth century, was, in the bible, the capital of a United Monarchy extending over the northern part of the country to the Euphrates. Yet the grand buildings, the palaces, were at Megiddo not in Jerusalem.

 

No trace has been found of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem and the United Monarchy has to be rejected as not historical. The earliest date for a temple in Jerusalem is the 700s BC when the city finally became established as the centre of a small state. Ritual baths are never found before the Babylonian conquest, unless a single example has been found at Tel Masos. This must be another surprising fact. In late Judaism, ritual baths were an essential part of pious living, yet they were not needed earlier, and baths are substantial structures that cannot be easily hidden, and do not easily crumble. It does not suggest continuity of religious practice.

On the eastern slopes of the “City of David”, naturally outside its fortifications, houses for artisans and small traders at last appeared in the ninth century BC. The buildings were small and simple and were plainly not the homes of nobility. However, tombs found cut in rocks dating roughly 850 to 650 BC show that people were getting rich and one tomb is a fine multi-chambered mausoleum. A simple blessing like that of Numbers 6.24-26 has been found on silver funereal plaques from a tomb at Ketef Hinnom. Pottery and Jewellery show the tomb is later than the seventh century.

The destruction of the city by the Babylonians in 586 BC left a mass of debris that has yielded sufficient for life in the city just before its destruction to be reconstructed. It had grown enormaously in about a hundred or so years and could have reached a population of 10,000. Substantial walls had been built in about 700 BC and the water system was sophisticated. In contrast to the earlier city, no public buildings are found but many residential buildings, some obviously of wealthy families able to import luxuries from Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Greece and Cyprus.

The attack by the Assyrians had the effect of destroying most of the small towns that had earlier rivalled Jerusalem. The Assyrians therefore left Jerusalem as an unrivalled buffer city enabling it to prosper out of the misfortune of the others. There must have been a quid pro quo for this favourable treatment and whatever it was the victorious Babylonians a hundred years later did not appreciate it, but the Persians a half a century further on did. The Jews were eminent for their loyalty to the Persians, remaining steadfast to the “Great King” and regaining their prosperity as a consequence. Though the Assyrians are depicted as wolves in the scriptures, the inhabitants of Jerusalem obviously reached an accord with them and prospered as a result when all their rivals were destroyed.

Religious History

So what was the religion of the Jews before they were exiled and “returned” with a more sophisticated religion? Formerly, believers, not least among them professional biblical scholars, saw history as the evidence of God’s progressive revelation as declared in the bible. Perhaps the sense that the earlier optimism was misplaced led to a backlash against history and a religious inclination towards biblical theology—religious interpretation of the mythology to find its theological importance vis-a-vis God’s revelation. All formal religion was idolatrous and true religion came only as a personal revelation of God. Religious history was therefore irrelevant.

Latterly, the importance of history has returned but with a great deal more skepticism about revelation and a great deal more emphasis on history—what ordinary people, women and families were doing, considering where the Goddess had gone and seeking corroboration from different sources. Standard texts had concentrated on orthodoxy’s definition of acceptable religion that had expunged whole areas of religious evolution that were considered unimportant or even embarrassing.

Christians see the pure worship of God in pre-exilic times when the strange figures of God’s prophets were thought of as warning His people of their false steps. After the exile the Jews were thought to have got caught up in an excessive legalism that took all the spark out of God’s revelation. Jews, of course, saw it quite differently—the prophets warned the Jews against straying from God’s laws, so they applied them with firmness.

The seed of Abraham knew there was only one god from about two millennia BC, according to the clerics, and Christian clerics tell us that the Chosen People were truer to God’s wishes from then until they returned from Babylon. This then is an important period for study, especially for Christians. What though is found? The evidence suggests that Israelites worshipped their ancestors and “local” gods, not any universal god!

Dead Ancestors and Local Cults

The local god and the local ruler were, for the Semites, each a “melek” (their ruler, a king), a “baal” (their owner, a Lord). The human ruler and the local god were essentially one, an impression the Persians were to use. Often, the ruling dynasty descended from a god or hero, making the king divine, just as the emperor-cult of Rome dominated army and province, and welded the aristocracy and the masses.

Though a few disagree, most students now see the cult of dead ancestors as an important part of the Israelite religion before the exile. Dead ancestors had divine qualities and were called “elohim”—divine beings. The family estate was passed down by the ancestors and so families were more or less wealthy depending upon their ancestors’ endeavours. For this they had to be honoured whatever level the family began at. Even slaves became members of their master’s family. Families kept little statuettes—terephim—that stood for their elohim or “gods” and who represented the family’s identity and fortunes. Rights of passage involved ceremonies of presentation of family members to the terephim for recognition and approval.

Besides the cult of ancestors, successful families also had a cult of a founding “father” as a god. Plainly this was an extension of ancestor worship into a personal god of the family handed down by the father—the head of the household. By the early part of the final millennium BC, large clans had turned their family god into a localized cult with local shrines or temples. Generally he was called “Baal” meaning “Lord” because the senior member of a family is always addressed as Lord by his descendants, but he also had a toponym, a place name, or a clan name. Baal-Peor, the name of a Moabite god, was one such toponymic name.

The names of Yehouah were similarly distinguished as excavators at Kuntillet Ajrud found in 1976 when they found references to Yehouah-Samaria and Yehouah-Teman. Just as Baal was not a single god, Yehouah was not a single god but a set of regional gods. Yehouah seems to mean “He Lives” or “He Is”, rendered for scriptural purposes as “I Am”. Thus the God of the Christians and the Jews is always called “The Living God”.

It seems he was originally a god of life or existence, a god who brought things into life, and therefore of fertility as scholars have long thought. Transfering the creation of everything to him when he displaced El as the creator was therefore easy. To his worshippers he was the “Lord of Existence”.

In any event the plurality of Baals was matched by the multiplicity of Yehouahs. There is good circumstantial evidence for a Yehouah-Hebron and a Yehouah-Zion. The sponsors of the cult of the temple at Jerusalem wanted to gather all of the local Yehouahs into one, whence their slogan:

Hear, O Israel: Yehouah is one Yehouah (Dt 6:4),

 

which plainly shows that there was a multiplicity of Yehouahs, but it is not the message the clerics want to tell their monotheistic flocks, and so is deliberately mistranslated as:

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord.

 

The Moabite Stone illuminates our ideas of pre-Persian Israelite beliefs. In the bible, the Moabites and Ammonites were kinsmen of the Israelites, and the Moabite Stone shows they had the same language. Though their gods had different names, the two peoples shared similar beliefs. The national god of Israel and Moab, who controlled national affairs, was each shown as an angry tyrant to be obeyed and mollified. Chemosh, the god of Moab, ruled directly according to Mesha who did what the god told him to do. Moab was oppressed by Israel because Chemosh was angry at his people, and Moab prospered because Chemosh dwelt with his people. Substitute Yehouah for Chemosh and the bible appears. Chemosh ordered Mesha, “Go, take Nebo from Israel!” just as Yehouah ordered Joshua to take Ai (Josh 8:1).

Both the Israelites and Moab used the “ban”, or vow in warfare. The king would make a vow to kill the entire population of an enemy city, vowing also treasure for the god. Now the king had to enforce the vow. In Joshua 6:17-21, Joshua put Jericho under the ban and ended massacring them all, “men and women, young and old, even the oxen and sheep and donkeys”. Saul failed to fulfil a “ban” by sparing the choice sheep and cattle, leading to his downfall. Jephthah vowed his daughter to Yehouah (Jg 11:30-40) and also could not avoid the outcome.

Mesha built houses such as the “house of Baal-Meon”, a common element in Canaanite place names, apparently as the place of a shrine to a deity.

Yehouah as the Dying God Baal

The Persian colonists seemed to have expunged any inscriptional signs of Yehouah as a nature god, and made any reversion to it an apostasy against the proper god, Yehouah. Even so, there still are poetical references to the storm god, Yehouah, and the sun god, Yehouah, in the poetical sections of the bible. Garbini points to the struggle with a sea monster called Rahab or Leviathan. (Ps 74, 79; Isa 27; 51; Job 40-41). Elsewhere Phoenician elements occur as in Psalms 104, a cosmogony from Tyre relating to the god Elqunirs. Part too of the story of Esau and Jacob (Gen 27) seem identifiable in the work of Philo of Biblos on the origins of Tyre. One could hazard a guess that, if we ever found details of the mythology of the Phoenicians, much more of the Jewish scriptures would be found in it. Fragmentary Phoenician texts written in Greek in the Hellenistic period show what Phoenician history must have been like. Mochus, Philo of Byblos and the Annals of Tyre show literature that could have been used as a model, if not a source, of parts of the Hebrew bible. The histories of Phoenicia written by Philo of Byblos and Mochus began with a cosmogony just as the Hebrew bible does. Already, allusions in the Song of Deborah and Psalms 29 have been found in the Ugaritic tablets.

Ras Shamra is the modern name of the ancient city Ugarit, discovered by accident in 1928 on the coast of Syria in what was once Phœnicia. In May 1929, archaeologists uncovered the clay tablets bearing cuneiform writing, unusually written in a cuneiform alphabet of 30 characters. From the summer of 1930, the Ras Shamra cuneiform was decoded. The language of the script, called Ugaritic, was a Northwest Semitic language, closely related to Phoenician and Hebrew but preceding them.

In the scriptures initiated by the school of Ezra, Baal is an idolatrous god and sometimes a rival to Yehouah for the attention of the Israelites. In Elijah’s dispute with Baal’s prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Kg 18), Yehouah—not Baal—proved to be the controller of rain and storm, or lightning which “fell as fire”. Yet, the Ras Shamra tablets associate Baal with rain, storm, and fertility, and proclaim him as “Haddu, lord of the Stormcloud”. Through rain, Baal provided fertile ground which produced crops on which both animals and men depended. Baal’s worshippers sought to maintain his supremacy so that their life-sustaining crops could continue.

Scholars noted parallels between the Ugaritic texts and the Hebrew Bible, suggesting the Israelite religion was an adaptation of Pagan religious myths and practises to worship of Yehouah. Early agricultural societies were polytheistic. They had a pantheon of gods with different functions, although they often had a high god above them all. The main function of agricultural gods was to keep the land fertile, and many of the rites of these gods were sexual. This manifests itself in the Jewish scriptures where the opponents of the Israelites are shown as fornicating with their gods, and the same type of abuse is applied to the supposedly apostate Israelites who follow the same practices. It shows that the Canaanite religion was what could have been expected in that kind of society. Yet the monotheistic worship of Yehouah was imposed on to the formerly polytheistic people.

So, the bible speaks of “sons of El”, “sons of God”, one of whom is Yehouah. The bible itself has evidence that Yehouah was worshipped by non-Israelites, though biblicists can usually find reasons that they really were. Even the admired scholar Martin Noth defends this:

In no case is the name Yehouah to be encountered outside and independently of Israel. So the tradition of the book of Exodus could be right, namely that the divine name Yehouah arose for the first time in Israel, or better for the first time with the people of Israel, and therefore in some way goes back to the work of Moses.

 

In the land of the blind the one eyed man should be king, but Christians will not even open a single eye to the evidence:
The ark drawn by the Philistine cows ends up in a field of a Canaanite from Beth Shemesh, but he has a theophoric name in Yehouah—Joshua (1 Sam 6:14,18). Names which incorporate the name of a God implies worship of him. Yeho, Yo, and Yah are Yehouah appearing in names and imply worship of Him, but this man was not an Israelite, he was a Canaanite!
The son of the king of Hamath, an Aramaean kingdom north of Israel, is Joram (2 Sam 8:10). Biblicists with their usual reverence for the ineptitude of the Holy Ghost say it is an error for Hadoram—theophoric in Hadad.
Jochabed is Moses’s mother (Ex 6:20, Num 26:59), so she anticipated God’s revelation to the prophet.
Yaubidi was the Aramaean king of Hamath known from the annals of Sargon II. Though he is plainly an Aramaean king of an Aramaean country, Noth makes his theory perfectly valid by declaring this king to have been an Israelite!
Names in the tablets of Mari and other Syrian cities of the eighteenth century BC have theophoric elements “yahwi”, “yawi” and “ya”. These are plainly enough theophoric references to Yehouah, supposed to be exclusive to the Israelites in the theories of biblicists like Noth. Biblicists of the Albright school continued the pretence, but “The name of my son is Yaw”, appeared on a fragment from Ugarit. Needless to say, biblicists began to find ingenious ways of denying what is obvious—Yehouah was a god of the Ugaritic people long before Moses. Even a Catholic scholar, Abbé H Cazelles protests that “yaw” at Ugarit has been “challenged without reason”. More absurd still is that no one doubts that the god “Ieuo” was worshipped at nearby Berytus as Porphyry testifies and Eusebius was happy to accept.
“Ya” and its variants are also found in the Ebla tablets, even having a divine determinative. G Pettinato deciphers a sign found commonly on the Ebla tablets as “ia” (“ya”), and, though most experts read it also as “i”, “li” and “ni”, biblicists have begun to treat third millennium Syria as evidence of the bible, ignoring in their typical fashion, the actual bible and all previous opinion. Suddenly the Biblicists were glad to accept this “ya” as justification for the biblical cycle of Abraham myths. Abraham found himself wandering around Syria a thousand years earlier than he had been, and Moses became suddenly an embarrassment! It does not work. A widespread regional god could not at the same time have been the exclusive god of one patriarch and his family.

 

There is no doubt that “yau” was a god of the local Syrian pantheon towards the beginning of the second millennium, worshipped by both nomads and the sedentary population. That Yehouah was a god of the pantheon of the Levant back into time contradicts the Mosaic legend that it was brought by him from Egypt. This pre-Israelite god became the exclusive God of the Israelites but it is certain that it did not happen as the bible says it did. Yehouah was a god of the people that the Israelites supposedly converted long before they arrived in the Mosaic myth.

Psalms 29 has been extensively analysed in comparative studies of the Hebrew and Ugaritic texts. A Canaanite origin of this psalm as a Pagan hymn to the storm-god, Baal, later adapted to the worship of Yehouah, had been surmised. Baal is the storm-god, sending lightning with thunder, his holy voice, causing his enemies to quake. Baal’s voice “convulses the earth” and causes the “mountains to quake”. In the Ugaritic tablets, Baal’s palace was made of trees from Lebanon. Psalms 29 also speaks of the cedars of Lebanon and Sirion (29:6):

From Sirion its precious cedars.

 

The psalmist tells us Yehouah’s voice had a similar effect on the Earth as that attributed to Baal (29:3-5,7-9): Yehouah’s voice “breaks the cedars” (29:5), “shakes the wilderness” (29:8) and “strips the forests bare” (29:9).

Since Yehouah is depicted as a neurotically jealous god, it is not possible for a psalm to Baal to have been transferred to Yehouah. The Israelites must actually have been worshipping Baal under the name of Yehouah. The scriptures admit (Jg 3:7) that the Israelites worshipped Baal when they had occupied Canaan. This admission is a slip of the “second” temple priesthood who had written the scriptures. The priests had set up a temple in Jerusalem at the behest of the Persian king, so that all Hebrews—the people of Abarnahara—would worship one god. The reward for the priests was to get rich quick, and for the Persians to raise revenue and unite a mixed people into the common culture of Persia. So the scriptures were written as a polemic against older gods—the gods the Israelites had worshipped before the colonists were sent. This oversight shows the reality but a critical examination of the Jewish scriptures does not suggest any ancient Israelite allegiance to an almighty transcendental god.

Christians, who are troubled by this, desperately point out that the Ugaritic texts are not “exactly” the same as Psalms 29. One wonders how they can be exactly the same when they are in different languages written in different scripts. The psalmist might have modified a Canaanite hymn essentially by replacing the name Baal with the personal name of the Jewish God. That other changes occurred in translation and subsequently seems obvious and unavoidable, but to pretend that the two hymns are independent because they are not “fully alike”, is typically Christian.

They add that the bible can say what it likes as the word of God and whatever it says implies no dependence on Baal worship or anything else Pagan. Here is an even funnier joke:

The Old Testament was intended also for the gentile world, it is but natural that the biblical authors availed themselves of figures of speech and imagery with which also Israel’s neighbours were familiar, or which were at least easily understandable to them

 

“Familiar figures and literary style would facilitate gentiles’ understanding of the truth”. Note how these bizarre Christian kooks think the ancient Jewish priests were writing for gentiles and that they were writing the truth! This is only true in the sense that the Hebrews were not all Israelites. They inluded Phoenicians, Levantine Canaanites, Aramaeans and the residue of Hittites and other older invaders as well as the influxing Arabs. Hebrew was their language and script, not just that of the Israelites.

Anyway, in typical Christian polemical style, having argued that there is no link at all between these ancient texts and the Hebrew bible, they then give it all away, hoping that you will not notice because you are as thick and uncomprehending as the average bird-brained believer, by adding that:

The existence of these similarities argues eloquently for the bible’s integrity.

 

And these similarities…

…provide one of the chief evidences that the bulk of the Psalms were not written after the Babylonian exile. Their language fits that used by Israel’s neighbours in the very time our Hebrew Bible says the Psalms were written.

 

So these similarities, rather than militating against the bible’s credibility, buttress its integrity. What was denied as being dependent or even connected suddenly proves to be a virtue.

They can, if they wish, believe that black is white and the earth is flat, but intelligent people do not believe either. Nor do they believe that the bible appeared perfectly formed at God’s bidding. Rational people reject this nonsense. Of course, Christianity has never been rational, which is probably the reason Christians want us all to be like them. Christians blindly claim:
the bible’s ethical and spiritual concepts are unparalleled by Pagan sacred literature;
the gods of Pagan myths are guilty of degenerate behaviour of all sorts;
Yehouah is infinite in purity;
Pagans constantly had to pacify their angry gods.

 

On wonders whether these people ever actually read the Jewish scriptures. They seem to use them simply to dig out some authoritative quotation to suit whatever they are saying. Try reading your Old Testament and tell us then that this syncretistic god, Yehouah, is free of degenerate behaviour, practises unparalleled ethical concepts, is infinitely pure and does not have to be pacified. If they cannot see that the bits of the scriptures that they like are not precisely the sycophantic writings of fearful and superstitious men, eager to pacify the most monstrous ogre that ever got a billion people worshipping him, then they are not only blind but insane.

Aliyan Baal’s supposed death and resurrection has big holes in it at the crucial points, according to Christian apologists. Yet, the text says “Baal is reported to have died” after descending to the underworld. There he is “as dead”. Anat recovers his corpse and buries it. Later El sees in a dream that Baal yet lives. After another gap, Baal is in a battle. What is missing? Baal is reported to have died and is described as dead yet he reappears fighting a battle. Meantime, he must have been revivified.

Baal’s other form, Hadad, is apparently even less prone to dying because he just sinks into a bog for seven years. When he emerges, blighted nature renews itself. There is no suggestion of death and resurrection and no hint of ritual re-enactment of the myth. Christians who believe this should look at Zechariah 12:11, where Hadad-Rimmon is inconsolably mourned. It is not post-Christian and they can only be mourning his death. If the nit-picking Christians deny that seven years in a bog is death, then let us not disagree. But the difference is merely a variation on a theme. The Nag Hammadi and other Gnostic texts vary as to whether the Redeemer took on flesh. Some deny it, others accept it. Some have a fleshly body but an apparent death. Others a real death, but only of the human Jesus, merely a shroud of flesh discarded once the Saviour chose to show his spiritual self. These are variations on a common theme. Christians do not believe them but they stem from the same sources as Christianity.

The Hebrew Goddess

Both textual and archaeological information testifies to the presence in the religion of the Israelites at least before the exile of a Goddess—Anat or Asherah—as a consort of Yehouah. Papyri found at the Jewish Egyptian centre at Elephantine include an oath of Anat-Yeho or Anat-Bethel, Bethel (“House of El”) being a standing stone at the Elephantine sanctuary used as a cult symbol for Yehouah. A standing stone universally is a phallic symbol, so the “House of El” was his son, Yehouah, and Anat was the consort of both El and Yehouah! Anat-Yeho is the “Queen of Heaven” who is defended by her worshippers (Jer 7:18; 44:17-19;44:25) as superior to the god, Yehouah, doubtless the Yehouah imported by the Persian “returners” from exile.

Archaeologists have also found Hebrew inscriptions at Kirbet el-Qom in the Judaean hills that speak of “Yehouah and his Asherah”. Asherah is also linked with Yehouah-Teman and Yehouah-Samaria in blessings inscribed at Kuntilla Ajrud in Sinai. Mesha of Moab also refers to an apparently dual god named “Ashtar-Chemosh”. Ashtar must have been a variant of Ishtar. Asherah was a Mother-Goddess known from the Canaanite Ras Shamra tablets. The “returners” were keen to be rid of images of the Asherim, phallic poles or pillars probably surmounted with an image and Deuteronomy 12:3 orders their destruction. 1 Kings 18:19 and 2 Kings 21:7 prove that Israelites worshipped this goddess in both of the kingdoms of the Yehudim. Micah reiterates Deuteronomy in having Yehouah promise to destroy those who do not destroy these Asherim. Whether Ashera, when it occurs in the bible, refers to the goddess or to phallic pillars, the “returners” wanted to be shot of them, much to the annoyance of the Am ha-Eretz and their wives who, over the centuries, had grown fond of them.

It is this popular veneration of the goddess in her phallic form that explains the many cult fertility figurines found in Palestine but rarely spoken about—the pillar figurines. They are probably models of snctuary images sold to worshippers for persoanl devotional purposes. The Astarte Plaques are low reliefs of the goddess often surrounded by a frame probably meant to be the recess containing the cult image in the sanctuary. The Astarte Plaques therefore depict the goddess in the context of her shrine.

Icons

Religious imagery was an important aspect of identifying monarch, god and people. It only changed when the Persians came into world power with an aniconic god—the first of them. The Persians doubtless found it advantageous that they had no image of their god, because it was then easier to impose him without anyone noticing. A god who is not pictured is not an obviously different god!

Scholars of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, have chosen to examine the many icons and images that have been found in Palestine with a view to providing a basis for understanding Israelite religion independently of the tendentious hagiography called the scriptures. No one is suggesting that the biblical writings can be thrown away. Even though they are much later compilations than most of the faithful have been led to believe, they still contain fragments of much earlier work and so can still be valueable historical information. The difference is that whereas the scriptures were formerly accepted as the standard, they no longer are. The hints at religious practice deducible from icons is likely to be a sounder yardstick and biblical information will have to fit in with the archaeological work, not the other way around.

Doubtless the modern interest in images rather than words is related to the ease with which we communicate with images in the modern world of TV, cinema and computers. The earlier obsession with documented religion led to Protestant scholars particularly looking down on religions for which there was no such documentation. Religions of the “book” had been seen as having progressed beyond the primitive religions of mere sacerdotal ritual. The modern view is that images can be as valuable as text.

The religions of the Hebrew God were thought of as being free of images because this advanced god could not be pictured. Images of goddesses were found in Israel but not images of Yehouah, a strange and illogical imbalance. If the god could have a consort, both must have been visible. The standing stones were symbolic of the god but there seemed not to have been any recognisable images of Him. The Calf of Samaria of Hosea 8:6, apparently the image of a bull in the temple of Bethel, has been apologized for as the pedestal supporting… nothing! Or an image of the invisible god, if you like!

In fact, of course, the prohibition of graven images in the bible is late. There are no identifiable images of Yehouah, the Persian religion forbidding representation of the God of Heaven. The incident of the “Golden Calves” (“These be thy gods, O Israel”) in Exodus 32:4 is a legend written in justification of it, but proving that image worship had occurred. Both the original Deuteronomy 5:8 and Exodus 20:4 also forbid the making of images of anything in heaven, on earth or in the sea. Despite this, images of the Canaanite gods from the earlier phase are found. So, if this was an ancient prohibition, as believers think, it was never followed, although art work does not seem to have been highly valued in these countries to judge by their quality, unless it was simply a sign of their poverty.

The Norwegian scholar, Mowinckel, in the early part of the twentieth century was already telling people who wanted to listen that the Jewish proscription of images was late and that the temple of Jerusalem for long had an image of Yehouah in some form. More recently a number of scholars have pointed out that references to the appearance of God in psalms such as Psalms 27:4,

One thing have I desired of Yehouah, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of Yehouah all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of Yehouah, and to inquire in his temple,

 

imply that somewhere was a fine image of God to be seen! Here the implication is clear that the “beauty of Yehouah” is to be beheld in the temple, the “House of the Yehouah”. Cult statues of Yehouah must have been erected in his the various sanctuaries. What signs there are of adoration of gods suggest they were local ones—Yehoauh of Samaria, Yehouah of Temen, “to the god who is in Dan” (a Greek inscription), as well as the place names suggestive of a local shrine such as Bethel, the House of El. The many towns called “Beth-something” in the bible must have been sites of sanctuaries to Yehouah or some other Baal. Only the “House” of a god is going to be remembered as a notable place. Evidently statues to Yehouah were present in the temples of Jerusalem, Samaria and Bethel. The capping evidence, that cannot be denied, is that Assyrian documents refer to cult images of the Israelites.

The favoured image of the old Canaanite Yehouah seems to have been a bull or a calf, and it seems at least likely that some of the earlier colonists from Persia saw nothing wrong in depicting Yehouah thus, probably because the Persians themselves revered their cattle and favoured them as sacrifices. Bull figurines have been found. Seated figures, gods or kings, smiting gods, animals and animal head’s, sphinxes, plamate trees, and lotus plants of Egyptian style are found but not a whisker of the splendour of Solomon. Jeroboam I in particular might be a legend based on such images being set up by an early colonist.

Israelite religion had, from beginning to end, much in common with Canaanite religion or even depended on Canaanite models.
B S J Isserlin, The Israelites

 

Images were commonplace in the Canaanite religion as they were in others of the time. Ahab made an asherah (1 Kg 16:33). Maacah’s “abominable image” (1 Kg 15:13) was an asherah. Good king Hezekiah cut down an asherah set up in the temple (2 Kg 18:4), but bad king Manasseh replaced it (2 Kg 21:3,7), only for good king Josiah to chop it down again, and a lot of other asherim beside (2 Kg 23:6,14). Even Moses set up a bronze serpent (Num 21:8-9).

All of these images will have been of Canaanite deities, the Israelites being themselves, of course, no less Canaanite than a New Yorker is an American. The Israelites were Canaanites. It is the Jewish religion that differed from Canaanite models even though the Jewish god had a Canaanite god’s name. The model was Persian Zoroastrianism, but the convergence of the two ended with the defeat of Persia and the destruction of the power of the Magi by Alexander.

The Bull Cult

Now despite all this religious imagery which ties in perfectly well with what we know of the history of the region, the Israelites had been told almost a millennium before by their great and revered leader, Moses, according to Jewish mythology, not to make images of their aniconic god, Yehouah, and he had destroyed images that his own brother had made in error. As mentioned above, he brought down from a mountain, where Yehouah seemed to live in those days, tablets with the rule clearly inscribed on it, among others:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

 

The bible has Moses making this clear when he first was handed the tablets (Ex 20:4), and later when he made his last speech summarizing their adventures before he departed this world (Dt 5:8). Both of these events he wrote down in full in his own works, supposedly the five books in which these two appear called the Pentateuch or Torah. These constitute the Jewish law of God that was held sacrosanct from then until today, except that the bible spends most of its time saying that no Jews took any notice of them until Ezra a Persian official told them to in the fifth century BC, 900 years after Moses had died. Some will say it was really good king Josiah who reintroduced the law of Moses when it had been forgotten, in which case it had been forgotten again a second time, because the bible is certain that Ezra had to read out the law again!

It is a matter of social bonding for Jews to believe this, and, for Christians, it is even a matter of the salvation of their immortal souls, so a lot of people do believe it, even though it is utterly unbelievable. Such is the power of religion. The original law might have been the curse on graven and cast images presented in Deuteronomy 27:15, as being called out along with other curses by the Levites, the Jewish Magi.

 

  Evidence for Solomon's Temple is fake

 

The law was taken to mean images of the god were forbidden but not other cult images such as the decorated ark, the cherubs and the menorah, seven branched lampstand. The biblical descriptions of Solomon’s temple include many more images such as the twelve bronze bulls that supported the molten sea, the cherubs, lions and bulls supporting basin stands, palms and pomegranates. J Gutmann surveyed all the evidence and deduced that Judaism was never against all imagery. What was forbidden were represenations of the god only. Cherubim did not stand for the god but only what supported him, so were not forbidden. Images of animals might have been controversial, some saying they did not stand for the god but only symbolized him, while others thought they could only be considered as representing the god and that was forbidden.

It is not true as some have said that images are not found in the archaeology of Israel. Female images of a crude kind but evidently cult objects are extremely common. Broken pieces of more substantial statues are also sometimes found, though rarely. This evidence is not evidence of a long time deep seated aversion to imagery but evidence of a culturally deserted place in which the making of images was at some stage suppressed, so that those that were made were destroyed leaving only fragments.

The Persians did not picture Ahuramazda except as a symbol of a winged figure emerging from a winged circlet or disc. They must have seen this picture as only symbolizing the god, or was a picture of something associated with the god, but not the god himself such as his fravashi.

Yehouah in Canaan was a bull or a calf. The scriptural evidence is oblique at best but it is unmistakeably there suggesting that editors have tried to disguise it over the years. If it were not there more obviously at first, it is hard to see why it is there at all, oblique though it may be. Jeroboam, Aaron and the golden calf, Yehouah described in Balaam’s oracles as being “like the horns of a wild ox”, the imagery also being associated with the exodus, Yehouah answering from the horns of an ox in Psalms 22 when correctly translated, the twelve bulls of the flaming dish of Solomon’s temple, the heads of calves modelled above Solomon’s throne (1 Kg 10:19) when “round behind” is correctly translated.

The god of the fathers called the “Mighty One of Jacob” appears five times in the scriptures (Gen 49:24; Isa 49:26; 60:16; Ps 132:2; 5) but the name is an outrageous mistranslation of the “Bull of Jacob”. The same word is a bull in Isaiah 10:13, 34:7, Psalms 50:13, and Psalms 68:31(30). So, the god of the fathers, or one of them, was the Bull of Jacob. Jacob traditions in Genesis seem to center on Bethel (Gen 28:10-22; 35:1-15) where the god was apparently worshipped as a bull. In Judges 20:28, Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron of the golden calves, ministers before the ark at Bethel. Jeroboam had identified his calf images with the “god who brought you up out of Egypt”—Yehouah, and should there have been any doubt Aaron, having made the golden calf, declares, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yehouah”, although Yehouah is mistranslated “Lord” therefore seemingly just any old lord god, including a cow!

The modest deduction of some scholars is that Moses and Aaron were associated with a calf or bull cult. Ahuramazda, the name of the god of heaven of the Persians, seems to contain the names of both Aaron and Moses, a curious coincidence, unless it is not one. The Persians sacrificed cattle and held them in esteem as the epitome of the Good Creation among animals. The ox-soul was the soul of all being and the sacrifice of the primaeval bull set the world in motion. But, though the Persians had a high regard for their cattle, they never made them into gods, unlike the Iranians who went on to India. The later Persian goddess, Anahita was associated with a bull sacrifice, was confused with Mithras by Herodotus, and Mithras was associated with a bull sacrifice in the Roman cult of Mithras. With all this background relating the new Persian influenced god of Yehud to cattle, perhaps it is not surprising that some of the settlers thought it was an ox cult, and since that would fit in nicely with some of the Canaanite cult, they thought it would make their task of conversion, or rather adaptation, easier. Evidently later settlers did not like the direction that had been taken.

Hosea, whose name means salvation, argues against bull imagery (Hos 8:1-6; 10:1-6; 13:1-3) and he condemns altars, pillars and shrines, sounding much more orthodox Persian than Aaron. It seems that a backlash left Aaron carrying the can for the golden calf but it did not harm his standing with Moses although it led to the elevation of the Levites and the murder of many otherwise innocent people in the myth. Moses has been lifted out as politically correct, but the guilty party remaining already has a lmyth behind him, so remains unpunished.

Any erroneous bull imagery had now to be removed. Ahaz removed the bronze bulls from the molten sea before Solomon’s temple, but he was not known as a reforming king. He was obliged to remove the precious metal to melt it down to pay the tribute demanded by the Assyrians. (2 Kg 16:17). Hezekiah and Josiah were equally discomforted, no doubt.

In the legends, the destruction of the divine images by these kings was their own choice, a supposed deliberate return to wrongly abandoned practices contrary to aniconism. In fact they were probably obliged to continue what Ahaz had had to do, namely use whatever could be found to pay off the suzerain. Later, the absence of images out of political necessity was made into a virtue by the Deuteronomistic Historian who pretended that the kings had already introduced the “return” to aniconism that the Persian priests were insisting upon. The propaganda of the Deuteronomistic Historian was that the Persian colonists were not doing anything unusual. Yehouah was not supposed to be pictured and some of the last kings before the Babylonian conquest had realized it.

Israelite and Canaanite Religion

Biblical theology required the religion of the Israelites, sponsored, as it was, by God himself, to be vastly different—superior no less—to the religion of the other inhabitants of the Levant. The clerics therefore made a point of emphasising any difference they thought they saw between Israelitish religion and that of their contemporaries and compatriots, the Canaanites. Now a panther might be black all over but it is still in every other respect a leopard! To emphasize its different colour from other leopards is to miss every aspect of its true nature. Latterly, the fashion among biblical scholars has been precisely to examine the similarities between Israelitish religion and that of the Canaanites. Only the balance of similarities and differences can fairly suggest whether “God’s religion” was different in the beginning from Pagan religions.

Now according to the Holy Book, in Deuteronomy, God wants His Chosen People to enter Canaan and wipe out the native people living there as idolaters. The native people would be eradicated and their idolatry would be expunged. This was, of course, a wish of the Maccabees—a thousand years—later who felt themselves threatened by the Greeks and was never a wish of any native Israelites who amicably shared the land with their Canaanite brothers. That, the Hellenized writers considered, was the trouble. The Israelites did not wipe out all other competing religions, but they should have done. Accordingly they put the warning into the scriptures. The temptations of Baal were made to represent the temptations of Zeus and Apollo and the philosophy of Plato, all the pertinent problems for Judaism at the time the scriptures were set down.

Yet an archaeologist (W F Albright) besotted by biblical theology, despite a lifetime of “scholarship”, can assure the readers of a “learned” book that “Canaanite and Phoenician paganism” contrasted with “the faith and practice of Israel”. The only contrast here is in the author’s tendentious choice of words to describe the religion he favours and the one he does not.

Albright and all the many other biblical bigots can only see the source of their own religion as dynamic and true while the religions of the Canaanite neighbours of the Israelites were static and false. Because these religions are dead, they were seen as already dead even when they were alive, while the religion of a small minority of the people of Canaan, the Israelites, was alive, and so it has remained. God’s religion was an active historical stage for Him to unfold his plan, though quite why God had to unfold his plan in this restricted and obscure way, rather than unfolding it for everyone He had created in the world, is never answered. No one knows because the whole thing is a fantasy of clerics intent on controlling simple people to their own financial advantage.

Albright saw the Israelites as non-Canaanites who had entered the land from outside whether by conquest as the bible says or by infiltration, as the theologians accepted as a fall back position. There was not the least bit of evidence on or under the ground for any such invasion, and Albright was an archaeologist! The received view today is that, if there is no hint of a change of culture in some respect, then there was no change. There is no hint, so there was no change. What changed was the climate.

Dessication of the land in the Bronze Age led to some Canaanites having to take to a more marginal method of living, pastoralism probably supplemented by the proceeds of banditry. These hill dwelling pastoral Canaanites and part time bandits were called the Apiru or Hebrews. At a later date, just as the Iron Age was beginning, the climate became less arid and conditions changed back to those suitable for sedentary life. The Hebrew bandits started to go straight, settling down first in the hills, then they were gradually admitted back into civilized society. They had not entered or re-entered Canaan, they were ethnically Canaanites, a mixed group anyway, and they had Canaanite culture throughout.

What happened to Moses?

Israelite religion must therefore have been a variant of the religions practised by Canaanites in general. The main difference which arose between this religion and other neighboring ones was that the Persians selected Jerusalem as the centre of a pseudo-Zoroastrian cult based on the local god Yehouah. There was no particular slow variation from other Canaanite religions, but there was a sudden imposition of a foreign cult on to the local religion of Jerusalem. The imposition was resisted by locals for many decades but ultimately it triumphed, albeit in a highly fragmentated state.

This imposition is the reason why Yehouah became monotheistic and is probably why the religion also rejected images. As Herodotus noted, the religion of the Persians was relatively free of images. Christianity was far from shy of sacred imagery despite its Judaic roots and monotheism is seen by many progressive people today as symbolic of religious intolerance rather than fidelity. In particular, the submergence of the Goddess is seen by many religious people as a huge disservice to both men and women through neglect of feminine attributes that today are seen as desirable in both sexes, but which have been unnaturally suppressed in favour of an exaggerated masculinity.

Clearly, this history precludes the whole of the myth of Moses and the Exodus and, indeed, all of the bible until the Israelites were settled in Canaan. The Pentateuch or the five books of Moses, called by the Jews the Torah, are no longer thought by any scholars as early works as they once were. They were originally thought to have been written by Moses himself, a man who is supposed to have died about 1300 BC. Now they are thought to have been written no earlier than the “restoration”.

Of course, it is possible that the books were written late but used much earlier sources. That seems quite likely but some will not even go that far. And even if true, no one can be sure which parts of it are genuinely old and which parts are not simply a much later romance. People about the time of Christ, or just before, were just as able as more recent authors like Sir Walter Scott or William Shakespeare at writing historical fiction, but no bible basher will consider the possibility.

The truth is that both books of the Christian bible are sugar baskets of popular fiction holding nuggets of historical truth. Dissolve away the fiction and the history remains, but no one has a suitable solvent, and so no one knows what is true and what is not. What we can say is that there is not the least evidence for large chunks of the Old Testament as it is presented to us and therefore it is likely to be mainly fictional.

Norman Gottwald tries to retrieve something by saying that, although the people and specific places might be false, the cultural and social situation might be accurately represented. It is anoher way of admitting that the people who wrote these historical dramas were not fools. They had read poems, sagas, myths and books written in earlier times and just as any competent author can today, they were able to reconstruct a fair represention of a historical period. Into it they placed their fictional characters just as Scott or Shakespeare would.

Gottwald tries to give this contrivance a scientific air by calling people and places H1 and period detail as H2. So, all right, the period detail might be correct but we can only be sure by using independent sources, and even then, so what? The period detail is not the point of the stories in the Jewish scriptures. If Joshua or Deborah did not exist, what do their stories tell us? The answer is that the Persianized or Hellenized Jews had a talented Catherine Cookson, quite able to write good stories.

Apparently, the books of Samuel use the word “Hebrews” in a pejorative way that fits well with independent evidence that it meant bandits at that time. In other words, it is rather like the word “Viking” and who is to know that the word did not retain that connotation and that the Hebrews were not rather proud of it? It would fit in excellently with the self image of the Maccabees who probably sponsored the “Hebrew” scriptures and had stood as outlaws against the Greeks to win the independence of Palestine. The word Hebrew was never used as the name of a language until Jesus ben Sirach used it in the preface of Ecclesiasticus. To the Maccabees it was a complement.

This brings up the level of psychological truth that might be in the scriptures. They tell more about the writers than about the subject. Honest scholars will have a great deal more to discover about this aspect of the bible than they have hitherto. The themes throughout the scriptures are those of the people being liberated and returning to a promised land, of people who were lost and subject to the temptations of foreign gods, of people wandering and finding a home, of people crossing into a kingdom, all the time harassed by alien peoples. This is how the Maccabees saw themselves and the Jews, and it was their battles against the alien Greeks that the bible is a set of allegories about.

A Proper Historical Approach

There is not the least bit of evidence ever found that the Israelites were ever in captivity in Egypt and escaped to discover a Promised Land. It was the Maccabees who led the Jews to a promised land of their own, not Moses. What had happened in history and was known by Jewish writers at the time of the “restoration”, was that Palestine had been a colony of Egypt for long periods of history. The decline of Egypt and the rise of Assyria, culminating in the annexation of Egypt by Assyria under Esarhaddon in the seventh century, allowed the Palestinian mini-states to throw off the yoke of Egypt. The metaphor of the Exodus served as an allegory of the freeing of Palestine from the Egyptians, as an expression of the Egyptians as traditional enemies of the Jews and as a vehicle for the adoption of the laws brought by the Persians.

What the faithful do not like is that Palestine has a genuine history separate from the scriptural romances and the purpose of scholars should be to try to find out what it is. Once the bible is put on one side as untrustworthy, the way forward that suggests itself is to study all of the Palestinian mini-states together in a comprehensive study of the whole region between Egypt and the Euphrates. The religions in particular of the region should be studied independently of the major religions that later emerged because it has been the constant distortion of forcing everything through this unnatural sieve that has produced such a lot of incomprehensible intellectual spaghetti.

Already archaeology has shown that Israel and Judaea were not religiously or ethnically distinct from other small states in the region like Moab, Edom, Ammon and the rest of Canaan. Even if these states existed before the eighth century BC they would not have prevented the other people of the region from travelling. If they existed, they existed for trade because the economies of the hill countries were based on a narrow range of produce, olives, vine and sheep, necessitating trade. The region’s population must have had a certain mobility and must have continued to mix. Monotheism was not the norm until after the exile. It was the influence of Persia that created a distinctive Judaism stripped of earlier features such as a popular goddess, fertility rites, astrology and divination.

The Christian and Jewish “scholars” to whom this is anathema object that their critics are anti-religious, as if any criticism of these artificial and backward religions implies criticism of all religion. In fact, some of the critics are perfectly conscientious Christians and Jews but ones who put integrity ahead of paperhanging. That, though, is something that too many sanctimonious wafer-nibblers cannot understand. They cannot see Israel and Judah as anything other than the singular nations their bibles say they were, and are quite unable to draw the conclusions that the evidence insists upon.

A proper historical approach to this geographical area will show the growth of the mini-states and their religions in context and most importantly will allow us to see precisely how Judaism really began with the edict of Cyrus. If the Christian God really has a plan, it is time we all found out how it really developed. What is so disastrous if Zoroaster was God’s first prophet, not Moses?

 

 

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