cais1.gif (153930 bytes)

CAIS Persian Text.gif (34162 bytes)

CAIS

The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies


 Persian Section.PNG (9914 bytes)


Home


About CAIS


Articles


Daily News


News Archive


Announcements


CAIS Seminars


Image Library


Copyright


Disclaimer


Submission


Search


Contact Us


Links


Facebook-Button.jpg (107165 bytes)



.


PERSIA & CREATION OF JUDAISM

Book 4. Sacred History or Phoney History?

Moses And the Exodus 

(Part I)


 

Moses and Exodus

 

The exodus events are vitally important to Jews and Christians, the latter because their god was crucified on the annual celebration of the Jewish exodus. Research into it has therefore been “constant and zealous”, in the words of professor J Alberto Soggin.

In the book of Exodus, the presence of the Israelites in Egypt is regarded as a given, and the only questions are whether, how and when God will remove them from the house of bondage. The story of the exodus begins only at the point when the Israelites groan under their hard labour. Then the Lord remembers (Ex 2:23-24) his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the narrative of Genesis 12-36. No one in Exodus, seems to remember the events of Genesis 37-50, chapters that have told us how the Israelites happen to be in Egypt in the first place, and no one seems to remember Joseph’s words to his brothers:

So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
Genesis 45:8
Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.
Genesis 50:20

 

It is evidently not only the new Egyptian king who knows not Joseph (Ex 1:8), but the narrator also, and his character, God, seems to regard the presence of the Israelites in Egypt as nothing more than an unfortunate accident that has happened to them. He never acknowledges that it is his own deliberate design.

Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, in The Britsh Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, say the cultural and ethnic origin of the Israelites are difficult because the archaeological and biblical evidence have not been reconciled. The accounts “in the books of Numbers, Joshua and Judges, are often at odds both with other ancient textual sources and with the archaeological evidence for the settlement of Canaan in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age (c 1600-750 BC)”. The story of the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt and the Exodus to Canaan described in Genesis and Exodus of the Jewish scriptures have no relationship with any known history. Biblical “scholars” cannot bring themselves to accept this simple fact. Uneducated slaves, desperately escaping from the armies of their powerful oppressor, forced into a primitve nomadic existence in the desert, do not sit down each night and write out a diary of the day’s events. Nomads keep up their spirits by telling tall stories around their campfires.

The migration of the Israelites is presented, like that of Abraham, as a one off passage, not anything to do with nomads. Nomads rarely choose to settle, valuing their al fresco lifestyle. They usually have to be forced to settle. Even settled people do not keep official records until they form themselves into a nation. Whatever preceded the formation of the statelets around Jerusalem and Shechem was not recorded as history, so what is recorded must be tall stories—mythology if you like. Will biblical “scholars” stop the pretence it is history? Not while their comfortable incomes depend on it!

If the Israelites were first slaves then nomads, how did they get such diverse skills? They can be allowed bricklaying no doubt, though bricklaying is a worthless skill in the desert, but how did they come to be wealthy stockbreeders, and even successful fishermen and gardeners (Ex 10:24;12:38; Num 11:5,22; 20:4) if they were enslaved? Before long, in the wilderness, they were also skilled carpenters, decorators and goldsmiths.

Moses, as the author of his Exodus, used the names cities had at a much later date, like Luz (Bethel) and Cariath Arbe (Hebron). He used the names of people who had not yet arrived in their lands in his day, such as the Chaldeans or the Philistines. The Law of Moses records a census and temple tax implying the use of coins, which first came into use (so far as is known) in the kingdom of Lydia in the seventh century BC, 700 years later. Genesis 36:31 presupposes a kingdom in Israel, 500 years before it existed. The Ten Commandments also presuppose that the Israelites are already in the Promised Land, even though they were handed out in Sinai. Doubtless believers will attribute these to God’s prescience, but those who are less gullible will put it down to bad editing.

K Koch as long ago as 1962 declared that he could see nothing historical in the biography of Moses, and J Alberto Soggin ( An Introduction to the History of Israel and Judah ) is blunt about these biblical accounts:

The biblical sources are rich in anecdotes, popular tradition and elements of folklore… [but] they lack information which is capable of verification by historical investigation: the Pharaohs or other important officials are never named, and the chronological information is imprecise. To this must be added the almost complete silence of the Egyptian sources.

 

Egyptian papyri from the end of the thirteenth century BC have been found that detail the least things about Egyptian life and events of the time. One note explains that two(!) escaping slaves were diligently pursued across the border, yet there is no record of two million Israelite slaves leaving all at once one night. Many many Egyptian inscriptions on temples and papyri have been read but not one mentions any Israelites that were slaves or even legitimate settlers in Egypt. Jewish and Christian scholars have no choice but to recognize the truth of this—it is true—but they pretend it does not matter because the biblical story could be true, even so! Could it?

Biblical Chronology

Seventy people went down to Egypt at the time of Joseph (Gen 46:27). After three generations, two million emerged (Ex 12:37). The sons of Machir, Joseph’s grandson, were born while Joseph was still alive, yet took part in the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan and even the settlement in the Promised Land (Gen 50:23; Num 32:39-40; Josh 13:31;17:1; Ex 6:16-20). For this to be true and the period of the wandering in the wilderness to be 40 years, the period of enslavement in Egypt could hardly have been more than another 40 years. In this short time, the Israelites had multiplied until the land of Egypt was “filled with them” (Ex 1:7). Each of the Israelite men would have had to have had a harem of wives for this to have been true. No slave could provide for a dozen wives and about 40 children.

The time spent in slavery is not clear:
Genesis 15:13 says 400 years.
Genesis 15:16 says four generations, normally forty years each but here evidently 100 years each.
Exodus 12:40-41 says 430 years.
The Jewish historian Josephus says it was 215 years.

 

The date of the Exodus is given in 1 Kings 6:1 as 480 years before Solomon began to build his temple. Solomon, the biblicists tell us, began his reign about 960 BC, so the Exodus occurred about 1440 BC. Josephus placed the Exodus in the fifteenth century with the expulsion of the Hyksos, the mysterious Asiatic kings of Egypt. A few years ago, some scholars again favoured such an early date after many years when the thirteenth century was favoured. Garstang dated the fall of the walls of Jericho in 1400 BC, fitting a fifteenth century Exodus, if the Israelites were assumed to have caused that particular destruction of Jericho. Since the Amarna letters spoke of attacks by “Apiru”, a word that reminded some philologists of the word “Hebrew”, the biblicists were overjoyed. Egyptian texts from the next century spoke of “Asaru”, more joy for biblicists, who declared them to be the tribe of Asher!

The Jewish scriptures are, however, built around an idealized chronology. 480 years is twelve Jewish generations of 40 years, each the length of the reigns of both king David and king Solomon. The date when the temple was started is given in Kings relative to the “return” from “exile”. It is precisely 480 years earlier. If all this does not signal that the whole tale is made up, it is hard to know what would.

The authors of the mythical Jewish history wanted to put the construction of the first temple at the centre of Jewish history because they were claiming that by restoring the temple and setting up its laws and priesthood, they were re-establishing God’s will! The scriptures were written by people with a vested interest in the authority of the temple, the Jewish priesthood sent from Persia by the Persian kings to establish a loyal buffer state between Persia and Egypt. The Persians under Cambyses had conquered Egypt but it was too large a victim to be easily swallowed, and the Egyptians rebelled constantly against their Persian masters.

The story of Moses and the Exodus was intended to paint Egypt as the natural enemy of the Jews. The Egyptians would as soon enslave them again. Believing this, the Jews would remain loyal to their kind benefactors and deliverers, the Persians. Cyrus ordered the settling of Judah in about 536 BC but the chronology suggests that the “return” must have been in the decade 480-470 BC when a later group of settlers were moved in, perhaps Nehemiah’s group. In fact, the return happened several times over the whole of the fifth century.

Unfortunately for the historical confirmation of the stylized chronology of the Exodus tale, the Pharaohs in about 1440 BC, when it was supposed to have happened, were strong monarchs, Thutmoses III and Amenhotep, who we know were not letting Canaanites go back to Canaan from Egypt but were subjugating the whole territory in a phase of colonial expansion. They were actually enslaving Canaanites rather than allowing them to escape slavery.

Inasmuch as there is any truth in Israel being “in Egypt”, it is more likely that notionally they were because Canaan was effectively a part of Egypt for several hundred years thereafter—indeed was almost always in the Egyptian sphere of influence—a fact that the Persians wanted to change. All the indications are that, in the first part of the first millennium BC, Palestine was a colony or vassal of Egypt. Though the degree of domination was slight, the people looked to Egypt for protection.

Pharaoh Shoshenq affirmed Egyptian overlordship in the tenth century BC. An expedition against Sennacherib requested by Judah went out in 701 BC. Pharaoh Necho II led further expeditions around 600 BC. Finally, Judah asked for Egyptian help against the Babylonians, but it either failed or was not given. Egypt dominated Palestine until the “exile” and Egyptian names like Phinehas, Hophin, Assir (Osiris) and Pashur were not unusual in Palestine.

Since the biblical chronology looks impossible, the biblical “scholars” ignore it—they have no qualms about biblical inerrancy if they can find an unlikely historical match by declaring the Word of God slightly wrong! They declare the Exodus to have occurred 200 years later in the thirteenth century BC not the fifteenth century. This later date gets some credence from certain scriptural references that could place the Exodus in the time of Rameses II. Of course, there is no more historical evidence of this than there was for the earlier date, but such lack of evidence is “no proof that it did not happen” (an argument of their “scholars” that Christians have to get used to hearing).

The absence of evidence, they say, is because there was not one Moses and one Joshua but lots of little Moseses and Joshuas, who have been mythically conflated to create the story but actually slowly migrated into Palestine over about 200 years, too slowly to make any cultural impact on the country that is today detectable in archaeology. Convinced? Not even the biblicists are convinced. Their ultimate justification is that millions of Jews and Christians could not believe something that was not true! Nahum S Sarna writes:

No nation would be likely to invent for itself, and faithfully transmit century after century and millennium after millennium, an inglorious and inconvenient tradition of this nature unless it had an authentic core.

 

Sarna is a clever man, a professor and editor of the Jewish Publications Society of America, so it is hard to accept that he really thinks the story of the Jewish escape from Egypt and conquest of Canaan celebrated in the most venerable Jewish family celebration of Jewishness, the Passover, is “inglorious”. Presumably he means the many instances, recorded in the wanderings, of Israelite bad will and backsliding that the myth highlights, that “no nation” would want to feature about itself.

This though is the very point, utterly missed or rather not admitted by Sarne. The story was written by Persian administrators sent to secure the loyalty of the Jews for Persia, not Egypt. Their means was to win the local people to the Persian-styled god, Yehouah, based on Ahuramazda, and away from their traditional Canaanite and Egyptian deities. They used the myth, presented then as it was ever after as true history, to depict those loyal to the traditional gods and goddesses as apostates and backsliders from the true God of Israel, Yehouah, who had made a covenant with Moses, the ancestor of the Israelites who were escaping from Egypt.

The Jewish scriptures have the boringly uniform theme of warnings of apostasy against the Israelites, and their constant sliding back to their old ways and away from the true (new) god. Since worship of Yehouah in the form of a Canaanite Baal seems to have been one of the ancient Israelite sects, even worship of this old Yehouah was depicted as mistaken. The new god was a universal God of Heaven in the Persian mould and quite alien to the Canaanites of the hill country of Judah.

Rameses

Unwilling to consider the truth, the biblicists return to their effort to place the Exodus and conquest of Canaan in the 1200s BC. They see the Israelites in the Hyksos, who occupied Egypt from Asia between the 1700s and the 1500s BC, setting up the 15th and 16th dynasties. The resurgent Egyptians, especially in the vigorous 18th dynasty, then enslaved their former foreign masters but, in the reign of Rameses II, they escaped back to Canaan—the Hyksos were the Israelites all along! Rameses is mentioned in Genesis 47:11 and in Exodus 1:11 and that is proof enough for the biblical experts.

Biblicists are fond of saying glibly things like, “There is evidence that… so and so”, but then they do not cite either the evidence or the source. The reason is that the evidence is the believer’s faith in biblical truth. The evidence is what the bible says, but much of it has now been shown to be false. Professor Kyle McCarter Jr can write:

Many scholars believe the events described in the story of Joseph have an ultimate basis in historical fact. It has often been supposed… that Joseph lived during the so-called Hyksos period…

 

Such statements are devoid of any useful meaning except to dispose the reader to believe reliable historians have confirmed the bible. “Believing” and “supposing” means nothing whether someone is an expert or not. These “scholars” believe it because it is in the bible and for no other reason, but they will seek to pretend they have other reasons. And what is “an ultimate basis in historical fact”? Walter Scott’s novels doubtless have an ultimate basis in historical fact but does anyone not believe that they are fiction? We have to conclude that “many scholars” are ignorant. McCarter himself is more honest than the “many scholars” to which he refers, admitting:

It is unlikely that much of the information found in Genesis 37 and 39-47 is historically factual.

 

Rameses (1279-1212 BC) was a vigorous and famous pharaoh known for his building programme and his new city of Rameses featured in the story of Moses. If this is proof of authenticity, we have to assume that the Persian officials were such dunces they could not put a myth in a historical setting, yet the Persians had captured the civilisations of Babylon and Assyria in the land of the two rivers—a civilisation that went back as far as the Egyptians did, and had permanent archives written on clay tablets in their cuneiform script. Knowledge of the Assyrian diplomatic correspondence allowed the Persian governors to write the histories of Israel and Judah, so there is no reason why they should not have known of a suitable pharaoh to allocate to the enslavement period. Further, the towns Rameses and Pithom were still being mentioned in much later texts and so are compatible with a later date.

In Egyptian, Moses means “born of”, and therefore in most names means “son of”. Tutmoses is “born of Thoth” or “son of Thoth”. Rameses is “born of Ra”. Moses left Egypt, so it has always been assumed that his name (Mosha) was also son of X with an Egyptian god X suppressed. But the crowd in the fifth century, obliged to hear Ezra address them in a foreign tongue, heard what they thought was “Toorahmosha”. It was Ahuramazda.

The myth of Moses emerging from the river to be the founder of the Jewish state was an invention of the Ptolemies enhanced by the Maccabees who wrote allegories of the foundation of the state that they had founded in fact only then, in the second century BC. They used the legendary birth narrative of a real Mesopotamian king, Sargon I (2334-2279 BC), who ruled over Akkadia—Babylon and Sumer—two millennia before. Is it not strange that the early books of the Jewish scriptures supposedly relating events long before the Jews experienced the period of “exile” should draw so extensively on Mesopotamian legend?

The death of Rameses II was effectively the end of Egypt because no other strong native monarch ever came to the fore, and the period following his death was chaotic. Perhaps here was a chance for the putative Israelite slaves to escape. Unfortunately, at this point we find a historic reference to the Israelites and they are already apparently in Palestine! Pharaoh Merneptah (1212-1200 BC) commissioned a stele to announce his punishment expedition into Canaan. It tells us that the Israelites were already there (but that he wiped them out saying their “seed was no more”). The biblicists ignore the massacre and conclude that the Exodus must have been in about 1250 BC, the very time when Rameses II was in his prime.

Martin Noth is considered a great scholar and witness to the historicity of the Exodus, but he puts the Exodus in the reign of this last great Egyptian pharaoh, Rameses II, whose empire included all of Palestine as far as Syria and included Sinai. The escaping Egyptian slaves were therefore not escaping at all, but running from one part of the Egyptian empire into another nearby part.

Noth does not regard the two million or so escaping slaves as the nation of Israel, or even tribes—none of which existed—yet they supposedly imposed on the Israelite tribes their own religion. Giovanni Garbini, the Italian historian, considers this a greater miracle than the passage over the Red Sea. The story of the people settling in Palestine, for Garbini, was an adaptation of the story of the settling down there of the Philistines whose name the land still has.

The “Apiru”

The el-Amarna letters, tablets of cuneiform correspondence from Egyptian colonial governors and foreign kings to the pharaoh, Akhenaten, in the fourteenth century BC, mention raiders called “Apiru” as causing trouble in the colony of Canaan. The biblicists identify the “Apiru” with the Israelites—Hebrews.

The el-Amarna letters and the ancient tablets of Ugarit in northern Canaan, indicate that the hill country of Palestine was densely wooded before the Mycenaean drought, and only sparsely populated. They do not mention Israel or Judah, and leave no place where they could have been. Only Jerusalem, Shechem, Hebron and Hazor are mentioned as towns. Jerusalem, in Egyptian records, was a city state ruled by an Egyptian vassal “king” and it is likely to have had the same status until the Palestinian statelets were established.

In the lowlands were many densely populated city states. Each city controlled an expanse of countryside, including some lesser towns, that it exploited—though the exploitation never seemed to lead to rebellion. The rebellions that commonly occurred were palace coups rather than uprisings of peasants. It was these unsuccessful nobles and their supporters or displaced princes that fled to the hillsides and the countryside that were the “Apiru”—outlaws.

Only at the end of the great Mycenaean drought and the deforestation that accompanied and followed it, with the subsequent growth of population, were villages, terracing for gardening, and cisterns to capture water built in the hills. In none of this is there any convincing evidence of any cultural change. In other words, the changes were effected by local people recovering from the drought and not by a strange people, “Apiru” or whoever, entering from elsewhere with a different culture.

The changes noted can be seen in the archaeological record, but another problem is their dating. Biblicists like them to be about 1250 BC but more objective observers see them as being from 900 to 800 BC. The small states that rivalled Israel in the Exodus narrative and the subsequent history of Israel and Judah, namely Edom, Moab and Ammon, seemed not to have existed in the 1200s BC but actually arose about the same time as the states of Israel and Judah, at the beginning of the first millennium BC as a result of the drought lifting. Israel was mentioned on the stele of Merneptah but from the end of the thirteenth century BC silence reigned until the stele of Mesha of Moab in about 800 BC.

If the great Mycenaean drought was the drought of the biblical narrative that drove the Patriarchs into Egypt, they would have been settling there at about the time they should have been leaving. The Mycenaean drought was an extended period of drought in the eastern Mediterranean that caused a ferment of political change from about 1200 BC to about 800 BC. There is every reason why such an extended and devastating period of drought should be remembered in myth, and perhaps that is what we can read in the stories of Abraham and Jacob going down into Egypt, but only the memory of such a great drought is likely to be accurate. The notorious biblicist, W F Albright, actually said at the outset of his career in 1918:

The long memory possessed by semi-civilized people for historical fact is a pious fiction of over-zealous apologists.

 

Albright soon forgot his own words and set up a loyal school of “over-zealous apologists” that is still vigorous today, albeit with their backs pressed hard against the wall.

The rest of the Patriarchal story is myth, possibly allegorical, devised to explain how the Israelites got into Egypt in the first place. Historical background to this too could have been had from records that had become available to the Persians. A thirteenth century BC Egyptian record tells of a frontier official who allowed some shepherds to cross the frontier and settle near Per-Atum (biblical Pithom?) to keep themselves alive through the ka of the Pharaoh. Any Persian official could have read this.

The Plagues

Most of the allusions in the Moses saga could otherwise have been had from anyone who knew of everyday life in Egypt. Using bricks for building rather than stone was a necessity in a river delta where no stone was available, and would have subsided into the clay if it had been brought in from upriver. (The pyramids were built at the head of the delta on bedrock.) Knowledge of such matters does not imply authenticity. Indeed, the author of Genesis is wrong in several important respects. The east wind does not scorch Egypt, it is the south wind. The east wind from the Arabian desert scorches Palestine. The titles and offices in the story of Joseph are not Egyptian. Potiphar is a genuine Egyptian name but one that did not appear until tha last millenium BC not a millennium before. The same applies to Joseph’s Egyptian name.

The plagues on the Egyptians represented the superiority of the Persian God of the Heavens over the old Egyptian and Canaanite gods. The Nile itself, the sun and many other entities, given bizarre animal headed representations, were gods in Egypt and these stood for the pre-exilic gods of the Israelites, some of whom they doubtless were, like the goddesses Hathor and Astarte, and perhaps the god, Thoth (Djehuti, Dwd—pronounced Dude, Jude?). The Pharaoh keeps conceding then relenting—all meant to dissuade the native Israelites of Canaan from vacillating about accepting their imposed god, Yehouah. They could never defy such a god any more than the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt could.

The myth of seven lean years is a Pagan myth known from Egyptian, Akkadian (Gilgamesh) and Canaanite sources, and in the latter is the result of Baal going awol for seven years at a time. Some of the stories about plagues undoubtedly existed already in old Egyptian cautionary tales like The Admonitions of Ipu-wer and The Prophesy of Nefer-rohu, that tell of calamities that overcome the country when piety is ignored. So the fact that the Exodus stories seem to reflect a genuine Egyptian provenance has no more value as proof of their authenticity than has the genuinely eighteenth century British Naval provenance of the Horatio Hornblower stories. These details prove only that the authors of the Moses cycle knew about Egypt.

The final plague of the death of the firstborn is certainly an early misrepresentation or misunderstanding of the death of the first fruits—the succession of earlier troubles led ultimately to the death of the produce of cultivation. Some of the other plagues such as those of mosquitos and flies are probably meant to be the same. There were probably originally five or seven plagues but errors in recollection or restoration when the library of Nehemiah had to be reconstructed from remnants will have led to repetition and confusion.

Five words in the Jewish scriptures are uniformly translated “plague” in English. They suggest that the author used different sources for his “plagues”. The words are really: an “affliction”, a “blow”, a “wonder”, a “natural sign” and a “supernatural sign”. Such mistranslation is dishonest and hides the fact that the story was probably not originally as uniform as it is made to seem through false translation and editing. Hail, one of the plagues of Egypt, is a real miracle because it is unknown there but is common in Palestine in winter.

Red Sea and Sinai Wanderings

The supposed miracle at the Red Sea is agreed by all honest scholars to have been only vaguely set in the eastern Delta or at Lake Sirbonis to provide a plausible setting for it, because, as M Noth realized, there was no known setting for the original tale. The bible says the Israelites did not take the Way of the Philistines. The mention of it is anachronistic because there were no Philistines blocking the way. They had not yet settled, unless this is a later story than it pretends to be. It is! The text also contradicts this because the reference to reeds could only be true where reeds grow, namely in fresh water by the Way of the Sea in the north. They do not grow in the brackish (“bitter”) water to the south. Nothing is convincing in the rest of the itinerary, and some guesses of what it was require the Sea of Reeds to be the Gulf of Aqaba. This absence of agreement and confirmation is typical of nythology purporting to be history.

Even the parting of the Red Sea has detectable layers of tradition. One of the earliest dispenses with the supernatural and simply has the waters blown back by a continuous wind (Ex 14:21). This could be a valid explanation if the waters were shallow anyway. Some editor took this and made it into a miracle induced by Moses raising his arm. Another tradition slotted into the earlier one is that the Egyptian chariots were held up as if having to drive through viscous mud or as if the wheels were falling off (Ex 14:24-25), and the charioteers decide to cease the pursuit.

Another tradition (Ex 15:19) is that the Israelites were crossing a sort of ford but the Egyptian chariots drove headstrong into the sea, presumably expecting it to be shallow but it was deep, and “the Lord brought the waters of the sea upon them” and the charioteers and their officers drowned. Here, the appearance of Mesopotamian words meaning “abyss” and “depth” betrays again that the authors were from Mesopotamia and suggest that this was the original version.

Considering that this was written in Ptolemaic Egypt not earlier than 300 BC, it is curious that Alexander the Great had an identical experience when he set out to conquer Asia about thirty years before! Josephus says of Alexander and his army moving along the coast of Asia Minor:

The Pamphylian Sea retired and afforded them a passage through itself, when they had no other way to go.
Josephus, Antiquities (Whiston) 2:16:5

 

In his notes, Whiston preserves the accounts of the four earlier authors who record this event. Callisthenes wrote, according to Eustathius:

The Pamphylian Sea did not only open a passage for Alexander, but, by rising and elevating its waters, did pay homage as its king.

 

Strabo’s account is:

Now about Phaselis is that narrow passage, about the sea side, through which Alexander led his army. There is a mountain called Climax, which adjoins to the Sea of Pamphylia, leaving a narrow passage on the shore, which, in calm weather, is bare, so as be passable by travellers. But when the sea overflows, it is covered to a great degree by the waves. Now then the ascent by the mountains being round about and steep, in still weather they make use of the road along the coast. But Alexander fell into the winter season, and committing himself chiefly to fortune, he marched on before the waves retired; and so it happened that they were a whole day in journeying over it, and were under water up to the navel.

 

Arrian’s acount is this:

When Alexander removed from Phaselis, he sent some part of his army over the mountains to Perga, which road the Thracians showed him. A difficult way it was, but short. However, he himself conducted those that were with him by the sea-shore. This road is impassable at any other time than when the north wind blows. But if the south wind prevail, there is no passing by the shore. Now at this time, after strong south winds, a north wind blew, and that not without the Divine Providence (as both he and they that were with him supposed), and afforded him as easy and quick passage.

 

Appian, comparing Caesar and Alexander said:

They both depended on their boldness and fortune, as much as their skill in war. As an instance of which, Alexander journeyed over a country without water in the heat of the summer to the oracle of Hammon, and quickly passed over the Bay of Pamphylia, when, by divine providence the sea was cut off.

 

An even earlier example, recently found but unknown to Whiston, was Sargon’s boast:

But I, Sargon… led my army over the Tigris and the Euphrates at the peak of the flood, the spring flood, as dry ground.

 

Biblicists will say that the original one was that of Moses, having been dated by the chronology of the bible to the second millennium BC. Believers will, of course, believe, but there is no ground for it. Alexander seems to have really done it and been the model for the biblical parting of the sea.

The Sinai wanderings contain nothing to prove them as anything other than mythical.

The story after the miracle, from the Sea to Kadesh, is full of names of places touched on during the journey. They are all, without exception, unknown.
J A Soggin

 

The number of Israelites is impossible. Most of the place names in the narrative no longer exist, or rather never did. Archaeology offers no support for any of the places, even when they seem identifiable. When the Israelis occupied Sinai, from 1967 to 1982, they feverishly sought evidence of Moses and the Israelite wanderings. Under the pretence of doing salvage excavations to save sites from potential destruction, thousands of sites were examined and surveyed. Not a matzah of evidence was found of the mass exodus.

In going into Sinai, the Israelites were not escaping from Egypt. Archaeologist, Eliezer Oren, found that Egypt and Canaan were not separated by an an almost impassable desert. The coastal strip from the Delta into Philistia was a ribbon development, a stretched out city, a busy route that had become almost urbanised along its whole length. The Sinai peninsula itself was part of Egypt, was economically important, was the entrance to Egypt from Asia, and so was well fortified and patrolled by the Egyptian army. People moved back and forth into Canaan from Egypt. Pottery found was a mixture of Egyptian and Canaanite. The grave goods found in the characteristic beehive shaped tombs were mixed also.

There was no barrier between Africa and Asia but a well used land bridge. It testifies that Canaan was for long an Egyptian colony, and the south of it retained cultural ties with Egypt even when the statelets there achieved their independence around 850 BC. Even the Canaanite coastal city states to the north, called Phœnicia, were manifestly within the Egyptian sphere of influence as many artefacts plainly show. Nevertheless, if Sinai was the route the escapers took, Soggin says it is certain that they went straight from the Sea of Reeds to Kadesh Barnea, and nowhere else in between.

The promulgation of the Torah at Mount Sinai is presented in detail from Exodus 19 to Numbers 10, the two books being really a single composition. Clearly linked themes occur before and after this long interpolation, showing it was plonked right in the middle of an existing account of the journey from Egypt to Canaan via Kadesh. The Sinai tradition itself was already a compilation of earlier traditions.

The incident at Sinai must therefore have been interpolated into the tradition of the direct route. The location of Mount Sinai is unknown—the extant tradition is only from the fourth century AD and, for Sinai to have been an active volcano, the story would have had to have been set in Arabia. So, it is a different tradition which, if based on history, could have come from anywhere else at all. It is impossible from the saga to identify the mountain called Sinai, but a sensible guess would be that it was really Zion, the mountain on which the Jerusalem temple was placed.

From the marking of the lintels onward, the story is meant to show how the God of Heaven had given them the land and would solve all the problems of the Israelite people. They hunger, thirst, get demoralized, turn to apostasy, get threatened, and so on, but those who remained loyal to the new god and his earthly agent would be delivered into the land of milk and honey. The story is transparently propaganda aimed at bribing and shaming people to turn to the God of Heaven, and warning them off their old deities.

The Golden Calf (Ex 32) was one of the warnings. The Canaanite religion reflected the climate of the country, according to Soggin. The Samaria ostraca of the eighth century show that Samaria was polytheistic. Theophoric names in Baal as well as Yehouah appear among the Royal officials. The people of biblical Israel seem not to have been intolerant of Baal in their religion. It follows that the intolerance must have come out of Judah, and Judah only became significant in Persian and Hellenistic times. But the bible also says that in Judah, before the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Kg 23), Baal was worshipped with Yehouah in the temple. Moreover, the figurines of Asherah and new inscriptions confirm what the fifth century Elerphantine papyri said—Yehouah had an associated goddess.

So, the original religion of the hill country was polytheistic, and among its elements undoubtedly was worship of a bull as representative of the god of storms. The rains in autumn made the land bloom, but the vegetation begins to die in the spring and by the heat of the summer only the hardy trees and shrubs were still alive, having evolved to withstand half a year’s dessication. Baal, the Canaanite fertility god who in some aspects at least was a bull, also died in the spring when the god of death, Mot, arose for the summer. The autumn rains were the “seed of Baal” that fertilized the earth and the flocks. Mot was vanquished and the people celebrated. The bible depicts this fertility religion as orgiastic, and perhaps it was, but there is no external evidence of it being so. The Canaanite Autumn and Spring festivals of Baal’s resurrection and death are the same as the Jewish festivals of Booths and Passover.

Moses complained that the Israelites built a Golden “Calf” (Ex 32), a deliberate biblical demeaning of the bull that signified the storm gods who brought rain and fertility. Yehouah was one of them. Yet, at the same time, the biblical authors maintain that Yehouah was giving instructions to his Chosen on how to build two cherubim (Ex 25:18). If one figure is idolatry, then why are the other ones not?

The two cherubs are actually the throne of Yehouah, not representations of the God himself, and that is the Judaeo-Christian excuse, but an empty throne or pedestal for an invisible god was not unusual in the ancient near east. Deities, whether gods or goddesses, are commonly depicted standing or sitting on an associated animal acting as the throne or pedestal. Garbini points out that, in the Golden Calf incident, the bull image was the throne or pedestal of the storm god. The mighty god need not be depicted, but when it was, the bull was its footstool. If both cases, bull and cherubim, were simply the throne or pedestal of the god, then Moses’s anger looks hypocritical. Moreover, Aaron, whose plan it was to build the bull, was only mildly rebuked by his brother. Is it a case of nepotism by God’s chief prophet?

The answer must be that an earlier tradition of the Moses saga was that the bull image was built legitimately, but later, this was considered as idolatry, and the cherubs were substituted expressly as a throne so that there could be no mistake. The well known trick used by priests when needing to change mythology is to tell people that they had misapprehended the myth. This happened here. The tablets of the law were what was important all along but the people had taken to the bull, which was a mistake. So, the bull incident was refashioned into an explicit error in the story.

It left Aaron, who in the original myth had encouraged the people to offer up their gold to make the bull, in limbo, but it was impossible for him to be punished as savagely as others because he had an important role in the cult, as the founder of the priesthood. So he was merely rebuked. The change of the myth also gave the mythologers the chance to bring in the Levites, a supposed tribe, but legitimised as favoured in cult matters in this revised mythical history. Only the Levites remained loyal, giving a justification for a priestly class equivalent to the Magi, while the thousands who were disloyal were murdered. Quite a severe warning, one might think.

From 2 Kings 23:5, 20; 2 Chronicles 34:5 and the massacre of 3000 people in the Golden Calf incident, some described as the brothers of the Levites, even though they were supposed to have all remained loyal, it seems that the earliest returners from exile, actually murdered the native priesthood by burning them, or an earlier priesthood of colonists was massacred by a later one. However, these are additions by the Levitical priests in the third century BC. The sheer intolerance of the Jewish God, the savagery and intolerance of His laws and the narrative savagery that the bible describes seems disgusting to religious skeptics, though Christians, who claim to have the same God, seem to think He is a god of love.

The tablets of the law in the episode of the Golden Calf had been inscribed on both surfaces, and were easily broken. Stone tablets were normally inscribed on one surface, being intended to be rested against or built into a structure as a monument, and would have needed a mallet to break. These were not stone tablets but the baked clay tablets used for inscribing cuneiform letters in Mesopotamia. The author was thinking in terms of Mesopotamian practices. When Moses arrived from Sinai with the covenant written on clay tablets, the revised story was that he found the Israelites apostatizing by reverting to the worship of a calf, so he broke the tablets, the Mesopotamian way of formally breaking a contract.

What is most remarkable, Garbini points out, is that no other oriental codex “from the Sumerian to that of Hammurabi, from the Assyrian to the Hittite” lays down laws of religious belief. While Exodus and Leviticus lays down the death penalty for any number of religious misdemeanours, equivalent legal systems of other countries in the ancient near east do not even mention religion.

The reason is the very polytheism of these countries and times that the monotheists hate. Polytheistic societies did not prescribe who or how people should worship. Towns or nations might have been under the protection of a specific god, but that was no excuse to offend all the others with the risk of divine vengence despite the protection of their particular lord. Kings of countries were confident of the general piety of the people, and need not penalise them for worshipping this god or that. They could use any or all of them for their political purposes. Only a country working to impose a particular god, or type of god, needed to enforce it in law, and this could not have happened in Palestine until after the Persian conquest.

 

 

Continue:

 

Moses And the Exodus (Part II)

 

 

Top of Page

 
 

my_Iran.jpg (13682 bytes)

"History is the Light on the Path to Future"

 

Persian_NOT_Farsi_by_Shapour_Suren-Pahlav_3D2.gif (177309 bytes)


 

Encyclopaedia Iranica


BIPS.jpg (15695 bytes)

The British Institute of Persian Studies


"Persepolis Reconstructed"

Persepolis_reconstructed2.jpg (36944 bytes)

Persepolis3D


The British Museum


The Royal

Asiatic Society


Persian_Gulf_Facebook.jpg (1935028 bytes)

The Persian Gulf

Facebook Page




Please use your "Back" button (top left) to return to the previous page

Copyright © 1998-2015 The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)