The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
PERSIA & CREATION OF JUDAISM
Book 4. Sacred History or Phoney History?
Patriarchs Or “Returners ?”
No Contemporary References
George W Ramsey (The Quest for the Historical Israel ) says:
Outright verification of the patriarchal stories is hardly to be expected. The happenings narrated in these stories are simply not the kind which would likely find mention in any public record.
Indeed they are not, because they are apparently personal stories, that could not have been seen as matters of state at the time. But this professor of Presbytarian Christianity whose book is as fair a survey as you will get from a Christian, cannot see that they are actually in the most public record that has ever been published, though they should not be. Believers will say it is God’s finger at work stirring human affairs once more, but reasonable people will see them as myths. The very point Ramsey makes classifies these stories as myths.
Genesis has no contemporary references. The names of Pharaohs are not given in the stories of Abram and Joseph, so offer no clues as to dates. T L Thompson and J van Seters have independently shown that nothing identifiable in the way of place names, ethnic groups, or individuals pertain to the period before the monarchy. None of the events of the Patriarchs or the Exodus can be found in ancient texts or in the earth. There is no archaeological proof of any migration into Canaan at that time, the evidence for any migration of Amorites is flimsy and Abram is not a nomad but a man who deliberately uproots himself—once and for all, not regularly—at God’s command!
Beersheba, Hebron, Shechem, Bethel and other places in the Promised Land did not exist as early as the supposed second millennium migrations. Some other places existed but were deserted at this time and were not reoccupied until the first millennium. The time when they were all occupied simultaneously was the first millennium. We have to conclude that none of the detail is traceable exclusively to the second millennium, and much of it demands a knowledge of later history. Genesis could have just as easily have been written in 500 BC and reflecting only the conditions as they were then known.
The allusions to later history in the patriarchal stories show that they were written with knowledge of it. Abram’s stay with the Philistines (Gen 20:1-18) is anachronistic. It could not have happened before about 1200 BC. The name of the Philistine ruler, Abimelech, is Semitic implying that the Philistines had been settled long enough to have assimilated with the local Semitic population. It implies a much later composition—in the fifth century BC not the eighteenth or earlier. Another notable anachronism is that Dan is mentioned supposedly 1000 years before it existed (Gen 14:14).
The story of the four eastern kings and the five cities of the Dead Sea (Gen 14) is mythical or thoroughly corrupted. Chedorlaomar is an acceptable name for an Elamite king (Kudur-lagomar), and Hurrian kings called Arriuka (Arioch) are known, and both could have been known by the Persians—the Elamites provided them with scribes and the Assyrian archives would have given information about Hurrian kings. Similarly Tidal might be any one of three Hittite kings called Tudhaliya, but Goiim is not a country but simply means “gentiles” and Amraphel, king of Shinar, once thought to have been Hammurabi cannot be identified, and nor can Ellasar, though it was once thought to have been the Babylonian city of Larsa. No period in history can be found when any coalition of these named kings was possible. Inasmuch as anything can be had from it, the only time Elam would have undertaken a joint mission with other eastern kings was under the confederation led by the Chaldian kings of Urartu against Assyria. The cities are all destroyed by God and no traces of them have ever been found. The real reason is that they were not there in the first place!
The slime mentioned is oil or oily pitch. Bitumen can be found in the Dead Sea but oil can be more readily found in the oil bearing regions of Mesopotamia. Ignition of oil saturated land or waterways might also offer an explanation of the destroying conflagration. Shinab, the king of Admah, is cognate with Sinabu in Babylonian, meaning the god “Sin is father”. Admah is the same as Adam, meaning red and mud, appropriate descriptions of the country of Mesopotamia. Gomorrha might be a corruption of Cimmeria, briefly allies of the Chaldians of Urartu. The chances are that a fragment of a story of an uprising in Mesopotamia has been transferred to the valley of the Dead Sea in Palestine. Since the story is presented as a rebellion against the thirteen year rule of the king of Elam, the scholars should be looking to cities that were possibly under the suzerainity of Elam, about the time that Persia became strong. Elam, like many other places in the ancient near east, suffered a 400 year “Dark Age” so the scholars have an excuse not to succeed Comment. But Elamites were certainly in the conquering armies of people like the Assyrians and the Persians.
The four kings are called kings of the east, but, in Judah, they would have been called kings of the north, the “eastern” invaders all coming from the north into Palestine. It is again a small clue that ties in with the association of Abraham with Syria. In Syria, there was an ancient city called Sidimu, and the eastern kings actually came from the east! Any alliance that could fit the situation was most likely an alliance of the Aramaean statelets against the conquering Assyrians. Josephus, in Antiquities (1:9 to 1:11), does not doubt that Sodom flourished when the Assyrians were dominant, and he readily has Abram fighting against them, thus repositioning him in history, compared with Genesis, from the second millennium to the first.
Sodom and Gomorrah in the mythological timescale of the Jewish scriptures were destroyed in the second millennium BC. R T Schaub and W Rast spent 15 years excavating about 30 ruins around the Dead Sea hoping to find Sodom and Gomorrah. Two towns to the south east of the Dead Sea had been spectacularly abandoned about 2350 BC. They were Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira, the latter of which was burnt up in a fierce conflagration in the season of the grape harvest for carbonized grape skins were found in the ashes. No human remains or small items were found, and the doorways at Numeira had been deliberately blocked with stones, so the people had had time to prepare for the disaster and to escape it with their belongings. Even so, they never returned. The ruined towns remained visible for centuries, looking as if they had been cursed by God. The biblical story could therefore have begun as an explanation of these ancient ruins that had passed into folklore.
But references particularly in the prophets (Isa 1:8-10; Ezek 16:46) give them a more contemporary sound, and it seems a more contemporary incident was set into the past using this old tale. Much of the bible has been written in this way, and the destruction of the cities of the plain meant in Genesis 14 and 19 might have really happened during the Assyrian period, or later still. In Ezekiel 16:46, Yehouah compares and contrasts Jerusalem with Samaria, a historical place, and with Sodom! Yehouah harangues Jerusalem for her harlotry and wickedness:
And thine elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell at thy left hand, and thy younger sister, that dwelleth at thy right hand, is Sodom and her daughters.
Jerusalem’s elder sister, Samaria, lived to the north (to the left hand facing the rising sun), and her younger sister, Sodom, lived to the south. Samaria fell in the eighth century BC, but Sodom is supposed to have been destroyed by a catastrophe a millennium earlier. The biblical chronology has Sodom destroyed long before Samaria is founded! Moreover, here Sodom is younger than Jerusalem! Biblicists accept the biblical chronology that places Sodom in Genesis contemporary with Abraham, while this much more explicit passage putting Sodom contemporary with eighth century Jerusalem and Samaria is ignored. This Sodom is a city of a state neighbouring Jerusalem just as Samaria was.
Genesis seems to have omitted the true cause for Yehouah’s vengeance in Genesis 19, and put in a differently angled account of it in Genesis 14. Yehouah typically in the bible punished the sin of His people through conquest, and the conflagration that followed. The sin of the Sodomites is far from clear, although Christians always know these things, so what could it realistically have been? It is that the Jews had broken a treaty that Yehouah must have been called upon to witness because it was the practice of the time to invoke the gods to witness solemn treaties. Assyrian royal inscriptions described the situation of Genesis 14. A city or small country is forced into vassalage to the Assyrians. The king pays a heavy tribute, but later, perhaps at the death of the Assyrian monarch, he forms an alliance with like-minded rulers of neighbouring statelets and the enemies of the Assyrians, and refuses tribute. The outcome is that the Assyrian monarch arranges a punitive expedition, sets out against the allies, and savages them, extracting the tribute by force and deporting the people.
Assyrian punitive expeditions had been commonplace in the final decades of the eighth century. Tiglath-pileser, Shalmanesar V, and Sargon had all come south with armies to punish “sin”—the breaking of these treaties. Bera was a king of Sodom (Gen 14:2), and, by coincidence, Beerah was a prince of the Reubenites carried off by Tiglath-pileser (1 Chr 5:6) for wickedness similar to that of the Sodomites. Tiglath-pileser deported the three tribes supposedly east of the Jordan river, the Reubenites, Gad and Manasseh. Ezekiel 16 recalls “the captivity of the daughters of Sodom”, where “daughters” is used as part of an extended metaphor meaning the people of the city. They had been taken into captivity. Samaria had fallen, and the Transjordan too. Was this latter the place where the cities of the plain really were? It is at least a plain, which the coasts of the Dead Sea are not. A flaw in the idea that Sodom was destroyed by the Assyrians is that Assyrian sources do not refer to it, whereas they do mention Damascus, Hamath, Samaria, and Jerusalem. In reply, one can ask whether anyone had seriously looked, since the view that Sodom was destroyed a thousand years earlier is all pervasive. The Assyrians might also have had a different name for the city just as they had a different name for Israel (Bit Khumri), or the Jews might have given the city a false name out of the shame of it, as they did to shameful people. The colonists might have transferred the name of the northern town of Sidimu, already destroyed and legendary, to a southern one destroyed by the Assyrians in similar fashion.
At the end of the eighth century BC, Sennacherib sent a large army to punish the rebellious Aramaean kingdoms including Judah, eventually sieging Hezekiah in Jerusalem and extracting a large settlement by way of tribute, but first he destroyed 43 other cities in the region, often by fire, for sharing the sin—they had reneged on treaties witnessed by the gods. Dependent kingdoms that refused to pay the agreed tribute—the sinners of the Assyrian kings—were destroyed commonly by fire. So, the details of the military defeat of Sodom in Genesis 14 may have been inspired by Sennacherib’s Dead Sea campaign in 701 BC, confirmed archaeologically at Engedi, Qumran, and neighbouring sites. Father De Vaux found evidence that Qumran was an important place in the Assyrian period until about the seventh century BC, when it was utterly destroyed by fire.
Yehouah raining fire from heaven on the cities of the plain uses imagery popular with the Assyrian kings in their vassalage treaties. The gods of both sides are called upon to “let it rain burning coals in your land instead of dew”, if the vassal revoked the treaty unilaterally. Biblical disasters inflicted by foreign powers were typically punishments of Yehouah, for the biblical authors. Like the Romans at Carthage, Assyrian rulers razed rebellious cities, spread the site with salt and sulphur, and sowed their fields with thistles, leaving desolation. When, in Genesis 19, Yehouah rained fire and sulphur on the wicked cities and left them desolate, He had used the foreigner to serve up the punishment agreed by the parties to the vassalage treaties. The conquering Assyrians blamed the people’s own god for such punishments, as did the Persians. Thus, Rab Shakah, at the walls of besieged Jerusalem, said Yehouah told Sennacherib to punish Judah—Isaiah agreed.
The names of the kings aligned against the cities of the plains might simply reflect the cosmopolitan nature of Assyrian armies. According to the author of Isaiah (Isa 22:6), Elamites fought for the Assyrians. Contingents from conquered nations like Shinar, and Elam were at the Assyrian seige of Jerusalem in 701, and, Ezra says that Osnapper (Assurbanipal) later deported Elamites into Samaria. The four kings were perhaps generals of Sennacherib’s foreign contingents.
The object of the story, for the authors, is to establish that the “returner”, Abram, was wealthy and would pay tithes of a tenth to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Jerusalem (Salem) even though Jerusalem was supposed at this time to have been a foreign city having no connexion with Yehouah! Melchizedek is usually read as meaning “My King is Righteous” but since Zedek is the name of the planet Jupiter in Hebrew, and Jupiter is the God of Heaven (Zeus to the Greeks and Dyaus Pitar to the early Aryans), the reading is equally “My king is the God of Heaven”, that is the Persian god, Ahuramazda. It also allows Yehouah to be granted the title El Elyon, illustrating the syncretistic nature of the bible and the syncretistic intent of the Persians in propagating it. El Elyon was the name used by the Phœnicians of their high gods. Phœnicians were also Hebrews—they too lived in Abarnahara! In an equal way, Yehouah is called, by Abraham, El Shaddai (“Almighty”), drawing in to His worship some other group of Hebrews, and in Psalms 91:1 El Elyon and El Shaddai are joined in poetic parallel to equate the two titles.
The first Hebrew in the biblical scheme pays tithes to the foreign king and in return gets a blessing and apparently a Eucharist! This was the view of the rabbis in the Targums:
Now Melkhizedek, king of Jerusalem, brought out bread and wine, for he was ministering [or, “for he was a priest ministering in the high priesthood”] before God Most High.
Neither Abram nor his god, Yehouah, seem to mind this in the least even though Yehouah was to become noted as a jealous and petulant god. Christians would have burnt down this king’s temple rather than share bread and wine sanctified by a Pagan god, and any blessing by such a god would have been considered a curse. There has to be lessons here for somebody, but these people always know better than their supposedly holy books in the end! What is worth noting, though, is that a eucharist-like ritual was recorded in the most ancient of times, according to the bible itself. What then did Jesus institute at the Last Supper?
Both Abraham and Sarah speak directly to God, Sarah being the only woman to whom God deigns to speak. And the conversations are like those of the Greek Olympians. Abraham has to reason with Yehouah, and persuade him not to act hastily (Gen 18:23f)! Later, death is to be in “Abrahams’s bosom”, surely strong evidence that Abraham was regarded as God!
Deliberate mistranslations abound, as they do commonly in the scriptures, to show that God was monotheistic. The “plain(s) of Mamre” (Gen 13:18; 18:1) is the oaks of Mamre in the Revised Version, but they are Terebinth trees which were used by their distinctive shape and perhaps properties to mark sacred shrines. The shrine existed before Abraham got there because they were marked by these trees, and here then Abraham set up his altar to Yehouah. Either these sites were, or had been polytheistic sites available for people to worship the god of their choosing, or this signifies that Abraham rededicated a Pagan site to his own god. It is again a reflexion of the El-Yehouah conflict. The same is true of the planting of a “grove” in Beersheba (Gen 21:33). A grove was an Asherah, a standing stone or pole that was worshipped as a god!
The way the authors use words like Amorite, Hittite, Horite, and Canaanite, not in an ethnic way but to describe people regionally (Gen 12:16; 15:20; 21; 23:3; 24:3), is typical of the last millennium BC use when the original people had disappeared or been absorbed but regions remained with their tag. The Assyrians used these names to mean respectively Syrians, Phœnicians, Palestinians and dwellers on the east bank of the Jordan river. The use of the words Aramaean and Chaldaean similarly imply a late composition.
Biblicists have surprisingly uncritical outlooks. They judge that the accounts of the travels of the Patriarchs sound authentic historically, and immediately conclude that therefore they are. Given The Last Days of Pompeii by Lord Litten, they would conclude that it sounds authentic and so was a contemporary work of Pliny the Elder. It is an example of the “congenial context” argument popular among believers. If a biblical account has some features that allow it to be fitted into a historical context, it is taken as evidence that the account is true. The argument might have some power when the criteria are sufficiently unique, but they never are. All you can say about the context of biblical stories is that they are BC. Only a few like the Book of Daniel give information allowing a precise date and that date is 400 years after the date supposed from its contents.
In 1977, Italian archaeologists, quite unexpectedly—showing that archaeology can still be exciting and that there is still plenty new to find—discovered a huge palace archive, one of the oldest state archives in the world, containing 15,000 inscribed clay tablets. They revealed an unknown but mighty Canaanite empire in Syria and Palestine around 2400 BC. Its capital was at Ebla, 30 miles from Aleppo, an enormous city for the time with a population of 250,000 people. The tablets mentioned Hazor, Gaza, Lachish, Megiddo, Akko, Sinai, Jerusalem (Urusalima), and Damascus thus proving that this ancient city was even older than anyone had suspected. By coincidence, a mosque in Damascus was being renovated at almost the same time and an arch found beneath the floor was dated to the third millennium, matching the Ebla date.
Biblicists got excited when they found names such as Ab-ra-mu (Abraham), E-sa-um (Esau), Ish-ma-ilu (Ishmael), even Is-ra-ilu (Israel), and Da-u-dum (David) and Sa-u-lum (Saul). A king of Ebla was called Ebrum, whom the excavator of Ebla, Giovanni Petinato, identified as the biblical Eber. He might as well have chosen to identify him with Abram himself.
Biblicists also find proof of the travels of Abram in the tablets found at Nuzi and Mari in Assyria, concluding again that the patriarchal accounts are second millennium BC. Mari or Tell Hariri, the ancient Near Eastern city-state, is on the Euphrates River between Harran and Ur. By the sixth century BC, Mari was only a small village, but beneath it, palaces had been built one on another for over a thousand years, from the Pre-Sargonic to the Old Babylonian periods. The palace compound covers over seven acres. Around 2250-2100 BC, temples were to Dagan and Ninharsug. Temples to Ishtar and a ziggurat have also been found.
Twenty thousand tablets and a some inscriptions have been unearthed. The language of the texts is Akkadian, and they are from the time of the last three kings of Mari, from 1800-1750 BC, ending when Hammurabi conquered the city in the thirty-fourth year of his reign. Only a quarter of the texts have been published. Scholars have hardly scratched the data yet.
Biblicists were seeing parallels in names between Genesis and names in the Mari tablets all over the place, but all are now rejected. They even claimed to have found a tribe of Benjamin. There are parallels between the tablets of Mari and the information in Genesis pertaining to Abraham, but mostly they reflect what was common to the way of life and the language of Semites in the Near East for millennia. Biblicists ignore entirely the fact that customs and habits changed only slowly until modern times. The same customs and and habits have been found in records from the time of the new Assyrian empire, almost a thousand years later. They cannot be used to support the truth of the story of Abraham’s wanderings, though dishonest evangelists still try, depending on their audience bowing to evangelical authority.
Biblicists point to the name “Ishmael”, the same as that of a son of Abraham by his slave Hagar, in the Mari texts, but will not comment on the absence of Isaac. In any case, the use of a biblical name does not prove the historicity of the biblical story, only that such a name was used. The authors of Genesis would hardly have used names that were obviously anachronistic like Darius or Ptolemy. They were diplomats or senior officials and would have had access to the records of Assyria and Babylon, so could have written a convincing fiction. That the names, “Serug”, “Nahor”, “Terah”, “Harran”, and “Laban”, for districts and towns near Harran occur at Mari simply shows that places had the same names for a long time.
A migration from Ur at the time of Abraham is feasible, but so it was both before and after, for millennia. The city Harran is found in the Mari archives of the eighteenth century BC, in the Cappadocian tablets of the twentieth and nineteenth centuries BC, and in the early Babylonian itineraries, but still had the same name into the Roman period. The word “harranu” means “highway”, or “journey” in Akkadian, and the word “Padanu” also means “road” in Assyrian, showing that the city grew up and existed because it was on the caravan route. Harran and biblical Paddan Aram could have been the same place.
Mari texts confirm that trade occurred from Mari into Mesopotamia and to the Mediterranean, but who doubted it? Few people doubted that people could travel from Ur in old Sumer to Palestine. The question is whether the saga of Abraham is true history. Reiterating all the evidence from Mari that they traded with Ugarit, destroyed in 1200 BC, but beforehand a well known trading centre for caravan and shipping merchants, and with Ur is empty. The Mari tablets show that trade routes spanned the route taken by Abraham but that proves nothing about the truth of the bible story. The time people did move from Syria to Palestine was under the Persians.
Nor is anything proved by showing parallels between words used at Mari and in the Hebrew of the Jewish scriptures. Both are Semitic languages. There are many, many such parallels. A phrase in the texts is “by the god of my father”, the faith and religion of the patriarchs. But it is a neutral phrase used because the society was polytheistic.
The temple at Harran was to the moon god, Sin, who was also worshipped at Ur. If Abraham came from those places at that time then it is odds on that he too worshipped Sin. The name “Laban” means “white” referring to the white moon, “Sarah-Sarai” is “Sarratu” in Akkadian and means “princess” referring to the goddess Ningal, wife of the moon god Sin. The word “Baal” was not used by the patriarchs, though it appears at Mari. We can take it that the “returners” did not worship Baal but came across him when they arrived in Canaan.
Evangelists like to use these parallels even though they know they are meaningless because their flocks are ignorant and easily persuaded by a smattering of historical knowledge whether it is valid or not.
Much is made of Sarai providing a slave girl for her husband. The childless wife Sarai (Gen 16:1-4; 30:1-8) invites her husband to copulate with a slave girl so that she can have children. In ancient Mesopotamia, priestesses were permitted to procure slave girls for their husbands because priestesses were obliged to remain virgins. Genesis does not suggest that these childless women are priestesses—they are childless because they are old and infertile. Once you accept that these women might have been priestesses, you have to consider that these are stories adapted from myths used in these ancient religions.
The Albrightians thought they had found the biblical practice in the tablets found at Nuzi from early in the second millennium. Nuzi for some time seems to have been the capital of Mitanni, a nation named after its ruling class but otherwise identified with the Huri, Hurrians or biblical Horites. Harran was part of this country for some time before it was replaced by the rise of the Hittites. The ruling Mitanni were Aryans, possibly the same people, at an earlier time, as the Medes. “Abraham” sounds curiously like the Aryan god “Brahman”, offering as a possibility that Abraham was an god or ancestor of the Hurrians remembered in Harran.
In the Nuzi tablets, the law specified that a marriage favoured with children prevented a husband from taking a second wife but, when the marriage was childless, the woman could procure a slave girl as her husband’s concubine. The law seems to be to ensure that the husband has heirs not so that the wife can act as a mother to her slave’s children. And the inheritance reverts back to any natural children born of the wife even if they are younger than the children to the concubine. But in Genesis, the children of the slave woman are still considered as heirs and Sarah fears that the “son of the slave woman” will be “heir with my son Isaac”.
Moreover, the biblical law did not only pertain to a childless wife because Nahor takes a concubine even though his wife had given him eight children (Gen 22:20-24). Jacob’s wife Leah also presses him to take a concubine, though she too had children. The Nuzi tablets are records of marriage contracts so they are private agreements not civic law but none of them match the arrangements in Genesis.
The best that can be concluded is that they are of a type that was known at Nuzi, but also elsewhere in Mesopotamia and at a later date. Similar practices are attested in records from Nimrud in Assyria only a century before the “return from exile”. They suggest a Mesopotamian provenance for the practices and little more, but the strong links that the customs and language of the scriptures have with the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians puts their composition in the mid-first millennium BC.
The stories of Abraham and Isaac passing off their wives as sisters (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-18; 24:1-11) has been found in the Nuzi tablets, the Biblicists said. More careful or more honest scholars have found these identifications spurious. The claim was that the stories in Genesis were half remembered cases of a Nuzi practice of men adopting their wives as sisters to improve their security and status. None of the tablets had any case of a man adopting his wife as a sister while she remained his wife. A man adopted a woman as his sister it seems to formalize a divorce to allow her to marry another man, not himself.
The hint of the Genesis tales is perhaps at the Egyptian matrilineal inheritance of kingship being adopted by the Patriarchs in Egypt from their mentors. It was an incestuous practice that the new God of Heaven would not approve of and, in a later recension, it was disguised as a ploy rather than an Egyptian practice too disgraceful for a Patriarch.
Incidentally, the practice of Christian translators to disregard the words of their God as too crude shows that they have no religious scruples in the least about altering the inspired words of God when it suits their prudish mentality. The example here is at Genesis 24:2 when Abraham says to his servant get a hold of “my testicles” and swear by them. The root of the word “testicles” is the same as that of “testify” and “testament” precisely because this is the well known ancient way of making a pact. What do those lovers of the words of God write?
Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh.
Christians are not squemish about their loving God when he is accepting young girls as a sacrifice or advocating murder, rapine and pillaging for His Chosen but for someone to hold another man’s testicles—that is too much for them to bear, so even God’s word has to be bowdlerized.
Biblicists have claimed that every element of the peculiar relationship of Laban and Jacob (Gen 29-31) was fully explained by a Nuzi tablet that was an adoption contract. The trouble is that the only part of the contract that was certainly matched in the Genesis account, that the adopted son should have no wives other than the ones agreed, was a universal specification over a long period in such contracts in the Near East. For the rest, Jacob had to work off the bride price of Laban’s two daughters—a total of fourteen years service—showing that he was not adopted by his uncle. Nor does Jacob ever regard Laban as his father—Isaac was his father and Laban his father-in-law and his employer. Jacob shows no desire to remain with his adoptive father as he should have—an adoption was intended to give security to both parties, the adopted in becoming the heir and the adopter in being provided for by his son.
Many of the supposed parallels of the Biblicists have only been achieved by a brazen bending of both the biblical and the external evidence to make them fit. J M Miller has compared it to the old tramp in Mutt and Jeff saying to his companion, “If we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs… If we had some eggs”. The plain truth is that the Biblicists have neither ham nor eggs but still claim that they are having ham and eggs.
Rachel’s theft of the household gods looks close to a passage in a Nuzi contract that bequeaths the gods to a natural son, should one arise, rather than the adopted son. The implication of Genesis would have to be that Jacob had lost this part of his inheritance because Laban had had a natural son after adopting Jacob. Note the ham and eggs approach of making assumptions to produce the imaginary ham and eggs.
More reasonably, a god that has to be protected by an unclean woman sitting on it is not much of a god! The menstrual Rachel protecting the family gods made them look ridiculous compared with the God of Heaven, who was the one who did any sitting on people that had to be done. It can only have meant anything if the worshippers of family gods were being denigrated by the worshippers of the God of Heaven—when the Persian administrators set out to impose Ahuramazda on to the Canaanites.
Abraham’s purchase of a grave site from Ephron the Hittite (Gen 23) supposedly reflects Hittite feudal law, but such laws are general to feudal societies and “Hittite”, at the time of the Persian imposition, was synonymous with someone living in northern Canaan, whether Canaanite, Hittite or Aramaean. That will be what is meant because the incident closely resembles the “dialogue documents” of the New Babylonian and Persian periods that record negotiations of this type.
T L Thompson and J van Seters have shown that every instance used to justify the Patriarchal sagas from the Nuzi tablets is false. Each instance is explained better by Mesopotamian laws and customs of the first millennium BC not the earlier records, particularly the status of family law in these societies. From a meticulous examination of the biblical stories of Abraham and the other patriarchs, they had to conclude the stories were written in the fifth century during the Persian period. Oded Lipschitz of Tel Aviv University agrees that the circumstances described in the Abraham narrative applies to the Babylonian and Persian periods, the time of the return from captivity, when Judah was only Jerusalem and a small surrounding area. Many of the Persian colonists came from Urartu and northern Syria, into Yehud to set up the temple state, and they allegorized their migration in the patriarchal stories in which some of their own national heroes or gods represented themselves as people.
In Abraham and Lot dividing the land, the division is between gods not between men. The valley as far as the wicked city of Sodom is Lot’s domain while Abraham bases himself in the hills at Hebron. The “Father of the Heights” is in the heights and the rival god, Lot, is in the depths below. The implication is the contrast between a god of this world and a god of the nether world. The Babylonians had a god called Loz who was a co-ruler of the underworld with Nergal and his consort Ereshkigal, unless it was another name for Nergal, who was also called Lugalmeslam or king of Meslam. Meslam was the underworld, where the sun went at night. Furthermore, Lotan was another name for Leviathan, the monster of the deep, identifiable in Psalms 74 with the Tehom (Tiamat) of Genesis 1:2. So, although Lot and Abraham are shown as having amicable relations together, we are seeing a diluted version of the struggle between the upper and the lower regions of creation. Naturally the men who chose to serve Lot in his city of Sodom were the wicked who would be destroyed at the Eschaton. And so they were.
Professor Sayce, the Assyrialogist, tells us that the sentence about raining fire and brimstone in the tale of Sodom and Gomorrha appears in an Akkadian hymn addressed probably to the air God, Rimmon.
In the Zoroastrian eschaton, the “divas”, the heathen gods, are destroyed with Angra Mainyu. Later, Angra Mainyu as Ahriman was shown as a lion-headed serpent. In Babylon, the Persians associated this concept of chaos with the native legend of Tiamat, the chaotic deep. In Judaism, the serpent is Leviathan (Rehob):
In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.
A steward of Abraham is mentioned (Gen 15:2) called Dammasek Eliezer, who was to be his heir since he had no children. Though the name is often translated “Eliezer of Damascus”, everyone knows it does not and cannot mean this. The steward had nothing to do with Damascus because he was born in Abraham’s family. The Septuagint and the Syriac are no help here because they also have no idea what the original meant. The straightforward explanation is that Abraham’s steward is not Dammesek but Hammilk, the “king” Eliezer!
Actual human kings were considered to have been appointed by the local god and so stood for him on earth. John Gray in Near Eastern Mythology says that in Canaan, the king is the Servant of El, just as King David was the Servant of God. The status of the king is that of the executive of the will of the divine king—the god. Abraham was the god and Eliezer was his steward, the king! In Deuteronomy, each nation has its god in El’s council in heaven and, in Isaiah 24:21-23, the “kings of the earth” were to be punished with the “host of heaven” “on that day”. The enemies of the Jews are “the kings”, and “kings and nations”. Hammilk was also a Phœnician god, so here again their are several layers of syncretism.
Abraham is the case of a popular god brought down to earth as a hero in the interests of syncretistic monotheism. Here he is made the heroic and perhaps eponymous founder of the Hebrew people. His original worshippers could retain their allegiance to the hero as the Pagans did to their Pagan gods made into Christian saints, and at the same time indirectly transfer their worship to Abraham’s own god, Yehouah.
In his commentary in Peake, Hooke thinks the covenant ritual of Abraham (Gen 17) survived until Jeremiah (Jer 34:18), apparently not even imagining that it had been retrojected into the modified mythology of the Abraham narratives. He notes a similar ritual between Ahur-nirari and the Syrian king, Mati-Ilu (which might be read as “My Land is God’s”) The cleverest biblical scholars are so blinkered by their acceptance of the biblical stories as unquestionably presented by God, even if he has not sought freshness but has reused ancient myths of Pagan gods, that they simply cannot see that the Jewish scriptures are simply an expansion on a fifth century treaty imposed on the Jews by the Persians.
The ritual is marked at this point by the institution of circumcision as a token of the covenant. This however is from the Priest’s Code and is part of the later redacting. The bible has other explanations (Josh 5:2-9, Ex 4:24-26). Uncritical readers of the bible must think that circumcision in the ANE was a peculiarity of the Hebrews, instructed by God to use this curious form of mutilation to ditinguish themselves from others. It is yet another example of the ineptitude of the Holy Ghost.
Circumcision was a widespread ritual in many parts of the world but not among the northern tribes who constituted the Indo-European race and the Mongols. The Egyptians and the Phœncians, both superior civilisations to the Israelites, and respectively their southern and northern neigbours themselves used circumcision as a religious ritual and cultural mark.
The Persians did not circumcise at first, and nor did the Greeks, although Dom Gregory Dix in, Jew and Greek, says, without citing his sources, that, when they took to the Aramaic language, the Persians adopted circumcision, but the Babylonians did not. If this is so, it is about the time that Darius II set up the Jewish Temple state. Darius had moved the capital to Babylon by then, at least for part of the year.
Why then was circumcision the sign of the covenant? It might have been sanctioned by the Babylonian Persian kings to distinguish worshippers of lesser gods from themselves, who did not practice it and worhipped Ahuramazda, or it might have been reintroduced by the priesthood to satisfy ancient habits—it was so well established that it had to be justified within the refashioned religion of the Jews. The passage in Exodus suggests it was of Midianite origin, possibly an admission that it was indeed approved by the Persians as a distinguishing mark, if “Midianite” is a biblical code word for “Mede”.
It seems likely that the pre-eminent worshippers of Yehouah practised circumcision because it was the habit in Canaan, and the Persians were happy for it to continue as a token substitute for child immolation. The story of Isaac being spared by Abraham justified the abandonment of child sacrifice practised by the Canaanites until the Persian period. Outside of the Persian sphere of influence, the Phœnicians seemed to have continued it—in Carthage.
In the debate between Abraham and Yehouah which occurs in Genesis 18, Abraham is treated almost as an equal by Yehouah, and, indeed, Yehoauh defers to the greater wisdom of Abraham! It suggests that Yehouah and El were perhaps the original gods in debate. Later, Yehouah was elevated into El’s seat, leaving Yehouah debating with himself. The problem seems to have been resolved by making the original El here into Abraham. Abraham seems more sensible and Yehouah more impulsive, so Abraham seems to be the original El brought down to earth. El was the “father of the gods” suggesting Abraham’s name.
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is the eschaton writ small for the purpose of this cautionary myth. Proof is that Lot’s daughters find that no men remained in the world except Lot himself. They had to couple incestuously with their father when he was drunk to regenerate humanity. Their offspring turn out as the ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites, only. The clumsy editor hopes that his readers are too stupid to notice. Most of them were! Lot had been saved by Abraham in Genesis 14 but contrived to return to Sodom and again be ruined suggesting once more that Genesis 14 was an insertion. Lot’s wife is a standing stone, an Asherah, the wife of a god, again suggesting that Lot was a god himself originally, and this myth is an explanation of it meant to deride it in the eyes of its devotees.
There are three places in Genesis where a patriarch trades his wife to a foreign king as his sister—Abraham in Egypt (Gen 12:10-20), Abraham in Gerar (Gen 20:1-18) and Isaac in Gerar (Gen 26:1-14). In the last two of them the king, Abimelech, is the same king and the situation is the same place (Gerar) suggesting that the same story has been used for two patriarchs, implying compiling by editors from other sources. Abraham’s journey to Egypt seems to have no more purpose than to allow the story to be told. It seems likely that the J editor intended to omit it in favour of using the plot for Isaac for whom he was short of material, Isaac being a fictional link between Abraham and Jacob. The E-story of Abraham in Gerar might have been the original tale because it is complete but not embellished with the famines and resultant wealth of the J versions. Doubtless all were put into the recompilation of the bible by the Maccabees after the civil war. The editors might already have seen the work they were reassembling as so sacred that they felt unable to miss out any of the fragments they found, though they had no compunction about adding what they thought was missing.
That Abraham should discard his son, Ishmael, and his housemaid mother, when Sarah became unexpectedly pregnant was a disgraceful and dishonorable thing to do, and if it were to be believed it proves that God was intent on creating strife in the world, since he is supposed to be clairvoyant. Even if it was how things were done in those days, it does not tie in with the modern concepts of honour and duty that God should also have foreseen. Since the passage justifies Jewish and Christian contempt of the Arabs, it should be rejected by any honorable people. Religious people defend it nevertheless on many spurious grounds as they can invent, but mainly because they take this unsavoury story to be God’s word! Thus, according to Hooke:
So, it’s all right then!
Isaac is little more than a link between Abram and Jacob but, if these stories have been composed late, the suggestion of human sacrifice could imply that some of the rites of the original Israelite religion of Canaan involved offering human infants as sacrifice, but that the new Persian religion rejected it. The offering of Isaac shows that the Hebrews offered child sacrifices, as we know they did, once Hebrews are accepted as the people of Abarnahara.
Sacrifice of first born sons was common in ancient Palestine. It is verified by the clay jar containing childrens bones found at Gerar in the Shephalah. Mesha of Moab sacrificed his first born to the Moabite god, Chemosh (2 Kg 3:26-27), the Phœnicians did the same as the many urns of charred infant’s bones testify, the Ammonites offered their sons to Moloch (Lev 18:21; 20:2) and the Hebrew kings, Saul (1 Sam 14:43-46), Hiel at Jericho (1 Kg 16:34), Ahaz (2 Kg 16:3) and Manasseh (2 Kg 21:6) also offered up their sons, all of them recorded in scripture apparently as warnings against the practice in the new religion.
Now, if God had signified his desire not to accept child sacrifices almost at the beginning of Jewish history, it seems strange that passages elsewhere in the scriptures show that the practice continued for over a millennium afterwards! It shows that this early passage was actually added after the practice really ceased in the Persian period. It seems likely that the Persians persuaded the people of Abarnahara, who already practised circumcision, that the ritual replaced child sacrifice. In other words, they reinterpreted the origins of circumcision to eliminate human sacrifice. The implication of the story is that the sacrifice was to take place on the temple mount but the priestly author has forgotten that Jerusalem was a city in the hands of foreigners that Abraham himself had to placate with tithes and that David took some trouble to defeat. It was not an open space.
The priestly genealogy of Ishmael has his descendants arranged into twelve tribes as the Israelites were. Solomon, we find, had twelve taxation districts (1 Kg 4:2-7,27; 5:13; 9:23). This administrative division seems to have been common in the ancient near east. The taxation system of the Egyptians under Amenhotep had twelve districts also, and it is sensible for rulers because it allows the taxation of an administrative region to be spread evenly over the year. Each of the twelve sub-divisions paying their quota of tax in different months so that none feels unduly burdened by a continuous taxation or a single payment due to all in a single month. The rulers had continuous income and the region overall paid each month, but each month it was a different “tribe” that paid so the burden occurred only annually for each.
Abraham’s purchase of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite seems anachronistic if Abraham was living around 1800 BC. The Hittites had not long been in Anatolia and were far from being a world power at that time. That a Hittite appears in Palestine in the story puts its authorship much later than it purports to be.
The story of Isaac and Rebekah has stylistic similarities with the extended romance of Joseph, and, like the story of Joseph is probably a late link—here between Abraham and Jacob. It also has the message that the colonists would not marry with the native Canaanites, not on ethic grounds but on religious ones. Isaac is not mentioned at all in the rest of the bible except in Amos. To judge by the Ebla, Nuzi and Mari tablets Isaac is not a Syrian name like the others. It looks like a form of Isaiah, and so is a late addition.
Abraham’s family is settled in Aram. Two wives of Isaac and Jacob are Aramaeans. These were myths brought with them by the people who were forcibly settled in Yehud by the Persians, and they show that the people came from Syria (Aram).
Abraham wants a wife for his son but does not want her to be a Canaanite. He sends a servant to the city of Nahor in what he calls “my country”. In the bible, the Aramaeans (Syrians) are considered the kin of the Israelites, Aram being the grandson of Nahor, Abraham’s Brother. Nahor means the river Euphrates. Nahor remained at home in Harran, so the servant has to return to Syria for a wife for Isaac. Note that Abram and Nahor, his surviving brother constitute the name Abernahara! The country translated as “Mesopotamia” (Gen 24:10) is Aram-naharaim, a name that parallels the name of the Persian satrapy of Abarnahara. “Naharaim” is a plural and so the scholars translate it as “two rivers” meaning Mesopotamia. The unbiased translation is “Aram of the rivers” and therefore means precisely that part of Syria (Aram) where there are rivers, the region of Harran and Urfa where the main river Euphrates is fed by several tributaries like the Khabur. This is exactly where the Aramaeans lived, not in Mesopotamia which the scholars say was occupied by Chaldaeans, though here they want readers to forget it.
Abram’s dead brother, Harran stands for the city that was their home in Syria. Nahor has a son, Bethuel, and grandchildren, Laban and Rebekah. The scriptures state explicitly that they lived in Harran (Gen 11:31; 27:43; 28:4,10; 29:4), also called Paddan Aram. Nahor’s children are places in Syria (Gen 22:20-24). Jacob has to retreat from Esau to Paddan Aram before returning stronger and wealthier. This suggests that an original intent to set up the temple state failed from local opposition and the colonists had to be re-equipped and reinforced. Even so, Jacob is full of trepidation, still unsure of the outcome, but the Edomites are molified in advance by propitiatory gifts.
Jacob dreams of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending. The ladder describes a zuggurat with the worshippers and ministering priests marching up and down its steps. Jacob had the dream resting his head on a stone and, having awoken, he sets the stone up as a pillar, pouring a libation of oil on it, and renaming the place as Bethel from its original name Luz. Luz might well be Loz or Lot, a Babylonian god, and the story is of its rededication to El. Jacob was obviously a giant of a man to have such a huge stone as a pillow—an Asherah or phallic stone—suggesting again that here is a story of a god brought down to earth.
Note that while God destroyed the wicked cities, Lot and his daughters sought safety in a city of refuge called Zoar—or more properly Zara, since Josephus called it Zoara and the modern name is el-Zara. The implication is that Zarathustrianism, the religion of the Persians, was a refuge for the righteous Canaanites escaping the depraved ways of the old Canaanite religions. It also suggests that Zoar was an early shrine to the new Persian version of the Canaanite god. It was denoted as a significant place in the early period of the “return” to Canaan because it was one of the landmarks noticed by Moses from Pisgah.
Genesis 36 gives a history of the Edomites, supposedly descendants of Esau, although Esau has no etymological connexion with Edom. It is probably not a Semitic word but Indo-European. The Edomites had a monarchy long before the people of the Palestinian hills, according to this account. Eight Edomite kings preceded the formation of an Israelite monarchy. In fact, the Edomites had to be displaced to make room for the temple state of Yehud, creating an antipathy against Israel that remains until today. This story recognizes that Edom existed first and Jacob taking Esau’s blessing and birthright, is an acknowledgement of it.
The conflict is also acknowledged elsewhere. In a passage added to the original folklore tales of Judges by some later priest copying Numbers 20:14-21, Edom refuses to allow the Israelites to pass to get to Canaan (Jg 11:17), and Amos 1:11-12 refers to it. All of this is quite contrary to the command of Deuteronomy 23:7, where the problem created by the creation of the temple state makes the lawmaker order that “thou shalt not abhor an Edomite for he is thy brother”. Hooke comments that this could not have been written after the exile when feeling was so bitter, but that is exactly why it was written. If Esau is Edom in the Jacob cycle then the story ends with the brothers reconciled. The Persians did not want their vassals fighting each other.
The Biblicists must think that God deliberately wrote the Jewish scriptures to look as if it were a vassalage treaty by the Persian overlords of the conquered peoples simply to test the faith of the believer. They consider it their duty to help to prove that despite its form, it is really true revelation and not a bondage contract. They hide the discrepancies between truth and the bible until they become liars without apparently noticing—such is the power of faith and a sinecure.
The Price of a Dog?
The law of the Jews was not favorably disposed to sexual activity between males, if Leviticus 18:22; 20:13 are to be believed. The warnings against the Sodomites seem to be a warning against the practices of the native Canaanite religions, which evidently included sacred prostitution. Similar warnings were placed in Joshiah, Hilkiah and Shashan (Dt 22-23). In Deuteronomy 23:18 the female prostitute and the “dog” are linked as if to female and male prostitutes:
There shall be no sanctuary woman (“qedeshah”) from the daughters of Israel,
It seems clear from the parallellism in these verses that “keleb” cannot have originally simply meant a dog, as it later did to avoid the shame. It is unreasonable to argue that ancient Israelite men alone were too godfearing to have been homosexual prostitutes, and stuck to marriage, procreation, and dominating their wives and families.
Female prostitution is mentioned often in the Jewish scriptures, but not the “dogs”. The “hire of a harlot and the price of a dog” were references to sacred prostitution of women or men. A “dog” meant a dog priest and today “dog” is used of a woman available for sex. “Dog-priests” would dress as women and allow themselves to be used in sacred sexual acts, the reason why Jewish priests could not wear women’s clothes. They used their “tails”, in the same way, and could not belong to Yehouah’s chosen people or bring offerings into Yehouah’s holy presence.
The New Jerusalem Bible, which literally translates “dog”, adds the footnote, “a contemptuous term for male prostitute”. This verse is its only occurrence in the Jewish scriptures. Though the later editors of the Jewish scriptures tried to ignore their existence, Israel had had the same practice as “the nations” in this before the Persian law. 2 Kings 23:7 implies that special quarters were available in the temple for “dog priests” before the reforms of the “returners”. The taboo on dogs in the temple will be a reflexion of this older practice.
John Barclay Burns of George Mason University on the web has reviewed the significance of dog (“keleb”) as a symbol of male passivity and perversion. The “dog” did signify a male homosexual prostitute, and shows that homosexual temple prostitution must have been happening before the law was introduced. Mesopotamian texts speak of male cult figures whose sexuality was equivocal who engaged in sex-related practices. One text refers literally to the “woman-like” who agreed to divide his earnings with the tavern-keeper presumably for being allowed to ply his trade. Taverns were permitted places of resort for prostitutes of both sexes.
The “assinnu” was a homosexual member of Ishtar’s cultic staff with whom a man had intercourse. A “zikaru” was a “real” man, a “kuluyu” was an effeminate man, and the “kurgarruhsang”, was a transvestite who acted and danced in the worship of Inanna-Ishtar. The “kuluyu” was certainly a male prostitute in the saying, “the word of the male or female prostitute of the city”. The “assinnu” lacked libido, either from a natural defect or castration, and the word was written in the cuneiform signs as “dog-woman”. However, the cognate Akkadian word for dog, “kalbu”, seems not to have been used in this way.
Fifth-century BC tariffs from the temple of Astarte in Kition, Cyprus, include the “klbm”, “dogs”, who were paid for their participation in the feast of the new moon, but the texts do not say what they are paid for. This is in contrast to Deuteronomy 23:18 where the “keleb” is forbidden to bring payment into the house of Yehouah. J C L Gibson thought the word was an alternative for “qdsh”, which he equated with the Hebrew “qadesh”, literally, “holy man”, thus a sacred male prostitute.
D W Thomas noting the parallelism, took “qadesh”, “a sacred male prostitute”, in verse 17 as the controlling word, and understood “dog” in terms of a male adherent or the devoted follower of a deity. The Amarna letters, he argued, used “kalbu”, “dog”, as a term signifying abject devotion. Abdi-Ashratu, a Canaanite kinglet, assured the Egyptian pharaoh that he was the “dog” of his house, to be construed as a loyal and devoted vassal:
The whole of Amurru land, I watch for the king my lord.
Further, a suppliant to Marduk depicted himself thus:
Like a little dog, O Marduk, I run behind thee.
Thomas also noted that the Phœnician word “klbylm”, “dog of the gods”, was parallel to “abdylm”, “servant of the gods”. He concluded that it had nothing to do with the sexual habits of dogs and had no sense of dishonour. It was a faithful follower, probably of the goddess Asherah. The authors of Deuteronomy seemed not to agree, but G von Rad and A D H Mayes did, and took both verses to mean cultic prostitution carried out by devotees but having no pejorative connotation.
O Margalith speculated that the prostitutes and the “dogs” drinking the blood of Ahab (1 Kg 22:38) meant the cult of Cybele-Dionysos, with its frenzied female and castrated male votaries, had been introduced to Israel by Jezebel and opposed by Elijah. 1 Kings 21:19 was a warning to Ahab that if he tolerated the introduction of this cult he would be its next victim, his bloody corpse devoured by the said votaries.
A collection of cuneiform tablets known as the Middle Assyrian Laws was probably made towards the end of the reign of Tiglath-pileser I (1114–1076 BC). In them passivity in a freeborn male either forced, connived at, or consented to, disgraced the passive one by categorizing him with females and slaves, while penetration demonstrated masculinity and mastery.
Laws 19-20 mention only men. If a man slanders his comrade, either out of malice or as the result of a quarrel, “everyone has sex with him”. That passive homosexual intercourse is meant here is clear from the fact that the same word is used in law 18, “everyone has sex with your wife”. The root is “naku”, used of initiating illicit sexual intercourse and so literally “fuck”. The punishment is for unproved slander, not for promiscuity, heterosexual or homosexual, and no moral or legal judgment is made on the passive partner. The juxtaposition of laws 18 and 19 shows that passivity equals femininity.
Law 20 considers homosexual acts between male equals: “If a man has sex with his comrade… ” and this is proven, then his accusers “shall have sex with him and turn him into a eunuch”. Only the active partner is punished here. “Naku” has no connotation of rape, so the law does not imply violence, but it does mean initiating illicit intercourse. One of the men was seen as the seducer, and seduction of a male equal into passive intercourse was the crime. A punishment for the passive partner is not mentioned. In Leviticus 20:13 both men are sentenced to death.
To adopt the role of the powerless was to share their state. The male who submitted to penetration was no better than a woman. Leviticus 18:22 should be understood in this context: the free Israelite adult male who permitted penetration and the one who took advantage of this reprehensible passivity were equally guilty. It was an “abomination”.
The use of the term “dog” to signify not only fidelity but also lowly, and groveling self-abasement, and to insult one’s enemies is well-known in the letters from El-Amarna and Lachish. In the Amarna letters, the great kings of Hatti, Assyria, Babylon, and Mitanni wrote as brothers. For the Canaanite vassals, the situation was different. The designation “dog” is used by the petty kinglets of Canaan to their Egyptian overlord, Amunhotep III (c 1388—1350 BC) or Akhenaten (c 1350—1338 BC). They used a standard prostration formula, “I fall at the feet of the king, my lord, 7 and 7 times”, to which was sometimes appended, “both on the stomach and on the back”.
The designation “dog” is employed as a term of insult when one king protests to the pharaoh about the actions of another: the king of Byblos, Rib-Hadda, levels a charge against the king of Amurru, Abdi-Ashirta, “what is A[bdi]-Ash[ir]ta, the dog, that he strives to take all the cities of the king”. Rib-Hadda used the term usually to slander his enemies who include his brother. On one occasion he is driven to the epithet “evil dog”. Abdi-Ashirta depicts himself positively as a watch dog who guards Amurru for the king. In the letters from Lachish (589 BC), the designation “dog” is used by an inferior greeting a superior officer, “what is your servant (but) a dog, that my lord should remember his servant.
That there was an actual image behind this canine metaphor can be seen from one particular position often assumed by the inferior before the superior—two of the tribute-bearing Syrians before the pharaoh Tutmosis III, two servants at the adoration of Ay from El-Amarna, and, Jehu of Israel submitting to the Assyrian king Shalmanezer III. The supplicant kneels with his head between his hands with raised rump. The images of the “dog” as a faithful or groveling servant or as a homosexual prostitute submitting his rear for penetration were not easily distinguished.
Professor J A Soggin has closely examined the date of the story of Joseph, and finds it is impossible to give it a contemporary date in the second millennium, when believers think it all happened. The story of Joseph is a late romance. As Soggin says, “Too many elements point to a late date of composition”. There are few signs of the cut and paste assembly that characterize much of the bible. It seems a complete tale. It has none of the signs typical of oral transmission that usually characterize sagas and noted by Gunkel in his examination of Genesis. It is carefully planned and executed as a literary work—a novella. It hinges on interpretation of dreams, putting it in the same category as Daniel 2; 4, which was not written until 165 BC. The plot is closely linked with the plots of other late biblical romances like Esther, Tobit, Judith and also the popular romance Ahiqar. F W Golka, in The Leopard’s Spots, confirms that the story of Joseph has all the signs of a composition rather than a compilation.
There are plenty of signs that the Pentateuch was written only after the Persians had conquered the region and had had time to make innovations previously unknown. Donald B Redford in 1970 dated it in the fifth century—in the Persian period. Some of the words used suggest the composition was influenced by Babylon, and therefore pertain to after the “return”. Pithom and Pi-Rameses are called in Exodus “store cities” but the word used is an unusual Akkadian word in the bible, a strange choice of word for an author who was an Egyptian. The expression used by the Egyptians to salute Joseph’s carriage as it passed by, “abrek” (Gen 41:43), looks to be the Akkadian word, “abarakku”, which appears in Phœnician as “hbrk” and means a high official like a vizier.
Inadvertant clues, like this, show that the underlying story, if not the more obvious elaboration of it, was not Egyptian but Mesopotamian. It is odd that Mesopotamian words should creep into this story unless the authors were preferring some words with which they were familiar. In other words, the authors were from Mesopotamia, and since Akkadian was, like Latin, a dead language used in religious contexts only, the implication of its use is that the writers were priests.
Genesis 40:22 says the chief baker was “hanged” proving that the story was written after hanging (crucifixion) had been adopted. The Egyptians did not use this form of murder until the Persian period. So, the story is post-Persian. Almonds were also introduced by the Persians from Asia, so that several passages suggest a late date for the Pentateuch (Gen 48:11, four instances in Exodus, Num 17:8). Money is also mentioned (Gen 47:14,16) at a time long before its use was spread by the Persians who took the idea from Lydia.
D B Redford had noted that the Joseph story is not sound in its information about Egyptian matters, but rather reflects the customs of Canaanite royal households rather than those of the Egyptian Pharaohs. The eastern wind of Genesis 41:5 is the sharab, that blows into Palestine from the Arabian desert. It does not blow into Egypt. Joseph’s Egyptian name is a fake or a poor attempt at transliterating a genuine Egyptian name into Hebrew. Since Redford few people have tried to date it even so early. The place of Israelite slavery, Gothen, is unknown in any ancient Egyptian texts until the Hellenistic period when it was one of the nomes. Similarly Genesis 41:45 mentions On, the Heliopolis of Hellenistic times.
Biblicists counter this by what they call the “local colour”, but they are using the usual Christian “arguments” of plausibility and congenial context when such stories in such terms could be dated at any time BC. The local colour is pretty wishy washy. Biblicists say the emblaming of Joseph reflects Egyptian mummification, the local colour, but the practice of embalming in Egypt was better known in the later, more worldly, period of the Greeks and Romans than it was before. So, in the late period, it was a known Egyptian practice, but it was also a late Jewish practice, so need not have reflected Egypt at all. Joseph gave instruction he had to be returned home, and embalming was also a specific practice for treating bodies that had to be transported, since carrying a body putrifying in the heat could not have been pleasant. Sunday school teachers and Christian fundamentalists do not want to give alternatives to their preferred explanations. Theirs is the sin of omission! Take note! An omniscient God must notice it, even if they do not.
One clue to the date is that there is mistrust against Joseph’s brothers, who are carefully quizzed and obliged to admit their other brother, Benjamin, and their father. They are treated the way Moslems are currently being treated by the west. Plainly there must have been a division present in the near east of the time that left the Egyptians feeling distrusting. Moreover, the distrust of the Israelites by the Pharaoh of the Exodus, reflects the same distrust. The Egyptians thought the Israelites might be a fifth column in their own land. For most of the times accepted for these biblical events, Egypt actually controlled Canaan as a colony, and it seems unlikely that Israelites could have been thought of as likely enemies or allies of some serious enemy. The Egyptians were the allies of the small hill states against Assyria, so the Assyrian period does not fit either.
There are only one serious occasion this distrust could have reflected. It must have been long after Canaan had been an Egyptian colony, and reliable buffer of Egypt. Palestine must have been under the control of an enemy of Egypt for long enough for the Eyptians to have doubts about Canaanite fidelity. The only such enemy was the Persians from the fifth century BC The Ptolemies took over from the Persians to reassert Egyptian hegemony over Palestine, but the Persians had spent over a century preparing the Jewish temple state as a buttress against Egypt, and had given them laws and holy myths, that they had become attached to. The Ptolemies ran Egypt, and supported the publication of the Jewish scriptures in the third century on behalf of the Jewish priesthood whom they made a strong effort to win back to favour the Egyptians as saviours and protectors.
The biblical suggestion that the Egyptians would not share a table with Israelites is unknown anywhere else. It sounds like a misrecording of the reverse situation. That after the Persian period, the Jews would not share a table with foreigners. It would sound churlish that the Canaanite brothers of Joseph would not share a table with their benefactors, and so the storyline has been reversed, with the intention of making out that the Jews had their habit from the Egyptians not the Persians. And, the Egyptian priests, like the Magi, had the same habit, doubtless under their influence from the time of Cambyses. The Jewish state was set up by the Persians as a temple state and the people were to be a nation of priests. All of them had to adopt the strict purity codes of the Magi.
In the terms of Ezra, the sons of Joseph were not admissible as Jews, because their mother was Egyptian and worshipped Egyptian gods, yet here they went on to become two large northern tribes—Ephraim and Manasseh. The story is written after the time of Ezra, in reality, so it might seem odd that these two tribes were ever thought of. The point is that the Egyptians of the Ptolemies were trying to re-align Jewish loyalty from the Persians to the Egyptians, and so were trying to impress Egyptian-ness on to the formerly Persian culture of the Jews. In the later romance of Joseph and Aseneth, Aseneth is converted to Judaism. The myth of Exodus from Egypt had the same purpose. Jews were to think of themselves as Egyptian, not Persian. The story itself presents Egypt as a saviour of the Jews under direct command of God. It was God’s will that the Jews should feel indebted to Egypt (Gen 45:8).
Joseph is peculiarly wise and interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams as plenty and plague, advising him to stock up in times of plenty and dole out in times of famine. The seven year cycles of plenty and famine are fable but the advice is like telling granny how to suck eggs. The Pharaoh and the Egyptian priesthood owned the land and always had control of what happened to the produce from it. That they had not thought of storing up for times of need is absurd. It is like the myth of the great prehistoric Welsh navigator, Llew, arriving at Jericho and finding there the newly arrived Israelite tribes speaking Welsh and eating pigs. “Fellow Welshmen”, he declared, “Never eat pig, for it is the sacred animal of winter”. Whereupon he told them the whole cycle of Camelot myths that eventually metamorphosed into the Jewish scriptures. The Israelites were so amazed, they never ate pig again, but forgot why, except for Welsh Jews who are well known to enjoy fried bacon with laver bread for breakfast. The story of Joseph is of precisely the same kind.
The Joseph romance, originally based on some elements of the Jacob cycle, will not have reached its present form until the time of the Maccabees about 150 BC. The name Jacob occurs often in the story and the doublet about the brothers getting rid of Joseph suggests a basis in an earlier tale expanded at the time of the Ptolemies, when they sponsored the Jerusalem temple to show the friendship of Egypt for Judah. The myth of Joseph is an Egyptian folk tale (or tales) used as a narrative bridge between the cycle of stories about the patriarchs and the cycle of stories about Moses. The story of Potipher’s wife is known in an old Egyptian story called The Two Brothers.
The origins of the Joseph story in the bible are much simpler than the extended romance we now have.
A wandering Aramaean was my father, and he went down into Egypt and he sojourned there few in number.
Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.
There is no mention of Joseph. The extended Joseph romance was probably added to enlarge upon and essentially replace the original terse tradition of wandering Aramaeans when the saga of Moses was devised. The Persians will have presented the Jews as slaves of Egypt, not because they were ever in Egypt but because they were ruled by the Pharaohs. The Persians wanted to show that the Jews had good reason to be opposed to their former Lords and Masters, the Egyptians. From 300 BC, however, Yehud was ruled by the Egyptians and the temple was favoured by the Ptolemies in about mid-century and many expensive gifts were given to the temple. This also was when the Torah was said to have been translated into Greek, the language of the Egyptian kings.
This then will have been the time when the story of Joseph was added, flattering the Egyptian king as a liberal willing to accept foreigners as his ministers and, particularly, appointing a Jew to the highest position in the land, all at the command of the Jewish God.
In summary, it is true to say that not one of the events or characters of the early scriptural books have been confirmed by documental, inscriptional or archaeological evidence. The literary genre of the stories and this absence of objective evidence cry out that these are myths of national identity, and the most likely time of their composition is after the Babylonain “exile”. Try to get a Christian to believe evidence, though! They persist that God is making a revelation even though he contrives to make it look like a forgery. What is God’s purpose in doing that?
The truth is that they put their faith in the scriptures not in God, and so they will defend the scriptures even though they can no longer be defended on the evidence. If they once accepted that the ancient set of tall tales, myth and romance was Persian propaganda, their faith in God would evaporate. That, of course, shows that they have little faith in God but it is a proper reaction. After all the God was set up for a human purpose, so why shouldn’t this be recognized again?
As to the differences in the practices of the patriarchs with the later religion—again used as an argument for ancient provenance rather than myth-making—there are two reasons. One is that the proto-scriptures were not all written at once, they were composed over a period of about 100 years and might have covered several phases of “returners”. In that time, changes were made that have left their fossils in the mythology.
The other reason was that the aim of the Persian governors was to depict the Jews mainly faithless, to persuade them to make amends for the supposed failings of their forefathers. So the old religious practices of the native Canaanites, the Am ha-Eretz, were depicted as apostasy from the worship of the true god, but when later “returners” implemented the priestly law and bound worship of Yehouah to the temple, the tales of earlier “returners” served to add to the myth by showing even God’s servants as disloyal. The practice of marrying a sister hinted at in the stories of Abraham and Jacob but later banned serves to show even these Patriarchs of dubious dedication to the true god.
Hooke points out that people do not invent myths of their own humiliation, though that is the constant theme of the Jewish scriptures beginning with Genesis. It should be sufficient to show that Jews did not write these scriptures. It was their rulers—the Persians.
A steady theme of these sagas is that the younger brother is preferred to the elder and rightful heir. It symbolizes and justifies the intrusion of the new state of Yehud and its new god.
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