The Virgin Birth – Matthew 1-2 & Luke 1-3
The errors contained in the nativity story are numerous, with several mangled references that need to be unpacked to make sense of the mess that is the true story of Christmas. Despite the claims of evangelicals that the Bible is literally true and error-free, the virgin birth narrative contains multiple contradictions and mistakes rolled up into this conflicting tale.
Major passages in the Bible are, more often than not, political in nature and such is the case with the origins of the virgin birth. To put the virgin birth into its original context, we need to look back to 732 BCE and the political machinations between the kings of Judah (Ahaz), Israel (Pekah), and Assyria (Tiglath-Pileser III). Judah had been a vassal kingdom to the Assyrian empire since 740, when Ahaz’s father (Jotham) and grandfather (Uzziah), acting as co-regents, wisely opted to submit to Assyrian dominance and pay tribute rather than face annihilation. Around 735, Jotham was forced to abdicate in favour of Ahaz by pro-Assyrian factions within his government; and the political slurs directed at Ahaz by the pro-Judahite writers of the Bible are listed in their coverage of him.
By 732, Pekah was pressuring Ahaz, and Ahaz appealed to his political masters for help. What followed had major implications for subsequent Western history and Judeo-Christian doctrines. One of those events was the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and the so-called scattering of the ten northern tribes, as recorded in 2 Kings 15:29, which factored into Josiah’s Deuteronomistic reforms in his subsequent pious family history, and later apocalyptic writings that would see the twelve tribes reconstituted as a prelude to the End-Times; something which, obviously, would require divine intervention to accomplish.
The second major event, and the one that became intricately tied to the legend of Jesus, was the prophecy given by Isaiah to Ahaz during this time: a sign that Judah’s deliverer was forthcoming with the birth of his son, Hezekiah. Specifically, it was the mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14 which was altered in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) that became the basis of Matthew’s (copied by Luke) virgin birth narrative, when Matthew used the Greek Bible (note: not the Hebrew version) as the basis of his messianic cherry-picking to construct a reality which suited his needs:
Isaiah 7:14 – “Look, the young woman [original] / virgin [Septuagint] is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
Matthew 1:23 – “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
Luke 1:27 – “To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.”
Let’s examine the contradictions between Matthew and Luke; note also that Paul, Mark (written before Matthew and Luke), and John (written after) are silent on the virgin birth and focus only on the ministry of Jesus. The first thing to note is that both Matthew and Luke needed to contrive a way to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Why? Because as already pointed out, Matthew was adept at scouring the Hebrew scriptures for references to fit the narrative he was crafting, and it was written that the messiah would come from Bethlehem:
Micah 5:2 – “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
There is another inconsistency to note here: Micah is one of the contemporary prophets with Isaiah (first Isaiah) and others (Hosea to Micah) writing in the time of the Assyrian vassalage and aggressions. However, only the first three chapters of Micah are set in the 700s BCE, the remainder (chapters 4-7) were written in the post-Exilic period, after messianism (calls for a return of the House of David) emerged following the Babylonian exile. Therefore, Micah 5:2 stating that the messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of David, cannot be original to the book but only a later insertion with the other chapters.
Matthew only cited Micah as the reason for Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but Luke went to great pains to fabricate a reason for Mary and Joseph to be there; a reason scholars have thoroughly debunked. Luke claimed they had to travel from Nazareth, where it was well-known that Jesus was from, because of a census. Three problems with this theory: one, there was never any empire-wide census, but only in Judea, and Galilee was governed separately; two, there was never a requirement to travel to one’s ancestral village; and three, the dating in Matthew and Luke contradict each other. Matthew stated Jesus was born within the reign of King Herod who died in 4 BCE, and the most likely time of his birth, whereas Luke cited the census of Quirinius which took place in 6-7 CE; an error of ten years—apologies to evangelicals for so impudently pointing this out.
Next is the contradiction in the genealogies listed in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Matthew, who loved to make allusions between Moses and Jesus (Moses 40 years in the desert, Jesus 40 days), force-fit his genealogy (mostly copied from 1 Chronicles 3, but with further contradictions to both Luke and Chronicles—sorry again, evangelicals) into forty generations between Jesus and Abraham. Further, as Matthew shows a descent from Solomon (as does Chronicles), Luke shows a descent from Nathan; yet, both Matthew and Luke make a convergence at Shealtiel and Zerubbabel—how coincidentally ironic.
Finally, Matthew and Luke contradict each other, yet again, in what happened after the birth. Luke simply stated the family went back to Nazareth. Matthew, however, not content with that plot line, decided to add more Mosaic parallels. Echoing Exodus 1:22 and the pharaoh’s order to kill all male children, Matthew deliberately invented the Massacre of the Innocents—which has absolutely zero grounding in history—and the family flight to Egypt before the return to Nazareth.
It is said one should not discuss politics and religion in polite company, and yet given that Jesus was executed for treason against the state, both his birth and death narratives are entirely politically and religiously entwined in their contexts. So, please, feel free to discuss at your family Christmas dinner.
Transitioning from Old to New Testaments – Political Context of Jewish Sectarianism
The gap between the last book of the Old Testament (Daniel, 167 BCE) and the first writing of the New (Paul’s letters, circa 50 CE) is termed by scholars as the Intertestamental Period. Understanding the socio-political changes that took place during this two hundred year era, and the resulting impact to religious ideology, provides essential context that informs the beliefs of Jesus and his contemporary first-century Jews; especially as these ideas influenced the emerging New Testament doctrines after his death.
Circa 160 BCE, following the triumph of the Maccabees against the increasing spectre of Hellenization, they entwined their roles as Temple priests with political rule. This blasphemous combination of church and state by the Hasmonean dynasty, as the Maccabean family came to be known, sparked a couple of very interesting things.
Professor Bart Ehrman, detailed this in his book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium:
The historical events leading up to his time are significant for understanding his life because of their social and intellectual consequences, which affected the lives of all Palestinian Jews. For it was in response to the social, political, and religious crises of the Maccabean period that the Jewish “sects” of Jesus’ day (e.g., the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes) were formed; and it was the Roman occupation that led to numerous nonviolent and violent uprisings during Jesus’ time, uprisings of Jews for whom any foreign domination of the Promised Land was both politically and religiously unacceptable. Moreover, it was the overall sense of inequity and the experience of suffering during these times that inspired the ideology of resistance known as “apocalypticism,” a worldview that was shared by a number of Jews in first-century Palestine.
It was during the rule of the Hasmoneans, and largely in reaction to it, that various Jewish sects emerged.
The second interesting thing that happened, resulting from a rhetorical tool of the first, was the rekindling of messianic beliefs which had lain dormant for centuries. However, it was not just a renewal of these beliefs, as the Book of Daniel threw a new spin on the genre by adding a fourth paradigm, the heavenly Son of Man as redeemer of Israel. The original messianic ideal was the Davidic warrior-king spawned in the wake of the Babylonian Exile. Two other messianic paradigms, priest and prophet, had some historical basis, but this fourth Son of Man mythology was a new-comer to late Second Temple Judaism following the existential crisis of the Maccabean Revolt.
Professor John J. Collins discussed this messianic change in his book, The Scepter and the Star:
. . . Nonetheless, there is no clear reference in Daniel to the restoration of the Davidic line. Where the word [messiah] appears in chapter 9, the reference is to the anointed High Priest. The only savior figure, under God, in the book of Daniel, is the archangel Michael, the “prince” of Israel (Dan 12:1). . . . There is no unambiguous reference in the book to a restored Davidic king. . . .
. . . Rather than messianic expectation, then, what we have in Daniel is a transformation of the royal mythology. There is no role here for the Davidic king, and little for any human deliverer.
Building on the renewed messianic ideals as a challenge to the Hasmoneans right to wear the crown, was the Scribes clever reinvocation of God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, given that the Hasmoneans were not of the House of David, and therefore their rule was illegitimate. The Gospel of Mark highlights this scribal propaganda effort, as Jesus responds (12:35) to the priesthoods questioning: ‘How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David?’
The Intertestamental Period also saw a dramatic rise in apocalyptic beliefs and an explosion of writings which saw Satan emerge as the cosmic scapegoat for the evils in the world, and God’s reckoning that was surely due to arrive imminently, as captured by these end-times narratives.
The Sadducees disavowed the newly emerging ideas (afterlife, resurrection, the proliferation of angels/demons in the literature and mindset) that sprang from the Book of Daniel, perhaps because these ideas were a challenge to the traditional power base of the Temple and their monopoly on ritual sacrifice. Obviously, Jesus and his followers adhered to these new ideas from Daniel (to be discussed in detail in a future post) and his confrontation with, and execution by, the Temple priests.
Book of Daniel – The Birth of Afterlife Beliefs
The key to understanding the major theological shift that Judaism underwent during the Maccabean Revolt starting in 167 BCE, and its knock-on effect to later Christianity and Islam, is the Book of Daniel. The Book of Daniel generated several significant changes in monotheism, of which most followers of the Abrahamic religions are completely in the dark.
Daniel is the only book of the entire Hebrew scripture that has an apocalyptic genre, and it was the last book to be written that was included in the Jewish canon. It was written during the violence of a major crackdown on Judaism by the Seleucids, a Hellenistic dynasty founded by one of Alexander’s generals that governed the eastern half of the former Macedonian Empire from modern-day Syria. The last Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, banned certain Jewish practices, like circumcision, that to the philosophically Hellenized mind seemed barbaric. Sophisticated and educated elite urban Jews were attracted to Greek philosophy and were eager to embrace contemporary modernity, but this shift away from the more traditional faith of the rural masses, and especially the challenge to the status quo of the Temple priesthood, threatened to annihilate the Jewish identity.
The repression of Jewish practices ultimately led Judah Maccabee, a dynastic Temple priest, to revolt in order to save their culture, and this existential threat to their distinct society and religion is remembered every year when Jews celebrate Hanukkah. Or, as that dearly missed polemicist, Christopher Hitchens, wrote in a Slate article:
Thus, to celebrate Hanukkah is to celebrate not just the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness but also the accidental birth of Judaism’s bastard child in the shape of Christianity. You might think that masochism could do no more. Except that it always can. Without the precedents of Orthodox Judaism and Roman Christianity, on which it is based and from which it is borrowed, there would be no Islam, either. Every Jew who honors the Hanukkah holiday because it gives his child an excuse to mingle the dreidel with the Christmas tree and the sleigh (neither of these absurd symbols having the least thing to do with Palestine two millenniums past) is celebrating the making of a series of rods for his own back. And this is not just a disaster for the Jews. When the fanatics of Palestine won that victory, and when Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.
It was the desperation traditional Jews felt during this time that fueled the book of Daniel’s ominous tone, and instituted the new beliefs in heaven, hell, and the afterlife.
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.Daniel 12:1-2
This is the only passage in the whole of Hebrew scripture that refers to individual resurrection, but it does not refer to a bodily resurrection, and, for the very first time in Jewish literature, it implied the righteous will be lifted from sheol to heaven.
The traditional hope in ancient Israel was for a long life and to see one’s grandchildren. This hope was radically changed by the idea of resurrection to a glorious afterlife. The goal of life would henceforth be to become like the angels, so that one could live with them forever. This new hope is central to the apocalyptic literature. It figures prominently in the Dead Sea Scrolls and it was essential to the rise of Christianity. Some Jews, like the Sadducees did not accept the idea of resurrection. The idea of individual resurrection which occurs in the Hebrew Bible for the first time in Daniel, introduced a kind of hope for the future that was radically new in the context of Jewish tradition and that would have far-reaching consequences for the development of religion in the Western world.John J. Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
Additional changes came out of Daniel such as a resurgence of the messianic belief and the new messianic paradigm, the Son of Man, which will be discussed in detail in future posts specific to these topics.
Book of Job – The Misrepresentation of Satan
The book of Job is listed among the Minor Prophets of the preceding post, but it deserves its own breakdown as it contains what is probably one of the most well-known and thoroughly misunderstood sections in the Hebrew Bible. The Christian habit of attributing to Satan the characteristics of the full-blown evil entity of Revelation and projecting them into Job, is caused by their being unaware of original meanings and modern translations—and from a complete absence of any critical comprehension, and/or they have not bothered to study the book in the first place without any preconceived notions being read into the character. The word used in the original Hebrew was hassatan, which is not a common name but an article, the satan, which means the obstacle, or the adversary.
In Job 1:6-7, hassatan was just minding his own business and was not bothering anyone:
‘Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.’
It was God who unleashed the adversary, setting hassatan upon Job and instigating these wholly unnecessary, downright egotistical, and entirely arbitrary tests of Job. Hassatan—the poor, misunderstood, angelic scapegoat abused in the book of Job—wasn’t acting independently at all, but was quite clearly the tool of his master, requiring divine permission to act.
‘Although Job 1:1-2:10 reveals the most complete portrait of Satan in the Hebrew Bible, it is clear that this figure is far from the demonic tempter who would later appear in the desert to test the spiritual mettle of Jesus in the Gospels. . . . Hassatan does not act without the LORD’s permission, and must play by the Almighty’s rules.’
There is only a single reference in the entire Old Testament to Satan acting as an independent being; and it doesn’t come until the very end of the Hebrew order, in 1 Chronicles 21:1, where it stated: ‘And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
‘Finally, we observe the Chronicler’s use of the designation “Satan,” minus the definite article (this is not hassatan, but Satan). For the first time in the canonical Hebrew Bible, “Satan” appears as a proper noun. It is as if Satan is stepping from the shadowy ranks of the heavenly host at the back of the stage . . . to emerge front and center as a character in his own right. Satan—no longer God’s lackey in Job—stands alone in Chronicles, acting apart from the divine council. . . . The cosmic personality split seems well underway.’Wray & Mobley, The Birth of Satan
Hosea to Malachi – The Minor Prophets
The books are listed in chronological order, with Hosea to Micah dated to the early Assyrian period in the 8th century BCE; Nahum to Zephaniah from the later Assyrian period in the 7th century; and Haggai to Malachi from the post-Exile Persian period in the 6th and 5th centuries.
The writings from these times are reflective of the socio-political realities of their composition: the Assyrian deportation of the northern Kingdom of Israel, the Babylonian Exile of the southern kingdom of Judah, and the post-Exile return under the Persians.
While these texts can and should only be understood within the context of their time of writing, that did not stop the later Gospel writers and two millennia of committed Christians from extrapolating certain passages from the Minor Prophets that fit their narrative of Jesus, merely because they could twist a phrase to suit their needs. Key passages the Christians borrowed:
Micah 5:2 – a ruler born in Bethlehem, the traditional city of David’s birth
Zechariah 9:9 – the triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey
Malachi 3:1 & 4:5-6 – the prophecy of Elijah’s return, projected onto John the Baptist
Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel – The Major Prophets
Isaiah is a composite work of three separate authors, writing in three distinct eras. The book has been segmented and named by scholars for each relevant time period as:
1 Isaiah (Proto) – Chapters 1-39, Assyrian Era
2 Isaiah (Deutero) – Chapters 40-54, Babylonian Era
3 Isaiah (Trito) – Chapters 55-66, Post-Exile
Together with Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both also writing about the Babylonian Exile, these three books constitute the Major grouping of the Latter Prophets. The role of later Christian reinterpretations of messianic passages in these books does not relate to the original context of these books, and will be covered in a future post on messianic expectations in late Second Temple Judaism.
Given that Hebrew theology proclaimed themselves the chosen people, rationalizations were needed to explain the political realities of their repeated subjugation by Sumerian empires. Their solution? The Jews weren’t holy enough, that they were sinners who didn’t keep the laws of Moses properly or strictly; thus, Yahweh sent foreigners to punish them, going so far as to proclaim that the Babylonians were acting as God’s chosen tool:
“Now I have given all these lands into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him even the wild animals of the field to serve him.”
The major prophets all deal with this judgment on the people of Israel and their later return after Babylon’s defeat by the Persians under Cyrus the Great. Cyrus is exalted in their writings for freeing the Jews and letting them return home:
2 Isaiah – “Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him—and the gates shall not be closed.”
Ezekiel – “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.”
“Cyrus is also called “my shepherd,” a traditional metaphor for king, which has a future, messianic nuance in Ezekiel 34:23. Cyrus is, then, portrayed in terms reminiscent of the Israelite royal ideology. He is not, however, depicted as the heir to the Davidic promises…The Jewish people were, or rather the faithful remnant was, heir to the covenant with David. Nonetheless, Cyrus was accorded a crucial role in the Jewish restoration. This fact may be attributed to the political realities of the time. It was Cyrus who allowed and enabled the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland when he conquered Babylon in 539 BCE.”John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star
The restoration of the Davidic line plays a role in these books, which became significant in the later Gospel traditions.
Isaiah 11 – “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse [David’s father], and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
“A similar uncertainty surrounds the messianic oracles in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Jeremiah 23:5-6 rivals Isaiah 11 in its importance for later messianic expectation:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.
. . . The imagery of a young tree underlies the Isaianic passage about the shoot of David and Jeremiah’s branch of David. This imagery is also found in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 17:3-4,
[“Say: Thus says the Lord God: A great eagle, with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colors, came to the Lebanon. He took the top of the cedar, broke off its topmost shoot; he carried it to a land of trade, set it in a city of merchants.”]
the Davidic king is “the crown of a cedar, its top-most shoot” which an eagle, representing the king of Babylon, carried off…In Ezekiel 34 and 37, in the predictions of a future ruler, the term “prince” clearly designates royal rank, and refers to a member of the Davidic line, granted that Ezekiel envisaged a chastened monarchy, shorn of much of the traditional royal ideology.”Collins
Book of Ezra – The Second Temple, Rise of the Priesthood, & Ethnic Purity
The Book of Ezra—reputedly written (though disputed: some scholars attribute a literary Moses-like style to this book, a text written in later centuries and projected back) by a priest named Ezra returning from the Babylonian Exile—instituted some major changes in Judaism’s post-Exile evolution.
Second Temple Era
Ezra opens with the freeing of the Judahites and their return to the land of their forefathers, as described in II Chronicles 36, and chapter 3 mentions the start of the rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon, ushering in the Second Temple Era:
“In the second year after their arrival at the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their people, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work on the house of the Lord.”
Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jeconiah, the king of Judah exiled to Babylon listed in 2 Kings 24, and Joshua was the High Priest. This royal-priest twinning is a motif (“two branches of the olive trees”) that was repeated throughout the prophetic books, and given steam in the later apocalyptic literature prevalent in the late Second Temple period.
Zerubbabel, as the Exilarch in Bablyon, was the obvious choice as governor for the autonomous province of Yehud, as Judah then became known under the Persians. As a son of the House of David, there was some initial hope of a restoration of the dynasty, as noted by Zechariah and Haggai.
“Haggai and Zechariah were active in Jerusalem about 520 BCE, and were instrumental in the building of the Second Temple. . . .
. . . There is, of course, no evidence that Zerubbabel ever played the role for which Haggai and Zechariah cast him, but the prophetic texts attest to hopes that can reasonably be called messianic. They would entail the fulfillment of the promise to David and the dawn of a new, utopian age. . . .
. . . There is good reason, then, to hold that Haggai and Zechariah regarded Zerubbabel as a messianic figure. . . .
. . . Zerubbabel is the only potential Jewish messiah of whom we hear in the Persian period. For another Jewish figure for whom messianic status is claimed we have to come all the way down to the Roman era. . . .
. . . After the time of Zerubbabel, messianism does not figure prominently in Second Temple Judaism.”John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star
The post-Exile era, lacking a royal ruler, was when the priesthood rose to prominence (similar to the Vatican after the fall of the Western Roman Empire). This was the period when the Torah (first five books of Moses) was first compiled by Ezra, as rabbinic tradition holds; and when the scriptures underwent editing by the priests, known academically as the Priestly Source (P). This period of edits and insertions to the texts is a subject all on its own.
“The Passover is found only in the Priestly source, just as P grounded the Sabbath in the creation story, so it grounds Passover in the story of the exodus. . . .
. . . It is unlikely the Chronicler was drawing on ancient sources regarding festivals. The tendency to project the full cult of the Second Temple back into earlier history is evident throughout his work.”Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
Ethnic Purity & The Change to Matrilineal Descent
In Ezra 4 the returned exiles disparaged those, the Samaritans among them, who had stayed behind and their offer to help rebuild the temple:
“When the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel,they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of families and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of King Esar-haddon of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the rest of the heads of families in Israel said to them, “You shall have no part with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us.”
It was the elite who were taken captive in Babylon while most of the rural population had remained behind, and it was among these elite exiles (victors and the literate write the histories) where Judaism morphed and became exposed to the Sumerian and Persian myths which influenced their evolving theology. Upon the exiles return is where we see the beginnings of the priestly rulings to set clear boundaries for the Jews to keep themselves apart from those who might taint their devotion to the single god:
“And now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land that you are entering to possess is a land unclean with the pollutions of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations. They have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, so that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’”
This same self-imposed, prejudicial separateness was echoed in the words of Jesus, centuries later: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans.’”
“These rulings by Ezra and Nehemiah in Jerusalem in the fifth century BCE laid the foundations for Second Temple Judaism in the establishment of clear boundaries between the Jewish people and their neighbors and in the strict enforcement of Deuteronomic Law. Their efforts—and the efforts of other Judean priests and scribes which took place over the one hundred and fifty years of exile, suffering, soul-searching, and political rehabilitation—led to the birth of the Hebrew Bible in its substantially final form.”Israel Finkelstein & Neil Silberman, The Bible Unearthed
The commands which appear (both chronologically and textually) earlier in the Torah for Jews to keep themselves apart (Exodus 34:11-16, Leviticus 18:24, Deuteronomy 7) are thought by scholars to be insertions of the Priestly sources who likely added the passages to comply with those in Ezra. Additionally, there was another shift as a result of the priesthoods emphasis on Jewish ethnic purity:
“This suggests that such a prohibition only came about during the Second Temple period, perhaps in response to a greater acceptance of foreigners among Ezra’s Priestly opponents. . . .
. . . Yet, according to Jewish tradition, Ezra’s decision to expel from the land all foreign wives – and children born of their unions with Jewish husbands – represented a dramatic and decisive change, making the switch from patrilineal descent to matrilineal descent the “defining marker of Jewish identity.” Until this point in time, biblical texts gave priority to patrilineal descent in matters of inheritance and descriptions of genealogy.”Arthur J. Wolak, Ezra’s Radical Solution To Judean Assimilation
Controversially, the culturally Jewish, but atheist, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud addressed this zealous adherence to separateness from an analytical perspective in his book Moses and Monotheism, which woke persons today would shame him for victim-blaming:
“We may start from one character trait of the Jews which govern their relationship to other people. There is no doubt that they have a very good opinion of themselves, think themselves nobler, on a higher level, superior to the others from whom they are separated by many of their customs. . . .
. . . We now the reason of this attitude of theirs and what their precious treasure is. They really believe themselves to be God’s chosen people; they hold themselves to be specially near to Him, and this is what makes them proud and confident.
The subsequent course of world history seemed to justify this Jewish arrogance . . . On the strength of previous remarks we may say it was the man Moses who stamped the Jewish people with this trait, one which became so significant to them for all time. He enhanced their self-confidence by assuring them that they were the chosen people of God; he declared them to be holy, and laid on them the duty to keep apart from others. . . . The self-confidence of the Jews, however, became through Moses anchored in religion; it became a part of their religious belief.
We set out to explain whence comes the peculiar character of the Jewish people which in all probability is what has enabled the people to survive until today. We found that the man Moses created their character by giving them a religion which heightened their self-confidence to such a degree that they believed themselves to be superior to all other peoples. They survived by keeping aloof from the others. Admixture of blood made little difference, since what kept them together was something ideal—the possession they had in common of certain intellectual and emotional values.”
II Chronicles 36 – Cyrus the Great & The Persian Influence
The sequence of the books in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament diverge after 2 Kings. The order in the Christian canon, with II Chronicles and Ezra, follows the story of the Babylonian Captivity chronologically in the historical timeline. Whereas the Hebrew canon moves into the Prophets, starting with Isaiah, Chronicles is essentially a highlight reel of the stories from earlier books that was compiled in late Second Temple Judaism, is grouped with the Writings and is placed last. The final chapter rehashes the exile from 2 Kings 24-25, and the Hebrew Bible ends with :
“In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: ‘Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.’”
The Babylonian Captivity which began in 598/597 BCE was over by 539, when Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated the Babylonians and allowed those who wanted to return (some stayed, becoming Iraqi and Persian Jews) to their homeland to do so. What had been the Kingdom of Judah before, was now known has Yehud, an autonomous province within the Achaemenid empire.
Both the exile in Babylon and the exposure to Persian culture were to have major impacts on Judaism—and the two Abrahamic faiths it would give birth to, Christianity and Islam, in later centuries—leading to a dramatic shift in the theological evolution of Judaism:
- Exposure to Sumerian stories: Creation, Garden of Eden, Noah, Sargon
- Exposure to Persian Zoroastrian themes: dualism, end-times
Second Temple Judaism begins to diverge from the embryonic monotheistic roots of its pre-exilic predecessor, and it is during this time that the Temple Priesthood rises to prominence and the redactions and compilations of various traditions come together. One of the biggest changes in the nature of the religion and the scriptures is the gradual emergence of the character of Satan, following the priest’s exposure to the dualistic concept.
[B]efore the adoption of monotheism, the misfortunes suffered in life were often blamed on other gods or evil forces. In a monotheistic system, however, Yhwh alone is responsible….
The poetry in the book of Job hints at the existential frustrations inherent in a monotheistic faith….
Pure monotheism is theologically and existentially unstable….
Theologically, Satan’s greatest virtue is to serve as the cosmic scapegoat, saving God from blame for evil…. Satan is a theological coping mechanism, the screen onto which repellent traits about God are projected.Wray & Mobley, The Birth of Satan
I & II Chronicles – History Re-imagined and Satan’s Emergence
While I have been deconstructing the stories of the biblical chronology generally through time by following the order of the books in the Old Testament, at I and II Chronicles we hit a slight detour. In the Christian Old Testament, Chronicles follows Kings; but, in the original Hebrew Canon, Chronicles is last:
Reordering the Books
Briefly, the reason why Christians changed the order was to make the Old Testament flow into the New as the Hebrew canon had been closed by this point in history and a way needed to be found to justify the new books being written about Jesus. To illustrate, see the wording of the last book of the Christian Old Testament (Malachi), compared to the opening of the ministry of Jesus in the New Testament book of Matthew 3, where John the Baptist is being compared to Elijah:
Malachi Chapter 3 – “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.”
Chapter 4 – “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
Matthew – “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Chronicles has a different ending; essentially, a new Temple has been built in Jerusalem and the people return home; the end.
Now, what is interesting about Chronicles is that it re-tells older stories from the existing books of the Hebrew Bible…with a twist:
“The tendency to project the full cult of the Second Temple back into earlier history is evident throughout his work….
Much of the Chronicler’s History can be seen to derive from biblical materials, especially from 2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings. While he may have had occasional access to independent historical information, the great bulk of the cases where he departs from the Deuteronomistic History can be explained by his theological and ideological preferences. Chronicles describes history as the author thought it should have been.”John J. Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
For an example of the re-imagined history ‘as the author thought it should have been,’ let’s examine the emergence of Satan in the biblical literature and a clever change.
2 Samuel 24:1 – “And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.”
1 Chronicles 21:1 – “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.”
“Why does the author (or authors) of Chronicles change the instigator of the census from God to Satan? The Chronicler is retelling Israel’s history, including a rehash of or the story in 2 Samuel 24, through the lens of his own theology and at a later date; he rewrites the events and updates them. We know the Chronicler is concerned with the rehabilitation of David, whom he presents not as the politically brilliant but flawed king of Samuel and Kings, but as a sort of priestly leader who establishes Jerusalem as the center of worship….
…The Chronicler, then, reflects the growing existential frustration of a monotheistic people who find it difficult to accept a God who is the author of both good and evil. Hence, in the Chronicler’s tale, it is not Yahweh but Satan who orders the census and when Joab…fails to complete it, Yahweh’s subsequent wrath seems justified (1 Chr 21:6-7)…By assigning blame to Satan, the Chronicler…is able to preserve David’s integrity and keep Yahweh’s reputation unblemished.
Finally, we observe the Chronicler’s use of the designation “Satan,” minus the definite article (this is not hassatan, but Satan). For the first time in the canonical Hebrew Bible, “Satan” appears as a proper noun. It is as if Satan is stepping from the shadowy ranks of the heavenly host at the back of the stage…to emerge front and center as a character in his own right. Satan—no longer God’s lackey in Job—stands alone in Chronicles, acting apart from the divine council…The cosmic personality split seems well underway.”Wray & Mobley, The Birth of Satan
2 Kings 24 & 25 – The Babylonian Captivity & The Birth of Messianism
As with the historicity of the scattering of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, the Bible captures another historical fact: the destruction of the southern kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians roughly 125 years later in the twin sackings of Judah under Jehoiachin (aka, Jeconiah) in 2 Kings 24:10–16 and under Zedekiah in 2 Kings 25:8-12.
These two chapters cover the destruction of the first temple of Solomon, and the deportation of the urban, educated elite to Babylon, which became a significant turning point in the theological evolution of Judaism. It is in Babylon where the exiles, in order to cling to their faith in a foreign land, develop new ideas that would become the basis for Second Temple Judaism following their release by Cyrus the Great; a topic discussed in the next post. One of the new ideas which occurred in Second Temple Judaism, was the rise of the messianic belief that a warrior-king (messiah simply means the anointed, as kings were anointed with oils upon coronation) would appear to restore Israel to freedom from its centuries of continuous rule by countless foreign powers (Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and later the Greeks, and Rome).
The End of the Davidic Dynasty
Given the dynastic rule of the House of David was terminated by the Babylonians, and one branch was exterminated as quoted in 2 Kings 25:6-7 below, obviously supernatural intervention would be required to work some genetic magic and reconstitute a king from the DNA of the long-dead line of David.
“Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, who passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah; they bound him in fetters and took him to Babylon.”
The belief that this warrior-king would be of the Davidic line had its roots in the messianic passages contained within the prophets of Isaiah 11 (stump of Jesse, a reference to David’s father) and Jeremiah 23 (righteous branch of David).
The Book of Isaiah is a composite work, which covers three distinct eras written by three different authors, with chapters 1–39 belonging to the Assyrian period. Scholars point out that the messianic nature of Isaiah 11 presupposes that the tree of David had already been cut down; something that would not occur until more than a century after the time of the original author living during the time of the Assyrian occupation. Therefore, some scholars posit that Isaiah 11 must belong to the post-exilic era, and is an insertion by the Priestly redactors into an earlier book.
The messianic passage in Jeremiah 23 was written during or after the time of the Babylonians, and the preceding chapter laid out the extinction of another branch of the family tree in what is known as Jeremiah’s Curse:
“Thus says the Lord: Record this man as childless, a man who shall not succeed in his days; for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David, and ruling again in Judah.”
This passage refers to the children of Jeconiah (above, 2 Kings 24) who was taken captive in the first siege and replaced by his uncle, Zedekiah, whose own children were slaughtered before him. Once again, scriptural references thus mandate that divine intervention would be required to re-establish the line of David. These messianic hopes flared briefly in the early post-exilic days, died out quickly, and lay dormant for centuries. During late Second Temple Judaism, in the 2nd century BCE, scribes revived these concepts (to be discussed fully in a future post) as a challenge to the Hasmonean dynasty, basing their objections on God’s covenant with David, which, necessarily, must involve God intervening in the affairs of men.
Rebirth of Messianic Hopes
Predating the scribal revival by roughly 25 years, was the Book of Daniel, which heavily influenced the theology of Jesus and later Christians. Albert Schweitzer pointed out in The Quest of the Historical Jesus:
“The only thing that could be set against this literary possibility, as a historical counter-possibility, would be a proof that at the period when the Gospel history is supposed to take place a Messianic expectation really existed among the Jews, so that a man who claimed to be the Messiah and was recognised as such, as Mark represents Jesus to have been, would be historically conceivable. This presupposition had hitherto been unanimously accepted by all writers, no matter how much opposed in other respects. They were all satisfied “that before the appearance of Jesus the expectation of a Messiah prevailed among the Jews”; and were even able to explain its precise character. But where—apart from the Gospels—did they get their information from? Where is the documentary evidence of the Jewish Messianic doctrine on which that of the Gospels is supposed to be based? Daniel was the last of the prophets. Everything tends to suggest that the mysterious content of his work remained without influence in the subsequent period. Jewish literature ends with the Wisdom writings, in which there is no mention of a Messiah.”
We know where the Gospel writers got their messianic expectations: it emerged after the closing of the Hebrew canon (so there is no documentary evidence) due to the efforts of a group of motivated apparatchiks directing their propaganda at another group of politicos; which, implies a power-play among the one percent, and not that these newly revived beliefs had gained much traction among the little people.
Indeed, Schweitzer continued:
“In the first place, if at the time when the Christian community was forming its view of history and the religious ideas which we find in the Gospels, the Jews had already possessed a doctrine of the Messiah, there would have been already a fixed type of interpretation of the Messianic passages in the Old Testament, and it would have been impossible for the same passages to be interpreted in a totally different way, as referring to Jesus and His work, as we find them interpreted in the New Testament….
The earliest Evangelist [Mark] did not venture openly to carry back into the history the idea that Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah, because he was aware that in the time of Jesus no general expectation of the Messiah had prevailed among the people.”
The messianic beliefs which pervade Judeo-Christianity to this day were born out of the Babylonian captivity and the post-exilic thinking of an elite group of priests seeking ways to legitimize their control over a state without a king, and their rebirth in the political machinations of a group of scribes opposing the usurpation of the crown by a family of blasphemous priests, 150 years before the birth of Jesus. Let it never be claimed that organized religion is not, at its core, entirely political.
2 Kings 22 & 23 – King Josiah & The Birth of Monotheism
Under Josiah, in 622 BCE, we see the culmination of all the previous posts and the political motivations behind these invented stories:
- The Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
- Egyptian captivity, Moses, the Exodus, Conquest of Canaan
- The united kingdom of David & Solomon
I would suggest taking 4 minutes to watch my edit highlighting the key facts from The Bible Unearthed documentary to get familiar with the background; or, if you have 90 minutes, watch the full version. The Assyrians who destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel had by Josiah’s time faded from the world stage, opening up an opportunity for him to annex the fertile and productive lands of the north.
In order to justify his “ancestral right” to govern these lands, Josiah and his priests invented the stories in the preceding posts to demonstrate a shared family history. Along with the above literary creations, his priests also discovered a lost book of Moses: Deuteronomy.
The refugees flooding in from the north brought their own uniquely Israelite traditions, and a way had to be found to combine them with the beliefs of the Judahites. The Documentary Hypothesis illustrates how the northern and southern traditions were merged together, providing explanations for conflicting passages:
- The dual names for God: El (northern) and Yahweh (southern)
- The dual altars: Bethel (northern) and Jerusalem (southern)
- The dual priesthoods: Levite (northern) and Aaronid (southern)
The Documentary Hypothesis (DH) includes four separate sources/traditions: JEDP—Jawhist (southern); Elohist (northern); Deuteronomist (Josiah’s priests); and Priestly (post-Babylonian captivity redactors) the ones who would make the final edits and compile the texts into its current form as the Hebrew Bible.
Josiah’s reformation program led to the JED synthesis and the creation of the patriarchal narratives, the Egyptian sojourn, the conquest of Canaan, and the united kingdom of David and Solomon, as socio-political tools allowing him to capitalize on the power vacuum and seize the rich farming land in the northern territories for himself. However, a newly rising Egypt also wanted to control the region, as it was a strategic link on their trade routes to the Fertile Crescent.
In order to challenge Egypt’s aspirations and rally his people, Josiah’s spin doctors went to work and created the Egyptian narrative: “we beat them before, we can do it again!” Repeating the quote from my post on the Exodus, is Israeli archaeology professor, Israel Finkelstein:
“Embellishing and elaborating the stories contained in the first four books of the Torah, they wove together regional variations of the stories of the patriarchs, placing the adventures of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in a world strangely reminiscent of the seventh century BCE and emphasizing the dominance of Judah over all Israel. They fashioned a great national epic of liberation for all the tribes of Israel, against a great and dominating pharaoh, whose realm was uncannily similar in its geographical details to that of Psammetichus,
But can it be just a coincidence that the geographical and ethnic details of both the patriarchal origin stories and the Exodus liberation story bear the hallmarks of having been composed in seventh century BCE?”
“The book of Deuteronomy perpetrates one of the great reformations in history: it imposes a strict philosophical monotheism that banishes all other gods from traditional culture. This was part of a reformationist program in which King Josiah attempted to centralize not only power, but the ability to reach the realm of the divine into his own hands, in Jerusalem, in the temple, the temple, which, sat in the backyard of the Royal Palace.”
The medium used to channel all these ideas was religion, but the message was most definitely socio-political. Ideas which were central to the last 2,500 years of Western civilization.
2 Kings 15 – Scattering of the Nation of Israel
With the stories of David and Solomon, starting in the books of Samuel and Kings discussed in a previous post, the Bible begins to diverge from the legendary family “histories” placed in the Bronze Age. The Bible records few actual historical events, as it is mainly accounts of pious fiction created to serve Judah’s propaganda machine, but 2 Kings 15:29 is one of those precious few and it deals with the scattering of the northern people of Israel by the Assyrians in the 8th century BCE:
“In the time of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maakah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor. He took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria.”
Deportation was a common practice of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires, as a means of subjugating the people by breaking their ties to the land, moving them elsewhere, and bringing other subject peoples to farm the land and grow crops for productive trade within the empire.
“This requirement for group identity was more pressing when an imperial system was engaged in the use of deportation and resettlement as a means of political control over a subject region…the wholesale deportation of communities as a means of administrative control.”Kenneth G. Hoglund, Achaemenid Imperial Administration in Syria-Palestine
This resettlement of foreigners into the lands of Israel would play a role in the post-Babylonian captivity prohibition against intermarrying with foreigners (Ezra, Nehemiah), discussed in the Ezra post.
As pointed out in the preceding series of posts outlining the fictional family narrative which laid the foundation for the Josianic reforms:
“The kingdom of Israel was never particularly Israelite in either ethnic, cultural, or religious connotations. The Israeliteness of the northern kingdom was in many ways a late monarchic Judahite idea.”Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed
Therefore, the idea that the “ten northern tribes” were lost, is also a pious fiction as Judah and Israel had always been separate kingdoms, not the united kingdom of David and Solomon of later Judahite propaganda. I will come back to this in future posts, as it plays a key role in the ministry of Jesus and the reconstituting of the twelve tribes through God’s divine intervention, and the twelve disciples.
While the northern kingdom of Israel had been thoroughly destroyed, the southern kingdom of Judah sued for peace and agreed to become a vassal state of the Assyrians. Judah’s rise as a sophisticated society now begins, and sets the stage for the reforms of King Josiah a century later, after the fall of the Assyrian empire.
2 Samuel to 2 Kings 25 (reigns thru to 1 Kings 11) – David, Solomon and the United Kingdom
The preceding series of posts, starting with the Patriarchs, have dealt with fictional stories from an invented past crafted during the Josianic reforms as part of the great family narrative to validate Josiah’s annexation of the land of the northern kingdom of Israel following the decline and withdrawal of the Assyrian empire. Fictional because they all dealt with Bronze Age Israel, and archaeology has proven that the Israelite identity only emerged during the chaos of the Bronze Age collapse. Now with the stories of David and Solomon, we finally start to get to actual historical events, though still highly fictionalized accounts.
As scholars point out, the reforms of Josiah had three elements: 1) centralization of cult (at the Temple in Jerusalem), 2) the eradication of competition, uniting behind a single god (Yahweh, and the birth of monotheism); and 3) uniting the people behind a shared, but invented, family history (combining northern and southern traditions, which is what this and the previous articles have dealt with). The story of David’s great kingdom is further Josianic propaganda, to further his territorial ambitions, as proof that Josiah is ancestrally entitled to rule the prodigal northern Israelites, who supposedly broke away following Solomon’s death.
While archaeologists have found evidence for the House of David, the story of the great united kingdom (Israel in the north, Judah in the South) built by David and Solomon has been shown to be literary myth. Indeed, archaeology has shown that early Iron Age Jerusalem was a barely inhabited tribal village, as noted from part 3 of the video documentary on The Bible Unearthed:
“Iron Age Jerusalem in the 10th century was a small, backwater village; no fortifications or monuments; texts and archaeology do not agree on the nature of the site.”
“David’s Jerusalem was a simple mountain village, covering three to four hectares. We can agree, David did not build a prestigious capital.”
“In Jerusalem, it’s a small village; nothing monumental, no real evidence for a big capital. No evidence for a great Solomonic capital, ruling over a great, rich state. And here at Megiddo, the monumental buildings which had been described as the symbol of Solomonic greatness, in fact, date a bit later, they don’t date to the time of Solomon, they don’t date to the tenth century. So, we are in a situation of a complete negative picture, negative evidence from coast to coast.”
“Judah remained relatively empty of permanent population, quite isolated and very marginal up to and past the supposed time of David and Solomon, with no major urban centers and with no pronounced hierarchies of villages and towns.”
Who, then, built the great monuments found in Israel? Obviously, the northern kingdom of Israel did so, under the Omrides. Once the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians, and Judah sued for peace and agreed to become a vassal state, Judah was left as the sole writer of the history; and, of course, they painted themselves as the good guys and slandered the north mercilessly, as this repetitive tirade from 2 Kings amply shows:
Judah, self-interestedly, took the credit for the great building projects:
“It is clear, therefore, that the whole idea of the archaeology of the united monarchy, of the blueprint city planning of Solomon’s architects, and of the grandeur of the Solomonic palaces, rests on one verse in the Bible—1 Kings 9:15. We must repeat this again: the entire traditional reconstruction of the nature of the united monarchy of Israel—its territorial expansion, its material culture, its relationship with the neighboring countries—depends on the interpretation of a single biblical verse!”
“The kingdom of Israel was never particularly Israelite in either ethnic, cultural, or religious connotations. The Israeliteness of the northern kingdom was in many ways a late monarchic Judahite idea.”
Book of Joshua – Conquest of Canaan
Starting with the Patriarchs, the past several posts have dealt with how the Jews do not exist as a distinct socio-political entity in the Bronze Age, and therefore, the associated stories cannot be true. If the Patriarchal narratives, the Egyptian Captivity and the Exodus are fictional tales, then it follows the Conquest of Canaan must also be a story with no basis in history. Let’s look at the facts.
- There are no Jews before the dawn of the Iron Age
- Canaan is an Egyptian province in the Bronze Age
- The Egyptians have garrison check-points all through Canaan
And, the most famous event associated with the fictional conquest, is the fall of Jericho. By the 1950s, archaeologists had proven that in the Bible’s stated timeline (mid-to-late Bronze Age), Jericho had already been abandoned and did not have walls.
What else needs to be said, except that these stories are nothing but pious fictions, and not historical realities.
Exodus 14 to Deuteronomy 34 – Wandering in the Desert & The 10 Commandments
At the beginning of the Exodus narrative, comes the crossing of the Red Sea in chapter 14 (which I won’t go into) and pharaoh chasing the fleeing Israelites with his chariots (which I did go into in a previous post), and the beginnings of the wandering in the desert for 40 years.
Ignoring the inconsistency in the biblical story that Canaan was an Egyptian province during the supposed biblical time for the Exodus, we can also ignore the ridiculousness of wandering for forty years in Egyptian-held territory.
At 13:03, Professor Redford: “All over the eastern Delta, and in the Sinai, and up in the Negev, and further north, there were permanent Egyptian Garrison’s and garrison points, checkpoints…Certainly, there would have been no chance whatsoever for a group of people that large to move freely through the through the desert and into the Negev, not a chance at all…The story simply doesn’t fit in so many ways.”
Narrator: “And there’s an even bigger problem, throughout the entire period in which the Bible places the Exodus: Canaan was in fact an Egyptian province, ruled by Egyptian governors. We know this because we have extensive Egyptian records from Canaan, and a wealth of archaeological evidence.”The Bible Unearthed
The Bible makes the claim that it was during the wandering forty years that Jews became monotheistic; a fact which occurred under Josiah’s reforms in the 7th century BCE—Jews having been henotheistic (Thou shalt not have any other gods) up until the Deuteronomistic reformation.
Set within this wandering narrative, is the story where Moses received the Ten Commandments An interesting side note: there are three separate versions of the Ten Commandments, a fact of which most monotheists are ignorant:
- The first set, and the common list most are familiar with: Ethical Decalogue
- The second set, as Moses destroyed the first set, that are actually referred to as the Ten Commandments: Ritual Decalogue
- The third set, Josiah’s reminder to his not-previously-monotheistic people, who had apparently forgotten
Additionally, the Ten Commandments bear similar hallmarks in phrasing/terminology to Assyrian and Hittite vassal treaties, such as the Code of Hammurabi.
Exodus 13 – The Exodus
Contradictory Exodus Date References
Building on the point in previous posts detailing how, as Jews don’t yet exist as a distinct culture, the Exodus could not have happened, the biblical references to this event also give two conflicting timelines:
“The biblical chronology for the Exodus gives a date of four hundred eighty years before the building of Solomon’s Temple, which would place the Israelites in Egypt around 1450 BCE…Further, the story cites another anachronistic reference to Ramesses II (see also Exodus 1:11) who ruled in the 1200s, which contradicts the reference to the building of Solomon’s Temple and lends more weight to dispute the validity of the entire tale.”Manifest Insanity
As to what the political motivations were to create this narrative:
“Embellishing and elaborating the stories contained in the first four books of the Torah, they wove together regional variations of the stories of the patriarchs, placing the adventures of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in a world strangely reminiscent of the seventh century BCE and emphasizing the dominance of Judah over all Israel. They fashioned a great national epic of liberation for all the tribes of Israel, against a great and dominating pharaoh, whose realm was uncannily similar in its geographical details to that of Psammetichus,
But can it be just a coincidence that the geographical and ethnic details of both the patriarchal origin stories and the Exodus liberation story bear the hallmarks of having been composed in seventh century BCE? . . .
The saga of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt is neither historical truth nor literary fiction. It is a powerful expression of memory and hope born in a world in the midst of change. The confrontation between Moses and pharaoh mirrored the momentous confrontation between the young King Josiah and the newly crowned Pharaoh Necho.”Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed
Lending further weight to the discrediting of this tale, is Penn State professor, Donald Redford, in the video documentary of The Bible Unearthed:
“There is no indication whatsoever in the records, either archaeological or written, of any major hiatus such as would have been created by the expulsion of upwards of two million people, if we believe the biblical record. That would have made such a hole in the population that would have brought the economy to a standstill, it would certainly have turned up in the record, somewhere. Now, that’s an argument from silence, I understand, but nevertheless, the silence is absolutely watertight; there is no indication, whatsoever.”
“The hall devoted to the best known part of the story — the Exodus from Egypt — is an empty room with exactly one exhibit on display: a movie featuring co-curator and Israel Museum Egyptologist Dr. Daphna Ben-Tor, who explains that the hall is empty because there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever to support the biblical tale.”
Exodus 12 – The Passover
The story of the Passover comes from Exodus 12, in which the callous and malevolent Jewish god indiscriminately murders innocent first-born Egyptians; a relevant point often overlooked by zealous Judeo-Christians.
Let’s back up a moment and look at the historical origins of this celebration, before this story was repurposed for this dreadful tale:
“This celebration is found only in the Priestly source. Just as P [the priestly source] grounded the Sabbath in the creation story, so it grounds the Passover in the story of the exodus. The Passover was probably originally a rite of spring, practiced by shepherds. In early Israel it was a family festival. . .The celebration was changed by the reform of King Josiah in 621 B.C.E. into a pilgrimage festival, to be celebrated at the central sanctuary (Jerusalem) and was combined with the Festival of Unleavened Bread.”John J. Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
As noted in the preceding posts, the Jews don’t exist as a distinct people during the Bronze Age; therefore, the Egyptian captivity, Passover, and Exodus are entirely works of pious fiction. A Rabbi openly stated during his 2001 Passover sermon that the historicity of the Exodus was questionable, but that shouldn’t change the meaning of the story: to have hope in times of trouble. Naturally, devout Jews and a handful of Christians lost their minds for him to so brazenly flout—from the pulpit, no less!—millennia of established tradition masquerading as historical fact.
Exodus 2 to 12 – Moses
Continuing the thread of fictional literary characters in the previous posts (Adam & Eve, Noah, Patriarchs, captive Israelites) who couldn’t have existed in the Bronze Age before the emergence of the Jewish culture at the dawn of the Iron Age, the story of Moses (for any devout monotheists reading this post, this fact also thoroughly undermines the tradition of the first five books being written by Moses, sorry; well, not so much) begins in Exodus 2 with his being deposited in a basket in the river and rescued by a daughter of pharaoh.
In what should be a painfully obvious pattern from reading the preceding posts, the writers of the Hebrew Bible, again, borrowed this tale from the Sumerians; in this case, from the birth legend of Sargon of Akkad:
“My high priestess mother conceived me, in secret she bore me. She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid. She cast me into the river which rose over me. The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the drawer of water. Akki, the drawer of water, took me as his son and reared me.”
Additionally, Moses would have been an Egyptian name—not a Hebrew one, as it came to be used by Jews from this story—given by his adoptive Egyptian mother, as in Thutmose, Ahmose (ref: chariots), etc. Freud draws on this point in his book, Moses and Monotheism, in which he hypothesized that Moses was the high priest of Aten, in the service of Akenhaten (Thutmose’s younger brother), the first (that scholars know of) to institute a state monotheism. As with the Hyksos reference in the preceding post, Freud hints at an actual historical root which could have been a basis for this later Hebrew tale, in which Moses fled Egypt for Canaan after Akenhaten’s death and the quashing of Atenism, taking monotheism with him.
Genesis 37 to Exodus 1 – The Egyptian Captivity
As noted in the previous post regarding the fictional origins of Israel and the Patriarchs, it logically follows that the Egyptian captivity, the Exodus, and conquest of Canaan, therefore, must also entirely be entirely fictional. Starting in Genesis 37, the story of Joseph being sold to traders by his jealous brothers, and the whole narrative of the descendants of Jacob being enslaved in Egypt in later generations, is nothing but creative license on the part of the author(s).
Further, the Egyptians, nor any other culture, make any written reference to a group of people enslaved in Egypt; neither in the Bronze nor in the early Iron Age. However, there was a Semitic group, known as the Hyksos, who ruled an area in Goshen, in the Nile Delta, that coincides with the biblical geography of the captivity around one of the times given in the Bible circa 1500 BCE. The key word being ruled, not enslaved.
There is a fascinating historical tidbit relating to the Hyksos, as I noted in Manifest Insanity: “The historical records of this era provide another interesting parallel to the Exodus story, such as the Theban king from Upper Egypt using chariots for the first time in combat to expel the foreign invaders controlling Lower Egypt.”
Genesis 12 to 36 – The Patriarchs
The patriarchal narrative—the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—of Genesis chapters 12 to 36 is a mythical construct created during the time of Josiah’s reformation program. Considering the Jews do not exist as a people in the Bronze Age and were a civilization that evolved at the dawn of the Iron Age out of the chaos which ensued during the collapse of the Canaanite city states, it would be impossible for these characters to have been the fathers of a nation which did not emerge for another one thousand years.
“We’ve come to a complete archaeological dead end about Abraham. There’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Abraham was a historical figure, but he is a prominent character in the book of Genesis; and the book of Genesis as an ancient text is of course of incredible importance for us. What we see in the figure of Abraham is a symbolic representation of the birth of the nation.”The Bible Unearthed
The Old Testament scholar, Martin Noth, hypothesized that these might very well have been real, but totally unrelated, people from Canaanite ancestral history from which the patriarchal genealogy was built upon and the legends embellished. Noth noted that the stories related to each of the three are centered in very distinct regions (40:14). As Israeli archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein, points out in this documentary (45:25), placing Abraham as the first in the lineage serves Judah’s claim to primacy, given Abraham is based there.
Genesis 7 – Noah’s Ark
Along with story of the Garden of Eden, the flood narrative in Genesis 7 comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the oldest surviving written epic that is itself based on the even earlier Epic of Atra-Hasis.
Interesting points of similarity are:
- a deity bent on destroying the world
- the same deity ordering a man to build an ark with which to save the animals
- specifying the dimensions of the ark
- grounding on a mount
- releasing exactly the same birds, the raven and the dove
Coincidence? No, it fits with the established pattern of biblical authors borrowing and merging tales from ancient Sumer.
There is no archaeological evidence of a global flood, and the math just doesn’t work for the animals in that space; ignoring, of course, how the marsupials managed to get to Australia. This is just an ancient campfire story, swapped by traveling merchants along the trade routes of the Fertile Crescent.
Genesis 2 – Garden of Eden
The second creation story, found in Genesis 2, is also taken from the Sumerians as is Genesis 1; this time from the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the oldest surviving written epic that is itself based on the even earlier Epic of Atra-Hasis.
- the serpent is not evil
- the woman is a goddess
- it predates the biblical version by over 2,000 years
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: “The power of life, because the snake sheds its skin, just as the moon sheds its shadow. The snake in most cultures is positive. Even the most poisonous thing, in India, the cobra, is a sacred animal. And the serpent, Naga, the serpent king, Nagaraga, is the next thing to the Buddha, because the serpent represents the power of life in the field of time to throw off death, and the Buddha represents the power of life in the field of eternity to be eternally alive…”
BILL MOYERS: “The Christian stories turn it around, because the serpent was the seducer.”
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: “Well, what that amounts to is a refusal to affirm life. Life is evil in this view. Every natural impulse is sinful unless you’ve been baptized or circumcised, in this tradition that we’ve inherited. For heaven’s sakes!”Joseph Campbell & The Power of Myth, Episode 2
For how the story evolved in later Christianity with the serpent becoming associated with Satan, please see my article, The Serpent-Satan Synthesis.
Genesis 1 – 6 Day Creation
Parallels between Genesis 1 and the Enûma Eliš include not only the specified creation of the same items, but in the same order. Fatal flaw: both make exactly the same astronomical mistake – how was their light before there were stars?
Day 1: “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (1:3)
Day 4: “And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” (1:14)
Given our pre-literate ancestors were ignorant of the mechanics of electromagnetism and stellar nucleosynthesis, they came up with imaginative myths to explain the world around them. One of the most significant theologians of Protestantism, John Calvin, for whom so many evangelical churches are named (yet, they ignore his teachings in favour of a literal interpretation of Gen 1), described the creation story as baby talk. For how else could our primitive minds absorb the grandeur of the universe, except to create this overly simplistic explanation:
“The Anthropomorphites also, who dreamed of a corporeal God, because mouth, ears, eyes, hands, and feet, are often ascribed to him in Scripture, are easily refuted. For who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of a being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height.”Calvin’s Full Quote of God’s Baby Talk