Religions Evolve, Part 3: Judaism

Friday, May 19th, 2006 · 40 Comments »

At long last! Part 1 on Christianity and Part 2 on Islam were ages ago — the Planck era, I think — and I apologize for the unaccountable delay in delivering Part 3. Let’s just blame it on alien abduction and leave it at that.

Part 3 is much longer than Parts 1 and 2, largely because I feel obligated after such a long wait to offer a little more than bullet points. Actually it’s too long — way, way too long, despite several attempts to edit it down to blogular dimensions and remove academic language. At any rate, what I’m focusing on here is actually the origin and history of Israel up to the period when the books of the Bible began to be written. The subsequent development of Judaism as a religion I’ll leave aside. (And I beg the indulgence of those who know this subject well; I’m writing here for a general audience.)

You know, of course, the biblical version of events: The patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob). The Twelve Tribes (descended from the twelve sons of Jacob). The bondage in Egypt and the Exodus. Moses and the Ten Commandments. The Conquest. The rise of the monarchy — Saul, David, Solomon — followed by the split into two separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The fall of Israel to Assyria; the fall of Judah and Babylonian Captivity.

Of that sequence of events, only the last sentence and a half corresponds to what modern scholars consider history. Everything before that is legend, with the transition from folklore to fact occurring somewhere during the monarchy.

This should not be surprising, since none of the Bible was actually written until the 7th century B.C.E., shortly before the little kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon. In other words, the Bible came to life as the last gasp of a people, a nation, on the edge of oblivion. The priests and scribes who wrote and compiled these books were deliberately fashioning a sacred mythology to unify the nation, and they pulled in everything floating in the cultural consciousness — folklore, hero legends, etiological myths, scraps of historical annals from the court, even their own Temple regulations. Like all pre-modern people, they created a simplified fantasy-version of history that matched their own contemporary sensibilities of how things must have been. Most particularly, they retrojected their own monotheistic worship of Yahweh deep into the past, when in fact that was a very late development.

It was this literary masterstroke that ensured that the people of Israel (really just Judah by that time) would maintain a strong sense of themselves as an ethnic, religious entity, despite the inevitable death of their nation-state. It’s a remarkable story they put together. Most of it just isn’t true.

On to the deconstruction!

The Patriarchs

The stories are supposed to take place in the Bronze Age, perhaps the early 2nd millennium B.C.E., but they are full of anachronistic elements: Philistines (who wouldn’t arrive in Canaan until the Iron Age), domesticated camels, cities and kingdoms that wouldn’t exist for centuries, and so on. The names of the individuals and parts of their legends may be very old, but the stories as we have them could not have been written before the 7th century B.C.E. — a thousand years or more after the patriarchs allegedly lived.

The family saga also seems to be a late development, bringing originally unrelated figures into a kinship arrangement:

• Abraham probably originated as a legendary hero associated with the southern hill country around Hebron. He may not have been incorporated into the family saga involving Isaac and Jacob until the southern hill country was united politically or culturally with the northern tribes.

• Isaac was a southern hero associated with Beersheba, and like Abraham was originally separate from the patriarchal family saga involving Jacob.

• Jacob (Israel) was probably a Canaanite hero revered in the central hill area, which became the core area of tribal Israel.

• “Joseph” is an old name designating the central hill tribes of Ephraim and (later) Manassah, but the story of the Joseph in the Bible is not old. In fact, it’s not an ancestor story at all, but a short novel that was clearly composed no earlier than the 7th century B.C.E. The priestly editors couldn’t resist inserting it in Genesis because it’s so good — truly one of the finest pieces of fiction from the pre-Hellenistic world — even though it completely contradicts other biblical stories about how Joseph’s brothers lived and died in Canaan.

The Twelve Sons of Jacob / Twelve Tribes of Israel

The twelve tribes descending from twelve brothers is, of course, a fiction. This is the kind of device found all over the world among nonliterate people, from the Homeric Greeks to modern African tribes: political and historical relationships are elucidated in terms of kinship structure. (For example, if Americans were a tribal, non-literate people, we would probably explain our colonial origins with a story about Mother England having thirteen wayward daughters, named Mary, Virginia, Georgia, etc., etc.) Most of the names of Jacob’s twelve sons are actually just geographic indicators. Benjamin means “sons of the south” — i.e., “the southerners.” Ephraim is the area around Mt. Ephraim. Judah means “gorges” and describes the steep hill country south of Jerusalem.

One particular point to be made is that the tribe of Judah did not exist before David’s time — or if it did, it was not considered part of Israel. The division between Judah and Israel is far older and more profound than the split into two kingdoms after Solomon. They were always separate entities, and increasingly scholars realize the need to treat them as such. Before Judah was incorporated into the tribal confederacy, the territory of Benjamin (“the southerners”) was the southernmost region of Israel. Judah had its own legends — Abraham and Isaac — which were awkwardly grafted onto the story of Jacob/Israel. Judah had its own economy, distinct from the more prosperous north. If the early monarchy did succeed in briefly uniting Judah and Israel into a nation-state (a point of contention among scholars), the subsequent split into two kingdoms represented a return to the status quo: kinship and cultural similarity between the two regions, but political independence.

The Exodus

Not only did the Exodus not happen, but it couldn’t have happened. There is just no way it can be accommodated by the archaeological record and known history of Egypt and the Near East. Archaeologically there is no trace of an Exodus or of the Sojourn in Egypt, nor is there any reflection of these events in Egyptian records. Logistically the whole thing is impossible: 600,000 men living in the Sinai desert for 40 years? Besides, the entire region of Sinai and Canaan was part of the Egyptian empire during the Late Bronze Age and heavily policed.

In fact, everything about the story — the place names, the travel routes, the terminology — indicates that, like the tales of the patriarchs, it couldn’t have been written before the 7th century B.C.E., at least 600 years after it was supposed to have happened. Artistically, it’s a comfortable fit with Egyptian literature of the same period. Some scholars think the story as written may have been composed even later, during or after the Babylonian Captivity, and had more to do with reflecting Jewish experiences during the Captivity than with the putative bondage in Egypt.

On the other hand, it does seem likely there is some ancient element to the story of Moses and the Exodus. The prophets refer to it as a familiar topos, and the book of Exodus itself contains strange archaic elements. Some form of the story probably circulated in folklore for centuries. But where did it come from?

Let me get ahead of myself here for just a moment and explain that the Israelites, as I’ll discuss in more detail below under “The Conquest,” are believed by most scholars to be an amalgamation of people, a confederacy that included several disparate groups who gradually coalesced into an ethnic enclave. So their myths came from many sources. The Exodus story may reflect the experiences of one tiny band of slaves whose cherished legends were eventually inflated into a national myth. Or, it may be a legend of the Shasu, southern nomads who regularly moved in and out of Egypt and who apparently worshipped Yahweh — and who may have joined the Israelite confederacy. Another possibility is that the Exodus story was part of the Canaanite folklore echoing the great Hyksos expulsion. The Hyksos were a Semitic people from Canaan who conquered Egypt in the Middle Bronze Age and managed to rule it for a century. It was the only time in Egypt’s long history that it was bested by Canaan, which was normally in subordinate status to the great empires of the Nile and Mesopotamia. The Hyksos episode lived on in Egyptian memory as a shameful, hateful reverse of the natural order. Egyptologist Donald Redford has suggested that it also lived on in Canaanite folklore — “the time we went down to Egypt and ruled over them until they kicked us out/we fled” — and over centuries became variously garbled and re-imagined into myth by different groups in the Levant. The Exodus story could simply be the Israelite version of the myth. (Note: this is not the same as the old-fashioned, discredited view that the Hyksos were the Israelites. Redford’s hypothesis, with which I agree, is that the Hyksos story was simply part of the regional folklore that found its way into Israelite myth.)

The Ten Commandments and the Sinai Covenant

The story of the Sinai Covenant between Yahweh and Israel and the giving of the Ten Commandments probably began as a legend (or two separate legends) with no connection to the Exodus story. This material may have begun as a Shasu story about their relationship with Yahweh. The Shasu were those southern nomads who were known to particularly worship Yahweh, and the references to Sinai may point to a southern myth cycle. Only later was the Sinai story merged with the developing Exodus narrative.

Most importantly, the entire notion of monotheism is a very late development, and belongs not to the legendary past of Exodus, but to the 7th century B.C.E. when the priests in Jerusalem were fashioning the story.

Like all other peoples in Canaan, the Israelites worshipped several gods: El, who had long been the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon (the name “El” is imbedded in the name “Israel”); El’s wife, Asherah, the chief goddess; and their seventy children, including Baal and Yahweh. The various children of El and Asherah functioned as the national gods of individual ethnic groups, and Yahweh may have been considered the special god of Israel (with Yahweh’s father El still the supreme being).

It’s difficult to know how Yahweh got to be the special protector god of Israel. He was apparently a minor deity in Bronze Age Canaan. He may have been the special god of the Shasu, who brought his worship into the larger Israelite confederacy. He may have started out as the favored deity of the southern people who would eventually form the tribe of Judah, and at first was not particularly revered in the northern tribes, where worship of El and Baal predominated.

Whatever Yahweh’s status in the early days, over the course of centuries he rose in importance and eventually merged with El in Hebrew thought. By the time of the monarchy he appears to have been regarded as the chief god, with Asherah as his consort. The Israelites regularly worshipped Yahweh and Asherah as a pair, along with Baal and no doubt others. Throughout most of Israel’s history as a state, the people were thoroughly polytheistic. They may have revered Yahweh especially, but not exclusively.

Monotheism began as a religious ideal among a few prophets sometime during the middle or later monarchy, centuries after the era of David. It appears to have gained strength as a religious reform movement particularly in the southern kingdom of Judah. By the time the books of the Bible were being written, this new religious movement had taken hold of the elite, who retrojected it into the past they were writing. And so the priests depicted Moses as a monotheist receiving a full set of detailed laws and even Temple regulations from God, when of course such ideas would have been almost incomprehensible to the people of Moses’ day.

If Moses even existed.

For most scholars, Moses is a cipher. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam may be the names of dimly remembered priests or prophets who were later worked into the evolving Exodus-Sinai narrative, and whose names were used to lend authority to different priestly factions. More than that is conjecture. (Though some of that conjecture is deeply interesting, such as the idea that Miriam may have originally been a great leader whose legend was only later eclipsed by Moses.)

One other thing: where did the Ark of the Covenant come from? Historian Baruch Halpern has noted astutely that a close reading of the books of Samuel indicates clearly that the ark came from the Gibeonites. It may not have been an Israelite religious artifact at all until David adopted it.

The Conquest

Simply stated, it didn’t happen. There was no conquest of the land as described in the book of Joshua. During the Late Bronze Age, when the Conquest was supposed to have occurred, most of the cities allegedly taken by Joshua were either unoccupied or unfortified.

There was a gradual collapse of Canaanite urban centers at the end of the Bronze Age, but the Israelites weren’t the cause. The collapse occurred over the course of a century as part of the overall breakdown in civilization that accompanied the end of the Bronze Age and the dawn of the Iron Age. One reason for the breakdown was the invasion of “Sea Peoples” from the Aegean — including Philistines. The foreign invaders who burned the Canaanite cities were Philistine, not Israelite.

In fact, the Israelites weren’t foreign invaders at all. This is rather an important point, since by now you may be thinking, if none of the biblical narrative so far is true and the Exodus didn’t happen, where did the Israelites come from?

Archaeologists are united in seeing the early Israelites as inhabitants of Canaan, not an alien group from somewhere else. They were always there, part of the population, though possibly they started out as pastoralists on the edges of settlements. Israelite material culture is archaeologically indistinguishable from Canaanite material culture, the Hebrew language is a dialect of Canaanite, and the Hebrew gods started out as Canaanite deities. The Israelites must be thought of as an ethnic enclave that somehow formed within the larger matrix of Canaanite society.

The name “Israel” first appears in history with the Merneptah stele of 1207 B.C.E. This Egyptian pharaoh boasted of his campaign in the Levant, saying “Israel’s seed is laid waste!” It’s the first known reference to anything called Israel. The Egyptian word indicates that Israel is an ethnic group, rather than a nation-state.

Around the same time, a new scattering of settlements was appearing in the central hill country, in what would eventually be the region of Israel and Judah. Archaeologists see these early settlements as Israelite or proto-Israelite. But where did these settlers come from?

In terms of material culture, the new settlements are virtually identical to the other rural Canaanite settlements. There is nothing to suggest that these people came from anywhere outside Canaan. The only distinctive note is a relative absence of pig bones. Many people in the Near East have, at various times, eschewed pork, but during this period the hill country settlements are unusual in this respect — especially in comparison to the coast, where the newly arrived Philistines were clearly eating a lot of pork.

Which brings us to the larger issue of ethnogenesis during this period in Canaan. The 12th century B.C.E. was the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age in the Near East. It was one of the most cataclysmic thresholds in history: all of the great Mediterranean civilizations were swept away in a matter of decades, replaced by a dangerous new world of petty states and feuding tribes. In the Levant, invaders from the Aegean, including the Philistines, swarmed the coast and overwhelmed the Canaanite cities. Egypt, which had exercised imperial control over Canaan, was beaten back to the Nile. The entire region plunged into a Dark Age. It was almost certainly out of this social maelstrom that the people who called themselves “Israel” emerged.

Perhaps the Israelites were originally urban Canaanites who fled to the hills. Perhaps they were pastoralists who had long lived on the edge of the cities and were now forced to settle down in order to grow food. Perhaps they were just peasants who moved to higher ground to escape bandits — or maybe they were bandits themselves. Perhaps some of them were from Sinai or Transjordan, small nomadic bands who joined the larger, emerging Israelite confederation. No one knows for sure, but all these theories are in play — and they may all be at least partially correct. Gradually these people came together, intermarried, and began to think of themselves as an ethnic group.

The Monarchy: Saul, David, Solomon, and later

This is where the biblical narrative starts to blend into the period of recoverable history, but there is much doubt among scholars as to where exactly legend leaves off and fact begins. Even conservative scholars recognize that there could have been very little in the way of a kingdom under David: Jerusalem at this time was a tiny hamlet, barely more than a hilltop camp. But whereas some scholars — called “maximalists” — see a nub of real history in the stories of Saul, David, and Solomon, more radical scholars — called “minimalists” — see these figures as legendary King Arthurs ruling over a Camelot that never existed.

Here’s a “maximalist” view:

1. Saul was probably an elected war chief or king of the northern tribes only (Israel).
2. David was a Philistine vassal who started out as a bandit and achieved some sort of chiefdom or kingship over Judah.
3. David usurped the house of Saul to eventually establish control over the northern tribes of Israel, resulting in a combined kingdom of Judah and Israel.
4. Solomon, David’s successor, brought the combined state of Israel and Judah to the level of fortified statehood, and the monumental architecture archaeologists have recovered from that general era belonged to his kingdom.
5. After Solomon’s death the northern tribes broke free again and the two regions split into separate kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

Here’s a “minimalist” view:

1. Saul, if he existed, was some sort of war chief or king over Israel.
2. David was some sort of war chief or king over Judah. (The phrase “House of David” is known from outside the Bible, so someone named David must have existed, even if he was only a petty chieftain.)
3. Solomon, if he existed, was just a king of Judah, a tiny little backwater.
4. Israel and Judah were never united. There was never a kingdom spanning from Dan to Beersheba.
5. All the monumental architecture uncovered by archaeologists was the work of the northern kingdom of Israel. Judah remained an insignificant backwater until Israel was conquered by Assyria, at which time it expanded politically.

Personally I incline to the maximalist view; it just hangs together better for me. But honestly I’m not sure. The minimalists have some excellent points.

Bottom Line

Israel emerged in the Iron age as an ethnic sub-group of Canaanites. They united around their worship of Yahweh as their patron god, and distinguished themselves from the neighbors with cultural markers like circumcision and refusal to eat pork. Eventually they formed a tiny kingdom, or perhaps two tiny kingdoms, and enjoyed a few brief centuries in the sun. Then they were swept away, conquered by neighbors far bigger and more powerful than they could ever be, their territory converted into provinces of empires.

But uniquely among the people of the Levant, they developed a religious literature that would carry them beyond the dissolution of their state. Israel and Judah died, but the Jewish people were born out of the books they left behind.

That’s another story, though.


The series:

Religions Evolve, Part 1: Christianity
Religions Evolve, Part 2: Islam
Religions Evolve, Part 3: Judaism

Filed under: Random Pedantry, Religion · Tags:

40 Responses to “Religions Evolve, Part 3: Judaism”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    I only have two things to say. The first is that I was under the impression that parts of the Bible – those associated with J – date back to the 10th century B.C.E. Was the Bible really written by four sources, denoted J, E, P, and D, as the scholarship I’ve read on the premier secularist Israeli website says?

    The second is, have there been attempts to date the Bible based on linguistic evidence, such as loanwords and long-term rates of language change?

  2. Alon Levy says:

    On another note, the link to the part about Islam is broken.

  3. Violet says:

    Oh, thank you for letting me know. I fixed it.

  4. Violet says:

    Your first comment was in the moderation queue, and I don’t know why. Don’t see what’s funky about it.

    The documentary hypothesis (J, E, P, D) is still in play, but it’s become significantly more sophisticated. I don’t think anybody sees those as four different authors but as four different strands of tradition or editorial schools now.

    The 10th century — there may be fragments dating back that far, but none of the books as they exist were written that early. Baruch Halpern believes that parts of Samuel are that old, but many others disagree with him. He also believes there was a real court history from the 10th century that informs Samuel and Kings, but others disagree with him. The more radical scholars don’t believe anything dates back that far except names and some little poetic fragments.

    There are a couple of little fragments like the Song of Miriam that everyone agrees are very archaic and must long predate the written books. And yes, that’s based on linguistic analysis. The Song of Deborah too.

    The linguistic analysis is always fruitful, and is a good indicator of what parts are really old in the source material. That’s one of the key methods for sorting out the strands of legend and their chronology.

  5. Steve says:

    Serious question Violeta:

    Would you agree that it is in fact the precise way you describe these texts as evolving — with all the reconstruction, fudging, myth-borrowing, composite characters, historical innacuracies, wish fulfillment, political power — that ultimately render them a more interesting and illuminating reflection of raw human nature?

    I love that they are an almagamation of so many of our contradictory and hypocritical human impulses and even that they are full of all the fudging you so clearly show.

    That’s who we are.

  6. Pastor Al E Pistle says:

    Not for nothing does the terror rise in my throat like an old orange in a cesspool to read that the Jewish race is actually a group of Canaanites who co-opted the Bible for their own horrible ends.

    But I must take you to task for deconstructing the escape from Egypt. The physical evidence proves that Moses parted the Red Sea right around the shallow part where reeds grew in the olden times. The evidence is obvious to anyone who bothers to look. There are no Egyptian chariots on this side.

    And it is perfectly reasonable to assume a trek of ~200 miles would take 40 years, especially since they had no food or water to help them along and anyway the sun was much hotter in those days.

    I caution you to label your suppositions a bit more clearly so people won’t believe that you are actually advancing a theory which contradicts the KJV1611 (Authorized) Bible. And I want to warn you people that Brother Pat Robertson was visited by GOD nocturnally and, “If I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be
    lashed by storms”. If he misunderstood though, the east may be mashed by storks. Either way it won’t be pretty.

  7. Violet says:

    My answer to Mr. Steve: yes. In fact, that’s why I study the stuff.

    All my life people have wondered why on earth I study a religion I don’t believe in. It’s because I’m so fascinated by how people create the past, create a reality to believe in. And because I’m endlessly fascinated by unraveling what really happened versus what people imagine happened.

    Pastor Pistle, I’m counting on you to pray for me and make things right with the Tetragrammaton.

  8. gordo says:

    Pastor–

    Rev Robertson may be old, but he eats his “youth pancakes” every day, so his hearing is just fine, even when he dreams.

    His prophecy will be fulfilled — there will definitely be storms that hit the US coastline in 2006.

    I believe he also predicted that there will be car crashes and forest fires in 2006, and when those happen as well, Rev. Robertson will finally be recognized as one of God’s prophets.

  9. appletree » Blog Archive » Dr. Socks Looks At Judaism says:

    [...] At Reclusive Leftist, Dr. Violent Socks has the latest installment in her series on religion. In this edition, she takes a look at the Old Testament, analyzing the development of the scriptures in terms of historical and antrhopological evidence. She also includes links to her earlier investigations of Christianity and Islam. [...]

  10. Steve says:

    Violeta: Are you inspired or provoked by biblical narratives? Are you moved when you read a story that, completely independent of its accuracy, reveals a raw painful truth about how we see ourselves and who we are?

    I guess I am trying to get a handle on whether biblical texts give you any solace or philisophocal pause, or whether you see them as simply interesting legends to be deconstructed.

    I confess that when I read a story about some struggle or fear experienced by a biblical character, I seem capable of dismissing all the abracadabra and supernaturalism and still find myself consoled by the thought that I am part of a long line of humans who have angushed and suffered over the same damn things.

  11. Mandos says:

    Speaking of the Tetragrammaton, anyone on a fan of David Brin? He has a machine in a (relatively) recent novel called the Tetragrammatron. -tron.

    It helps inscribe your soul on an inanimate object. Part of the science of “soulistics”. It’s in his novel Kiln People.

  12. Violet says:

    I guess I am trying to get a handle on whether biblical texts give you any solace or philisophocal pause, or whether you see them as simply interesting legends to be deconstructed.

    The latter. No, the biblical texts don’t give me solace or philosophical pause.

    I wasn’t raised to believe in that stuff (well, not past some desultory teachings in my pre-school days, anyway) so they don’t have that kind of power for me. To be honest, I’ve always been struck by how primitive, misogynstic, and superstitious all the Old Testament figures appear. I felt that way when I was 8 years old and read the Bible all the way through for the first time. Jesus, these people are so fucking primitive! I thought. And they treat women like cattle!

    Philosophically, I think the Vedas from the same era are vastly superior. When I started studying Hinduism a few years later I was amazed at the far greater level of sophistication, though of course the whole corpus is full of a lot of nonsense too.

    Christianity had potential, what with the peculiar intersection of hellenistic idealism and Judaic flesh-and-bloodism, but it was largely swamped by godbaggism.

    Of all the old world religions, Buddhism has impressed me most with the elegance of its thought, though for a Westerner it’s a rather cold philosophy.

  13. Violet says:

    Steve, one other thing that actually I should have emphasized more in my reply: a huge reason I don’t identify with the biblical characters is because as a female, I don’t see a place for myself in that world. That was evident to me even as a child on an absolutely visceral level, and is possibly one reason that I embraced feminism so thoroughly at that age (about 8). I’d been reading the bible and was just stunned at how my half of the species were treated almost like soulless animals. It was a man’s world, a man’s God.

    I did, however, identify with Moses in the movie of The Ten Commandments — Charlton Heston — even though my mother and brother and I would roll on the floor in laughter at what a dreadful movie it was. Anne Bancroft’s acting is appalling. But I guess I had delusions of grandeur, because I used to go out in the fields with my staff and lead the people out of Egypt.

  14. Mandos says:

    I loved that movie! I love all the Exodus reenactments, actually. Well, the only ones I know are The Ten Commandments and the cartoon Prince of Egypt.

  15. Alon Levy says:

    Steve, one other thing that actually I should have emphasized more in my reply: a huge reason I don’t identify with the biblical characters is because as a female, I don’t see a place for myself in that world.

    I couldn’t identify with any character there even though my gender’s the one that gets the long end of the patriarchal stick.

  16. Violet says:

    I couldn’t identify with any character there even though my gender’s the one that gets the long end of the patriarchal stick.

    Insert penis joke.

    Mandos, I love that movie too. It’s so bad it’s good. No, it’s so bad it’s great! And Yul Brynner is sexy.

  17. Steve says:

    I think it very significant that, for all my own anger about patriarchy, I didn’t even think about that aspect of biblical texts when I asked you the question.

    I was so wrapped up in how much I see myself in some of the messiness and contracdictions and even dishonesty of biblical texts that I forgot you are hardly there.

    Sometimes the privilige is so fully present that I cant see the forest for the trees.

  18. Jade says:

    As a Religous Intellectual Historian, and as a Jew, I find the above fascinating.

    However, as a Jew I am also aware that every single Jewish person was required to write the complete Torah in his or her lifetime as it was passed down from his/her grandfather as given to our predecessors at Sinai – this was the first directive of the rabbis when we went into the diaspora and has remained so to this day.

    What is terribly remarkable is that from manuscript to manuscript – scroll to scroll – even of those of the ancient scrolls of which many have survived, that they are nearly identical even after having been away from the Temple for hundreds of years.

    Think about that phenomena in itself! To have thousands of people write the TORAH as they were given it VERBALLY by their grandparents and each of these groups separated by hundreds and thousands of miles and yet, they all come up with a nearly identical verbatim history without the internet! WOW!

    Maybe this mytholigal amalgamation doesn’t apply as much as some would like.

  19. Paul Tergeist says:

    Maybe you are not as intellectual as you believe.

  20. Pastor Pistle says:

    Dear Jade,

    I have nothing against Jews even though they nailed up my lord and savior JESUS CHRIST and wear funny hats. Everyone knows that you people cheat like crazy and it’s not a very great leap to guess that IF all of these copies are nearly identical, someone was copying instead of listening to ole grampa. Here’s the thing. In order for every Jew to write the Torah from a verbal history, all of you must have the entire thing memorized. But you don’t and never did. My dear friend Benyamin bar Isosceles managed the feat, but he is a prodigious reader of the Torah and the Hadron. Sadly, it won’t help him. He is going to toast in HELL along with the rest of you unmenschionables. Enjoy SATAN’s huge, barbed tallywhacker slapping at your backside for eternity!

  21. Violet says:

    However, as a Jew I am also aware that every single Jewish person was required to write the complete Torah in his or her lifetime as it was passed down from his/her grandfather as given to our predecessors at Sinai – this was the first directive of the rabbis when we went into the diaspora and has remained so to this day.

    That is a charming legend, but it’s not true. The myth of the oral Torah passed down intact from generation to generation is a much later invention of rabbinic Judaism to defend the Book as sacred and perfect. At the time of the diaspora the majority of Jews were not literate anyway. (And that’s aside from the fact that the Torah was not composed until many, many centuries after the events it purportedly describes, so there was no set text to memorize before then.)

    What is terribly remarkable is that from manuscript to manuscript – scroll to scroll – even of those of the ancient scrolls of which many have survived, that they are nearly identical even after having been away from the Temple for hundreds of years.

    Actually they are not identical. There are very few scrolls — fewer than we would expect if millions of Jewish people were copying them — and the ones that exist show significant variation. The Septuagint of course established a uniform standard, but scrolls and fragments from before that time show a varied text.

  22. Brother Joseph Temperance says:

    As an ex-Jew, I feel uniquely positioned to comment on this matter. While studying for my Bar Mitzah, I found it remarkably difficult to memorise the story of Balaam and Balak, especially as I had until then only been accustomed to dealing with the simplified form of Hebrew featuring vowels, so I found the Torah itself quite a challenge. However, when I took to the bimah, I was possessed by Satan’s spirit, and all that Hebrew gibberish just seemed to flow naturally out of me. I see no reason why Satan could not also have coached those ancient Jews while they were recording HALF the Holy Bible in scribble-writing in a desert. There is a logical explanation for everything if only you look hard enough.

  23. Alon Levy says:

    Insert penis joke.

    Insert? ;)

  24. Mandos says:

    Mandos, I love that movie too. It’s so bad it’s good. No, it’s so bad it’s great! And Yul Brynner is sexy.

    I kind of like it as a genuinely good movie.

  25. Violet says:

    Mandos, I just picked up a copy of Kiln People. If it sucks you can just PayPal me the $7.99.

    Insert? ;)

    One good double entendre deserves another.

  26. schemanista says:

    Hey Dr. Socks

    Can you point those of us who are interested but ain’t lairned at a suggested reading list or bibliography, or even toss us a couple of names so’s we can delve a little deeper into this?

    Pretty please?

  27. Violet says:

    I’m sorry, schemanista — I missed your comment at first and am a bit late replying.

    Here are some good books:

    The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman

    Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times by Donald Redford

    David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King by Baruch Halpern

    The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai

  28. John Smith says:

    The stories are supposed to take place in the Bronze Age, perhaps the early 2nd millennium B.C.E., but they are full of anachronistic elements: Philistines (who wouldn’t arrive in Canaan until the Iron Age), domesticated camels, cities and kingdoms that wouldn’t exist for centuries, and so on. The names of the individuals and parts of their legends may be very old, but the stories as we have them could not have been written before the 7th century B.C.E. — a thousand years or more after the patriarchs allegedly lived.

    Actually, did you know where the Philistines were supposed to have come from? They were, before the Great Flood, the result of angels and beautiful women procreating and thus, Philistines were one result of them, Cyclops was another, the Nephalim was another which was by the way a description of all I’m describing. this is the reason the women in the Middle East wear burkhas today. They cover their face from back then, to prevent from being seen by an angel who might take them without their consent.

    Also, scientifically speaking, “the Great Flood” as we all call it, or Noah’s Flood, took place around 5500 B.C. Several cultures throughout the world have the same story, but told in a different manner as far as what happened at their part of the world. But, in reality, it may only have happened where the ark was built and in that area only, who’s to say.

  29. John Smith says:

    So, what do people think of what’s going on in the Mideast right now?

  30. richard cherry says:

    So, what do people think of what’s going on in the Mideast right now?
    Is that near the Midwest?
    Too much killing and not enough penis jokes, if you ask me. Bit like the bible, really. Apart from Onan – that bit was good.
    John Smith, I can never forgive you for dying and inflicting T Blair on the labour party, Britain and the world.
    And now for a real question: DrV – what’s in the Torah? (Surreal questions: if all these single Jewish people had to write it all out, what did the married ones do, why did they need so many bloody copies? – it’s not like it’s the Da Vinci code; and how the hell did they get anything done at all? Ever???) I’m sure I could look somewhere or open a book or something (but I had to do that for 3 years at uni and it’s soooo much effort). Make it nice and easy please DrV. The bit above was facinating but longggggggggg. Just the highlights. On the other hand, even I think the summation : ‘Jesus, these people are so fucking primitive!’ while possibly accurate – they didn’t even have mobile phones after all – is just a bit too simplistic. Don’t suppose the publishers of The Bible would put that on the cover.
    Actually, might be a bit of a seller.
    Or even ‘lots of good smitings and the occasional penis joke’.
    Think I need a life – or maybe a religion. I actually really fancy Christianity, but look at the people who got there first…

  31. John Smith says:

    Well, as rolling on the fllor laughing as this will get you, I’ll post it anyway. (watch me get deleted)

    In the “End Times,” there will be two periods of Tribulations, a Pre-Tribulations by the Anti-Christ using the ten nations (the ten-horned beast), that lasts for a period of three and a half years, when Christ comes down for the first time for his New Testament Elect. “The skies shall grow dark, and no one will see, until He shows on a lining, lighting for all to see, even those that pierced Him.”
    The Post-Tribulations shall be interrupted when Christ comes back down after the Rapture of the Church, during the Lamb Supper. Then, and only then shall the Post-Tribulations be cut short by the Wrath of God, which will last up to/or around seven to seven and a half years. The Wrath of God shall bring forth “Rivers of Blood,” 2,000,000,000 horsemen, stinging locusts, plagues, and destructions everywhere. Christ will not be in a happy mood, as he will be fighting “Isa,” the Islamic Christ, which translated by Hebrew and Christian texts as,, “the Anti-Christ.”

    He shall bring forth destruction upon the world, without so much as a care what anyone thinks or does anywhere else. The countries involved with this beast? Some of them can be named: Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, part of N. Africa, Syria, and Afghanistan.(Just to name a few of the ten) Those ten will have forced allies also. Still rolling on the floor laughing? With all due respect to you, what if they target you? What if they don’t?

    Do you believe in God? No? Fine. Do you believe in the Anti-Christ? No? Fine, because he sure believes in you…and hopes you still believe that way when your turn comes…

  32. Violet says:

    And now for a real question: DrV – what’s in the Torah?

    Is that really a real question? Really?

    Torah means the first five books of the Bible, which comprise the written law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus (my favorite — always fun at parties!), Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But it also can refer to the law itself, whether written or oral, hence the phrase the “oral Torah” (the oral version of the law supposedly passed down father-to-son).

  33. John Smith says:

    Ah, the Book of Leviticus. “Man shall not sleep with Mankind as with womankind, as it is an abomination.” Leviticus.

    I thought this would get you laughing a bit.

  34. richard cherry says:

    so it’s all a marketing ploy: they sell you a bible and when you return hungry for more of the same, they go ‘well I have got this; same author – it’s the torah’ and you go ‘is it about the same stuff? cos I really enjoyed that bible (especially the penis joke)’ and they smile knowingly and go ‘oh yes it’s very similar’ and you end up paying about the same for the first five bits of something you already had! And if you pay extra, presumably they throw in a signed copy of the oral torah – a very lightweight volume that one.
    Of course, Doc, it was a real question – I think in the UK our knowledge of the Jewish religion is not what it might be. So Torah kinda equals Pentateuch, then with a few bits of oral tradition for extra laughs – (oral tradition and penis jokes being natural companions).

    Now John – oh lordy where do we start? Do you think you’re quite well? I like a bit of Blake (well more than like actually) and have even read Christopher Smart but your post above is simply full-blown wibbling! It doesn’t sound like anything from the first five books of the bible I read (and read quite a bit as the basis of a classical education – and the King James version, than which nothing more beautiful can be imagined, even if it does turn out to be a bit guessy but hey it’s a religion so a bit of license) but more like one of those loons they stuck at the end of the book. Think I prefer storks ravaging the eastern seaboard and plagues of clogs if I can add my own. As to the beast and his allies (probably just a horde of feminists due to bus strike) and your question: With all due respect to you, what if they target you? What if they don’t? – Well as a good son of Jean Calvin (who so didn’t beget Calvin Klein) if I am destined to be in the number of the elect, I shall happily put up with a little local disturbance on the grounds that what comes after is billed as being rather super; and of course if I’m not of the elect then I’m buggered (quite literally if we believe Bosch). And either way I don’t suppose the possession of a large and well-equipped military will amount to a whole hill of beans in that crazy world, so why worry unduly? I shall put my head between my legs and kiss my personality goodbye as:
    1) I don’t believe in the immortality of the person and certainly not the resurrection of the body – that’s just to make you feel better about it all – but rather of the soul
    2) It’s a nice trick if you can do it and then would be as good a time as any to try it.
    And quoting Leviticus… and a bit we’ve all heard… that would be relevant how?
    No please don’t explain, you poor man. Just lie down somewhere quiet and see if the voices subside. Nighty night.

  35. Infidel says:

    If you are born with an understanding of anything it is sight. If you are born without sight you understand sound. Touch, Smell, Taste.

    No Bible, no God, N o religion- you and your five senses.

    Sight is the best. Close your eyes and imagine. Never “cover your ears and imagine”, “plug your nose and imagine”, “clear your pallatte, suspend yourself in a weightless environment and imagine”

    Look at these letters and concentrate on who wrote them first, these words you see, the meaning they convey. All of you are imagined by me to be the source of all I have read attributed to you all, I had to imagine more than how you looked, more than how you might smell, taste, feel, or sound- you are perfect in all your expression and I thank you.

    “Me, I drive a taxi cab.”
    -Jaques Brell-

    Jewish. Sight,Sound,Smell,Taste,Feel

    Big nose
    Funny sounding words
    Old ladies apartment smell
    Herring, or Loks & Bagels
    Hairy legs(nice)

    The text, the Torah, funny hats, emmaculate temples, rich, clean, Bar Mitzva, Chanuakaa or Hannoooka, Yom Kippur, Blow the chauffer, kind, gentle souls, hard working pioneers, scientists, cold victims lobbing bombs on guilty innocents.

    My take on millions and millions. Bubble down to the genesis of a book written when? by who? and never, never ask why. WHY, Violet did they write the book? You say, “…a religious literature that would carry them beyond the dissolution of their state. Israel and Judah died, but the Jewish people were born out of the books they left behind.”, are you implying they knew if they stuck with a “book”, with a religious literature they would be rewarded?

  36. John Smith says:

    Me.
    Dead, three times.
    Been there three times, saw what it was like. Know what to expect. (Both ends, not just one)
    Told three times it wasn’t yet my time.
    Didn’t want to come back, but here I am, talking to you fools. LOL
    I can call you fools because I have seen and experienced this. Have you? No. You just live in a quagmire of B.S. trying to convince everyone of your own lies to yourself, which is fine by me.
    Have a nice day. God bless you anyway. (I bear no ill will towards you though, just thought I’d bring fair warning to you)

  37. Infidel says:

    “You just live in a quagmire of B.S. trying to convince everyone of your own lies to yourself, which is fine by me.”

    Glad to know, its fine by you. It would hurt me to think my B.S. was something you might be getting on your shoes(or whatever).

  38. John Smith says:

    No problem, infidel.

  39. Religion is More Mythical than Atheists Think « Abstract Nonsense says:

    [...] The History of Religion feature is no different. Its part about Judaism concedes that Abraham existed and that the conquest of Canaan was real. Real historians of religion beg to differ: there’s no archeological or linguistic evidence Judaism even existed before the early 1st millennium BC. [...]

  40. madaha says:

    I’d love to see your bibliography for this! I love this kind of stuff. I haven’t read through your comments yet, in case you already did a list. But seriously, I’d love to read these books. ciao, thanks.