God's Ghostwriters:
February 7, 2001 7:48 PM   Subscribe

God's Ghostwriters: Who wrote the Bible, when and why?
posted by lagado (26 comments total)
More on the book, and the controversy, in Salon.
posted by chino at 10:19 PM on February 7, 2001

Uhuh, how ‘bout that Temptation Island?!

posted by poodle at 11:16 PM on February 7, 2001


What, if I may ask, was the point of that sound file? Other than scaring the shit out of me at 2:30 am?...sheesh, speaking of jackasses....
posted by Optamystic at 2:33 AM on February 8, 2001

thanks for the link, chino.
posted by lagado at 3:24 AM on February 8, 2001

Slightly weird review - where were those old favourites J, E, D and P? (Even if E is bogus.)
posted by Mocata at 3:51 AM on February 8, 2001

<bgsound src="http://www.animalpicturesarchive.com/animal/SOUND/donkeyb.wav">

Dear God. Please put server-side filtering on Metafilter for embeded sounds, goatsex, and 'cry-me-a-river' lefties. Thank you.
posted by holloway at 4:16 AM on February 8, 2001

Much of the foundation that biblical deconstructionists rest their conclusions on may be based on some fundamentally faulty dating of the Egyptian royal dynastic line that goes back to Napoleonic times. For an alternate (and secular) view, pick up a copy of David Rohl's Pharaohs and Kings or catch the series made from the book. Rohl is somewhat controversial, but I have to admit that many of the events chronicled in the OT line up very nicely with archaeology when applied to his alternate timeline.
posted by MrBaliHai at 6:00 AM on February 8, 2001

Not sure exactly which Biblical deconstructionists you're referring to, MrBH--tell me more?--but the original 19th challenges to the Bible rested on internal evidence--contradictory accounts of the same events, incompatible alternative narratives, varying use of terms, different genealogies, etc.

What's wrong with E, Mocata?
posted by rodii at 6:41 AM on February 8, 2001

Another (admittedly pro-atheist) story about the research here, from the Acharya S. site. Other neat tidbits include:
It should be noted that "David" is an old
Cannaanite god, which is likely the reason there would be an inscription with his name on it. In 1975 at
Ebla, Syria, there were found 20,000 clay tablets, 4500 years old, a thousand years before the biblical
David and Solomon supposedly lived. These tablets contain the names of various apparent Canaanite
gods, such as "Ab-ra-mu (Abraham), E-sa-um (Esau), Ish-ma-ilu (Ishmael), even Is-ra-ilu (Israel), and
from later periods names like Da-'u'dum (David) and Sa-'u-lum (Saul)."
I'd also love to see any anti-E stories.

posted by norm at 7:15 AM on February 8, 2001

Anyone who has a puff quote from Marilyn Vos Savant on his front page has some credibility work to do with me. . .

I find those unsouced "Canaanite god" names pret-ty dubious, Norm. But thanks for the story itself.
posted by rodii at 7:52 AM on February 8, 2001

As far as I remember, the only difference between J and E is the matter of the names for God, which isn't enough to justify that whole Northern/Southern source business; basically J and E are pretty much the same source.

In general, though, it's disturbing how much the Albright-Wright-Bright mentality persists among journalists and popular historians.
posted by Mocata at 8:05 AM on February 8, 2001

Acharya S is a woman, Rodii. You sexist.
Yeah, it's pretty out there, but there are some cool links.
posted by norm at 8:52 AM on February 8, 2001

Oh, on J/E; I thought there was also a plural/singular issue at play, with it being Elohim indicating plural El, and the Jahwist (YHWH) always singular; but I could be remembering that wrong.

posted by norm at 8:59 AM on February 8, 2001

Can't remember too much about the whole thing, although my teacher was very down on splitting J and E. Mind you, he wasn't all that up to date. I should probably read this, and I would if it wasn't so expensive...
posted by Mocata at 9:27 AM on February 8, 2001

Not sure exactly which Biblical deconstructionists you're referring to, MrBH

The authors of the book under discussion, Finkelstein and Silberman, among others who have challenged the historical accuracy of Israelite origins as described in the OT.

And I don't think that you can really separate the textual criticism from the archaeological record completely since it's been used to both prop up and discount the text over the last century depending heavily on the personal views of those doing the criticism. If you assume that the widely accepted timeline of Egypt and Palestine is valid, then indeed the historical events in the OT do not appear to line up with the archaeological record.

Yes, there are also internal contradictions between the narratives that cannot be resolved by any means...I wasn't challenging that. My point is that Rohl makes a pretty compelling case that the accepted timeline is off by about 300 years which if taken into account, brings much of the archaeological evidence back into line with the Genesis/Exodus narrative.

Archaeology is a very inexact science involving the creation of entire sociopolitical models from often fragmentary evidence. Finkelstein and Silberman may be correct in their assertations, but there's an equal chance that Rohl is correct, IMO.
posted by MrBaliHai at 9:44 AM on February 8, 2001

I'm sure 19th century Egyptology is riddled with dating errors, but anything which claims to bring 'much of the archaeological evidence back into line with the Genesis/Exodus narrative' sounds to me a bit bogus.

Are you claiming historicity for the Patriarchs, the Exodus or what? I know nothing about Rohl but the fact he's been televised makes it sound as if he's one of those tedious nuts plugging away at finding Exodus in the Egyptian record via the hyskos, 'apiru and all the other bores. Correct me if I'm wrong, though.
posted by Mocata at 10:39 AM on February 8, 2001

More on Rohl (I haven't read these yet, but they seem interesting--thanks for the pointer, MrBH): [1] [2] and the man's very own (bizarre) site.
posted by rodii at 3:32 PM on February 8, 2001

Just in case you missed it, the nytimes also have Chapter I of the book:

The Bible Unearthed
Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts

Norm, are you referring to the discovery of Canaanite clay tablets at Ugarit?
There are many interesting parallels between Hebrew and Ugaritic literature.

Hebrew is basically a dialect of Canaanite and the archaeological research is showing that Hebrew society emerged out of Canaanite society rather than through conquest from outside.

posted by lagado at 4:18 PM on February 8, 2001

And here's Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archaeology Review peddling furiously while trying to explain why there is no archaeological evidence of a major city to have existed at Jerusalem during the time of the united monarchy.

"Let's take the big picture, says Shanks. We have good archaeological evidence for the city's existence before 1550 B.C. and after 586 B.C. but little in between. If we rigidly follow archaeological remains alone, we'd conclude that Jerusalem was mostly abandoned without human habitation for nearly 1,000 years."

posted by lagado at 5:57 PM on February 8, 2001

a few deconstructions of the deconstruction (it's fun and easy!)

These conclusions do not lead to historical nihilism but open up alternative understandings promoted in the thesis of the book.

wrong. there's no way to candy-coat this. if the authors are right in their thesis, the Pentateuch is fiction built on legends.

A classic case of Judean bias involves the Omride dynasty of the ninth century B.C. Noting only that its founder, Omri, built at Samaria a new capital for the kingdom of Israel, the Deuteronomistic historians dismiss him (in eight verses of the books of Kings) as the most evil of kings. Yet his dynasty endured some 40 years, and archaeological evidence, from hostile witnesses at that, attests its greatness.

wrong again. if the grid for Kings is whether or not the kings in question were obedient to God, then Omri's 'success' is largely unimportant. of course, if the authors are going to reduce everything to politics with no true history, then this conclusion fits their thesis. but that kind of revisionist history is easy to do.

But Josiah's violent death at the hands of Pharaoh Necho II put the lie to Deuteronomistic theology.

the assumption here is that the Jews weren't sophisticated enough to conceive that bad things might still happen to good people. were they really so primitive? i say 'no'. the book of Job admirably expresses this theme: all sin results in suffering, but not all suffering is a result of sin.

generally speaking, we are quick to affirm the wisdom of classical philosophies - Hindu, Greek, Buddhist, etc, but when it comes to the Jews, our society today is quick to make them incapable yokels - 'noble savages' who were inept theologians and historians.

posted by Sean Meade at 8:17 AM on February 9, 2001

we are quick to affirm the wisdom of classical philosophies - Hindu, Greek, Buddhist, etc

Not that old hobby horse again, Sean.

but when it comes to the Jews, our society today is quick to make them incapable yokels - 'noble savages' who were inept theologians and historians.

Society is far from that position. In fact people generally hold these texts to be sacred and accept them on face value.

It's interesting to sift through the evidence and question some basic assumptions. What's wrong with that?

posted by lagado at 4:52 PM on February 9, 2001

Anyone ever hear of the Epic of Gilgamesh? It's an epic poem written 4000 years ago in Babylonia. It was common all through the mid east. A written form of it was found, in cuneiform. There were many other inscriptions in that writing, and in the 19th century it was cracked. It's one of the great triumphs of archeological cryptography, rivaling the reading of the Egyptian heiroglyphics.

Once they could read the language, they discovered that the Epic of Gilgamesh (one of the great works of literature in the human heritage) contained a story about Utnapishtim, who learned that the Gods decided to make a great flood to kill all humans. One of the Gods let him know about it, and he built a great boat and collected all the animals on earth. The flood lasted for seven days and seven nights and his boat came to rest on the side of a mountain. Then he sent out a dove to see if it was safe to leave the boat. Does that sound familiar?

But the Epic of Gilgamesh is dated much earlier than the Old Testament, even discounting revisionist datings.

The decipherment of cuneiform also made possible the translation of the Code of Hammurabi, which predates and appears to have inspired the Mosaic code, which also appears in the Old Testament.

These writings were translated in the 19th century; it's hardly news that much of the Old Testament was plagiarized.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2001

Steven, I know you don't mean to be condescending, but you come across that way sometimes. Gilgamesh is well known; I'd imagine that most of us here have heard of it.

"Plagiarized" is an anachronism, an artifact of an era in which authorship is a major concern. It wasn't in those days.

Anyway, there's no reason to think the OT flood story was taken from Gilgamesh. It's more likely that there were any number of variants of the flood story floating (no pun intended) around the Near East, and Gilgamesh and the OT incorporated their own variants. Same thing with the Code of Hammurabi and the various instances of legal codes in the OT. It indicates that there was a "culture" of law in the Near East, but doesn't necessarily mean there was any direct influence.

It's worth noting, by the way, that there are lots of inclusions of older material in the OT--the song of Deborah, for example. The flood story is a micture of J and P, with the J part being older. But all that tells us is that the flood story was in place sometime *before* J was worked out--it could be much older than J proper.
posted by rodii at 1:26 PM on February 10, 2001

It's not just that the flood story in the epic of Gilgamesh is about a flood; the similarity to the Noah tale is far more exact than that. It's generally accepted among academics that the OT is actually based on that aspect of the epic of Gilgamesh.

But if the Pentateuch is actually the "word of God" as some people believe, then how could be be taken from pagan works?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:25 PM on February 10, 2001

Sorry, I agree with your conclusion but not your logic. Say there's a source, now lost, call it X. *Both* Gilgamesh and J borrow the story of the flood and the ship from X. That explains the resemblance between the OT and G. You say that most academics accept the stronger hypothesis that J borrowed from G. In my admittedly sporadic reading, I've seen the similarity noted but never saw anything that suggests that's the consensus.

On the other hand, I went looking for sources on this and just found so much credulous fundmantalism and pseudoscience I kind of lost heart. Finding a dispassionate source here without an axe to grind is just about impossible. So it may very well be that your sense of what reputable scholars believe--if there are any--is accurate.
posted by rodii at 3:10 PM on February 10, 2001

I kind of like the "Noah's Flood" theory by Ryan and Pitman to explain the odd fact that many different flood myths were extant in the writings of various cultures.

Apparently Robert Ballard has found some evidence to support the theory, although the knee jerk response from fundamentalist Christians is, as always, to dismiss science when it contradicts their literalist readings. Other Christians don't seem as insecure.

posted by norm at 4:44 PM on February 10, 2001

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