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Jonah: The Elohist Strikes Again!

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RT is continually amazed by the richness of Biblical stories; reading one is often like sifting through an archaeological dig, going down through layers and layers of writing, spotting priceless and beautiful artifacts along the way.

But when RT began re-reading The Book of Jonah, he wasn’t expecting to run across signs of the Elohist! The evidence?

1) Jonah is almost pure narrative, the only example of nearly unbroken storytelling in the minor prophets. But storytelling is a hallmark of the Elohist.

2) Jonah’s story has been heavily edited, and in fact consists of two original, much older, stories: a) the escape to Tarshish and 2) the prophesy against, and God’s forgiveness of, Nineveh. The two stories reached their combined final form in the book about 500-400 BCE.

3) The appearance of elements suggestive (at least to RT’s eyes) of the Elohist Psalter (roughly, psalms 42-83); sorry, at the moment, without further study, RT can only call this a hunch.

4) The fact that God does not destroy Nineveh. The second half of Jonah must predate the destruction of the northern kingdom, and probably dates from the era when Israel was a client state of the Assyrians. 

The first half of Jonah is even older than the Elohist, RT senses, its roots stretching back into the lost world of the Samarian prophets. How this story relates to the rest of the E author’s work is a question that might be worth pursuing.

RT

ImageThe Prophet Jonah, as depicted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel (1471 – 1484). WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Revelation of the Magi–A Rediscovered Gospel

June 25, 2013 2 comments

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Small libraries can contain important books; RT has found this to be the case on more than one occasion, and several times with the library he currently frequents, the Berkeley County Public Library. RT is pretty sure that he will continue to post on this remarkable public resource, but in the meanwhile he is focusing on yet another worthwhile book he has stumbled across in the stacks: The Revelation of the Magi by Brent Landau.

Reasons why this particular volume is important:

1) It contains the first English translation of a single surviving manuscript that claims to report the entire story of the Magi–going as far back as the Garden of Eden.

2) The story contained in TRM varies significantly from the accounts in the Gospels; for instance, it claims that the Magi came from the extreme east of the world (China?)

3) The story does parallel accounts in obscure apocrypha (e.g., the Opus Imperfectum in Mattheum).

4) The story dates to late in the second or early in the third century and is written in Syriac.

5) The manuscript is virtually intact, having been preserved in the Vatican Library.

RT has suspected for some time that the Nativity story has a long and complex tradition, both oral and written. The Revelation confirms the existence of such a tradition, its diversity, and its importance to understanding the life of Jesus. The fact that in TRM the Magi travel the entire length of the Silk Road suggests the extent of the early Christian presence in Asia. The story, at least to RT’s eye, also reflects early Gnostic influences, yet at the same time accepts the Creator God as glorious; in fact, the story offers a remarkably broad and inclusive vision of the role of Jesus in the history of the world. Above all, the Revelation forces readers to face a very difficult question: what was the origin of the Magi and their pilgrimage? What was the response in Persia and cultures farther east to the struggle between Judaism and Rome–and to the appearance of Jesus and his followers? The answers to these questions may well lead to a more balanced understanding of the emergence of the Gospels and Jesus’ life.    RT

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PaintingPolyptych with scenes of the life of Mary (ca. 1490-1499); oil on panel. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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This is how he did it…

June 7, 2013 2 comments

File:Documentary Hypothesis Sources Distribution English.png

…the Redactor, I mean. This is how he braided his source materials together to form the Five Books of Moses as we have them. It is a revealing chart, especially if we remove Leviticus and its Priestly material. We begin to get a better sense of what was important in the storytelling.

Let’s list the actual documents that the Redactor used: 1) the JE Bible, 2) the P Bible, and the 3) Deuteronomistic History.

Now things get complicated: we have to remember that these materials were thoroughly edited not once but twice: by RJE, who combined in the J and E Sources, and by the Redactor, who combined the  JE Bible with the other two sources. Thus, the relationship between J and E in the chart was determined by RJE, while the relationship between JE and P was determined by the Redactor.

What can we say about these relationships? In the first place, the older materials (E, J, and P) are mainly extant in just three of the five Mosaic books: Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers. If we look at Genesis, J predominates: the E source doesn’t even appear until chapter 20! But, notably, the Redactor chose to start Genesis with P’s grand creation hymn.

In Exodus, on the other hand, E predominates (or at least until chapter 35, when P takes over).

And in Numbers, we see that E and R (the Redactor’s own work) predominate (once again, not taking into account the preponderance of P).

What does this tell us about the two editors who shaped the Five Books?

1) The first editor, RJE, favored J in the first third of the story, E in the second third, and apparently E in the final third (if the remnants of the JE Bible in Numbers are representative). That means that the Abraham and Jacob cycles are based on J’s point of view, but that the Joseph cycle, the Exodus, and the wandering in the wilderness are based on E’s perspective.

2) The second editor, R, left the JE Bible relatively intact until the arrival at Mt. Sinai, then used the P Bible and his own work to shape the wandering (and let’s not forget Deuteronomy, which is entirely D’s material).

Stay tuned, folks; there is more to come on this subject…    RT

ChartThe distribution of the sources of the first four books of the bible, according to the documentary hypothesis. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Just What Were the Biblical Sources? (The Bible and the Z Revolution)

June 4, 2013 1 comment

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The mysterious Elohist continues to pester RT, and so do, now that he thinks about it, the other sources for the Hebrew Bible. Just what were the sources that ended up in the Five Books of Moses?

With some help from Richard Elliot Friedman‘s Who Wrote the Bible? RT ventures the following list:

1) The Elohist Bible. The hunch that this was the first of the Biblical documents to be written has been with RT for some time. Certainly the EB was a major work, comprising several scrolls and written by a master literary artist. RT is also pretty certain that the EB was divided differently than the Five Books; for instance, he thinks that in E, Exodus/Shemoth ended somewhere between the Passover and the Crossing of the Red Sea.

2) The Yahwist Bible. Written in response to the Elohist Bible by another gifted writer, the Yahwist Bible has been reconstructed in two beautiful versions, Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg’s The Book of J and Richard Friedman’s The Hidden Book in the Bible. The major difference between the E and J bibles is that the E author represents Israelite tradition from the point of view of the Northern Kingdom (Samaria); the Yahwist author, from the perspective of Judah.

These two works, both composed, as RT supposes, in the 9th century B.C.,  represent the oldest layer of the Biblical texts. But here is where things start to get tricky: neither the E or the J bibles have survived as independent works. They were combined into a single text, the JE Bible, at about the time of the destruction of Samaria (722 B.C.). Comparing the texts, moreover, makes it clear that the person who combined the two texts had a preference for J, since the J material is preserved in a continuous account, while the E material has major gaps, most noticeably, its opening is missing. So, in fact, the JE Bible is the source for the oldest materials in the Bible, while the J and E sources were both lost at some point.

3) The JE Bible. Composed at the end of the 8th century B.C.

Hold onto your hats, folks: there is more still to come. Specifically, one more bible was written, this one after the fall of Samaria and the appearance of the JE Bible.

4) The Priestly Bible. Apparently, the priests in the Jerusalem priesthood were not happy with JE’s point of view, so one of their number wrote a corrected version, the Priestly or P Bible. Friedman assigns the composition of the PB to the reign of Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.).

Hebrew writing had lost none of its vitality: the P source includes the Creation Chant at the opening of Genesis, the great credo of monotheism and surely one of the finest passages of literature ever composed. Here, at the turn of the 7th century B.C., and perhaps during the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, the consciousness of a single creator god emerged.

5) The Deuteronomistic History. Last of the major sources to be written, the Deuteronomist History was composed during the reign of Josiah and at the beginning of the Babylonian Exile, and tells the story of the Israelites from Moses to the time of Josiah. But things are not quite as clean and cut as they might seem: the D Historian used older materials to compose his work, some of them very old. So the books originating from his hand, that is, Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, at least in some cases represent older traditions.

Finally, the four sources were combined; Ezra the Scribe (active in 1st half of the 5th century B.C.) has been named as the individual responsible for combining the materials to produce the Five Books as we have them.

A process this elaborate, taking place over centuries, is bound to produce rival theories and tough debate. From RT’s point of view, admittedly based in his work with Gilgamesh, the writing of the Biblical materials fills in the cultural gap left after the sack of Nineveh and the abandonment of cuneiform script as the principal writing system. A new culture was being born, and that takes time.

RT

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Photo: Jacob Wrestling the Angel; Sainte-Marie-Madeleine Basilica in Vézelay. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

The Elohist–Five Reasons

April 5, 2013 1 comment

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The Elohist continues to intrigue RT. The more he re-reads the passages that belong to this elusive Biblical author, the surer he is that the pieces were taken from a much larger work, the first book that can claim to be a bible–and the first prose masterpiece. Here are some of RT’s reasons for thinking that this much edited work deserves these accolades:

1) Coherence and Unity. RT has noticed again and again that certain phrases and themes appear again and again in the text, for instance, the preference of the patriarchs for two wives.

2) Stones. It’s that simple: as RT has noted recently, standing stones were the mark of a widespread ancient religion, and stones are present in many of the E passages.

3) Samarian Politics. The split between Baal worshipers in the north and Yahweh worship in the south of Samaria could only be healed by somehow uniting the two belief systems–and how better to do this than to create a new national religious text?

4) The Gaps in the Text. RT is pretty sure that the E text contained a cosmogony, if for no other than that the Yahwist text does. If so, not a word of the cosmogony remains, or any of E’s version of Abraham until quite near the conclusion of the Patriarch’s story. This suggests an Elohist version with an opening quite different from the Yahwist–as one would expect in works representing two different sides of a social/religious conflict.

5) Changes in the storyline that the Yahwist probably made. RT is thinking of Moses’ killing of a man in the J text, something that the gentle Moses of E would not have done. Was J trying to portray a more human Moses than the one in E?

What remains to us is two great writers whose works were combined into the JE text. but then the story of the person who combined the texts is very sketchy…something else to think about…  RT

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p.s. RT has written more on the Elohist in this blog.

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Image: Jacob’s Ladder (c. 1800). William Blake. WikiCmns. Public Domain.

Standing Stones

April 4, 2013 4 comments

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RT concludes this set of posts on beautiful things with a reflection on menhirs, or standing stones. Usually associated with Celtic countries, menhirs are in fact much more widely spread: about 50,000 standing stones are scattered across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Some of these stones are also ancient, associated with the Beaker culture, which flourished between 2800 and 1800 B.C. The particular examples in the photograph are located in Sweden.

These stones exercised a powerful influence on people’s imaginations and beliefs. The idea that stone is the very stuff of creation was not easily shaken off, and some of the passages in the Pentateuch can be read as dealing with the struggle to eliminate the worship of menhirs. Still, as the photo reveals, many people today live their lives undisturbed besides these reminders of the ancient past.

RT

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Photo: Standing Stones, Sweden. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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The Ivory House (The Bible & the Z Revolution, Part 6)

February 4, 2012 6 comments

“Now the rest of the acts of Ahab, and all that he did, and the ivory house which he made, and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?” (II Kings 22:39–KJV)

The Book of Kings records some of the most powerful–and violent–stories in the Bible. In its pages we find Elijah summoning the rain, the death of Jezebel, Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem, and the reforms of the Judean kings Hezekiah and Josiah. Kings is our principle source of information on the history of Israel’s divided monarchy–the period between 922 and 722 B.C., when the twelve tribes were ruled by two different kingdoms–the Northern Kingdom of Israel (or Samaria) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

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The victors write a conflict’s history. 1 Kings and 2 Kings (as the Bible presents Kings) are fine examples of this adage, emphasizing the apostacy of Samaria from the true religion of God. Kings makes no bones about how Samaria veered off course: 1) it rejected the rule of the House of David (mandated by God); 2) it worshipped at the two cult centers at Beth-El and Dan (as opposed to the true center of worship, Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem); and 3) it worshipped the Canaanite god Baal and his images (which were forbidden by the Torah). God eventually gave up on Israel and allowed the Assyrian Empire to conquer the northern kingdom in 722 B.C. (Judah, on the other hand, survived the Assyrian assault.)

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Let’s see if we can add some details to this picture. We should begin by noting that the Judeans worshipped Yahweh (or at least the elite did) at the temple built by Solomon. Archaeological evidence has shown that this picture holds true only for the major cities–outside the cities, people continued to worship the old Canaanite gods at local altars–as was the custom throughout Samaria.

In contrast, the Samarians followed two gods–in the south, they continued to worship Yahweh at Shiloh (though David had moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem); in the north, they worshipped Baal at his various altars. This cultural/religious split proved profoundly destabilizing for Samaria and eventually led to its collapse.

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But not before the Samarian kings went to extraordinary lengths to eliminate the religious division in their realm. Jeroboam I (r. 931-910), the first king of Samaria, built the “golden-calf” cult centers at Dan and Beth-El as a means of unifying the ritual practiced by northern and southern Samarians and named a new priesthood to each meant to reduce religious tension in his kingdom. Ultimately, he failed; after his death, his heir was murdered and a new royal house took its place, suggesting that a substantial part of the population had rejected his compromise. Several decades passed without a further attempt at resolving the religious split.

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Enter Omri and Ahab, the greatest kings that Samaria produced. Omri (r. 876-869), perhaps wanting to imitate David, purchased a steeply sided hill and built an impressive new capital city on it, which came to be called Samaria. The top of the hill was levelled–an extremely demanding and expensive architectural feat at the time–and the city surrounded with walls built of the highest quality ashlar masonry–another expensive item. It appears that the city had a highly cosmopolitan population, including a considerable Syrian merchant community–to satisfy the residents, Omri probably permitted the construction of temples for Yahweh and Baal within the city walls.

And there is the question of where the money to build this new city came from–RT guesses that Ittobaal funded the project, in return for a marriage contract authorized by Omri.

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But it is with Omri’s son and heir, King Ahab (r. 869-850), that Samaria came to be associated. Though Ahab was the greatest of Samaria’s kings (bringing his country’s fortunes to their zenith), he is mostly remembered for his marriage to Jezebel (the name means “Baal Exalts”), the daughter of a powerful Phoenician King, Ittobaal (r. 878-847), who managed to unite most of Phoenicia under his rule. Ittobaal was a priest of Astarte before he seized the throne of Tyre, and it seems his daughter was bent on imposing the worship of Tyre’s pantheon, and in particular, of Baal, throughout Samaria/Israel. She honored the prophets of Baal by dining with them, and may have ordered a mass execution of the prophets of Yahweh–a gesture it seems was reciprocated by a massacre of the prophets of Baal.

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How did Ahab respond to the appalling religious war in his kingdom? RT thinks he may have ordered the composition of the Elohist (or “E”) text, tasking its author with writing a work that would unite his kingdom under the worship of another, compromise, ancient divinity, El (or Elohim)–who reveals himself in the middle of the story to be none other than Yahweh.

In short, the Elohist text was the first of the four main strands of the Pentateuch to be composed. During a bitter struggle over the worship of Baal and Yahweh, the Israelites took the first step towards forging a new world consciousness.

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P.S. What does the Ivory House have to do with all this? Could the reference have been to a winter palace, a favorite retreat of the king’s? It may have been the place where the E source was composed.

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P.P.S. For more information on the Elohist Source & a link to the online E text, go here.

Map: Map of the Divided Kingdom, WikiCmns, Public Domain. Photo: Site of Ancient City of Samaria, 1910. WikiCmns, Public Domain. Painting: Adoration of the Golden Calf; Nicholas Poussin; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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