Bloodshed and the ruined altar

Exodus 21:14 has always seemed odd to me. The previous verse mentions a place of refuge, which certainly refers to the cities of refuge (Joshua 20:1-3). But then, seemingly completely out of context, we read “If a person schemes and willfully acts against his neighbor to murder him, you must take him from my altar to be put to death. (CSB)”.

The idea of taking someone from the altar to be executed reminds me of what happened to Joab. He was elderly, but had a lot of blood on his hands from his past. But most recently, he had plotted to install Adonijah as king while the enfeebled David was still alive. His plot was ruined and Solomon became co-ruler for a little while before David died.

Joab knew his life was in danger. He knew that Adonijah himself had gone and clung to the horns of the altar in David’s tent where the Ark of the Covenant had been installed. Adonijah had been spared (temporarily). So Joab did the same thing. It didn’t work. He didn’t expect it to. He basically said “kill me here”. So they did. Maybe he wanted to die in repentance, seeking God’s mercy. The story is in 1 Kings 2:28 ff.

Benaiah, the executioner, was reluctant to do this wet work at the altar. But Solomon ordered it.

So, what I wonder about Exodus 21:14 is whether it got inserted into the Covenant Code just to justify what Solomon had done.

We can’t know. It is just an uncertainty that arose in my mind.

Possibly, Benaiah was reluctant to kill Joab for ritual reasons, rather than moral ones. To come in contact with a dead body would render him ritually unclean. There was a discussion in later Judaism about whether a priest could participate in war. Some said he could as long as he used a long spear to kill so that he didn’t come in contact with a dead body.

But more striking is the possibility that coming into contact with a dead body would defile the altar. Josiah defiled pagan worship sites with human bones (2 Kings 23:14).

Was this perhaps why Solomon went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices shortly after he became king (1 Kings 3:5)?

The editor of 1 Kings obviously disapproved of Solomon doing this. So he may have cut out some material we find in 2 Chronicles 1. The site at Gibeon was apparently where Saul had moved the tabernacle the priests had set up at Nob before Saul ordered them exterminated. It was Moses’ “tent of meeting” (2 Chronicles 1:3). Chronicles also says that the bronze altar from the wilderness (Exodus 27) was there (vs. 5-6).

The Bible doesn’t say that the altar at David’s tabernacle was unusable. Possibly, Solomon sacrificed at Gibeon because he was seeking an oracle. That was a function of the tent of meeting and he did get a revelatory dream. Possibly, he sacrificed there because Zadok, the royal priest who supported him, was presiding at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:39).

But it is odd that the site of David’s tabernacle was not used, since Solomon would shortly use it as the site of his great temple. I think it is a reasonable inference that the killing of Joab was considered to have ruined that altar.

When Solomon built his temple, he did not use David’s altar even though he used a number of other items from that tabernacle. According to Chronicles, he built a completely new altar (2 Chronicles 4:1).

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Yoreh-did Isaac die at Abraham’s hand?

The story in Genesis 22 of the binding or near sacrifice of Isaac is shocking in that God asks Abraham to kill his son.

It would be even more shocking if Abraham actually did it. Tzemah Yoreh’s little book, Why Abraham Murdered Isaac claims that the “original Bible” was the Elohist source of the Pentateuch and that, in that source, Isaac did not survive.

Yoreh is trying to sell a book (I bought it) so he is entertainingly snarky, debunking what people learned in Sunday School or Hebrew School. Still, he is a scholar and interacts with other scholar’s work. He holds a supplementary theory of the composition of Genesis. He holds that the Elohist story was the oldest. The Yahwist later edited this to impose his own point of view.

You should note that his view is not widely held. Rolf Rendtorf, Konrad Schmid and David Carr have other versions of the supplementary theory. None of them would follow Yoreh in calling the Elohist “the original Bible”.

Still there is a possibility that in the Elohist (E) account Abraham carried out the blood sacrifice of Isaac.

The most radical form of this theory notes that the E tradition appears first in Genesis 20 with the story of Abraham passing off his wife as his sister to the king of Gerar.

So, the innuendo is that Isaac was the bastard son Abimelek, the king of Gerar. The story of the expulsion of Hagar and Abraham’s real son, Ishmael, perhaps shows how conflicted Abraham was about this. It eventuates in Abraham atoning for the whole situation by making a human sacrifice of Isaac.

Isaac does not seem to return from the mountain with Abraham (Genesis 22:19). Yoreh also claims that Isaac never again appears in the E account.

The J source is against human sacrifice and edited this story to show animal sacrifice as the alternative.

So it is possible that there was an account of the story where Isaac did not survive,

The fact that in J the stories about Isaac seem like retreads of stories about Abraham is one factor. The Covenant Code in Exodus 20;22-23:19, which may or may not have been connected to the Elohist, seems to be okay with human sacrifice (Exodus 22:29).

Yet I have my doubts that Abraham actually killed Isaac in the oldest story.

Source analysis does not lend itself to certitude. You can’t be sure what has been left out of old documents even though you can be pretty sure they existed. You only know what was preserved in a later document. This is true of the Q source behind the Gospels. And it is true of the E source behind the Torah.

Christians tend to see this story about the binding of Isaac in the background of John 3:16. God gave his “only Son”.

In Genesis 22:2 God tells Abraham to take his son, his only son (ignoring Ishmael) whom he loves, and sacrifice him. The intervention of the angel and the substitution of a ram seem like pointers to the atonement and the resurrection.

From the Jewish point of view, Jon D. Levinson in The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity makes some of these points.

So I could come to terms with an older source in which Isaac died. However, I wonder if that is what was really in E.

A couple of recurring themes that seem to identify the E source, are the use of angels to avoid showing God directly confronting human beings, and the endangering and saving of children.

In the E account of Ishmael’s near death from thirst in the wilderness, an angel intervenes at the last minute:

“But God heard the boy’s voice. The angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and asked her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Don’t be afraid, for God has heard the boy’s voice right where he is crying. Get up! Help the boy up and hold him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God enabled Hagar to see a well of water. She went over and filled the skin with water, and then gave the boy a drink.” (Genesis 21:17-19 NET).

In the J account in Genesis 22 it is the “angel of YHWH” who intervenes. Isn’t it likely that J is just editing E’s “angel of God”? Maybe E contained paired stories of angels speaking out at the most suspenseful moment to save Abraham’s children.

And the assertion that Isaac never appears again in E is not certain. Genesis 25:11 says, ”After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac”. Notice that it says God, not YHWH. It might be that in E a particular blessing formula followed this along with some reference to Rebecca and the birth of Jacob and Esau.

In Judges 11 we have a story of an actual human sacrifice. Jephthah kills his daughter. She gets a reprieve of two months to spend in the highlands bewailing her virginity. Just note how strange this story is to us. It causes me to imagine out–of-the-ordinary reasons why Isaac might not have come down from the mountain with Abraham–such as that he might have spent some time ritually giving thanks for his survival.

It is harder to explain why some of J’s stories about Isaac seem to be retelling of stories about Abraham.

I am just saying we should be modest about the content of E, since we do not have a copy.

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Did Hosea know Genesis?

The prophet Hosea knew some stories like those we find in Genesis and Exodus. This is no surprise to the people who believe that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. I suppose you could imagine that Hosea had all five long scrolls.

I have been reading a 2008 dissertation for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary by Derick D. Bass, “Hosea’s Use of Scripture: An Analysis of His Hermeneutics”. Bass argues that Hosea is full of references to the Pentateuch and that he knew the text pretty much as we have it.

I will talk about why I am not convinced. But first let me deal with the date of Hosea. Hosea wrote in the eighth century before Christ. I am aware that this has been questioned. There is a strong trend in scholarship today to say that the Hebrew Bible was mostly “constructed” after the Babylonian exile. Hosea is a problem for this view—but not if Hosea itself was constructed in or after the exile.

My response is that this theory is a unwarranted. Scholars have rightly argued that Isaiah founded a school of writing prophets and that everything after chapter 39 is a post-exilic extension of his prophecies. But there is a clear seam between 39 and 40. What we call Second Isaiah refers to events at the end of the exile involving Persia and King Cyrus.

In Hosea there is no such seam. To get any kind of a reference to post-exilic events you have to read them in. So to adopt the model of Isaiah and his school and apply it to Hosea, in my opinion, goes way beyond the evidence. Hosea definitely refers to eighth century events.

It is beyond my ability to go through all of Bass’s arguments. I appreciate much of what he writes. My problem is that he uses allusions. Now scripture is capable of using direct quotes from documents. Jeremiah 26:18 is very specific, “Micah of Moresheth, who prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, said. . .” (NRSV). Nowhere does Hosea say, “Moses, who wrote the Torah, said. . .”

What Bass finds are mostly allusions.

A verse that casual readers may mistakenly assume is about Genesis is Hosea 6:7, which says in many translations, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant. . .” People jump to the conclusion that Hosea is taking up the Adam and Eve story, the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. However, Adam here is not a person, but a place. Adam’s pronoun is “there” not he. It should be “at Adam”, not “like Adam”.

There was a place near where the Jabbok flows into the Jordan named Adam (Joshua 3:16). Bass recognizes that the verse is about the place, but he still thinks it also alludes to the Fall.

Gilead is a city of evildoers,
tracked with blood (NRSV).

In context, I don’t believe it does. I believe that all the geographical references in Hosea 6:7-10 are to things that happened recently in about the year -740. The most obvious one is Hosea 6:8:

Pekah son of Remaliah, his captain, conspired against him with fifty of the Gileadites, and attacked him in Samaria, in the citadel of the palace along with Argob and Arieh; he killed him, and reigned in place of him (NRSV).

This seems obscure until you read it alongside 2 Kings 15:25:

So Hosea is referring to the assasination of king Pekahiah. Gilead is a contemporary eighth century geographical place.

In the next verse, 6:9, we hear that a gang of priests committed murder on the road to Shechem. Bass sees another allusion, here to the Genesis 34 slaughter of the people of Shechem by Levi and Simeon. I doubt Hosea has anything but a very specific recent event in mind. He says in 6:10 that he has seen a “horrible thing”. It sounds like he is actually experiencing trauma, and not from having read Genesis.

So, again, the place names in this oracle all seem to refer to eighth century headline news. We don’t know what happened at Adam. They broke the covenant. If this is like the events mentioned in the next verses, it was something well-known to Hosea’s hearers.

We do know that Hosea knew some stories that are now in Genesis and Exodus. He, like Amos before him, was engaged in harsh dialogue with the Bethel priesthood. His knowledge of the Jacob stories (Hosea 12) probably came from the founding narrative of Bethel. But he twisted it a little.

He doesn’t seem to draw on any one of the documentary theory documents. The story of Jacob’s birth as a twin is J. Most of the rest of it (wrestling with God or an angel, meeting God at Bethel, and serving for a wife) are in what documentary scholars call E. However there is that odd piece in 12:4 about Jacob weeping and begging. Hosea didn’t get that from anything in Genesis.

This was probably from an oral tradition centered at the Bethel shrine.

What intrigues me more is the evidence that Hosea knew the creation story that now appears in Genesis 1. In 2:18, Hosea speaks of “the wild animals”, “the birds of the air” and “he creatures that crawl on the ground”. Again in 4:3 he speaks of “the  wild animals”, “the birds of the sky”, and “the fish in the sea”.

This is more than an allusion to Genesis 1:26. This shows that Hosea is incorporating the actual wording of Genesis 1 into his oracles.

The very interesting thing about this is that, while Hosea seems to know an ancestor story that is different from the non-P sources of the Pentateuch, he seems to know precisely the Priestly hymn of creation. Hosea had worshiped somewhere (Bethel? Shechem? Jerusalem?) where the congregation was led to recite the equivalent of Genesis 1.

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More on Ben-Yosef and Timna

I have been writing about Erez Ben-Yosef and his discoveries at Timna about nomadic mining activity and the possibility that this has something to do with the Bible’s stories about David and Solomon.

After I wrote my last post there came out an article about just this in the December issue of the Smithsonian Magazine, “An Archaeological Dig Reignites the Debate Over the Old Testament’s Historical Accuracy”. The writer is Matti Friedman. The link is here.

This is a very well written article explaining the issues for the non-archaeologist. It is becoming clear that ancient Edomite nomads ran these mines in about the 10th century BCE. In spite of its title, the article does not bring up the key possibility that the biblical report of David’s domination of Edom put these mines under the control of David and Solomon.

For instance, 1 Chronicles 18:12-13 reports, “Abishai son of Zeruiah killed 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. He placed garrisons in Edom, and all the Edomites became David’s subjects. . .”(NET Bible). As Peter Leithart has pointed out, the geography of David’s conquests here are probably tinged with spiritual and symbolic meaning. However, even though reporting history is not the main point of the Bible, it may have slipped through in this case.

But Friedman tells us that Ben-Yosef has certainly stirred up the debate. He comes down to this observation:

What Ben-Yosef has produced isn’t an argument for or against the historical accuracy of the Bible but a critique of his own profession. Archaeology, he argues, has overstated its authority. Entire kingdoms could exist under our noses, and archaeologists would never find a trace. Timna is an anomaly that throws into relief the limits of what we can know. The treasure of the ancient mines, it turns out, is humility.

I think it is ironic that if you had heard of Ben-Yosef before this, it might have been in connection with the claim that domesticated camels in Israel only existed after the middle of the 10th century. This was based on camel bones he found at Timna. Therefore, the Bible’s reports of camels in the time of Abraham and Jacob—hundreds of years before this—were in doubt.

This got into the popular press and even became a theme on an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon Cooper wanted to taunt his born-again mother with this as proof that the Bible was BS.

This is typical of fundamentalist atheists who might be surprised that some staunch believers already accept that there are anachronisms in the Bible. However the camel thing might not be one. There is some evidence of domesticated camels much earlier. This got pointed out in, of all places, the Huffington Post in an article by Kevin Belmonte, “A Bone to Pick: Why Did We Hear Only One Side of the Camel Argument?”.

Anyway, Ben-Yosef is certainly not an evangelical (or Orthodox Jewish) apologist.

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How David got rich and became a king

There is a podcast interview with Erez Ben-Yosef (see the previous post) here. I listened to this and one thing that impressed me was the importance he gave to the recent discovery at one of the Timna mining sites of threads of cloth colored with purple dye. Such organic material usually does not survive for three thousand years.

An article about this is here.

The significance of this find for Ben-Yosef is that it is royal cloth. The purple dye derived from snails was used to signify royalty in ancient times. So it leads to the question of what, besides a palace, a throne, or a crown, might signify royalty. If you were a king of nomads, perhaps one of the early kings of Edom, you might live in a tent festooned with purple cloth, or you might wear purple garments.

Royal purple cloth scraps from King David’s era found in …

The assumption made by many that there could have been no royalty without cities and palaces is probably wrong.

Even kings who did have palaces often went into the field with their troops. So they would sometimes have lived in tents. King Saul, according to 1 Samuel 14:2, was camped under a tree. David operated from caves on occasion. Texts about the early Israelite monarchs may have been written down when kings, like Hezekiah, did live in palaces. Understandably, scribes may not have gone to the trouble to explain the nomadic reality of the earliest monarchs.

Ben-Yosef says that the stone structures found in some Canaanite cities taken over by the Israelites, such as Jerusalem, were likely appropriated by royal administrations that remained essentially nomadic. The monumental gates at Megiddo and Hazor that some claim prove Solomon’s building activity, may have actually come later under Ahab.

Thus, Ben-Yosef thinks the low chronology may be right about this. The scribes who produced the Biblical text omitted to give full information about the social settings of long dead kings.

For Ben-Yosef the findings at the Edomite mines show that nomadic kingdoms could still be highly organized and exert economic control over large areas.

In a fascinating paper, FROM BANDIT TO KING: DAVID’S TIME IN THE NEGEV AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF A TRIBAL ENTITY INTO A NATION STATE, John S. Holladay Jr. and Stanley Klassen flesh out what this might mean for David. (See here.)

They take into account the biblical text and what we now know about seaports, like Ashkelon, and the copper mines to the east. There were caravan routes linking the mines and the ports. A major one ran through the Beer Sheba valley and the little city of Tel Masos where we find signs of copper processing.

Holladay and Klassen argue that the size and wealth of Ashkelon cannot be accounted for with agricultural trade. There must have been a more valuable commodity passing though the ports. Copper is the logical candidate.

The story in 1 Samuel 30 tells us that David was a vassal of the king of Gath, but he and his men were not trusted to campaign against Saul. So they returned to their base at Ziklag to find it burned and David’s wives taken hostage. So the men chase down Amalekite raiders, find them drunk and vulnerable, and defeat them, capturing a rich horde of loot, and freeing David’s wives. Yet, 400 of the raiders escaped on camels. Later David distributes gifts of the plunder to clans in several locations in Judah and the Negev. These are the clans that soon acclaim David king at Hebron.

That David fell upon an enemy with hundreds of camels and that he collected enough wealth to set up a spoils system across a wide area points to his campaign against the rich caravans connected to the Tel Masos chiefdom, which may be the Amalekites of the Bible.

Thus there came about what Holladay and Klassen call “the transformation of a tribal entity into a nation state.”

The Bible, of course, is not interested in the economic or social reality behind this. It is interested in God and the community of Israel. So the kingship of David gets placed right after the death of Saul. The Bible is interested in God’s rejection of Saul and the election of David and his descendants. So the historical insight that David may have been a kind of desert Shiekh who consolidated a kingdom by gaining control over the copper trade has to be discovered by looking with a little imagination at the text and our new knowledge about the mines.

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Not in stone

I am very much interested in archaeology as it relates to the Bible. However, I stand over against a trend in scholarship to favor archaeology over the text.

In order for us to have relevant artifacts, those artifacts need to have survived for thousands of years. This usually means things made of stone or clay. The limits of this are obvious. If people lived in tents, we are not now going to dig up their homes. If they wrote on papyrus, we are only going to find a few surviving fragments in very arid places. If they did not use pottery but carried liquids in leather flasks, we are not going to find those.

Thus, we have scant archaeological evidence of the Mongol rampage across the Orient. Yet we know it happened.

For a long time the more positivist scholars denied the kingdom of David and Solomon existed. Now we have some artifact evidence from Dan, the Elah Valley and Eglon. The Israel/Palestine political situation makes digging in some obvious places, like Jerusalem and Hebron, very difficult.

The November 3rd issue of the Jerusalem Post carries an article with the title “What did King David’s Israel look like? The answer is not set in stone” It takes into account some of what I have said above and summarizes the approach of Erez Ben-Yosef, a professor at the University of Tel Aviv.

A fact that has been driving the view that David’s kingdom wasn’t much is that the mud and stone villages that popped up all over the northern hill country in the 12th century BCE., did not extend much south of Jerusalem. The territory of Judah and south into the deserts and mountains of Edom (an exception would be Tel Masos in the Beer Sheba Valley) showed little evidence of settled population.

A game-changer has been the discovery that copper mining existed in a major way in Edom even though there is slight evidence of a settled population. According to ben Yosef, this must mean that the mining activity was supported by a large nomadic population that has left little evidence behind.

He believes that the Bible’s claim that David conquered Edom may point to a significant control over resources and trade by a tent-dwelling alliance under David.

The Jerusalem Post quotes him:

“The biblical text is complex and it does contain some biases and exaggerations, but I believe it contains much more truth than many assume,” Ben-Yosef said.

“We cannot use archaeology in the way it has been used until today to study the historicity of the Bible, we need to acknowledge the reality,” he concluded. “We cannot just continue to look for walls, our rules need to change.”

You can find links to several BenYosef articles here.

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Middle ground on the Bible

There is an enormous gap between how many academics , on the one hand, and lay people, preachers and teachers at the evangelical Bible colleges, on the other hand, view the Bible.

Academics are aware that the Hebrew Bible as a written collection came together after the exile in Babylon. This leads to a wide-spread assumption that the narratives, poetry, laws and so on were products of the Persian and Greek periods. Many scholars think the seemingly historical accounts of events about the patriarchs, the Egyptian sojourn and exodus, the conquest, the era of judges, and the monarchy were invented. In other words, they are fiction.

The position held in the churches and Bible colleges and promoted through evangelical radio, television and publishing is that Moses wrote the Torah a thousand years before the Persian period and that the events described are literal and historical.

The ideas of many of the academics are corrosive to Jewish and Christian faith. This is the reason for the extreme on the other side. There is the idea of a slippery slope. If you do not hold to the absolute historicity of the events all the way back—if you give an inch to the critics—some think you will end up with a very insecure faith based on invention.

One of the things I note about evangelical culture is stress on writing. You take a written Bible (on paper or, more and more often, on your phone or tablet) to church or study group with you. You get a written outline of the sermon. You are encouraged to take written notes. The sermon is oral but Bible quotes get projected onto the screen.

You could analyze this as a case of Protestantism having arisen in parallel to the invention of the Gutenberg press. Protestants are supposed to read the Bible for themselves. They project this focus on written text all the way back into the Old Testament. It matters a lot to them to take a traditional view of who wrote the text.

I remember a sermon from a couple years ago when the guest preacher laid much emphasis on the notion that Samuel wrote the books of Samuel. This position suffers from the fact that Samuel dies part way through the narrative. Nevertheless, traditional authorship is seen as a guarantee of the truth of the story.

It takes some imagination for us to put ourselves in a world where hardly anybody had access to written texts. Stories were told aloud or often repeated orally in song or chant as part of worship. Someone who was not necessarily the author told the story or led the worship. People may have had no idea and given little importance to who wrote the material.

The idea of David Carr that ancient scribes often wrote texts to support oral performance is important. Writing was not for most people to read. Carr compared it to written music. Few people will sit down and silently read a music score. The purpose of written music is to support those who perform for other people who listen. So with much writing in ancient times.

I suspect that much of the material that went into the collection of writings that Jews assembled after the exile, was of this kind. The pre-exilic prophets like Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah spoke in poetry. Scholars speak of scribal schools that recorded the oracles of the prophets. Jeremiah, for instance, had Baruch as a scribe.

However, it seems to me that it would be very hard to speak off the cuff in the kind of poetry they used. Perhaps the oracles were written down beforehand, not just as records of what the prophets had previously said.

Some documents probably existed in royal archives. Books of laws, proverbs, and the exploits of kings were likely of this kind. But much of the material existed for the use of storytellers and liturgists. Some of this may have been archived at shrines.

Much of it may have been used in processions, rather than static worship at a particular place. For instance, it seems that the feast of Tabernacles likely included a procession that started at a tent camp in the Transjordan and crossed the river. The dwelling in tents and crossing the river acted out the drama of the wilderness experience and settlement accompanied by the people chanting parts of the story.

The idea of a book written by Moses does not really fit this setting. One should note that not only does the Torah assume and record the death of Moses it also (1) is written from the perspective of dwellers of the West Bank, which Moses never was, (2) records kings of Edom who lived long after Moses in Genesis 36, (3) contains laws that apply to Israel’s settled life in Canaan, not to nomadic existence in the wilderness, (4) and frequently uses the phrase “until this day” implying a time of writing after the settlement of the land.

However the idea of four documents, J, E, D, and P also puts too much burden on written documents. Law codes, like the Covenant Code in Exodus 20 ff. and the priestly rules of Leviticus, no doubt existed as archived documents. The book discovered in the Temple during Josiah’s reign was probably a copy of an early version of Deuteronomy. But most of the material surely existed in a less fixed form that amounted to strands of tradition, rather then documents.

Some kind of written collection may have been put together in the late monarchy under Hezekiah or Josiah. I think that the final collection of written books by Ezra and others after the exile did not involve fictional invention, rather it was a putting into new form of prophetic, legal and worship material that had long existed.

So I don’t think I stand on a slippery slope. Although the Bible developed in a way that people embedded in a culture that exalts the written word would not have expected, it is still an authoritative tradition that conveys the word of God.

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David Carr’s big book

I know my posts have become few and far between. I am having a series of eye surgeries this summer. My hope is that in September, with the surgeries over, I will get new corrective lenses to relieve the eye strain that reading has been causing me.

Today, though, I want to call your attention to the fact that David Carr has now published a big book on the origin and authorship of the Pentateuch and other scripture: The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction 1st Edition. It was actually published ten years ago. But I had not previously noticed its availability.

I have read and posted about two of Carr’s books: Writing on the Tablet of the Heart and Holy Resilience.

The first was about Carr’s take on ancient scribes and writing. He suggested that writing, unlike modern authorship and publishing, was often in the service of oral performance. He compared it to written music. Music is written for musicians to help them perform. It isn’t written for the general public to read.

My understanding of this is that ancient scribes produced texts for story tellers who then performed those works, sometimes improvising. Another use may have been for worship leaders. Priests took up a text and used it to help a congregation sing, chant, or recite liturgy.

Holy Resilience was about trauma related to scripture. Carr wrote about some of our new understanding of trauma and PTSD. He suggested that several biblical works came about in order to help ancient people cope with traumatic events. For instance, the brutal Assyrian conquest of Samaria and assault on Judah were events that prophets like Hosea and Isaiah preached about to help people face.

Surprisingly Carr also thought that Josiah’s reforms and centralization of worship was a traumatizing event for Israelites who had long mixed their worship of Israel’s God with fertility magic. Also rural Levites and those who worshiped at their “high places” were now deprived and disoriented. Later, the Babylonian conquest traumatized Judah. Much biblical literature seems to take up these traumas.

There is an interesting review of Carr’s book by Andrew Giorgetti here. A couple of quotes from the review show that Carr reflects some of the themes from the two books.

“. . . Carr provides evidence of a writing-supported process of memorization and performance for the transmission of the Hebrew Bible.” This applies particularly to the kind of “long duration” sagas that we find in the Pentateuch.

Also, “Carr draws on trauma studies to buttress his argument that the exile was the impetus for development of pre-monarchical stories of origins as found in a post-Deuteronomistic Hexateuch and a Priestly “counterwork” to it (pp. 255–303). However, this period exhibits more scribal coordination of earlier texts than direct creation of new ones.”

The trend in recent decades has been for critics to see most of these “stories of origins” invented or constructed during the Persian period after the end of the exile. Notice that Carr goes against this trend. He is talking about editing and coordinating stories, not the unsourced invention of new stories. ”. . .his reconstructions present a challenge to scholars who contend that most or all of the Hebrew Bible was produced largely whole cloth in the Persian or Hellenistic periods.”

Carr sees much scribal activity in the Neo-Assyrian period in the eighth century. But he even sees some of it in the early monarchy—ninth or tenth centuries. Some of the Psalms and Wisdom literature come from this period, he thinks.

With regard to the Pentateuch, Carr joins those who think the JEPD documentary theory assumes too much. I am not sure when or if I will get to read Carr’s new book. For now I will be satisfied with thinking about this sentence of his, which I found here: “Though academic biblical scholars do disagree on numerous points, most have agreed for the last 200-plus years that the Pentateuch was formed through a combination of a Priestly layer, a non-Priestly layer most evident in the Tetrateuch (Genesis through Numbers), and a core portion of Deuteronomy.”

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The elusive biblical timeline

1 Kings 6:1 puts the coming out of Egypt of the “children of Israel” 480 years before the beginning of Solomon’s temple. If the “children of Israel” is a metaphor for the people Moses led out of Egypt (literally, the children of Israel would be the tribal patriarchs who were the children of the man, Israel/Jacob) then the claim is that the Exodus happened in about -1446 when Thutmose III was pharaoh.

The problem with that is that we know that from the time of that pharaoh until after -1200, Egypt considered Canaan its territory, which it controlled and largely depopulated. Egypt repeatedly sent troops into Canaan in those centuries, sometimes every year. They claimed to have carried a huge number of captives back to Egypt. The hill country in what became Israel experienced a sharp decline in population (see here where there are good graphs to show what happened). So, if the Exodus was in -1446, where in the Bible do we see Egypt intervening in Canaan during the period of the Conquest and the Judges?

Often people supporting this early date for the Exodus use the ‘apiru mentioned in the Amarna correspondence. Their theory is that although the Bible does not mention Egypt’s presence during this period, the Canaanites were complaining to Egypt precisely about a Hebrew invasion.

I have argued several times that the ‘apiru were not the Hebrews. But even if they were, I do not understand the timeline.

The reason for the -1446 date is a precise adherence to the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1. However, the Bible also puts the beginning of the Conquest forty years after the Exodus. Thus, the Amarna era should have begun before -1400. But that is not when it was. Most articles about Akhenaten put his reign in the mid 14th century, starting in about -1353.

But correlation with recently translated Hittite documents is causing a lot of scholars to shorten the reign of Horemheb from 29 to only 14 years. Assuming the -1279 installation of Rameses II, this moves the Amarna period and everything else in the 18th dynasty forward. So the Amarna era probably did not start until the -1340s. Either way, it was many decades too late to fit the ‘apiru theory.

The advocates of the early date have a reasonable case that 1 Kings 6 means 480 years, not just 12 generations. But numbers in the Bible are tricky. Sometimes they have meanings connected with the worship and legal calendar of Israel–festivals, sabbatical years and jubilees. One suspects there might have been some esoteric priestly calculations regarding the foundation of the Temple that have a more ritual than historical meaning.

But also there may have been several exodus-like events in which some Israelites came out of Egypt that preceded the Exodus of Moses. If you adjust for the shortening of Horemheb’s time, -1446 falls just about when the aunt of Thutmose III, Queen Hatsheput, died and Thutmose III came fully to power. Hatsheput said that she expelled some Semitic peoples (see my documentation of this here). So there may have been an exodus-like event somewhere around that time.

There is one biblical event (Genesis 50) where the literal children of Jacob came out of Egypt to bury their father.

So maybe something of historical significance did happen in or near -1446.

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Korah’s rebellion for flower children

Even those who doubt the JEDP documentary theory still usually believe that in the five books of the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) there is a Priestly strata. Instead of speaking of the Yahwist (J) and the Elohist (E) as sources, they may just speak of P and non-P.

In Numbers 16 P and non-P are clearly present. There is a story about a rebellion by members of the tribe of Reuben that seems to have been combined with a story about the rebellion of the priest, Korah. Korah’s rebellion deals with priestly concerns. The Reubenite rebellion doss not have anything to do with the priests. I have a post here with some speculation about that. And I have a post here about James Hoffmeier’s interesting take on the rebellion of Korah. He thinks that both Aaron and the Korah priests might have been actual Egyptian priests who came out of Egypt with Moses.

About the same time in 2018 that I was writing these posts about Numbers 16, I also spent a little time with Jason Gaines’ book, The Poetic Priestly Source (see here). He found that although P has lots of boring lists and details about priests and their duties, their clothing, and their rituals; it also has some poetic narrative. It has, for instance, the exalted account of creation in Genesis 1.

Gaines admitted that this was not poetry in the sense that the Psalms are poetry. Nevertheless, there are poetic characteristics. At the time I characterized this quality as “lyrical”. The more I think about it, though, I think the better word for Gaines’ Poetic P might be liturgical. It was probably language used at festivals to recount the mighty acts of God. It seems, though that, in Gaines theory, these liturgies would have been supplemented over time by priestly scribes.

Now I have come across an article by Gaines where he applies his insights to Numbers 16,

Here is a summary of what he says: When you take out the non-P material, you have a narrative that reads like a single story. Moses tries to appoint Aaron as high priest. But Korah, with the support of 250 chieftains, objects. Moses proposes a test using firepans and incense. When they ignite the incense there is a terrible conflagration and all except Aaron get burned to ashes. Then the general population complains and God sends a plague upon them. Aaron uses incense to turn back the plague. Then God confirms Aaron’s high priesthood by making his staff to bloom as a flower (this is in Numbers 17).

But, to continue the summary, there are signs that this account was supplemented by building upon a simpler original story. In the original story Korah brings some community leaders to protest that Moses and Aaron are inappropriately exalting themselves. Moses responds by proposing an appeal for a divine sign. All the leaders pile up their staffs. The next day the staffs are examined and it is determined that God has chosen Aaron by making his staff bloom.

Gaines proposes that the fire and plague have been introduced into the story later by the Holiness School (he refers to Israel Knohl’s theories about the Holiness School). One of the problems with the original story for the Holiness School priests was that it seemed inconceivable to them that their would not be more severe consequences for questioning the authority of Moses and Aaron. So the story now details such consequences.

Gaines believes the original narrative was gentler. His article title is “Korah’s Poetic Rebellion and God’s Flowery Response”.

That makes the story a little too tilted toward sentimentality. However, Gaines makes several justifiable points about the difference between the poetic/liturgical aspects of the text and the more prosaic aspects. The idea of the incense blowing up like napalm has always seemed a stretch.

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