Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Biblical Time

Before I discuss the topic of Noah's boat and the great flood, I want to make some comments about biblical dates.

I'm going to pretend that I am actually believing what I am reading, nine hundred and sixty-nine years? Seriously? Today we consider a women far too old to have a child at the age of 60!

Therefore, I think we can agree that these are not real ages, and remember I'm pretending that I believe that these people not only existed but that Adam was really the first human male and he was created in year zero.

When you add up the years and the ages, it becomes even more ridiculous.

Adam, born in year 0, lives to be 950 years old (or 930) -- the writers can't quite decide -- and when you're old 20 years is a long, long time. If he had indeed lived for 950 years and if he was indeed 150 years old when Seth was born, he would have still been alive when Lamech was born. That's right! I've drawn up a spreadsheet! Adam born year 0, lived for 150 years, then acquired a son, who was 130 years old when his son Enos was born and so on. I won't bore you with the numbers. But Adam dies in year 950 and Lamech is born in year 919.

Do you see the problem. In other words, when our friendly boat-builder embarked on his epic task, he was 600 years old. Born in year 1099 and 500 years old when his triplet sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth were born, he started building his boat in year 1699. But in year 1699, his father Lamech, was still alive, but not only that, Methuselah, the subject of the adage, conveniently dies in the year of the flood.

Again, pretending that I believe all this nonsense, my feeling is that the names, i.e. Enos, Lamech etc. were steps in the genealogical ladder and that they marked changes in the lineage, so that the direct line of descent from Adam to Seth went from year 0 to year 150, and then the line changed to another ancestor and so on.

This is all assuming that the stories are true. Of course they can't possibly be true, but then what does the family name list prove to me, personally? It is yet more proof that the lists were written up in the fashion of the "king lists' of the ancient civilisations and that the list was drawn up at a very much later time than teachers of religion would have us believe.

All the ancient civilisations recorded the dates by naming years for the ruler, or an important political character, or even. So why should the Hebrews have been any different? The Egyptians, Persians, Assyrians, Hittites, Greeks and even the Romans, used eponymous dating. And this is what I think this is. That they had an ancient history, I am not disputing that. I think it might even be possible that some of the people in the "king list" might have existed and that their names were remembered because of significant events in their lifetimes, but that the events were forgotten, while their names were remembered. Thus Lamech was not Noah's father (if Noah actually existed) but possibly, his great-great-great grandfather.

Later... the flood.

The descendants of Adam and Eve

In Chapter 4 (Genesis) the writer tells of Adam and Eve’s two sons and the 'first murder.' Fair enough, it is only to be expected that they would have children. Cain is a farmer and Abel, a shepherd. At harvest time, they offer the products of their labour to their parents.

The parents value Abel’s offering because of the value of the meat and the skins to make clothing, making Cain jealous of his brother, causing him to take his life.

There is nothing more said of Adam and Eve until after this event where Cain is forever exiled from his parents, and they have another son, who they name Seth. Cain, in the meantime is living aong ‘other’ people.

This immediately brings the question that most atheists ask when they discuss the first part of the Bible “where did the other people come from?” Of course there had to be more people about, or Adam and Eve’s children and their children would have had to breed with each other incestuously. Thus other people are invented, who were not created in “God’s image.”

Cain went to the “land of Nod” where he had a son named Enoch, and in time he bore sons, who bore sons, Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methusael and Lamech. Seth also bore a son who he named Enos.

Lamech (another murderer) had two wives, named Adah and Zillah. Adah’s son was Jahal the forefather of tent-dwellers and cattle-herders, and Zillah bore two sons: Jubal, the forefather of musicians and Tubal-cain, an ironmonger and bronze worker and a daughter, Naamah.

I don't have too much of a problem with a musician who may have played a lyre, indeed an ancient musical instrument, if it was made of wood, with strings of animal gut, and even the 'pipe' if it was a hollow wooden tube would also not be a problem.

However, the metal-working is a problem. The people who invaded Eastern Europe and the Near East at the end of the second millenium BCE brought iron tools with them. The people living 4,000 years earlier, i.e. 6 generations after Adam and Eve, were not ironmongers. or even bronze workers. This genealogy taking 5000 BCE as the date for Adam and Eve, would put this descendant of Cain at around 4800 BCE well before the Bronze, and definitely before the Iron Age, and most certainly long before the time when the first harps and organs were invented.

Bronze Age:
Near East (3300-1200 BC)
Caucasus, Anatolia, Aegean,Levant, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Elam,Sistan

Classically, the Iron Age is taken to begin in the 12th century BC in the ancient Near East from,
This anachronism puts the writing of Genesis 4:22 :
Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.....

...after the Iron Age (1300 to 600 BCE) at least, and it fits my suggestion that this was written during the exile in Babylon.

On the harp and organ (bronze and iron musical instruments): verse 21:
...he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe...
These were around during the time of the Jews in Judaea, but not during the time that this verse is set.

My belief regarding the writing of the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah (or the Pentateuch) is that they were written down from the oral tradition of the people exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in the late 6th century BCE, and not, as believers in the truth of the Bible would insist, by Moses.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Adam and Eve

Chapter 3 of Genesis explains the story of how Adam and Eve fell from God's grace and the story goes something along these lines:

In the garden was an animal who the man named “serpent.” The serpent was more subtle than any other animal, and the woman was fascinated by this animal that slithered on the ground.
Then the servant speaks to Eve. Now, I'm not the first person to say that even allowing for magic tricks and gods and their magic, serpents simply lack the physical ability to speak, so let's say that an early woman dreamed a dream.

In the dream, the serpent tells her that God didn't mean it about eating the "forbidden" fruit that would make them as clever as he is.
Verse 5:
Because God knows that if you eat that fruit you will be like him, you’ll understand death and you’ll understand good and evil.

We also know that there wasn't any evil in the world at this time, according to this book, so would any reasonable person be put off by the threat of 'evil,' especially coming from a talking snake? Then look at the curse at the end of the chapter, the serpent is told he will crawl on the ground forever. Why would this be a punishment, it already slithered on the ground, according to verse 1.

When the woman wakes up, she goes to the tree and takes a piece of fruit which she tastes. She finds it delicious and takes it to Adam to taste, he too finds it delicious. People, we've all tasted fruit that left a taste that was almost a 'religious' experience. This is really not a big deal.

My feeling is that if there was any sort of truth in this story, that it was a coy attempt by some over-sensitive priests to explain that Adam and Eve decided to get something going between them. But they didn't want to explain it so they used a euphemism.

And then after having done the deed, they felt guilty. This was the evil that these ancient Orthodox Rabbis were trying to put across. So they realised that they were naked and looked for a way to cover themselves.

It's a morality tale; one of many in all mythologies. Disobedience, and especially disobedience of the carnal kind, will get your parents really mad. And then Adam has a dream which has God laying the first guilt on him. God tells him that his children will be inclined to "kill' serpents. How come? Adam doesn't understand death and killing. He has always only ever eaten fruit, obviously there are no carnivores in the Garden of Eden, so how can this possibly scare him?

And Eve is told that because she tempted Adam, she has to be subject to him forever after. This sounds like more rabbinical righteousness to me. A way to explain to women why they have to obey men and why they are worthless chattels to be traded. "Temptress, you will be a slave forever."

The following two verses read to me like this:
17 And to Adam he said, “because you gave in to your wife’s desire, after I told you to leave that tree, you will be worried by the lust for the joining with a woman for all the days of your life!”
18. “The desire for women will be as a thorn to you, you chose to give up your innocence and you will now henceforth seek the pleasure and for seeking the pleasure you will have to pay for the pleasure.”
19.”You will work to eat bread and to provide for your women and children until the day that you return to the dust from where you came. You were made of dust and you will return to dust at the end of your life.”

That's not the exact text, just my interpretation.

Then they wake up and realise that they need clothes and they commit the first animal killing. They start eating the meat of the animals they kill to make clothing.

In verse 22, God says:
man is now the same as one of us, we need to send him out into the world so that he has to work or he will think he can live forever in this paradise.

I have two problems here, firstly, continuing from all the references to "us" and "we" in the earlier chapters, originally, God was one of a number of deities in the early pantheon. I know that believers argue that it is the 'royal' we. If it is, then why is it only used in the early parts of the book? The people doing the consolidating and translating, simply overlooked this error. And my second problem is with the 'cherubim' which are again mentioned in the design of the Ark of the Covenant. How are these mere mortals who are newly born supposed to understand what a cherubim is? In fact, how is Moses, later on, supposed to know what it is.

The chapter ends with Adam and Eve leaving to go forth and multiply, and I shall return with that, tomorrow.

About this blog...

First of all, allow me to say, at the outset, that I began this journey from the point of view of an atheist with a very limited knowledge of the material I wanted to read.

I'm not going to pretend to understand the technicalities of the book, or to imagine that i'll ever be able to read it in any of its original languages. My feeling is that if it is out there available to every member of the human race to read, in their own language, then that's the way I should read it, in my own language.

I have a copy of the King James version. That is what I'm reading and that is what I am trying to understand.

When I read Herodotus and Thucydides, Suetonius and others for my coursework at university, I read them in their English translations. It was never said to me, at any time, that in order to obtain a degree in Ancient History, I would have to read them in the original Ancient Greek or Latin. Therefore, I feel, this book is best read in the same way. I am told that it is firstly the history of the people of Israel, and secondly that it is "God inspired." Well, if "God" inspired it, then he should make it clear to me when I misinterpret the English words.

I have started at the beginning, which I'm told is a "very good place to start." I shall read the books in sequence, because that is the way a book ought to be read. Thus starting with Genesis, and because I believe in evolution, which is fact, and not in the Creation, which is fiction, I shall start with...

Once upon a time...