Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Genesis 28 Jacob goes in search of a wife

In this myth that explains the origins of the “Children of Israel” we see Jacob travelling to his mother’s home to ask for a wife among the daughters of Laban, her brother, i.e. his cousins.
Isaac tells him to go to Padan-aram, to the “house of Bethuel thy mother’s father” and asks that God will bless him that he may be fruitful with a “multitude of people” (verses 2-3).

The Hebrew text of chapter 25 verse 20 refers to “Aramean” and not Syrian.
וַיְהִי יִצְחָק, בֶּן-אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, בְּקַחְתּוֹ אֶת-רִבְקָה בַּת-בְּתוּאֵל הָאֲרַמִּי, מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם--אֲחוֹת לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי, לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה.
Which translates to:
And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean, of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife.
This is interesting because it identifies the Arameans as descended from Haran, Abraham’s brother, and remembering the myth of how different languages came about in Genesis 11, the difference in the language spoken by the descendants of Haran, and those of Abraham, evolving with their separation, ties in with that legend.

As Jacob is travelling towards “Haran”, the home of his uncle Bethuel, he stops to rest. It is important to note that in order to rest, he piles up some stones, as a pillow, likely to support his back, to lean against while he rests.

He dreams of a ladder reaching up to the sky, with angels going up and down the rungs. God is at the top of the ladder, saying that he will give the land to Jacob, and to all his descendants. 

Further, in the dream, he says that Jacob’s descendants will cover the land, that although he is leaving, he will return. 

Jacob, on waking from his dream says that this place is the “house of God” and the “gate of heaven”. He rises from his sleep, uses the stones to make a pillar and pours oil over the stones. The place was called “Luz”; Jacob renames it “Beth-el”. 

He promises that if he returns to his “father’s house” he will accept God as his god, and that he will give a tenth of everything he owns to his god. 

It is interesting to read the last two verses (21-22) of the chapter, carefully.
So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee. 
This indicates two things: one that the god worshipped by Isaac, and who spoke to Jacob in his dream, was not the only god worshipped by his family, note the “Lord be my god”.  This sounds, to me, like there were other options. The other is that until this time, no part of a man’s wealth was set aside for “God”. 

We come to the laws for making offerings, and sacrifices later in the Bible. This is the start of the idea. Also the punishments that were meted out to the people before the flood and Noah, were not as a result of not worshipping God, but because of general “sinfulness” . There were no laws about which god to worship until he was identified as the god of Noah’s descendants through Shem, to Abraham, and the rest of the patriarchs. The punishments threatened, and the legal penalties for not adhering to the worship of God and the laws handed down by him, only begin to occur at this point in the Bible narrative.

The careful assembly of the text, and the order in which it is put down, continues to demonstrate that considerable forethought was given to the writing of the Torah.

This point is missed by the average person who merely dismisses the Bible. It is anything but incoherent nonsense. However, without any extra-biblical evidence that it happened the way the Bible claims it did, it remains mythology.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Genesis 27 Jacob steals Esau’s inheritance

Isaac is dying of old age, and going blind. He sends Esau to hunt for some venison to make his favourite meal for him to eat, one last time before he dies. Rebekah overhears the instruction. She summons Jacob to bring her two goats from the flocks, from which she will make as good a stew for Isaac as Esau would be able to prepare. (Verses 1-10).

Isaac demurs saying that he is not as hairy as Esau, and that his father won’t be fooled by their deceit. To achieve the deception, Rebekah uses the goat skins to make a cover for his arms. Isaac eats the food, is satsified, and blesses Jacob as his heir. When Esau returns with his offering to his father, he is too late. The blessing cannot be withdrawn. Isaac is thus named the heir of his father’s wealth (Verses 11-30).

Esau expresses his intention to kill Isaac once his father has died. Rebekah, hearing this, tells Jacob to leave. She says to go to her brother Laban, and there to hide for a few days until Esau has calmed down. She tells Isaac she has sent Jacob away so that he won’t be tempted to marry a Hittite, a daughter of Heth, as Esau had done in the previous chapter (Verses 31-46).

This story is a continuation of the sibling feud that begun with Cain and Abel, with the variation that Esau is disinherited because Isaac was able to dupe their father into blessing him as his heir. 
There’s really not much more I can say about this, except that it continues with the mythology to fuel dissent in families, with the approval of the patriarchs, and, by association, the approval of the deity they worship.

We see this approval later in the New Testament when Jesus tells his followers to leave their families and follow him. 
Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.Matthew 10:37 Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Thus we see that the incitement of hatred between siblings, whether they are Cain and Abel or Esau and Jacob, is rife in the Bible. Loving families, who support each other, share their success with each other, and who live together in peace, are not encouraged by the mythology in the Bible.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Genesis 26: Isaac lies about Rebekah

Under the same circumstances as when Abraham sold Sarah to the king of Egypt in chapter 12, when a famine strikes Isaac’s homeland, God tells him Isaac to go but not to Egypt. 

In this story, he doesn’t “sell” Rebekah. He merely lies to the men of Gerar, saying that she is his sister. The king, Abimelech, sees them “sporting” together and questions his story. “Behold of a surety she is thy wife” to which Isaac replies that he was afraid that he would be killed for her (verse 9).

Abimelech reprimands him. “…thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us”. He tells his subjects that the man and his wife are under his protection and that anyone who touches either of them “shall surely be put to death” (verses 10-11).

Isaac continues to live in Gerar, becoming wealthy. When the Philistines who had “stopped” the wells Abraham had dug, and “filled them with earth”, show envy of his wealth (verse 12-15), Abimelech asks him to leave. He goes, pitching his tent in the nearby valley instead.

He reopens the wells previously dug by his father, and names them as they were named by Abraham. However, the trouble doesn’t stop; the men claim the wells as their own, causing him to rename the place “Esek”, meaning, “they strove with him” (verses 17-21). He names another well “Sitnah” before he departs to another well, which he names “Rehoboth”: “For now the Lord had made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land” (verse 22). He leaves again to go to Beer-sheba, where Abraham had named a well in Genesis 21. He builds an altar, and they dig a new well (verse 25).
Abimelech with two companions, Ahuzzath, and Phichol, approach him to form an alliance. They make an agreement of peace between them, feast to celebrate the pact, and the visitors depart (verses 26-31).

Isaac’s servants find water in the well, and he renames the place “Shebah” which the verse then says is the name of the city “Beer-sheba” “to this day”.

Before I finish with the marriage of Esau, I want to comment on the words “to this day.”

It is now almost universally accepted among biblical scholars that the stories were written down centuries after the alleged events. The oral tradition was handed down over those centuries. Except for a few people on the fringes who are Bible literalists, it is no longer thought that Moses was responsible for the writing down of the texts. That means that when we see the words “to this day” it relates to the continued use of names for places that have existed since the beginning of the settlement of Palestine. These are, possibly, the original names given by the people who dug the wells and built the altars. Whether these people were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we’ll never know. What is important is that these are ancient sites, that they have been in storytelling since the stories were first told, and that the age of them should no more be ignored, than the pyramids of Egypt should be ignored for their antiquity.

These wells, and altars, and other places that continue to bear their ancient names are as worthy of respect as any other antiquity in the Middle East. Just because they are part of the Bible narrative is not a reason to discard them in secular archaeology.

To continue with the final verses of this chapter, verses 34 and 35 speak of the disappointment of Isaac and Rebekah when Esau discards his parents’ ancestry and marries outside of their family, and religion.
He chooses Judith, and Bashemath, both Hittite daughters. Judith is the daughter of Beeri, and Bashemath, that of Elon. 
Genesis 26:35 Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.

Here we see that removal of Esau from the gene pool. He has married away from the emerging “faith” taking his progeny out of the genealogy tables of the Jewish people.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Genesis 25: Abraham's death and his descendants

It is possible that the writers of Genesis realised that there weren’t enough descendants to explain the hundreds of thousands of people they came across over the centuries. To explain this, they gave Abraham a new wife after Sarah’s death. This wife, Keturah, bore another six children. 

Abraham was 175 when he died. Impossible? Of course it’s impossible. It’s even more impossible and improbable given that he was over 100 years old when he was making babies with his new wife.
The charts below show the descendants of Keturah’s two sons, Jokshan and Midian, and the second, the descendants of Hagar’s son, Ishmael. I’ve coloured the lines to show the direct line from Sarah, and mixed from the other two women, as these are not the direct line of descendent from Noah, through to Jesus.

As Abraham is about to die, he gives away all his possessions to Isaac. His sons of the concubines, receive “gifts”. His wife Keturah and her children get nothing.

Isaac and Ishmael bury their father in the cave where he’d earlier buried Sarah (verse 9). Apart from the genealogy of Ishmael, and his presence at Abraham’s gravesite, nothing more is said about except for his sons and the towns named for them:

Ishmael dies at the age of 137. His children are named for “their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations” (verse 16).

Verse 18 says that they “dwelt from Havilah unto Shur that is before Egypt”, which is the Bible’s explanation for the people of Arabia. For the actual origins of the various people of the Near East I recommend table of Bible Geography and Chronology, on the website, linked to here.

Verse 20 says that Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, who eventually, after “entreating the Lord” gave birth to two sons, Esau and Jacob.

Once again,we encounter the sibling rivalry of Near Eastern mythology, and which we saw in the earlier story of Cain and Abel. 
Genesis 25:27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field: and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. 
Isaac favours Esau, but Rebekah prefers Jacob. Esau is the elder, therefore the heir to all of Isaac’s property. Jacob resents this. He tries to force his twin to sell him his birthright for a “mess of potage” (verse 30). Esau begs for some food “for I am faint” causing his name to be changed to Edom, i.e. the father of the Edomites.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Genesis 24: Isaac and Rebekah

This long chapter begins with how Isaac took his father’s camels to travel to his uncle, where he would find his wife. Theology places Abraham and his family at around the turn of the second millennium BCE.   If we are to believe that the story is real, then Abraham had camels before they were introduced as domestic animals.
TAU [Tel Aviv University] archaeologists pinpoint the date when domesticated camels arrived in Israel Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob.But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible's historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes…In the southern Levant, where Israel is located, the oldest known domesticated camel bones are from the Aravah Valley, which runs along the Israeli-Jordanian border from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and was an ancient center of copper production.At a 2009 dig, Dr. Ben-Yosef dated an Aravah Valley copper smelting camp where the domesticated camel bones were found to the 11th to 9th century BCE.

If this writing is inspired by God, then why is there this glaring error in the text. It is impossible for Abraham, living in the beginning of the second millennium BCE to have owned domesticated camels. So either the timeline is wrong, or the story was written at a time when camels were commonly used as beasts of burden. It simply cannot be true, and therefore is not God-inspired.
If this important part of the story is not true, then how much of the rest of it is? For example, let’s look at the jewellery offered to Rebekah.

The servant gives her 10 shekels’ weight in gold, in two bracelets, and a half shekel, in an earring. Some research led me to the weight of a shekel, 10.2 grams. Thus the bracelets weighed 105.2 grams and the earring, 5.1 grams. Not terribly heavy or extravagant, but how was a man living in a tent in the desert able to find jewellery to give away to a potential daughter-in-law. The answer has to be in his earlier dealings when he sold his wife to kings, in Egypt (Genesis 12) and later to Abimelech (Genesis 20).  

Abraham is old, “well stricken in age” when he summons a servant to go to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac. He doesn’t want him to marry any of the local girls, but rather to keep the line of descent within his own family. He thus sends him to find a granddaughter of Nahor, his brother, another son of Terah, who had married his niece, Milcah, daughter of the third brother, Haran.
The writers are establishing that their “royal” family was “pure” in the sense that there was no marriage outside of the family itself, by marrying Rebekah to a child of the bloodline.

After the servant leaves Abraham, having sworn to bring a woman back for Isaac, or if she is not willing to leave her home, to not bring Isaac “thither again,” he travels to the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia (verse 10). There is no specific city named “Nahor” in Mesopotamia. The name refers to the city where Nahor lived, not a specific place. However, we do know that Rebekah was also the daughter of Milcah, whose father was Haran. Therefore we can extrapolate that Rebekah’s parents probably lived in or near the Hurrian city of Haran.
Haran was a place where Terah temporarily settled with his son, the Patriarch Abraham, who was known as Abram at that time, his nephew Lot, and Abram's wife Sarai, all of them descendants of Arpachshad son of Shem, during their journey from Ur Kaśdim (Ur of the Chaldees) to the Land of Canaan.  The region of this Haran is referred to variously as Paddan Aram and Aram Naharaim. Abram lived there until he was 75 years old before continuing his journey. Although Abram's nephew Lot accompanied him to Canaan, other descendants of Terah remained in Paddan-Aram, where Abraham's grandson Jacob sought his parents' relatives, namely Laban, for whom he worked for twenty years in Haran. 
Here is some actual history being introduced into the biblical text. Everything before this is pure mythology, and even the story of Abraham seeking a wife from among his relatives, is probably only mythology. However, that a story was being told about a patriarch who sent a servant to find a wife in “Mesopotamia” cannot be completed discarded as mere mythology, because the place was in existence, long before the family who are the subject of the biblical creation story existed. However, because the place existed, and it’s possible that people sent servants to solicit brides from their relatives, it doesn’t mean that this story is true.

To continue with the story. Eliezer comes to a well where he stops to water his animals. He prays to the god of Abraham asking that a kindness be shown to his master, by making a suitable woman arrive at the well, which is exactly what happens.  After some negotiation, and exchanging of gifts, Rebekah leaves with her own servants, following Eliezer until they meet Isaac along the road. She covers her face with a veil while the servant tells Isaac of how he came to find her. In verse 67, he brings her to his mother’s tent, and is “comforted after his mother’s death”. 

This is the romantic story of how Isaac found his wife, who was to be the “mother of millions”. Even if the story is set in a real place, and possibly may contain some truths about the customs of wife-finding in the ancient world, it nevertheless cannot be supported with any hard evidence. I’m not disputing that the Jewish people have a common ancestry, or even that their direct patrilineal ancestry is the same, I am disputing that the stories of how that came to be, are clouded with mythology.

(This post is an abbreviated version of my longer more comprehensive dissection of the chapter in the book on the Book of Genesis which will be available for pdf download once I’ve completed the posts of all the chapters).

Friday, 5 August 2016

Chapter 23: Sarah’s death

According to Genesis 17:17 Sarah was ninety years old when God told Abraham that she would bear a child. Give or take a year or two during which other events took place, her death at a hundred and twenty-seven, according to Genesis 23:1, makes Isaac roughly thirty-seven years old at her death.

The whole of this chapter is devoted to the negotiations for a burial place for a “burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight”. They finally settle on a site purchased from “the sons of Heth", who were descended from the second son of Canaan, the son of Ham, son of Noah, and the ancestor of the Hittites, according to the Genesis genealogy .
Genesis 10:15 And Canaan begat Sidon his firstborn, and Heth.
It names Ephron the son of Zohar as a Hittite, living among the children of Heth. It does not specifically say that the children of Heth were the Hittites.
…an Ancient Anatolian people who established an empire centred on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia around 1600 BC. 
Two identifications occur in this chapter. One that the people of Genesis, or rather the people in the mythology, were associating with people known to us as “Hittites”. The other is that it places Abraham in the timeline.

Some biblical scholars attach the name to the descendants of Heth, as demonstrated in this chapter of Genesis. Others, it appears, disagree, saying that they are the “Kittim”, descended from Javan, descended from Noah’s son, Japheth, the ancestor of the Greeks. However, apart from the Wikipedia comment about this, I cannot find any support for this claim. The Kittim, descended from Javan, descended from Japheth, the son of Noah, appear to be the people of Cyprus, and apart from an illegible claim in an ancient biblical encyclopaedia from the late 19th century, linked to in the Wikipedia article on the Kittim, there is no supporting evidence for this, which would, if it were a valid claim, merely point to a biblical contradiction. 

To find out where Abraham fits into the biblical timeline, I consulted the website, Answers in Genesis. There is a complex essay on the subject from which I quote the following sentence.
Abraham is dated anywhere between c. 2100 and c. 1900 and this range of dates are then applied to the standard chronology of Mesopotamia.  
This is not possible, if we look back at the time for the Hittites, i.e. their civilisation, as mentioned in the Wikipedia quote above, existed between 1600 and 1180 BCE. 

I could put the incorrect dating, and the name “Hittite” down to Shakespearean-era ignorance of Ancient History, but all the biblical websites I consulted, and all the versions of this chapter of Genesis, call Ephron, the man who sold a cave to Abraham for four hundred shekels of silver, a “Hittite”.

The area of Hebron, in Israel, is an ancient site. There is no denying that archaeological exploration has shown its age. It was inhabited during the 3rd millennium BCE, that is not disputed. It is also a holy place to all the Judaeo-Christian religions.

It is, according to biblical tradition, the burial place of Abraham and Sarah, Rebekah and Isaac, and Jacob and Leah. 

Of course for the validity of that claim, it is necessary that these people actually lived. For an idea of this, I’ll quote from Finkelstein and Silberman’s book, The Bible Unearthed.

Before we describe the likely time and historical circumstances in which the Bible’s patriarch narrative was initially woven together from earlier sources, it is important to explain why so many scholars over the last hundred years have been convinced that the patriarchal narratives were at least in outline historically true. The pastoral lifestyle of the patriarchs seemed to mesh well in very general terms with what early twentieth century archaeologists observed of contemporary Bedouin way of life was essentially unchanged over millennia lent an air of verisimilitude to the biblical tales of wealth measured in sheep and goats..., clan conflicts with settled villagers over watering wells..., and disputes over grazing lands.... In addition, the conspicuous references to Mesopotamian and Syrian sites like Abraham’s birthplace, Ur, and Haran on a tributary of the Euphrates...seemed to correspond with the findings of archaeological excavations in the eastern arc of the Fertile Crescent where some of the earliest centers of ancient Near Eastern civilization had been found…
Many of the early biblical archaeologists had been trained as clerics or theologians. They were persuaded by their faith that God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…was real. And if it was real, it was presumably given to real people, not imaginary creations of some anonymous ancient scribe’s pen.  [The Bible Unearthed, pages 33-34]

This is the problem. When people try to rationalise the text of the Bible, by citing scientific facts, and the improbabilities of the extreme old ages of the patriarchs, they come up against other people who are blinded by their faith that makes the stories real, just so that they don’t experience cognitive dissonance that may cause them to question that faith. 

I would be remiss if I did not point out that just as we have to be objective about all other historical enquiry, we should apply that same objectivity to this narrative. The story, even if it has some elements of truth, remains a myth.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Chapter 22: God asks Abraham for a sacrifice

…And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of, Genesis 22:2

That the Bible’s writers weren’t revolted by the idea of a god that demands his creatures to offer up their heir, who has been promised a future of a “great nation”, demonstrates that the idea of child sacrifice was not something unfamiliar.

This continues into the New Testament where the idea of Jesus being sacrificed isn’t abhorrent to the writers of the Epistles. In a modern world, one would imagine that God demanding Abraham sacrifice his child would cause theology to rethink the worship of this deity, but they excuse it with “he didn’t let him actually slaughter him”.

This brings me to the worship of the god Molech/Moloch.

Moloch, also known as Molech, Molekh, Molok, Molek, Melek, Molock, Moloc, Melech, Milcom, or Molcom (representing Semitic מלך m-l-k, a Semitic root meaning "king") is the name of an ancient Ammonite god. Moloch worship was practiced by the Canaanites, Phoenicians, and related cultures in North Africa and the Levant.As a god worshiped by the Phoenicians and Canaanites, Moloch had associations with a particular kind of propitiatory child sacrifice by parents. Moloch figures in the Book of Deuteronomy and in the Book of Leviticus as a form of idolatry (Leviticus 18:21: "And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Moloch"). In the Old Testament, Gehenna was a valley by Jerusalem, where apostate Israelites and followers of various Baalim and Canaanite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2–6). 
I see in Abraham’s preparedness to obey the order to sacrifice his son, and even the sacrifice of Jesus in the New Testament, as familiarity with child sacrifice. The abhorrence that I experience at the idea, and I would imagine that any caring person would feel, is the reason most westerners resist the idea of animal sacrifice today.

He trusts God, so he willingly takes his son to the altar where Isaac asks where the lamb is for them to offer up to God, and as he puts Isaac on the altar, ready to cut his throat, God tells him to stop.

Those of us who watch the Game of Thrones television show, in which we witnessed child sacrifice, albeit fictional, have seen a visual representation of a child’s reaction to this idea. This is mythology, however, not to be taken seriously, or the child was real, and the father really was prepared to kill him. That says more about the nature of the father than about a god he was worshipping. Who would be that trusting of his god that he would go to the extent of lighting the fire, with his son in danger of dying? Not any parent I know, no matter how deep the faith in their god.

God presents him with a ram caught in a thicket, and Abraham names the place Jehovahjireh, “in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (verse 14).

Again God makes the promises of multiplying Abraham’s seed “as the stars of heaven”.

Why was the test necessary? He’d already made the same promise, several times, and even though Abraham showed himself to be a little corrupt by selling his wife, and throwing out his mistress and her son, God still tests him further. 

Read what "New Atheism" thinks of this story here.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Chapters 20 and 21: Abraham and Abimelech (and the birth of Isaac)

Chapter 20 has the story of Abraham selling Sarah to Abimelech, the king of Gerar. In this story, he travels to Gerar, which is “between Kadesh and Shur”, introduces her to the king of Gerar, Abimelech, and claims she is is sister.

The king takes her, an almost 100-year-old woman, but is prevented from “taking” her when God appears to him telling him that he’s a “dead man” if he does that.

Abimelech interrogates Abraham who makes excuses about how she is his sister, but not the “daughter of his mother”, and that he had asked her to claim to be his sister whenever they travelled to a strange place as a “kindness” to him. 

The king hands over sheep, oxen, and servants to Abraham telling him to take his wife and to stay wherever he likes on his land. He tells Sarah he’s given “her brother” a thousand pieces of silver. Abraham asks God to “heal” Abimelech and his wife, and maidservants, after he’d made them infertile, because of his, Abimelech’s, purchase of Sarah.

In chapter 21 Abraham is 100 years old when, finally, Sarah gives birth to her son, Isaac, and although she is happy about the child, she is jealous of Hagar. 

God speaks to Abraham, telling him that in Isaac will be the seed of a great nation, but also through Ishmael. He does as God tells him, giving Hagar bread and a bottle of water, to go on their way into the wilderness of Beersheba. 

The story continues with Hagar’s distress when the water runs out. She hides her child under a shrub and moves away so that she may not see him die of thirst. God hears her, and sends an angel to tell her that she should “lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand’ for I will make him a great nation”. Which is strange for an all-seeing, all-knowing god, who would have known how the birth of Ishmael would impact the world for thousands of generations in the future.

Abimelech and his army arrive at the well where God spoke to Hagar, where they challenge Abraham’s use it, the “well of the oath”. Abraham and Abimelech renew their treaty of peace, and livestock changes hands as witness to the oath between Abraham and Abimelech, regarding the use of the well.

Establishing the place where Hagar almost died of thirst before she, and her son, who was to found a “great nation” were saved, establishes it as a “holy place” in the theology of the Jewish people, and also the people who would later create a new religion from this tradition in Arabia.
Hagar settles in the “Wilderness of Paran”.
The Wilderness or Desert of Paran is said to be the place where Abraham's second wife Hagar and their first-born son Ishmael were sent into exile from Abraham's dwelling in Beersheba (Genesis 21)…Paran is later mentioned in the Book of Numbers as a place where the Israelites temporarily settled during the Exodus (Numbers 10:12)…Paran again features in the opening lines of the Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 1:1)…King David spent some time in the wilderness of Paran after Samuel died (I Samuel)…It is not certain precisely where the wilderness of Paran is to be located. It is often associated with Mount Sinai in Egypt, and there is some evidence that it may originally have referred to the southern portion of the Sinai Peninsula.

Placing this story in the early mythological history indicates that the places mentioned were well-known and that the mythology surrounding them had been repeated enough times for them to be written into the final story. Connecting the place via the story of the sale of Sarah, serves to make the two men known to each other through earlier contact. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Chapter 19: The Fall of Sodom and Gomorrah

This chapter has significance in all Judaeo-Christian religions because of the reference to homosexuality, and that it is an “abomination” to the extent that God destroyed these cities as a result of this verse: 
Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. Genesis 19: 5-6
The angels who had appeared to Abraham, travelled to Sodom, arriving at Lot’s house in the evening. Lot is hospitable, offers them a place to stay for the night. They refuse the offer, saying they’ll sleep in the street, but he insists and they accept his invitation to have a meal and stay the night (verse 3).

The men of Sodom surround the house, demanding that he send them out “that we many know them”. Lot offers his daughters instead. 

When the men insist that they want the visitors, Lot goes out to reason with them, but the angels pull him back, and smite the men of Sodom with blindness (verse 11).

The angels ask Lot about his family, sons, daughters, sons-in-law, saying that they should be sent from the city, because God has sent them to destroy it.  In the morning, the angels insist that Lot and his family leave the city, telling him to “escape for thy life, look not behind thee, neither stay in the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thy be consumed.” (verse 17).

Lot pleads with the angels to allow him to escape to the “small city” which is called “Zoar”. The angels agree that he should escape there while they destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, raining down “brimstone and fire” on them (verses 18-25).

Lot’s wife looks back to see the destruction, and is turned into a pillar of salt (verse 26).

Abraham wakes up to see the destruction happening to the “cities of the plain” while God sends Lot away from Zoar to hide in the mountains, with his two remaining daughters.

In the following verses, 31 to 38, the writer explains the origins of the Moabites and the Ammonites. The two daughters cause their father, Lot, to become drunk. They seduce him in order to have children because they believe that all the eligible young men in their little world have been killed.
There are three purposes in this mythology being included in the Old Testament. The first is the obvious one: the condemnation of homosexuality. The phenomenon of homosexuality must have been fairly common among the people of Canaan, perhaps all civilisations noticed the behaviour among their members, however, only the people who claim to be descended from Abraham make a fuss about it. That they do this, says more about their obsession with sex, than it does about same gender sexual attraction. See the Wikipedia article linked to here.

The Greeks were at ease about both homosexuality and nudity, and the Romans, although they were a little more conservative in their public sexual behaviour, nevertheless had several famous characters who were gay. See full quote here.

As has been frequently noted, the ancient Greeks did not have terms or concepts that correspond to the contemporary dichotomy of ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’. There is a wealth of material from ancient Greece pertinent to issues of sexuality, ranging from dialogues of Plato, such as the Symposium, to plays by Aristophanes, and Greek artwork and vases…Probably the most frequent assumption of sexual orientation is that persons can respond erotically to beauty in either sex… For example, Alexander the Great and the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, were known for their exclusive interest in boys and other men. Such persons, however, are generally portrayed as the exception… 

From the Wikipedia article on homosexuality in Rome, there is the following:

It was expected and socially acceptable for a freeborn Roman man to want sex with both female and male partners, as long as he took the penetrative role. The morality of the behavior depended on the social standing of the partner, not gender per se. Both women and young men were considered normal objects of desire, but outside marriage a man was supposed to act on his desires only with slaves, prostitutes (who were often slaves), and the infames (people with little or no social standing). Gender did not determine whether a sexual partner was acceptable, as long as a man's enjoyment did not encroach on another man's integrity. It was immoral to have sex with another freeborn man's wife, his marriageable daughter, his underage son, or with the man himself; sexual use of another man's slave was subject to the owner's permission…In the Imperial era, anxieties about the loss of political liberty and the subordination of the citizen to the emperor were expressed by a perceived increase in voluntary passive homosexual behavior among free men, accompanied by a documentable increase in the execution and corporal punishment of citizens. 
The people of the Old Testament even included prohibition of it in their laws, with extreme punishment for the behaviour, as may be seen from the laws of Leviticus (18:22), and the fact that until the 21st century, homosexual acts were, and in some cases still are, a crime.

The mythology of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah seems to have been placed in Genesis to lay the foundation for the condemnation of the behaviour. There is another example of this subject in further mythology, notably in Judges 19.

The next reason for the story is to place the historical origins of the Ammonites and the Moabites, and the third one to point out that they were descended from the incestuous coupling of Lot and his daughters, and thereby to lay the foundation for the laws that prohibit father and daughter incest, again in Leviticus (18: 6-29).

The Ammonites and the Moabites, although they are descended from Terah, the ancestor of Abraham, and thereby, from Noah, are not allowed to intermarry with the Hebrews because they are descended from incest. Making them the sons of Lot with his daughters, makes the prohibition valid.
The two states, Ammon and Moab, were historically real (see map on this Wikipedia page)
The chief city of the country [Ammon] was Rabbah or Rabbath Ammon, site of the modern city of Amman, Jordan's capital. Milcom and Molech (who may be one and the same) are named in the Bible as the gods of Ammon. The people of this kingdom are called "Children of Ammon" or “Ammonites.”
 Also note the origins of David:
The Ammonites presented a serious problem to the Pharisees because many marriages with Ammonite (and Moabite) wives had taken place in the days of Nehemiah. The men had married women of the various nations without conversion, which made the children not Jewish [even though they were descended from the same ancestral line]. The legitimacy of David's claim to royalty was disputed on account of his descent from Ruth, the Moabite.
The Moabites, as may be seen from this Wikipedia quote, were also people of the area we now refer to as Jordan. 
Moab… is the historical name for a mountainous strip of land in Jordan. The land lies alongside much of the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The existence of the Kingdom of Moab is attested to by numerous archeological findings,… capital was Dibon. According to the Bible, Moab was often in conflict with its Israelite neighbours to the west.

I do not dispute the existence of the actual lands, or peoples, of the area in which the bible story is set. I merely refute the truth of the historical account, which is obviously a repeating of the oral tradition, handed down through the centuries, until the writers put it down on parchment, calling it the “history of the Jewish people.” This story is no more real history than any other mythological origin story told around campfires in the early days of any civilisation. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

Genesis 18: Abraham negotiates with God to save Sodom

And the Lord said, if I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes. Genesis 18:26
Why were three men sent to tell Abraham the good news that Sarah was going to have a child? God has been speaking directly to Abraham, for all of this time, yet to convince Sarah that even though she is post-menopausal, she will bear a child, he sends “messengers”.

The reason for this isn’t clear until chapter 19, when the men are threatened with rape in the city.
After the men had left Sarah to mull over the frightening prospect of bearing a child at her advanced age, Abraham engages with God to haggle about how many “righteous” men it would take to save the city.

The chapter starts off with “the Lord” appeared to him where he sat outside his tent “in the fields of Mamre”. He sees three men, bows to them and calls them “Lord” .

There are threads of numbers that run through the Bible, three men is one of these threads. Adam and Eve had three mentioned sons: Cain, Abel, and Seth. (Genesis 4, Genesis 5) Noah has three sons who are mentioned: Ham, Shem, and Japheth. (Genesis 5:32). In turn, the sons of Noah, also have three main branches of descendants: Ham has Cush, Mizraim, and Canaan who are the ancestors of the non-Jewish people. Terah, Abraham’s father has three children who are the ancestors of the later people: Abraham, Nahor, and their brother Haran, the father of Lot. (Genesis 11:29) Then three men appear to Abraham in this chapter. In Daniel, the three men are Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego. (Daniel 3:23).

The use of numerical patterns is significant because it demonstrates mythology. The real world is chaotic, there are no patterns except the ones we make up for ourselves. It is only in fiction that patterns of numbers are used to tell stories. Using this pattern through the narrative merely displays that three was a way for the ancient storytellers to make connections: one character was the ancestor of the unholy people, the second character, the ancestor of the chosen one, and the third, to provide wives, or relatives for the chosen one, but ultimately discarded as a new branch of “unholy” people.

In this case, God appearing to Abraham as three men, and then moving on to Sodom to tempt the people into sodomy, seems strange until these connections are made. It was a way for the writer to weave a story. Abraham travelled to Egypt with Sarah, so that he could obtain a handmaiden to be the mother of Ishmael. Abraham fathers two children, who are the progenitors of the two main groups of people in the Near East during the middle of the first millennium BCE, the Arabs, or Syrians, and the Hebrews. In this chapter the three men are necessary. One would cause only a few men to sin, two, perhaps a few more, but three men would cause a significant number of men to seek to use the men for their pleasure, thus giving the excuse for the destruction of the city.

Finally on the number three, it is also the three attributes of God: omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, as explained in this website

When Sarah laughs, denying that it is possible for her to bear a child, God asks if anything is too hard for him, chastising her, after she denies laughing (verse 14).

As the three men walk away, God questions whether he should tell Abraham of his intent to destroy the city of Sodom.
Genesis 18:17 And the Lord said, shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do.
He decides that Abraham has a right to know, seeing he is meant to be “great and mighty” and “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him”.

As the men turn towards Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asks God to rethink his plan, if he is able to find fifty good men. God agrees to save the city for fifty men. Abraham thinks about it, realises fifty is too many to ask for; they eventually settle on ten righteous men.

To be able to verify whether the two cities actually existed, we have only theology, and the belief that these events took place at a time we now call “The Bronze Age” in Mesopotamia. 
In Mesopotamia, the Bronze Age begins at about 2900 BCE in the late Uruk period, spanning the Early Dynastic period of Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, the Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian periods and the period of Kassite hegemony. In Ancient Egypt, the Bronze Age begins in the Protodynastic period, c. 3150 BCE.
There is no empirical evidence for their existence, only supposition and theology on religious websites that support the idea that the devastation was caused by a meteor, 4,000 years ago. 

There is no evidence whatsoever that shows that Abraham and Sarah were real people who lived to be centenarians before they had a child. The feasibility of such a medical marvel is extremely unlikely. This goes for their ancestors too. The longevity is necessary for the whole mythical history to have value. Possibly they were real people, possibly there was a couple who had a child late in life, possibly this did happen at a time that a meteor shower struck a now-unidentifiable city, possibly, on a small scale there may be some fact behind the myth, but it remains a myth. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Abram receives a new name and a law

We saw in chapter 9 that two laws were handed to Noah on his emergence from the ark: one that he may not “eat” blood, and two, that murder must be avenged. 
Genesis 9:4 But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall yet not eat.Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth a man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed…
Chapter 17 has two main themes, one that Abram shall henceforth be called “Abraham”, 
Genesis 17:5 …for a father of many nations have I made thee.
The second theme is the introduction of the third law, that of circumcision.
Genesis 17:11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
Abram is ninety-nine years old when God appears to him, telling him he is perfect, and that he seeks to make a covenant with him so that he may be multiplied. He then goes on to rename Sarai, naming her Sarah, and that she will bear a son, and be a “mother of nations”.

Abraham falls about laughing, saying that Sarah is ninety years old. He tells God to let Ishmael be the father of nations (verses 17-18). God says that Sarah will indeed bear a son, they will call him “Isaac”, and that he will establish a covenant with him. 

As for Ishmael, he will be fruitful and exceedingly blessed. He will beget twelve princes and will create a great nation, through God. But the covenant will be with Isaac who will be born within the next year. He leaves Abraham to get on with circumcising every man in his household.

Sixth Dynasty (2345–2181 BCE) tomb artwork in Egypt has been thought to be the oldest documentary evidence of circumcision, the most ancient depiction being a bas-relief from the necropolis at Saqqara (c. 2400 BCE) with the inscriptions reading: "The ointment is to make it acceptable." and "Hold him so that he does not fall”. In the oldest written account, by an Egyptian named Uha, in the 23rd century BCE, he describes a mass circumcision and boasts of his ability to stoically endure the pain: "When I was circumcised, together with one hundred and twenty men...there was none thereof who hit out, there was none thereof who was hit, and there was none thereof who scratched and there was none thereof who was scratched.”Also…Herodotus [Herodotus, Histories, Book 2:104, p121], writing in the 5th century BCE, wrote that the Egyptians "practise circumcision for the sake of cleanliness, considering it better to be cleanly than comely.”…Herodotus reported that circumcision is only practiced by the Egyptians, Colchians, Ethiopians, Phoenicians, the 'Syrians of Palestine', and “the Syrians who dwell about the rivers Thermodon and Parthenius, as well as their neighbours the Macronians and Macrones". He also reports, however, that "the Phoenicians, when they come to have commerce with the Greeks, cease to follow the Egyptians in this custom, and allow their children to remain uncircumcised. If there had been wholesale circumcision among the people of Canaan, there would also be extra-biblical evidence for it. None of the other city-states mention it in their mythology.
From the historical point of view, in Judaism, Wikipedia says,

In Egypt, only the priestly caste retained circumcision, and by the 2nd century, the only circumcising groups in the Roman Empire were Jews, Jewish Christians, Egyptian priests, and the Nabatean Arabs. Circumcision was sufficiently rare among non-Jews that being circumcised was considered conclusive evidence of Judaism (or Early Christianity and others derogatorily called Judaizers) in Roman courts—Suetonius in Domitian 12.2 described a court proceeding in which a ninety-year-old man was stripped naked before the court to determine whether he was evading the head tax placed on Jews and Judaizers…Later during the Talmudic period (500–625 CE) a third step, known as Metzitzah, began to be practiced. In this step the mohel would suck the blood from the circumcision wound with his mouth to remove what was believed to be bad excess blood. As it actually increases the likelihood of infections such as tuberculosis and venereal diseases, modern day mohels use a glass tube placed over the infant's penis for suction of the blood. In many Jewish ritual circumcisions this step of Metzitzah has been eliminated. [cf Wikipedia link in footnote 98.]
Until fairly recently, in the western world, circumcision was normal for people who were not necessarily Jewish. The trend to have it done as a custom for aesthetic purposes is disappearing with new evidence showing that it removes sensitivity, and although it may reduce some risk of cervical cancer in the partners of circumcised men, the evidence is not conclusive.
It is uncertain whether male circumcision reduces the risks of penile human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in the man and of cervical cancer in his female partner…studies have suggested that circumcision may reduce the risk of penile cancer, urinary tract infections, and common sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Little is known, however, about the effect of male circumcision on the risk of acquiring human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV causes genital warts in men and women, and it has been linked to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, and penis. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women worldwide, and up to 99 percent of all cases may be attributed to infection by oncogenic HPV genotypes.
Time Magazine reported, in 2013, that circumcision rates in the United States are dropping:
In 1979, close to two-thirds of boys in the West underwent a hospital circumcision after birth, but by 2010 that percentage dropped to around 58%.

It seems that, for purely aesthetic reasons, or whatever the reasons were in the Near East during the first millennium BCE, there is no need to mutilate young children. The decision to do it, should left to the individual to decided, for himself. As for the Hebrews having instituted the practice, it’s mythology. By the time they started doing it, it was fairly common practice among semitic people. 

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Genesis 15 & 16 Two chapters: Abraham is promised a son, then grows tired of waiting

After the Battle of Siddim, God appears to Abram saying that even though he has his steward who he wants to appoint as an heir, he should wait for one from his “bowels” instead, and that the numbers of his heirs will be as the stars. (Around 10,000 on a dark night. Not that many considering that the creator of the stars should be aware that those 10,000 are only a tiny fraction of what is out there, outside our own galaxy and beyond. Perhaps this is what the writer of this meant).

To return to the story of Abram being prepared for greatness, after the discussion of the greatness of Abram’s descendants, God tells him to sacrifice some animals:
A three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. He divides them up, except for the birds. When the birds of prey came to eat them, Abram chases them away (verses 9-10).

He falls into a deep sleep, during which he dreams that God tells him of how his heirs will be strangers (we know in Egypt), this dream says “a strange land”. Writing with hindsight, this is retrospective history, and not a prophecy. Also we know the exile in Egypt was only a metaphor for Babylon, and that it didn’t really happen.

This chapter serves to introduce the reader to the story of Abraham’s great-grandson’s abduction to Egypt and how his family follow him into eventual “captivity”, that is after they’d become wealthy as a result of their association with Joseph, and then their offspring becoming slaves under different kings, over 400 years. It also names the people of Canaan and beyond, which, when interpreted by exegesis, turn out to all be descended from Noah.

There is no evidence that the Jews were ever captive slaves in Egypt. It is very possible that some of the workers who worked on the great edifices built by the Egyptians eventually migrated to Palestine, but a people, descended from a single ancestor, numbering over a million bodies, no. There’s absolutely no evidence for this, nor for the existence of a man named Abraham and his family. 

There is however ample evidence for the origins of the people claimed to be the descendants of Noah having pre-existed the time of the mythical story of the flood, and thereby, not being descendants of the original Semitic people.

In chapter 16, Abraham grows tired of waiting for the promised son, so he accepts the offer his wife, Sarai makes, to sleep with Hagar, the Egyptian handmaid who conceives, and bears a son.
Not content with having had sex with the slave (either against her will, or otherwise), Abraham tells Sarai to deal with Hagar whichever way she chooses, which makes Hagar afraid after Sarai dealt “hardly” with her. She runs away.

An angel appears to her, asks her “what’s wrong”? She tells the angel she’s fled from Sarai. The angel tells her to return and to submit. 

The mythological ancestry of the birth of the ancestor of the Arabs aside, there are the issues that today’s feminism and human rights have to find abhorrent. How anyone living in the 21st century can simply accept that this behaviour: taking a woman as a slave away from her home, purely for the breeding of a nation, possibly raping her, and then letting her be abused by her mistress, and eventually being turned out with her son, flies in the face of all humanitarianism. I find the story unnecessarily harsh, leaving me with nothing to respect about these characters. 

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Genesis 14: The Battle of Siddim

One of the first major events involving people other than the family of Noah and his descendants, is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, for which there is very little, if any evidence in archaeology.
Wikipedia explains the historicity, here:
The ancient Greek historiographer Strabo states that locals living near Moasada (as opposed to Masada) say that "there were once thirteen inhabited cities in that region of which Sodom was the metropolis". Strabo identifies a limestone and salt hill at the south western tip of the Dead Sea, and Kharbet Usdum ruins nearby as the site of biblical Sodom.
It is important to not conflate the “Moasada" of Strabo with “Masada” the fortress built by King Herod between 37 and 31 BCE. Sodom, and Gomorrah were not situated on a mountain top, nor should the tradition of other religions be used as evidence for their existence. In short, there is no evidence that these cities ever existed, even if ancient cultures claim “rains of fire” (see Wikipedia link above).

The Battle of Siddim,  described Genesis 14, is the battle as between seven northern kings, against the four southern kings.

The kings are named as:
Amraphel, of Shinar; Arioch of Eliasar; Chedorlaomer of Elam; Tidal king of nations; Shemeber of Zeboiim; and Shinab of Admah…
…who made war with: 
Bera, king of Sodom;  Birsha, king of Gomorrah; Bela of Zoar…and…King Melchizedek, of Salem, in chapter 14:18

The kings served Chedorlaomer for twelve years, and in the thirteenth, they rebelled against having to pay tribute to him, which caused Chedorlaomer, and the other six northern kings to war against the king of Sodom, Bera, the the other southern kings.

Genesis 14 describes the battle and the aftermath in some detail, as described here in Wikipedia.

The Northern forces overwhelmed the Southern kings of the Jordan plain driving some them into asphalt or tar pits that littered the valley. Those who escaped, fled to the mountains including the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were then spoiled of their goods and provisions as well as the taking of captives. Among the captives was Abraham's nephew, Lot. (Genesis 14:10–12) 
When word reached Abraham, he immediately mounted a rescue operation, arming 400 of his trained servants who went in pursuit of the enemy armies that were returning to their homelands. They caught up with them in the city of Dan, flanking the enemy on multiple sides, during a night raid. The attack ran its course as far as Hobah, north of Damascus where he defeated Kenderlaomer and his forces. Abram recovered all the goods, even the captives who included Lot. (Genesis 14:13–17) 
After the battle, Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine and blessed Abraham, who gave him a third of the plunder. Then Bera king of Sodom came to Abraham and thanked him, also offering Abraham to keep only the plunder, but return only his people. Abraham declined saying, "I swore I would never take anything from you so you can never say I have made Abraham rich". What Abraham accepted from Bera was food for his 400 men and his Amorite neighbors. (Genesis 14:18-20) Peter Leithart suggests that the bread and wine constituted a victory celebration. 
As described above, the kings take Lot hostage, along with all his goods, and family.

When Abram heard that his nephew had been abducted, he took 318 servants with him, pursuing them to Dan (verse 14). (The text says 318, I don’t know where the 400 in the Wikipedia analysis comes from, it’s possibly an error.)

Genesis 14:14 And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.
The area allocated to Dan, Jacob’s son, and the head of one of the twelves tribes, hadn’t yet been defined. This is a clue to the later writing of the story, and is acceptable because it places the area where the “mountains” were. (I recommend reading "The Bible Unearthed" for a comprehensive guide to the actual archaeology of the Bible)

Abraham and his servants “smote” the enemy, and pursued them “unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus” (verse 15). The mention of Damascus takes the story of Abraham out of pre-history and places him in the 2nd millennium BCE.

Abram brings Lot and all his goods and family back to Sodom, when he is met by the king, after the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh.

The king of Sodom offers him a reward for Lot, but he declines saying,
Genesis 14:23-24 I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldst say, I have made Abram rich: Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me…
Wikipedia has identified the kings as follows:
Amraphel has been thought by some scholars such as the writers of the Catholic Encyclopedia and the Jewish Encyclopedia to be an alternate name of the famed Hammurabi. The name is also associated with Ibal Pi-El II of Esnunna.Arioch has been thought to have been a king of Larsa (Ellasar being an alternate version of this). It has also been suggested that it is URU KI, meaning "this place here".Following the discovery of documents written in the Elamite language and Babylonian language, it was thought that Chedorlaomer is a transliteration of the Elamite compound Kudur-Lagamar, meaning servant of Lagamaru - a reference to Lagamaru, an Elamite deity whose existence was mentioned by Ashurbanipal. However, no mention of an individual named Kudur Lagamar has yet been found; inscriptions that were thought to contain this name are now known to have different names (the confusion arose due to similar lettering). David Rohl identifies Chedorlaomer with an Elamite king named Kutir-Lagamar.Tidal has been considered to be a transliteration of Tudhaliya - either referring to the first king of the Hittite New Kingdom (Tudhaliya I) or the proto-Hittite king named Tudhaliya. With the former, the title king of Nations would refer to the allies of the Hittite kingdom such as the Ammurru and Mittani; with the latter the term "goyiim" has the sense of "them, those people". al ("their power") gives the sense of a people or tribe rather than a kingdom. Hence td goyim ("those people have created a state and stretched their power”).
It also puts the battle into geopolitical context as being common practice for kings to form alliances in battles, with the kings ruling over city states, spread over the area.

According to Kenneth Kitchen, a better agreement with the conditions in the time of Chedorlaomer is provided by Ur Nammu. Mari had had links to the rest of Mesopotamia by Gulf trade as early as the Jemdet Nasr period but an expansion of political connections to Assyria did not occur until the time of Isbi-Erra. The Amorites or MARTU were also linked to the Hittites of Anatolia by trade.Trade between the Harappan culture of India and the Jemdet Nasr flourished between c 2000-1700BC. As Isin declined, the fortunes of Larsa - located between Eshnunna and Elam - rose until Larsa was defeated by Hammurabi. Between 1880 and 1820 BC there was Assyrian trade with Anatolia, in particular in annakum or tin.The main trade route between Ashur and Kanesh running between the Tigris and Euphrates passed through Haran. The empire of Shamshi-Adad I and Rim-Sin I included most of northern Mesopotamia. Thus, Kitchen concludes that this is the period in which the narrative of Genesis 14 falls into a close match with the events of the time of Shamsi Adad and Chedorlaomer.The relevant rulers in the region at this time were:• The last king of Isin, Damiq-ilishu, ruled 1816-1794 BC.• Rim Sin I of Larsa ruled 1822-1763• The last king of Uruk, Nabiilishu, ruled 1802• In Babylon, Hammurabi ruled 1792-1750• In Eshnunna Ibal Pi-El II ruled c 1762• In Elam there was a king Kuduzulush• In Ashur, Shamsi Adad I ruled c 1813-1781• In Mari, Yasmah-Adad ruled 1796-1780 followed by Zimri-Lin 1779-1757.
Dating the story is difficult given that there is so little evidence to go on. The cuneiform writing on Babylonian tablets in the British Museum, have led to the belief that the story is possibly true and that it puts Abraham into the early second millennium BCE with Hammurabi. However, there is no hard-and-fast evidence for this.

From a theological point of view, this disagrees with the creation timetable, and discounts the longevity of the Bible’s patriarchs, so it is dismissed by most theologians, according to Wikipedia. 
Did this battle really happen, and was Abraham the hero of the story, as told in the Bible? In the absence of any extra-biblical evidence, I’m inclined to say no. I am of the opinion that there were many skirmishes between city states in the early second millennium. I doubt that any one battle was unusual, and I am also of the opinion that fighting battles was so much part of the settlement process, that knowledge of them was fairly universal.

That the writer of this part of Genesis chose to put the mythical ancestor of the Hebrews into the middle of the story, is not unexpected. For me the clues are the refusal to accept recompense for bringing down the kings. Earlier, and again later, Abraham has been prepared, and will be again, as will his son Isaac, to sell his wife for wealth. Abraham turning down a gift seems to be out of character.

Ussher chronology, the accepted standard for dating the stories of the Bible was formulated by James Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh (Ireland) in the 17th century.
  1. Early times (Creation to Solomon). Ostensibly the easiest period, as the Bible provides an unbroken male lineage from Adam through to Solomon complete with the ages of the individuals involved. However, not all of the versions of the Bible provide the same ages — the Septuagint gives much longer ages, adding about 1500 years to the date of Creation. Ussher resolved this problem by relying on the Hebrew Bible instead.
  2. Early Age of Kings (Solomon to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity). The lineage breaks down at this point, with only the length of the kings' reigns being provided and a number of overlaps and ambiguities complicating the picture. Ussher had to cross-reference the Biblical records with known dates of other people and rulers to create an overall timeline.
  3. Late Age of Kings (Ezra and Nehemiah to the birth of Jesus). No information at all is provided in the Bible. Ussher and his counterparts therefore had to try to link a known event from this period with a dateable event in another culture, such as the Chaldeans, Persians or Romans. For instance, the death of the Chaldean King Nebuchadnezzar II (who conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC) could be correlated with the 37th year of the exile of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 25:27).

According to biblical chronology, calculated by various theologies, the accepted date for the creation is 4000 BCE, i.e. at the time that the king of Ur was living in his beautiful city explained above by science.

Abraham’s birth is placed at 1946 after the creation, which is about where I’ve calculated it to be. In other words, 2054 BCE, which puts him into the correct timeline for Hammurabi, and possibly being part of the story of the war at the battle of Siddim. However, that battle appears to exist only in the Bible. There is no extra-biblical evidence for the existence of Abraham, or Lot, or for them being involved in a battle with the kings of Mesopotamia.

The only reason I can see for this battle is to make a hero of Abraham, and therefore he is worthy to become the ancestor of all the Jewish people.

To accept that anything in his story is true, is to throw reason and evidence out, and to accept the literal story of the Old Testament.

I cannot do that. I only make conclusions based on evidence. Up to this point, I do not see any evidence for his being a real person.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Chapter 13 Abram and Lot part ways

But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly. Genesis 13:13

Chapter 13 sets the stage for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the rise of further adversaries in the coming wars between Joshua and the people of Canaan.

Leaving Egypt with the wealth amassed from having sold his wife to the king, Abram and Lot return to Beth-el,

Genesis 13:4 Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord. 

This place again becomes important as the place where Jacob dreams, in Genesis chapter 28.

Lot and Abram’s servants argue about the shortage of available grazing for their herds. Other people are living in the area: Canaanites (descendants of Ham’s son Canaan) and Perizzites (also descendants of Ham).

At this point in the mythology, there isn’t any strife between the Hebrews and their distant cousins, only between Abraham and Lot, which could be metaphorical for the later strife between Abraham’s descendants and the people who are descended from Lot’s later incestuous coupling with his daughters, after their escape from Sodom and Gomorrah.

For now, the mythology is merely establishing that everyone, other than those descended from the direct line of Adam to Terah, Abraham’s father, are “Canaanites.” 

After mentioning the wickedness of the “men of Sodom” God tells Abram to separate from Lot, to look northward, eastward, westward, and to the south:

Genesis 13:15 …all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to they seed forever. 

I do not dispute that the Jewish people are of Middle Eastern descent, I do dispute that they are descended from one mythical man, 2,500 before the current era.

At the end of the chapter, Abram goes to live in the plain of Mamre, where he builds another altar. 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Chapter 12 Introducing Abraham

Chapter 11 ends with the introduction of  Abram to the narrative. He is the son of Terah, brother of Haran, the father of Lot ,and Milcah, wife of the third brother, Nahor.

Abram is married to Sarai, his father’s daughter. The family, Terah, the father, Abram, Sarai, and Lot, their nephew, leave the place where Lot’s father, Haran, has died. This is “Ur of the Chaldees” from where they travel to the land of Canaan. They settle in Haran.

A famine befalls the land, so God tells Abram to leave the country to travel to a distant land:
Genesis 12:3 I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth three: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Before the family goes to Egypt, they stop in the “Land of Canaan” visiting places such as Moreh and Sichem, in the land of Noah’s grandson, Canaan, who was cursed because his father “uncovered” Noah’s nakedness.

In the plain of Moreh, he builds an altar to “the Lord” who appears to him. Again God tells him that he will give this land to his “seed”.

As they travel southwards, they move on to a mountain on the east of Beth-el with the mountain in the west and Hai in the east; he builds another altar. 

On the way, Abram tells Sarai that he is going to pass her off as his sister, because she is beautiful and the Egyptians will kill her if they know she’s his wife. 

The king sees Sarai, asks for her and she is given in exchange for “sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, as she asses, and camels”. But God punishes the Pharaoh for doing this, with undefined plagues.

Pharaoh calls Abram to take her back, asking why he had told him that she was his sister, and not his wife. He tells them to leave.

Abraham lies about Sarai to the king, and accepts wealth in exchange for pimping her out to him. The king of Egypt , however, has the honour to not take another man’s wife, and also not to ask for the gifts to be returned.

Apart from the wealth,  gained from the exchange, the reason for the story appears to be that the  “maidservant” given to him by Pharaoh, will be the mother of a son whose descendants will be of Abraham’s line, but not his heirs, because their mother was a foreign woman.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Before the Big Bang

Discussing the origin of the universe with someone last week, I had to field the question of "what happened before the Big Bang".

Here is the answer.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Genesis Chapter 11: The Tower of Babel

Chapter 11 tells the mythological story of how different languages developed.

According to the myth, everyone spoke the same language, which they would have done, since they were all related to each other. 

The people decided to build a tower to reach “unto heaven” for the purposes of becoming famous for their feat of construction.

God is fearful that they will not be able to be restrained in their fame, so he says, in verses 7-8, 
…let us go down there and confound their language that they not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
I really doubt anyone even imagines that this is how language developed. I’m fairly sure that even the people who assembled Genesis didn't put this chapter there as a “scientific” explanation for language.

Language is fluid. It has never remained the same for more than a few decades before neologisms alter the way we speak sometimes to the extent that even our grandparents, who were important in the formation of our ability to communicate, sometimes fail to understand us.

For example, the English language is spoken in many countries: the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australasia, and South Africa. Familiar terms in one country are not as familiar in others: in South Africa we call, what people in the rest of the world, call a “zucchini”, a “baby marrow”. The rest of the world refers to “eggplants” as “aubergines”, and I won’t discuss how the Americans have changed the spelling! 

I do think that most people, even theists, accept that the story of the tower of Babel is only a myth, and this being the case, perhaps those who believe in the Bible's "infallibility" should take a closer look at other stories.