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.