Belief in the Exodus, as described in the Jewish scriptures, is arguably the single most important event in Jewish culture and plays a significant role in Christian religion. Even though the Bible contains numerous chronological data points for the year in which this event would have happened, establishing a reliable scholarly and religious consensus and appropriate chronological context based on biblical and historical data for such a date remains one of the most difficult problems in biblical scholarship. There are many reasons for this, chief among them being the lack of any archaeological evidence for the existence of such a massive occurrence and the inconsistencies and contradictions among the biblical chronologies.
Sorry for the long delay in substantive posting. I’ve been busy on several projects that have tied me up, including the preparation and presentation of papers at conferences and, most importantly, my follow up to Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-Lists: The Egyptian Origins of Genesis History, Volume I: Egypt’s Dynastic Period. In Volume II, I take on Egypt’s mythic god-king lists and Genesis 1–11, what is routinely referred to as the bible’s primeval history. The latter encompasses the stories of creation, Adam and Eve and their offspring, the story of Noah and the Flood, and several genealogies and chronologies. I’m trying to finish it up and get it into print by the spring of 2022.It will have lots of surprising revelations.
One of the areas that I devote a good deal of time to is the story of Noah’s Flood and whether its current narrative location is original to the earlier biblical sources. This is a question that a number of biblical scholars ask. The general consensus, I believe, is that the flood is a late addition to the narrative and based on either the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic (mid first millennium B.C.E.) or a common source shared by both. I, as you might expect, take an entirely different tack. Removing the flood story from its present location has some interesting ramifications for some of my genealogical and chronological arguments.
Here I want to link you to a recent article, The Original Primeval History of the Hebrews, that appeared on The Torah.Com, that argues that the original sources for Genesis 1–11 lacked the flood story. It cites some of the arguments I make against the present narrative location. I disagree, however, with most of the literary analysis concerning the remaining portions of the primeval history, although much of that literary analysis is consistent with mainstream biblical scholarship.
It will be the argument in the second volume of Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-Lists that the story of Noah’s flood originally derived from an Egyptian creation myth associated with the city of Hermopolis, and that narrative appeared in the account of the first day of creation (which belongs to the “P” source). In that story, four males and their four wives appear in the primeval deep and animate Re, the Hermopolitan creator deity, who raises a mountain out of the waters so that he would have a place to stand. As he emerges from the deep, the [benben/phoenix] bird of light flies off. The second day of creation (also “P”) featured the Egyptian creation myth from the city of Heliopolis. Separate from P’s days of creation narrative, the J source gives us a different creation story somewhat inconsistent with the P version. That narrative includes the stories of Adam and Eve and their offspring. I argue that the J narrative is part of the Heliopolitan source that takes placed on P’s account of the second and third days of creation.
Long after, during the Babylonian exile and Persian periods, the Hebrews became heavily influenced by the Mesopotamian cultures and began to modify some of their earlier Egyptian-based stories in order to harmonize Hebrew history with Mesopotamian history. It is in that era when the original Flood story was moved from the first day of creation to the Tenth generation of humanity, consistent with some Mesopotamian flood sources. The one piece of the story that remained in place was the light created on the first day.
Who is a Semite? It’s a tricky question. It has two very different meanings. So when some Arabs claim that as Semites they can’t be anti-Semitic, what do they actually mean by Semite?
The term Semite has biblical roots but doesn’t appear in the bible. It was introduced into scholarly usage in the eighteenth century, initially to describe a family of languages and, then, for anti-Semitic reasons came to be used as a negative term for the Jewish people by proto-Nazis within the German scholarly community.
Genesis 5 presents a chronological record of Patriarchal births and deaths from Adam to Noah’s Flood. The chronology is presented in such a way that if you had a starting date for Adam, you could set a date for each of the births and deaths. Genesis 11 continues the chronology from the end of the Flood to the birth of Abraham. (For a detailed study of Genesis 5 and 11 see my “Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-Lists.”
The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew text. The almost universally accepted consensus is that the work was begun in the Egyptian city of Alexandria during the reign of the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy II (283–246 B.C.E.) and was completed sometime in the second century B.C.E. Alexandria was a major center of intellectual activity. The Septuagint was the bible used by the authors of the Gospels.
While the Septuagint is based on some versions of the Hebrew books of the bible (there was no single official canonical version of any of the books of the bible at that time), there are many differences between it and the standard Masoretic text used by Jews and modern scholars. One significant difference is in the chronological record of Genesis 5.
For Part 1: An Overview, Click here.
For Part 2: The P Source Chronology, Click here.
Let’s now look at the J source chronology. As with the P source analysis, I will list only the verses relevant to the J chronology. Again, I will omit the two verses that Friedman assigns to P and take them up in the discussion of harmonization. Numbers in parentheses are the Genesis verse numbers.
For Part 1: An Overview, click here.
In Part 1, I noted that the story of Noah’s Flood combines two sources, which the scholars nicknamed J and P. I indicated that I would follow Richard Elliot Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? to separate the sources but that I would challenge his assignment of two verses to the P source. It is my view that these two verses were inserted by the Redactor in order to harmonize the J and P sources into a single narrative. I’ll explore that issue in a subsequent post in this series.
Here, I am going to look at just the P chronology and ignore the two verses in question. For completeness, though, I’ll show where they appear in the sequence of P chronological verses so that you will know what I am leaving out. The first of the two verses is Genesis 7:24. “And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days. “ The second is Genesis 8:3. “and the waters gradually receded from the earth. At the end of one hundred fifty days the waters had abated;”
As I noted in the overview, all the other verses assigned to P follow a fixed date format, giving us the day, month and year in which the event happened. As to the J verses, the time frames are relative, telling us how many days passed from one event to the next. As you can see, the format of the two verses cited above more closely aligns with the J format than the P format. In what follows, I set out the P chronological sequence of events. Numbers in parentheses are the Genesis verse numbers. Verses not directly related to the P chronology are omitted.
Ask someone who is biblically literate how long Noah’s Flood lasted and the usual answer will be forty days and forty nights. But that is not quite right. The problem is that the Flood story consists of the intermingling of two different sources with different chronologies, tightly integrated by a subsequent redactor who may have made some additional changes. Scholars refer to these two sources as J (for Jahwist) and P (for Priestly). Unless otherwise indicated, I will rely on Richard Elliot Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible for the identification of J and P texts within the Genesis Flood account.
One problem is that the Flood story consists of three phases, rising water, receding water, and drying of the earth, and there appear to be inconsistencies between J and P as to how these three events unfold. Let’s look at an example of some of the problems that have to be solved.
Genesis 7:4 says, “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights.” Note here only rain is the source of the flooding. This verse belongs to the J source.
Genesis 7:6 says the Flood occurred during Noah’s six hundredth year but remains vague as to when in the six hundredth year the rain started. Genesis 7:11 says that on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year “the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened [emphasis added].” This verse belongs to P. Note here that the same day as the rain starts, there is both a downpour and the oceans burst open, a secondary source of the flooding.
Immediately after this last verse, Genesis 12–13 says, “The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons entered the ark [emphasis added].” This is a J passage. On what day did Noah and the family enter the ark? It could be argued that, given the narrative sequence, the family didn’t enter the ark until after the forty days of rain. But let’s put that issue aside. There are other problems.
The narrator is trying to give the impression that on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year the rains started and Noah’s family entered the ark. Most scholars would probably agree that the J source flood story and the P source flood story commence at the same point in time. But is this the case?
The problem is when did Noah get the seven-day warning. If we add the seven-day warning to the forty days of rain in the J source and count from the first day of Noah’s six hundredth year, the elapsed time of 47 days falls on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year, the same day that the P source sets as the start of its version of the flood story. (This would be true with solar or lunar calendars.)
So do we have one story where rain falls for forty days (J) and a separate story where rain falls and the oceans erupt on the same day (P) and did the redactor attempt to align them so that they started on the same day, or did he mean for the rains to fall for forty days, after which the oceans erupted and the rains continued beyond forty days?
There is no simple answer to this question and we have to do a deep dive into all of the chronological data in the Flood story to make sense out of the ways J and P interact. An important detail that helps us resolve the problem is that J and P use different time descriptions to move the story along.
J uses relative chronology and P uses fixed chronology. That is, in the J source, things happen after “D” number of days; in P, events happen precisely on specific dates, i.e., on day “D’ in month “M” in year “Y” thus and thus happened. In P you have to calculate to determine how many days elapsed between events and J tells you how many days elapsed between events. J, on the other hand, is not anchored to specific dates and P is anchored to specific dates. (Here, I would add that, in a couple of instances, Friedman assigns a couple of chronological references to the P source even though they have a J format. I will argue later that these references were added by the redactor in order to further the integration of the two sources.)
Over the next few posts on this topic, I will be looking at the J chronology in isolation from P; the P chronology in isolation from J; and the integration of the two. The chronological data will lead to interesting indications that the authors of J and P relied on differing aspects of the Egyptian calendar system for framing their narratives.
A number of Christian commentators have recognized that there are several parallels between the story of Samson and the story of Jesus. In Christian circles, it is often argued that these similarities point to Jesus. Given the strength of several of the parallels, I think an argument could be made that the influence worked in the other direction, with the story of Jesus pointing to the story of Samson as a literary source.
The story of Samson can be found in Judges 13–16. Here is my list of parallels. See what you think. At the end of the listing, I’ll discuss another parallel that Christians overlook. Samson was almost certainly a deity figure.
Similarities between the Samson and Jesus stories
- Israel is under the domination of a foreign power. In Samson it is the Philistines. With Jesus it is the Romans.
- An angel appears to the hero’s mother-to-be and announces she will be the bearer of a child through a miraculous birth, apparently without benefit of sexual activity. In the Samson story, the mother is barren and unable to have children.
- The angel tells the mother that the child will be the savior of Israel.
- The spirit of the Lord is involved in the birth of the child.
- At some point, the spirit of the lord enters into the hero.
- The hero likes to speak in riddles.
- The hero has been given authority by God to act as a Judge over Israel.
- The Jews bind the hero and hand him over to the foreign power ruling over them. In the Samson story, he manages to escape but is re-arrested later.
- Someone close to Jesus is bribed in order to find a way to take him into custody.
- After the hero is arrested, his sight is impaired. In the Samson story he is blinded. In the Jesus story he is blindfolded.
- After the hero is arrested, he is mocked.
- The hero knows that he will die pursuant to God’s plan.
- Just before the hero dies, his arms were stretched out in a cross-like fashion.
- Upon his death a temple is damaged. In Samson’s story, he brings down the Philistine temple. In the Jesus story, the curtain in the Jewish Temple is torn in two.
While the details in each of the two narratives aren’t identical, they are similar and abundant. As to the Samson story, if it did serve as a literary source, it existed in a contextually different situation. It wouldn’t be surprising, therefore, to see modifications made to the literary template to fit in with the later context.
Samson as deity
The name Samson, Shimson in Hebrew, literally means “sun man” or man of the sun.” This is not the kind of name one would expect from an Israelite. It suggests that Samson originates as a solar deity for a non-Israelite cult. This is reinforced by the fact that he has extremely long hair, which serves as the basis of his strength. Long hair frequently has solar implications in mythology as a symbol of the sun’s rays. Horses and Lions, having long manes, are frequently depicted as solar symbols. The Samson story also takes place close to the city of Beth Shemesh, which translates as House of the Sun.
In the story, Samson is identified with the tribe of Dan, which is located on the Mediterranean coast, in Philistine territory. Shortly after the Samson story, Judges tells the story of the Danites moving to the north of Israel, and in later times Dan was considered the northern boundary of Israel.
In the Song of Deborah, she asks “Dan, why did he abide with the ships?” Dan didn’t aid Israel in this particular battle, and Dan appears as a seafaring nation. Some scholars believe that the tribe of Dan may have been the Dnyn, one of the Greek Sea People tribes that entered Canaan at about the time of the Judges setting. Homer used the name Danoi for the Greek nations that fought at Troy.
The Philistines were another one of the Sea Peoples that entered Canaan during the Judges era. In the Samson story, despite being an Israelite and a Judge, Samson seems to spend all of his time with the Philistines, marrying a Philistine woman and socializing with the Philistines and taking up with various Philistine women..
Many scholars recognize at least a similarity between Samson and the Greek hero Herakles, who became a deity upon his death. Portions of the Herakles cycle, such as his sailing through the sky in a golden cup, suggest that he had aspects of a solar deity. In my 101 Myths of the Bible, I explore the connection between Samson and Herakles in more detail. I suggested that the Sea Peoples brought the Herakles myths with them into Canaan and they became the basis of a local solar cult with “sun man, ” i.e., Samson, as the local deity.
I am presenting a paper at the ASOR 2020 (virtual ) Annual Meeting titled “Noah’s Flood: Babylonian or Egyptian in Origin?” Almost all scholarship on the Genesis story of Noah’s Flood sees the origins of the story in some version of the Babylonian flood myths. These include some version of the Gilgamesh epic or an early ancestor to the Flood story contained within the Gilgamesh epic.
While there can be little doubt that some sort of literary connection exists between the Genesis version and some version of the Babylonian Flood traditions, scholars see this as the starting point for studying the story. In my paper I will be arguing that the story originates with Egyptian Creation myths. At a much later time, however, the original version of the story was redacted in order to harmonize it with the Gilgamesh epic.
Because the meeting is virtual, I will not be doing a live presentation. All presenters are submitting video versions of the paper that will be available to registrants for up to six months. However, members of my panel, Archaeology in Egypt, will all be available for an online live session to take questions and engage in discussions of the papers presented by the panel members. That session will be on November 20th, from 12:30 to 1:30.
Shortly after the live panel, I will add the paper to my Writings page on this blog (and perhaps make the video version available also.) In the meantime, over the next couple of weeks, I am planning a series of posts on the very problematic nature of the internal chronology of the Noah’s Flood story in Genesis, i.e., how long did the Flood last, what happened when in the course of the story, and what conclusions can we draw. There should be a few interesting revelations in the analysis.
Eric Cline has a new book out, Digging Up Armageddon: The Search for the Lost City of Solomon and The Spectator has a review by Dominic Green.
In the layers of 20 other ancient cities that comprise Har Megiddo — or Armageddon — Solomon’s has proved impossible to identify
The full review can be found here.