Update: The Case for a Proto-Gospel

I have been advised by Peter Lang Publishers that a paperback version of “The Case for a Proto-Gospel”, my peer-reviewed treatise on the literary origins of the Gospels, should be at the printers by mid-June. Because this is an academic work from a scholarly publisher, it is not cheap, but the paperback edition will be substantially less expensive that the hardcover version.

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 9, My Take: The Parameters

Editorial note: I originally intended to wrap up this series with the present post, but it was becoming far longer than I expected. So, I am publishing it in at least three parts. The present essay is “My Take: the Parameters.The follow-up post will be My Take: a Proposed Date for the Exodus. The final post, I hope, will be My Take: the Exodus in its Historical Context.

The Egyptian god Thoth, watching over a scribe

For Part 1, Introduction go here

For Part 2, Merneptah and the Book of Judges go here

For Part 3, The Problem of Solomon’s Chronology go here

For Part 4, The 430-year Sojourn go here

For Part 5, The 400 years of slavery go here

For Part 6, The Hyksos Theory go here

For Part 7, The Osarseph Theory, go here

For Part 8, The Chaeremon Theory, go here

To establish a plausible date for the Exodus, we need to find a balance among four different parameters. (1) Do we date biblical events using the traditional Jewish date of Creation at 3761 BCE, or do we have to move the Creation date back to an earlier time? (2) Do we use biblical dating or historical dating? (3) Do we date events in Egypt based on the High Chronology or the Low Chronology? (4) Does the chosen Exodus date show a parallel relationship between the events in the biblical account and events in Egypt?

Because of potential plausibility issues in the biblical story, such as miracles, conflicts within the biblical chronological data, and conflicts over the Egyptian chronology, there may not be a perfect solution that precisely aligns all four factors. However, whatever date presents the best balance among these four parameters is likely to be the best solution.

In my book, Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-Lists: The Egyptian Origins of Genesis Chronology, Volume I, Egypt’s Dynastic Period, I examined the relationship between Genesis Chronology and Egyptian Chronology. Genesis has a chronology that provides a continuous record of Patriarchal birth and death dates running through twenty-three generations, beginning with the birth of Adam and ending with the death of Joseph. If one had a fixed date for any of these births or deaths, one could establish a set of dates for each birth and death in the sequence. Using the traditional Jewish date of Creation, I calculated each of these birth and death dates.

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 8, the Chaeremon Theory

Emperor Nero, who was tutored by Chaeremon

For Part 1, Introduction go here

For Part 2, Merneptah and the Book of Judges go here

For Part 3, The Problem of Solomon’s Chronology go here

For Part 4, The 430-year Sojourn go here

For Part 5, The 400 years of slavery go here

For Part 6, The Hyksos Theory go here

For Part 7, The Osarseph Theory, go here

Chaeremon, an Egyptian priest who tutored Emperor Nero, wrote a version of the Exodus story that had a number of similarities to Manetho’s Osarseph story but had enough differences to suggest that he worked from a different source than Manetho did. If so, then there would have been multiple versions of Egyptian Exodus accounts in the Egyptian libraries. You may want to first reread the Osarseph theory in Part 7 to refresh your recollection as there will be some references to that installment.

Chaeremon wrote in the first century and was a contemporary of Josephus. The latter was responsible for preserving Chaeremon’s account. (See Against Apion 1.32–33. You can read Josephus’s account and his comments here.) Here is what he says.

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 5: The 400 years of slavery

For Part 1, Introduction go here

For Part 2, Merneptah and the Book of Judges go here

For Part 3, The Problem of Solomon’s Chronology go here

For Part 4, The 430-year Sojourn go here

Genesis 15:13–16 is the source of the biblical claim that Israel suffered 400 years of bondage in Egypt. The passage, as I‘ll reiterate below, is inconsistent with the claim that Israel sojourned in Egypt for 430 years. There are also several problems with the internal content. The verse reads as follows.

Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. (Genesis 15:13–16 NSRV)”

This passage has several parts. (1) Abraham’s offspring will be slaves in a land where they are “aliens” (per the NRSV) or “strangers (per the KJV). (2) the oppression will last 400 years. (3) “They” shall return “here” in the fourth generation. (4) They won’t return to “here” until the iniquity of the Amorites has ended.

The passage generates many interpretive problems, at least for me. Implicitly, “here” is in Canaan, which is where the narrative context places Abraham. Just about all scholars accept that the “strange land” that afflicted Israel is Egypt and the return is to Canaan. This interpretation strikes me as wrong because, in all other biblical passages referring to the patriarchs as strangers in a land, it is Canaan that is the strange land. I’ll discuss that point further below. Let’s look at some of the chronological problems first.

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part I: Introduction

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.

Is Noah’s Flood original to the bible’s primeval history?

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.

NTA Note on “The Case for a Proto-Gospel”

I’m pleased to see that New Testament Abstracts, a leading research tool in New Testament studies, has included an abstract for my The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John in its most recent issue, (65/2 2021). It is serendipitously located on a page featuring a book by Bart Ehrman, Craig A. Evans and Robert Stewart. Here’s the listing.

New Testament Abstracts 65/2 • 2021

Gary Greenberg, The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source behind Mark and John, Studies in Biblical Literature 172 (New York—Bern: Lang, 2020, $114.95/€95.80) xvii and 719 pp., 22 tables. Bibliographies. Indexed. LCN: 2019029929. ISBN: 978-1-4331-6605-1.

Noting that NT scholars believe with near unanimity that substantial differences in style, content, and verbal description between John and the Synoptics preclude any literary relationship between them, Greenberg, author of Proving Jesus’ Authority in Mark and John (2018), proposes that Mark, John, and Luke all knew a now-lost written proto-Gospel. After a 35-page introduction, he discusses Mark 6 and 8 and John 6, the paralytic on the mat (Mk 2:1-12; Jn 5), true kindred and the devil (Mk 3:20-35; Jn 8:31-59), you can’t go home again (Mk 6:1-6, Jn 4:44; 6:42; 7:15), the mission begins (Mk 1; Jn 1–4), Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem, the plot to kill Jesus, the Jewish trial of Jesus, the Lazarus conundrum (Jn 11:1-44; Lk 16:19-31; Mk 1:40-45; 5:22-24, 35-43), the Roman proceedings, the crucifixion, the day of Preparation, and the resurrection. Then he presents a proposed reconstructed proto-Gospel with brief commentary. He concludes that Mark and John most probably have a literary relationship based on a shared written source, since almost every non-speech episode in John has a literary parallel in Mark, the two Gospels agree on sequential order in approximately two-thirds of such stories, and in several stories outside the sequential order several details also follow a common sequential order.

Manetho’s Chronology and the Septuagint Version of Genesis 5

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.

Jesus and Samson: The Remarkable Parallels

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.

The Case for a Proto-Gospel and the Healing of a Blind Man in Bethsaida

I have been doing a series of posts on my new book The Case for a Proto-Gospel. Here are links to previous entries.

Introduction

Standard Source Criticism Theory

The Luke-John Problem

John’s Theological Biases

John’s Editorial Techniques

The Paralytic on the Mat

Mark 8:22-26 tells of Jesus healing a blind man at Bethsaida. According to the story, some people brought a blind man to Jesus  and asked for help. Jesus put saliva in the man’s eye and laid hands upon him. When he finished he asked if the man could see anything. The man indicated that he had some vision but it was not clear. Jesus laid hands on him again, and the man’s vison was restored and he could see clearly. The laying of hands suggests that Jesus healed the blind man through an exorcism.

Scholarly commentaries on this story focus on two elements. First, they are troubled by the allegation that Jesus used saliva to heal the man, and many scholars see this as an indication that the story goes back to an early primitive layer in the Jesus tradition. Matthew and Luke also seem to have been troubled by Jesus’ use of saliva to heal as they both chose not to include this story in their respective gospels. This suggests that as time went by, some Jesus followers were troubled by the way this story portrayed Jesus.

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