Sunday, October 18, 2009

So here is what we know

You can either read the whole of Brueggeman's "Old Testament Theology" 777 pages(the other O.T. books I waded through won't be helpful) alongside Silberman and Finkelstein's "The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts" 400 pages and the somewhat dry and hard to explain 287 pages of "The early history of god" by Mark Smith or I can give you a Reader's Digest condensed, concise, and REALLY brief version:

The bible began to be documented sometime in 300 b.c.e. Verbal traditions surrounding the Davidic kingdom and the divided kingdoms probably began around 700 b.c.e. well after most of the events that supposedly took place in the bible even occurred. Some will argue that the oral tradition was a legitimate way of communicating real events, but historically throughout the world, oral tradition was simply a way of entertaining and explaining events in a chaotic world. Historical information was left to the kings and their courts-- after all, what did a small group of farmers care about the real world of politics? They were more interested in understanding why their crops would get destroyed in one night by locusts or why it didn't rain enough to keep the water levels at life supporting levels. In other words, they were more interested in life and death stuff, not politics (sound familiar?). And just like every other third world community, they explained these events via mythology about gods or god.

The first actual king that was mentioned in the bible that was also mentioned in public records (and they were keeping records fairly early on in Egypt and Assyria) was Omri, the father of the "evil" King Ahab. In reality, the only people who really thought Ahab was evil were the hill people that lived in the rural areas of southern Israel-- and it was with the hope of delegitimizing this "evil" king that an alternate reality was created --. A history was developed that explained why the little group that lived in the southern regions had suffered so much but also gave them a heritage that revealed their right to the land and god's favor. And they began their stories the way ALL ancient religions began them, from the beginning.

So, we start with how people came to be. *Poof* god made them out of dust with strands of some of the other regional ancient stories about creation still clinging to it's tail. Then the flood-- well, that had it's beginning in the Epic of Gilgamesh. It's a great story and would have entertained the people for many happy hours. Both stories originated much earlier and were tailored to fit the political aims of the "leaders" of the ragtag group down south. Abraham-- well, once again, if you want to explain how your particular group of people came to own a piece of land and why the conquering kingdoms that sweep in and out demanding tribute are evil and wrong, you develop a story whereby god gave you the land and the encroachers are enemies of your god. It is absolutely irrelevant that there never was an actual man named Abraham and it is meaningless that his sons never made a trek to Egypt, were enslaved and then eventually escaped the Pharoah's grasp, making a forty year trek through the desert. The point is that you have a mythology that unites your little people group to a common cause. And part of that cause explains the hows and whys of your claim to this little piece of property along the Mediterranean.

(If you ever want to get a flavor for story telling in the middle east, watch Michael Wood's documentary "In the footsteps of Alexander the Great." (1997) You get a real sense of the drama and showmanship that accompanies these ancestors of the middle eastern art of story- even today.)

The bible was shaped for a purpose and it wasn't with the intention of beginning a grand deception, it was simply a common custom of the ancient world. It is worthwhile understanding the intention of it's authors.

~Pictured: Shalmaneser III's (859-824 BC) Kurkh Monolith names King Ahab. Picture taken from Wikipedia.


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