A Tale of Three Books

What could these three books possibly have in common?

They each say something factual and important about Judaism's and Christianity's religious roots

NOTE THAT THIS ADDS TO A PREVIOUS, 2012, SERIES OF READINGS ON THIS TOPIC

A long long time ago (almost 50 years ago!) I owned and read these two books by Werner Keller.  

At that time I was a true believer and found these books bolstered my faith:

                                            

This year I read three more books that touched on the Bible as history.  

At this point in time I am an unbeliever.  

I found all three of these books bolstered my unbelief, that is mostly what they had in common for me, hence my linking them under my thematic reviews page:

                        

     Grove Press, 2011                                                    Sourcebooks, Inc., 2000                                        Random House, 2013

1.    Paradise Lust by Wilensky-Lanford

The Wilensky-Lanford book was a fun romp through the history of relatively modern efforts to locate the Garden of Eden on the world map.  It was apparent to most that the Biblical description of the location was impossible to follow since it mentioned two rivers that exist and two that do not.  It also mentions two areas that the unknown rivers were near and those two areas also do not exist.  Or in one case did not exist until long after the events being described but in that case there is no river with the assigned name  It is a puzzler!  But toward the end of her book Wilensky-Lanford cites a most promising solution to this puzzle, we will get to that below.  

The chapter on the Mormon version of this Eden-hunting tale was illuminating to me.  She actually praises, faintly, the modern turning away from a physical location in Missouri by that faith to harboring "Zion" in one's own heart and home wherever one may be.  It is a state of mind.  It is a way we deal with each other.  It is NOT a location on a map!  Very wise.

At first I thought she was mixing up Zion and the Garden of Eden.  But then I recalled, from my days as a believing Mormon, the song "Now Let Us Rejoice" with the line: "And Earth will appear as the Garden of Eden, and Jesus will say to all Israel 'Come home.'"  And this other song: "Israel, Israel God is Calling" which has as one of its four verses: "Israel, Israel, God is speaking. Hear your great Deliv'rer's voice! Now a glorious morn is breaking For the people of his choice. Come to Zion, come to Zion, And within her walls rejoice. Come to Zion, come to Zion, And within her walls rejoice."  Although both these songs are about a future Eden on Earth, the equation is obviously that the garden of Eden and Zion (in the future) are the same thing.  OK.

The book is quite entertaining and it made me a little sad to see that some people devoted their entire lives to this search for Eden, and their searches led them from the North Pole to the Middle East and even Africa, India, China and several places in the Americas.  So much for the reliability of the Bible for locating archaeological sites!

In Wilensky-Lanford's last chapter she resonated with my prejudices when she suggested that (p. 236):

2.    101 Myths of the Bible by Greenberg

Greenberg shows that almost every character and event of note in what we call the Old testament is relatable to Egyptian stories, myths and heroes.  He goes so far as suggesting that Israel consciously twisted some of their stories around to pay more homage to their later Babylonian captors, leading to some of the same events happening to different characters.  Perhaps this was much like the people writing the New testament rewriting their history to be more compatible with their Roman environment's sensibilities, tolerances and expectations (something well illustrated in the third book by Aslan).

But the real BOMBSHELL for me was the hint that the Hebrews were escapees from Egypt and never were a separate peoples prior to their being part of the Egyptian empire.  This suggests their entire history in Mesopotamia before entering Egypt was made up, using Babylonian mythology as a base for creating a new history with individuals and tales that more closely affiliated them to their captors, the Babylonians, and distanced themselves from the evil Egyptians, the rival empire --and hence an enemy-- to the Babylonian empire.

Had never heard that one before, and Greenberg does not make a big issue of it, but makes a very strong though subtle case for it peacemeal by showing that many of the key personalities and less than credible tales of the Old testament were strongly related to Egyptian mythology and religion and overlain and altered by adding in similar tales from Sumerian legends.  The difference between the Egyptian and Hebrew versions of these stories is that Gods and other Divine beings were changed into the One God, perhaps an occasional angel, and most often a Hebrew hero.  The flood and creation stories, Greenberg suggests, were reversed from the Egyptian version which had a creation by eight gods (the Ogdoad) coming out of a flood and planting the Earth,.  The Hebrews changed the eight gods into eight people on the ark.  The Egyptians had a creation story as a result of the flood.  The Hebrews had a flood story as a restart of an aborted creation.  A do-over made necessary by disobedience.  A story with many holes in it making it logically and scientifically incredible except to children and the most ardent of adult true believers.  But serving as a severe warning to those trying to remain unbelievers or being disobedient to the chosen representatives of the one true God. When in the past I read the Law of Moses and the Old testament accounts of God punishing the slightest infractions with severe diseases or much suffering and death I wondered at the ethics of such a God.  But now seeing this God as the reason for the tyranny in Egypt under Akhenaton, it all makes more sense.  The Hebrews brought that heartless deity with them from Egypt and reinstalled him on another national throne.  Over time he was tamed and given the loving words and deep wisdom attributed to him by a more peaceful people in more peaceful times.

So was there an actual exodus from Egypt?  Yes.  Greenberg suggests that when the tyranny of the forced monotheism of Akhenaton was overthrown, his most ardent supporters and priests, Moses among them, fled the prospect of being massacred in their own country and turned about and massacred their way into their God-promised land.  They remained rabid monotheists and slaughtered nearby polytheists and created a wholly new mythology to justify their actions in taking inhabited lands as their very own, their God-promised land, based on God's promises to heroes (Abraham, Jacob) and heroines (Sara) who likely never lived where they allegedly lived --if they actually lived at all.  

There is a book on this topic that I have not read and given its price ($ 275 new) probably never will read.

The Amazon.com book description says:

"Through linguistic, philologic, and religious explorations, the authors prove that the "Chosen People" were not slaves from a foreign country but high-ranking Egyptian priests and the adherents of the monothiest pharaoh Akhenaton. During a counterrevolution against monotheism, his followers were forced to move to the Egyptian province of Canaan."

So there.  Now let's look at the similar statement that Greenberg has on his last page (304) making reference to his aforementioned book The Moses Mystery/The Bible Myth: . . ."I argue that the Israelites emerged suddenly in fourteenth-century B.C. Egypt as followers of the religious monotheism of Pharaoh Akhenaten, and they left Egypt in the violent aftermath of the counterrevolution.  The book also compares the Bible's patriarchal history with Egyptian mythological cycles and shows the parallels between the two."  This myth-comparing is something Greenberg does throughout this 101 Myths of the Bible book as well, and here he also shows evidence for the effort made to distance the people from Babylon's enemy, Egypt.  Their origin is now Mesopotamian, and they only came out of Egypt because that evil empire had enslaved them!  They escaped.  They won.

This is all VERY reminiscent of what happened much later to a branch of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  In their case the dominant empire was the Roman empire.  Because of continuing bloody Jewish uprisings, the Jews, of which Jesus was one, were perceived by Rome as their enemies.  A branch of the followers of Jesus became a new religion, based on the life, death, and especially and emphatically on the purported resurrection of Jesus, who was now considered God.  Another branch of the followers of Jesus did not go this far and remained Jewish.  But both types of the followers of Jesus moved into the Roman empire itself.  A clear and present danger.  Therefore, for the branch of Jesus followers that considered him God, a divorce from Judaism was declared by rewriting history to clear the Romans of blame in the death of this new God.  The Jews were directly blamed.  This made common cause between the new Christians and the Romans against the Jews, just as in the distant past the Hebrews made common cause with Babylon against Egypt.

3.    Zealot, by Aslan

Did I base the previous paragraph on my reading of Aslan's book?  I could have.  

But I based it on another book I reviewed, and endorsed, three years ago, Christ's Ventriloquists by Eric Zuesse (click on the link to go there).  

Zuesse makes a very compelling case, using Paul's own words, to show that Paul intentionally created the lie of Deicide against the very people from whom Jesus came, and whom Jesus had sacrificed his life to protect: the Jews.  Zuesse proves from Paul's own words that he did this to curry favor with the Roman regime that had executed Jesus for sedition, but also in order to exact revenge against those Jews refusing to go along with his teaching that Jesus was God incarnate.  Paul was rejected by them, in return he fixed them good: anti-Semitism was born out of Paul's writings and teachings, which, as Aslan points out, came to dominate the New Testament.

Aslan makes the same case that Zuesse made.  His approach and style are different.  The conclusions are the same.

Here is a sampling of Aslan's observations about Paul and his new religion of "Christians" and a few odd observations about Jesus I threw in just because I found them interesting (these 'asides' I marked with a star*):

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