Friday, June 26, 2009

Judaism: revisionist history for the native; deculturate and deracinate; projecting the colonial project into the native's past

R.E. Gmirkin, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic histories and the date of the Pentateuch

The thesis of this book is that the books of the Pentateuch do not go back to the 8th to 6th centuries
BCE, but were composed in the period 273-269 BCE in Alexandria. In fact, there were hardly any Jewish books before that date (except for some king lists and other rudimentary archival material – and, I would like to add, some written pieces of the prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah and a few others). The historical books of the Hebrew Bible at any rate cannot be older than 273/89 BCE! Gmirkin proves his case extensively. To mention a few instances: the Creation story in Genesis is not based on Babylonian literature as found in cuneiform texts but was clearly inspired by Berossus, whose Babyloniaka had just appeared and was available in Alexandria. Likewise, the stories of Moses and the Exodus go back to Manetho, whose Aigyptiaka was available in the Library too. The Table of Nations in Genesis exactly fits the political map of the Eastern Mediterranean world in 272/1 BCE, etc. etc. The background to the Pentateuch and in fact to most of the Hebrew Bible is thus political: first Alexander’s conquest of the Near East, then Ptolemy II’s wish to enrich his Library with a description of his Jewish subjects’ history and religion, an Idoudaika. The writers were Jewish Greek-speaking council-members from Jerusalem invited to Alexandria. There they produced both a Hebrew and a Greek version (with minor differences) of their sacred history, a work that had immediate and great success, triggering a whole outburst of Jewish writings in the 3rd century BCE to the 1st CE.

My book has a chapter dealing extensively with the Table of Nations. The division of the nations of the eastern Mediterranean among the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japhet corresponds closely to political boundaries after 278 BCE, with Shem corresponding to Seleucid holdings, Ham to Ptolemaic holdings, and Japhet corresponding to territories falling outside the boundaries of the aforementioned. I would point out in particular that Lydia was joined politically to Syria and Mesopotamia after 278 BCE (and indeed that Sardis was the first Seleucid capital). The grouping of Lydia with the peoples of Mesopotamia is inexplicable at an earlier date, as there is neither ethnic nor linguistic connection. The listing of nations bordering the Red Sea appears to reflect the coastal explorations conducted at the initiative of Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
Russell Gmirkin

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