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Biblical Archaeology and Literature

The J Documentary Hypothesis

The current biblical paradigms are inadequate to reconstruct the history of early Israel and the origin of the Hebrew Bible.  In a series of recent posts, three significant developments not part of current biblical scholarship were identified related to this issue. Individually and collectively, they indicate a revision to the current paradigms is necessary. On the other hand, I may just be a crackpot with some weird ideas that are out of touch with the real world. You be the judge.

Below are the three items with links to the original posts that explain them in more detail.

Paradigm Change Item #1: The Levites Were Hyksos

Let’s start at the very beginning a very good place to start and take it one step at a time. In the beginning, Hyksos Levites were the leaders of the people who left Egypt against the will of Ramses II and became Israel. The recognition of this historical reality enables one to create a coherent straightforward historical narrative consistent with natural law that encompasses the most facts, dots the most “I’s,” and crosses the most “t’s.” It permits a real world understanding of the event that is the basis for the Israelite identity.

Egyptologists will have a comparatively easy time accepting this proposition. They are not threatened by it any way. Egyptologists already are familiar with the concept of a Hyksos-Exodus connection of some kind. The Levites as Hyksos will enable Egyptologists to develop a fuller understanding of the Hyksos, 19th Dynasty history, and Egyptian-Canaan relations (see 400 Years a Slave).

The biblically-interested general public like the BAR readers also will have a comparatively easy time accepting the proposition. Instead of having to deal with a below-the-radar departure by a few obscure people or Israel didn’t leave Egypt, Egypt left the land of Canaan, they will have a real-world above-the-fold front page departure with educated leaders familiar with the world stage as it existed then. True, the special effects will be missing, but in exchange there is a story that is compatible with history standards in public schools.

These developments are part of what made Israel different from its neighbors.

Paradigm Change Item #2: Hyksos-Levite Abiathar Is the Father of the Politically-Initiated Alphabet Prose Narrative 

Saul was the catalyst for the development of the alphabet prose narrative. Israel did not invent the alphabet prose narrative and Israel did not invent the political polemic. It did bring from Egypt the concept of political polemics, stories that are set in the past (or among the gods) but which are really about the current political situation. Abiathar developed the alphabet prose narrative in response to Saul’s efforts to become king of Israel and usurp the position of the Levite priests of Shiloh. These stories were secular in nature and not communicated during a feast or sacred occasion although it is quite possible the threshing floor was the site of the story telling.

Abiathar provides a unique opportunity to understand the development of writing in ancient Israel. Like modern biblical scholars, Abiathar did not write only once during his lifetime. Just as American historians may write over the course of multiple presidents, so Abiathar wrote over the reign of multiple kings – Saul, David, and Solomon. By excavating his writings it is possible to gain insight into the history of each of these three kings as well as to witness how Abiathar developed his writing skill over time (see also Archaeologists Confirm Ancient Famine: Déjà Vu Joseph All Over Again and Historical David and Goliath: Lessons from the Utah Senate Race).

Once one realizes that Hyksos-Levite Abiathar wrote throughout his life, it becomes possible to identify other writers as well. One would expect a Benjaminite (Aaronid) writer to respond to the writings of the Abiathar by amending (supplementing) his stories, by writing a new story, or both. Similarly one would expect a Jebusite (Zadokite) writer to join the mix of writing once Jerusalem became the capital of the Israelite kingdom but with a distinctly Canaanite perspective. One might also realize that once the Shiloh priests were out of power that the tone of the writing might change as well. Whereas Abiathar was closely associated with David, his successor Ahijah had no such relationship with any king. One may see here the origin of the prophet narrative.  This process is what I call the J Documentary Hypothesis. I apply it my book Jerusalem Throne Games: The Battle of Biblical Stories after the Death of David to six stories from Gen. 2-11 that supplemented the original royal narrative.

These developments are part of what made Israel different from its neighbors.

Paradigm Change Item #3: The Israelite Royal Narrative Was Performed (Possibly only Once) over the Seven-Day Fall New Year Festival 

(see also Processions and the Performance of the Israelite Royal Narrative)

Israelite kings had the same right to strut their stuff as Mesopotamian or Egyptians kings…especially the first one who ruled all the land of Canaan from his new capital city of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar I who returned the statue of Marduk, commissioned Enuma Elish, built a ziggurat, and celebrated the akitu, was a model.

I call this Israelite royal narrative the King David Bible (KDB). It was performed over the seven days of the fall New Year festival. It was not part of the Baal grape festival. It probably was performed only once since no king after David had the charisma and power to succeed in it. It probably was recited a few times under Solomon before being consigned to the archives not to be taken out until northern prophets brought their version with them to Jerusalem after Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom.

The KDB differs from the current paradigms in other ways.

1. There was no primitive worship of an anthropomorphic deity – a human (Abiathar) performed in the role and as the voice of the deity (see Is Morgan Freeman God? What Do Biblical Scholars Think?).

2. Garden to Zion was a single story spread over seven days. Normally stories were limited in time. The expansion of the story to encompass garden to Zion was a conceptual breakthrough that transformed that state of the art information system of its time. Undoubtedly this same mental prowess contributed to David’s political and military success. It enabled him to see in time. He was playing four-dimensional chess while others struggled at checkers.

This conceptual temporal development meant everything was connected, an intricacy in the biblical narrative biblical scholars can become well aware of even when trying to understand the shortest of pericopes. An attempt to understand a story limited to literary techniques misses too much. Think of what is being missed when the analysis is restricted to the literary:

– who was performing in the role?
– in what other roles did the person perform?
– what was the physical setting?

Without this knowledge, one’s understanding of a scene from the KDB is severely curtailed.

The KDB was a work of genius that changed the course of human history…although it took centuries to do so and did in a way beyond the awareness of its creator. Without the KDB there would be no peoples of the Book. While much would be added to the KDB, it provided the undergirding to what became the ennead, the narrative from Genesis to Kings.

These developments are part of what made Israel different from its neighbors.

Imagine you wanted to compare the DNA of human beings to chimpanzees or orangutans. Now imagine that you were unaware of or ignored the DNA that differentiated human beings from our “cousins.” The result would be the conclusion that human beings are just another form of chimpanzee or orangutans. This is the present state of biblical scholarship. It ignores or is unaware of what differentiates Israelites from Canaanites. Too often too many biblical scholars conclude there is no difference, Israelites are just Canaanites who for reasons unknown, by abilities never previously exhibited by anybody, as a powerless people of minimal social infrastructure concocted a very long narrative that has no counterpart in the ancient Near East and found an audience who would accept it as gospel for some reason in Persian times.

There is no place for individual genius in biblical scholarship. By contrast, American history abounds in the biographies of giants in every domain of human life. Perhaps there is some unconscious screening process at work. If you love to write about great individuals in human history, you turn to American history. Don’t become a biblical scholar.

To illustrate the issues raised in these posts, I leave you with an easy yet important question: why did Abiathar write the story of Samson and Bathsheba when the temple was built?

Enjoy the summer.

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