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Parades (ASOR) and Enneateuch (SBL): The Creation of the Hebrew Bible

Note: This post is part of a series on the ASOR and SBL conferences in November 2018


Who doesn’t love a parade? Everybody loves a parade. As it turns out parades or processions provide an alternate approach to the creation of the Hebrew Bible from the Persian-period fixated ivory-tower scribal elite approach. The Israelite processions exhibit the oral and performance attributes of the Hebrew Bible generally obscured by the text-based biblical scholars.

Let’s examine the ASOR presentation and see what it has to offer in contrast to the text-based presentations at the SBL conference.

Performance Art and the Body in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean
Laurel Hackley (Brown University), “Memory and the Body in Egyptian Festival Processions”

This paper addresses the body as an object and an actor in Egyptian festival processions. Public festival processions were spectacles made of bodies, as it was the massing and movement of bodies that created the event. Both spectators and participants played an active role in the creation of this event; the event in turn played a role in maintaining a ritual cycle that many different kinds of people could participate in. Embodied and sensory participation in cyclically repeating festival processions would have created personal memories. The particulars of individual bodily experience, locale, and time of year would have connected personal histories to mythological events and other narratives. This would have been reinforced by the performances associated with festival processions, in which mythological episodes were apparently reenacted. A particular focus of this paper is the role of costumed, foreign, or otherwise singular bodies. An additional investigation will be made into the role of dance and gesture in festival processions, and the existence of professionals or specialists who participated in these events. The paper draws on evidence from reliefs, texts, and material culture.

According to Hackley, Egyptians witnessed repeated parades throughout their life. These rituals aided the people to “buy” into the culture. They provide comfort to the people. She even used the term “punctuated” as the “punctuated equilibrium” sessions at the same time did (Lessons from the ASOR Conference: Punctuated Equilibrium and the Writing of the Hebrew Bible). In this case, she was referring to how the rituals punctuate time in an annual cycle. The Egyptians had monthly festivals. There could be processions on land as well as on water. They could include musicians and dancers. The national ones might have foreigners such as Nubians and Libyans to show the power of the king. Such events provided a sensory experience with the smells of food and incense and the sounds of music. As here in the United States, we approach our Roman-numeral numbered Superbowl and halftime show in February, we should be aware of the annual rhythm of our sports events in creating memories from generations to generations at the high school, college, and professional level. And where would the Summer Olympics be without the opening procession of nations following the arrival of the flag that had been carried by foot from ancient Greece?

When young William Thomas Albright (not yet “Foxwell”) was growing up in Chile, he experienced a multitude of processions and festivals. They happened to be Catholic. By coincidence when his family returned to the United States, they docked around July 4. His first impression as he absorbed the festivities of the American Independence Day was that the country was Catholic. He had to learn the ways of the country. It would seem that the Methodist father of biblical archaeology never embraced the importance of processions in ancient Israel – they were for Catholic/Baal societies and not the nomads who became Israel and were made of better stuff.

Biblical scholars certainly are aware of the parade. They know of the Egyptian festivals especially for a new king or in military triumph. The most famous of all such processions is the akitu most prominently associated with Babylon but observed elsewhere in Mesopotamia as well. Biblical scholars also frequently comment on the Babylonian influence on the formation of the Hebrew Bible. Somehow though the influences are limited to textual ones and not the akitu. Part of the reason for the minimization of the influence of the akitu on Israelite culture is because of the key person in the New Year festival: the king. For an akitu to be held or for there to be an Israelite equivalent, there has to be a king. There also had been a carried object. The idea of a charismatic king instituting an Israelite akitu with a carried object based in Jerusalem is unacceptable.

However as it turns out the Hebrew Bible does contain processions which were part of a royal-led Israelite akitu New Year fall festival. The processions just are not linked together in scholarship so the Israelite akitu remains hidden. Now consider these texts below as if they were part of a royal procession and not the creation of an ivory-tower scribal elite. And while Brown referred to mythical events in her presentation, historical events may be presented as well. The celebration of the akitu could call to mind Nebuchadnezzar I’s restoration of the statue of Marduk.

Into the Wilderness

And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, Yahweh, and let thy enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee.” And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Yahweh, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.” (Num. 10:35-36)

The first part of the New Year processions occurred when the statue of Marduk left the temple and was brought out into the wilderness. In the ancient Israelite version, the king performing in the role of Moses led the ark and the people from Zion into the wilderness, an area around Jerusalem. Perhaps they marched to the very site David had purchased from Araunah where the Jebusites once had conducted their own ceremonies (II Samuel 24:18-25). Whether a new song was composed or an existing song was incorporated into the new holiday is a separate matter.

In the wilderness, the land of chaos, there were challenges both natural and human to be overcome. The foremost battle between the forces of cosmos and chaos in the Israelite akitu was a human affair – the people who challenged the authority of Moses, the role being performed by the king. Moses and the king were triumphant in this wilderness showdown. The disruptive forces of chaos were vanquished.

These wilderness stories of cosmos and chaos are important. They became a battlefield where different political factions (scribal priests) could battle for power through supplements to the original performed story. Even when the Israelite akitu was no longer performed the texts still provided a venue through which internal political battles could be fought. In the United States similar such battle are fought again and again through the stories, parades, and celebrations of Thanksgiving, the American Revolution, and the Civil War.

Marking Turf

Untangling the layers in Josh 6 is beyond the scope of this blog. Suffice it to say, the historic kernel of the performance occurred when the king in the role of Joshua led the people around the city of Jerusalem. There was music and the people shouted. Everybody has a good time save perhaps for the people performing as Jebusites!

What is accomplished in the Jericho story performed on and around the walls of Jerusalem?

1. With the procession of the ark of Yahweh, the king marked the turf of his kingdom. In this regard, Jerusalem represented all the Canaanite cities that had remained loyal to Egypt, were anti-Israel, and only recently had become part of the kingdom of Israel under David.

2. The people marching included representatives of valor from all the tribes of the kingdom. This meant the tribes which had been part of Merneptah’s Israel and those who had been part of the Israelite-led anti-Egyptian NATO alliance in Iron I (see Deborah at the SBL Conference). They had only joined Israel when they went to Hebron to recognize David as their king. One is reminded here of the United States Independence Day parades on July 4 in the communities throughout the land where every civic/ethnic/religious/business group has a float signifying a connection to the foundational event of the country.

3. The festival differentiated between the Canaanite people, the 99%, symbolized by the queen performing on the city walls as Rahab and costumed as Asherah, and the Canaanite city rulers. The former were welcomed into the kingdom, the latter were not.

In 1783, when the British left New York after seven years of occupation and two years after the Battle of Yorktown, they pulled a fast one on the Americans. To prevent the Americans from raising the American flag at Bowling Green at the southern end of Manhattan, they greased the flagpole. A Dutch-American then went to the equivalent of a hardware store, got spikes for his shoes, and climbed the flagpole with the American flag. That event was commemorated in the annual Evacuation Day holiday which survived in New York until World War I when England became our ally. Recently the Lower Manhattan Historical Association (I am on the Board) successfully petitioned the New York City Council to rename the area “Evacuation Plaza.” We do not climb the flagpole but we do annually raise a 13-star flag for the 13 colonies which had become states.. I wonder who climbed down the Jerusalem wall as part of the Israelite festival and how long the scarlet cord remained displayed.

Establishing the Kingdom of Yahweh

The final step in the Israelite akitu was the established of the kingdom of Yahweh. The forces of chaos had been defeated and order was pronounced. As the song sang going into the wilderness said, Yahweh returned to rest. The specific action meant was the returning of the ark of Yahweh to Zion. Untangling the layers of the Ark Narrative is beyond the scope of this blog. The fight over who was responsible for its loss to the Philistines was part of the political infighting among the priesthoods/political parties. For the procession, the action was straightforward. David danced and the people celebrated.

The recognition of a royal performance including the people and the men of valor from all the tribes of the kingdom provides an alternative to the text-based debate on the Tetrateuch/Pentateuch/Hexateuch/Enneateuch division of the biblical text. The performed story of going forth from the garden to planting the ark of Yahweh at Zion provides a better start and finish point for the royal drama, the Israelite akitu. I call this narrative and performance the King David Bible (KDB), the seven-day fall New Year festival with King David in the lead male roles, Queen Bathsheba in the lead female roles, and Morgan Freeman as the voice of both God and the narrator who performed on stage as well at times (Is Morgan Freeman God? What Do Biblical Scholars Think?). O.K., it was really Abiathar! To understand the genius of David it is necessary to determine the political situation in the land of Canaan when he created his kingdom and to identify his writings and performances. Otherwise all you are left with is that Abraham Lincoln was a chieftain in the small chiefdom of Washington and who never wrote anything.

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.