An eye-opening and thought-provoking book

Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch, professors at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, give thirty fascinating examples, from many more that could be cited, showing how the Bible debunked, suppressed, or changed ancient myths, traditions, and legends in From gods to God.[1] Their proofs are compelling and easy to read. While it is possible that some readers will consider some not persuasive, they will be unable to dismiss the arguments presented for most of the thirty examples given.

The method used by the professors

According to the authors, the purpose of the Bible “was to teach readers about themselves: who they were, where they come from, what their relations were with other nations” and, most importantly “to persuade readers of the existence of one god and of their relationship with that god.”

The professors say that the writings were done by many people, often by people with different views and often with a goal to cover over, that is to hide, ancient ideas about the subject they are addressing, ideas they disagree with. Very frequently, they “didn’t erase a text with which they disagreed; instead through additions both slight and significant, they were able to alter our understanding [and] influencing our sense of it.” The professors’ goal is to detect the underlying hidden oral tradition that the biblical authors are trying to hide by “lifting them from under their written versions” in what they call “literary archeology,” retrieving hidden treasures from the literary past. They peek behind the curtain of what the Bible states by examining parallel stories in the Bible which tells the tale in a different way, looking at traditions in other cultures, and examining later retellings of biblical stories in post-biblical writings by rabbis and other authors who sensed what the Bible was hiding.

Examples

  1. Ancient myths tell of a winged serpent who had arms, legs, ears, and the power of speech who existed separate than god and who battles with god. A serpent occupied a prominent place in the Jerusalem temple until it was removed by King Hezekiah because people were worshipping it (2 Kings 18:4). Why was a serpent chosen in the Bible whom God overcomes? It is possible that the serpent in the Garden of Eden who loses all his powers debunks the myth of the ancient battle between the serpent and God.[2]
  2. The ancients, especially the Greeks and Romans, depict their gods having sexual relations with humans and producing semi-gods. Jews were unable to ignore the stories but wanted to state they are untrue. Genesis 6 tells of the “sons of Elohim” having sex with women and producing strong men, but the children are not semi-gods and commentators explain that Elohim in Genesis 6, and in several other biblical sites, means prominent men.[3] The tale may have been inserted in the Bible to debunk the myth.
  3.  The Bible and later Judaism sought to downplay the role of humans in miracles to avoid deification. Thus, for example, the story of the splitting of the Red Sea has Moses play a significant role in the narrative version in the book of Exodus, but he is omitted from all other appearances of the tradition in the rest of the Bible.
  4. Although Psalm 78 preserves an ancient tradition that God performed a miracle for the Israelites during their forty-year track in the desert by giving them bread that was usually served to heaven’s inhabitants, this idea was rejected in the Bible’s narrative.
  5. The story of God’s destruction of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 seems to be a response to the Babylonian explanation of the country’s name being “Gate of God,” with the Bible stating Babylon is not the entryway to heaven. This would also explain why one of the punishments was the confounding of the people’s language, it is ridicule of the name.
  6. The mythic notion that a human can wrestle with God or an angel is debunked in the story of Jacob wrestling with a man and not an angel in Genesis 32.[4]
  7. There are many instances where the Torah reports more than one version of an event.[5] The authors point to the well-known revelation of the decalogue (ten commandments) at Sinai,[6] yet, the authors point out that Exodus 15:25 states that at an earlier time, at Marah where the people found bitter water which Moses sweetened following the divine advice, “There He [God] made them a fixed rule,” which the authors suggest may indicate that the decalogue was given at Marah.[7]

The other chapters in this interesting, eye-opening, and thought-provoking book discuss subjects such as, who really killed Goliath, was the worship of the golden calf improper, what did Ham do to his father Noah, Moses’ African adventure, did Pharaoh have sex with Sarah, and more.



[1] A. Shinan and Y. Zakovitch, From gods to God: How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths & Legends, Translated by Valerie Zakovitch, The Jewish Publication Society, 2012

[2] In his Guide of the Perplexed 1:2, Maimonides tells us that the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden is a parable.

[3] In Exodus 22:8, a dispute must be brought before Elohim, clearly meaning “judge.”

[4] Verse 32:29 “for you [Jacob] have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” does not imply that the man with whom Jacob wrestled was God, as some think, because the verse explicitly states he wrestled with a man. Besides, the encounter was clearly a dream caused by Jacob’s fear of his brother Esau. The statement in Hosea 12:5 that Jacob struggled with an angel is a poetic metaphor, as is the prophet’s other statement in the chapter that Ephraim strives after wind.

[5] For example, I Samuel 16 and 17 have two conflicting views concerning David’s introduction to King Saul. See Israel Drazin, “Who really was the Biblical David,” Gefen publishing House, 20018.

[6] Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Some rabbis even insist that the entire Torah was revealed there.

[7] The rabbis in Midrash Mekhilta and Babylonian Talmud state that seeing that the Israelites rebelled when they encountered bitter water, God gave them two laws at Marah, the laws of the Red Heifer and the Sabbath.

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