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The Bible and Hellenism: Greek Influence on Jewish and Early Christian Literature (Copenhagen International Seminar) Hardcover – 28 Feb 2014
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About the Author
Thomas L. Thompson is Professor Emeritus, University of Copenhagen, whose many works include The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David. Philippe Wajdenbaum is Lecturer at the University of Brussels and author of Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Some years ago, as part of my own intensive search for solutions to the mystery of the Bible, I was reading Trevor Bryce's book "Life and Society in the Hittite World." I was a bit startled by some things he discussed in the section: "Gilgamesh and the Homeric Epics". The kind of intertextual connections he described could only be possible if there had been direct contact as early as the 13th century BC. Without further discussing this problem, I just want to say that this made me suddenly aware, in a flash, that there were similar connections between the Bible and Homer and other Greek literature. I could easily see the figure of David as a sort of Euhemerized Perseus with the common elements of "death by stones/turning to stone", small guy against impossible odds, cutting off the head, etc. So, naturally, I was very happy to read Russell Gmirkin's book "Berossos and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus" and Bruce Louden's "Homer's Odyssey and the Near East". I wasn't so crazy after all!
Getting around to the current book in question, it is a collection of papers from the Copenhagen International Seminar and this book was particularly satisfying because it had a meaty offering from the aforementioned R. Gmirkin. All of the essays are not equally weighty, but overall, I still have to give it five stars because the quality of the good ones is REALLY good!
The first offering (after a great intro by Thomas L. Thompson and Philippe Wajdenbaum), is pretty weak sauce, I must say, and lacking in erudition, as the scholars themselves like to call it. That is, the author, Emanuel Pfoh does not seem to have read widely enough to really have a grasp of the topic and its problems, i.e. Ancient historiography, biblical stories and Hellenism. Funny thing is, it reminds me of an otherwise excellent book by Gregory Sterling, "Historiography and Self-Definition" where the guy goes along applying all his scholarly rules to every history produced by other nations that came under Greek domination, but when he comes to the Bible, it's like the record skips. He simply could not apply the same rules of scholarship to the most obvious example of what he was talking about in existence! Well, that's probably what happened to Pfoh... his paper ended up being a weenie. IF he has to acknowledge Hellenic influence on the Bible, he wants to keep in at a distance in the form of a general "larger, shared Eastern Mediterranean intellectual world or cultural substratum." Fine. Because you are lukewarm, you get spewed out...
Etienne Nodet then checks in with an interesting analysis that he says divides the period of the pentateuch writing and propagation, and that of the rest of the Hebrew Bible to sometime in the period of the Maccabees, i.e. when they split with the Samaritans. He brings in the fascinating issue of the Essene calendar. It's interesting to compare his ideas about it to those of Alvar Ellegard. I'm wondering why no one has really made the connection to Julius Caesar and how Suetonius tells us:
"In this public mourning there joined a multitude of foreigners, expressing their sorrow according to the fashion of their respective countries; but especially the Jews, who for several nights together frequented the spot where the body was burnt."
Perhaps they were Essenes in Rome as Ellegard suggests? Perhaps they adopted the solar calendar in honor of Caesar? Perhaps Caesar, with his wax funeral figure mounted on the trophaeum was the original model for the betrayed Jesus? Well, once again, wandering. Back to the book. Nodet's essay is quite good and full of "erudition" as the scholars like to say. He points out that it was Josephus who said that he was the first to render into Greek the "other books" of the Bible. In short, the only PUBLICLY available Hebrew Bible in Greek up to that time was the Pentateuch, though the whole text was obviously available privately and in scribal circles or amongst the Essenes at Qumran. All in all, an interesting piece.
Russel Gmirkin's paper follows and he is, as usual, clear, concise, logical and reader-friendly, even for non-specialists like myself. The main thrust of his essay, after a neat and informative intro on the history of the problem of dating the OT, is an engagement with the criticisms of Lester Grabbe. Needless to say, Grabbe ends up looking like a sophomore scholar with dyslexia. Quite right! The best part of it is that the reader gets the benefit of not just wide erudition (gotta love that word!) but a mind like a steel trap! Gmirkin goes over the evidence methodically and completely and gives the reader a bonus: a list of the parts of the Bible that are composed of Greek elements and which elements.
The only thing that is a tiny bit disturbing about this essay is the conclusions at the end. Gmirkin is naturally enthused about all the endless opportunities for study that this new vista opens up to the academic world. Just think of all the research to be done, seminars and conferences to be held, books to be written, a veritable bonanza possibly only equaled by the introduction of Quantum Theory in physics. But what is not mentioned are the very real consequences that the fraud of the Bible have had on our world and are still having: i.e. the Jews claim on the land of Israel and the dispossession of the indigenous Palestinians. Geeze, it's like Joshua redux and now we know that was a fraud, what are we going to do about it?
Next we have a piece by Lukasz Niesiolowski-Spano where he examines the possibility of the Philistines as cultural intermediaries of the Aegean/Mycenaean influences to the Hebrews of the hinterlands. He suggests that, largely, the Judahite religion was not originally much different from anything and everything else going on in the region at the time. Well, interesting, but no cigar.
Thomas L. Thompson: usually, Thompson is very good, but his contribution to this book seems to me to be a bit perfunctory. Well, he's retired now, he's got some great work already under his belt, so I'm not going to cavil over this. I will complain a bit about the excesses of jargon. Come on guys! You are pioneering and you need support from people who may not be on the inside, so cut us some slack and talk plain English! He does make one interesting remark toward the end: "...biblical and ancient Near Eastern literature is typically silent about, disguises, or hides its sources, and explicitly cited sources are stereotypically bogus." Well said.
Another real treat is the paper by Yaakov S. Kupitz. He comes across as a really sweet guy who is so happy that he is proficient in both ancient Hebrew and ancient Greek. He puts that ability to very good use and teaches the reader a bit about how Hebrew has some very interesting loan words from Greek - even in the "ancient variety". Now how did that happen? More than that, he uses his skill to search out some fascinating obscurities in the biblical text and shows how they directly relate to elements in Homer; and here I mean more than just the story comparison, but the actual words, showing how some of Homer's words made their way into the Bible itself!!
Philippe Guillaume's contribution discusses a comparison of Hesiod's heroic age to the book of Judges. Well, it's a bit more complicated than just that, it's the idea that the biblical "history" was structured, at some point, to match Hesiod's "ages" and somewhere along the way, the period of "the Judges" was conceived and implemented into the text.
The essay by Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme is rather lightweight and not very acute. Also, (not to repeat myself or anything like that), not every erudite.
Flemming A. J. Nielsen makes an interesting comparison between the idea of the Hebrews as slaves in Egypt and the Greeks as slaves in their own country (enslaved by the elite) and then freed by Solon, the great legislator. "The poorest inhabitants were freed from their dependence of the former aristocracy, and a civil society began to develop." This is a useful point of view because it should be noted that Solomon was a regular tyrant and slave-driver too! In any event, the memory of Solon was still alive and well in Hellenic times and Nielsen suggests that Solomon was presented as a sort of combination of Croesus and Solon - note even the similarity of the name of Solon to Solomon. The Hebrew writer of the Bible used this model only he added steroids so that the biblical story about the Exodus from Egypt was magnified to be greater than anything the Greeks could ever do!
The tenth offering is that of Philippe Wajdenbaum and this one is another top favorite. The title is "The Books of the Maccabees and Polybius". Basically, he compares these works and finds many direct parallels. It is clear that the author of Maccabees used Polybius and one wonders how much other stuff he just made up, using Polybius as a historical anchor to give verisimilitude to his text?
Richard G. Kratz takes up the fact that the pesher method of commentary found at Qumran is obviously borrowed from Greek style literary commentaries. The main differences are that Greek/pagan commentaries seek to elucidate difficult passages while the Qumran writers basically don't even concern themselves with that, but rather seek to add or elicit a "hidden meaning" of the text that relates specifically to them, their time, or a particular problem they face. But still, the methodological construction of the commentary is the same and reveals a clear Hellenic influence even at Qumran however schizoidal the application might be.
Another favorite: Ingrid Hjelm and her "Josephus in the tents of Shem and Japheth". Clever title! She discusses Josephus' aim to establish the great antiquity of the Jews and how Josephus himself, trained in Greek rhetoric, uses that rhetoric (in a very slippery way!) to create the impression of an antiquity that did not actually exist then or since.
John Taylor discusses "Recognition Scenes in the Odyssey and the gospels". This is in the line of Louden's "Homer's Odyssey and the Ancient Near East" and Dennis R. MacDonald's "The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark". It's nice, but nothing really new.
The final contribution is Bruce Louden's "Hesiod's Theogony and the Book of Revelation". This is a relatively rich and detailed comparative study considering the fact that it is only a paper and not a monograph. You'll never read Revelation the same way again!
All in all, a very competent collection of scholarly work. Yes, the book is a little pricey, but if you are furiously interested in these topics, it's worth it. I just wish there was more of this kind of work made available to non-specialist readers. Like Gmirkin, I think that there would be a lot more interest in studies of this kind if the wider public could be made aware of them.
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