Sat Feb 9, 2013, 03:11 PM
cleanhippie (16,804 posts)
The roots of the creation story: An atheist’s take on the Bible
Most religions provide some version of a creation myth. This is, after all, necessary to elevate the role of a god or gods in the history of the world—to establish a Supreme Being’s supremacy by making Him the ultimate source and creator of all things. So it is natural that the Bible begins with its creation myth.
The earliest parts of the Bible are the first five books. In the Jewish tradition, they are called by their Hebrew name: the Torah or “law.” In the Christian tradition, they are called by their Greek name: the Pentateuch or “five books.” Christianity spread through the Classical world, where Greek was the lingua franca, and early Christians used a third century BC Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint after the seventy learned scholars supposedly responsible for the translation. Since I’m going the whole distance, through both the Old and New Testaments, and since I’m focusing on the King James Bible, and especially because my primary interest is the influence of Christianity on the West, I will be using the Greek versions of all of these names.
In the Greek/Christian version, each book of the Bible is given a descriptive name. The name of the first book is “Genesis,” the Greek word for birth or coming into being. It is a story of the creation of the world and of man. But right away, we encounter an intriguing clue about the origins of this origin myth.
The first line of the Bible is: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Follow along in your hymnal, or read the King James Bible online.) The Hebrew word for “God” in this verse is “Elohim.” Anyone with a knowledge of Hebrew knows that the –im suffix is plural. So this verse would seem to read, “In the beginning, the gods created the heaven and the earth.” But instead, Hebrew tradition requires that the plural be ignored and that “Elohim” be translated as “God.” Isaac Asimov—whose Guide to the Bible I am using as a fellow atheist’s reference source—notes that “It is possible that in the very earliest traditions on which the Bible is based, the creation was indeed the work of a plurality of gods. The firmly monotheistic Biblical writers would carefully have eliminated such polytheism, but could not perhaps do anything with the firmly ingrained term ‘Elohim.’” Bear in mind that the Bible was not definitively written down until the sixth century BC. Before that it was mostly memorized and passed down by oral tradition, much like the works of Homer (which were first written down at about the same time). So the initial verses would have been as firmly ingrained in the mind of the Hebrew public as “Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles” was for the Greeks. It would be impossible to change. The solution was to simply agree, as a social convention, to give “Elohim” a singular meaning, referring to only one God.
Much more at link....
9 replies, 1954 views
The roots of the creation story: An atheist’s take on the Bible (Original post)
|Left Turn Only||Feb 2013||#4|
Response to cleanhippie (Original post)
Sat Feb 9, 2013, 03:42 PM
Trajan (16,657 posts)
1. Fascinating subject area
I read an article some years ago by Ze'ev Herzog titled "Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho", which touched on the numerous inscriptions found at different sites declaring YHWH had a partner .... From the article:
YHWH and his Consort
How many gods, exactly, did Israel have? Together with the historical and political aspects, there are also doubts as to the credibility of the information about belief and worship. The question about the date at which monotheism was adopted by the kingdoms of Israel and Judea arose with the discovery of inscriptions in ancient Hebrew that mention a pair of gods: YHWH and his Asherath. At two sites, Kuntilet Ajrud in the southwestern part of the Negev hill region, and Khirbet el-Kom in the Judea piedmont, Hebrew inscriptions have been found that mention 'YHWH and his Asherah', 'YHWH Shomron and his Asherah', 'YHWH Teman and his Asherah'. The authors were familiar with a pair of gods, YHWH and his consort Asherah, and send blessings in the couple's name. These inscriptions, from the 8th century BCE, raise the possibility that monotheism, as a state religion, is actually an innovation of the period of the Kingdom of Judea, following the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel.
The use of the different terms for the Hebrew deity forms the heart of the Documentary Hypothesis, which identifies the era's and likely locations of the different authors of the Torah, showing four primary threads that were eventually combined into the first five books of the Old Testament. ..... To wit:
The documentary hypothesis, (DH) (sometimes called the Wellhausen hypothesis), proposes that the Torah was derived from originally independent, parallel and complete narratives, which were subsequently combined into the current form by a series of redactors (editors). The number of these is usually set at four, but this is not an essential part of the hypothesis.
The hypothesis was developed in the 18th and 19th centuries from the attempt to reconcile inconsistencies in the biblical text. Biblical scholars, using source criticism, eventually arrived at the theory that the Torah was composed of selections woven together from separate, at times inconsistent, sources, each originally a complete and independent document. By the end of the 19th century it was generally agreed that there were four main sources, combined into their final form by a series of redactors, R. These four sources came to be known as the Yahwist, or Jahwist, J (J being the German equivalent of the English letter Y); the Elohist, E; the Deuteronomist, D, (the name comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, D's contribution to the Torah); and the Priestly Writer, P.
Julius Wellhausen's contribution was to order these sources chronologically as JEDP, giving them a coherent setting in the evolving religious history of Israel, which he saw as one of ever-increasing priestly power. Wellhausen's formulation was:
the Yahwist source ( J ) : written c. 950 BC in the southern Kingdom of Judah.
the Elohist source ( E ) : written c. 850 BC in the northern Kingdom of Israel.
the Deuteronomist ( D ) : written c. 600 BC in Jerusalem during a period of religious reform.
the Priestly source ( P ) : written c. 500 BC by Kohanim (Jewish priests) in exile in Babylon.
While the hypothesis has been increasingly challenged by other models in the last part of the 20th century, its terminology and insights continue to provide the framework for modern theories on the origins of the Torah.
Quite a fascinating subject ....
Response to Trajan (Reply #1)
Sat Feb 9, 2013, 09:16 PM
dimbear (6,271 posts)
6. While this is a minority view now, it definitely has a fighting chance. If we see the
present Hebrew scriptures as a replacement for the previous polytheistic religion of Israel which a radical minority managed to get firmly in place after the Babylonian Captivity, a large number of problematic issues resolve. Note that if one digs about in Israel, one finds a hundred images of Asherah for every reference to Yahweh. Also interesting, in the earliest references to Yahweh He is pretty obviously a local place god (the Jews then practicing what the more expensive theologians call henotheism), so that the full name would be Yahweh of Samaria or Yahweh of Judea.
One other point: IMHO the first (oldest) part of the Bible is the Book of Judges. That would be on strictly linguistic grounds, the most ancient part probably the Song of Deborah.
Response to cleanhippie (Original post)
Sat Feb 9, 2013, 04:41 PM
Left Turn Only (74 posts)
4. A Jealous God?
If the God of the Bible is the only one, what would there be for Him to be jealous of? Assuming that a god with human emotions makes sense, this makes god out to be either insecure, at best, or a being that is prone to delusions. The command of placing no other god before him suggests the possibility of other gods, as well. Also, the Holy Trinity, in itself, indicates three gods or one main god and 2 lesser ones, not to mention Satan, who is pretty god-like, too.
Response to cleanhippie (Original post)
Wed Feb 13, 2013, 07:29 AM
Jim__ (9,503 posts)
8. Robert Tracinski, the author of the article, is a former senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute.
Given that credential, I'd take any insights from him with a grain of salt.
More on Tracinski:
Owns and runs Tracinski Publishing Company, based north of Charlottesville, Virginia. It once published The Intellectual Activist “An Objectivist Review,” a hard copy magazine originally founded by Peter Schwartz in 1979 and sold to Mr. Tracinski in 1991. In 2012 it ceased publication and Mr. Tracinski replaced it with the email list “The Tracinski Letter.” TIA’s associated email newsletterTIA Daily continues, though usually called “The Daily Debate.” It repeats Mr. Tracinski’s contributions to RealClearPolitics, a website featuring political commentary, usually from a neoconservative perspective.
Mr. Tracinski used to be ARI’s editorial director, a Senior Fellow, and a lecturer in its Academic Center. After starting TIA Daily the amount of his direct ARI work fell off and ARI came to describing him as a senior writer or guest writer. Stopped writing for ARI early in 2004, stopped teaching there sometime in 2005. His articles remained notated “Robert W. Tracinski is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute” until after the congressional election of 2006 when ARI distanced itself from him.
Response to Jim__ (Reply #8)
Wed Feb 13, 2013, 09:08 AM
trotsky (37,380 posts)
9. Yep, he's a right-winger.
But since the article isn't about politics, did he say anything factually wrong or make any incorrect conclusions?
Do you agree or disagree with this conclusion?
What is distinctive about the Bible is that these stories aren’t just one part of a larger mythology. They are the mythology. The Bible’s exclusive, almost single-minded focus is on ensuring man’s subordination to God. This mythology is the ur-source for Judeo-Christian theology, and it sets the tone for everything that comes after.