Monday, April 16, 2012

How Does One Date an Expression of Mental History? The Old Testament and Hellenism

Niels Peter Lemche, 
Professor of Department of Biblical Exegesis
Faculty of Theology
University of Copenhagen

In the good days of old—not so far removed from us in time—a biblical text was usually dated according to its historical referent. A text that seemed to include historical information might well belong to the age when this historical referent seemed likely to have existed. At least this was the general attitude. The historical referent was the decisive factor. If the information included in the historical referent was considered likely or even precise, the text that provided this information was considered more or less contemporary with the event—that is, the historical referent—although the only source of this event was often the text in question that referred to it.

In those days, everybody knew and talked about the 'hermeneutic circle'. It was generally accepted that the study of ancient Israel was from a logical point of view based on a circellus logicus vitiosum, a false logical circle, but nobody within biblical studies believed that it was possible to avoid this logical trap.

A classical example of this 'methodology'—or lack of methodology—is the way biblical studies have dealt with the last years of Judah's history. Today it is becoming almost mainstream scholarship to argue that the united monarchy of David and Solomon never existed. It is also accepted that, as far as the early days of the independent kingdoms of Israel and Judah are concerned, most of the information in the books of Kings is legendary. In spite of this, when it comes to the final part of the history of the kingdom of Judah, scholars still consider large sections of the Deuteronomistic History to include vital historical information about Judah in the seventh and early sixth centuries BCE. Thus the reformation of King Josiah in Jerusalem is still generally assumed to have taken place in 623/622 BCE, more or less as described by the authors of 2 Kings. That Chronicles have a different story to tell about the reformation does not worry scholars who all too readily accept the version presented by 2 Kings. Chronicles believe King Hezekiah and not Josiah to have been the great reformer (2 Chron. 29-31). Although Chronicles know the story about Josiah's reform (2 Chron. 34-35), it is Hezekiah and not Josiah who reinstalls the celebration of the Passover as it used to be in the days of old. Evidently, even if the author of Chronicles borrowed from the Deuteronomistic History, he did not accept the image of the past created by the author of 2 Kings. Here he demonstrates that he is a more independent mind than many scholars of the present century who have in great numbers simply paraphrased 2 Kings, thereby disregarding the warning provided by Chronicles.

It is obvious that ancient historiographers could handle so-called historical narrative in many different ways. Sometimes they elaborated on a text describing a well-known historical event, such as Sennacherib's attack on Hezekiah in 701. Here the biblical historiographers include a short note simply stating a series of 'facts' relating to Sennacherib's campaign (2 Kgs 18.13-16). This short note that might well have been found in some kind of an archive. It is, however, more than likely that the biblical historiographers cited it in order to present it as a jumping-off point for an elaborate, however invented story about the liberation of Jerusalem from the mighty army of the Assyrians (2 Kgs 18.17-19.37). At other times the historiographers found historical information about the past within their tradition but were not able (from a historian's vantage point) to localize it properly. But they were also able to create 'history' almost from scratch. All in all it is clear that biblical historiographers did not share any modern idea of history as a scholarly discipline. They simply made the tradition about the past fit the version of the history of Israel which they presented to their audience. The biblical historiographers shared this sentiment of tradition with their colleagues in the ancient world. The past was not something that just happened once upon a time and was thereafter forgotten. It was part of a living tradition—or was simply the tradition—and was brought to life again and again whenever an ancient author decided to call upon the past to illustrate the present but always in a form that suited the actual situation.

Because of such standards of dealing with the past, it is unlikely that we can date a biblical historical narrative on the background of its historical referent. It is obvious that the historical truth and nothing but the truth was not a criterion employed by historiographers of the ancient world who reconstructed or simply constructed the past in this way. The historiographers evidently had a programme and historical narrative was the medium selected by them to present their case. Specific ideas and sentiments, religious convictions as well as ideas about the nation and people of Israel, directed their thinking. We may call it propaganda or educational literature as we wish. The aim of this kind of literature was not only to entertain people of the present but also, and much more importantly, to make an impression on the next generation. Political ideas and religious sentiments all come together to form the 'mental matrix' of a person. Such a 'mental matrix' governs the expressions of all writers—ancient as well as modern. Moreover, biblical historiographers carried within themselves mental matrices that were decisive when they were about to choose what to include and what to leave out in their retelling of the past. The student of this literature should investigate whether or not it is possible to reconstruct their mental matrix (matrices). Were they governed by ideas that originated in ancient Palestine, or in Mesopotamia or Egypt, or had Greek philosophy already influenced them to such a degree that knowledge of Greek (Hellenistic) civilization seems evident? What did the biblical historiographers know?

They were of course governed by an antiquarian interest. They were simply interested in the past. Ancient historiographers shared such an interest with their modern colleagues, the historians of the present. However, this is a superficial similarity that only says that ancient historiographers wanted to tell people of their own time the meaning of the past.

In order to understand this interest in the past it has to be stressed that ancient societies were by all accounts very conservative—not to say reactionary—societies. This is nowhere better reflected than in the antique tale of the ages of the world, the original 'golden age' that was supplanted by the less prosperous 'silver age' that was for its part supplanted by the ferocious 'brazen age'. Everything was from the beginning perfect: 'And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good' (Gen. 1.31). Any innovation was carried out to reestablish the original world order. This was the ideology behind, for example, the misarum acts of the old Babylonian world when debts were abolished and property handed back to its original owner. Ancient societies were not 'primitive' societies but 'traditional' societies, a term adopted by anthropologists of the present day as a general term for so-called 'primitive cultures'. The past had to be preserved to provide guidelines for the present and future generations. The past carried a meaning that should not be lost, and it was the duty of the historiographer to retell the past in such a way that the meaning was not lost. The meaning was more important than what really happened: Is this true or something that just happened?'

The past as a concept and a reality also created a chronological distance to the present, and thus made unlikely things possible, that is, things that are unlikely in the present 'brazen age'. The past—the 'golden age'—was a kind of never-never world. Anything that happened in this never-never world, once upon a time, has a meaning for the present. Because ancient writers had no definite ideas about history in the modern sense of the word, they did not distinguish between the many kinds of information about the past but mixed all genres together. In this way it is understandable that literary genres such as fairy-tales, legends, myths, and so on, are joined by biblical authors in a—to our eyes—most uncritical way. According to ancient historiographers, there were no qualitative differences between a fairy-tale and a proper historical report. The past was the subject of both the fairy-tale and the report. Therefore both fairy-tale and report contained evidence about the meaning of history.

Describing and dating the mental matrix of an ancient writer is difficult. It is especially difficult when the author in question is anonymous and not dated by external evidence. We only have one way to go, and that is to concentrate on the written piece of evidence produced by the writer in question, in this case the biblical texts, in order to see whether it is possible to establish an intellectual 'profile' of this author. If this is possible, we may continue our quest and even propose—but no more than that—the situational background of the author, which also nails this person to a certain stage in the development of human thinking.

The authors of biblical literature are always anonymous. The text is the only evidence we possess. It is important evidence. After all, all texts come into being within a certain intellectual environment and are to be considered expressions of their environment.

Allow me to illustrate my point. In a discussion about the similarities and dissimilarities between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament, my Copenhagen colleague in New Testament studies, Niels Hyldahl, talks about 'structural similarities'. Scholars have pointed out the many parallels as evidence of a physical relationship between the Essenes (supposed to be the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls) and the early Christians. In the same way other scholars have stressed the many divergences between the New Testament and the scrolls from Qumran. Although it is a fact that the New Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls are related in one way or the other—both group of texts belong to more or less the same age—it would be wrong to maintain that the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls were Christians. However, the similarity between the two bodies of literature still remains. This similarity should not be misunderstood to establish any kind of identity. It does not allow us to identify early Christians with the Essenes. It is a similarity that has to do with the type of issues raised by the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as by the New Testament.

Every period will include specific questions and subjects of discussion. An overview of scholarship within Old Testament studies in the twentieth century will tell us that this is not only obvious, it is a truism. Thus around the turn of the nineteenth century, the Babel-Bibel controversy was at the centre of scholarly (and public) interest following the discovery of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. This controversy died out before the outbreak of the First World War. All studies that centre on this discussion can accordingly be dated safely to the period between the decipherment of Akkadian cuneiform in the nineteenth century and 1914. After that date it became mainly irrelevant. It was never the case that all scholars of the period agreed on a certain position in relationship to this controversy; it was rather that they all had to address it in some way or another.

In historical studies, the amphictyony became a major subject after the publication in 1930 of Martin Noth's famous study of Israelite society in the period of the Judges. For the next 40 years this hypothesis dominated every single study about pre-monarchical Israel. Although most scholars adopted the hypothesis as their own, a few important divergent voices were heard, but even scholars who rejected the amphictyony had to address the question of such a tribal organization. If not, nobody would have paid any attention to what they wrote. For the last two decades there has been an almost total silence about the amphictyony, after a series of studies that appeared in the early 1970s removed any historical foundation for its existence. In 1984 I was able to conclude the discussion in this way: 'The hypothesis of the amphictyony by now is irrelevant to the investigations into Israel's past history'.

Between 1954 and 1970 as a consequence of the publication of George Mendenhall's articles about the relationship between the Sinai covenant and Hittite vassal treaties from the Late Bronze Age, Old Testament scholars invested a great deal of interest in covenant theology. For the next decade and a half everything centred on the covenant that was supposed to appear here, there and everywhere in the Old Testament. After 1969, when Lothar Perlitt simply announced that covenant theology was invented by the circle of Deuteronomist theologians towards the end of independent Israelite and Judean history, nobody continued to discuss the subject, which went into oblivion as if the discussion had never happened.

These are of course only rather insignificant examples from a minor field within the academic world. However, they show how every period in the history of humankind will give birth to a number of questions—within philosophy, religion or simple politics—that are specifically related to this period, hot subjects for a while and then forgotten.

The same was the case in ancient times, although because of limited resources of communication, the stream of ever-changing ideas did not flow as fast as in modern times. Every era included a number of issues that specifically related to this period, and subjects of a lively discussion among the intellectuals of the time. We should not be surprised when two corpora of texts squarely belonging to the same period can display so many similarities and yet be so different as the texts of the New Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The New Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls need not agree on every single point because they might be more or less from the same time. It is simply an old scholarly hoax that people belonging to one and the same period should agree on anything and everything; on the contrary, in a society of the real world outside the academia, there are almost as many opinions around as people to discuss them. It is not the variety of opinions but the number of issues that is limited. Niels Hyldahl accordingly does not speak about individual points of contact but about a systemic kind of relationship: the same questions but different answers.

Since the beginning of academic discussion it has been a favoured pastime to indulge oneself in comparative studies. I do not intend to elaborate on this theme here. I only have to refer the reader to James G. Frazer's The Golden Bough as a famous but also contested specimen. It is much too easy to find similarities between the literary expressions of different cultures when they basically belong to the same stage of development, especially when we talk about relatively simple societies with a more or less uniform socio-economic system such as basic agriculture. In basic agrarian cultures, peasants all over the world share many ideas without ever having been in mutual contact. This is in itself an interesting scholarly occupation and can—when put together—result in something like Stith Thompson's index of folk-motifs in fairy-tales and legendary stories originating in a mostly oral environment, later elaborated upon in writing.

When, however, cultures get more complicated and the diversification of occupation in the old Durkheimian fashion begins to create separation within one and the same society, cultural expressions also become more elaborate and sophisticated. In this case a systemic similarity such as the one discussed above is more likely to reflect not only political but also and especially cultural interchange between two interrelated cultural zones, such as, for example, Mesopotamia and Western Syria and the Levant in the Bronze Age, or Mesopotamia and Egypt already before the dawn of history. The famous saying that 'Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit', 'conquered Greece conquered its barbaric conqueror', says precisely that the Romans became Hellenized when they entered into contact with Greece and were overwhelmed by its superior civilization and cultural tradition.

The moment we approach the problem of dating an Old Testament text—not to say the Old Testament itself—we are confronted with the literary remains of a culturally very rich civilization. No primitive literature is found in the Old Testament. Every part of the collection of Scripture included in the Old Testament displays a sophistication that brings us far beyond the cultural borders of an undeveloped basic agrarian society. The Primary History (Genesis to 2 Kings) is a fine example of this and need not be discussed in this context. Of more interest in this connection are the patriarchal narratives. Although these stories include many motifs from folk-literature or simply reflect popular stories, they are much too complicated to have originated within a milieu that was almost exclusively oral—Gunkel's notorious campfire society—or which had just changed from oral to a written stage of literary transmission. I do not intend to reiterate the ideas of Andre Jolles that oral literature is perforce simple and devoid of literary elaboration—there are plenty of examples of the complexity of orally transmitted literature. I do, however, say that the complexity is different from the one found in, say, the Ugaritic epics, or from another age, the Serbo-Croatian heroic epics collected by Parry and Lord. The complexity of a literary corpus such as the patriarchal narratives depends on the number of themes that are combined by the authors of these narratives and are difficult to separate. It also has to do with themes such as 'how God educates human beings', illustrated by the unique humoresque that constitutes the Abraham-complex or 'the struggle between creator and creation' that governs the traditions united in the Primary History.

It goes without saying that the form of these very narratives, almost exclusively prose narrative, is also an indication of a milieu of written literature that is almost unique in the ancient Near East. Literary fiction in the form of prose narrative was not widely distributed among the cultures of the ancient Near East. Mesopotamian literary creations were—like the literature from, say, Ugarit—mostly preserved in the forms of written poems or epics. The literary elite of the Middle Kingdom made an extended use of prose stories. From a literary point of view this is probably the best comparison with the milieu that created literature such as the patriarchal narratives, but it is removed from this by at least 1000 years—perhaps more. Prose was of course known and dominates royal annals, Hittite as well as Babylonian and Mesopotamian, but although the forms of, for example, Assyrian royal annals may show up within biblical literature, the Old Testament does not include royal annals but, at most, literature that borrows its form from such reports. The patriarchal narratives have of course nothing to do with royal official literature. The author(s) who wrote these stories were evidently well-educated people who could both write and read. They did not write with gods in mind. They wrote literature to be read by other people. Their literature was composed with other educated people in mind, people who were able to understand and appreciate it.

When we change to the subject of 'how to create profiles of the authors of Old Testament texts', we have to keep these remarks in mind when we want to describe the mental matrices of these authors.

In his In Search of 'Ancient Israel', Philip R. Davies distinguishes between three different kinds of 'Israel'. One is 'historical Israel', that is, the state otherwise known from Assyrian sources as Bit Humriya or Samarina. This Palestinian state came into being some time in the ninth century BCE and was destroyed by the Assyrians 722 BCE. Historical Israel did not include the Palestinian petty state called Judah that only appeared on the historical scene as a state, say, after 800 BCE and was in existence as a semi-autonomous political entity until 597 or 587 BCE. The second Israel is 'biblical Israel', the Israel of the Old Testament. This Israel is the creation of the authors of the Old Testament and can only partly be related to historical Israel. Thirdly, modern scholars created still another Israel, the so-called 'ancient Israel'. This ancient Israel represents a curious mixture of biblical Israel and historical Israel. Although I have always respected the Dumezilian theory about the importance of the number three in the Indo-European tradition, Davies's theory about the three different 'Israels' is one short of being correct. There are not one, but two biblical 'Israels'. In my recent study The Israelites in History and Tradition, a comprehensive section has as its subject 'the People of God'. The term 'the People of God' includes the concept of the Israelite nation as the creation of the authors of the Old Testament prose narratives from Genesis to 2 Kings. It is my argument that in the Old Testament there is more than one biblical Israel; there are, as a matter of fact, two 'Israels' here. One of them is the 'old Israel', understood to be the people of the covenant written in stone (cf. the Sinai-complex but also Josh. 24); the second is the 'new Israel', the people of the covenant written in the heart (Jer. 31.31-4).

According to the Old Testament, the Babylonian exile constitutes the line of division between the old and the new Israel. Old Israel is destroyed and its people banished from their country because they rejected their God and broke the covenant. The new Israel is the Israel supposed to arise in the future as the true people of God. It has at various times been identified with the Jewish nation, or with the Christian Church (cf. Rom. 9-11). Any sectarian group within Judaism or Christianity is expected to refer to itself as the true 'new Israel'.

Most often it is argued that the same nation that the Babylonians forced into exile returned to Palestine in the Persian period. Now it is to this day an unsolved question whether there ever was a return of the dimensions envisaged by the Old Testament, namely, a movement of a people from one part of the Middle East to another. I will maintain that the 'exile' in Babylonia never ended, and that the presence of exilic people from Palestine lasted at least until 1951 CE. We probably have no other sources than the texts of the Old Testament that say that a major migration actually took place. Most of the constructions of Jewish history in the Persian period depend on the same type of hermeneutic circular exegesis as already described here. It is, however, an extraordinary fact that scholars have paid so little attention to the meaning of the different images of Jerusalem and Judah found in Chronicles, the book of Ezra and the book of Nehemiah. When we read Nehemiah, it is as if the author of Nehemiah 1-4—the so-called 'autobiography of Nehemiah'—has never read Ezra. We cannot say with absolute certainty that 'Nehemiah's autobiography' is a historical document that reflects conditions in Jerusalem in the fourth century BCE. It could be a kind of novel from a much later period, that is, the Hellenistic period. However, whether or not it is a piece of literature going back to a historical person of the name of Nehemiah, Nehemiah 1-4 describes conditions in Jerusalem and its environment that are almost totally different from the impression of Jerusalem in the Persian period found in other biblical books. Has a Jewish community already appeared in this place in the fourth century BCE? This is an open question. And from an archaeological perspective: do we possess evidence that a major migration took place at the end of the sixth century BCE from Mesopotamia to Palestine? If this was the case, if Jews from Babylonia really returned to Jerusalem and Judah in numbers between, say 538 and 516 BCE, where are their Babylonian cooking-pots? Would women leave their homes without bringing their utensils with them?

The point is that the 'old Israel' is a construction of biblical authors, whereas the 'new Israel' is a Utopia created by the same authors as an expression of their religious and national programme for the future. There never was an 'old Israel' in the biblical sense but the 'new Israel' is also an invention. It includes a project for the future: God-loving persons will found the 'new Israel'. Only the righteous are going to survive and to assemble at Zion protected by the Lord himself (cf. Isa. 4).

Two ideas are central to the concept of the 'new Israel'. On one hand the covenant between God and Israel and on the second God's torah. The covenant of Sinai failed miserably to unite the people of Israel with its God. The new covenant of Jeremiah 31 will substitute the old one and cannot be broken because it is not something from the outside but a part of the person who has entered the covenant. Together with the covenant goes God's torah or instruction. This instruction will guide the new Israel that it shall one day enter Zion. Without the torah there is no way to God. Most people will perish before they ever reach this place of blessing, 'because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel' (Isa. 5.24).

The new Israel is the people of God. It is a people of 12 tribes assembled around a holy centre, the shrine of Yahweh at Zion. It is believed to include people with a common blood and a common religion—to a lesser degree with a common language, but with a land of its own.

The mental matrix of biblical authors centres around the establishment of the new Israel. This matrix can be nothing less than the expression of a sectarian view of society. It creates a division between two kinds of people: the righteous that belong to this society and the unjust who will be condemned and thrown out. The criterion for deciding who is righteous and who is not is exclusively a religious one: do people keep the covenant and follow the instructions? The image of the new Israel is one of a sectarian community that—as other similar organizations in the Hellenistic world—excludes itself from the greater society that surrounds it.

Without the torah there will never be a new Israel. What does this tell us about the authors who introduced the concept of the torah? The Decalogue opens the torah (Exod. 20.1-21; in Deuteronomy it serves the same purpose: 5.6-21). Irrespective of its origin and tradition-history, it probably serves as an index for the following sections of the legislation of Moses. This legislation opens with the 'Book of Covenant', Exodus 21-23. The Assyriologist Raymond Westbrook has argued that the first, so-called 'secular' part of this collection represents Mesopotamian law tradition. He is certainly right—we only have to refer to the extensive degree of similarity analysed by, among others, Shalom Paul and Eckhart Otto. Westbrook believes that this proves the Book of Covenant to be old. However, in Mesopotamia the tradition of the law codes lasted for millennia, from Sumerian times until at least the coming of the Greeks and probably even longer (the cuneiform literary tradition did not die totally out before the first or second centuries CE). This law tradition was rather stable and not easily exported. More importantly, it was not a law tradition in the usual sense of the word, but rather an academic tradition only remotely related to the life in court. It was nourished in the universities of the time (the misnamed 'scribal schools') and belonged exclusively to this milieu. In short: the Mesopotamian law codices are not primarily expressions of forensic experience but belong among wisdom literature and represent an academic pastime.

The biblical collectors or authors of the law traditions that were included among the instructions of Moses evidently chose one of the Mesopotamian law codes (or created their own within the Babylonian law tradition) as the first part of the divine legislation. These collectors hereby reveal where they got their education. They must have studied in university institutions of their own time, most likely in Mesopotamia (this is a safe assumption as long as we have no evidence of comparable institutions outside of Mesopotamia—at least in the Iron Age [first millennium BCE]). It is clear that our collectors and/or authors had an academic background. They evidently belonged to academic circles and were brought up within a system of education that in their time had lasted for more than 2000 years.

We now know two things about our authors. First, from a religious standpoint they were sectarians, people who believed themselves to belong among the chosen few who are destined to escape from extermination when God returns his people to Zion. Second, they were also academics and part of an age-old educational system.

None of this proves our authors to be late, not to say from the Hellenistic-Roman period. They must obviously postdate the events of 587 BCE (if this is a historical date—the Old Testament is the only testimony to the second destruction of Jerusalem) or at least 597 BCE (the date of the conquest of Jerusalem confirmed by the Babylonian Chronicle). The destruction of Jerusalem is a necessary part of the construction. It is of fundamental importance for the future return of the 'new Israel' to Zion. The question is only whether the authors belonged to the Persian or the Hellenistic period.

It is probably not a fair argument to say that the Persian period has been popular among scholars because we know so little about this period—as far as Palestine is concerned. However, the esteem for the Persian period among modern scholars compares well with the estimation of 'early Israel' as the cradle of Israelite civilization a generation ago. Like 'early Israel', the Persian period constitutes a kind of 'black box'. We know so very little about early Israel and only slightly more about the Persian period.

Many scholars think that in the Persian period the biblical tradition either originated or developed into the literature known from the Old Testament. The capacity of being a 'black box' makes the Persian period a likely candidate for such an assumption as it cannot be refuted by extant evidence that says the opposite. The 'black box' concept makes everything possible and allows the scholar to propose all kinds of theories that cannot be controlled. The procedure is illegitimate as it provides us with a hypothesis that cannot be falsified.

It is of course possible that a religious idea such as the dualism between good and evil that is found in Old Testament texts, but much more expressly in para-biblical literature such as the War Scroll from Qumran (clearly Hellenistic-Roman in date), is the result of influences from Persian religion. It may also be the case that the idea of a theocratic government in Yehud has been moulded on the basis of the citizen-temple-society system that developed elsewhere in the Persian Empire. The evidence of such a theocratic system from Judah, however, hardly predates the second century BCE.

At the end of the day we simply have to admit that we know too little about the Persian period to make it a viable option and thus not only wishful thinking that the Old Testament was largely written during the centuries of Persian occupation of Palestine. If there are reflections in Old Testament literature of ideas current within the Persian Empire in, say the fifth or early fourth centuries BCE we cannot identify such ideas with any certainty. We cannot place biblical texts within an intellectual development that is otherwise unknown to us.

Matters gradually improve as we turn to the Hellenistic and Roman periods, as we are well informed about the general development in the intellectual history of humankind in this era. We are acquainted with the history of philosophy in the Hellenistic world, and we possess a fair share of Hellenistic literature, mostly but not exclusively of Greek origin. We also have an impression of the impact of Greek civilization in the Near East. At the moment we know too little about the precise history of this development, especially in remote areas such as the nooks and crannies of Palestine. We must hope that in the future it will be possible to describe how Greek civilization during the third and second centuries gradually extended its influence from region to region. The initial centres of Greek-Hellenistic influence were located in Egypt and Mesopotamia but subsequently Hellenistic civilization spread to other areas including also Palestine and Jordan in the second century BCE.

Now the question is: is it possible to find traces of the general intellectual climate of Hellenism within biblical literature?

The traditions of the ancient Near East are very much in evidence in biblical literature. It would be foolish to say anything else. From the very beginning of the collection of writings in the Old Testament, Near Eastern tradition manifests itself both in single stories and in more complex narratives. If we are to present an image of the authors and collectors of biblical literature we must keep this evidence of ancient Near Eastern culture in mind.

The procedure of analysis can alternatively be compared to an archaeological excavation. In the text of the Old Testament a variety of items dating from different places and times are available. Mesopotamian material is quite evident. Thus the story of the creation in Genesis 2 is definitely embedded within Mesopotamian tradition and the story of the flood in Genesis 6-8 is closely related to the Neo-BabyIonian version in the Gilgamesh Epic. Some textual material comes from Egypt, for example, the chapters of Proverbs that are shared by the Egyptian wisdom book of Amenemopet (Prov. 22.17-24.22). More Egyptian or 'Egyptianized' material can be found in stories about Israel in Egypt. Ideas and notions from Syrian and the Levant abound, for example, in the allusions to the battle between God and the sea included in many Old Testament psalms. Biblical authors share many genres of literature with their Near Eastern colleagues, such as the already mentioned law-tradition but also wisdom literature in its many forms.

Although this Near Eastern influence is evident, it is not enough to date its literary context exactly. Just as in archaeology, a literary stratum must be dated according to the youngest item found within and not according to the oldest evidence. Any piece of literature may reflect ideas and concepts that trace their origins way back in the history of humankind. If the text also includes elements that belong to a more recent period, the context that includes old as well as new material will always be the context of the youngest item at the earliest.

This hardly comes as a surprise to students of the Old Testament who have for centuries looked for solutions to the problem, not least by splitting biblical literature into several literary strata—sources or documents. In a recent contribution I argued that it is important whether information is part of the structure of the text or simply added to the text during its transmission. Thus the idea that the content of the patriarchal narratives somehow goes back to an alleged 'patriarchal age' or belongs to an age not too far removed from the patriarchs makes it necessary to consider the information that Abraham came from 'Ur in Chaldea' anachronistic (Gen. 11.31). Ur could only be considered a 'Chaldean' city from, say, 800 BCE. This piece of information could have been added to the story about Abraham's migration by a secondary hand. The information that the patriarchs used camels (cf., e.g., Gen. 24) is different although equally anachronistic as the camels had not been domesticated when the patriarchs are supposed to have lived. If the information about the camels in, say, Genesis 24 is secondary, this chapter has been the subject of a far more elaborate rewriting to make it fit the conditions of the first millennium BCE. The camel was domesticated shortly before 1000 BCE. As it now appears in Genesis 24 the camel may not be absolutely essential to the plot (the bringing of Rebecca to Isaac), but it would demand a number of changes to the narrative to substitute with, for example, a donkey.

Such examples say that a single piece of information might not be sufficient evidence to date a text. Even if undisputed 'Hellenistic' material was present in the Bible it will not automatically make the Old Testament a Hellenistic book. We need more than isolated examples, items found 'out of context'. We need to find parts of what might belong to the 'mainstream intellectual tradition' of the period in question, not primarily single texts but larger pieces of literature, even genres.

A few isolated points of contact between Old Testament literature and the Hellenistic world will not satisfy us. We might decide to make a systemic comparison and see whether or not an analysis of the literature of the Old Testament will open it up for extended comparison so as to indicate that these texts could be related to an intellectual development that presupposes the blending together of Near Eastern and Greek traditions.

This comparative procedure may lead us in many directions. I do not intend to present an exhaustive catalogue of possibilities. Recently scholars and laypeople alike have been active, not least on the Internet, showing the Old Testament to belong to the Hellenistic Age. I will, however, concentrate on one genre only: the presence of history-writing in the Old Testament and in the Hellenistic world.

This subject has been of interest not least since John Van Seters more than 15 years ago made classical history-writing relevant to biblical studies. His point of contact were the early 'logographers' of the Greek world, writers who in the sixth century BCE began to collect memories and traditions from 'ancient times'. The comparison, however, does not end here. We may question how Near Eastern intellectuals got to know the tradition of the logographers already in the Iron Age. Although contacts between the Aegean Archipelagos and the Levant existed, there are no traces of any influence of the logographers in any Iron Age source known from Syria or Palestine, not to mention Mesopotamia. Van Seters' idea of an early transmission of Greek culture to the Levant is obviously a part of his general appraisal of the exilic period and his dating of the Yahwist source to the sixth century. It is the weak link in his argumentation.

Other scholars have gone further. Recently a series of studies has appeared or are going to be published shortly that argues a dependence between biblical history writing and Herodotus' Histories of the middle fifth century BCE. Thus Jan-Wim Wesselius has published a series of articles—partly in Dutch—about Herodotus and the Old Testament, among them a recent contribution to the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament where he argues a dependency between the primeval history in Genesis and Herodotus' work. This comparison is to be expanded in a forthcoming monograph by Wesselius.

Obviously Wesselius like Flemming A. Nielsen in his recent work on Greek history writing and the Deuteronomistic History, concentrates on the striking similarity between Herodotus and Old Testament historical prose narrative. Evidently the focus of attention has moved from the sixth to the fifth century BCE!

Still, the comparison between the Bible and Herodotus' Histories seems directed by the same tendency as is evident in Van Seters' already mentioned link to the logographers. Herodotus stands at the beginning of the Greek historiographical tradition and although he borrows from the logographers, the later Greek and Roman traditions probably correctly considered him 'the father of history'. There is no reason why we should limit our investigations only to the relationship between Herodotus and the Bible.

In a forthcoming publication I present a different approach to the study of biblical and Hellenistic history writing. In this study it will be argued that the History of Rome by Livy is actually closer to the biblical history than Herodotus' 'investigations'. It is not because biblical literature presupposes the existence of Livy's extensive work dating from the end of the first century BCE but because it presupposes the historiographical tradition within which Livy's history should be situated. Livy's work is part of the Hellenistic tradition of writing history as it developed within the Greek system of education in the third and second centuries BCE.

Flemming A. Nielsen's study on Herodotus and the Deuteronomistic History demonstrates an extensive similarity as far as it involves the general arrangement of the two works. He accordingly makes use of the systemic approach advocated above. It is possible to apply this approach to a wider field that also includes other aspects of biblical narrative, not least philosophy (theology and anthropology). In such a study the Hellenistic quest for the 'good person' might be of interest as the goal of education.

History is therefore a main point of contact between biblical and Hellenistic literature. Although the authors of the history of the Old Testament sometimes employ old literary forms or borrow from, for example, the annalistic tradition of Mesopotamia, the concept of history as a process with a purpose unites Greek and Old Testament historical narrative.

The 'historical' mode of interpreting the fate of humankind, which biblical as well as Greek historiographers employ, is an important part of the mental matrix. Now we can see at least a shadow of our writers. They are sectarians with a definite sectarian view of humankind: few are elected, most will vanish because they have forsaken God's torah. How it happened belongs to history and it is the historiographers' duty to explain how and why it happened so that it never happens again. Our sectarians are clearly academically educated persons. They are well acquainted with oriental mythology and traditions as well as the Greek tradition of history-writing. Furthermore, they combine both the Greek and oriental traditions in an organic fashion that shows that they are brought up within an intellectual milieu that is at the same time both Greek and oriental. Such a milieu is hardly likely to have existed before the Hellenistic period and even then probably only in a few major urban centres, especially in Mesopotamia or Egypt.

We therefore assume that the historical literature of the Old Testament belongs to the Hellenistic period. It is not unique. At the same time as the biblical historical literature came into being other similar constructions of the past were published, such as Manetho's history of Egypt, or Berossus' history of Mesopotamia. Philo of Byblos' Phoenician History is much later. Little has been preserved of the works of Manetho and Berossus, but the fact that they appeared more or less at the same time (early second century BCE) in different places illustrates the early impact of Greek literary tradition on the major centres of the Near East.

When we put the evidence together and ask for a place where the amalgamation between oriental and Greek traditions might have taken place, the fact that the historical literature of the Old Testament presupposes an amalgamation between Greek and Oriental academic traditions is important. Within the Hellenistic-Roman educational system, history was an integral part of the academic curriculum identified with the dominating discipline of rhetoric. We therefore have to look for a place where oriental and Greek traditions came together in an educational system or academic environment that included both traditions.

Many years ago I joyfully proposed a new theory about the origin of the Pentateuch that should never be published. It has later publicly been referred to as 'Lemche's famous "three pub hypothesis'". The 'hypothesis' claims that the Pentateuch came into being over a very short time in the third century BCE in three different pubs in a Jewish suburb in Babylon. One of these was called 'Y', another 'E' and the third 'P'. It took little more than three months of lively interchange between the three pubs to finish the first four books of Moses. Although no more than a joke, it may nonetheless be closer to reality than we perhaps realize. We should probably not look for the intellectual milieu of our authors in Babylon. In the third century BCE people gradually deserted Babylon and resettled in newly founded Seleucia, the present Baghdad. The Seleucid Empire was, however, excellently set up to provide the intellectual conditions for an amalgamation between Mesopotamian and Greek traditions that could also have provoked the appearance of Old Testament historical prose literature.

It is probably more than likely that the centre of this intellectual development was Mesopotamia itself. Syria might be considered an alternative (Damascus?). The Utopian character of the concept of the 'people of God' and its likewise Utopian concept of the land of Israel in the Old Testament speak in favour of an origin of the historical literature in the Old Testament outside of Palestine. If Hellenism came late to Palestine we may have still another argument in favour of a non-Palestinian origin of this literature.

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