Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Exodus and Passover

The current Torah (“Law”: the first five books of the Tanakh or Old Testament) was redacted somewhere around 500 BCE, somewhere around the return from the Babylonian exile by the Persians. Prior to the Babylonian exile, there isn’t very much archaeological evidence for the events presented in the Torah. This includes Passover celebrations.

As the story in Exodus goes, Passover is a celebration of the Angel of Death “passing over” the firstborn sons of the Jews in Egypt and killing every other firstborn. This leads to the curiously anonymous Pharaoh deciding to release the Jews. Subsequently, Moses gets the 10 commandments from Mt. Sinai, establishing YHWH’s monotheistic covenant, and the Jews wander the desert for 40 years. Joshua then leads a successful campaign to invade Canaan and the Jews receive their promised land.

The problem is, there’s no evidence of any Jewish presence in Egypt, no archaeological evidence of 600,000 able bodied men (with all of their wives, children, and livestock, thus over 1 million people) wandering the desert for 40 years, and no archaeological evidence of an invasion of, and mass dislocation of, any large popluations in Canaan.

In the area between Egypt and Canaan, if there was over 1 million people with all of their livestock wandering around for 40 years, there would have been massive amounts of garbage left behind. Pots, pans, fire pits, animal bones, excrement, clothes, etc. There’s no evidence for any sort of large group of people living nomadically in the area between Egypt and Canaan.

Excavations of modern Palestine reveal that there had not been a large influx of people around the time period that the Book of Joshua describes. Ancient Canaan shows periods of relative flux, but never a massive invasion. This means that the ancient Israelites had been native to Canaan all along. They were just Canaanites who developed a distinctive culture.

Thus no Exodus. Thus no Passover.

While there’s no evidence of invasion by a large group of people (or even any invasion at all), there appears to have been a sudden transformation of demographics around 1,200 BCE where villages sprout up in previoulsy unpopulated highlands. These settlements might have once been pastoral nomads forced to take up farming due to the collapse of Canaanite city-culture. The idea of a unified kingdom prior to the exile might be a myth, and the historical existence of the beloved David and Solomon are thrown into serious doubt. I use the term “beloved” in front of David’s name for ironic contrast; that is what DVD means in Hebrew. Because of this ambiguity, it’s uncertain whether an inscription to “DVD” in archaeological ruins of ancient Palestine refer to the historical personage, or just someone/something that was beloved.

When the Judean elites returned from exile due to the messiah Cyrus of Persia’s conquering of Babylon, they had to organize the peasant class of native Israelites. The farmers. Thus the Passover celebration was created; to coincide with the first harvest of spring. These Judean elites crafted a miraculous story explaining the newfound monotheism (one inscription from the Shephelah, dating from the period before the exile, refers to YHWH and his female consort Asarah) to these peasants to coincide with the spring harvest. Thus every Passover occurs on the first Friday after the first full moon of the first day of spring. The problem is, these returning Judean exiles were lackeys of the Persians.

Persians never attempted to root out prior religions by force, but simply “infected” them with their theology. Zoroastrism was the religion of the Persians, and the concept of monotheism is more Zoroastrian than pre-exilic Israelite. The christ Cyrus might have allowed Jews to return to their homeland, but he changed their polytheistic religion as well. The Torah book Deuteronomy (Greek for “second laws”) was “found” (i.e. written) by the returning Judean-Persian elite priestly class to further Persianize and assert monotheism to the average Jews. Ezra was more than likely an employee of the Persians, and the one who probably organized the Torah into the version that most resembles our current one; fusing the separate Elohist, Yahwist, Priestly, and Deuteronomist accounts of the pre and post exilic Israelites into one unified Bible.

This process also further separated the Northern Kingdom Jews – who weren’t exiled – (thus becoming Samaritans) from the Southern Kingdom Jews who were exiled and returned.

Source: “The Bible Unearthed” by Israel Finkelstein, Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and Neil Asher Silberman, a contributing editor to Archaeology Magazine.

Baruch Halpern, professor of Jewish Studies at my alma mater Penn State calls this book “the boldest and most exhilarating synthesis of Bible and archaeology in fifty years”.


Posted by on September 29, 2009 in archaeology, canaan, exodus, passover, polytheism, samaritans


The Morning Star

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations.

– Isaiah 14:12

I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.

– Revelation 22:16

This is one of the first tricky/wacky Biblical translations I discovered when I first started reading the Bible critically back in 2000. Many conservative Christians say that Isaiah 14:12 is talking about a being that the Jews thought was called Lucifer. But the actual translation of the Hebrew would be “day star” (helel). How did this happen? Well, back when Jerome translated the Hebrew Tanakh into Latin around 400 CE, he used his vernacular Latin to describe the “day star” of the Hebrew. At the time, the commonly known Day Star (or Morning Star) wasn’t called Venus, it was called Lucifer.

Lucifer comes from the Latin “lucem fer” which means light bringer. The lucem fer was a herald for the sun in Latin, thus a “morning star”. We now call this morning star Venus. In actuality, this passage of Isaiah is talking about a Babylonian king who persecuted the Jews. The title “day star” given because he wore a lot of exuberant jewelry, much like how Louis XIV got the title “Sun King”. This chapter of Isaiah is part of a larger taunt song against this Babylonian king. In the LXX version of Isaiah, “helel” is rendered as εωσφόρος (eosforos [or ewsforos]), and the rest of the passage reads “ο πρωι” which would be “[of] the morning” in Greek. Εωσφορος is a proper name which comes from φωσφορος (phosphoros) which literally means φως (light) φέρω (I bring) – light bringer. Thus the passage in Greek is faithful to the Hebrew – light bringer of the morning.


Isaiah promises that the Israelites will be freed and will then be able to use in a taunting song against their oppressor the image of the Morning Star, which rises at dawn as the brightest of the stars, outshining Jupiter and Saturn, but lasting only until the sun appears. This image was used in an old popular Canaanite story that the Morning Star tried to rise high above the clouds and establish himself on the mountain where the gods assembled, in the far north, but was cast down into the underworld. […] As the Latin poets personified the Morning Star and the Dawn (Aurora), as well as the Sun and the Moon and other heavenly bodies, so in Canaanite mythology Morning Star and Dawn were pictured as two deities, the former being the son of the latter.

Unfortunately (or humerously), Jesus apparently uses the same title for himself in Revelation 22:16 – “[bright] star of the morning” (αστήρ ο πρωίον). 2 Peter 1:19 also uses the phrase “morning star” but uses the one closer to the LXX version of Isaiah – φωσφορος, which is literally light bringer. Each case it is understood to mean the morning star.

Satan falling from heaven is strictly Christian theology, Judaism has no concept of a fallen, rebellious angel. This is due to this misunderstanding and conflation of Hebrew culture and language, Greek, and Latin culture and language. Quite literally lost in translation. But if you want to get overly literal, you could say that Jesus himself is Lucifer. You would technically be right according to the literal translation of the Latin “Lucifer” and Revelation 22:16 / 2 Peter 1:19.

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Posted by on September 29, 2009 in jesus, lucifer, morning star


Does παρθενος mean "virgin" in Greek?

και προσεσχεν τη ψυχη δινας της θυγατρος ιακωβ και ηγαπησεν την παρθενον και ελαλησεν κατα την διανοιαν της παρθενου αυτη

μετάφραση μου – translation

His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her

– Gen. 34:3

According to the LXX, Genesis 34:3 also defeats the claim that παρθενος (parthenos) is used exclusivly for “a virgin”. Dinah, who was raped by Shechem, is referred to as a παρθενος after being raped, which is contrary to the claim on the exclusivity of παρθενος for identifying “a virgin”

Quite possibly, the meaning of the word changed. The LXX, at least the Torah portion of it, was composed because the Greek king Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who reigned 285–246 BCE, wanted to read Hebrew scriptures. So in the span of about 400 years, the meaning of the word παρθενος might have changed from simply a young woman (like Dinah) to mean specifically “virgin” in Matthew’s lifetime.

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Posted by on September 28, 2009 in gospel of matthew, isaiah 7:14, parthenos, virgin


Liberal Christianity

Most rational people can agree that Conservative/Fundamentalist/Whatever Christianity is a plight on humanity. That level of dogmaticism isn’t good for anyone since it is immune to dialog or ever admitting to being wrong. But what about Liberal Christianity? I think that Liberal Christianity is ultimately as doomed as Conservative.

The problem is modern Christianity itself. Modern Christianity is a very historical religion. It claims that certain events happened in history. If these events didn’t happen (like the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus), then modern Christianity is simply false. A religion like Buddhism, however, is not a historical religion. The teachings of Buddhism, whether you agree with them or not, are simply a tool used to improve your life. Whether the First Buddha lived is unimportant to the message of Buddhism. Unfortunately, Christians have combined “true” with “useful”.

In Christianity, the tool, or the message, is Jesus himself. And it says so in the first line of what was probably the first gospel written: “αρχη του ευαγγελια ιησου χριστου::[the] beginning of [the] good news [of] Jesus Christ“. In the Greek, Jesus isn’t preaching any good news, or it isn’t the good news according to Jesus, he is the good news. This same sentiment is expressed in Paul’s authentic letters. Jesus never preached any gospel according to Paul, Jesus was the gospel according to Paul.

But what if Jesus never existed?

I’m an agnostic on the issue of the historicity of Jesus the Nazarene (or maybe the Nazarite?). However, modern Christianity hinges on this one belief. This dogma. There’s still the dogmatic clinging towards certain historical uncertainties: the existence, death, resurrection, and ascention of Jesus. If someone doesn’t believe in those particular dogmas, then are they a Christian? Would any other modern Christian consider someone who didn’t believe in those things to be a Christian?

Early Christianity was more fluid though. The gospel of Thomas, for example, opens with “whoever interperets these sayings will not taste death”. This good news has nothing to do with the resurrection of Jesus, his death on the cross, or any other historical detail about him. It’s the interpretation of sayings that brings salvation. And these sayings are calls to some sort of action (like verse 48). I’d sum up Thomas as being a Gnostic gospel, or one where knowledge of the true, inner spark is what leads to salvation (verse 3). Other Christians simply said they were Christians because they were anointed with the oil of God.

Gnostic Christianity, like I’ve written before, is more like Buddhism. It’s about correct action and not correct belief. If Christianity is to survive, then it has to get rid of dogmas. Focus more on being “Christ-like” instead of being “Christ-believers”. If Christians were more about some sort of Ebionite Christianity (striving to help the poor, humility, and other “action” traits), and not simply about correct beliefs, then it might survive. But is that liberal Christianity? Can a Christian be a Christian and, for example, be an atheist as well (thus Christian Atheists)?

This is why I secretly call myself a Christian Gnostic, but in public I’m now an atheist. Not because I believe Jesus existed, but because I follow teachings, like many of the early Gnostics did. The message is important, not the messenger. And on the internet, I debate against the validity of modern Christianity, because that dogma has to go; I’ve personally been seared by that dogmaticism one too many times. Karen Armstrong, for example, thinks that modern Christians have become too literal in their beliefs, and that mythos was (or is) the way religions should work. Myths used stories (not necessarily true stories) to provoke emotions, or to teach a moral lesson. If we allowed Christianity to be the myth that it’s supposed to be, it might not have done (or continue to do) the damage that it has done. If the world was filled with Karen Armstrongs instead of Rick Warrens, then it would be a better place.

The gospel of Mark being read as history makes no sense. There are glaring historical inaccuracies. But when I read it in what might be its original context – mythos – it is actually a pretty good story.


Posted by on September 24, 2009 in atheism, gnosticism, liberal christianity


Dating the Book of Daniel

A favorite prophet for Christians (mainly because of the apocalyptic “Son of Man” language and the Abomination causing Desolation in chapters 7 and 8 which Jesus invokes, cf. Mark 13:14), Daniel isn’t aprophet in Judaism. Daniel was written during the Maccabean revolt c. 165 BCE, the outcome of which is still celebrated to this day with Hannukah. Daniel attempts to be writing in the 6th century BCE but was really written in the 2nd centry BCE.

Those reasons include the following:

1. Daniel contains a number of historical inaccuracies regarding Baylonian history- the era during which it is alleged by traditionalists to have been written. These include such things as the erroneous belief that Nebuchadnezzar had a son named Belshazzar, that this Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon during the Jewish captivity, that Babylon under Belshazzar fell to Darius and that Darius was a Mede. Every single one of those points is wrong. There were four kings of Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel thinks there was only one, and the one he names never existed. Nebuchadnezzar did not have a son named Belshazzar and no one by that name was ever king of Babylon. The guy who was king when Babylon fell was named Nabonidus and he was not related to Nebuchadnezzar. Interestingly, Naboninus had a son named Belshazzar but that son was never king and he died before his father did.

2. Daniel is also wrong about both the name and nationality of the person who conquered Babylon (and liberated the Jews from captivity….something which a contemporary Jew should not have gotten confused about). Babylon was not conquered by “Darius the Mede” but by Cyrus, who was Persian. There was no such person as Darius the Mede and (contrary to Daniel, who was evidently trying to backfill failed prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah) Babylon was never conquered by the Medes.

Cyrus had a grandson named Darius who eventually became king, but he, like his grandfather, was a Persian, not a Mede. Daniel also says that “Darius the Mede” was the son of Xerxes, but Xerxes was actually the son of Darius, not his father. It is quite implausible that any Jewish person who survived the entire exile would get this many things wrong but would be entirely to be expected by anyone who was writing historical fiction several centuries later.

3. The Book of Daniel contains a number of historical anachronisms which date it well after the Exile and into the Hellenistic period. It uses Greek words and references a Greek musical instrument which didn’t exist until the 2nd century BCE (Dan 3:5 contains “psaltery”, which is Greek). it contains Aramaic dialect which dates well after the exilic period. It contains an anachronistic use of the word “Chaldean” to refer to astrologers. That word was only an ethnic indicator during the era of the exile and only came to be used for astrologers much later. Daniel contains post-exilic eschatological ideas about such things as a resurrection and judgement of the dead. Daniel also references the book of Jeremiah as a “sacred book” (i.e. as scripture) but Jeremiah would have been a contemporary of Daniel and the Book of Jeremiah did not become part of Jewish Canon until c. 200 CE.

4. Daniel is very accurate about the Greek period and makes historically sound “predictions” regarding Alexander’s conquest and subsequent dynasties up to and including the reign of Antiochus, his installation of a statue of Zeus in the Temple (167 BCE – the Abomination causing Desolation) and the Jewish revolt against him. Once Daniel gets past 164 BCE, though, the predictions all fail. Daniel predicted that Antiochus would be killed in Palestine by a Ptolemaic king from the south and then the end of the world would come. Antiochus died not in Palestine, but in Persia, not by a king from the south but by an illness. Obviously, the world never ended either.

This is a clear indication that Daniel was written after the installation of the “abomination” in the Temple (167 BCE) but before the death of Antiochus (164 BCE). Christians have a lot of problems understanding Daniel. They even think the text is a prophetic text, but the Jews place it amongst the other writings (Ketuvim). Christians should give the Hebrew bible back to the Jews and stop making such a mess with it.

If we turn to ch.11 we find a series of conflicts between the kings of the north and the kings of the south immediately after the time of Alexander, the warrior king of 11:3 and the diadochi in 11:4. The king of the north is clearly Seleucid and the king of the south is Ptolemy and chapter 11 describes the Syrian Wars.

The fulcrum is the stopping of temple sacrifices (and the persecution of the Jews from 167 to 164 BCE), 11:31, 9:27 and 8:11 – this last is done by the little horn, who we also see is the culmination of the fourth beast in chapter 7, who attacked the Jews and attempted to change the seasons and the laws.

The four beasts of chapter 7, the lion (Babylon), the bear (Media), the panther (Persians), the unnamed beast – the elephant to us – (Greece), is the same progression in the statue of Dan 2, which has the Greek empire dividing into two legs, the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. The feet made of iron and clay indicate the varying power that the two empires were able to wield.

The usual Christian view is to interperet that the Medes and the Persians were really one empire, despite the fact that the Persians conquered the Medes. The Jews of course saw Media as separate from the Persians, Isaiah 13:17-19 prophecying that the Medes would destroy Babylon.

The Romans are obviously not the legs of the statue in Dan 2. The Seleucid and Ptolemy kingdoms explain the data correctly and the struggle between them, the kings of the north and south, is outlined in Dan 11. Dan 2:43 deals with the marriage of Berenice with Antiochus II, which was an attempt to unite the two kingdoms, an attempt which failed.

(The major primary sources are Polybius’s history and 2 Maccabees. More information about the struggle between the Seleucids and Ptolemies can be found in any history of the Hellenistic period.) In addition, the canon of the Prophets (Nevi’im) was closed by about 200 BC with the composition of Malachi. The apocryphal book of Jesus ben Sirach (who I wrote a bit about here), written about 180 BCE, contains a long section (chapters 44-50) in praise of “famous men” from Jewish history that does not include Daniel. However 1 Maccabees, composed about 100 BCE, repeats much of that list with the addition of Daniel and the three youths in the fiery furnace, leading to the conclusion that these stories were likely added to Hebrew literature sometime after 180 BCE.

However, Daniel could be a “prophecy” of the events of the Maccabean Rebellion… that means it wasn’t a prophecy about Jesus.

This interpretation of Daniel fits Maccabees (specifically 1 Maccabees 1:54) where the desecrating idol of Antiochus is referred to as an “Abomination of Desolation” (see Daniel 9:27). Also, Josephus identified the “little horn” as Antiochus (Antiquities 10:11).

Daniel was intended to be read as a “prophecy” of (or writing about) the Maccabean Rebellion, so it was more than likely written during this time period. Though later Christians have Jesus reinterpreting it to make it a prophecy about Jesus.

Incidently, the events in the Maccabean rebellion and the Bar-Kochba rebellion are similar. Just like Daniel was more than likely written during the Maccabean revolt, the Christian gospels might have been written during the Bar-Kochba rebellion. Both events have a pagan statue being erected on the sacred ground of the temple insigating Jewish rebellion. Though to be fair, Hadrian erected a statue of Jupiter on the grounds of the temple mount in 132 CE (since the temple had been destroyed in 70 CE) and Antiochus erected a statue of Zeus actually inside of the still standing temple in 167 BCE.


Jews vs. Samaritans

The war of 70 CE wasn’t the first time the Jewish Temple was destroyed. Jews had their first Temple destroyed by the Babylonians. Though each destruction transformed Judaism into a new creature each time:

  1. Israelites (polytheists with a national God, possibly with traditions found now in Pentateuch)
  2. 587 BCE – destruction of the First Temple. Now Judeans; monotheists, super strict monotheists after 164 BCE (the Civil War between Traditionalist Jews and Hellenistic Jews; Traditionalists won and started celebrating the clearing of the Temple of Hellenistic desecration with Hanukkah), now venerating Prophets and later Writings like Daniel and books fictionalizing/idealizing the history of their judges, kings and rulers.
  3. 70 CE – destruction of the Second Temple. Now Rabbinic Judaism; moralistic religion without a temple, crystallized around 200 CE with the Mishna, essentially an idealized study of what temple life should have been like, with universal lessons drawn from that idealized study.

According to James D Purvis, The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Origin of the Samaritan Sect (1968), the Pentateuch was brought back by the returning Judean exiles, who were installed by the Persians to replace the local Babylonian appointed elite classes (more in depth in my more recent post about Passover and the Exodus and a slight digression in my post on the History of Early Christianity).

This Pentateuch was accepted more or less by the Israelite “people of the land” (those who had not been exiled but remained to tend to the land as royal tenants) both in Judah and in Samaria (the remains of the old kingdom of Israel. In the Dual Monarchy period, the two were the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Northern Kingdom was actually about to invade the Southern Kingdom in Isaiah 7, v14 is the Sign of Emmanuel where by the time the child in v14 grows to puberty [Isaiah 7:15], the Northern Kingdom [Isaiah 7:16, one of the two kingdoms in that verse] will be defeated), but more especially by those in Judea as the exiles ruled that province directly, but did not rule the province of Samaria.

Tensions arose between the political objectives of the Judaite elites and the Samaritan elites, who did not seem to see eye to eye. The Judean elites thought they were much better representatives of the old Israelite tradition, and the Samaritan elites thought the same of their traditions. They survived in a kind of symbiotic tension through the Persian and Hellenistic periods, each maintaining competing temples, until the Judean rebellion against the Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes ignited super nationalism among the Judaites. The Hasmonean prince John Hyrcanus attacked Samaria and destroyed their temple in 128 BCE, and from that point on, Samaritan Israelites severed their relationship with Judaic sponsored religion and redacted their edition of the Pentateuch.

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Posted by on September 17, 2009 in first temple, israel, jews, judea, northern kingdom, samaria, samaritans, second temple, southern kingdom


επεγεγραπτο αγνωστω θεω

Inscribed To An Unknown God
1. The Hebrew writings are translated into Greek (LXX) c. 280 BCE for the Greek general Ptolemy Philadelphus

2. Gentiles find a mystery, hidden within the text

3. This mystery is that there is a greater god apart from and unknown to the Hebrew god and that this hidden god has sent his son to act as a ransom to free humans from the law of the creator.

4. Originators such as “Paul” preached this message as revealed gospel.

5. Later, as the religion fractured, certain groups discounted the idea of a separate god from the creator, instead fusing the character of this unknown god onto the Hebrew god, Yahweh.

6. This fusing accounts for three central quirks of Christianity:

a) A noticable change in the character of god from the orginal Hebrew version to the later Christian version

b) The fact that god, who in the past has no issue dealing directly with his creation, now needs a mediator.

c) The interesting and quite ridiculous “bottom line” of Christianity being that God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.

This all clears up once one realises that the original Christian god was another god entirely and makes the entire religion make, as much as any relgion can, sense.

Isn’t there a story in Acts of the Apostles where Paul says to some Greeks that the sacrifices they made to the “unknown god” was in fact the Christian god?

Acts 17:23

23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD (επεγεγραπτο αγνωστω θεω). Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

Why would these Greeks be unaware of the Christian god if he was supposed to be one and the same to the Hebrew god? The Greeks most certainly knew about the Jews and their god. This was probably put in to fuse the once separate Christian god and the Jewish god, which would be an attack on the Marcionites. Another line of evidence that Acts of the Apostles was written in the mid to late 2nd century, since there was no Marcionism in the 1st century.

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Posted by on September 15, 2009 in acts of the apostles, marcion, marcionism, unknown god

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