Monday, October 17, 2005


Here's more stuff from Gary Greenberg's book, 101 MYTHS OF THE BIBLE. Succinctly, Greenberg explains how Genesis was structured out of stories that Hebrews heard in Egypt and elsewhere which they believed and wrote down about the origins of the Earth:

"Structurally, Genesis 1-11 presents a fascinating insight into how the Bible evolved from a collection of polytheistic myths and legends from various cultures into a mostly coherent monotheistic account of Israelite history. At its core are two separate biblical source documents, P and J, each presenting contradictory accounts of events and very different points of view about deity. Unbeknownst to the biblical editors who tried to integrate the two sources into a single seamless narrative, the P and J accounts of Creation and the flood originally developed independently of each other from two separate Egyptian mythological traditions.... (p. 3)

"While many people believe that the Bible was divinely inspired, several biblical authors cite specific reference works that they relied upon in composing their work and many also quote passages from other books of the Bible. In effect, these references would be the equivalent of footnotes....[i.e. "Book of the Generation of Adam" (Gen. 5:1) or "Visions of Ido the Seer" (2 Chronicles 9:29) and many others (see page xxiii)] These biblical "footnotes" show the variety of materials upon which biblical writers relied and how they went about editing the materials for their own purposes. To this collection of specific citations in the Bible, other source materials can be added, such as the myths and legends preserved by other peoples of the Near East, which were widely circulated and with which the Hebrew scribes would have been intimately familiar.

"In considering how these extra-biblical materials affected biblical writers, we should note that the ancient peoples did not think of these myths and legends as falsehoods or untrue. They believed the stories preserved historical truths, and whether or not one believed in one god or another as the responsible agent, one could still believe that the underlying act occurred.

"Legends about how locations acquired their place names provide numerous illustrations of how false histories came into existence, and the Bible has many such stories. One of the most typical involved the invention of an ancestor who had the same name as the territory and was therefore made the founding father of the people who lived there. Another common motif was to find an interesting characteristic at a particular site, say an amusing rock formation or a rare water hole, and create a story about how the feature came to be. These tales would be repeated from generation to generation until the entertaining story came to be an article of historical truth." —Gary Greenberg, 101 MYTHS OF THE BIBLE: HOW ANCIENT SCRIBES INVENTED BIBLICAL HISTORY, p. xxvi

And following (on p. 21) is another example of how biblical scribes used and altered Egyptian myths, which they believed as true, to make up the Bible story.

"The Myth: And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. (Gen. 1:11-12)

"The Reality: Genesis follows the Egyptian Creation sequence in putting the appearance of vegetation before the sun.

"The third day in Genesis finishes with the appearance of vegetation: grass, seed, and fruit. Parenthetically, this creates problems from a scientific view, since plant life requires sunlight to survive and grow and the sun has not yet appeared. But, we concern ourselves here only with the mythological aspects of the discussion.

Keeping the Genesis description of the third day in mind, consider this brief excerpt from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, c. 79:

"Hail Atum!—
Who made the sky who created what exists;
Who emerged as land who created seed.

"This passage describes the same precise sequence as in Genesis, the appearance of sky, followed by land, followed by vegetation. The same sequence appears in other Egyptian texts describing the Creation process. The oldest son of Heaven and Earth, for example, was Osiris, whom Egyptians identified with grain, again showing that vegetation appeared right after heaven and earth.

"Throughout the Egyptian Creation tradition, vegetation appears right after the division of heaven and earth and the gathering of the waters. This is the sequence followed in Genesis, and shows the continuing parallel, event for event, between Egyptian Creation myths and the Genesis Creation story."

It's hard, isn't it, even if we know that Christianity is nothing but one milestone on the road from the superstitions of Neanderthals to the present, to imagine clearly the long, step by step process by which one religion becomes the next religion? Though the time frames for religious change are but a gnat's sneeze compared to evolution's morphological change, still it's hard to realize that all religions lie along one continuum or another from some European primitive's prehistoric belief to some American's current belief. Just recall how little we know of our great grandparents' beliefs. Of course, the printing of books, now has a tendency to solidify current religions more rigidly, but the rise of Mormonism, recently detailed in NEWSWEEK, shows that new religions can come along, based on any old religion, and find a foothold. A thousand years from now, who knows? The Protestant religions are fairly recent and look how they've split and split again from Luther's first protest. You would think to listen to them that the Moslem and Christian fundamentalists' beliefs have been around since time immemorial. Ah, poor deluded fools!

No comments: