About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Outrageous Biblical Patriarchs

The Charm of Biblical Polytheism
Short outline of the presentation

Outrageous Biblical Patriarchs (and to a lesser degree matriarchs) - Myths in the Bible
or why is it that Biblical characters act so often so strangely?

Especially in Genesis and some other narrative Biblical books (such as Judges) we find the main characters acting in a very controversial manner. On this slide there is a short list of morally questionable behavior from the book of Genesis. I always smile when Conservative Christians point vaguely to the Bible as a source of their “family values”. I am tempted to ask, “Do you mean pimping your wife like Abraham and Isaac, or of Jacob’s deception of his disabled father, or surrogate motherhood in that entire family?”
Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi - What is appropriate for god (Jove) is not appropriate for oxen (bovine).

Higher Textual Criticism has been analyzing these texts for centuries. Scholars soon recognized that in these stories we are not dealing with regular mortals . The Biblical characters are clearly larger than life. These stories are not simple moralistic tales. Biblical scholars across the centuries and continents agree that these stories have a complex and long religious pedigree. They disagree on details of exact origins and development. I quote an example more than a century old. Unfortunately, there were also detractors driven by different ideological motives (religious or nationalistic) who wanted to prove bible correct -like W.F Albright, Yigael Yadin/Sukenik. and others.

Here is an attempt to use a modern metaphor of modulating a radio signal (amplitude modulation) to explain the complex process of tradition.
1) We have a carrying wave (with high frequency) - that would be language (grammar and syntax, vocabulary and basic metaphors).
2) The modulated signal represents the original story (an ancient mythical or legendary story)
3) The original modulated signal can be re-modulated. The original story can change some characters or their names, and/or it can be set in a different place. Characters could be “democratized.” Originally divine characters could be morphed into human characters (heros or ancestors). A theological or moralistic point could be added etc. Such re-modulation often leaves some inconsistencies as remodulation is not thorough. Inconsistencies can be used to uncover the original signal and understand the intentions behind remodulation.

One example of remodulation is for instance a story of the incest of Lot. On the surface it is a moralistic judgmental story about shameful origins of the ancestors of difficult neighboring nations of Moab and Amon.

In history this story of Lot’s incest has been a popular material for painters. We can also observe cultural changes and trends by the amount of skin exposed. (I used a painting by Hendrik Goltzius from 1616 as a wallpaper for most of the slides in this series - Picasa software and this blog automatically censored it clearly for being too explicit ;-)


After the discovery and decipherment of texts from the North Syrian city of Ugarit, scholars realized that one of the texts constitutes a close mythical parallel to Lot’s story.

Another biblical text about twins became of some interest. It is probably a different reworking of the similar mytheme, with few changes. In all probability it was originally a North Semitic (Canaanite) story intended to preserve and defend the forces of fertility over against the human attempt to manipulate and limit them. In this respect Conservative Christian bioethics shares so much with those whom they would call despicable polytheistic pre-Isralite Semites! ;-)

The final example is a story of the intoxicated and stripping Noah. In the Bible this story functions to cast in bad light the ancestors of Canaanites as those who took advantage (probably also sexual advantage) of an intoxicated father-figure.

Direct sources from these polytheistic Levantines/Canaanites show, that although they were aware of the intoxicating powers of alcoholic beverages, and probably drunk a lot. They had a well-developed code of conduct and ethical norms for such situations. The Levantine/Canaanites themselves would be horrified at the behaviour of Ham. The story itself could be of pre-biblical (Canaanite) origin. While blessing and curse or probably as little as some changes of names of characters could be parts of the remodulation.



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