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."

2021/12/30

God and her loom

The Bible is full of surprising images and metaphors when it speaks about God. Take for instance Jesus’ parable of the lost coin. In it God is compared to a housewife sweeping the floor.

     The Hebrew Bible contains similarly surprising metaphors. When, for instance, Job (7:6-8) and prophet Isaiah (38:12) lament the fleeting nature of human life they use a metaphor of weaving. Job is the most evocative comparing human life to a weft, the thread swiftly flying off the shuttle.

            That is a highly surprising image because within the context it implies that God is the weaver. And here you need to understand that throughout the Middle East the spinning and weaving were activities for women. We know it from myths, documents, as well as, artwork. And it is confirmed by the bible itself. Delila is to fasten and weave Samson’s hair in her loom (Jdg 16:13). And part of the Josiah reform, we are told (2Ki 23:7), was that he threw out female weavers from the temple.

            For all the ancient middle eastern people a weaver God takes up a clearly feminine role, female household work. As much as the Hebrew Bible is predominantly patriarchal and God is portrayed as male, there are these surprising depictions of God clearly taking over female gender roles. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

 

Join us this first Sunday of the year 2022, we will lift up and expound this image of a divine weaver – far from talking about a loom of gloom, it in reality contains a beautiful, illuminating and hopeful message.

 

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And for those who read this far and might be interested in understanding the Bible within the context of the Ancient Near Eastern religion here are a few more words.

            In the mythology from Ugarit (Ball cycle, KTU 1.4.ii), it is the goddess Asherah who is depicted as spinning and dyeing a yarn. And those earlier mentioned female weavers who were thrown out of the temple by Josiah, were allegedly making fabric for the same goddess. 

            It is therefore possible that in the process of monotheisation of the biblical religion, this single Biblical God absorbed some attributes, functions and activities of the goddess Asherah, thus combining gender roles, and becoming biblical version of divine Herm-Aphrodite.

            Earlier we made several short videos and some blog entries linked here:

 

"Does YHWH Have a Womb?" https://youtu.be/5AYosnwrtz0 "God Our Mother" https://youtu.be/WssQ06JRw24

2021/11/19

Fragrant Christ


It is a sign of biblical literacy, if not basic cultural competence, to know that “Christ” was not Jesus’ second name nor his surname. Children in the Sunday School learn that Christ is from the Greek word χριστὸς and itself is a translation of Hebrew word Messiah מָשִׁיחַ and in both cases the meaning is “The anointed one”. And they also learn that anointing was an Ancient Near Eastern act of promoting persons to some high offices, to priesthood, kingship, occasionally to a role of prophet. Thus sur-name “Christ” is in fact an honorific title. Our modern theology and liturgy tries to highlight this original meaning by using expression "Jesus the Christ".      
    
Nevertheless, the New testament writings and the Early Christianity were fully immersed in the Hellenistic Greek Culture and in it the inaugural anointing was not widely used and known. And thus already from the later parts of the New Testament onward the title Christ lost the meaning of an honorific title and started to function as a second name, it became part of a holy name (nomen sacrum).
   
And this early (biblical) onset of pious ignorance is something you might not know about the New Testament Bible.

 

I mentioned that the Hebrew word messiah מָשִׁיחַ was an honorific title indicating that the person was inaugurated into some higher-ranking position by the act of anointing - pouring fragrant oil over them. Kings, priests and prophets were called anointed. 

    But the act of religious anointing (root משׁח) was not reserved for people alone. Religiously anointed were also the temple furniture (ark, lampstand, incense table, utensils) even the sanctuary/tabernacle itself. Anointing was a religious ritual consecrating objects or people as holy, setting them apart for special religious functions.

    Anointing was in fact a liturgically enacted metaphor with several interconnected meanings. 

Oils have preservative faculties that slow down rusting or rotting - thus anointing visualized and represented this desire to forestall decay. Before the invention of soap, oils played an important role in personal hygiene (rubbing oils on skin and scraping off dirt) - thus anointing was associated with cleanliness. Oils and ointments especially infused with herbs are used until now in medicine - thus anointing represented this desire to protect the health of the anointed. Oils infused with herbs were also used as perfumes, covering or repelling unpleasant odors. Here you need to understand that in ancient times it was about more than just cosmetics. Demons were believed to reek - thus anointing actualized repelling demons.

    Anointing was associated with preservation, cleanliness, health and repelling of demons, it was in fact apotropaic magic - a high brow religious ritual to set objects or persons apart and to express desire in protecting them from evil influences. 

    And this deep apotropaic function of anointing is something you might not know about the Bible (biblical religion).

 

And here is a YouTube video of the sermon: Fragrance of Loving Care.

2021/11/04

Mythic Grains

Ugaritic tablet KTU 1.6 with text of part of Baal Cycle.
Among the Ugaritic Mythological texts, there is this interesting part of Baal myth (KTU 1.6.ii.31-37 in my translation and partly reconstructed from parallels).

     Goddess Anat grasped divine Mot,

     with a trashing blades she split him,

     with a fan she winnowed him,

     with fire she parched him,

     with millstones she ground him,

     on the steppe she scattered him,

     in the furrows she sowed him.

     His remains the birds did indeed eat,

     his remnants the sparrows did consume.

 

     Do you recognize how similar it is to the parable which Jesus said?! The one about the different seeds landing in different soils and about their different destinies.

     Well, I am not suggesting that Jesus copied ancient Canaanite myths, of course he did not. Those myths are twelve hundred years older and were buried in the ruins of the city for centuries.

     But Jesus was certainly drawing from the same treasure of religious metaphors. Those religious metaphors about grain date from great antiquity, from the beginning of farming, thousands of years before the time of Jesus or the time of Ugarit.

            And these mythical metaphors were not limited to Hebrew or Semitic people. It is likely that similar grain metaphors played an important role in the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries. And among the hairs of Celtic religion and culture are present in the ballad John Barleycorn must die (A friend Neil Nash alerted me to this fact.)

            In the New Testament Jesus is not the only one who uses this grain metaphor. Apostle Paul reached out to the same mythic treasure when he tried to explain to the Corinthians (1Cor15) the resurrection. He used the similar metaphor of grain being buried and then rising to new life.

            And thus through Apostle Paul and the parables of Jesus we share this important, meaningful and beautiful connection with the dawn of civilization, the beginning of agriculture, and the oldest shared hopes of transcending our mortality.

            And that is something you might not know about the Bible, about the New Testament metaphors and their deep, meaningful, mythical roots. 

 

Video version of this blog can be found here.

2021/10/28

Martin Luther and Witches

One of our most watched video clips on YouTube is “Something you might not know about Martin Luther”.  It is provocative (definitely for some) but a truthful take on Luther’s visceral medieval belief in the existence of the Devil. Here is the link to this short video: https://youtu.be/-KPOMmDSPHU
    It became so “popular” because many faithful Protestants (especially Lutherans) became quite uneasy and unhappy about the content and shared their opinions and comments.
    I was born and brought up in one of Europe’s union denominations which was composed of both Lutherans and Calvinists and thus I received a thorough Lutheran upbringing and education. That way I know that true Lutherans do not worship Luther. He certainly was not a saint, he was a father of reformation but also a son of his time and shared many diverse and dangerous prejudices of his time.
    Besides the Devil or Satan, he also staunchly believed in the existence of witches. Luther is on record accusing witches of throwing charms on little children causing them such a sharp pain that they cried themselves to death. (Table talk in February and March 1533).
He also accused them of spoiling milk, eggs, and butter and for these minor infractions he approved the popular opinion that they should be burned (Table talk on 25 August 1538).
    We all know that was not a joke and how destructive this prejudice was costing hundreds and hundreds of innocent lives of those who for many different reasons did not fit within a tightly knit & rigid medieval/early modern society.
    But before we get all smug and finger pointing, accusing or ridiculing bigoted Luther and his superstitious times (or on the other side defending indefeasible!) - let us look where we are in our own world!
    Modern anthropologists (folklorists) find peculiarly close parallels between medieval witch prejudices and our modern anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.
    They share similar levels of prejudice, fear, and irrationality; similar tidbits of facts chained into the most bizarre combinations; similar illogical connections and narratives; and similar dangerous/destructive consequences - costing lives. Costing lives of those ensnared by these superstitions and unfortunately costing innocent lives of people around them. 

And that is something you might not know about ourselves and about our very own and dangerous superstitions and bigotry. 

    And now a word of hope and encouragement - Luther himself insisted he was not saved by his own goodness but by divine grace alone. We do not need to censor him or whitewash him. He certainly was a very conflicted and complex figure and he remains a bridge person from medieval prejudice into a more modern and more rational, enlightened paradigm.
    And exactly in this tension and transition between past and the future Luther can be our inspiration and our hope right where we are, tormented by our own manifold irrational political, medical and social conspiracy theories. 

Join us as we learn from the past to reach out forward for liberation and divine grace.   

 

And here is a video version of this blog. 

2021/09/30

New Testament Creation Story

In the Acts of Apostles (chapter 17) we read about Apostle Paul preaching in Athens on Areopagus. Well, it is not really his sermon. Evangelist Luke wrote it, following the well- established custom of Hellenistic historiographers. They would simply make up speeches they considered appropriate for the occasion and their characters. So in this sermon we have what evangelist Luke thought that Paul would preach. Thus it is our window to the early Christian homiletic (preaching at the time of Luke).
            The opening part of that sermon is a beautiful New Testament creation story. It talks about God creating the world and everything in it, giving life and breath to all living creatures, and creating all peoples from one ancestor, and allotting them their space and time.
            Then the sermon makes a reference to a classical poet whom we now know was legendary Epimenides. This quotation hints the mystic panentheism - that God and creation overlap, “in God we live and move and have our being.”
            When the biblical creation story is mentioned people usually think only about the book of Genesis and its well-known creation in six days. Here you have a beautiful little gem - a New Testament Creation story in addition deeply influenced by Classical Greek philosophy.
And this New Testament Creation Story is something you might not know about the Bible.

 

Now let us look closer at Epimenides. The quotation in the Acts of the Apostles, in what is supposed to be Paul’s sermon but we know was written by evangelist Luke - this is not the only time this legendary Cretan philosopher was quoted approvingly in the Bible.

            Epimenides is not named but is being quoted in the letter to Titus (1:12). It is a letter supposedly written by Paul but it was certainly not written by him. It was written together with the other pastoral epistles (1st and 2nd Timothy) about a generation or two after Paul.

            I cannot stress enough how unusual that is! To have a Greek philosopher quoted in the Bible. And in addition it is the same Greek philosopher or more precisely this semi-legendary pagan prophet. And it is in the documents written at the similar time and both pretending to be written or spoken by Paul.

            What a strange coincidence! It can certainly suggest that pastoral epistles (1&2Timoty and Titus) and the writings of Evangelist Luke (his gospel and the Acts) might share some common background, if not outright the same author’s hand. And this strange closeness of evangelist Luke and Pastoral epistles is another thing you might not know about the bible. 

 

2021/09/23

Biblical gender changes


The last two months we’ve been asking “Who wrote the bible?” In the process we made some surprising, eye opening, and liberating discoveries. Below in this blog you can check the older articles and here you can find some older videoclips and sermons.

But the Bible which we have in our hands was not finished when the last ancient author put down the pen. The biblical authors were followed by editors and translators. And you might be surprised how much “creative” freedom they exercised!

            For instance, they could invent and include an entire biblical story. Good example could be one of the best known biblical stories about a woman caught in adultery with the even more famous pronouncement who is without guilt throw the first stone. This entire story was not in the Bible for several centuries! It is certainly absent from the earliest manuscripts. And when it was finally included, it was not always where it can be found now (in John 8). Some manuscripts had it at the end of the Gospel of John and some others in the linguistically and stylistically more fitting gospel of Luke. So, here you have an example of what editors could do! It is a beautiful story and very much Jesus-like, teaching tolerance and forgiveness, there can be hardly any opposition against it. 

            But there are also more sinister changes to the Bible. For example, those which were generated by the vicious misogyny of the later church. And so ancient editors and biblical translators (some of them until now) actively engaged in gender change of a number of biblical characters.

            In the original texts of Pauline letters were some prominent female characters like Euodia, or Synthyche (in the letter to Phillipians)  or Junia (in the letter to Romans) - but by different hands at different times, by different editors and translators all three of these women were made into males. We know (because they told us) that at least some of those who did it were unable to accept the reality that proud and strong women played important roles in early apostolic church.

            And so conservative patriarchal editors and translators (among them the translators of the King James Bible) actively engaged in quite a radical activity of gender change.

 

And these willful textual gender changes are something you might not know about the bible.

 

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And here are all the video episodes from this series "Who wrote the bible?"
Moses - "Moses In Attic - Lies about the Torah's age?" https://youtu.be/pbUz-PihKo8
David - "David the Hellene - was he a Jewish mercenary?" https://youtu.be/gtesJfLluC8
Isaiah - "Gospel In Cuneiform - Was she really a virgin?" https://youtu.be/Dp8G8Pm4nmI
Daniel - "Biblical Hopscotch - Apocalyptic Delirium?" https://youtu.be/e84fVv43gb4
Luke - "Hellenistic Luke - Biblical Entertainment?" https://youtu.be/F_qG1T3nSws
Not Paul - "Pauline Forgery - Biblical lies?" https://youtu.be/47H3oaPPhuk
Paul's Disciples? - "Biblical Fraudster At Work?" https://youtu.be/dv1fGElAix8
Editors and translators - "Biblical Gender Changes" https://youtu.be/wnQaHFeOuhI

 

2021/09/16

Biblical fraudster in action

In 2 Thessalonians (2:2) the author (supposedly the Apostle Paul) warns his readers against a fake letter written in his name and forged to deceive and mislead recipients.
     Wait a moment! What? Isn’t that a definition of a fraud? How could it be mentioned just that matter-of-factly? Such a blatant fraud must had been a reason for alarm! Unmasking and stopping the fraudster should have been the first item on the agenda. It should have been the primary focus of this letter. Subtle matters of theology could have waited.
     Well, there was a reason why it was not the primary focus. The situation was even more serious because this casual warning against a fraud letter was itself not written by Paul, it was written by a fraudster himself!  
     From the end of the 18th century there were serious doubts about Paul’s authorship of the Second Thessalonians. And throughout the 19th century academic theologians reached the consensus; the Second Thessalonains was not written by an apostle. There are multiple reasons for it starting with vocabulary, grammar, style, theology and its tone. But beyond all this forensic linguistics, this letter also contains several recognized forgery techniques and among them is this casual warning against the fraud. It is a known fraudulent maneuver.
     Here you have a Biblical fraudster crying “Beware of fraud!” And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

Now, why do I bring this up?
Firstly, because the truth and honesty is of the utmost value.  
Secondly, I bring it up to defend apostle Paul. He has been accused of many faults - misogyny, militarism, support of slavery, stiff conservative values... Much of it is in those fake letters, in those, which he did not write.
Thirdly, the church, theologians but also regular ministers and church members need to face the fact that more than half of the New Testament letters are fake. And they are not innocently fake, they are like our example of premeditated deceitful forgeries.
Here I would like to share an archeology parable:
Middens - ancient rubbish-piles - are an invaluable source of information for modern archeology.
Archeologists can learn from the ancient garbage more than from any ancient monuments or artistic masterpieces.
Biblical fake letters are like those middens - garbage piles. They were created by throwing things out and piling them up. And like those piles they offer us unfiltered insight into the second century church and its struggles, the nice the neutral and the ugly. We can observe how they lived, what they valued, what they struggled about and perhaps we can learn what to do and what not to do.
Approaching these letters as middens is a revealing, enlightening and liberating experience. 

2021/09/09

Pauline Forgeries

The first column of Colossians
from the Codex Sinaiticus

I vividly remember reading Colossians in Greek during my seminary studies in Prague. Right away the first chapter is just 6 Greek sentences. Very, very, very long and convoluted complex sentences. Each sentence is a paragraph long and one has as many as 158 words! Any normal modern attempt for translation had to divide those 6 sentences into smaller chunks.

            That language is simply not from Paul, NO WAY! Paul’s own sentences are usually half as long, pointed, argumentative, with a drive and his grammar and syntax were also different.

These are all features of language which do not change easily - you can change your style for artistic reasons but it would be strange not to say contra-productive in a letter. In a letter it is desirable to come across as recognizable by the recipient.

            Of course this suspicion of biblical forgeries is nothing new. There were ancient doubts about some of the writings (Hebrews) and from the end of the 18th century there is ever growing and persuasive arguments in that direction.

            But it is one way to hear about it and read about it and it is something different to experience it first hand. From this early experience I have been convinced that Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus and of course Hebrews were not written by apostle Paul. They are pious forgeries.

            And that is something you might not know about the bible and quite likely something you have hardly ever heard in a church. 

 

Biblical forgeries will be our theme next Sunday. This Sunday will be about the genuine Pauline letters, but even they have some interesting and profound surprises.

2021/09/02

Hellenist Luke

According to an early Christian legend the Evangelist Luke was a physician friend of Apostle Paul. It is difficult to make any judgement about Luke’s medical training. Similarly his relationship to apostle Paul is difficult to judge. He certainly did not know Paul well enough to capture his theology and thought process.
            On the other hand judging from Luke’s writing we know that he was a well educated Hellenistic intellectual. The Gospel of Luke is edited from earlier sources in a pleasant language, most sophisticated of all the other gospels and one of the best styles of the New Testament. And Luke’s second volume, the Acts of Apostles, is a real Hellenistic Masterpiece.  Modern scholars cannot decide about Acts’ precise inspiration or its exact literary category. Is it more a Hellenistic historiography, a Hellenistic Biography or a Hellenistic Novella? Difficult to decide.
       It is certain it shares some characteristic features of Hellenistic literature.
      It contains periodoi, travelogues - journeys of the main character. Hellenistic people were eager to read and learn about new distant lands, cities, cultures, customs, religions.
       It contains elements of teras or thauma - fascination with supra natural, miraculous or bizarre. Because Hellenistic audiences loved to be teased with religious or supra-natural mystery.
       Acts definitely contains aretology - lifting up virtues of the main character/s and setting him or them as examples for the audience.
       It also contains homiliai - made up speeches of the main characters - just like Hellenistic historiographer would insert in pivotal points believable but invented speeches.
       All of it is part of a highly entertaining even thrilling storytelling full of danger, suspension, jeopardy.
       It is really difficult to say what was the main source of inspiration, Hellenistic historiography, biography or novella. I would say that Luke like a proper creative intellectual was familiar and inspired by all the current literary styles. He used them to fit his own unique purpose, in fact he created his own and new style of THE ACTS OF APOSTLES.
       And that exactly what followed - after Luke and his Acts of Apostles - the early Christian literature from the mid 2nd Century is aflush with different acts of apostles- Acts of Andrew, Acts of Andrew and Mathias, Acts of John, Acts of Paul, Acts of Peter, Acts of Peter and Paul, Acts of Peter and the Twelve, Acts of Philip, Acts of Pilate, Acts of Tekla, and Acts of Thomas. And these are just those writings which survived till now and which we know.
       The Evangelist Luke is the first author and the father of this thrilling Hellenistic style, highly entertaining and at the same time educating. And that is something you might not know about the bible.

2021/08/20

Biblical Hopscotch

In our series “Who wrote the Bible” we come to the book of Daniel. It will be our introduction to the apocalyptic genre. There were earlier signs of apocalypticism in several older prophecies, but for the most part the book of Daniel is considered the beginning of the biblical apocalyptic genre - those expressionistic, ear-catching prophetic revelations how history is progressing towards the end. Daniel is an excellent early example of it, and as a book it is highly unusual, a book itself that was written in several languages, but also extremely problematic.
      Already in the ancient times, around the year 300 CE a Greek Philosopher Porphyry of Tire pointed out historical and authorship problems. Porphyry “denied that it was composed by the person to whom it is ascribed in its title, but rather by some individual living in Judaea at the time of that Antiochus who was surnamed Epiphanes; he further alleged that ‘Daniel’ did not foretell the future so much as he related the past, and lastly that whatever he spoke of up till the time of Antiochus contained authentic history, whereas anything he may have conjectured beyond that point was false, inasmuch as he would not have foreknown the future.”
     This is a loose quotation from Jerome, translator of the Bible into Latin (Vulgate). And we must be thankful for these apologetic disapproving quotations, because they are our only sources of this Porphyry’s book about Daniel.  100 years later, after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Emperor Theodosius II ordered all the copies of Porphyry book burned, not once, but twice! In 435 and then for good measure again in 448.
     It took Christian theologians another 1400 years, until enlightenment, to acknowledge that Porphyry was right after all and his scholarship was sound. With the growing body of historical and archeological knowledge of the ancient Middle East it became ever more clear that Daniel is absolutely sketchy about the time when it was supposedly written. And here are some examples of blaring anachronisms and contradictions.
1) Daniel writes about Nebuchadnezzar “madness” but if anything such an episode is known only about Nabonidus.
2) Daniel treats Balshazzar as a king of Babylon, but he was never a king of Babylon, if anything he was possibly a crown prince .
3) Balshazzar also was emphatically not a son of Nabuchadnezzar, he was a son of Nabonidus.
4) Daniel claims that Dareius the Meade (this cognomen itself is anachronism) conquered Babylon while it is a well known fact that it was the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great who did it, after earlier battles Babylon opened its gates to him without a fight.
5) Dareius was not a son of Xerxes as Daniel claims, in reality Xerxes was a son of Dareius.
            Thus the Book of Daniel is not only wrong about predicting the future beyond Antiochus Epiphanes as Porphyry observed, the book of Daniel is also completely wrong about the past, when it was supposedly written and about the events which should been fresh in the memory of the author.
     This is, dear friends, the beginning and foundation of the apocalyptic genre. Source and inspiration of all those feverish, fiery and often bloody visions of the end of times. In reality it is a forgery and quite a sloppy forgery at that!
     And that is unfortunately something many Americans might not know about the Bible even now. I am singling out our religious/fundamentalist compatriots because in the last several centuries especially American fundamentalist have been a steady source of apocalyptic excesses.
     The Book of Daniel was the basis for Milerites (later known as Adventists) to calculate the end of the world. It played an important role for Jehovah witnesses and several other groups after them (Davidians or Peoples Temple).
     Imagine selling all your property, upending your lives and waiting on hills (and it can be even more sinister - drinking Kool-Aid) and imagine that somewhere at the foundation of all of that nonsense is a sloppy forgery in which Babylon is conquered by Darius, Darius! That is why education matters in all aspects of life and also in theology and in faith!
     On the other hand if we abandon this folly’s errand, this crazy idea that Daniel is predicting the future until now, and take a sober approach and perceive it as a literary product of a religious person (or a group of persons) who felt marginalized, alienated and attacked by a hegemonic foreign culture and religion, then the book of Daniel can offer us invaluable insights into human religious psyche and even possibly bring some sparks of hope to the extreme times and situations.
And that is what we will attempt to do this Sunday.




2021/08/13

Gospel in Cuneiform

A recreation of KTU 1.24.7
Among the Ugaritic cuneiform tablets dated to 12th century BCE is also a myth about the wedding of Yarich (moon god) to a princess called Nikal-and-Ib (KTU 1.24)
            The seventh line reads hlģlmt.tldbn - “Look, the sacred bride shall bear a son...”
            It is almost identical (with just minor dialectical variations and one omitted word) to what is in the prophet Isaiah 7:14 “Look, the young woman is pregnant and shall bear a son...”
            The Ugaritic word ģlmt and corresponding Hebrew ‘lmh were words for a princess, possibly with some religious function. But this word primarily designated a young noble woman who hasn’t given birth yet (in the medical Latin - Nullipara).
            Originally this phrase was quite likely a linguistically and culturally established way of announcing a birth to a new mother. (Similar phrasing is used to about the birth of Ishamel to Hagar and Isaac to Sarah). 
            But then, when Isaiah was translated from Hebrew to Greek ‘lmh - “the nullipara princess” became παρθενος - “a virgin”. The Septuagint was the Bible of the Church and so “virgin” found its way to the Gospel of Matthew and indirectly to the Gospel of Luke while simultaneously generating virginal phantasms of early church theology. 

And this Nativity Gospel in Cuneiform is something you might not know about the Bible.

2021/08/04

David the Hellene

David and Goliath is a beautifully crafted story. The bucolic pastoral innocence of David is alluringly contrasted with his vulgar mercenary opponent.  And more is there than meets the ear of the modern reader or listener. This story has the Hellenistic heroic legend written all over it.

            Beside the idyllic pastoral setting the antiquity is further alluded by what is called the single combat. Such single combat especially when presented as a ritualized substitute for a battle has many classical echoes and was to indicate the antiquity of the story. David’s glorious spolia opima - a stripping and repossessing of the armor of the defeated enemy - was a well recognized trope and the highest rank of military achievement worthy of the dynastic founder. Similar legends circulated for instance about Romulus and other heroes of antiquity. 

            Talking about Goliath’s armor, it is a clear example of a biblical anachronism. Goliath’s armor simply does not fit what is known about the late bronze age Philistines (no matter how many times the word bronze is repeated) but it closely resembles the armor of a Hellenic hoplite.

            And from the textual perspective, there is a substantial difference between the Hebrew and Greek versions. In most of the cases it is Greek Septuagint which contains textual expansions. In this case it is the other way round. The Hebrew text is half a chapter longer thus further pointing to relatively late textual developments.

            These are all signs of the Hellenistic composition of this legend. And at its center is another strong argument which might elude many modern readers. It is the very choice of David’s weapon, his sling. Modern readers can be easily lured into perceiving it, just as it is skillfully and seductively presented, as a bucolic pastoral reference. But that was certainly not the case at the time of composition.

            A sling was a regular military weapon and units of slingers were well established parts of ancient armies. There are numerous references to the military use of slingers from the time of Homer onward (Ajax, the son of Oileus). Xenophone in his Anabasis writes extensively about the deployment of the Persian as well as Greek slingers. Furthermore, the archeological finds of sling projectiles, stone, clay, and especially lead, from all around the Mediterranean Basin, further confirm the well-established and long lasting use of this serious weapon.

            Without a doubt there was a difference between a hoplite warrior and a skirmisher (light infantry) slinger. Hoplites were wealthy aristocratic citizens while slingers were often recruited from among the specific groups of peasants, for instance Hellenistic slingers were from Rhodos, while later in the Punic period the Balearic slingers gained reputation (mortally wounding Consul Paulus at the battle of Cannae). This difference of rank between Goliath and David, a hoplite warrior and a slinger skirmisher made the tale immediately understood and appreciated all around the Hellenistic world.

            David and Goliath is a well known biblical legend, but its military Hellenistic background is something not many might know about the Bible.

 

A lead sling projectile from the collection of the British Museum.
The Greek text cast on it reads ΔΕΞΑΙ - "Here you go!" or "Catch this!"


 

- - - - - - -

Occasionally there are questions about the academic sources of claims made in these blogs. I decided to list some of the sources.
Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman: David and Solomon, New York 2006
John Van Seters: The Biblical Saga of King David, Winona Lake, 2009
Philippe Wajdenbaum: Argonauts of the Desert, Routledge 2011