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."


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!"


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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



Moses in Attic

I hear Moses in Attic. Well, more precisely, I hear Moses speaking Attic. And I do not mean he was a rich New Yorker living in a penthouse or a poor student in a mansard apartment. I mean Attic in the sense of the Classical Greek language, culture and influence.
    It has been a known and well established fact for centuries that the Hebrew Bible is full of anachronisms. Those are historical and geographical realities which simply do not fit the period into which they are being cast (like Jonah meeting the king of Nineveh or Abraham having camels). But very often they do not fit even the period in which they were supposedly being written down. And so the location name “Ur of Chaldeans” could not possibly be given by Judean exiles in Babylon, they would know it was nonsense.  
    Well, Five books of Moses were written in Hebrew, just like lion share of the Hebrew Bible (not counting a few chapters in Aramaic).  But in their final form they came into existence and were greatly influenced by the Greek culture. The entire idea of writing a history points towards the specific period when it became “a thing”.  This desire to write history came around the time of Herodotus and not much earlier. Before that, there were monumental inscriptions, royal annals and heroic legends, but not concerted attempts on writing a narrative history.
    That brings me to even a stronger argument of the literary genre. The narrative genre of these writings is important and greatly revealing. Homer wrote epic poetry while Herodotus or Xenophon wrote in prose. Ugaritic legends of King Keret or Danel were all written in epic poetry while Books of Moses are predominantly written in a narrative prose. Biblical prose is the biggest anachronism of all biblical anachronisms, staring right into our face and thus almost invisible. Biblical prose is but unique and unexplainable unless we date it to a different epoch.
    Both the desire to write a history and the style in which it is being accomplished point towards the late classical and early Hellenistic period and towards Greek cultural and intellectual influences. And thus, the Books of Moses were written in Hebrew all right, but I hear them speaking Attic in respect of their period and culture.
    This is a relatively new and still developing biblical scholarship called Copenhagen or Scandinavian School. And thus it is quite likely something you might not know about the Bible.

Come this Sunday to rejoice in transformative and liberating consequences of these new theological developments.

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Occasionally there are questions about the academic sources of claims made in these blogs. I decided to list some of the sources.
Did Moses Speak Attic (Jewish Historiography and Scripture in the Hellenistic Period) Edited by Lester L. Grabbe, Sheffield 2001.


Jonah and the Very Hungry Caterpillar

Just imagine for a moment this purely hypothetical scenario:

Imagine a person or persons who present themselves as deeply religious, who know all the right religious answers, and quote the Bible up and down, but strangely remain untouched by its spirit.

            Imagine those who use religion to prop up all their resentments and prejudices, who are harsh and unforgiving towards others but love to play the victims, who on the surface might seem kind and caring, but they turn religion into a tool of vicious vindictiveness. Imagine those who are religiously self-righteous and thus unwilling and unable to change and to forgive.

            Hard to imagine such a scenario, right? Very likely you never met such people, they probably do not exist. Such people do not rule many denominations and religious organizations. They do not use religion to scale to political power and when they attain that power, they do not want to pass harsh and harmful laws and they do not hide their racism behind a holy religious facade.

            But just in the highly unlikely case that you are to meet them, what can you do? How to dissuade them from this hypocrisy and religious travesty?

            You might not know it about the Bible but in the book of Jonah God treats this sick, sick, sick religion with humor and in the final chapter of that book God sends a very hungry caterpillar to gnaw holes into this bigoted, prejudiced, self righteous religion. That is our theme this Sunday.





Biblical Anachronisms

A substantial part of the Bible, especially the Hebrew Testament, was written much much later than many people are made to believe. That is to say, it is much younger than it pretends to be. The ubiquitous anachronisms are tale-tale signs.

            What is an anachronism? If I told you that on my last visit to my European homeland I saw the King of Prague you would know that something was up, that I was pulling your leg or I had lost all my marbles. The Czech Republic is not a kingdom and there has never been any king of Prague. It would be like saying the Queen of London or the King of Stockholm.

             We read something similar in the book of Jonah about the king of Nineveh. There was never a king of Nineveh! It was always a king of Assyria. Perhaps, it might be a king IN Nineveh, but that is not what is in the Bible.

           More over the Assyrian Empire had a number of capitals. Nineveh was perhaps the best known capital of the Neo Assyrian empire, but the dates simply don’t fit even if we take seriously the dates of legendary Jonah. It does not fit by about 100 years.

            And so the King of Nineveh in the book of Jonah might sound plausible on the surface, but when you look closer it is all an inaccurate anachronism because the Book of Jonah was written hundreds and hundreds of years later and for other purpouse than history.

            Jonah was clearly written as a parody or satire book. It is even possible that these anachronisms were part of its satirical aim (like for instance our spoofs about The Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers). But primarily, the book of Jonah was written to ridicule and thus to provide a balance to chauvinism and religious intolerance of its time and of such biblical books like Ezra, Nehemia or Ester.

            Jonah is a comedy book with a serious purpose - supporting a tolerant, unbiased, cosmopolitan outlook. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.



Biblical Monsters

The Hebrew Bible is surprisingly aflush with mythical primordial monsters which it shares with other Near and Middle East religions and cultures. It is especially surprising when you consider that is coming from one of the driest parts of the world full of savannas, deserts, and semi-deserts.

            Probably best known among those monsters is Leviathan. In Ugaritic known as Litanu. Sometimes it is paralleled with a serpent monster, possibly with seven heads.

            Next well known monster could be Behemoth. Possibly a bull like amphibian beast present in water as well as on land. One is almost led to imagine it like a monstrous hippopotamus. In ancient Near East sources it might be associated with similar amphibian monsters like Atik and Arshu.

           Besides these two well-known water monsters there was also Tannin, known in Ugaritic as Tunnanu. There are signs it was perceived like a monstrous crocodile but likely with two tails. This monster eventually made it to the Greek language as Tuna fish  and thus also into our tins. ;-)

            Then there was a monster called Rahab known possibly just from the Bible. But there might be two instances of it in broken and obscure Akkadian texts. It is also likely that this monster was known under its descriptive names like for instance “Seven-headed Serpent”, or “Encyrclerer”.  

            Finally there was Tehom known from Babylon as Tiamat, a monster of primordial chaos. In the Bible Tehom is often demythologized as "the ocean deep", but there are also well documented instances where it is clearly a divine or semi-divine demonic figure (for instance in Job 28:14 or Pslam 42:8).

          And the presence of all these mythical monsters in the Hebrew Bible is something you might not know about it.

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All these sea monsters are clear vestiges of a rather complex creation mythology. The world was created and made habitable by all these monsters being slain, vanquished or at least captured and kept under check.  

            The first battle happened at the beginning of time. The forces of chaos were defeated and an orderly and civilized world came into being.

          Unfortunately, some of these monsters, or the forces they represented, were only rebuffed or perhaps they escaped. They need to be constantly under check. That is the source of persistant anxiety as well as a reason for many prayers. And in this context we can observe these monsters being linked with historical enemies: Egypt, Babylon, Hellenistic kingdoms or later in the New Testament Rome.

            But the final and complete victory is coming. These monsters will be decisively defeated at the end of time. This part of the myth is for instance present in the biblical book of Revelation in its vision of the final victory over the dragon. 

           As you can see, this is a rather complex tripartite monster-mythology embracing the entirety of time. Its presence in the Bible is another thing you might not know about the Bible.

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All of this is, as you can recognize, quite a dense mythological material. It does not fit neatly with biblical monotheism and its program of toning down old mythological references. And so the biblical scribes and editors used several strategies to make it fit with their overarching program.

            Firstly they re-naturalized these monsters. They attempted to return them back to the beasts from which they most likely originated. There are clear attempts to portray Behemoth as hippopotamus, Tanin as a crocodile, and  Leviathan as a whale.

           Secondly and somehow overlapping with the previous strategy, these monsters were “domesticated”. They were made less horrifying and even portrayed as playful. For instance, Psalmist (Psalm 104:26) describes Leviathan as created by God to romp in the sea.

            The next step was when a sea monster was made to faithfully serve divine purpose. In the book of Jonah a sea monster follows divine command and swallows a rebellious prophet. Being thusly swallowed by a monster must had been the stuff of horrid nightmares! But then we realize that the monster had a hard time keeping the rebellious prophet inside. And as soon as God allowed, it vomited him on shore (Jonah 2:10).

          Such use of a mythical sea monster for parody and comic effect was the last stage of the biblical demythologization of monsters. And that is yet another, third thing, you might not know about the biblical monsters.