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 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