Judaism and Christianity - Two Thousand Years of Lies

[...] The Hebrew Bible is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a historical document, and trying to understand the history of Palestine by reading the Bible is like trying to understand Medieval history by reading Ivanhoe. Niels Peter Lemche, a biblical scholar at the University of Copenhagen, writes:

[...]there is very little correlation between the biblical portrait of the past and the nonbiblical evidence from actual Bronze Age cultures. We must conclude, however, not that the biblical authors were unsuccessful historians but that they were not at all interested in providing anything like a historical report of the past. They wrote for other reasons, and they used history as the vehicle for their message. When approaching the literature of the Old Testament, people of modern times must realize that the ancient authors did not write primarily for posterity, that is, for us, but for the benefit of their contemporary audience. They followed the moral and aesthetic expectations of their time; they would have had no idea of the rules that govern modern historical studies and interests.

[...]The liberation from Egypt is a critical moment in the history of Israel. A nation and its religion depend upon it. Without it, Israel's nationhood would have been a historical footnote, and its faith in Yahweh as the God of Israel would have remained insignificant. The Exodus represents more than a national liberation: it marks the birth of a nation and justifies that nation's very existence.

Two other events become important "foundation legends" for the Israelites: the revelation at Sinai, and the occupation of Canaan. The Exodus marks the beginning of the people and the source of its identity, but the people also need a religion and a land. Without both, the people cannot survive but will face annihilation. A national identity requires a concrete, physical space within which to develop. Without its religion, the people would wander aimlessly through the wilderness like ghostly figures.

At Sinai, Yahweh presents himself as the God who liberated Israel from Egyptian bondage - the very same God who at the beginning of history entered into an exclusive relationship with the patriarchs and promised them a beautiful land.[...]

Finally, at Sinai, Yahweh becomes Israel's God in concreto. A contract or "covenant" seals this bond between a people and its God. Thus, the law of Yahweh becomes the legal basis for the nation and for the Israelites' everlasting obligation to their God. Two principles of this covenant inexorably solidify their religious identity. First, the collective religious consciousness of the Israelites confirms that Yahweh is and always will be their God. Second, all Israelites must now and forever conform to the lay of Yahweh, in effect, Israel's "constitution." Thus, the law simplifies what it means to be an Israelite, under God's protection. And anyone who fails to obey is no longer a member of that people.

As for the land, the fulfillment of that promise lies in the future. Yet God makes a pledge at Sinai: if they adhere to the stipulations of the law, the people will inhabit the land and own it. This is not merely a story about a divine revelation; rather, it represents a program for the future of the Israelite nation. Until the people finally live in the "land," one cannot truly call the people "Israel."

In this way, the denial of the historicity of these bedrock elements of the Israelite historical narratives comes close to a denial of the very existence of the Israelite people. Thus, dismissing the Exodus narrative as a historical source is far more serious than taking a critical view of the historical content of the patriarchal tradition. [...]

Predictably, many conservative Christians and Jews become troubled by skeptical voices that question the historicity of the Exodus narratives. Both Christians and Jews consider themselves Israel's true descendants; therefore, to them, these criticisms represent "negative" or even heretical opinions. They do not view these theories as objective analyses of the Exodus or the revelation at Sinai; they see them as attacks on their own religious identities.

If, however, we disregard such concerns - it is after all not the purpose of a critical investigation to protect the presumed identity between the living and the dead members of a certain religious community - it is quite obvious that the Exodus narrative is largely made up of literary elements that closely resemble the ones already found in the book of Genesis. ... The book of Exodus represents a literary quilt, pieced together from the fragments of universal and timeless adventure stories and legends. These are examples of narrative art rather than specifically Israelite folk literature. Appreciating the utility of their plots and characters, the biblical authors appropriated these universal tales and reconstituted them with their own Israelite template. [...]

Initially, this Exodus-Sinai complex seems like a coherent narrative unit. Yet upon further examination, the events and legislation at Mount Sinai represent the narrative's literal and figurative high points. The importance of the Sinai event is so profound that it disturbs the narrative balance of the Exodus-Sinai complex. Sinai simply disrupts the narrative that takes the reader from Egypt to Canaan. Without regard for the narrative consistency, Mount Sinai bursts into the Israelites otherwise uninterrupted march from the Sea of Reeds to the Jordan River.

For years, Old Testament scholars have recognized the narrative discontinuity between the Sinai complex and the Pentateuch's overall narrative scheme.

Thus, almost sixty years ago, Gerhard von Rad suggested that the Sinai complex is not one of the original narrative components of the Pentateuch. For him, these are two originally independent narrative units, on the one side the Exodus and wilderness stories, and on the other the Sinai revelation. They were written independently and only later joined together. (See von Rad, "The Form-Critical Problem of the Hexateuch," in "The problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays (trans. E.W. Trueman Dicken; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966).

For von Rad, the borderline between the Exodus narrative and the Sinai revelation is in Exodus 14 (Exod 15, the renowned "Song of the Sea," is an independent unit and not part of either complex). ... clearly, the Exodus narrative is related to the Passover, and Sinai to the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). The two traditions merge much later. The inclusion of the Sinai revelation into the narrative string of the Exodus and wilderness stories must perforce be later than the composition of a credo text such as Deut 26: 5-9.

Of course, the late combination of two originally independent narrative units does not exclude further elaborations and additions, especially those which create smooth literary transitions between the Exodus and Sinai material. Each narrative complex carries its own religious meaning and background. They arose independently and came together at a later date. Consequently, we must consider their historicity separately. If we confirm the historicity of one complex, we cannot assume the historicity of the other.

Moses, the towering figure of the narrative, guarantees the fundamental unity of the Exodus-Sinai wilderness complex. Moses himself functions as the glue that holds together the Exodus-Numbers tradition, each episode of which is inexorably linked to and defined by its hero. There is, however, reason to doubt that Moses is also the historical link between the Sinai revelation and its surrounding narrative complex. From a historian's vantage point, it might be questionable to see one and the same person as the center of two originally separate narrative units. This observation is important because it is almost impossible to separate Moses from either unit and consider him primary to one of them while secondary to the other. What is the Exodus narrative without Moses? Could Israel accept the tablets of the law from anyone other than Moses himself? Everything points to the narrative units' having been composed from the beginning with Moses in mind.

When they wrote their stories about Israel's past, the authors and the collectors of tradition saw Moses as more important than any of the narrative elements that they combined into the Exodus-Sinai wilderness complex. Thus, from the moment of its composition, Moses dominates the Exodus - Numbers complex. As a consequence of Moses' being an integral part of the narrative units in Exodus-Numbers, it must be concluded that he did not participate in any of the events recorded, which is a paradox since the narratives would not live without his presence. [...]

This uncertainty about Moses' identity surfaces again when we consider his many different roles. In some narratives he is portrayed with a multitude of characteristics, while other narratives characterize him more uniformly. The infant Moses' rescue from the river foreshadows his role as Israel's liberator, the figure of a prototypical ancient Near Eastern adventurer-hero. Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians all knew of tales about such child prodigies, a noteworthy example being the Akkadian hero-king Sargon. [...]

The legendary tales of Moses and Sargon foretell the future greatness of two marvelous heroes. Their authors used the rescue theme to distance their heroes from ordinary people. In this way, the hero is allowed to transgress the social conventions that normal people must follow. Without this freedom, no hero would ever succeed in radically changing the fortunes of his nation. [...]

When we consider the several components of the image of Moses in the Pentateuch, his role as the creator and legislator of the Israelite religion is clearly central. At Sinai, Moses mediates the covenant between Yahweh and Israel and conveys the content of God's law to the Israelites. That Moses should also function as Israel's supreme judge and ruler with the same power as the later Israelite kings will, in light of his other functions, hardly come as a surprise.

Moses is simply the unifying literary component in the Egypt-Sinai wilderness complex. Thorough him the authors spin a red thread that connects all the different episodes belonging to this complex of narratives. Yet one question persists: does any of this relate to a historical person called Moses? As we already noted, the Exodus-wilderness complex on the one hand and the Sinai periscope on the other were originally two independent literary units. Unity between them was only reached by introducing the figure of Moses to both narrative complexes. Before that happened, these narratives developed independently; without Moses, their authors would hardly have succeeded in bringing them together.

It is frequently said that the history of Israel's origin and religion presupposes one central and historical individual and is totally unfathomable without that person. Thus, it is quipped that if there had been no Moses, somebody would have to invent one! They say that Israel's early history is inconceivable without a genuine architect The answer is easy: yes, they did in fact invent Him! [...]

Sinai presents another dilemma. Where exactly did God appear to the Israelites? The ecclesiastical tradition that connects the present-day Jebel Musa (the Arab name means "mountain of Moses") with the biblical Mount Sinai only partially conforms to the biblical tradition. In the late narrative that begins in Exodus 19, a mountain appears. However, the description of the journey as well as other hints preserved by the narrative - does not point in the direction of Jebel Musa... [but] rather leads toward the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula and, more precisely, to the oasis Kadesh-barnea.

[A]nother problem persists. The divine revelation at Sinai described in the Old Testament cannot be reduced to a part of the history of early Israel. Such a revelation simply goes beyond what is from a historian's point of view acceptable, because God cannot be the subject of historical reflection ... they must rely on empirical facts. By nature, the Sinai revelation is not a historical subject. [...]

[This] applies as well to the desert wanderings. They must also conform to the criteria and scrutiny of scientific research. ...

Already, problems arise. The census in Numbers describes a massive migration composed of several hundred thousand people, who wandered the desert for forty years. And yet the general description in the Old Testament of the Israelite's desert sojourn has little in common with living conditions in such a place; it rather looks like a snapshot of a religious procession within a settled culture. The number of participants is astonishing. How could so many people survive in the desert? Already the biblical authors were met with such questions and they knew very well how to answer them clearly and absolutely: God provides for his people! Literature can handle miracles, history cannot. The biblical authors interject an intriguing answer to Israel's desert dilemmas, namely, God. Repeatedly, God solves the wanderers' problems with a series of mighty deeds... [...]

So the depiction of the desert wanderings found in Exodus through Numbers is a tradition that does not relate historical circumstances of immigration or life in the desert. This narrative is no more and no less than a literary fiction that has only one goal, namely, to move the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan. Only the most dedicated believer clings desperately to the notion that hundreds of thousand of humans survived forty years in the desert: clearly a barren and inhospitable environment.

To justify the historicity of the desert wanderings, we must modify the number of refugees leaving Egypt and tone down God's miraculous deeds so that we can analyze the historicity of the events they describe. Ultimately, the results will do violence to the biblical descriptions. Why? Because they run counter to the biblical version that not a few persons but a whole nation took part in those events. [...]

If we reduce these stories in the usual, but unlikely, way - taking them to be the memory of only a very small and unimportant group of Asians who escaped from Egypt sometime in the late second millennium BCE - then we must conclude that the Old Testament narratives are unhistorical. The Israelite people never lived in ancient Egypt. The authors of the Biblical narrative may have borrowed from the remembrance of a small group of persons who once had been in Egypt. This group eventually might have become part of the Israelite nation and their tradition a part of the national heritage.

When scholars accept a "small group" hypothesis, they do so to bypass the many historical problems raised by this narrative. Consequently, it is impossible to prove that such a group of emigrants from Egypt ever existed. By drastically reducing the number of people involved in the escape from Egypt, Scholars have made them invisible to the historian. [...]
Ultimately, the authors of the book of Exodus created the narratives as we know them. These writers - just like the authors of the patriarchal narratives in Genesis - created their own narrative universe. They wrote about places and events that never existed... they describe a literary world, not historical facts. [...]

[T]he Exodus and Sinai narratives were combined in a religious environment where the Law - the Torah - was already dominant, in other words, in an Israelite, or preferably Jewish, context. [...]

Long before scholars began to interpret the Egyptian clues about Yahweh, many tried to find the historical background for Moses' visit to Midian, the first place Yahweh confronted Moses. Apart from the question of the historicity of Exodus 3, one unique feature stands out in this Moses-in-Midian story: if Yahweh appeared in Midian, then Israel's God lived in a foreign land and mingled with foreigners (the Midianites). Evidently this was the case.

Clearly, the Old Testament consciously connects Yahweh with the southern Palestine, indicating the originality of the information contained in these narratives. These historical kernels in the Exodus narratives suggest that either the Israelites lived in southern Palestine or Midianites (according to other biblical information, the Kenites) brought the worship of Yahweh to Palestine. Consequently, Yahwism spread throughout the region until finally Yahweh became Israel's national God. In support of such a theory scholars refer to the evidence that Moses' father-in-law was either a Midianite of a Kenite. [...]

Here I must interject a bit about the Kenites:

In the ancient Levant, the Kenites were a nomadic clan sent under Jethro to priest Midian. According to the Hebrew Bible, they played an important role in the history of ancient Israel. The Kenites were coppersmiths and metalworkers. Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, was a shepherd and a priest of the Kenites. The Kenites apparently assimilated into the Israelite population, though the Kenites descended from Rechab maintained a distinct, nomadic lifestyle for some time.

The Kenites were the descendants of Kenan, but have been understood as the descendents of Cain, the son of Adam and Eve who murdered his brother, Abel.

Moses apparently identified Jethro's god, El Shaddai, with Yahweh, the Israelites' god.[1] According to the Kenite hypothesis, Yahweh was originally the tribal god of the Kenites, borrowed and adapted by the Hebrews. (Wikipedia)

A literary analysis of the Pentateuch proves incontrovertibly that its narratives are not reliable sources for the study of antiquity; rather, they are works of art. Without regard for exact historical data regarding the development of their people, those writers used every weapon in their literary arsenal to create powerful and dramatic narratives. ... One cannot reconstruct Near Eastern history from these narratives; rather, we must be content with what they are: adventure stories and legends, crafted and written by late author-compilers to discuss "the old days" with their audience. Clearly, that audience did not measure the historic by historical standards. (Niels Peter Lemche: Prelude to Israel's Past, excerpts through page 63)

The history of ancient Palestine has been ignored and silenced by biblical studies because its object of interest has been an ancient Israel conceived and presented as the taproot of Western civilization. [...]

The search for ancient Israel, in which I include for shorthand purposes second Temple Judaism, has consumed phenomenal intellectual and material resources in our universities, faculties of theology, divinity schools, theological colleges, seminaries, and departments of archaeology, particularly in the USA, Europe, and Israel. A quick glance through the prospectuses and catalogues of these institutions will reveal numerous courses on the history and archaeology of ancient Israel conducted in the context of the study of the Hebrew Bible from Jewish and Christian perspectives. This is just as true in 'secular' universities with departments of Religious Studies rather than faculties of theology. Interestingly, and revealingly, I have been able to discover very few courses on the history of ancient Israel in departments of History or Ancient History. It seems that ancient Israelite history is the domain of Religion or Theology and not of History. [...]

Biblical studies has been dominated from its inception by a concern for the history of ancient Israel as the key to understanding the Hebrew Bible. It has been of fundamental concern for Christian theology since Christianity is conceived of as a religion based upon revelation within history. Philip Davies has demonstrated, however, that the 'ancient Israel' of biblical studies is a scholarly construct based upon a misreading of the biblical traditions and divorced from historical reality. [...]

[T]here are so many facets of history that our political and theological histories do not address. ... Much of the data that pertain to these areas of study are still in unpublished form, hampering the realization of the project [of producing a factual history of ancient Palestine]. However, it is the network of connections in which these scholarly investigations are set which is the greatest hindrance. [...]

The cultural and political factors that have dominated biblical studies discourse on ancient Israel have denied the development of a strategy for investigating such issues. Ironically, much of the archaeological work, the regional surveys and site excavations, which have contributed to the paradigm shift are coloured by the overwhelming search for ancient Israel, the material reality which, it is presumed, will help to illuminate the Hebrew Bible. ... It has been difficult to uncover or document sufficiently the subtle political and ideological influences which have shaped historical research in biblical studies.
(Keith W. Whitelam: The Invention of Ancient Israel - The Silencing of Palestinian History.

On the subject of mythmaking and religion, Burton Mack writes about this topic extensively in his analyses of the New Testament. Many of the scholars of the Old Testament also point to myth-making as the reason for its existence but Mack makes it pretty easy to understand. He writes:

That early Christians engaged in mythmaking may be difficult for modern Christians to accept. The usual connotations of the term myth are almost entirely negative. And when it is used to describe the content of the New Testament gospels there is invariably a hue and cry. That is because, in distinction from most mythologies that begin with a "once upon a time," the Christian myth is set in historical time and place. It seems therefore to demand the belief that the events of the gospel story really happened. And that means that the story cannot be "myth." It may help some to note (1) that mythmaking is a normal and necessary social activity, (2) that early Christian mythmaking was due more to borrowing and rearranging myths taken for granted in the cultures of context than to firsthand speculation, and (3) that the myths they came up with made eminent sense, not only for their times and circumstance, but also for the social experiments in which they were invested. [...]

Every culture has a set of stories that account for the world in which a people find themselves. These stories usually tell of the creation of the world, the appearance of the first people, ancestral heroes and their achievements, and the glorious beginnings of society as a people experience it. Terrain, village patterns, shrines, temples, cities, and kingdoms are often set in place or planned at the beginning of time. Scholars understand these myths as the distillation of human-interest stories first told in the course of routine patterns of living together, then rehearsed for many generations. Telling stories about one another is what we do. It belongs to the life and work of maintaining human relations and constructing societies. [...]

Epic is a rehearsal of the past that puts the present in its light. Setting the present in the light of an illustrious past makes it honorable, legitimate, right, and reasonable. The present institution is then worth celebrating.

Naturally, both the past and the present may be highly romanticized or idealized, for epic is myth in the genre of history. The stories of Gilgamesh in ancient Sumerian and Akkadian civilizations were epic. For the Greeks, Homer was epic. Pindar's poetry of illustrious family lines was epic on a small scale. The local histories of shrines, temples, and peoples in the eastern Mediterranean during the Hellenistic period were epic on a medium-sized scale. And the history of Israel, which, from the very beginning of the world aimed at the establishment of a temple-state in Jerusalem, was epic for the Jews.

When the [alleged] second temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., the Jews had a problem on their hands. Not only their ancient history, contained in the five books of Moses, but an immense body of literature from the Hellenistic period documented their intellectual investment in the temple-state as the proper goal of human history from the foundation of the world. Christians also had a problem. They had no right to claim the history of Israel as their own. But early Jewish Christians had wanted to think of themselves as the people of God, heirs of the promises to Israel, or even the new Israel for a new day. ... All of the early myths about Jess were attempts to paint him and his followers in acceptable colors from the Israel epic. But these attempts were fanciful, ad hoc, and incapable of competing with the obvious logic of the Jewish epic. The Jewish epic was a history that aimed at the establishment of a temple-state in Jerusalem, not a Christian congregation. When the temple's end came, however, and the epic's logic was in total disarray, Christians had their chance to revise it in their favor. It was then that revising the Israel epic became a major focus for early Christian myth-making. [...]

And then, from the middle of the second century on, the fur really started to fly. Both Jews and Christians wanted to read the history of Israel in their favor, and each needed the Jewish scriptures as documentation for social formations that did not match the temple-state at the end of Israel's story. Two myths were devised then, and they are still playing havoc with what otherwise might be a reasonable conversation between Christians and Jews about the texts we sometimes call the Hebrew Bible, sometimes the Old Testament. [...]

Just as with each separate writing, so the Bible itself came together at a certain juncture of social and cultural history. The reasons for the selection and arrangement of writings in the Bible cannot be found in any of the individual books read separately. The reasons have to be taken from the Christian authors of the second to the fourth centuries. Only at the end of this period, when we finally catch sight of the Bible as we know it, will we see that it demands a particular way of reading the history of Israel, puts a special spin on the appearance of the Christ, and grants uncommon authority to the apostles and their missions. By then it will be clear to us that the book was important because it gave the church the credentials it needed for its role in Constantine's empire. We may then call it the myth of origin for the Christian religion. It will be the Christian myth in the form of the biblical epic that granted the Christian church its charter. It will be that epic that determines the Bible's hold upon our American mind. The Bible's mystique is oddly mis-named by calling it the "Word of God." We must come to see that, or we shall never be able to talk about the Bible in public forum when discussing our cultural history and its present state of affairs.
(Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament)

When, finally, the Jewish scriptures and the "apostolic" writings were combined in a single book, the church was off and running; it had its story straight. The Hebrew bible could be used to claim extreme antiquity for the Christian religion, and served as the "Christian Epic." Having claimed all these texts, traditions, and ancient history, the Christian church achieved honor in the eyes of the Greco-Roman world. (Which is why they did it!) Without the Old and New Testaments together, the Christian church would not have had an appropriate pedigree in the eyes of 4th century people. And, of course, that history was amazing! Never mind that it was created by schizoidal psychopaths who wanted to create a Jewish Temple State in Israel with the help of the Persians, or that parts of it were used to justify the kingship of the Hasmoneans. It had been revised and adjusted so many times, that whatever history had ever been incorporated was now lost in layers of manipulative gloss.

Christianity was driven by two schizoidal urges: to continue the expansion of Christendom by whatever means necessary, and to "return" to the Holy Land where all the significant events of the founding of the religion were supposed to have taken place. The thrust of Christianity is thus, backward in time, inward toward a psychological repeating of the founding events, and toward a specific location: Israel.

There is a certain irony to this because the original claim that Christianity made on the epic that belonged to Israel was based on the fact that Jerusalem was desolated and destroyed, so of course, God had abandoned it and chosen a new people - Christians - on whom he would bestow his favoritism. It was the destruction of Jerusalem that made it possible for Christians to steal the Jew's epic "history" and interpret that destruction as God's desire to expand his territory to include the whole world. So why, one might ask, would Christians want to go back to Jerusalem? That's not logical.

But, not to worry: an explanation was soon forthcoming! It was declared that God logically wanted Christians to redeem Israel.

And so, finally, the Global Temple State had a chance to come into being under Christianity - the Catholic Church was positioned at the apex of power; even princes bowed to the pope. The power of God was in its hands and the intent was to shape the minds of all humanity from kings down to the lowliest serf.

The Christian church claims to represents the kingdom of God on earth and its whole rant is that people must prepare for a future life in heaven under threat of an apocalyptic alternative. How's that for mind control? The church can call society to task for not living up to God's standards, all the while pointing to some other time and place (never now, of course), when that kingdom of God will finally manifest.

[...]The Bible is the only object in the Christian religions that all forms of Christianity have in common. For almost 2 thousand years, the church has forced people after people into alignment with the Biblical epic and "history" and the history of Western Civilization that is the result of that ancient epic. The traditions and customs of culture after culture have been subsumed, eradicated, erased from collective memory, and those people have been forced to adopt the Epic of Israel as their own - as if it were their own history. To become a Christian means that one must accept this epic as the only one that matters. Saying "yes" to the Epic of Israel is the price one pays to become part of Western Civilization.

Additionally, the Bible functions as America's Epic, the dream of creating "One Nation, Under God, indivisible..." One doesn't even have to be a Christian to think that way. One only needs to think of America as the "flowering of Western Civilization" - but don't forget that the roots of that civilization are supposed to be firmly planted in Israel.

Are you getting the impression that Christianity was created to serve Judaism?

Well, that's not exactly the case. Israel was literally created by Christianity in order to fulfill the Christian apocalyptic agenda. As Keith Whitelam writes:

The production of a "master story" of ancient Israel has formed part of a theological enterprise conducted mainly in faculties of theology and divinity in the West.

The biblical epic of Israel seen through the lens of Christianity, is based on a worldview that is universalist in scope, monolinear in history, hierarchical in power, dualistic in anthropology, and it requires miracles, breakthroughs and other cosmic dramas at regular intervals to rectify social situations that have run amok. [...]

[Source: Laura Knight-Jadczyk - Judaism and Christianity - Two Thousand Years of Lies - 60 Years of State Terrorism ]