The Bible Code Myth Redux

Okay, I know — it’s beating a dead horse. But, I was reminded of the Bible Code today by this recent rehearsal of the nonsense at the Skeptophilia Blog. And since we’re beating dead horses, I should remind readers that I wrote a short book debunking this many moons ago (from the perspective of manuscript transmission and the history of the Hebrew OT text). It’s 100 pages or so and available as PDF.

The Serpent and Eve Nonsense: Where The Idea Comes From and Does Not Come From

In case readers have been following comments to my earlier posts on this biblical paleobabble issue, I decided to make things convenient.  Please note that they may not be any more decipherable, since the articles I link to below require at least a decent grasp of the Hebrew alphabet (and Syriac helps), transliteration of the same, and principles of morphology. I am posting them mainly so readers will at least have the sources and know I’m not making up my arguments.

Briefly, there are some commenters who believe that the Bible *really* teaches us that in the garden of Eden, Eve had sex with the serpent (aka, Satan or the Devil – never mind that Gen 3 does not use either of those terms) and fathered Cain. My contention is that the biblical text does not teach this nonsense. Rather, it is an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Eve narrative, projected into the text by misogynistic interpreters in the ancient Jewish community.

Here is a good scholarly article that traces the idea in early and late Jewish sources, mainly rabbinics and Syriac texts. The article also highlights the idea of a serpentine Eve (again, misogynistic interpreters wanted Eve to be the villain).

These ideas are ultimately based on two items (and then taken in different directions, depending on the interpreter: (1) the notion that Eve’s name can mean “serpent”; and (2) that the “deception” of Eve in Gen 3:13 has a sexual connotation. In regard to the first, the article linked to above refers to another article by Scott Layton. Here is that article.  It is a technical discussion of Semitic morphology that shows the Semitic “Eve” is not the same as “serpent” (and so should not be understood that way, despite the fact that certain rabbis thought that way; NOTE: Just because a rabbi thought X doesn’t mean X is true or even sensible). In regard to the second item, the graphic below. It is the search results for all forms of the lemma (root word) used in Gen 3:13. In no instance outside Gen 3:13 is there a sexual connotation to the deception — that therefore has to be invented and them superimposed on Gen 3:13.

But Mike, someone might say, what about 1 John 3:12 (“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother”)? Being “of the evil one” here is the same metaphorical meaning as when Jesus told the Pharisees (note this comes from John’s gospel – same writer as 1 John) they were of “their father the devil” (John 8:44). So, was the serpent out screwing more women producing the Pharisees? (I can just sense the anti-Semitic “Jews are the spawn of Satan” answer for that one). Cain was “of the evil one” because he murdered his brother — he did evil. And let’s look at 1 John 3:12 in its context, shall we? If we take 1 John 3:12 as Cain being literally fathered by Satan, then *all of us* are also the spawn of Satan, since verse 8 of that same chapter says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.” Since the same book (1 John 1:10) says that no one is without sin, I guess we were all spawned by Satan (even the people making the silly literal argument, unless they are somehow divine and not human [note: no “bloodlines” are mentioned in 1 John; its anyone who sins]). It’s obviously metaphorical.

Even thought the sources above are dense and for specialists, the one thought to take away in any event is simple enough: Just because a rabbi from antiquity said XYZ about Eve doesn’t mean what he says is true or coherent or at all grounded in sound philology (a word scholars use for nuts-and-bolts analysis of the morphology, grammar, and syntax of ancient texts). Arguments for interpreting ancient texts should always be about what’s actually in the text, not wordplays you can strike, ideas you can promote through such wordplays (like the Edenic fall is the woman’s fault), etc.  While the apostle Paul says the woman was deceived (1 Tim 2:14), he places blame for humanity’s demise squarely on Adam (Romans 5; this is why Jesus is the “second Adam” – reversing the curse – not the “second Eve”). Frankly, it’s evil (not just paleobabble) to use the Bible to promote misogyny and anti-Semitic thinking.

Urban Legends (Unconscious Lies) Preachers Tell

Had to direct you all to this succinct list of spurious material that many of you have probably heard from a pulpit or on the radio. Kudos again to Todd Bolen for alerting me to this. Here are some that made the list, along with some links for more detail):

  • The “eye of the needle” is a city gate.
  • The high priest had a rope tied around his ankle. (See Todd Bolen’s post here.)
  • Scribes washed before and after writing the name of God.
  • Gehenna was a perpetually burning trash dump.  (See Todd Bolen’s post here.)
  • NASA scientists have discovered a “missing day.” (See on this one)

It reminded me of my days as an undergrad in a historiography class. I went to a school that required a Sunday Vespers attendance, and it never seemed to fail that Monday morning our professor would express some point of (righteous, in my view) indignation over some item in the Vespers service lacking historical merit (or any sort of theological propriety given the school’s traditional Christian orientation).  It was entertaining listening to him dissect a chosen hymn, illustration, or ancient anecdote and demonstrate its fallacious or ill-chosen nature. One of my favorites was the session where the professor really went off on how Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn of the Republic (“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…”) was glorified for its theological weightiness. Howe was a transcendentalist Unitarian deist — all ideas that the school would have opposed. What fun.

Dinosaur Petroglyphs and a Lesson in Intellectual Dishonesty

I was alerted to a new scholarly article today on the issue of so-called dinosaur petroglyphs. Here is the citation (the article is free):

Senter and Cole. 2011. “Dinosaur” petroglyphs at Kachina Bridge site, Natural Bridges National Monument, southeastern Utah: not dinosaurs after all. Palaeontologia Electronica 14(1);2A:5p.

The picture of the glyph is pretty poor, but visible (see the other one below). The lines drawings in the article are what I want to draw attention to. It’s very obvious that, *when viewed in context*, the blotches that make up the alleged dinosaur are nothing of the sort. And yet this image is touted by young earth creationists as proof that humans and dinosaurs lived together (the image below is marked by one such site). This is pure intellectual dishonesty. It’s the kind of thing that gives Christianity a bad name. I know many Christians think that the Bible requires simultaneous habitation, due to their view of Genesis and “Leviathan” and “behemoth” in the wisdom literature, but that simply is not the case. There is no such biblical requirement.

Ahmed Osman: No Stranger to Revisionist PaleoBabble

Ahmed Osman has authored a number of books promoting fringe revisionist history with respect to ancient Egypt and the Bible (basically, the intersection of the two). His books have apparently sold well (no surprise there). Here are some titles (I love the one with the word “brilliant” in it – how humble):

* Stranger in the Valley of the Kings: Solving the Mystery of an Ancient Egyptian Mummy (1987)
alternate edition: Stranger in the Valley of the Kings: The Identification of Yuya as the Patriarch Joseph (1988)
alternate edition: Hebrew Pharaohs of Egypt: The Secret Lineage of the Patriarch Joseph (2003)
* Moses: Pharaoh of Egypt: The Mystery of Akhenaten Resolved (1990)
alternate edition: Moses and Akhenaten: The Secret History of Egypt at the Time of the Exodus (2002)
* The House of the Messiah: Controversial Revelations on the Historical Jesus (1992)
alternate edition: The House of the Messiah: A Brilliant New Solution to the Enduring Mystery of the Historical Jesus (1994)
alternate edition: Jesus in the House of the Pharaohs: The Essene Revelations on the Historical Jesus (2004)
* Out of Egypt: The Roots of Christianity Revealed (1999)
* Out of Egypt: Embracing the Roots of Western Theology (2001-2)
* Christianity: An Ancient Egyptian Religion (2005)

It’s pretty evident by the titles that Osman is a fringe pseudo-historian of which PaleoBabble readers should take note. His message is, like so many other fringe researchers, “everything you thought you knew about the subjects I’m writing about is wrong.” The  message to Osman by those real scholars who have reviewed his books is similar: “Basically every revisionist position you espouse is demonstrably wrong.”

I offer here two examples. First, there is this 1992 review in the Jewish Quarterly Review of Osman’s book “Stranger in the Valley of the Kings” (had Osman’s book been found there, it would have indeed been stranger than anything else). This review tries to be gracious, but it’s a thorough dismantling of Osman’s work. The review by Egyptologist Donald Redford (excerpted below from BAR 15:2) is anything but. It’s brutal. Can’t say it isn’t deserved.

Stranger in the Valley of the Kings: The Identification of Yuya as the Patriarch Joseph, Ahmed Osman (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988); Reviewed by Donald B. Redford

This ingenious work is one of those books whose author inexplicably fails to do his homework in one part, and lets his critical judgment lapse in the other. Sadly, Mr. Osman has no new evidence to offer, nor any new reconstruction of history other than that which, at one time or another, has suggested itself to many an undergraduate, only to be dismissed upon sober reflection. I find myself wondering, then, why Mr. Osman felt obliged to write the book at all. But he did write it, and my remarks are directed toward those who might be misled into taking it seriously.

The author seems to accept (p. 117) the notion that the Exodus must have taken place early in the XIXth Dynasty (1307–1196 B.C.). Accepting a four-generation span for the sojourn in the desert on the basis of Genesis 15:16 (“And they shall return here in the fourth generation”), he concludes that Joseph must have come to Egypt under Thutmose IV (last quarter of the 15th century B.C.), and that the family of Jacob lived during the following reign (Amenophis III [called Amenhotep III in the book]). Then, working backward chronologically, our author designates Thutmose III (c. first half of the 15th century B.C.) as the pharaoh of Abraham’s descent. He claims that Thutmose III sired Isaac by Sara (save the mark). Joseph himself is found to be none other than Yuya, the father-in-law of Amenophis III and the source of the monotheism that came to the fore during the reign of Yuya’s grandson Akhenaten. To bolster this pastiche of remarkable brainwaves, our author has recourse, from time to time, to passages not only from the Bible, but also from the Talmud and the Koran. His solemn trotting out of what can only be called a “Child’s Guide to the Documentary Hypothesis” does not save his theory from complete disaster. Mr. Osman certainly fails to make the case that Yuya and Joseph are identical.

The author treats the evidence as cavalierly as he pleases. He presents himself as a sober historian, yet when it suits him, the Biblical evidence is accepted at face value and literally. See, for example, Osman’s treatment of the chronological implications of Moses’ age on the supposed sequence of pharaohs (pp. 118–119), and his handling of the age of Joseph (p. 120). When the Biblical evidence does not suit Osman, it is discarded (pp. 114ff. on the length of the wilderness wandering of the Israelites) or ignored completely (e.g., the age of Jacob [Genesis 47:28], which by Osman’s reconstruction would put his birth well before that of his father, Isaac!). The narratives need not be binding, Osman advises, since they “were handed down over several centuries by word of mouth” (p. 31), yet we are invited to marvel at the precision in the numbers of the genealogy of Genesis 46 (p. 131). Again, all the author thinks he has to do is to state that there is a scholarly consensus, and this automatically becomes (for him) compelling evidence (pp. 71–73, 132). Needless to say, it is not “generally thought,” as Osman claims, that monotheism “had its origins in Yuya” (p. 139).

The work betrays a profound linguistic ignorance—for example, the ludicrous distinction implied between “Amurrites” and “Semitic elements” (p. 73); or the author’s inability to translate Hebrew (p. 73); or his outlandish derivation of the Turkish word wazir, “vizier,” from Egyptian wsr, “powerful” (p. 126). Anyone who would derive the Philistine seren, “ruler,” the West Semitic sar, “magistrate,” and the Latin personal name Caesar from the “same root” and the “same source” (p. 36, note 2) simply has a world of linguistic training ahead of him.

The work abounds in outright errors of fact. The -ham in the name “Abraham” has nothing to do with Egyptian h?m, “majesty” (p. 35); there is no cat-goddess “Bes” (p. 65; he has confused Bes with Bast); Dharukha is not Sile (p. 111); the Yo- and Ya- in the names “Joseph” and “Jacob” are imperfect (or precative) preformatives of Amorite, and have nothing to do with YHWH (pp. 122–123); Yuya was priest of the ithyphallic Min, not the pious monotheist Osman conjures up (p. 123); the Hyksos were not “shepherds” as the author several times claims, completely misled by the erroneous folk-etymology in Josephus. This list could easily be doubled.

Osman’s bibliography is only 50 items in length, and over half consists of works published prior to 1945! The gaps are enormous. He talks about Yuya’s physical remains, yet never cites the epoch-making x-raying of the Cairo mummies; he ponders the location of Pi-Raamses and Goshen (p. 107), and completely ignores the revolution in our knowledge of the eastern Delta brought about by the work of Alan Gardiner, Manfred Bietak, John Holladay and others within the last two decades. The enormous amount of research during the same period by Biblical scholars on the Exodus and the sources relating thereto are passed over in silence. “Recent studies” for our author (p. 95) means works written 35 years ago!

If this work had been submitted as a term paper by one of my undergraduates, I would have felt constrained to fail him or her. Mr. Osman is not an undergraduate, but I don’t see why he should be let off the hook: Stranger in the Valley of the Kings deserves nothing but an “F,” and its author a rap on the knuckles for wasting our time.

Christ to Return on May 21, 2011

No, you’re not reading The Onion, but you’d be better off if you were instead of paying any attention to this latest bit of theological nonsense. I’ll grant that it’s only on the periphery of PaleoBabble, but since I don’t have a blog called “Theolo-Babble” or “Spiritual Crapulence” this one will have to do.

Perhaps some of you are blissfully unaware of the newest predictions of the return of Jesus. They’re actually becoming hard to miss. MSLSD ran this story today to help the cause. Wonderful that they picked someone in the military to profile as a believer in this nonsense. Nice touch.

This theological brain fart comes from Harold Camping, a radio preacher that has been on the air for a long time. I can remember listening to him while I was in college. He wasn’t a nutty pseudo-scholar then. I don’t really know what’s happened to him. All I know is that Christians will, once again, be made to look like idiots.

For the record — if I haven’t made my position clear already — Camping’s prediction is an exegetical flim-flam. There’s only one thing more certain that the rapture isn’t going to happen on May 21, 2011:  that Camping will have some sort of epiphanic insight on May 22, 2011 that explains both his egregious error and why people should still listen to him. After all, Camping has done this before (his first prediction was 1994 — too bad he was wrong; I wouldn’t have had to go through PhD work).

For an idea (mind-numbing at that) on Camping’s “reasoning”, go here. Note that I do not endorse the site at that link; it just goes into some description of Camping’s view.

Promotion of Racist Theories Using the Bible

I recently discovered a book that I can’t wait to read called Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins (author: David Livingstone; Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). The book is about how, in response to Darwinism, certain 19th and 20th century preachers and biblical scholars came up with the idea that there were races *before* Adam. They justified the idea with some truly bizarre Bible interpretation. Whether theologically conservative Christians and Jews who imbibe such ideas realize it or not, much of this is similar to “root race” theories peddled by occultists like Helena Blavatsky, whose esoteric teachings were one thread in the racial theories of people like Adolf Hitler. (And in case you think these ideas aren’t still around, spend some time on the internet).

Here are two reviews of this important academic work (an antidote to nonsensical Bible interpretation and misguided apologetics):

Bible PaleoBabble from a Muslim Apologist

I know — a very unlikely source. But biblical bungling isn’t confined to popular evangelicalism. I’m honestly torn over whether to subject my readers to more of this sort of blather, but hey, I guess that’s why I’m here.  I have heard that this YouTube video is making the rounds (thanks Pam), so I guess I have some sort of obligation.

Needless to say, this absolute BS. The worst kind of sophistry. A few reasons why:

First, the Song of Solomon verse isn’t a prophecy (nothing is being predicted).

Second, to eliminate the consonants suggests that vowel sounds have no importance for meaning. Uh … ALL languages have vowel sounds whether vowels are represented or not.  WRITING is an attempt to convey a language without speaking (by graphic means); it is not *the* language itself.  If WRITING were to be equated with LANGUAGE, then all languages which never got a writing system or whose writing system was lost really never existed!  Huh?  A language needs ALL its sounds (consonant or vowel) to convey meaning. Picking one to the exclusion of the other results in erroneous or contrived meanings.

Third, this logic would mean that if I found a string of consonants in the Hebrew text and eliminated the vowels, I’d have predictions of people or other proper nouns by name.  Sweet! Let’s try a few!  (Unfortunately for those of you who can’t look these up in Hebrew, the profundity of my discoveries won’t have as much impact — you have to settle for transliterations at the links I provide below).

Did you know that Job 7:19 predicted the academy award winning film, Rocky?  Yep. The consonants in the last word of the verse spell it out (see the last word in this column).  In 2 Kings 4:26 the OT writer prophesied Alex Haley’s breakthrough novel “Roots” – just check the second word if you don’t believe me.  I’d love to keep these amazing revelations rolling, but I’m afraid many of you would quit your jobs and sell your possessions to join my new “consonant only” religious cult (vowels are of the devil, you know).

Part of me wants to say there is a special place in hell for people who handle the biblical text this way (or maybe a remedial heaven), but before we laugh too much, we ought to be reminded of how many utterly stupid things Christian “teachers” say about the Bible that follows exactly the same “method” of interpretation. Examples like “Rosh” and “Meschech” in Ezekiel 38-39 for “Russia” and “Moscow” come immediately to mind. And then there’s that viral video about how Jesus gave us the name of antichrist and it’s Barack Obama.  Already blogged that one.

Serpent and Eve PaleoBabble FollowUp

Some of you may have noticed that there has been recent discussion on this thread on the PaleoBabble site.  Apparently someone who desperately wants to say the serpent and Eve had sex to (not sure) defend Zecharia Sitchin or some sort of sexual activity between reptilian aliens and Eve has been trying to defend this idea (not well — see the comments).  I think my position is clear on this (!) so I’m not going to keep answering comments. I thought this might be more useful.

As I see it, this fellow’s view is based on:

1) ignoring what I presented in the original thread — that Gen 4:1 provides no evidence that Eve and the serpent had sex, producing a reptilian / serpent seed.

2) insisting that the verb “beguile” used in Eve’s self defense (“the serpent beguiled me”) means “to have sex with.”  We are supposed to accept this and then, Eve’s discovery that she was naked AFTER she sinned (read the narrative in Genesis 3 — wouldn’t she have had to be naked for her tryst with the serpent – how did she miss that?) meant that she was pregnant (I know, nakedness doesn’t mean pregnant, but play along with this guy here).

In attempt to inject some sanity into this, I offer this PDF.  It is a list of all the other occurrences in the Hebrew Bible of the verb translated “to beguile” (it is Hebrew, nasa’ — for those who know Hebrew, this is not the common nasa’ that means “to lift or carry” – it is a homonym).  Anyway, you can read the results. Just substitute “have sex with” or “impregnate” for all the green highlighted English terms (I do these searches in a reverse interlinear, which allows a Hebrew word search with results displayed in English for those who don’t read Hebrew).   You’ll have fun with the exercise, trust me. Some real howlers here.

3) Insisting that the phrase about Eve’s eyes being opened also indicates something about having sex or pregnancy. Hmmm. Genesis 3:7 says “the eyes of both of them [i.e., Adam and Eve] were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” I wonder if the serpent also had sex with Adam.  Or maybe eyes aren’t really eyes…but some sort of esoteric code word for “womb” or “vagina.” Bummer neither works with Adam.

And they pay me for this.  No . . . wait . . . they don’t. But it’s still fun.