Ancient Chronology Critiques: Not Always PaleoBabble

I used to be really into ancient chronology (Near East, biblical). The chronology of the ancient Near East prior to 1000 BC and its basis has genuine uncertainties. Consequently, this is one area where alternative theorists have some real contributions to make. While I don’t buy a number of the proposed reconstructions, the notion that there’s nothing that merits new approaches and re-investigation is wishful thinking on the part of the academy.

In light of all that, I recommend the archive to ISIS, the journal of the ancient chronology forum. The contributors are all serious scholars with good credentials. I’ve read a number of the articles in this journal and there’s a lot of good stuff here that challenges consensus thinking with real data – not the hokum that so often comes with alternative research.

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Archaeology and the Queen of Sheba

I’ve seen a couple news items in the last several days about the possible discovery of a gold mine that archaeologists suspect may be associated with the biblical story of the Queen of Sheba. Examples include this story and this post from the Bible Places blog.

This doesn’t look like paleobabble. That said, it looks like it will be some time before the true nature of the discovery is known. The presence of a Sabean inscription is certainly promising.  If the site turns out to produce more textual material it would be especially interesting. I’m not expecting anything that would shed any light on the Ethiopian legend of Menelik I (the presumed child of a presumed liason between Solomon and the queen). That would be beyond cool.

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The Talpiot Jesus Tomb

An emailer asked me about this today, and I was quite surprised that I had never posted this paper I wrote on the so-called Jesus tomb.  I blogged about the tomb back in 2008, but I never posted this link (at least that I could find quickly). So, here it is.

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Myth of the Lost Tribes of Israel and British Israelism

This is a topic that many readers will be familiar with. It circulates widely on the web. In a nutshell, it’s the notion that the ten tribes of Israel (the northern kingdom of the divided monarchy in ancient Israelite history) that were deported and scattered by the Assyrians eventually migrated in some fashion to the British Isles. The British colonists who came to America are their descendants, and so Britain / America was / is the new Israel. In case some of you have not heard of this idea, here is a summary (see the Wikipedia entry as well).

Criticisms and debunkings of the idea have been around since its genesis. I’d like to direct your attention to a recent lengthy expose on the subject. I know the author (Greg Doudna). Greg is a published expert on the Dead Sea scrolls. His religious background was in circles that promote the lost ten tribes mythology. Hence his interest and this book (the book’s title is awful, leaving the reader no clue as to the subject matter).

Here is a (sort of) summary of the book. Readers can access the book through Google Books here (I have it open to chapter 6).

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The Stones of Fire in Ezekiel 28

A  reader recently asked me about these references. I’m asked this question often enough I thought I’d blog on it. Let me say from the outset that, though I will disagree (with a high degree of security in my mind) with common interpretations, particularly those of Tom Horn and Dave Flynn, I do not regard their identification of the stones of fire with planets wacky.  It’s just not right. I’ll try to explain why.

Here is the passage in Ezekiel (28:14-16; ESV):

14 You were an anointed guardian cherub.

I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;

in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.

15 You were blameless in your ways

from the day you were created,

till unrighteousness was found in you.

16 In the abundance of your trade

you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;

so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,

and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,

from the midst of the stones of fire.

The passage is part of the diatribe of Ezekiel against the prince of Tyre, in which Ezekiel utilizes the story of a divine being in the garden of Eden who was expelled from the garden. Many scholars think the language speaks of Adam. I believe it refers to the Shining One (the nachash – in my view incorrectly understood as a snake) in Genesis 3.1

The context makes it quite clear that we aren’t talking about planets. How? Because the “stones of fire” are on the holy mountain of God, a reference to the Garden of Eden. Eden?  Yes – if you look at Ezek 28:13 (one verse before the citation above) you’ll see that the anointed cherub is also said to be in Eden (the verse should pup up for you here in this blog).  Anyone familiar with divine council imagery knows that there are two places where Yahweh and his council (like all deities with councils in ancient literature) meet for business and, in fact, “live”–mountains and well-watered gardens. Eden is where Yahweh lived, and that is why Eden is described as both in the Old Testament. I have a whole chapter on this in my book, but suffice it to say here that imagery from Eden is carried on through to other holy (cosmic) mountains ON EARTH – Sinai and Zion. Recall that Sinai was a mountain (a large “stone”) whose top was afire, and where God met people in/with fire (think of the burning bush here, among other scenes on Sinai; Exod 3, Deut 33; Ezekiel 1, 2 Sam 22:4ff., etc.). God often meets people with fire or in association with fire. Additionally, the divine beings associated with Yahweh’s throne room are referred to as “flames of fire” (Psa. 104:4; see also Ezekiel 1′s references to fire).  It’s all very familiar within Old Testament scholarship and the study of Israelite religion. Whoever this is, they are in Eden / the mountain of God – i.e., the place where Yahweh lived at the beginning after he created humans on earth. Nothing unusual.

There is a lot of supporting material for this view. Other than works on the cosmic mountain imagery in the Old Testament and the ancient Near East,2 we can look at the visions of Enoch in the book of 1 Enoch. During his flight through the sky over earth (not on another planet), Enoch sees certain geographical places that are described very similarly to the language in Ezekiel. Note the wordings in the passage below that also appear in Ezekiel 28: fire, precious stones, flame.

1 Enoch 18:6-11

6     I came and saw a place that was burning night and day, where (there were) seven mountains of precious stones-three lying to the east and three to the south. 7/ And of those to the east, <one was> of colored stone, and one was of pearl, and one was of <jasper>. And those to the south were of flame-colored stone. 8/ And the middle one of them reached to heaven like the throne of God-of antimony; and the top of the throne was of lapis lazuli. 9/ And I saw a burning fire. 10     And beyond these mountains is a place, the edge of the great earth; there the heavens come to an end. 11/ And I saw a great chasm among pillars of heavenly fire. And I saw in it pillars of fire descending; and they were immeasurable toward the depth and toward the height.

19:1     And Uriel said to me, “There stand the angels who mingled with the women. And their spirits-having assumed many forms-bring destruction on men and lead them astray to sacrifice to demons as to gods until the day of the great judgment, in which they will be judged with finality. 2/ And the wives of the transgressing angels will become sirens.”3

It’s quite obvious Ezekiel is viewing the earth – he gets as far as the place where the firmament of heaven meets the earth (recall that, in ancient thought — including the Bible — the earth was thought to be round and flat, with a solid dome over its top, the edges of which met the earth’s edge or was “held up” by the mountains).4.

Enoch’s description is actually a striking description of the “world tree” mythology – that the dome over the top of the earth was held up by a huge tall tree (or mountain), which went through the center of the earth, and down into the abyss (note the abyss [“chasm” language in the above citation). The stones of fire = the cosmic mountain, the place where heaven and earth meet, where the gods (or in this case, the God of Israel) lives and renders judgment.  At the bottom of that mountain, in its deep recesses, the sons of God who committed the sin of Genesis 6 are kept imprisoned (read on to 1 Enoch 19:1ff.). This has nothing to do with outer space.

There is a pile of material written on this passage and its associated topics. The best books is: Kelley Coblentz Bautch, A Study of the Geography of 1 Enoch 17-19: ‘No One Has Seen What I Have Seen’ (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003). It is very expensive and very technical. Likewise for the discussion of the passages cited above in the best 1 Enoch commentary in print, George Nickelsburg’s (cited below in footnote 3).

Luckily, Google Books allows a preview of some pages in Bautch’s book. I was able to piece together screen shots of 12 pages corresponding to the above discussion. Since these pages are available to public viewing on the web, I felt I could PDF them for you all and link to them HERE.

  1. For more on my views on Genesis 3, readers can subscribe to my newsletter archive (available at www.michaelsheiser.com) to get the draft of my book-in-process on the divine council worldview.
  2. The classic treatment is Richard J. Clifford, The Cosmic Mountain in Canaan and the Old Testament (Harvard Semitic Monographs 4; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972.
  3. Nickelsburg, G. W. E., & Baltzer, K. (2001). 1 Enoch : A commentary on the book of 1 Enoch. Includes the text of the Ethiopic book of Enoch in English translation. (276). Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress.
  4. For the round, flat earth cosmology, see the PowerPoint File here. That the firmament was considered to be SOLID in the Old Testament is obvious from passages like Job 37:18 – “firm as a mirror of cast metal”)

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Syllabic Silliness with Jordan Maxwell

NOTE:  For proper viewing of foreign Egyptian and Hebrew characters, download the PDF version of this document – the blog messes up the fonts.

One of the readers of PaleoBabble recently asked me to take a look at some of the claims of Jordan Maxwell. I’d heard of Maxwell before, but had never really taken much of an interest in his work (presented on his website), mostly because it was hard to navigate. I’ve given it more of a look now and it seems I’ve been directed to yet another treasure trove of PaleoBabble.

One of Maxwell’s claims is that the name “Israel” derives from three deity names: Isis-Ra-El. This is utter nonsense for two basic reasons: (1) The Bible itself points to a derivation (there is more than one possibility, none of which are anything near to what Maxwell says), and (2) Hebrew and Egyptian come from different language families (one Semitic, the other Afro-Asiatic), and so the syllables in the Hebrew word “Israel” do not line up phonetically to the Egyptian words “Isis” and “Ra”, thus marring Maxwell’s analysis (hate to call it an analysis really).

1. The Old Testament vs. Maxwell

Let’s start with the first reason – the one that Maxwell utterly ignores. What a surprise. Those readers familiar with the Old Testament patriarch stories will likely recall that the name “Israel” was given to the patriarch Jacob after he wrestled with a divine being. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and hence Jacob’s twelve sons became known as the twelve tribes of ISRAEL. Anyone who has actually read that Old Testament story (Genesis 32) knows that when the name of Jacob is changed, an explanation is given. Here’s the passage:

22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, ”I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, ”Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, ”Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.

According to Genesis 32:28, the name “Israel” (ישׂראל) is connected somehow to the idea of “struggling.” As a result, many Hebrew scholars relates “Israel” to the verb שׂרה (sarah; “to struggle, fight”; note the similar consonants – the last of which would drop off if another element is added). This would mean that “Israel” (if it comes from this verb root) literally means either “El (God) fights” (presumably for his people), or “he fights (with) El (God).” The point could also be wordplay – “God fights” in a passage where Jacob us fighting with God. The former option follows predominant Hebrew word order for predicate + subject, but the narrative in Gen 32 favors the latter. There is another option, though. Other scholars think “Israel” comes not from verb שׂרה (sarah; “to struggle, fight”) but from the verb שׂרר (sarar; “to rule, be strong”). In this case the name would mean “El (God) is strong” and would likely point to Jacob being subdued by the embodied God in the Genesis 32 story. A third option is that the proper root is ישׁר (yasar; “just, right”), and so the meaning would be something like “El (God) is just.” In favor of this third option is the alternate word for Israel found in the Old Testament, Jeshurun (y-s-r-n) in Deut 32:15; 33:5, 26.

At any rate, Jacob’s old name recalled his past underhand dealings (“Jacob” means “supplanting” – and it was Jacob who stole his brother Esau’s birthright; it can also mean “deception” and the narratives of Jacob’s life give abundant testimony to this character flaw of his). His new name, Israel, recalled this incident in which he wrestled with God and prevailed with a blessing.

The point here is that the Old Testament telegraphs what Jacob’s name means according to three semantically similar Hebrew options / roots. Think of that – interpreting a Hebrew name with Hebrew! That’s just too boring for Jordan Maxwell. Why read the biblical story associated with the name “Israel” when we can just make up something cooler? That brings us to Maxwell’s second problem.

2. Egyptian and Semitic Language / Linguistics vs. Maxwell

Just as I’d bet that Maxwell counts on his followers not knowing the Genesis 32 story and its own explanation of the name “Israel,” I’m betting Maxwell knows nothing of Egyptian or Hebrew or Semitic languages. I’d also bet he doesn’t care, since his real agenda is creating some sort of link between Israelite religion and Egyptian mystery religion. When that’s your goal, who cares about boring facts about language.

One sidebar note before we get to the material. Maxwell is apparently from the William Henry school of determining word meanings by dicing, slicing, and splicing syllables of words. If a sound of one word sounds like a word in another language, there MUST be a connection! This is crap. The human mouth is only capable of making a finite number of sounds (this is what phonology is concerned with, a sub-discipline of linguistics). Since there are only a finite number of sounds a human can make with tongue, lips, teeth, throat, cleft palate, and nasal passages, it is no surprise that humans all over the world make the same sounds. What else would they make? But human people groups assembled and inflect those sounds in specific and divergent ways. People who are in close proximity geographically will often share how sounds are put together – hence we get “language families” like “Semitic.” The languages in that family share certain features. But people groups who have no proximity put the sounds together quite differently. The result is that the three sounds (two consonants and a vowel) in “bat” in English (an Indo-European language) mean “flying rodent” or “stick you hit a baseball with” while in Hebrew “bat” means something quite different (“daughter”). Unless you’re William Henry, that is. Or Jordan Maxwell.

First, it should be apparent from the discussion in #1 above that Maxwell does get one syllable right – the last one (“el”). Hard to mess that up. But the more important ones are the first two, since they are the Egyptian elements to his agenda.

In the world of Maxwell the first syllable in “Israel” (“is” or “yis”) must come from “Isis”. Why? Because they sound the same. Yeah, they sound the same IN ENGLISH! Unfortunately for Maxwell, the Egyptians didn’t write or speak English. “Isis” was not the way the Egyptians pronounced the name of this goddess. That pronunciation comes from Greek and Coptic, languages that came into the biblical world centuries after Hebrew. The Egyptian pronunciation of the name of this goddess was something like “Waset” or “Awset.” No resemblance to “is” or “yis”. Here’s how “Isis” is spelled in hieroglyphs:

Starting at the lefthand side, the first glyph (a throne; Gardner sign Q1) is pronounced “ws” or “as” or “aws” depending on which Egyptologist or grammar you’ll pick up. If you want a detailed linguistic description of the pronunciation issues and development, see A. Loprieno’s linguistic introduction to Egyptian. The next glyph at the top is the “t” sound. The other two are determinatives and are unpronounced. The final determinative (female) denotes this is a goddess.

The point: the first syllable of Israel does not correspond to “Awset.” One down, one to go.

The second syllable in “Israel” (ישׂראל) also requires a bit of unpacking. In Hebrew, we have the first syllable ישׂ (yis), and the next syllable is רא (rʾ in transliteration – I’ll get to what that apostrophe mark means in a moment). The aleph letter (א) is also shared by the last syllable – אל (ʾl). The second syllable (רא) is composed of the Hebrew “r” plus the Hebrew aleph (ʾ). What is the apostrophe? That is the English character that denotes A SILENT LETTER. That’s right, aleph is silent. What this means is that these two consonants by themselves are not pronounced “ra” (though they can be). But that’s a minor issue. More important is that in Egyptian, the deity name “Ra” is NOT spelled with the Egyptian aleph (falcon). It’s spelled with the sun disk sign and the arm sign (when spelled phonetically). Therefore, this “equivalence” is also marred. But even more damning to Maxwell’s idea is the fact that the name “Ra” is actually present in the Hebrew Bible, so we know how the Hebrews would have spelled it! Is “Ra” in Hebrew letters רא? Nope. It’s רע, and so it cannot be part of the name “Israel”. Where in the Hebrew Bible do we find the name “Ra”? Just where you’d expect it – it’s part of an Egyptian Pharaoh’s name in Jeremiah 44:30 -

Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies . . .

The name Hophra is the combination of the familiar “hepher” (“khepher” – the verb formed by the sign of the dung beetle which means “to become”) + “Ra” – and so the name Hophra means “he becomes Ra” (no surprise there with respect to Egyptian religion). And so how is Hophra spelled in Jeremiah 44:30 in Hebrew? חפרע (note the red underlined portion – it’s רע not רא). Maxwell is 0-for-2. His contention is bogus, and so any claims he makes on its basis are equally bogus.

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