Pterosaurs in the Bible

Yes, you read that correctly.

Jason Colavito just posted about this piece of wacky Bible interpretation. It’s a good post, made entertaining by the fact that the notion of pterosaurs in the Bible comes to us from Ken Ham’s creation ministry. It’s biblical paleobabble like this that discredits the serious scientists who believe in creation from contributing to the discussion. They don’t want to be put in the same category as Ken Ham. Who can blame them?

At any rate, if you read Jason’s piece, which links to Ben Stanhope’s blog where Ben posted about a trip to Ken Ham’s creation museum, you’ll discover that some of the wackiness relates to the “flying serpents” mentioned a couple times in the Old Testament. Scholars have known for some time, based on word study (especially the noun seraph) and comparison of the biblical material with Egyptian material, that there are likely two explanations for the language: (1) the “fiery seraph” likely speaks to the spitting cobra (“fiery” = the burning sensation that comes when you’re unlucky enough to get sprayed or bitten); and (2) when cobras are ready to strike the flanges of skin on either side of their head spreads out, giving the impression of “wings” – hence “flying seraph”. Egyptian has the same word (seraf) for this type of serpent, which was also conceived of as a cosmic throne guardian (recall the cobra motif in Egyptian iconography).

A good scholarly article on the above (if you have access to scholarly journals via a library membership to the ATLA or JSTOR databases) is:

Philippe Provençal, “Regarding the Noun SERAPH in the Hebrew Bible,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 29:3 (2005): 371-379.

Note that “SERAPH” in the article title is actually in Hebrew characters, so you probably won’t be able to use it as a keyword search term. I just used English characters here.

Sorry Ken. No pterosaurs in the Bible.

But let’s hope Project Pterosaur has better luck!


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.

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):

Evidence for the Biblical Joseph Discovered?

This just in from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), who translated the news release from Al-Ahram.  The claim is that archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the Biblical Joseph. You can read excerpts of the translation here (also has a link to the article).

I’m not going to call this PaleoBabble just yet, but this paragraph makes it likely:

It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts… Joseph’s name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer.


1. The biblical Joseph (taking biblical genealogical life spans at face value) would have lived during the Middle Kingdom [ca. 2000-1750 BC) in Egypt (later, in the Hyksos era [ca. 1700-1550], for those who set aside the literal genealogical information). The Egyptian language in *either* period was NOT in its early stages. This is the period of classical Middle Egyptian, which had a copious literary output.

2. Joseph’s Egyptian name was not Saba Sabani, at least according to the biblical record (see Genesis 41:45).

This basically looks like the Muslim equivalent of someone like Ron Wyatt, who came up with archaeological frauds to bolster a literalist, Christian view of the Old Testament. Seems someone wants to do the same for the Quran.  But, there is another distinct possibility: the find is real and the data reported came through a lazy, uninformed journalist and so it sounds inaccurate. We all know that happens with too much frequency. We’ll wait and see.

Is the Book of Genesis Plagiarized from Sumerian and Akkadian (Mesopotamian) Sources?

This is a common claim by Zecharia Sitchin and those who adore him, like his webmaster Erik Parker, and Jason Martell. As I have blogged here before (here and here), this idea was common fare toward the end of the 19th century, due primarily to two historical forces: (1) the novelty of the decipherment of cuneiform material, certain items of which sounded like Genesis stories; and (2) anti-Semitism being rife within higher-critical biblical scholarship. Today, in the 21st century (and one could say since the mid 20th century), scholars of Akkadian and Sumerian do NOT hold this view.  They just know better since they have a much more accurate grasp of Akkadian and Sumerian, as well as Semitic linguistics.

This morning the University of Chicago graciously posted a new e-book on the ABZU website entitled, “From Babylon to Baghdad: Ancient Iraq and the Modern West.” It’s free, and so here’s a link to it. I recommend (unless you are a fundamentalist Sitchinite) reading the article “The Genesis of Genesis” by Victor Hurowitz.  I have inserted a hyperlink to the page in the Table of Contents. Hurowitz is a professor at Ben Gurion University in Israel (so he lacks that awful Christian bias). He is a recognized expert in the interface of the Hebrew Bible and Assyriology, and serves on the steering committee of the Melammu Project, which focuses on the study of the intellectual heritage of Assyria and Babylonia in the modern East and West.

Guess what? He doesn’t agree with Sitchin and his followers that Genesis came from Sumerian and Akkadian works. What a shock. I’ve highlighted a few choice phrases in the PDF at the link so you can’t miss them. What’s even better is that the article also includes quotations from Assyriologist Wilfred Lambert that say the same thing. Who is Lambert? He’s one of the scholars Sitchin likes to quote in his books to create the impression that he (Sitchin) is doing serious research when he isn’t.

But please read it for yourself. Yes, there is a relationship between works like Enuma Elish and the book of Genesis — because they both come from the ancient Near East, not because of literary dependence. As the article points out, the real parallels to Genesis from non-biblical material do not come from Mesopotamia; they come from Ugarit. This is something that anyone who has looked at my divine council site already knows, since I point it out all the time.

There’s no antidote against PaleoBabble like fact-based scholarship. But like any medicine, you have to take it before it can help you.

The Bias of 19th Century German Biblical and Assyriological Scholarship

Turns out even real scholars can be guilty of paleobabble when motivated by biases. They simply filter the data through a preconceived grid.

I’ve blogged before about how F. Delitzsch was influenced by racial theories of his day toward anti-Semitism, which in turn erased his objectivity about the Mesopotamian influence on the Old Testament (see, “Is Zecharia Sitchin Anti-Semitic?”). I don’t think Sitchin or others who blindly follow him are anti-Semitic. But they keep foisting exaggerated and misguided 19th century academic conclusions about Sumerian-Akkadian influence on the Old Testament on their readers. The fact is that today, in the real 21st (and 20th) century worlds of biblical studies and Assyriology, conclusions about such influence are far more tame and guarded. The issue is just more complex than 19th century scholars either knew or cared to admit. Many were propelled by racism.  Here’s another article on Delitzsch and this subject. It’s introduction and conclusion read in part (my highlights):

“Our concern in this essay is not with the role of Delitzsch’s work in the history of the disciplines of Assyriology and biblical studies per se. Instead we aim to take this centennial as an opportunity to refresh the guild’s memory concerning his presuppositions and the tragic turn observable in the lectures themselves.

At the centennial of the “Babel und Bibel” lectures, our intent has been to consider Delitzsch and his method in the context of his time and place in order to gain a heuristic depth perception after the passage of a full century. Delitzsch was a brilliant Assyriologist, one of the most distinguished scholars of the time. But beyond his philological accomplishments, he also left behind a legacy of uncritical political nationalism and questionable assumptions. In this light, Delitzsch stands as a singular reminder of the importance of the way in which we relate our research to our context.”

Ezekiel’s Vision: Why it Wasn’t a Flying Saucer, Part 1

I’ve decided to post my old notes on Ezekiel’s vision, as I put the link into some comments earlier. As I noted in that comment, these notes are in need of revision.  I wouldn’t change much until the end, when the statuary about the eyes in Ezekiel comes up. In the six years that have passed since I posted this on my old Sitchin site, I’ve come to believe that the eyes (critically, on the WHEELS) of Ezekiel’s vision are constellations, specifically those in the zodiac. I’ll try and explain that in the next post, Part 2.

Tellinger’s Sitchin Impersonation: Some Sample Searches

Here’s a short video to follow up on my post about Michael Tellinger’s desire to be the next Sitchin. Not exciting – just searching in the Bible with my software to see if his claims have merit. You can download the video here (just over 16 minutes; 22 MB; have your speakers turned up).