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 BOOK REVIEW:  Aniston Star

Stories from the Bible ... and beyond
Reviewed by George W. Evans

Gary Greenberg, a New York City attorney and president of the Biblical Archaeology Society of New York, contends that many, at least 101, stories contained in the Bible are rooted in myths of ancient societies of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Most, if not all, of the stories so selected are related to history. All of the stories, or "myths," are from the Old Testament. The Biblical passages parallel myths and legends from neighboring cultures, according to Greenberg, who attempts to show that those who compiled the Bible used these myths and legends as the basis for events recorded in the early books of the Bible.

In his preface and his introduction, Greenberg calls attention to the Babylonian flood myth, a legend uncovered some 125 years ago by a student of Assyrian history. On what would become known as Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh epic, written in Akkadian, an ancient Semitic language older than Hebrew, is a flood story greatly similar to the Bible's story of Noah's flood.

Greenberg poses the question: Do the Mesopotamian flood stories (more have been found), written down before the biblical account, corroborate the (Bible) or do they show that biblical authors borrowed and adapted pre-existing myths and legends for their own purposes?

He goes on to list 101 examples of what he feels are Bible stories based on ancient myths; but not once pondering whether both the Bible account and the ancient legends might have both been based on a real event in ancient history.

While Greenberg has obviously used considerable research to find myths and legends that could parallel biblical episodes, and while some of his comparisons create interesting reading, he nevertheless brings up some points that raise questions, offer confusion and belie logic.

Take the accounts of Sodom, for example. Greenberg uses three "myths" relating to Sodom. In the first he states that, in reality, Sodom and Gomorrah were mythical cities that never existed. Yet in a series of maps illustrating his "myths," he pinpoints Sodom near the southern tip of the Dead Sea. He contends that the crime of the Sodomites was not homosexuality or rape but a lack of hospitality.

The story of Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt was an attempt to explain the presence of salt in the desolate southern shore of the Dead Sea, according to Greenberg.

When Abraham came to the rescue of Lot in Genesis 14:14 and chased his foes "unto Dan," this story is an anachronistic (out of time or out of sequence) tale since Dan did not become Dan until after the Exodus when the tribe of Dan moved into that territory.

Greenberg points out that the Hebrew nation spent its formative years in Egypt, in an Egyptian lifestyle for centuries before the Exodus; and later the educated elite lived in forced exile in Babylon, and a century later under Persian rule.

Serious students of the Bible will quickly point out that the Bible is not written as history, but as guidance.

"I don't ignore the miracles." says Greenberg in his preface, "But instead of simply dismissing them as a violation of the laws of physics, I chose instead to go behind the story, to look at what earlier influences gave rise to the Biblical account, to show what sources the author relied upon in telling the story."

Earlier influences? The Bible also records that "All scripture (the biblical account) is given by inspiration of God." God is not pre-dated.

George W. Evans is former news editor for The Star and a longtime contributor to the book page.
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