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
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
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
"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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