The Jewish Transcript
The Anniston Star
In an examination of 101 Old Testament Tales, Greenberg gives readers what he alleges is “the story behind the story.” “Myths of the Beginning” takes a look at stories with at least two contradictory accounts in the Bible, investigating how these different views came into existence. “Myths of the Founders” show similarities between some Biblical stories and older myths and legends. And “Myths of the Heroes” explains how certain events could be considered fictitious when contrasted with archaeological data. The academic rather than religious tone of the book is exemplified in its matter-of-fact style and layout. Each story has a “myth” section that describes the Bible’s account, and a “reality” section directly below. The topic may be controversial, but the content is fascinating and thought provoking. Did God rest on the seventh day or did he create humanity on that day? Were there at least two versions of the Ten Commandments? Greenberg responds to questions such as these with extensive research referring to historical accounts, archaeological facts, time-lines and maps. This riveting and intelligent study has relevance to a wide audience of Bible scholars.
Author's note: This review was for the pre-publication version of the Birch Lane Press edition. That edition has been canceled and a new edition was released in November 2000 by Sourcebooks.
Greenberg, author of The Moses Mystery, sets out to uncover the layers of mythology within the Bible. He studies stories that have at least two contradictory accounts in the Bible; those that closely parallel preexisting myths and legends from other cultures and those that cannot be supported by archaeological data (such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah). Greenberg outlines the strong influence of Egyptian, Greek, Sumerian, and Hebrew mythology and literature to provide a way to read biblical stories within the larger context of history and world culture. He covers the Old Testament, starting with the Creation and its time line (did it take a full seven days to create everything?), through the founders (the Hebrew text does not mention Josephs coat of many colors), and ending with heroes (Elhanan, not David, killed Goliath). Some background reading is provided at the end of the text. Recommended for larger religion collections.Leo Vincent Kriz, West Des Moines Lib., IA
Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
The Egyptian Bible
In his day job, Gary Greenberg is a senior trial lawyer for the Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society here in the city. He sometimes appears as a commentator on Court TV.
But it's his avocation that brings him to our attention. Some guys race birds, some guys build model trains, some guys coach championship Little League baseball teams.
Greenberg is an avocational biblical scholar. And a controversial one.
In his 1997 The Moses Mystery: The African Origins of the Jewish People (reprinted in paperback as The Bible Myth), Greenberg argued that there was no archaeological or documentary evidence for most of the stories the Old Testament tells about the origins of the Jews-no Abraham living in "Ur of the Chaldees," no 400 years of enslavement in Egypt, no Exodus and wandering 40 years in the desert. Instead, he believes the Hebrews originally were Egyptians, devotees of Akhenaten's monotheism-Moses was his high priest-who had to flee after Akhenaten died and Horemheb violently rejected the new religion.
These were not brand-new notions. Egyptian roots for the biblical Hebrews were theorized back in the 19th century. Afrocentric spins on the origins of Western Civ were a nickel a bushel in the 1990s. And archaeologists have long pointed out that there's no physical record of many cities and places named in the Bible, while existing remains often conflict with biblical dating schemes. (Last year, Tel Aviv University archaeologist Ze'ev Herzog stirred up a maelstrom of denunciation in Israel arguing this last point in the tony Ha'aretz. The problem in Israel with this kind of talk is that if the Bible is bunk, then the legitimacy of the state's claim on the lands it occupies is diminished.)
Familiarity did not stop Greenberg's critics. A brief yet haughty pan in The New York Times effectively wrote him off as a crackpot. The reviewer "went ballistic," Greenberg grins today. Academic Egyptologists and biblical scholars, who get tetchy when outsiders blur the distinctions between their two discrete fields, weren't pleased with him either.
Undaunted, Greenberg argues in his new book, 101 Myths of the Bible (Sourcebooks, 319 pages, $24.95), that the Hebrews' Egyptian roots left numerous literary traces in the Old Testament, in the form of ancient Egyptian myths variously disguised, warped by 1000 years of handling, or ineptly edited by the Bible's redactors. The result, he says, is that much of what you read in the Old Testament ("I'm not into the New Testament," he says) is bull, from the two different versions of Creation in Genesis to the fictional Patriarchs to nonexistent places like Sodom and Gomorrah.
Greenberg comes to his study of mythology and folklore the old-fashioned American way: DIY.
"I've always been interested in the intersections between myth and history," he says. "There's a lot of myth that contains history. There's a lot of history that's mostly myth. I started as a kid-my father gave me the Greek myths, and I sorta got it, but it was just reading the stories. As I got older I started reading other stuff. I was starting to do some independent study, and it resulted in looking at some early parts of the Bible. I wanted to look at the Flood myth."
So he took some classes?
"No, I was a math major. Brooklyn College... Got interested in these subjects and started drafting manuscripts in these subjects. I did a little networking, started going to academic conferences."
Greenberg is the current president of the Biblical Archaeology Society of New York, a group that meets at the Taipei Noodle House on 2nd Ave. near 52nd St. roughly monthly to hear lectures like "Egypt in the Late Period: Gold Treasures from Tanis" and "An Amorite Caravan in Egypt: An Evaluation." Would that I had the time.
I ask Greenberg: Can we not presume that educated, sophisticated adults-most potential readers of a book like this-already know that the Bible is a lot of myth and folklore and legend? Except for fundamentalists, who won't read a book like this anyway, doesn't everybody take the Bible with a large grain of salt?
"I think most people, even those who are fairly religious, know that they've got problems even with the early parts," he concedes. "What I'm trying to do is present in a very simple, easy-to-understand format the background for the stories."
And he does a pretty good job. You probably know the basics. It's been a couple of centuries since scholars, noting all the places in the Bible where there are two or more contradictory accounts of some event, began to theorize that the Bible as we know it is a pastiche of several documentary sources, patched together, sometimes badly, over centuries. The Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), for example, seems to have at least four original sources. The best-known now is J, as in David Rosenberg's The Book of J; so named because the unknown author uses the Hebrew name Jahweh for God. In J's materials, probably dating to the 10th century BC, Jahweh is the personal, highly emotional deity who interacts directly with various biblical characters. (Rosenberg argued that J shows signs of female authorship.)
The source called E for using the name Elohim for God probably is later than J; it repeats some of J's stories, but often gives conflicting versions. In P's materials, God is a more remote deity, and P obsesses a lot about rituals and rules. Finally, a source called D is much younger than the other three.
Eventually, the theory goes, these and other sources got edited and pasted together into the official, "canonized" version of the Old Testament we've known for two millennia. That process, Greenberg argues, left us with a Bible that's shot through with errors, discrepancies, inconsistencies and outright fantasy. A few examples:
It says in Genesis that Abraham came from "Ur of the Chaldees." This is a bald anachronism. The Chaldees didn't exist until about 1000 years after Abraham is supposed to have lived.
There is no archaeological record that Sodom and Gomorrah ever existed. In fact, where Genesis seems to locate them is in the southern end of the Dead Sea. The bit about Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt may be a kind of fairytale of local origin-there was a lot of salt-mining in the area.
The story of the Flood similarly involves some really sketchy geography, and bears a lot of suspicious resemblances to other, older flood myths told by the Assyrians and the Egyptians.
What we call the Ten Commandments are actually described in several different ways, depending on what part of the Bible you're reading. Greenberg says the whole confusing story of how God gave Moses those commandments-all the up the hill, down the hill, written in stone but, um, the stones got broken busyness of it-is a good indication of how patched-together it is. The traditional Commandments, Greenberg points out, hardly required divine revelation: all ancient civilizations had common-sense prohibitions against murder, adultery, thievery, etc. There are actually two somewhat conflicting versions of those Ten Commandments, one in Exodus, a rather different list in Deuteronomy. And there's a whole other set of 40 laws that are arguably "Command-ments" in their own right, mostly concerning details of ritual observance, that seem to have been thrown in there by priestly bureaucrats at some stage in the Bible's development.
For Greenberg, these discrepancies are like windows unintentionally left open to reveal those Egyptian (and other) roots he thinks he sees in the Bible's stories. One of his many examples is right at the start. The way the Bible describes Creation is, he says, very like older Egyptian creation myths. In one variant, Creation begins with a word from the deity Amen, just as in the Bible. Amen is wind. Where the King James Bible has "the Spirit of God" moving upon the waters, in the original Hebrew it's really the wind of God. Continuing this elemental theme, Greenberg believes Adam and Eve are based on the Egyptian deities Geb (earth) and Nut (heaven), who were said to have three sons, very like Cain, Abel and Seth.
From this kind of analysis, Greenberg builds his case: that the Hebrews were originally Egyptian monotheists who brought a lot of background stories and myths with them when they fled to Canaan. Over the centuries, these mutated, were variously influenced by neighboring cultures (Babylon, Greece), were messed with to suit changing political realities like the propaganda war between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and at long last were canonized into the Bible as we know it.
What is the grand lesson to be taken from this? Whether I'm Jewish, Christian, Muslim, whatever I am, what lesson do I take from knowing that almost the entire Old Testament is mythology and fairytale?
"The lesson, basically, is to understand the book as a product of its times, attempting to explain what everybody understood to be history from a particular point of view," Greenberg says. "It's not a divinely inspired book. There are too many contradictions. But it's a book that contains a lot of information about where we come from, when you read it properly. For many people, knowing how we came to be, what our cultural roots really are, what our origins are, becomes an important concern. If the goal is to really know what our history is, then we should know accurately what it is. I think what I do is to try to liberate the Bible from theologians."
And fundamentalists? What's your message to them?
"Well, there are things in there that just can't be true, because it says elsewhere [in the Bible] it isn't." The anomalies range from simple mathematical errors to what Greenberg says amounts to "typos." If God wrote the Bible and everything in it is literally true, why did he leave the typos and the bad math?
When we spoke two weeks ago Greenberg was in the midst of doing lots of talk radio interviews, but it remained to be seen if reviewers and academics would treat his speculations with any more respect this time out.
Copyright NY Press
Book examines contradictions, myths of
As a New York criminal trial lawyer and guest commentator for Court TV, Gary Greenberg is a man who has argued some of the most infamous cases of modern times.
And, as an accomplished author and biblical scholar, he continues the tradition with his latest publication, “101 Myths of the Bible: How Ancient Scribes Invented Biblical History” (Sourcebooks).
It’s a riveting read that’s definitely not for the biblically faint of heart. Armed with archeological facts, Greenberg’s attempts to blow holes in several Old Testament accounts — Adam and Eve, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Ten Commandments, to name a few— will raise more than a few eyebrows.
Still, anyone who has ever questioned the probability of parting a sea or of fitting pairs of every species of animal into a really big boat will be intrigued by Greenberg’s explanations.
“This book is for people who wish to understand the Bible as a product of its times,” said Greenberg. “There are just too many contradictions within its text for it to be a divinely inspired book. If God wrote the Bible, and if everything in it is absolutely true, then why did he leave so many mistakes in it?”
It’s a question posed by many. For more than two centuries, scholars have been pointing out the Bible’s shortcomings. Filled with tales that contradict each other, mathematical errors and other anomalies, experts insist that this is a multi-source book that has been poorly patchworked together over a lengthy period of time.
“Even fairly religious people admit there are serious problems, especially with the Old Testament,” Greenberg said. “A good example is found in Genesis where it says that Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees. Actually, the Chaldees did not come into existence until nearly 1,000 years after Abraham’s death. These are the kinds of inconsistencies my book presents in a simple, easy to understand format.”
Tales with at least two contradictory accounts in the Bible, close parallels with earlier legends and myths from nearby cultures, or that have been proven historically false were chosen for inclusion in the volume.
“I didn’t bother with accounts of miracles, because people who believe in them are the same people who would claim that God overrode the laws of physics to make the act possible,” said Greenberg. “For those who don’t believe in miracles, I would just be stating the obvious. So, there was really no point in including them.”
Greenberg, who also serves as president of the Biblical Archaeology Society of New York, has been conducting Biblical research for decades. Of particular interest to him is what he said are the Bible’s Egyptian roots.
“Egyptian mythology and literature strongly influenced early biblical history” said Greenberg. “Belief in an omnipotent creator who brought forth other super natural beings had its roots in ancient Egypt. These views heavily influenced the Hebrews, and that’s why we see so many of these Egyptian myths in biblical history”
Those myths will be further explored in his next book, a biography of King David, which is due to be released next year.
“King David was actually a very brutal and unjust ruler,” said Greenberg. “So much of the Bible is apologetic about these charges, but the truth is he was a wealthy cruel man.”
Because of the controversial nature of Greenberg’s assertions, he is regularly the target of criticism from the religious community at large. Still, he is not apologetic.
“My books have nothing at all to do with whether God is real or not,” he said. “But, by exposing errors in the Bible, I am rescuing it from the theologians who spend their lives distorting facts to keep their religions from falling apart. If the truth undermines their life work, that’s hardly my fault.”
This book takes nearly every well loved and popular story from the Bible and tries to shoot holes in it. The story of Noah and the flood, Egypt enslaving Israel for 400 years, Moses giving Israel the Ten Commandments, David killing Goliatb — all false, according to Greenberg’s book.
In his book’s preface, Greenberg writes that he looked at stories in the Old Testament that had at least two contradictory accounts in the Bible. His explanation for many of the stories is that they were rewritten over time, made up or were actually versions of ancient myths and legends from neighboring cultures.
Each Bible story is quoted from Scripture and is followed by several pages of arguments about why the story should be considered a myth. Greenberg divides his book into three sections: “Myths of the Beginning,” “Myths of the Founders” and “Myths of the Heroes.”
This book will probably either strengthen your belief or cast it into doubt. Just remember, there’s a reason it’s called faith. At any rate, it will make for lively dinner table discussions.
Greenberg is a lawyer and president of the Biblical Archaeology Society of
Remember sitting in Sunday School and being rapt while you listened to the story of David and Goliath?
What about the tale of a recently shorn Samson pulling down the huge Philistine temple and the miraculous account of the creation of the World?
Well, according to a new book by noted author Gary Greenberg, those events didn't exactly happen and in fact were likely plagiarized from Greek and Egyptian mythology. The book,101 Myths of the Bible, challenges historical accounts of events from the Bible, noting the inaccuracy of stories such as the Ten Commandments and Sodom and Gomorrah.
In the book, Greenberg examines many stories in the Old Testament and attempts to show how they might have originated through Egyptian and Greek mythology. He studied material by placing them into three specific categories: stories with at least two contradictory accounts in the Bible; Biblical stories that closely paralleled earlier myths and legends from neighboring cultures, and stories that couldn't possibly be true.
One of the myths that Greenberg dissects is the story of God creating Adam by using dust from the Earth. Gen. 2:7 states that ". . . the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
Greenberg asserts in his book, however, that "the biblical editors confused the birth of Atum [the Heliopolitan Creator deity] in Egyptian mythology with the birth of the first human . . . Genesis says that God created the first man from the dust of the earth and breathed life into him through his nostrils. Mesopotamian myths make some similar claims, but they differ from Genesis in two significant details."
By recounting these so-called "myths," Greenberg writes that he is not attempting to discuss the power or ability of God. He is simply wanting to use scholarly information to examine certain Biblical accounts that are questionable. Greenberg said he avoided tackling miracles directly attributed to God but saw many contradictions that he chose to examine.
"I made a conscious decision to avoid stories of a miraculous nature where the sole argument to be raised would be a violation of the laws of physics," he said. "While I would be technically correct, for example, in dismissing the story of the seven days of Creation as a simple violation of scientific principals, there would be no purpose to include such stories.
"For people who believe in the ability of God to perform miracles that override the natural order, such arguments would be of no avail," he added. ". . . In the course of this book, I will make a number of arguments with which most biblical scholars agree. In several other instances, however, I offer insights into puzzling matters that the academic community has yet to resolve adequately."
Robert Tharp, associate pastor of South Side Church of the Nazarene, said he feels no need to ask so-called academic biblical scholars to help him decipher the scriptures. He said that Greenberg's ideals are "one of the many different schools of thought" that are based on scientific research.
He said books like101 Myths strike at the heart of Christians who take the Bible as a literal, inspired word from God.
"I think there are different criticisms, but the way that I approach the scripture is by faith," he said. "I believe that God is behind everything, and that is where I start - not by looking at archeology or mythology.
"We've had evolution versus creation for a long time, and evolutionists use science and Christians use faith," he said. "I believe that God is using the Bible to speak for Him and to let us know that he is there to help. I think he did part the Red Sea, and he delivered the Jews out of the hands of the Egyptians because he wanted us to know that he is able to help us, too."
The book, available at many local bookstores and through amazon.com, is published by Sourcebooks Inc. in Naperville, Ill. Greenberg, who also authored The Moses Mystery: The African Origins of the Jewish People, knew his book would be controversial. He said that his book provides a scholarly overview of the Old Testament but does not seek to explain the power of God, which he believes in.
"Because so many people believe the authors of the various Bible books were divinely inspired, and since this book explores the sources for many Bible stories, I prefer to think of this collection as a restoration of God's footnotes for the Bible, putting back in the source citations that the authors left out."