Uncommon Sense

December 13, 2019

Stepping Back in a Major Way

Filed under: Culture,History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:03 pm
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I have just started reading In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ by Philip R. Davies even though the author has changed his mind on a number of topics he addressed in this book. (He wrote a new introduction laying out some of these.) It apparently is a very profound book and seems to be a good place to start exploring Davies’ work.

Here are a few excerpts:

“(I) had proposed that a kind of identity crisis, confronting a society without an agreed past, or with a contested past, generated the bulk of the origin stories. My conclusion has become modified since then, and I now appreciate more fully the extent to which the negotiation of Israelite identity in the biblical texts reflects a pervasive uncertainty about the relationship between a relatively new ‘Israel’ represented in Judah from the sixth or fifth century onwards, and an ‘old’ Israel that persisted in Samaria.”

“Quite apart from the absence of an Iron Age society resembling ‘ancient Israel’, and which could therefore have created the biblical Israel, it is obvious that literature in the ancient world is not the product of a whole society. It is a scribal activity, and thus confined to less than five per cent of any ancient agrarian society. Of the remaining ninety-five per cent, most of those who had any literacy could not acquire or study this kind of literature, and it is hard to imagine that the peasants, had they the gift of literacy, would have had either the leisure or enthusiasm to exploit something that hardly addressed their own priorities. So whatever the name given to the authors of the biblical literature, they are a small and élite class, and their creation, ‘Israel’, a reflection of their class consciousness (to use a Marxian term). Whatever actual religion (if any) the biblical literature reflects, it is not the religion of people outside this class; and it remains to be demonstrated that the members of the class itself had the kind.”

“Exploring why and how the biblical literature was composed and how it functioned entails first of all recognizing the possibility of a distinction between the creation of the literature itself and the adoption of it as the scripture of a religious system. If we assume that the literature was composed as religious scripture in the first place, we must suppose the prior existence of a religious system that generated it. The Bible, of course, was self-evidently not written as a canon of scripture: a canon is a product of selection; of adoption, not of writing. No author of any biblical literature can be described as a ‘biblical author’ except by means of a kind of shorthand. No author of this literature was writing ‘scripture’ in the sense we now use that word. Now if we cannot establish that in the period before Christianity and rabbinic Judaism were formed there was a single ‘Judaism’ based on ‘scripture’, it becomes very unlikely that the biblical writings ever were the expression of a normative religion, if any religion at all. It is probably closer to the truth to say that the Jewish ‘scriptures’ created Judaism than the other way round. Who, then, created the ‘scriptures’ is a rather important question.”

I found the first excerpt fascinating as I had gotten the impression that Samaritans were disparaged by Jewish elites in the seventh century when they returned from Babylon. The Samaritans hadn’t been forcefully evacuated and thus stayed “home” and practiced their religions as they had. (Yes, religions. I will explain.)

To re-establish themselves as the “rightful” elites in the region (remember the “returnees” had been gone for about a century) they had to pump themselves up and diminish their competition. So, the Samaritans got painted with a “bad” brush. (Even though the Samaritans still had their temple while the “returnees” had theirs demolished.)

The second excerpt points out that while there is some archaeological evidence for the existence of the state of Judah, there is diddly squat regarding the existence of a state called Israel. From there the author goes on to point out the obvious (if you take a step back) that “it is obvious that literature in the ancient world is not the product of a whole society.” This was written by scribes hired by the elites for reasons that do not seem to be religious, but political. The ordinary Hebrews of the time would have known very little of this activity before, during or after. I recently read a book on the folk religions of Israel that backs this up. The folk outside of the major population centers were generally polytheistic, much like their other middle eastern cultures. They were also focused upon pragmatic concerns: giving birth, having a good harvest, being cured of a disease, etc. They also used an astonishing number (many of which have been found) of icons, figurines, etc. to focus their prayers, etc. (Probably the source of “thou shalt not make graven images” as there were these in plenty outside of elite circles.)

And “Whatever actual religion (if any) the biblical literature reflects, it is not the religion of people outside this class; and it remains to be demonstrated that the members of the class itself had the kind.” clearly agrees with my contention that religion is a tool used by the religious and secular elites to coerce the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the elites. (The subsistence farmers didn’t invent the tithe, if you were wondering.) Most of the elites only pay lip service to the religion because, well, it is for the rubes.

The third excerpt is a promise to consider this idea at greater length as the book proceeds and that is answering the question of why the Bible was written in the first place: “it becomes very unlikely that the biblical writings ever were the expression of a normative religion, if any religion at all.”


I promise a book review when I am finished reading it.


  1. Isn’t it astonishing that a story set between 1700 BCE and 1300 BCE contains mostly only places and geopolitical realities that did not exist between 1700 BCE and 1300 BCE, but did exist in the 8th/7th Century BCE which was, REMARKABLY, precisely when the priest, Hilkiah, miraculously found the “ancient” books of the Torah (the scroll of the law, the Sefer Torah) hidden in a wall, telling this fantastic tale how his Kingdom, Judah, was in fact the center of the Jewish world.

    Yhwh is truly grand!

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by john zande — December 13, 2019 @ 1:00 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, that story bears some scrutiny, which it has gotten and the Bible reports people being incredulous when it was read to them from the temple walls (aka construction site). It is interesting that Josiah’s story shows up also in First Chronicles and that story is different from the first one. Tsk, tsk the word of god does get confused, lordy, lordy.

      Aren’t most of the stories in the bible out of sync? (I am reminded of Goliath’s armor being about 2-3 centuries ahead of his purported time.)

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 13, 2019 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

      • He was a Philistine, so he (and his people) didn’t even set foot on the Levant until some 300 years AFTER David supposedly killed him. Oooops!

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by john zande — December 13, 2019 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

  2. Oooooooo! I am very much looking forward to more of your reviews, excerpts, and commentary Steve! THIS history is one of my passions! ❤ 😁 Can't wait! Hurry up man! 😉


    Comment by Professor Taboo — December 13, 2019 @ 1:26 pm | Reply

    • Btw, the Jewish Samaritans certainly have a “peculiar, odd” narration in the Bible don’t they, particularly in the canonical Gospels, huh? 😉 And they are FIRMLY and undeniably embedded into Jesus’ or Yeshua bar Yosef’s lifetime and experience! Things that make you go Hmmmmmm.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Professor Taboo — December 13, 2019 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

      • There are still Samaritans walking around, they didn’t get wiped out. But the bad rap they got from Christians was a hit job, a political hit job.

        On Fri, Dec 13, 2019 at 1:31 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Steve Ruis — December 13, 2019 @ 1:33 pm | Reply

  3. Sounds interesting – I’ve added this to my “to read” list.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Ubi Dubium — December 13, 2019 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

  4. https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/the-story-of-ezer-and-elead-and-what-it-means-for-the-exodus/

    I don’t know if you have seen anything on this before, but it is one of the many stories in the Old Testament that I consider revealing. Ephraim is mentioned many times as the leading tribe of the northern Kingdom of Israel based in Samaria. Originally Israel may have been a son of Manasseh and a small territory in the area of Shiloh, rather than anything like the Jacob character or any place in Judah. Another thing is the tribe of Cain. They often transliterate the name as Kenites, but this conceals the connection. Cain(meaning smith) has a genealogy in Genesis, and a story about how each generation of Cain’s descendants invented some art, and yet after that the whole thing is quickly dropped. Strangely enough, Seth’s descendants have names copied from Cain’s. With that flood story, that whole genealogy is pointless, only Noah and his family would have any bearing on future generations. But the flood was a late addition. There are a bunch of other odds and ends and inconsistencies. The patriarchal narratives in Genesis are full of information about religious practices before the Deuteronomic reforms. Jacob raised a stone pillar and made offerings before it, something expressly forbidden in Deuteronomy. Oak trees and small portable figures were also part of worship.

    I have wondered if Adam and Edom(the country south of Judah) were originally connected. אדמה(adamah, earth, soil) אדום(adawm, red, possibly red clay, also rendered Edom), and אָדָם(Adam, originally 𐤌‎𐤃𐤀 ) are all very similar and likely formed a kind of semiotic complex of connected concepts. Ancient folk etymologies relied on this kind of similarity as well. Many tribes had an eponymous founder figure that served as a “first man” for them, and often he was literally born from the local soil(or a cave, or a rock, or a pit) as an autochthon. Ancient Greece was full of stories like that as well, and it is a type of myth found all over the world. One goal of writing the Hebrew scriptures was to give a common origin to disparate peoples and connect their founding figures. Cain, Ephraim, Manasseh, Israel, Judah, Adam, Rechab, Caleb, and other tribal names. Another Edom connection is that Yahweh is several times mentioned to come from Mt. Seir in Edom. Why he is associated with that place is mysterious within the text, but it would be no surprise at all if Yahweh was at one point worshiped as a god of that mountain by the Edomites. The Shasu mentioned by the Egyptians were active in that broad region, and they had a tribe among them associated with a YHW. Not much to go on, but there are hypotheses out there that the Yahweh cult came from that region, or from further down in Arabia. How the Samaritans fit in is a difficult part. At what point did they adopt the Torah(a redacted combination of traditions, often Judah centric) and why did they do it? That is hard to place.

    Other articles I would suggest.



    Comment by K — December 14, 2019 @ 1:48 am | Reply

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