Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Brief Note: the Primary History Was Not the Beginning of Hellenistic Yahwism

As a reminder, my basic thesis is this:
Thesis:  the Primary History, i.e., the books of the Old Testament from Genesis through 2 Kings, is entirely Hellenistic.  That is: (1) the Primary History as we know it was originally compiled/written in the Hellenistic Era (specifically, during the first third of the 2nd century BCE); (2) the Primary History did not begin as a product of indigenous priests or scribes, but as a political tract sponsored by the Seleucid kingdom to secure its control over the formerly Ptolemaic-controlled region of Palestine after its conquest by Antiochus III in 198 B.C.E.; and (3) Ptolemaic-sponsored separatists, based in Jerusalem, ultimately re-purposed the Primary History to create their own independent Jewish state, giving rise to the Hasmonean dynasty under John Hyrcanus (I believe John Hyrcanus founded the Hasmonean dynasty, not the mythical Judah Maccabee).
I want to be clear, though, that I am not saying that the Primary History marked the beginning of Yahwism, or even Hellenistic Yahwism.

It cannot be denied that Yahweh was an ancient god of the Levant worshiped at least as early as 1300 BCE.  Our earliest evidence of Yahweh identifies him as a member of a pantheon of gods, including his consort Ashera and his father El.

That being said, prior to the Hellenistic Era, which began with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E., there is no evidence of (a) monotheistic Yahwism, (b) knowledge of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), or (c) knowledge of the Primary History (the first nine books of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis through 2 Kings).

There is plenty of reason to believe that an early form of the Hellenstic Yahwism found in the Primary History was sponsored by the Ptolemies.  Early in his reign over Egypt, Ptolemy I Soter sponsored the formation of a syncretic, Hellenized cult of Serapis, whose priesthood was Egyptian and followers were Hellenistic settlers of Alexandria and the Fayum.  I will argue that, following the example they created with the cult of Serapis, some time between 312 B.C.E. and 270 B.C.E., the Ptolemies formed a syncretic, Hellenized cult of Yahweh to encourage Hellenistic colonization of their holdings in Palestine (what the Ptolemies referred to as Phoenicia and Syria) and to tie Hellenistic settlers and their progeny to the Ptolemaic kingdom.  The Hellenized cult of Yahweh may well date back to the time of Ptolemy I Soter, but the cult did not find its full bloom until the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, at which time some of the content found in at least the books of Genesis, Exodus and Joshua was first written.  There is reason to believe that Antiochus I, son and successor of Seleucus I Nicator, assisted peripherally in the creation of that content as part of the treaty ending the First Syrian War.

Thus, I will be arguing that the Primary History was a reworking and extension of the original books of Ptolemaic Yahwism to sever the political ties between Egypt and the Yahwists in Syria.  For example, there is reason to believe that in the original Hellenistic books, Moses made it to the Promised Land, founded Jerusalem and built the first temple to Yahweh.  The Seleucids provided a new, assertedly superior "history," that cut Moses off from the Promised Land, just as the Ptolemies had been by Antiochus III.  I will further argue that Moses was a thinly veiled reference to Ptolemy II, the Ptolemaic king identified with the "translation" of the Torah into Greek and a then modern-day exodus of Jews from Egypt back to Palestine (a fact not lost on the author of the Letter of Aristeas).

1 comment:

  1. A crucial post, worthy of further explanation! If it all started with Ptolemy I's cult of Yahweh, the purpose of the cult is both fascinating and crucial: to encourage Hellenistic settlers in Palestine. Further posts/explanations, on the treaty between Ptolemy I and Seleucus; the possiblity that the original version of the Exodus ended with Moses making it to the Promised Land and how the Seleucid "re-write" was so damning to the Ptolemies; and the evidence provided by the Letter of Aristeas, would be helpful. Awesome.