Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Discussion about the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Talmud, Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, etc.
Russell Gmirkin
Posts: 141
Joined: Sat Sep 17, 2016 11:53 am

Re: Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Post by Russell Gmirkin »

rgprice wrote: Fri Aug 26, 2022 6:05 am You can't just present a history and religion to a whole society that that has a different history and religion and have them all just adopt the new history and religion and totally forget the past. It just seems that there needs to be some better explanation of how we go from a polytheistic Palestinian population, who had no knowledge of Moses or Ten Commandments or David or Solomon or Twelve Tribes circa 300 BCE to millions of devotees to the Temple priesthood and people sacrificing their lives for the Torah some 50 to 75 years later?

I could understand that if pre-Torah Judahite religions was already pretty similar to what the Torah lays out, but Gmirkin is proposing a pretty major revolution, claiming that the Torah essentially created a whole new religion out of thin air with almost no precedent in Judahite traditions, and then millions of Palestinians just adopted it on the spot.

What I have a hard time understanding is how such a significant population of people adopted so many new religious and historical elements of their identity in such a short period of time. Especially since the Torah does not really put forward what was claimed to be a new religion, rather it claims that its religious doctrines and beliefs had been part of the community for centuries.
“Plato’s program of creating a mythic past in which the divine laws of the nation had been established in distant antiquity faced an obvious practical difficulty, namely the living memory of the new colonists. Plato fully recognized this problem and sought to overcome it by devising strategies to erase the nation’s memory of any other way of life, like erasing a tablet and starting with a clean slate. In order to erase the cultural memories of the past and replace them with new memories, the rulers would exercise complete control over the nation’s education, literature, public speech and cultural contacts with other nations…” (Gmirkin 2017 = Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible, 255.)

Plato’s proposed solution for wiping clean the national memory and substituting a new memory dictated by the ruling class was worked out in the most detail in Plato’s Laws.
1. The rulers should organize the creation of an authorized national literature consistent with its new origin story in which the gods gave the nation its laws to a lawgiver from the distant past.
2. This literature should be exclusively used in schools, festivals, and all other settings, public or private. Strictly enforced censorship and cultural isolation would prevent other sources of information or tradition from reaching the younger generation.
3. He predicted that after the original generation had died off, the new generation educated solely out of this sacred national literature would accept these written texts as authentic history.
This is exactly what happened with the creation of the Hebrew Bible after 270 BCE. See Gmirkin 2017: 255-56, 261, 274; 2022: 265, 268, 288.

Please note that one of Plato's key strategies in persuading the citizenry that their laws were ancient and divine was to retain as much as possible of the ancient religious institutions, priesthoods and local traditions and incorporate them into the new national religious life, though suitably reformed. I discuss this extensively at Gmirkin 2017: 262-63. There was thus significant continuity in religious traditions. Plato's main innovation, besides insisting that all the terrestrial gods played nice, was to postulate a supreme cosmic God who created the cosmos and existed outside the material realm. Otherwise not much change in the area of religion.
Last edited by Russell Gmirkin on Fri Aug 26, 2022 8:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Russell Gmirkin
Posts: 141
Joined: Sat Sep 17, 2016 11:53 am

Re: Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Post by Russell Gmirkin »

Neil is so remarkably knowledgeable about my research and presents it with such fairness and accuracy that I feel very comfortable returning to work on my other projects. Hopefully I'll have a new book in the works by year's end. Best regards to the current participants in the discussion.
ABuddhist
Posts: 699
Joined: Wed Jul 21, 2021 4:36 am

Re: Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Post by ABuddhist »

Russell Gmirkin wrote: Fri Aug 26, 2022 8:02 pm But most biblical prophecy, including Second Isaiah, belong to the late Hellenistic Era of literary (that is, written) prophecy.
What about Ezekiel's prophecy about Tyre's destruction? was that a post-exilic fabrication, or a genuine piece of pro-Babylonian propaganda from the exile?
StephenGoranson
Posts: 1166
Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2015 2:10 am

Re: Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Post by StephenGoranson »

Plato has at times been considered a totalitarian, proto-fascist, or wannabe tyrant.
But it does not follow that in this case such plan was carried out.
Much less "exactly"!
ABuddhist
Posts: 699
Joined: Wed Jul 21, 2021 4:36 am

Re: Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Post by ABuddhist »

StephenGoranson wrote: Sat Aug 27, 2022 4:01 am Plato has at times been considered a totalitarian, proto-fascist, or wannabe tyrant.
But it does not follow that in this case such plan was carried out.
Much less "exactly"!
That is true. But one of the wonderful things about the world is that evidence can be presented in order to argue that such a plan was carried out.
StephenGoranson
Posts: 1166
Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2015 2:10 am

Re: Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Post by StephenGoranson »

I have read claims, but no good "evidence."
And it beggars belief to imagine these people so supine.
User avatar
neilgodfrey
Posts: 5608
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Post by neilgodfrey »

ABuddhist wrote: Sat Aug 27, 2022 3:55 am
Russell Gmirkin wrote: Fri Aug 26, 2022 8:02 pm But most biblical prophecy, including Second Isaiah, belong to the late Hellenistic Era of literary (that is, written) prophecy.
What about Ezekiel's prophecy about Tyre's destruction? was that a post-exilic fabrication, or a genuine piece of pro-Babylonian propaganda from the exile?
Charles Torrey on that Ezekiel passage:
There is another late prophecy in which a similar alteration of the text has given a false interpretation to the meaning of the writer. Ezekiel 26, as it stands in our Bible, predicts the successful siege and utter destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadrezzar. As a matter of fact, the siege of this city by Nebuchadrezzar was not succesful, and —· what is more to the point — Ezekiel himself says in plain language and with emphasis that it was not. In 29 18 ff. are these words: »Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyre; every head was made bald and every shoulder was peeled; yet had he no wages, nor his army, from Tyre, for the service that he had served against it. There- fore, thus saith the Lord God: I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar .... and it shall be the wages for his army. I give him the land of Egypt as his recompence for which he served.« This is a perfectly unambiguous statement of what we know to have been the case; the long siege of Tyre by the Babylonian king was a failure.

In 26 7 the words מלך בבל נבוכדראצר are a palpable insertion, disturbing the structure of the sentence in which they stand. The original reading was this: »Behold, I will bring upon Tyre from the north a king of kings«. Then follows a vivid description of the successful siege, and the capture of the city by the building of a mole and a causeway (vs. 8), over which the chariots of the victor are driven into the streets of the city (vs. 10 f.). This is a description of the capture of the city by the great »king of kings«, Alexander. No other hypo- thesis can stand beside this1.

1) Ezekiel 20 is not a later element in the book, but of one piece with the rest of the prophecy. The present writer has often expressed his opinion, formed on many other grounds and, for him, constantly confirmed, that the Book of Eze- kiel is in its entirety a composition dating from the Greek period.
Torrey, Charles C. “Alexander the Great in the Old Testament Prophecies.” In Alexander the Great in the Old Testament Prophecies, 281–86. De Gruyter, 2019 [Originally published1925]. 284-285. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783111327013-036.

Torrey's view of the Ezek 26 prophecy is compatible with Gmirkin's thesis.
rgprice
Posts: 1240
Joined: Sun Sep 16, 2018 11:57 pm

Re: Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Post by rgprice »

neilgodfrey wrote: Fri Aug 26, 2022 4:56 pm Russell Gmirkin, introduction to his chapter 8, p. 246:
It will be argued that the text of Genesis documents an attempt to introduce Platonic philosophical notions of cosmic monotheism and benevolent terrestrial polytheism to the Jewish and Samaritan peoples, but that this benevolent polytheism was rejected by the authors of Exodus-Joshua in favor of an aggressive Yahwistic monolatry that was in turn the forerunner of true Yahwistic monotheism that begins to be documented in the second century BCE.
Far from arguing for a "pretty major revolution" that "millions of Palestinians just adopted ... on the spot", towards the end of the same chapter Gmirkin writes, p. 294:
Yet the philosophy that gave birth to the novel Jewish theocratic state was, ironically, extinguished at the outset.
  • Gmirkin, Russell E. Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. Abingdon, Oxon New York, NY: Routledge, 2022.
He's saying that the benevolent polytheism was extinguished, to be replaced with monotheism. But why would a non-monotheistic populace adopt this monotheism if they had historically been polytheistic?
rgprice
Posts: 1240
Joined: Sun Sep 16, 2018 11:57 pm

Re: Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Post by rgprice »

Russell Gmirkin wrote: Fri Aug 26, 2022 8:36 pm “Plato’s program of creating a mythic past in which the divine laws of the nation had been established in distant antiquity faced an obvious practical difficulty, namely the living memory of the new colonists. Plato fully recognized this problem and sought to overcome it by devising strategies to erase the nation’s memory of any other way of life, like erasing a tablet and starting with a clean slate. In order to erase the cultural memories of the past and replace them with new memories, the rulers would exercise complete control over the nation’s education, literature, public speech and cultural contacts with other nations…” (Gmirkin 2017 = Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible, 255.)

Plato’s proposed solution for wiping clean the national memory and substituting a new memory dictated by the ruling class was worked out in the most detail in Plato’s Laws.
1. The rulers should organize the creation of an authorized national literature consistent with its new origin story in which the gods gave the nation its laws to a lawgiver from the distant past.
2. This literature should be exclusively used in schools, festivals, and all other settings, public or private. Strictly enforced censorship and cultural isolation would prevent other sources of information or tradition from reaching the younger generation.
3. He predicted that after the original generation had died off, the new generation educated solely out of this sacred national literature would accept these written texts as authentic history.
This is exactly what happened with the creation of the Hebrew Bible after 270 BCE. See Gmirkin 2017: 255-56, 261, 274; 2022: 265, 268, 288.

Please note that one of Plato's key strategies in persuading the citizenry that their laws were ancient and divine was to retain as much as possible of the ancient religious institutions, priesthoods and local traditions and incorporate them into the new national religious life, though suitably reformed. I discuss this extensively at Gmirkin 2017: 262-63. There was thus significant continuity in religious traditions. Plato's main innovation, besides insisting that all the terrestrial gods played nice, was to postulate a supreme cosmic God who created the cosmos and existed outside the material realm. Otherwise not much change in the area of religion.
I'm aware of these claims, and can agree with them to some extent, but I find it very hard to believe that the population of Palestine living around 300 BCE in a polytheistic culture, with of course no historical lore of Moses or Twelve Tribes, who worshiped many gods, etc., would have become so thoroughly invested in the Torah by 200 BCE as they evidently were, and that hundreds of writings were produced by at least many tens of different writers, all feigning to be ancient documents of ancient monotheistic Yahweh worship.

While I can totally believe that the Torah was not written until the time you propose, with influence from Plato, Berossus, Mantheo and others, it seems to me that there has to be more of a Canaanite/Israelite core than what you allow for.

Christianity presented itself as something new, so its adoption was not really a problem. Judaism presented itself as something ancient that had existed for over a thousand years, which the people of the Yehud had been following and practicing for generations. It seems to have been very thoroughly adopted by a significant population by the time of the so-called Maccabean Revolt. Now, granted, it could be that much of the explosion of Judaism began with the Hasmoneans, but even still.

How did the worship of the other Canaanite/Israelite gods disappear so thoroughly in the region so quickly? Even potentially counter-Torah works like Enoch still worship Yahweh only.

I think prior to this latest book, I was able to envision a situation in which Yahweh-only worship began under the Persians, associated with the collaboration between the Persians and the Semitic administrators, but that the full-blown back story and history wasn't devised until the Hellenistic era. But that while the Torah made use of Hellenistic sources and ideas, it was largely creating a Hellenistic narrative around existing practices, rituals, and religious concepts. But it seems that you are proposing that all of it was invented in the Hellenistic era.

In addition, it has been my belief that the motive for the Hellenistic invention was for the priesthood to be able to present a narrative to the Greeks that would facilitate the preservation of their Jewish administration and allow them to continue to operate under their own existing laws and customs.

This is because when civilizations were conquered at this time, deference was given to ancient and established cultures, giving their societies greater autonomy and allowing them to maintain their ancient laws and customs. However, if a population was not viewed as having ancient and worthy roots, they were more thoroughly subsumed into the culture of the conquerors. It is clear that the Jews used their claims of ancient heritage in precisely this way. They lobbied Greek and Roman authorities for rights and autonomy based on the claim that they were an established society of ancient laws.

So to me, the motivation for much of this historical invention seemed much more to serve the interests for foreign diplomacy than domestic control.

I had envisioned many Jewish works, especially many of the works of the Prophets, as having actually been produced between the 6th and 3rd centuries BCE, with the Deuteronomistic History being produced in Hellenistic times. Pushing almost everything into Hellenistic times seems far more difficult to me.

It almost seems, with what you are proposing, that one has to argue that Judaism as we know it didn't really take hold until the Maccabean Revolt, and that it was really the Hasmoneans who spread it by force. Prior to that it was a project of a small number of elites. Is there any evidence for this? I don't know.
User avatar
neilgodfrey
Posts: 5608
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: Origins of Jewish monotheism: Gmirkin vs Isaiah...

Post by neilgodfrey »

rgprice wrote: Sat Aug 27, 2022 6:50 am
neilgodfrey wrote: Fri Aug 26, 2022 4:56 pm Russell Gmirkin, introduction to his chapter 8, p. 246:
It will be argued that the text of Genesis documents an attempt to introduce Platonic philosophical notions of cosmic monotheism and benevolent terrestrial polytheism to the Jewish and Samaritan peoples, but that this benevolent polytheism was rejected by the authors of Exodus-Joshua in favor of an aggressive Yahwistic monolatry that was in turn the forerunner of true Yahwistic monotheism that begins to be documented in the second century BCE.
Far from arguing for a "pretty major revolution" that "millions of Palestinians just adopted ... on the spot", towards the end of the same chapter Gmirkin writes, p. 294:
Yet the philosophy that gave birth to the novel Jewish theocratic state was, ironically, extinguished at the outset.
  • Gmirkin, Russell E. Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. Abingdon, Oxon New York, NY: Routledge, 2022.
He's saying that the benevolent polytheism was extinguished, to be replaced with monotheism. But why would a non-monotheistic populace adopt this monotheism if they had historically been polytheistic?
I don't think there was any sudden collective change of minds. There is no evidence for that and it's contrary to human nature and how societies work, of course.

We don't know the details but we do know that there was a time when people in "Judea" were polytheistic and a later time when the religious scene was not so uniformly polytheistic, if at all. We know that there was a time when Persian ideas were alien to Jewish ideas and another time where some of them were influential. So we do know changes happened even if the evidence for the details of how those changes happened is lost.

Plato's program in Laws was for gradual re-education and he envisioned a gradual -- generational -- change.

I think we can also perhaps see how some form of change could be introduced by following Genesis itself. If the authors of Genesis 1-11 understood Elohim and Yahweh to be different gods it presumably didn't take too much mental gymnastics for others to conflate them and say that they were the one god.

Much of the criticism of Isaiah is not against polytheism, per se, but against the use of icons in the worship of Yahweh. I imagine that would be a significant step -- priests teaching against the place of images of Yahweh. It would not be an easy quick revolution but I can imagine it happening over time with dedicated leadership.

But then when we have the Maccabean takeover, were the Edomites the only targets of their "pious program"? We've seen how certain conservative Muslim takeovers of nations have resulted in quick submission of people to conform for the sake of their personal safety and well-being. Similar pressures to change thinking happened in the ancient world, too.

Gmirkin, I think, is attempting to explain how the idea of Jewish-Samaritan monotheism came about and does not explore how society itself changed -- though it evidently did, whether or not we accept Gmirkin's theory.

Those are just some of my first-thoughts.
Post Reply