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13634SV: [ANE-2] Elephantine

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  • Niels Peter Lemche
    Oct 6, 2011
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      It is a sad fact that the moment biblical matters are involved, everything breaks down into a discussion between those who takes the information of the Bible literarily or are able to see what we have in the Bible as texts reflecting the viewpoint of their authors, whether or not building on a real or an imagined world.

      Thus no doubt Liz, Aren and I will have different opinions about almost everything. But none of us would use this kind of translating biblical information into real world information.

      so:

      1) "Jew" is not a proper term, except if you measure everything according to the biblical standards for being a Jew. The moment you use this term, you have already said too much. Liz' Judeans, i.e., people who are tracing their origins to the landscape of Judah in central Palestine (real or imagined origins), is a proper and neutral term for the people at Elephantine who definitely considered themselves to be Judean. We don't know if people living in the Jehud in the Persian period did also reckon them as Judeans. So the ethnicity of these Judeans is not an established fact as we only have the emic and not the etic idea of their ethnicity. In this way, they can easily understand themselves as Judeans although living in Egypt for 200 years. It is no more astonishing than the modern acceptance of the Falashians as Jews in modern Israel. It is a matter--as defined by Fredrik Barth and his many successors--of ascription and description.

      2) It is relevant to ask for the evidence we have from the Iron Age. As a matter of fact, this evidence is quite confusing and does not allow us to paint an image of "Israelites" and "Judeans" living in Palestine in that period. Thus we may doubt the existence in this period of law-abiding Israelites bound by the ten commandments and worshipping Yahweh alone. It is simply not the impression we get from the findings in the ground, and interesting enough, the Old Testament is in total agreement with this. The fathers were not law-abiding "Jews" following the demands of the law. Au contraire, mon ami, as Poirot would have said: the OT tells us a story about a sinful race unfaithful whenever it was possible to their God. So the parameter to measure the people from Elephantine with might be the Jews of the Old Testament, in which case they were not Jews. But they need not have been essentially different in their ideological world from people living in their homeland.

      3) We really do not know if the cult in Jerusalem was monotheistic. And again, this is not the impression you get from the Old Testament itself. (read about Josiah's reform). Name material, inscriptions etc has a different story to tell. I always remmeber Dever at a conference in Bern 1993 speaking about figurines which abound in Iron Age excavations but were supposed to be absent in stratas from the Persian Period: Dever: But now we have found them! Aren can definitely bring light to this statement Anno Domine 2011! So your pagan Yahwism was simply the current religion in the Iron Age in the landscape which I here calls Palestine (without any political connotation, if possible). This is not a matter of official religion bound on Jerusalem and a popular religion found elsewhere. The cult in Jerusalem was in te Iron Age as "pagan" as it was everywhere else. As to the prophets I can recommend Bernhard Lang's the Uahweh-Alone-Movement: not that I agree, but his thesis is interesting to see the prophets as the real revolutionaries preaching a new religion.

      4) It is clear that the Ten Commandments are central to Judaism, but probably more to protestant Christianity. Besides, are you sure that they knew these commandments at Yeb? Even Abraham in the patriarchal stories seems not quite well versed in them as he marries his half sister, although is definitely not allowed according to the Torah. That you find Akkadian terms and Egyptian legal practices is hardly surprising: You have a plethora of these not least in the Book of Covenant, Exodus 21-23.

      5) The literature you mention is immaterial and has no bearing on the modern discussion about the history of the southern Levant ("Israel"). The idea of the Judeans at Yab as deriving from Israelites left behind by the Exodus is simply ridiculous. It has never been discussed for serious in serious scholarship. Of course you reckon the Exodus as historical, as well as Moses and the Patriarchs. These are subject not gladly discussed here (many other lists available).

      6) Sorry to say, your approach is "amateurish". You are moving back and to biblical texts as now historical, now mythical. There are so many things you need to study. I should, say, begin with the modern ethnicity discussion. Then some literary theory, especially modern literature's talk about construction and deconstruction, and put some study of cultural memory on top of that (you should like it, as Jan Assmann also believes in a historical Moses). But you simply have to get to what is today said among specialists about these subjects. Only the most evangelical part would subscribe to your ideas of the information of the biblical texts.

      Niels Peter Lemche



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      Fra: ANE-2@yahoogroups.com [mailto:ANE-2@yahoogroups.com] På vegne af Robert Feather
      Sendt: den 6 oktober 2011 12:16
      Til: ANE-2@yahoogroups.com
      Emne: [ANE-2] Elephantine

      Dear Elizabeth, and Aren,

      Of course you can have different definitions of who is or was a Jew. It is the relativity of the beliefs and practices of the 'Jews' in Israel to what was going on at Elephantine Island, that I am referring to. We don't need an agreed definition, only to acknowledge that there were highly significant differences in the forms of religion. This can only be assessed from the evidence we have and for the periods we know something about. You cannot possibly use the same 'Jewish' label for both varieties.



      In the background of Israel was the central monotheistic cult practiced in the Jerusalem Temple by its priests and preached by the Biblical prophets. There is an interesting article in the BAS library by Stephen Pfann on Pagan Yahwisn: the Folk Religion of Ancient Israel which spells out the many strands of Yahwism and a blanket name for all the different versions is quite misleading.



      You can of course define Judaism as you wish, but central to its values is the Ten Commandments. The people at Yeb broke at least two of the basic laws. They worshipped more than one god, and allowed work on the Sabbath. In addition they charged interest, married out, used Akkadian terms, followed the Egyptian legal, fiscal and social precedents - some dating back to 1700 BCE, as well as numerous other anomalous markers.



      You should read E.C.B Maclaurin, Date of the Foundation of the Jewish Colony at Elephantine, Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol 27, 1968


      You say: They are Judeans, even though they may not have lived in Judah for some 200 years.


      This appears to be saying the Pseudo-Yahwists came to the Island around 600 BCE, although all the evidence says much earlier. Even if that was the case, settlers from Israel prior to 525 BCE would have written in early Hebrew, whereas the Elephantine Community wrote and communicated in Aramaic. You need to quantify when they arrived and why. The gods they worshipped, and their complete lack of any knowledge of Baal is also significant.

      If you want to respect the texts, as I'm sure you do, then you have to take these people at their word.

      So, are they YHWHists or Pseudo-Yahwists, as you style them? They have built and maintained a temple to YHWH from the time of their arrival at the time of Cambyses, according to their own words.

      Fine to respect the texts, but you need to interpret them and not always take them literally. We do not know exactly when they arrived and they themselves, in their texts, say their Temple was built before Cambyses entered Egypt (TAD A4-7). In fact they did not refer to the Temple as that of YHWH but that of YHH. Maclaurin is clear in concluding 'they worshipped (not just took oaths on them) other gods - Yahu, Bethel, and Anath. He says: "the evidence of these names points to the separation of the Yeb community from the rest of the Hebrews and from Canaan at a very early date." The period he assigns, as I do, is at least that of the Patriarchs. (I suppose I shoud amend my appelation to Pseudo-YHHists).

      His final conclusion is : "The evidence is not conclusive, but it seems more compatible with a suggestion that the Yeb colony was descended from a body of Hebrews left behind at the time of the Exodus than any other."

      When I visited Elephantine Island excavations were closing in on the location of the Temple, and I understand this has now been verified.

      Regardless of 'Jewish' definitions the real questions that need to be addressed are how did they get there and when and why did they go there in the first place? There do not seem to be any plausible consensus explanations. Nor do you begin to address the significance of the Temple's design and the layout of the Settlement.

      Robert Feather, Institute of Materials, London






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