J. W. Wesselius: “The Origin of the History of Israel” (2002)—Review

This book by the Dutch scholar Jan Wim Wesselius presents yet another radical solution to the question hulking over OT studies like a malignant phantom: Who wrote the ancient history of Israel? Much depends on the answer—including the self-proclaimed legitimacy of the modern state of Israel. We recently considered Russell Gmirkin’s answer, which I personally find quite plausible: a group of Jewish scholars penned the Torah in Alexandria, c. 273 BCE, drawing on sources found in the Alexandria Library (particularly Berossus and Manetho). Wesselius presents a very different, but equally provocative, solution to the authorship question as regards the so-called Primary History (Genesis through 2 Kings). His book’s full title is The Origin of the History of Israel: Herodotus’s Histories … Continue reading

R. Gmirkin: Berossus and Genesis (2006)—Review

Though there are a few reviews of Gmirkin’s book it deserves a revisit today, over a decade after publication. Priced at $180, it’s unlikely that many of you have read this important tome. I did so only because the nearby University of Oregon Library possesses a copy. This is not a thoroughgoing review of Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch (New York: t & t Clark 2006), but rather a series of excerpts (see below) presenting its essential thesis and argument. For more details, see Neil Godfrey’s 2012 analyses (here, here, and here), and also Laura Knight Jadczyk’s fine customer review on Amazon.com. At 332, pages, the book contains eleven chapters and … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 6

Priests vs. Levites   We concluded the last section with an observation of Ellis Rivkin: “We must, therefore, conclude that the Aaronides come to power with the finalized Pentateuch and, as such, are their own creation” (IDB). The priestly Aaronides, centered in Jerusalem, are the post-exilic religious hegemonists who took authority away from the pre- and concurrently-existing (gnostic) Levites. By “their own creation,” Rivkin means that the Aaronides invented their own pedigree, invented their status as Levites (for Aaron was supposedly himself a Levite), and in this way they took over from the ancient and ʻtrueʼ Levites the rights to administer the Temple. Essentially, they arrogated to themselves the religion which became known as “Judaism.” With the rise of the … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 5

The demise of gnosticism   Scant elements of the gnostic worldview remain in the Jewish scriptures. They are hidden, to be ferreted out from among the obloquy heaped upon gnosticism by the later scribes. The meaning of old gnostic symbols was lost, perhaps unknown even to many in later antiquity. When the Jewish religion turned against its gnostic roots, the Aaronide priests of Jerusalem jettisoned the old goal of ‘acquisition of gnosis’ (which was still practiced at Dan in the north) and fashioned an impassable chasm between man and god, one not to be crossed. Thus Judaism made an about-face, from a people who at first celebrated ʻcrossing overʼ from the material to the transcendent, to a people who forbade … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 4

Ephrathah and ʻcrossing overʼ   In Jewish scripture, Bethlehem is sometimes equated with Ephrath/Ephrathah (Gen 35:19; 48:7; Ruth 4:11; Mic 5:2). Elsewhere, the latter is the “father” of Bethlehem (1 Chr 4:4). Both ʻplacesʼ were not material settlements in Judah, Benjamin, or Ephraim, but mythical locales in pre-Israelite religion. Beit-Lahmu (Bethlehem) was the home of the Lahmu divinities, servants of the great god of hidden wisdom who guarded the ʻgateʼ of his house. Hidden wisdom (gnosis) had long been symbolized by fresh water emerging from within and under the earth. Thus, it is no surprise that the Bethlehem known to Jewish scribes was noted for a well with special water sought out by David himself, as already cited (2 Sam … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 3

David, Bethlehem, and the scribes   To this day, archaeologists cannot be certain where the settlement of Bethlehem was located. The scribes who penned the Jewish scriptures were also in doubt, for in several cases they found it necessary to identify Bethlehem with another unlocated settlement called Ephrath/Ephrathah: “So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachelʼs tomb, which is there to this day” (Gen 35:19–20; cf. 48:7). However, Jewish scripture clearly locates Rachelʼs tomb to the north of Jerusalem (1 Sam 10:2; Jer 31:15). This anomaly has long caused both Jewish and Christian scholars a good deal of … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 2

Noah, the first Natsarene?   The flood was a divine judgment upon all mankind, one which came suddenly. But god gave Noah secret knowledge in advance: to build an ark. The ark itself represents and symbolizes the secret saving knowledge of god. After all, it was the ark that saved Noah. Thus it is no surprise that in the Akkadian flood story the boat is named natsirat napishtim, “Preserver of Life,” a phrase employing the root n-ts-r.6 It should also not surprise us that netsêru in Akkadian means “secret knowledge,” particularly that received from the moon god Ea/Enki (the god of the underword ocean).7 In the flood story, secret knowledge protects the wise person against that which destroys the entire … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 1 (Salm)

Foreword I wrote the essay entitled The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis in 2011, to be read in conjunction with Ditlef Nielsen’s groundbreaking and long forgotten book The Old Arabian Moon Religion and the Mosaic Tradition (1904). This essay was originally conceived as an addendum to Chapter Four of Nielsen’s work. I am now revising and updating it in this series of posts, in order to make the essay available in the search features of this website and also in order to bring it once again to the attention of readers. The original essay is available complete in PDF form here. The first five chapters of Nielsen’s book (in my translation from the German) are available in a series of PDF’s … Continue reading

Pre-Christian gnosticism

In the last few years the fundamental historicity of the canonical gospels has been increasingly brought into question not merely through the work of a few “mythicists” but now also through the work of mainline scholars such as Thomas Brodie and Dennis MacDonald. The work of other scholars, too—scholars who are not ‘mythicist’ at all—is inexorably leading the entire field towards a new paradigm: “Jesus of Nazareth” was a fiction. This new paradigm is still far from being even a minority consensus among scholars, but that may largely be due to the reticence of many scholars to espouse what is extremely unpopular and still politically suicidal. In other words, the mythicist position is far stronger than may appear when the … Continue reading

The Natsarene (“Nazarene”) Religion – Pt. 8

Early Buddhist influence on the West It is hardly acknowledged by Christian scholarship that Buddhism potentially exercised considerable influence in the Western world as early as the third century BCE. In the middle of that century, Ashoka (r. 269-232 BCE)—the Mauryan “Emperor of Emperors” who conquered most of the Indian subcontinent—sent a Buddhist missionary contingent to Alexandria at the official request of the curious and enterprising emperor Ptolemy II of Egypt (r. 283-246 BCE)—the same emperor who founded the great Library of Alexandria (eventually destroyed, probably by Christians in 391 or 415 CE).   Both Ashoka and Ptolemy II were extraordinary figures. After a particularly bloody victory against the Kalingas, Ashoka Maurya converted to Buddhism and became a pacifist. Surrounded … Continue reading