From Gods to God: How the Bible Debunked, Sup­pressed, or Changed Ancient Myths and Legends

Avig­dor Shi­nan and Yair Zakovitch; Valerie Zakovitch, trans.
  • Review
By – May 21, 2013
The Bible is many things to many peo­ple. Most find the Bible to be a source of inspi­ra­tion and instruc­tion. Oth­ers see it as lit­er­a­ture, his­to­ry, or myth. One’s per­spec­tive also col­ors how one views author­ship of the Bible. Regard­less of its divin­i­ty or mul­ti­ple authors, there are two incon­tro­vert­ible truths about the Bible. First, the Bible sought to tran­si­tion a peo­ple from pagan­ism to a monothe­ism with a rec­og­niz­ably Jew­ish belief sys­tem. Sec­ond, the Bible did not exist in iso­la­tion from the rich lit­er­ary and oral tra­di­tions of its his­tor­i­cal milieu. 

The authors of From Gods to God, both pro­fes­sors of Bible at the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty in Jerusalem, argue that many pas­sages and sto­ries rein­ter­pret and sup­press or trans­form pre-exist­ing nar­ra­tives to make them com­pat­i­ble with a monothe­is­tic the­ol­o­gy. The thir­ty exam­ples cho­sen reflect this polemic accord­ing to Shi­nan and Zalkovitch. 

The Bible railed against poly­the­ism, cul­tic ele­ments, and pagan prac­tices. The fig­ures por­trayed in the Bible there­fore had to be free from these char­ac­ter­is­tics. The authors engage in lit­er­ary archae­ol­o­gy to retrieve what in their opin­ion con­sti­tutes ancient tra­di­tions sup­pressed by the Bible in order to fit this descrip­tion. As in all cas­es of archae­ol­o­gy, one can only extrap­o­late from what finds and even that is oft en con­jec­ture. The authors weave togeth­er dis­parate pas­sages from the Bible, quote from ancient Near East­ern texts, cite par­al­lels from post-bib­li­cal lit­er­a­ture and lat­er trans­la­tions, and even invoke Greek mythol­o­gy and the New Tes­ta­ment to sup­port their dis­cov­er­ies.”

The authors acknowl­edge the the­o­ret­i­cal aspects of their research as they recon­struct what they claim were the orig­i­nal nar­ra­tives. Phras­es such as inter­pre­tive fog ‚’ recon­struct tra­di­tions,’ ‘ residue from ancient ide­o­log­i­cal debates,’ bridge the chasm,’ we pro­pose,’ this con­jec­tured sto­ry,’ the recon­struc­tion of this sto­ry,’ our hypoth­e­sis,’ we’ll nev­er know what exact­ly was told among the ancient Israelites,’ recon­struct­ed tra­di­tion, our con­jec­tured sto­ry, etc. indi­cate the spec­u­la­tive nature of these reconstructions. 

Per­haps one can argue that in the same way that Moses retells events in Deuteron­o­my dif­fer­ent­ly from the way they are told in Exo­dus and Num­bers, that he (with Divine approval) retold con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous events in a par­tic­u­lar way for instruc­tion­al pur­pos­es, and not sole­ly to doc­u­ment his­tor­i­cal truth. In addi­tion, the Tal­mud and Midrash oft en point out par­al­lels and alle­go­ry and even attempt to resolve con­tra­dic­tions in the text. 

The top­ics and per­son­al­i­ties ana­lyzed are fas­ci­nat­ing. The authors demon­strate famil­iar­i­ty with mul­ti­ple forms of exe­ge­sis as well as knowl­edge of Hebrew, Ara­ma­ic, and Greek texts. The book is well writ­ten, well researched, and offers a chal­leng­ing look at many sig­nif­i­cant Bib­li­cal sto­ries and personalities. 

The orig­i­nal Hebrew vol­ume was enti­tled Lo kach katuv ba-Tanakh” mean­ing that these (recon­struct­ed) sto­ries were not in the Bible. How­ev­er the Eng­lish title From Gods to God real­ly indi­cates what the authors feel is the rea­son these nar­ra­tives were sup­pressed. It is not for the casu­al or gen­er­al reader. 
Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

Discussion Questions