Friday, June 17, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Numbers 22:2 to 24:25

For this week you were supposed to read Numbers 22:2-24:25.  The other end of the spectrum on the Exodus says it didn’t happen but was invented in the 800s BCE.
First, elementary school math will show you that this puts the Exodus after the Israelite settlements in the highlands have dissipated, in other words, after the time when we know an Israelite culture existed.  Second, elementary math will show you that if the Exodus was invented at this time, it took less than 100 years to become so familiar to the Israelites that Amos could refer to it and know that his audience knew what he meant.  I’ll discuss that in more detail at the end of the blog.
This weak analogy rests on an archaeological find at Deir ’Alla in Jordan, which was the Sukkot referred to in the Biblical story of Gideon, about 250 km away from the Sukkot at the edge of the Sinai that the Israelites left from in beginning the Exodus.
The archaeological find was a damaged wall inscription about a man named Balaam, and the weak analogy says that he was the same Balaam referred to in Numbers.  The Balaam referred to in this inscription of the 800s BCE is supposed to be the same one who suggested the activities leading to the sin of Baal Peor in Numbers 25.
However, the northern audience of the prophet Hoshea knows about the sin of Baal Peor and his reference also comes less than a century after the inscription.
The third historical problem with this is that the Passover story was as familiar to people in the pagan northern kingdom of Israel, as to those in the monotheistic southern kingdom of Judea.  Hezekiah, who ruled after Amos and Hoshea, issued a Passover invitation to people in the north, and some of them came to Jerusalem to celebrate it.  This had to happen before the Assyrian conquest of the north, because archaeologists find that Assyria established a sort of iron curtain around the territories they controlled. (This will be important in Part IV of this blog.)  There has to be some reason the northerners would respond to Hezekiah’s invitation.  It can’t be the mere references to Passover in Amos and Hoshea, because that involves a hidden assumption that the northerners had read those two books.  The Samaritans, the modern remainder of the northern population, have a book called Joshua/Chronicle by some; it has no material from either Amos or Hoshea.  The Samaritan Pentateuch does have the Exodus story, almost word for word the same as in Jewish Torah (more about that in the next section). 
That’s the historical evidence against the Deir ’Alla claim.  The logical problem that makes this a weak analogy is the contents of the inscription.  You can find a description on the web and what it says is that Balaam stood before the council of gods and was told about a goddess who had to be punished.
This is so different from the Balaam in Numbers that I don’t see any reason to equate the two on any level.  The names aren’t enough and at the end of this blog I will show why, as well as giving a broadly applicable reason that the two Balaams aren’t the same.
But what it does resemble is Marduk standing before the council of gods and being told that Tiamat has to be punished.  And that is in Enuma Elish.  Which has consequences of its own that I will discuss later.
The inscription has undergone considerable study and that’s all to the good because the more we know about local cultures, the more we know about the Israelites and their being a distinct culture in the eyes of Merneptah.  At a distance, distinctions blur.  That’s why it’s important that Merneptah did distinguish between Israel and Canaan.  Four centuries before the Balaam inscription.
I’ll sum up next week because I’ve already gone on too long with this post.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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