Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Father of Joshua/Jesus by Saul Levin Part 2

This is the second part of my review of Saul Levin's book The Father of Joshua/Jesus covering chapters 4 and 5.

Chapter IV

Rabbinical literature and Bible codices record that scribes changed the text of the Bible. This chapter lists numerous changes made in the text, proving that the Bible has indeed been revised. Levin notes that in public readings, the divine name was never spoken, being too holy. Also certain phrases that were too obscene were replaced by euphemisms. However, the only time the written text was altered was to avoid blasphemy. 

One of these "corrections" was made to remove a reference to polytheism. The word "god" was nonsensically changed to "tents" in the follow passage:

We have no part in David, and we have no heritage in Jesse's son; everyone to his own god, O Israel. (2 Samuel 20:1)

Levin uncovers another reference to polytheism using one of the Dead Sea Scrolls that was available when his book was written. In the following passage the word "God" found in the Dead Sea Scrolls was nonsensically changed to "Israel" in the Massoretic text.

When the Most High parceled out nations,
when he split up the sons of man,
he fixed the boundaries of peoples
to the number of the sons of God
For the Lord's portion is his people,
Jacob the lot of his heritage. (Deuteronomy 32: 8-9)

Originally, YHWH, or the Lord, was one of several gods. Each god was given a nation of men and YHWH got Israel. Later on, YHWH merged with his father, the Most High and became the only god there was. As this idea was considered blasphemous later on, it was changed in the Massoretic text, but the Dead Sea Scrolls preserve the original.

By comparing the Septuagint with the Massoretic text, Levin finds many unattested changes in the text. For example, the hero named Jerub-Baal or "The Master Strives" in the Septuagint gets his name changed to "Shame Strives" in the Massoretic (Judges 6:32-9:57, 1 Samuel 12:11) This is because The Lord went to war with a rival god called The Master (not to be confused with the Dr. Who villain) in 1 Kings 18 and 2 Kings 10. Other Hebrew names which contain a reference to The Master were also changed. A Jewish hero just couldn't be named after a rival god.

More relevant to the topic of whether or not Joshua's original patronymic was son of the Lord, there's an early king of Judah (Abijah) whose name in the Septuagint translates to "The Lord is My Father", but whose name was changed in the Massoretic text to "The Sea is My Father"! It came to be considered blasphemous for a mortal to be fathered by god, so the name had to be changed. This was certainly the case with Joshua son of the Lord being changed to Joshua son of Nun (which means fish). Not only did the scribes have motive to remove this blasphemy from the text, but, as Levin demonstrates, they could make the change easily with only minor changes to the letters.

Chapter V

The tribe of Judah far exceeded the number of any other tribe in every census of the Bible. A possible explanation for Judah's fertility is found in Genesis 38. Judah had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah got a wife for Er named Tamar. Tamar is the Hebrew word for palm, which was a sign of fertility since the palm tree is green throughout the year and produces dates for months on end. However, Er was wicked and the Lord put him to death. Tamar then married Onan, but he was also wicked and the Lord killed him as well. Not wanting his last son to die also, Judah refused to let Tamar marry Shelah, so she dressed up as a hallowed one (temple prostitute) and slept with Judah at twin springs where she got pregnant and later gave birth to twins, replacing the two sons Judah had lost.

The tribe of Judah settled in the south in a land that was famous for its palm trees. Levin points out that Tamar's father is never named, even when the text calls for it, which is very strange. She originally must have been a literal palm tree and Judah's impregnating her was a metaphor for the tribe of Judah's cultivation of the palm, which made a more sedentary life possible and led to them being more numerous than the other tribes of Israel. Trees and May-poles are linked with fertility in many places in the Bible. For example, the place where Sarah and Abraham overcome their sterility is called "the great trees of Mamre" (Genesis 18:1).

Ruth is another woman whose parentage is strangely lacking in the text. Like Tamar, she is not from the tribe of Israel. Both Ruth and Tamar have in-laws who are reluctant to provide a male relative for them to marry after having two sons die without producing children. However both Ruth and Tamar end up seducing the male head of the clan and becoming pregnant with sons.

Foreskins were a symbol of vitality and virility. When Moses was near death, his wife cut off their son's foreskin and touched it to his feet, which restored him to health (Exodus 4:24-26) and they later had another son (Exodus 18:2-4). King David, who had numerous wives and sons perhaps obtained his superhuman virility from cutting off the foreskins of two hundred Philistines (1 Samuel 18:25-27). David's expertise when it came to getting woman pregnant extended into the medical realm since according to the Talmud, he was also a gynecologist.

The prophet Elisha somehow gets a childless woman pregnant in 2 Kings 4:9-17. Apparently her husband was old (i.e. impotent) so Elisha lives with them for awhile, and then the woman gets pregnant. The most obvious way for him to accomplish this would be to have sex with her, although medical knowledge may also have played a role.

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