Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Father of Joshua/Jesus by Saul Levin Part 3

This is the third part of my book review of Saul Levin's The Father of Joshua/Jesus in which I summarize the concluding chapter.

Chapter VI

Although the names of Jesus and Joshua are different in English translations, they  are both the same name in Greek and Hebrew. In fact, Jesus seems to have been named after Joshua. While the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have completely different nativity stories from one another, one thing they both agree on is that Jesus was named by an angel. In Luke, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says "You shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus" (Luke 1:31). In Matthew, the angel appears to Joseph, so the wording only differs by a pronoun: "She shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." (Matthew 1:21) Luke goes on to call Jesus "son of the Highest" (Luke 1:32), perhaps with Joshua son of the Lord in mind.

In the apocryphal Protevangelium of James, the parents of Mary were sterile. So Mary's father Joakim  goes to the desert to fast for forty days, while Mary's mother Anne prays to get pregnant in a fertility rite setting - sitting under a tree, wearing a headband, and looking at a nest of sparrows. Angels appear to both of them promising a miraculous birth. Mary's mother Anne (based on Anne, the mother of the prophet Samuel in the Old Testament, also compare 1 Samuel 2:1 with Luke 1:46) vowed to give her child to serve the Lord. Accordingly, when Mary was three years old, she was given to the temple where she was fed by an angel. Perhaps her being given to the temple is an echo of the "hallowed ones" or temple prostitutes of the Hebrew Bible. When she turned twelve, the priests were worried she would pollute the temple (by menstruating) so they gave her to the elderly widow Joseph. While spinning thread to make a curtain for the temple, Mary is visited by an angel and becomes pregnant with Jesus.

In a footnote, Levin points out that the Gospels (Mark 11:8-11, Matthew 21:8-10, John 12:12-13)  confuse the autumn festival of Tabernacles where palms were waved and people cry "please save" with the spring festival of Passover. He explains their ignorance of Jewish customs by supposing the authors of the Gospels wrote after the Temple was destroyed (70 CE) and they did not attend synagogues either. I think a better explanation for why the Gospels are ignorant of Jewish customs is that they were not written by Jews, but hey, that's just me.

While Jesus recreates most of the miracles performed by Elisha and Elijah in the book of Kings, one miracle is conspicuously absent: making a sterile woman fertile (although Luke has John the Baptist born to aged parents similar to Abraham and Sarah, this happens before the birth of Jesus). Levin supposes that Jesus's miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding (John 2:1-11) could be thought of as a fertility miracle since having plenty of wine at a wedding makes the occasion more joyous which in turn makes it more likely that the marriage will produce children, but I think this is stretching it a bit.

In another footnote, Levin points out that the name of Jesus's mother is never given in the Gospel of John, and in fact her name being Mary as it is in the other Gospels is unlikely since her sister is named Mary. While it wouldn't be unusual in Roman families to have two sisters both named Mary, this wasn't done amongst Jews. Does this indicate that John had a different name in mind for the mother of Jesus, perhaps edited out later to conform with the other Gospels, or is it an indication that the Gospel writer was Roman?

Jesus is called the "son of David" when he heals the blind or performs exorcisms (Matthew 9:27, 15:22,  20:30-31, Mark 10:47-48, Luke 18:38-39), which implies that David was known for performing such miracles himself. David does cure Saul of an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:14) and the Talmud tells us he was a gynecologist (Tractate Berakoth 4a). However, David did not heal the crippled Mephibosheth, although he did provide for him (2 Samuel 9:1-9). Perhaps with this in mind, Jesus is not called the "son of David" when he heals the lame (Luke 5:17-26, John 5:1-15). The only other time Jesus is called the "son of David" is during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem during Passover (Matthew 21:9-16). 

Although Jesus is called "the Anointed One" (i.e. Christ), there is no depiction of him actually being anointed. The closest the Gospels come is when a woman pours perfume on him (Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:3, John 12:3, Luke 7:36-50) although Jesus himself says this is for his burial (Matthew 26:12, Mark 14:8), not for anointing. Acts 10:38 is the most explicit reference to an act of anointing, although this refers to being anointed by spirit. Levin muses that the anointing had to be kept secret since when the disciples of Jesus say he is the anointed one, he instructs them to tell no one (Matthew 16:16-20, Mark 8:29-30, Luke 9:20-21). Calling himself the anointed one was tantamount to calling himself King of the Jews, which is what ended up getting him into trouble. Jesus not being officially anointed like King David makes him more like Joshua who wasn't anointed either. This is because Joshua was from an earlier time when leadership was bestowed by the laying on of hands rather than anointing (Numbers 27:18-23).

Just as Joshua's spies in Jericho stay at the house of Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1), Jesus kept the company of prostitutes. Joshua's miracle of destroying the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6:1-20) finds a possible correspondence in Jesus's claim that he will destroy the temple and in three days build another ( Mark 14:57-59, Matthew 26:60-61, John 2:19). Although Levin doesn't mention it, Joshua's miracle of making the sun stand still (Joshua 10:12-13) may correspond to the darkening of the sun at the death of Jesus (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44-45). Levin claims Jesus was meant to be a military leader like Joshua and plays up the militant aspect of Jesus, pointing out that the followers of Jesus were armed (Luke 22:49), one of Jesus's followers cut off a servant's ear (Mark 14:47, Matthew 26:51, Luke 22:50, John 18:10), Jesus tells his disciples to sell all they have to buy swords (Luke 22:35-36), and Jesus says he came not to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34-36).  I must admit that all these similarities seem more like parallelomania than actual evidence of a correspondence to me.

In direct contradiction to his own introduction, Levin uncritically accepts the Gospel accounts as history rather than literature and cherry picks out passages that match his view of Jesus as a guerilla leader. He ends his book by telling us that Jesus being called the son of God was originally due to his being a great man, not due to being thought of as God's literal offspring.

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.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Father of Joshua/Jesus by Saul Levin Part 1

This post is a review of the first three chapters of The Father of Joshua/Jesus by Saul Levin. In case you're wondering about the title, both Joshua and Jesus are the same name in Hebrew. Joshua is the English translation of Yehoshua, while Jesus is based on Iesous which is the Greek version of Yehoshua (Yeshua in Aramiac). The first part of this book sticks to the Hebrew Bible, but he does discuss the New Testament Jesus later on.

Chapter I

The first chapter is really just an introduction in which Levin explains his methodology and gives a summary of the book to come.

"The whole subject, as I approach it, belongs to philology rather than history or theology. In dealing with accounts of divine procreation, it would be chimerical to play the historian, as though I knew what actually happened to certain persons at such-and-such a time in such-and-such a place. [...] The primary evidence consists of texts, mostly but not altogether literary; and I look upon them less as sources of information about the material life of the past than as artifacts of importance and interest in their own right."

Chapter II

The Biblical hero Joshua, who became the leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses, is said to be the son of Nun. However, Joshua's patronymic is kind of strange. Hebrew usually uses "ben" to indicate "the son of" (for example Joseph ben Mattathias). However, in Joshua's name, "bin" is used instead. Also, his father's name, Nun, is simply one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It's equivalent to saying he is the son of N. As Joshua's patronymic is used more than any other in the Pentateuch, it was the most liable to be simplied due to frequent use, but being simplified to a single letter is a bit too much.

Also, while the Hebrew versions of the Bible, the Massoretic and Samaritan texts, present Joshua as the son of Nun, the Septuagint, which is written in Greek, presents him as the son of Naue. Josephus, also writing in Greek, renders Joshua's patronymic in a curious way (Antiquities 3.2.3 and 3.14.4), although since I don't know Greek I can't explain why it's curious. Scholars usually just chalk this up to a corruption of the text, but in his book The Father of Joshua/Jesus, Saul Levin uses philology to argue against this. He demonstrates that Naue cannot be the Aramaic form of Nun, it can only be an Aramaism of the divine name. Joshua wasn't originally the son of Nun, but rather the son of the Lord.

Since I don't know Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, I can't vouch for how persuasive his arguments are. While they were a recent discovery when Levin wrote this book (1978) and he therefor does not reference them in detail, the Dead Sea Scrolls do prove that the Septuagint is often closer to the original Hebrew than the Massoretic or Samaritan texts. I don't know whether the DSS strengthen Levin's argument or not.

Chapter III

So if Joshua is the son of the Lord, what does this mean? Was he literally YHWH's son, or was "son of the Lord" simply an honorific title applied to a great man? Odysseus, for example, was called the son of Zeus in an honorific, not a literal, sense (Iliad 2.173). Calling someone the son of a god doesn't fit Jewish culture very well, so its origins are most likely Pagan, although there are vestiges of proof that Samson was originally the son of a sun god.

Sterile couples miraculously having children with the help of God or an angel is a common theme in the Bible. Samson's mother seems to have gotten pregnant by having sex with a stranger who was possibly an angel since the Hebrew phrase for "a man comes to a woman" is most often used euphemistically for sexual intercourse.

A man of God has come to me [had sex with me], and his looks were like the looks of God's messenger [an angel], very awesome; I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name. (Judges 13:6)

The prophet Samuel also had a miraculous birth. Reading between the lines, Levin suggests that it may have been the priests at the temple who got Samuel's mother pregnant.

Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. (1 Samuel 2:22)

When a childless woman goes to the temple to pray for offspring and comes back pregnant, is this what's happening? In the ancient world, if you got impregnated by a temple worker, or "hallowed one", the pregnancy was considered a gift from God and the child produced would be called a son of god. Temple prostitution was a common fertility rite in the ancient world, but was it practiced in Israel?

There shall be no hallowed woman from the daughters of Israel; and there shall be no hallowed man from the sons of Israel. You shall not bring a prostitute's hire or the price of a dog (male prostitute?) to the house of the Lord your God for any vow; for both of them are an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 23:17-18)

Notice how the above passage doesn't condemn temple prostitution outright, it only forbids Israelites from being temple prostitutes. As long as the "hallowed ones" are strangers, the practice seems to have been acceptable.

The three kings of Judah (Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah) all dedicated themselves to eradicating the hallowed ones from the temple.

And he demolished the houses of the hallowed ones [temple prostitutes] that were in the house of the Lord where the women wove coverings [literally "houses"] for the May-pole. (2 Kings 23:7)

So it appears that temple prostitution did occur in Israel, although it became unpopular in later times.

Turning back to Joshua,  we find that it was Moses who gave him his current name in the Massoretic text: "And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua" (Numbers 13:16) The Samaritan Pentateuch, on the other hand, does not contain the name Hoshea at all, rendering the passage ridiculous: "And Moses called Joshua the son of Nun, Joshua." This can't just be a scribal error because the Samaritan text removes the name Hoshea everywhere it appears. What's going on here?

Most of the great men in the Bible have miraculous birth narratives, but the Bible tells us nothing about Joshua's parents. In the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Sotah 35a), Joshua is called "the one with the lopped off head." An eighteenth century rabbinic writing by Abraham ben Elijah, which appears to originate from a much earlier date, explains why.

In a cento (a story mainly constructed from different Biblical passages cobbled together), we are told that Joshua's mother was sterile and miraculously got pregnant. However, Joshua's father learned from heaven that his son would one day cut off his head, so they put him in an ark and sent him down the Nile a la Moses where he was swallowed by a fish a la Jonah. Someone caught the fish and brought it before the king. When they opened up the fish and found a child inside, the king decided to make Joshua an executioner. Joshua ends up chopping off his father's head and sleeping with his mother. However, their marriage bed fills up with milk from her breasts. Joshua is about to kill her for being a witch when she reveals that she's his mother. Joshua is called the son of Nun (which means fish) because he came out of a fish.

This story helps explain why Joshua was called the son of the Lord. Not only is his birth due to divine intervention, but his patronymic "son of a fish" indicates that his human father is either non-existant or utterly insignificant.

In the thirteenth century document called the Zohar, Rabbi Abba and Rabbi Eleazar encounter a divine stranger and ask him the name of his father, to which he replies that his father was a great and ancient fish who swallowed all the other fish in the sea and spit them out again alive. Even though his father is not YHWH, his father is still a god. When pressed for his own name, the stranger says it's Benajahu (The Lord Builds or Son of the Lord) son of Jehoiada (The Lord Knows). If the Zohar intends Jehoiada to be the name of his mother, then "know" could be intended in a sexual sense. She knew the Lord and the stranger is the son of the Lord. Although he isn't named outright, this stranger is most likely meant to be Joshua.