Biblical Studies Carnival #198 (August 2022)


It’s hard to believe summer is pretty much over, though here in Louisiana we’ll experience temperatures in the 90s well into late September and maybe even October. The end of summer means that students are heading back to classes and so teachers/professors are in teaching mode. Sometimes we reap the benefits of that in the form of blog posts, videos, etc. And so you’ll find below a collection of links from many a scholar (and a few amateurs) covering two general areas: Hebrew Bible/ANE/LXX and New Testament/Early Christianity. (I could have probably broken them down further but I’m running the show this month!) At the end you’ll also find an “In Memoriam” that covers a few recent deaths.

If you would like to host a carnival, please contact Phil Long either on Twitter (@Plong42) or via email (plong42@gmail.com). He’s in charge of keeping the carnival running and is always looking for bloggers who would like to host it. As of right now, I don’t think he has any for the next few months. But it’s a great way to generate traffic for your website so please consider hosting it.


Hebrew Bible/ANE/LXX


New Testament/Early Christianity

In Memoriam 

‘The Covenant’ by Bernard Lamborelle – A Critical Review

INTRODUCTION

There are few books that having read and disagreed with that I nevertheless would recommend. The late John Sailhamer’s The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary[1] comes to mind. Another is a volume written by Bernard Lamborelle, author of The Covenant: On the Origin of the Abrahamic Faith by Means of Deification.[2] The subtitle, with its reference to deification, hints at the central idea of his work: Abraham made no agreement with a god but with a human being who would later be raised to the status of one. For some such a claim constitutes blasphemy. At the very least, it is unexpected. But it pales in comparison with who Lamborelle asserts was Abraham’s veritable suzerain – Hammurabi of Babylon.

As one can infer from these few details, Lamborelle’s proposition requires several assumptions. Fundamental is the existence of a historical Abraham. Further, that we have access to him through the biblical book of Genesis and related texts. Additionally, the idea that Hammurabi is the mortal monarch with whom Abraham made a covenant entails that the Babylonian regent spent time in the Levant. In The Covenant, Lamborelle does his best to defend these presuppositions and to demonstrate why they are warranted. And while I find myself unconvinced by his proposal, The Covenant nevertheless deserves a decent hearing by both amateurs and, more importantly, scholars.

ANALYSIS

Before offering commentary on those areas I found problematic, let me begin by briefly discuss those parts of Lamborelle’s work that I found helpful. For starters, throughout The Covenant readers will find graphics that lay out the ideas being presented. For example, on p. 74 there appears a chart labeled “Abrahamic faith as a natural evolution of an Earthly Covenant with a mortal Lord.” This chart encapsulates the core of Lamborelle’s thesis, appearing early enough in the work that, as he expounds upon it later, readers have a quick reference back to which they may refer for context. These types of charts are sprinkled throughout the volume and are, in my estimation, brilliant.[3]

Another helpful feature is the consistent clarity with which Lamborelle writes. This will only be apparent to those who have spent time reading The Covenant, but in an era where it seems everyone aspires to be an author though so few have the chops (as they say), it is refreshing to read a work that is well-organized and well-written. Considering that Lamborelle’s primary language is French and that a version of The Covenant first appeared in that language, such perspicuity is testimony to the care the author has put into the English edition of his work. 

Finally, there were sections of The Covenant with which I could not help but agree. For example, early on Lamborelle notes how the Abrahamic Covenant factors in modern geo-political discourse. Citing examples from modern history, he writes, 

Given so many political leaders, and their actions, are still influenced by the Covenant made with Abraham, there is no denying its importance to this day. Convinced that a divine creator cast these words in stone, fundamentalists continue to adhere to a literal reading of the Bible. They are unfortunately stuck in a paradigm of eternal conflict because they can’t accept other’s interpretations. (p. 29)

He is no doubt correct and his project of disabusing readers of the notion that Abraham made a covenant with a god, making it therefore eternal, is a worthy one. 

There are, however, several places within The Covenant that I found problematic and objectionable. Among the lowest hanging fruit are editorial issues. For example, on p. 15 the author repeats verbatim a description of “intradiegetic evidence.” On p. 151, he writes that Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel “explains why certain animal species are more suited to breeding than others.” Yet the footnote – number 151 – is to a page in The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. On p. 117, Lamborelle quotes Theodore Lewis’s review of Brian Schmidt’s book on the cult of the ancestors. But rather than citing the exact page number upon which the quote appears (i.e., p. 514), he cites it as pp. 512-514 which is the entirety of Lewis’s review, a case of imprecision. 

Thankfully, these examples are merely cosmetic and can easily be corrected in a future edition of The Covenant. (Lamborelle has plans as of the writing of this review to produce an updated edition of his work.) But if these issues are superficial, there are others that are, in my opinion, far deeper. It is to three of these we now turn.

I. SEEING YAHWEH FACE TO FACE

Per the preface (pp. 13-20) of The Covenant, Lamborelle’s journey began with a reading of Genesis 18:1-8, a pericope wherein Abraham meets Yahweh and two messengers face-to-face. In the story, the deity and his entourage appear as men (v. 2) complete with feet for washing (v. 4) and mouths for eating (v. 8). Our author, in his reading of this story, felt something was off: “The level of anthropomorphism and realism associated with this description of Abraham greeting God and eating with Him caught my attention. I sensed there was something oddly casual about this scene that didn’t feel right” (p. 14). Lamborelle acknowledges the possibility that what is at play here are “anthropomorphism and metaphors [which] are commonplace in the Bible.” Yet a few sentences later, he discards this possibility, writing, “I could sense there was something more at play here, and I was curious to see how far I could push this proposition before it would fall apart” (p. 15). 

There is, of course, nothing wrong with following a trail to see where it leads. In fact, this is often the way novel ideas are birthed before being debated and, in some cases, eventually accepted by mainstream scholarship. But I think Lamborelle’s imagination has gotten the better of him for two reasons. The first has to do with parallel story found in Ugaritic literature. The second concerns how Yahweh is conceived of in the Torah, especially in a Pentateuchal source commonly referred to as the Yahwist (i.e., J). 

The Tale of Aqhat

Let’s turn first to a parallel pericope found in an ancient Ugaritic text. In his translation and commentary on Genesis, Robert Alter writes concerning Genesis 18 that “[t]he whole scene seems to be a monotheistic adaptation to the seminomadic early Hebrew setting of an episode from the Ugaritic Tale of Aqhat…in which the childless Dan’el is visited by the craftsman-god Kothar.”[4] For readers unfamiliar with the tale (CTU 1.17-19), Aqhat is the name of a son born to Danel[5] and his wife Danataya. But the story does not begin with familial bliss; Danel is without an heir. Though the first ten lines of the epic are missing, it is clear from the extant version of the narrative poem that “Danel, the man of Rapau, the Hero, the man of the Harnamite” (1.17.I.1-2) is a pious devotee of the gods.[6] Day after day, Danel offers food and drink to the them until on the seventh day the deity Baal approaches El and requests he grant the heirless man a son (lines 15-34). El agrees to the petition (lines 35-48) and upon hearing it “Danel’s face lit up in joy, and above his countenance shone” (II.8-9). Not long after, the Kotharat, deities associated with “conception and childbirth,”[7] appear at Danel’s home and enjoy the hospitality of the father-to-be (lines 26-40). Danel then copulates with his wife and “sat and counted the months” until she would give birth (lines 43-46). Though columns III and IV are missing from the tale, it becomes clear that Danataya gives birth to a son, Aqhat. 

It is at this point in the story that we find an interesting parallel to that of the scene in Genesis 18. It is while Danel is seated outside the gate performing his royal duties on behalf of widows and orphans (V. 4-8) that we find the following sequence: 

Then he raised his eyes and looked:

a thousand fields, ten thousand acres at each step,

he saw Kothar coming,

he saw Hasis approaching.

(lines 9-11)

The arrival of Kothar, a Ugaritic Hephaestus,[8] was apparently unexpected,[9] and Danel calls to Danataya and asks her to “[p]repare a lamb from the flock” and to “[g]ive food and drink to the god” (lines 16-21). (I prefer the translation offered by Simon Parker: Danel’s wife is to “dine and wine” Kothar.)[10] Before the god departs, Kothar gives Danel a gift of a bow and arrows which it seems he in turns bequeaths to his son Aqhat (lines 26-28, 35-39). 

The similarities between the episode in Aqhat and that in Genesis 18 are striking. For starters, both involve protagonists who struggled without heirs for some time. In both stories, the patriarchal figure is seated outside when divine guests arrive unexpectedly. In both stories, the unexpected visitors prompt the protagonist to request his wife prepare a meal which the guests partake of. Noting the similarities between the two pericopes, David Wright offers the following commentary: 

This meal [in Aqhat] can be compared to similar meals in the Bible. Three men visit Abraham at Mamre (Gen 18:1-15). He has a meal prepared for them it appears, simply for the sake of hospitality, before they continue on their way. It includes meat, breads, and dairy products. He also allows them to rest and wash their feet. There is no expectation of receiving a gift, but the visitors, who apparently are supernatural, promise Abraham a child. The motivation for the meal is much the same as the case of [Kothar]. Interestingly, what is given to Abraham is what Dani’il sought in his first offering to the gods.[11]

Considering their shared structure and motifs, it is surprising that Lamborelle does not mention the Tale of Aqhat in his work. Later in The Covenant, he briefly rehearses for his readers the discovery of another Ugaritic text, the Baal Cycle, noting that among the “vast documentary evidence” found in Ugarit “some describe the rituals, offerings, and myths that reveal several parallels with passages in the Old Testament.” And while, for example, the Baal Cycle dates to around the fourteenth century BCE, “the concept it puts forth most likely existed long before it was written” (p. 110). 

In response to this parallel, Lamborelle has a few options. He could downplay its significance, showcasing instead the various ways these two pericopes differ. But waving it away does not in fact make it disappear as such similarities are often diagnostic of influence whether direct or indirect. Such denial, then, would not be a favorable tactic. Moreover, based on my interactions with Lamborelle, that simply isn’t his style. Another live option is to posit that the direction of influence is from the Abrahamic narrative to Aqhat rather than vice versa as Alter suggested. But this too is problematic. There is evidence within the Hebrew Bible that suggests Danel was a character known to the author of the book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 14:14, 20; 28:3).[12]Thus, we can be reasonably certain that there was direct influence of Ugaritic stories upon biblical authors. I am aware of no evidence that suggests a movement in the opposite direction such that the pericope in Aqhat was influenced by some version of the story found in Genesis 18. And while complete certainty eludes us, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the author of Genesis 18 was familiar with this scene from Aqhat. Space does not permit any further commentary on this, but I hope that in a future edition of The Covenant, Lamborelle notes this parallel and offers some thoughts on how the two episodes relate. 

Depictions of Yahweh 

In addition to Aqhat, there are reasons within the narrative world of the Hebrew Bible that should cause us to be skeptical of Lamborelle’s starting point. The god of Israel is often depicted as one who at times behaves in human ways. Moreover, he appears humanlike as well. 

Take, for example, the Priestly creation narrative of Genesis 1. In vv. 26-31, the account reaches its pinnacle: the formation of mankind. Per v. 26, ʾĕlōhîm – rendered as “God” in most English translations – declares, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” something that he accomplishes in v. 27. The words rendered “image” and “likeness” are, respectively, ṣelem and dəmût̲, and while some conservative commentators attempt to dissuade readers from thinking this has to do with physical resemblance,[13] this seems more like an attempt to circumvent the obvious in favor of an interpretation congruent with later theological developments. There are a few reasons for thinking that ṣelem and dəmût̲ point to humanity’s physical resemblance to the deity.

For starters, when ṣelem and dəmût̲ are used a few chapters later in a Priestly genealogy, they seem to point to a resemblance between father and son: “When Adam lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness [dəmût̲], according to his image [ṣelem], and named him Seth” (Genesis 5:3). This is evidently a call back to Genesis 1:26-27 (cf. 5:1-2), but it also provides a clue as to what the two terms meant. Seth was, to borrow from a colloquial idiom, the “spittin’ image” of his father. There was a family resemblance. Commenting on this passage, Catherine McDowell writes, “As Adam was created in the image and likeness of God, Seth was made in the image and likeness of his father. The implication is that just as [ṣelem] and [dəmût̲] identify Seth as Adam’s son, the same terms in Gen 1:26-27 identify humanity as God’s ‘son’ (or child).”[14] Just as Seth looked like Adam, so too humanity looked like the deity. Thus, as John Collins observes, 

If human beings were made in the divine image, it follows that the Deity has a human-like form. In the modern world, we tend to say that God is conceived or imagined in human form – our knowledge of human form comes first and what we say about the Deity is an inference. In the ancient world, however, the divine typically comes first, and human beings are thought to be an imitation of the divine form.[15]

It isn’t simply that the deity is thought to have a mouth or ears or hands because we possess them; rather, it’s that we have a mouth and ears and hands because the deity does. 

Another reason for thinking ṣelem and dəmût̲ in Genesis 1:26-27 refer to physical resemblance has to do with what we know about how deities were depicted in the ancient Near East generally. In a comical scene found in the Ugaritic poem El’s Drinking Party (CTU 1.114), the high god El becomes so drunk that he ends up falling into his own waste. 

He slips in his dung and urine,

El collapses like one dead

El like those who descend to Earth.

(lines 20-22)[16]

As humorous as this is, the salient point for the present discussion is that to become drunk requires the ability to drink and to slip and fall into one’s “dung and urine” requires not only feet and legs with which to slip and fall but also the ability to defecate and urinate which implies an anus and genitals. El as well as the other gods that comprise the Ugaritic pantheon are often depicted as looking like humans. Why would the Priestly source’s ʾĕlōhîm be any different?

It is not only in literary descriptions that gods like El are presented in such anthropomorphic ways. Archaeological evidence unearthed at Ugarit reveals that their gods were often depicted as humanlike:[17] a limestone statue showcases the divine patriarch El complete with a long beard and feet; figures of bronze and gold offer us El and Baal with eyes and ears, feet and hands; a bronze statue of a goddess is quite clearly a woman; stelae depict Baal as an archer preparing to use a weapon. What these archaeological finds prove is that Ugaritic deities could be conceived of as fully humanlike figures. Why would P’s ʾĕlōhîm be any different? 

P is not the only source within the Pentateuch that depicts Yahweh in anthropomorphic terms. Famously, the first chapters of Genesis contain two creation accounts: the Priestly, as we’ve already discussed, and the Yahwist (J) found in Genesis 2. “In this account,” writes Joel Kaminsky, “God is portrayed as not only much less transcendent [compared to P], but even as somewhat fallible, as he learns through experimentation.”[18] Michael Coogan notes that in J, “Yahweh is described with vivid anthropomorphisms” and offers a variety of examples.[19] In Genesis 2:7, the deity is said to have “formed man from the dust of the ground.” “Formed” renders a Qal imperfect form of the verb yāṣar, a term found throughout the Hebrew Bible that is often used to describe the actions of a potter.[20] Such imagery, the late Nahum Sarna observed, “is widespread in the ancient world.”[21] In her recent book God: An Anatomy, Francesca Stavrakopoulou  lists several examples demonstrating that “[c]lay-shaping bodies had long been a ritual activity undertaken by both gods and mortals.”[22] These include ancient Sumerian, Ugaritic, and Egyptian mythologies. Gods are often depicted as potters, but such representations entail that these divine entities possessed hands. Why should Yahweh be the exception? For the Yahwist, he was not. 

In Genesis 3:8, the deity is described as walking in the garden “at the time of the evening breeze,” implying he has feet. In Genesis 8:21, Yahweh is said to have “smelled the pleasing odor” of Noah’s sacrifice, suggesting he has a nose. In Genesis 11:5, Yahweh must go down to see the tower at Babel, implying (among other things) he has eyes. These passages and more, each part and parcel of the Yahwist, portray a deity that is very much humanlike. Genesis 18 is no exception since it too is a J narrative.[23] It is little wonder that the deity is depicted the way that he is. Consequently, there is no reason to think that the narrative’s author wanted his readers to believe that this scene was conveying anything other than an encounter between the patriarch of Israel and the divine. But this leads us to another difficulty I have with Lamborelle’s approach: his dismissal of the Documentary Hypothesis.

II. ATTACKING THE
DOCUMENTARY HYPOTHESIS

Ordinarily, whenever I read an attack on the Documentary Hypothesis it is from the keyboard of some conservative Christian apologist.[24] This Lamborelle is not. Given his status as a non-believer,[25] this is somewhat surprising given how so many skeptics that I’ve encountered appeal to some form of the Documentary Hypothesis as a counter to conservative claims to Mosaic authorship of the Torah. But denying Mosaic authorship does not require the Documentary Hypothesis’s four source approach. Various proposals abound, including supplementary and fragmentary ones, that attempt to account for the origin of the Torah that do not involve Mosaic authorship. In fact, Lamborelle himself does not avoid a source critical approach. Indeed, his hypothesis necessitates it as later in The Covenant he will set apart Genesis 12-25 using a method he refers to as “dissociative exegesis” (p. 75). This methodology not only dissociates “the humanistic Yahweh from the immaterial Elohim,” but it also dissociates those fourteen chapters from the preceding narratives. At a bare minimum, then, we have two different sources: one that stands behind Genesis 1-11 and another that stands behind Genesis 12-25. Lamborelle has simply traded one source-critical hypothesis for another. I’m not sure it has been a fair trade.

An Important Hypothesis

The Documentary Hypothesis has been and remains at the forefront of source critical explanations for the origins of the Pentateuch for a simple reason: its explanatory power. Baruch Schwartz writes that the hypothesis, 

long considered to be the standard explanation for the formation of the Torah and still accepted by many scholars, is grounded not in any scholarly desire to discover multiple sources in the text, but on the existence of literary phenomena for which the most economical and convincing explanation is that the Torah is not a unified text, but is rather the product of multiple authorial and editorial hands.[26]

As Schwartz goes on to note, the “literary phenomena” consists of four main types: redundancies (e.g., doublets), contradictions, discontinuities, and inconsistencies of terminology and style. In the words of Joel Baden, the hypothesis is “a proposed literary solution to the literary problems of the Pentateuch, no more, no less.”[27] These problems can be seen, for example, in the early chapters of Genesis and its two apparent creation accounts. Significantly, each has their own narrative flow and corresponding claims.[28] For example, in Genesis 1 all animal life is created (vv. 20-25) before humanity arrives on the scene (vv. 26-31). In Genesis 2, it is the opposite: first a human being is created (v. 7) and then later, in a bid to find the human a mate, animals are formed (vv. 18-20). Additionally, in Genesis 1 plant life is created (vv. 11-13) before humans. In Genesis 2, however, there was “no plant of the field” nor “herb of the field” (v. 5) before the deity made a man (v. 9). More examples abound,[29] and Genesis 12-25 is no exception. 

Consider the text we looked at in the previous section found in Genesis 18. Beginning with v. 9, Yahweh tells Abraham that his wife Sarah would bear a son (v. 10). Overhearing this, Sarah laughs knowing full well she is too old to have children (vv. 11-12). Yahweh will have none of this and reiterates his promise (vv. 13-14). Sarah, embarrassed, denies laughing (v. 15). What is interesting about this story, complete with its promise of a son to parents advanced in years, is that if you read the chapter prior (ch. 17) you read a very similar story. In v. 1, Yahweh appears to Abram (cf. 18:1). Upon seeing him, Abram falls down to the ground (v. 3; cf. 18:2). The deity informs Abraham (in v. 5, Yahweh changes Abram’s name) that his wife Sarai (now Sarah, v. 15) will have a son (v. 16; cf. 18:9). At this, Abraham laughs (v. 17) but Yahweh tells him that at the next season Isaac will be born (v. 21; cf. 18:9, 14). These veritable doublets suggest two different accounts of what amounts to the same kind of story: a promise of an heir to Abraham. These examples are merely a fraction of the evidence favorable to the Documentary Hypothesis. 

On the Offensive 

Lamborelle, however, seems less than impressed with the Documentary Hypothesis and writes that “[a] century and a half later, the hypothesis that once appeared to yield fertile ground for exegesis, has lots its shine. No sources for J, E, D or P texts were ever found outside the Bible and even their existence remains highly speculative” (p. 48). Such criticism of the Documentary Hypothesis appears stinging but falls flat. To begin with, was it truly ever a scholarly endeavor to locate the four sources? It would not doubt be a significant find and would turn the hypothesis into a theory.[30] But the Documentary Hypothesis is not a search for extra-biblical evidence for the sources. As Joel Baden writes, the hypothesis “is intended to account for the penultimate stage of the text, the existence of the sources immediately before their combination into the canonical whole.”[31] In the next paragraph, Baden continues: 

[The Documentary Hypothesis] is a proposed literary solution to the literary problems of the Pentateuch, no more, no less. It does not purport to date the texts or to be the key to the history of Israelite religion. It does not intend to address the issue of the oral transmission of Israelite traditions or the combination thereof. It is only an attempt to understand how the book we call the Pentateuch came to look the way that it does.[32]

Baden’s observation makes what Lamborelle says next even less damaging. He writes that “the question of the literary project that gave birth to [the Bible] and origin of its many sources remain mostly unexplained…. The scientific community still does not know wherewhen and why the Abrahamic tradition was born, nor how it evolved” (p. 48). Such an issue, as Baden notes, is irrelevant to the Documentary Hypothesis. Wherever the Abrahamic tradition came from, written versions of it were at some point in time redacted and incorporated into what has come to be known as the Pentateuch. 

Lamborelle’s attack on the Documentary Hypothesis is wholly unnecessary. On p. 52 he writes, “The slate must be wiped clean, and a fresh and objective look must be taken at the available data.” But as Robert Kawashima writes, so successful has the Documentary Hypothesis been that, just as Einstein’s theory of relativity didn’t dismiss out of hand Newtonian mechanics but incorporated it, any future explanations for the formation of the Pentateuch will require incorporating aspects of the Documentary Hypothesis. Dismissing it as Lamborelle does is troubling and, in the words of Kawashima, “[o]ne should be highly suspicious of any newer theory that did so.”[33] Lamborelle’s thesis doesn’t inherently demand that the Documentary Hypothesis be done away with. So why does he want it gone? 

“Dissociative Exegesis”

The answer to that question is something I mentioned earlier: his “dissociative exegesis.” He explains it as “an exercise of textual analysis that invites you to assess the story of Abraham in the Bible while: 1) Identifying and dissociating the humanistic Yahweh from the immaterial Elohim. 2) Picturing Yahweh as a powerful Mesopotamian overlord (i.e., Baal Berith) in league with the four Eastern Kings” (p. 75). To understand why the author thinks this is a worthwhile exercise, one must appreciate his argument in the preceding pages. 

For starters, he believes that the reason Yahweh is depicted in such anthropomorphic language is because he is, in fact, a human being and not a god: “We postulate that initially, only the term ‘Yahweh’ had an anthropomorphic connotation” (p. 59). One example he offers is that of Genesis 15:18 which reads, “On that day the LORD [i.e., Yahweh] made a covenant with Abram, ‘To your descendants I give this land’….” This use of Yahweh “as an anthropomorphic figure” reveals “no inconsistency” under his hypothesis. But what of Genesis 17:22? It reads, “And when he had finished talking with him, God [ʾĕlōhîm] went up from Abraham.” Lamborelle writes, “This appears to be an ‘error’ since the term Elohim should refer exclusively to an immaterial divinity and not an anthropomorphic figure” (p. 60). This is not the only “error” he detects and so he proposes that in places where ʾĕlōhîm is used for an anthropomorphic figure or when Yahweh is used for an immaterial one that a scribe has intentionally or unintentionally corrupted the text. It is then our task to “fix” the problem by switching it back to the “correct” version. 

This seems too convenient. For one thing, it is predicated on the notion that ʾĕlōhîm “refer[s] exclusively to an immaterial divinity and not an anthropomorphic figure.” Why should we believe this? It is possible that Lamborelle is conflating invisible with immaterial. If this is the case then Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s observation is poignant: “an unseen body is not the same as a non-existent body.”[34] In P, for example, the deity is hidden. But divine hiddenness is not the same thing as being immaterial.[35] As we’ve seen, humans are made to look like the deity in P (Genesis 1:26-27). This resemblance suggests ʾĕlōhîm has a body made of something.  Moreover, an anthropomorphic figure does not entail humanity. Again, as we’ve seen, in J the deity is very human like. This dichotomy is unwarranted. 

For another, why should we think that scribes had “known biases towards the name Elohim in the Bible”? (p. 63) Though Lamborelle cites the work of Laura Joffe and her piece “The Elohistic Psalter: What, How, and Why?”[36] it remains unclear to me why these isolated examples have any bearing on Genesis 12-25. Granted, if scribal activity is responsible for changing the divine name Yahweh to ʾĕlōhîm it then becomes feasible that the same could be said for other sections of the biblical corpus. But where is the smoking gun? In the case of the Elohistic Psalter (i.e., Psalms 42-83), the smoking gun is the contrast between the use of Yahweh in Psalms 1-41 and 84-150 versus that of Psalms 42-83.[37] There is simply nothing comparable in Genesis 12-25. 

Why Two Names for the Deity? 

This brings us to what is perhaps the most pressing issue related to Lamborelle’s dismissal of the Documentary Hypothesis: the use of two names for Israel’s god. He writes that “the age-old question that brought Wellhausen to develop his hypothesis remains: how to explain the presence of the terms Yahweh and Elohim side-by-side in the text?” (p. 56) As he goes on to note, Wellhausen’s solution was to posit different sources, built on the assumption that they referred to the same deity. Such “unicity,” Lamborelle contends, certainly applies to all of the Bible with a singular exception: Genesis 12-25. In those chapters, Yahweh is a human monarch while ʾĕlōhîm is a god. 

The difficulty here is obvious: Genesis 12-25 contains material that is part of a developing story. That developing story stretches back to the earliest chapters of Genesis. The call of Abram in Genesis 12 is connected narratively and thematically with the Tower of Babel narrative. Baden writes, 

The promise of 12:1-3 picks up on two of the main themes from the primeval period in J, and specifically from the final episode of the Tower of Babel: the land – from which Abraham goes and to which he comes, with the final notice that “all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you” – and the concept of a name, which in the Tower of Babel is a negative element because it is actively sought by the builders of the tower, but which in Genesis 12:2 is a distinctly positive feature, as it is bestowed upon Abraham by Yahweh.[38]

Later Baden goes on to observe that the stories of Adam and Eve’s sin, the Deluge, and the Tower of Babel are “recounted in J for this primary purpose: to explain the selection of Abraham in 12:1-3. The primeval period and the patriarchal period are interdependent and mutually explanatory.”[39] It is with a not-so-subtle knife that Lamborelle dissects Genesis and cuts out chs. 12-25. But he does so at the expense of an interconnected story that is being told. 

Narrative continuity is part and parcel of the Documentary Hypothesis and the existence of sources explains why two names are often used for the same deity. The key passage is, of course, Exodus 6:2-3 – “God [ʾĕlōhîm] spoke to Moses and said to him: ‘I am the LORD [i.e., Yahweh]. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty [ʾēl šaddāi], but by my name “The LORD” [i.e., Yahweh] I did not make myself known to them.’” A cursory reading of Genesis in light of this information reveals a substantial contradiction. Abraham (e.g., Genesis 24:7), Isaac (e.g., Genesis 26:22), and Jacob (e.g., Genesis 28:13) knew the deity by the name Yahweh. How is it that Yahweh can tell Moses otherwise? 

The answer is in the Documentary Hypothesis. As Richard Elliot Friedman writes, “The point is not that sources have different names of God. The point is that the different sources have a different idea of when the name YHWH was first revealed to humans.”[40] He goes on to observe that in J, the divine name Yahweh was known early on (see Genesis 4:26) and was used throughout the earliest eras and even among the patriarchs. However, in the Elohist (i.e., E) and Priestly sources, the divine name isn’t revealed until the era of Moses. Thus, in Genesis 17:1 we find the following: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD [i.e., Yahweh] appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty [ʾēl šaddāi], walk before me and be blameless.” This comports with what we saw in Exodus 6:3 (P) that the deity was not known to the patriarchs as Yahweh but as ʾēl šaddāi. Thus, as Friedman continues, in both E and P the deity is referred to by characters within the story world as ʾēlʾēl šaddāi, or ʾĕlōhîm. Friedman writes, 

For the entire Torah, the picture is as follows: the names YHWY and El and the word God (Elohim) occur more than two thousand times, and the number of exceptions to this picture is three. Despite this phenomenal fact, we still find writers on this subject asserting that “the names of God” do not prove anything.[41]

I have gone on long enough on this issue. The important point is that the usage of different names for the deity is entirely explicable given the storyworlds of the various sources. This also goes to my larger point regarding Lamborelle’s dismissal of the Documentary Hypothesis. It is lackluster at best. My recommendation is that he provide a more substantive case against it in future editions. As it stands now, it hasn’t put a dent into this amateur’s position on the Documentary Hypothesis.

III. HAMMURABI – MISSING IN ACTION

The third and (for the purposes of this review) final problem I have with Lamborelle’s work is that there is no evidence Hammurabi was ever in the Levant. This is, frankly, a pivotal piece of data. For his part, Lamborelle acknowledges that there is no data that explicitly demonstrates the Mesopotamian lord made it into the environs of Palestine, writing that “although Hammurabi is known to have made covenants with neighboring states, no historical records indicate that he ever made one with the Levant or traveled to this region” (p. 17). Hammurabi, had he travelled to the Levant, would have encountered a region “divided into distinct political units subsuming urban, rural, and nonsedentary populations.”[42] Sending Abraham to the region, as Lamborelle proposes, would have been risky. Any land claim would have been met with not only derision but military force. But there is no evidence to suggest Babylon ever sent an army to take care of local warlords or kings in Canaan to guarantee Hammurabi’s interests via Abraham. But had Babylon done so, surely we would see it in the historical record. Per Lamborelle’s understanding of Genesis 14, a major conflict broke out in the region that involved a number of kings including Hammurabi. Apart from an interpretation of that passage, what evidence for the historicity of such a battle – or any battle – involving Babylonian forces under Hammurabi’s command in the Levant can be mustered? 

If evidence were found that could place Hammurabi in the Levant, Lamborelle’s thesis would immediately gain a large degree of credibility. It would still remain unproven, but such evidence would go a long way in making it all the more plausible. Barring the discovery of an ancient source openly acknowledging a covenant between Abraham and Hammurabi, the thesis that such a thing ever existed remains highly speculative at best.

IV. CONCLUSION

It is here that I must conclude my review as it has grown long enough. I have highlighted the main points of disagreement I have with him, points that I find significant. Despite these disagreements I heartily recommend Lamborelle’s work. He thinks like a detective, looking for clues in places one might not think to find any. And while at times I find his arguments less than compelling, I always walk away with something to think about. Though his thesis is not completely novel, his presentation of it is and deserves a fair hearing from all those interested in the origins of the Abraham covenant. 


[1] John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992). 

[2] Bernard Lamborelle, The Covenant: On the Origin of the Abrahamic Faith by Means of Deification (self-published, 2009).

[3] And perhaps, given the novelty of his thesis, necessary.

[4] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019), 1:56.

[5] The name of the main character of the Tale of Aqhat is variously translated as Danel, Daniel, Dan’el, Dani’il, etc. The name, like it’s counterpart in the Hebrew Bible (i.e., Daniel), means “El is judge.” 

[6] When referencing specific sections of the Tale of Aqhat, I will be using the format based upon The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani, and Other Places, edited by Manfried Dietrich, Oswald Loretz, and Joaquín Sanmartín (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995). However, all translations of Aqhat will be from Stories from Ancient Canaan, second edition, edited and translated by Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012). 

[7] Stories from Ancient Canaan, 177.

[8] Stories from Ancient Canaan, 177.

[9] David P. Wright, Ritual in Narrative: The Dynamics of Feasting, Mourning, and Retaliation Rites in the Ugaritic Tale of Aqhat (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2001), 89. 

[10] See “Aqhat,” translated by Simon B. Parker, in Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, edited by Simon B. Parker (Scholars Press, 1997), 58.

[11] Wright, Ritual in Narrative, 91.

[12] On the identity of Ezekiel’s dnʾl as the Danel of stories like that of the Tale of Aqhat, see Walther Zimmerli, Ezekiel 1: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24, translated by Ronald E. Clements, Hermeneia Commentary Series (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1979), 314-315; cf. Stories from Ancient Canaan, 27.

[13] E.g., Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 30. Wenham surveys the various ways ṣelem and dəmût̲ have been understood, including the notion that it entails physical resemblance. Wenham, however, finds this difficult, writing that “the OT’s stress on the incorporeality and invisibility of God makes this view somewhat problematic” and that the idea that to be in God’s “image” in Genesis 1:26-27 has something to do with “man’s bodily form or upright posture is therefore unproven.” See also Bruce Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 193.

[14] Catherine McDowell, “Human Identity and Purpose Redefined: Gen 1:26-28 and 2:5-25 in Context,” Advances in Ancient, Biblical, and Near Eastern Research 1, no. 3 (Autumn, 2021), 35.

[15] John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible and Deutero-Canonical Books, second edition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014), 79.

[16] Translation taken from “El’s Divine Feast,” translated by Theodore J. Lewis, in Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, edited by Simon B. Parker (Scholars Press, 1997). Cf. the translation offered by Coogan and Smith in Stories from Ancient Canaan, 172.

[17] The examples that follow are taken from Marguerite Yon, The City of Ugarit at Tell Ras Shamra (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 130-135.

[18] Joel S. Kaminsky, “The Theology of Genesis,” in The Book of Genesis: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation, edited by Craig A. Evans, Joel N. Lohr, and David L. Petersen (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 638.

[19] Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 52.

[20] W. H. Schmidt, “יצר,” in Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, edited by Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, translated by Mark. E. Biddle (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 2:566.

[21] Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 17.

[22] Francesca Stavrakopoulou, God: An Anatomy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2022), 277.

[23] On Genesis 18 as narratively part of the J source, see Joel Baden, The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 70. 

[24] See, for example, the anemic attempt at attacking it by Heather Schuldt entitled “4 Ways to Respond to Wellhausen Problems and Astruc Cuttings.” My response to Schuldt’s post can be found here.

[25] On the back cover of The Covenant, he is described as a “secular humanist.”

[26] Baruch J. Schwartz, “The Documentary Hypothesis,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Pentateuch, edited by Joel S. Baden and Jeffrey Stackert (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 165.

[27] Baden, The Composition of the Pentateuch, 32.

[28] As Baden (The Composition of the Pentateuch, 30) contends, the focus should be upon “narrative consistencies and contradictions” since it is these that reveal the various sources. Later Baden writes, “As long as it is remembered that considerations of narrative flow must always be primary in the analysis of the Pentateuch, the elements of theme, style, and historical setting, though secondary, do add considerable to the Documentary Hypothesis as a whole” (p. 31). This is important as often the mistake is made (a mistake I have made in times past) that it is these secondary matters that are vital to the hypothesis. They aren’t, and the focus should instead be upon narrative. 

[29] For an excellent treatment of this, see Steven DiMattei, Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate: Being Honest to the Text, Its Author, and His Beliefs (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), 43-62.

[30] Cf. Robert S. Kawashima, “Sources and Redaction,” in Reading Genesis: Ten Methods, edited by Ronald Hendel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 52.

[31] Baden, The Composition of the Pentateuch, 32.

[32] Baden, The Composition of the Pentateuch, 32.

[33] Kawashima, “Sources and Redaction,” 52-53.

[34] Stavrakopoulou, God: An Anatomy, 16.

[35] Stavrakopoulou, God: An Anatomy, 18. As she observes, the later development of God as an incorporeal entity stems from God’s hiddenness but it isn’t what the biblical authors in the Pentateuch originally envisioned. 

[36] Laura Joffe, “The Elohistic Psalter: What, How and Why?” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 15 no. 1 (2001), 142-169.

[37] It should be noted here that, per J. Clinton McCann, Jr. (“The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter: Psalms in Their Literary Context,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms, edited by William P. Brown [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014], 255), “a new consensus seems to be emerging that Psalms 42-83 were originally an independent collection.” If this is the case, then it stands to reason that there is no need to posit redactional activity such that Yahweh was replaced in various places with ʾĕlōhîm. It remains a possibility but, in my amateurish understanding, seems less than parsimonious. 

[38] Baden, The Composition of the Pentateuch, 69. Cf. Bill Arnold, Genesis, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 132.

[39] Baden, The Composition of the Pentateuch, 69.

[40] Richard Elliot Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed: A New View into the Five Books of Moses (New York: HarperOne, 2003), 10.

[41] Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed, 11.

[42] Jonathan M. Golden, Ancient Canaan & Israel: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 145.

An Amateur’s Toolbox Playlist

Episodes 11-20 of Bible Study for Amateurs was a series entitled “An Amateur’s Toolbox.” In it I discuss some of the study Bibles, commentaries, and other literature I regularly consult when studying biblical texts. For those looking for (relatively) affordable and, better yet, useful materials with which to learn more about the Bible (including the Apocrypha), these volumes are in my opinion essential. The entire series of videos, ten in all, will take up about an hour or so of your time.

‘What Jesus Learned from Women’ by James F. McGrath – A Brief Review

Jesus is often a mirror. If we lean toward socialism, he becomes a socialist. If we believe in women’s equality, he becomes a feminist. If we believe that marriage should be open to non-heterosexual couples, he becomes pro-gay marriage. Whatever we are for, Jesus is for. Whatever we are against, Jesus is against. This Jesus is as malleable as he is anachronistic. As Paula Fredriksen cautions, “The historical Jesus of Nazareth was never and can never be our contemporary. To drape him in garments borrowed from current agendas while asserting that these agendas were actually his only distorts and so obscures who he was.”[1] As the last century or so of “quests” for the historical Jesus has demonstrated, the task is difficult enough without us muddying the waters with modern socio-political concerns. 

But there is another mistake that some make regarding Jesus: dehumanization. This problem is particularly acute among those who hold to high Christological views. James McGrath in his recent book What Jesus Learned from Women (Cascade Books, 2021) does his best to re-humanize Jesus by taking seriously the words of Luke 2:52 – “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (NRSV).[2] In the course of 322 pages, McGrath ponders what it meant for Jesus to “increase” in both wisdom and maturity. This entails that Jesus learned. The pertinent question then is this: From whom did Jesus learn? Most of us would immediately point to male voices: Joseph, religious authorities (cf. Luke 2:46-47), and so on. But what about women? Did Jesus learn from them? McGrath’s answer is a carefully and cogently argued yes.

What Jesus Learned from Women considers eleven women that likely influenced Jesus in one way or another, beginning with Mary his mother, continuing to his grandmother, and meandering through various narratives in the Gospels before ending with Joanna. Each chapter opens with some historical fiction, a “what if” kind of storytelling that pieces together what may be gleaned cautiously from the Gospels[3] as well as the available historical record in the form of archaeology and other sources. At times, McGrath’s reconstructions seem fanciful, but as he notes in the introduction to the volume, “Nothing exposes the implausibility of a historical reconstruction more quickly than the attempt to turn that reconstruction into a narrative” (p. 8). I’ve never considered that historical fiction can serve such a role, but he is certainly on to something. No one reading a novel about the Second Punic War would find it plausible that Hannibal flew F-15s over the Alps. We are sensitive to anachronism and historical fiction can certainly play a role in mitigating it. 

Some chapters upon initial reading seemed far too speculative to be useful. For example, ch. 3 focuses on Jesus’s grandmother, a person who no doubt existed but who is not once mentioned in the canonical Gospels. To discover her, we must turn to the Protoevangelium of James, a text that McGrath acknowledges contains details that “may not be factual” (p. 50). While I found the speculative framework of the chapter less than compelling, its contents offered some fascinating insights. For example, McGrath devotes a few pages to examining whether Jesus could have been exposed to theatrical performances at some point in his life. The Synoptics present him as a storyteller but in our readings of these pericopes Jesus is often a flat character. “How might it change our perception if we imagine Jesus not merely reciting a verbal parable about a man with a speck in his eye, but performing it as a skit, perhaps with assistance from his apprentices?” McGrath asks (p. 64). Given the proximity of Sepphoris to Nazareth as well as the fact that the former possessed an outdoor theater, it seems plausible Jesus saw performances on occasion, and this ended up affecting his style of teaching. That he was a charismatic preacher is clear. Whence this charisma? Perhaps the theater! 

These kinds of tidbits and tantalizing possibilities punctuate What Jesus Learned from Women. Another example can be found in ch. 11 on Joanna, a character who appears in the Gospel of Luke. According to Luke 8:3, she was the wife of Chuza, a steward of Herod. McGrath floats the possibility that Joanna of Luke’s Gospel is the same person as Junia from Romans 16:7, a relative of Paul. If this connection holds, then Paul would have known someone who had direct knowledge of Jesus. I had never thought of this and reading this chapter was eye opening and provocative. It made for a good read. 

McGrath’s greatest contribution in What Jesus Learned from Women isn’t the learned historical fiction prefacing each chapter or even his analysis of both the history of the period and the texts that describe them or even his well-reasoned case that Jesus learned from women. Rather, his greatest contribution is his bibliography which is dominated by the works of female scholars. It is to my shame that so many of the authors he cites were unknown to me. Because biblical studies is a male-dominated space, it is easy to overlook or to be unaware of women who work in the field as well. McGrath’s bibliography is a one-stop shop for scores of works by women who may otherwise go overlooked, at least by amateurs like me. 

The bibliography alone is worth the recommendation to readers, but it is not the only reason this work deserves to be read. McGrath offers a far more human Jesus than we are likely to find in many works on him, and center stage are the women who came into his life that must have influenced who he was. The New Testament is dominated by men and male readers often overlook this fact. The Gospel writers “often left women in the shadows and on the sidelines without noticing they were doing so” (p. 9). Still, their stories deserve to be told and McGrath’s work is an important contribution to that endeavor. 


[1] Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 270. 

[2] Unless otherwise noted, quotations of biblical texts will be from the New Revised Standard Version.

[3] McGrath acknowledges that Gospels contain material that is less than the unvarnished truth but nonetheless has real historical value: “Very early stories that have been fabricated, distorted, and/or heavily overlaid with symbolism are nonetheless valuable to historians because they tell us what impression Jesus and his interactions with women made overall” (p. 11). Cf. E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 58-63.

A Tour of My Personal Library

I’ve had a few people request that I do a tour of my shelves and so here is my (poor) attempt at doing so. Please forgive the quality of the video/audio as I did this using only my iPhone.

An Apology to Robert Clifton Robinson: I Am Sorry I Missed Your Call (To Debate)

My apology to Robert Clifton Robinson for not responding sooner to his challenge to debate, my response to his challenge, and my reasoning for not debating him.

Amateur Hour #10 – The Apostle Paul’s Jesus w/Mark Edward

Who did the apostle Paul think Jesus was? A god? A man? The God? Mark Edward joined me to discuss.

Bible Study for Amateurs #30 – Hey Jude – Final Thoughts!

On the epistle of Jude and its place in the Christian canon.

Amateur Hour #9 – Toxic Apologists w/the Heathen Queen

What should we do with Christian apologists who spread hate and bigotry? I talk with Jesseca, AKA the Heathen Queen, about this and more in episode 9 of ‘Amateur Hour w/the Amateur Exegete.’