Using comparative mythology, and tell-tale verses in the Bible and archaeology, Secret Origins of the Bible demonstrates that the stories and themes of the Bible were part of the great mythic systems of the ancient world. The abstract God of modern monotheistic Judaism, Christianity and Islam is a comparatively recent creation. In later times the myth of a messianic deliverer was combined with that of the pagan god-man who suffered a horrible, excruciating death but was physically resurrected to produce the Christ myth.
Secret Origins Of the Bible covers many issues from both the familiar and the more obscure chapters of the Bible:
• Is there historical evidence for the Exodus or Joshua’s conquest of Canaan?
• What contributions did the mythology of ancient Egypt and other surrounding cultures make to modern Christianity?
• How did the religion of ancient Israel, before the Exile, differ from today’s ethics-based monotheism? Bible stories are examined that suggest that along with Yahweh, the Israelites worshiped and acknowledged other deities, such as Chemosh and Azazel, and that their primitive polytheistic religion included worship of a goddess who was the consort of Yahweh, some form of tree worship, ecstatic trances, fortune telling, human sacrifice, a cult of the dead, and solar worship.
• Why is so much material in the Bible repetitive and even contradictory?
• How linguistic analysis of Biblical names reveals their original hidden meanings.
• How were tales from rival sources altered toward more masculine outlook?
• What do anachronisms and other incompatibilities in both time and culture reveal about the historicity of the stories of the biblical patriarchs?
• What is the evidence that the biblical stories of the creation, the race of giants, the flood, and the tower of Babel were independently derived from earlier tales told by the Sumerians and pre-Israelite Semitic peoples?
• What ancient mythic themes influenced the Nativity, Passion, and Resurrection narratives of the Christian Bible?
• How did a new idea—the concept of a perfect God—inspire the idea of the perfect word of God which led to belief in biblical inerrancy?
Callahan subjects biblical narratives to each the following questions:
• Is the narrative literally true based on history, archaeology and science?
• Are there internal inconsistencies, anachronisms, or other clues that invalidate the narrative if it is to be considered historical or to be taken literally?
• Is the reasoning behind the narrative and the ethical beliefs derived from it based on a world view foreign to our own sense of ethics?
• Is there a mythic meaning to the narrative that is quite different from what a literal interpretation of the narrative might imply?
• What social or political stance do believers derive from the biblical narrative, and how valid is their use of the Bible to back up their personal and political positions?
i Preface: This Land is Mine: The Politics of Myth
1 Introduction: Sifting For the Truth
6 Chapter 1: Finding the Truth: Tools of the Trade
30 Chapter 2: In the Beginning
56 Chapter 3: The Deluge
70 Chapter 4: “I Will Make of Thee a Great Nation”
103 Chapter 5: The Twelve Tribes
127 Chapter 6: With a Mighty Hand and an Outstretched Arm
150 Chapter 7: The Walls of Jericho
184 Chapter 8: In those days there was no King in Israel
224 Chapter 9: From Chaos to Kingship
261 Chapter 10: From Kingdom to Empire, Division to Destructions
290 Chapter 11; Good and Evil in the Sight of Yahweh
323 Chapter 12: In That Day
356 Chapter 13: “Who do you say that I am?”
376 Chapter 14: Son of God, Son of man
407 Chapter 15: The Dying and Rising God
“Tim Callahan here blends his remarkably diverse knowledge of ancient history, archaeology, linguistics, mythology, numismatics and of course the Bible itself to examine scriptural ‘truths’ long held inviolate by religious fundamentalists. Secret Origins of the Bible is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand more completely what the Bible is really saying—and not saying—to us all.”
— Dr. Clayton J. Drees, Associate Professor of History, Virginia Wesleyan College
“There is a vast disconnect between the public’s belief that the Bible is a divinely-produced original work of religious literature, and the scholar’s knowledge that all of the major stories in the Bible have historical antecedents and can be traced to very non-divinely produced works by other cultures in earlier times. The Bible may contain “the greatest story ever told,” but as Tim Callahan so brilliantly reveals the greatest secret of all is that the story is not original. This book is sure to shake fundamentalist beliefs about the Bible to the core.”
— Dr. Michael Shermer, author of How We Believe, Contributing Editor, Scientific American
Why I wrote this book (by Tim Callahan)
When this book was begun the world was still mourning the death of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at the hands of an assassin who felt himself to be an instrument of divine wrath. The book goes to press as the world reels from the shock of the World Trade Center attacks by religious zealots who believed they would be rewarded in heaven for carrying out God’s will.
The world needs a broader understanding of the background of the mythology that makes up sacred texts. It is often the case that fundamentalists, while maintaining that all of the Bible is true, interpret it in an exclusionary manner favoring their own political views. Dispensing with the myth might make it possible for an Israeli state and a Palestinian Arab state to share the land.
Israel is not the only place or political arena in which fundamentalists have used biblical myths to intrude on the rational solution of modern problems. Here in America they would replace biology with creationism, base sexual morals on Levitical law, have us believe we are all inherently evil and guilty of a sin we did not commit, and tie us in psychological knots with doctrines such as the supposed compatibility of free will and predestination. In the face of potential environmental catastrophe and the imminent extinction of vast numbers of plant and animal species, they claim environmental action is unnecessary because God told them to “subdue [the earth]—and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Forced to confront brutal dictatorships, the exploitation of immigrant laborers, and the inequality of the sexes, they cite Paul and Peter saying that all governments are instituted by God, telling slaves to obey their masters, and women to submit to their husbands. Everywhere, myth is used as a prop to maintain injustice in the name of God. Is this really that far removed from the acts of assassins murdering in the name of all that is holy?
This book limits itself to those myths which directly influence the American culture—and these are chiefly from the Bible. It is the purpose of this book to examine the biblical stories, and their origins, upon which is based a modern mythology that still drives people at the beginning of the twenty-first century, in the face of often desperate problems, to cherish myths over reason.
Are these stories true? And if they are, when were they written?
How are we to know if a story in the Bible is historically true? Can these tales be either verified or falsified? And if they can, by what means? Secret Origins Of the Bible answers these questions with specific examples.
To test the historical validity of biblical narratives then, we must compare each of them with historical and archaeological records, and check the language of the verses for signs of anachronisms. I deliberately choose narratives that can be corroborated by history and archaeology to demonstrate the neutrality of these two disciplines. While the believer may rejoice in the corroboration of 2 Kings 24 and 25, there is no historical support for certain other famous biblical stories, such as the Exodus. Likewise every attempt to validate Joshua’s conquest of Canaan is frustrated by the archaeological record. It is, in fact, doubtful that any of the conquest narrative related in Joshua is true.
The dating of these stories is important. If we find that a story purporting to relate events in the life of Abraham contains gross anachronisms in it, such as referring to the city of his father as “Ur of the Chaldees,” or saying that Abraham lived in the “land of the Philistines” (Gen. 21:34)—people who did not come to Canaan until several centuries later—we know that the story was written down hundreds of years after the events were purported to have taken place. This means that the “history” being related may well have been tailored to the time of its writing. In certain cases supposed prophecies can be shown by examination of these anachronisms to have been written after the events they were supposedly predicting.
Anachronisms are not the only internal clues which reflect on the historical validity of a given biblical narrative. The literary forms used that indicate changes in authorship in a work attributed to one man, as in Isaiah, and the use of words or even a language from a later period, as in the Aramaic laced with Greek words in parts of Daniel, are other clues. So too are internal inconsistencies in the Bible, such as where there are two or more accounts of how something happened within the same book. The two creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 are an obvious example. Both the historical validity and the supposed divine inspiration of the Bible are called into doubt when one book contradicts another. Many Bible stories have two or even three different versions which all contradict each other. They cannot all be right.
Even if a biblical narrative is deemed historically true, can we base our ethics on such narratives and their moral injunctions?
Fundamentalists frequently use the codes of sexual ethics from Leviticus and Deuteronomy as a club with which to beat others. Since these codes include prohibitions against adultery (Lev. 18:20, 20:10; Deut. 22:22), incest (Lev. 18:6-18, 20:11, 12, 14, 17, 19-21; Deut. 22:30), rape (Deut. 22:25), prostitution (Deut. 23:17), and bestiality (Lev. 18:23, 20:15, 16), the codes seem to relate to acts universally condemned by all societies, which gives them a certain validity. Of course, the main prohibition stressed by fundamentalists is that against homosexuality (Lev. 18:22, 20:13). Assuming that the penalties are moderated a bit—most of these offenses carried the death penalty—many people might be swayed by their seeming reasonableness.
However, this same code also prohibits a couple from having sex during the wife’s menstrual period, with the penalty that the offenders will be “cut off from among their people.” The Hebrew word translated as “cut off” is karath, which also means “to destroy.” That the Levitical sexual prohibitions were based on a psychology far different from our own can be seen not only in the exaggerated fear of menstrual blood, but in a verse just preceding the list of penalties for sexual offenses. Leviticus 20:9 says: “For every one who curses his father or his mother shall be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his blood is upon him.” Are we to read this to mean that if, in a fit of rage, your teenage son or daughter yells, “God damn you!” it’s curtains for them? To understand the harshness of this penalty we must remember that in ancient times words were thought to have power. To curse someone was to literally call down a supernatural force on the cursed, hence the injunction in the Ten Commandments not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Cursing one’s parents was tantamount to physically assaulting them. It was also thought that such curses could likely result in the victim’s death unless that person had a protective counter charm. That the prohibition against swearing is based on magical thinking has not blunted its force among some believers.
However, fundamentalists are adamant that we cannot pick and choose which biblical prohibitions we will and will not obey. We cannot, for example, say that rape, adultery, incest, prostitution, and bestiality are wrong and should be made illegal, then turn and say that premarital sex and homosexuality are private matters which should be legal. Yet, if their reasoning is that such acts are condemned by God based on the Levitical and Deuteronomic codes, then they too are prohibited from picking and choosing, and they must, according to their own doctrine, give equal weight to the prohibitions against various other sexual behaviors and those against wearing linen and wool together. Fundamentalists are as selective as the rest of us in even what New Testament teachings they follow. Specifically, Jesus was quite plain both in prohibiting divorce except in cases of adultery (Mk. 10:11,12; Lk. 16:18; Mt. 5:31.32) and in his condemnation of wealth and the accumulation of material goods. Yet the divorce rate does not vary greatly between seculars and evangelicals, and fundamentalists are among the most avid of capitalists.