Sunday, July 12, 2009

AtF: A Distant History

So we’re back. Has it only been two weeks since I last visited the insane, fun-house world of After the Flood? It feels like it’s been so much longer for some reason. Anyway, the next couple of paragraphs are rather interesting. I’m tempted to gloss over them, since they’re filled with a whole lot of conjecture against which almost no evidence exists to argue and traditions based on the little evidence we actually have hold deep root. They are, however, instructive in how not to do history. So it’s worth looking in to. For starters:
Gomer, the first son of Japheth according to Genesis, founded a people known to the early Greeks as the Cimmerians who dwelt on the shores of the Caspian Sea. From here, they were later driven away by the Elamites. The prophet Ezekiel, during the time of the Captivity, referred to them as those who dwelt in the uppermost parts of the north. They appear in Assyrian records as the Gimirraya whose defeat under king Esarhaddon is duly noted. They appear also in the annals of the reign of Ashurbanipal of Assyria around 660 BC.
The Cimmerians are a, shall we say, difficult tribe to try to find out anything about. So I did what any good historian would do when faced with a tribe he’s never actually heard of. I went to Wikipedia. No, really. It’s often a good place to start if you’re starved for any other options, which I am. What we find from mighty Wiki is that there was a Cimmerian tribe. Herodotus apparently made reference to them as living in a land called Gamir. They lived somewhere around modern-day Ukraine, but like many peoples of those days got kicked around and had to leave and were eventually lost to history. Little or nothing of the Cimmerians exists and most of what we know about them comes from external sources. In the case of the Herodotus mention the record is removed from the actual people by centuries. However, we also learn that Josephus mentioned them and connected them to the Galatians. This is where they started to be useful to an interesting group of people. Believe it or not, there are a group of people who actively argue that the British are descendents of the so-called “Lost Tribes of Israel.” This is where things get more and less confusing. First on to the “more confusing” part. There exists a certain strain of belief that after the Assyrians took over the northern Kingdom of Israel. Um, after King Solomon there was a big civil war that split Israel in to the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. Tradition holds it that Judah and Benjamin were in the south and the rest were in the north. Assyria then took over Israel and exiled most of the population. Something similar happened to Judah later, but it was the Babylonians who did the deed. The Jewish/Samaritan conflict is rooted in the exiles. It’s held that the tribes of the Kingdom of Israel never made it back and were scattered all over the world (some versions have them getting all the way to the Americas. How, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure Mormonism is rooted in that one). The reason this is all confusing is because the explanations that need to be invented to explain how the Lost Tribes got everywhere are excruciatingly complicated. So let’s move on to the other part. The reason there’s an incredibly non-confusing explanation is simple. It’s pretty obviously made up. As I said, Josephus wrote about it. He was the one who put Gomer in with the Cimmerians. Kind of. It’s less than obvious. The problem with using Josephus for, well, anything, is that his big project, Jewish Antiquities, was just one big piece of circular logic. In Ant. 1.5 he said, “Now I have undertaken the present work, as thinking it will appear to all the Greeks worthy of their study; for it will contain all our antiquities, and the constitution of our government, as interpreted out of the Hebrew Scriptures.” Does anybody but me see the problem here? Using Josephus to prove anything the Bible says is almost exactly the same thing as using the Bible to prove itself. I’ve known this ever since I used the Antiquities extensively as a source in my paper on the Maccabean Revolt. Josephus is not trustworthy. He also disagrees with Bill Cooper, which is just lots of fun. See, Cooper goes on to say this:
The people of Ashchenaz are found in earliest times in Armenia, and later Jewish writers associate them with the Germanic races (Germanic Jews to this day are called Ashkenazim). They appear also in the 6th century BC records of Assyria as the Askuza who allied themselves with the Mannai in a revolt against Assyria, an event also mentioned in Jeremiah (51:27) whose prophecy incidentally confirms the identity of the Askuza with the Ashkenazim. This people were later known to the Greeks as the Scythai, the Scythians of Herodotus. They gave their name to the lake and harbour of Ascanius and to the land of Ascania. Through Josephus we can later trace them to the Rheginians.
We’re going to double-back in a moment, but notice how Cooper says that Ashchenaz (who is more commonly known as Ashkenaz, but whatever…) were later called “Scythians.” In Ant. 1.125 Josephus wrote, “Magog founded those that from him were named Magogites, but who are by the Greeks called Scythians.” So we have two different accounts from the same source material, neither of which is even remotely trustworthy. Meanwhile, the name switching is common for ancient tribes, especially those who didn’t leave much in the way of their own records. The Greeks called a certain people “Scythians.” They were around long enough that the Assyrians knew of those same (or similar) people and called them “Askuza.” In his zeal to prove that the Table of Nations is accurate, Cooper has applied “Askuza” to “Ashkenaz” and taken a false correlation as proof. Where Josephus decided that Magog started everything is beyond me. Remember, the entire project is an exercise in circular logic. Both Cooper and Josephus believe(d) the Bible is an absolutely accurate historical document. Therefore, if the Bible says that all the people of the world came from one family then they must have. So if there was a people group that lived in a land called “Gamir” and there was a Biblical nation named after a dude named “Gomer,” then “Gamir” must be Gomer.” It’s right there in the Table of Nations, after all. And if it requires believing that there were a people called the “Magogites” who randomly had their name changed to “Scythians,” well, more power to those crazy Magogites, then. I haven’t really bothered to take a direct look at the Table of Nations yet. Genesis 10:5 states “From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations” (NASB). This is another one of those places where I have an ever-so-minor problem. Actually, two. First of all, if we take the Biblical record seriously, there were all of, like, seven people on the planet after the Ark crashed. By the time Gomer and Magog and that first generation after Noah’s sons showed up there would still have been maybe, what, forty people, total? Why would they need to separate in to these wide-spread communities stretching from Germany to the Caucasus Mountains to Persia and in to Africa? They didn’t even have enough of a population to start a village, let alone a massive collection of nations. It’s exactly the problem that the Bible runs in to earlier with Cain. He killed Abel, then wandered off and started a city named after his son, Enoch. A city of three people? Really? There’s another word for that. I’d call it a "house." If there was a wall it was a “compound.” The so-called Table of Nations doesn’t make sense even taken solely at face value. I don’t actually need to know a goddamn thing about the Cimmerians to know they weren’t founded by Noah’s son Japheth’s son Gomer. Somebody was taking the Bible literally and saw a word that looked kind of like a word in the Bible and said, “Aha!” That’s all there is to it. Oh, and there’s the tricky issue that Genesis 10:5 refers to nations being divided “every one according to his language.” See, in Genesis 11:1 “the whole Earth used the same language and the same words.” This was the beginning of the famed Tower of Babel story. We’re told in Genesis 10:9 that Nimrod, two generations after Ham, founded Babel. In Genesis 11:2 an amorphous “they” were traveling around and decided, “Hey, let’s build a big fucking tower and see what heaven is like.” You know how the rest of it goes. God got scared (yes, scared) that people would get too powerful. So he scattered everyone. At the end of the story we get another genealogy of Shem. That, by the way, puts to the lie Cooper’s earlier assertion that the Table of Nations is a single "unit of information.” If it’s a single unit of information why do we need two genealogies? If it was two separate “units of information”* that got shoehorned together, then it would make sense that there would be two separate genealogies. Meanwhile, as I said, I’d be doubling back. Cooper claims that the Jews known as the “Ashkenazi” are proof that sons of Japheth made it all the way to Germany. This seems to be a case of putting the cart before the horse, however. Apparently Medieval Jews reached the conclusion that the descendents of Ashkenaz ended up in Germany, so the Jews that eventually settled there became the Ashkenazi. This isn’t entirely surprising when you realize that everyone was working off the same source material. Cooper goes through a couple more names and draws equally spurious connections before concluding:
... and so on. Thus it comes about that, throughout the entire Table of Nations, whether we talk about the descendants of Shem, Ham or Japheth, every one of their names is found in the records of the early surrounding nations of the Middle East, even the many obscure names of certain remote Arab tribes that are otherwise not evident in any modern history book of the times, and enough is available for a detailed history to be written about them. It is a phenomenon of immense implications.
Only for idiots, Mr. Cooper. Only for idiots. It’s a bit off topic, but just because I can, I’m going to step back from the line of Japheth and delve in to Shem for a moment. Cooper doesn’t go in to Shem’s lineage, but there’s a bit of instructive information in the line. Shem had a son named Elam. Reference is made here and there in the Bible to the Elamites. Interestingly enough, there was a real people group known as the Elamites. They, however, did not call themselves Elamites. That’s what they were called by their neighbors to the west, the Sumerians. The Hebrews undoubtedly got the name from the Sumerians through the Babylonians. The history was then probably back-filled during the Babylonian Captivity, y’know, when the Bible was actually written down for the first time. Either way, the Elamites were a precursor to the Persians. Their capital city was Susa, which would later become one of the four capitals of the Persian Empire (the others being Ecbatana, Pasargadae, and Persepolis). The reason I’m bringing this up is simple: Susa was founded somewhere between 5000 and 4200 BCE (I’ve seen a few different estimates). That means that in the bizarro world of Biblical literalism even the conservative estimate makes Susa two hundred years older than the universe itself. That’s one hell of a neat trick. It gets worse when we find out that there are signs of settlement in the area that would become Susa as far back as 7000 BCE. Of course it’s not just a matter of missing by a couple hundred years. As I recall, the ridiculously specific date for the creation of the universe was 4004 BCE (on a Wednesday in August, too. I believe it was 6:17 AM Greenwich Mean Time…). Noah’s Flood took place, like, 1500 years later. “Elam” couldn’t possibly have founded Susa, then, until about 2400 BCE. So that means in Bible world Susa was founded between 1800 and 2600 years after it was founded in the real world. This is why we don’t consider the Bible a trustworthy source of history, just in case anybody is wondering… ----------------------------- *By the way, what the hell does that mean? What is “a unit of information?”


Michael Mock said...

"How not to do history." Indeed.

Joshua said...

The specific 4004 BCE claim is due to Bishop Usher's chronology. Depending on how you read certain Biblical verses one can get a few hundred years from that date.

However, it is far easier to get earlier dates than later dates. Thus for example, Bede had 3952 BCE. The standard Jewish chronology is even worse with the creation dating to 3760 BCE.

I'm glossing over some issues here about calendrical systems which can alter all the above dates slightly.

Geds said...

True enough. Usher's system is simply the most often used way to figure out the date. Although the other chronologies you mention just make it even more insane...