Weaving one tale into another
The Hebrew Bible features tales about the Jewish patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This book tells us that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. But archaeological evidence does not support these stories. The historical Hebrew Bible begins with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. That does not mean that the Bible accurately describes what happened from then on, but many of the names and events mentioned are historical. It also does not mean that the account in the Bible from before that time is entirely fictional. There only is little evidence to substantiate it.
The kingdom of David is in the twilight zone between myth and history. David probably was king, perhaps of Judah alone, and there may be some truth to the account of his reign. Before the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, there probably was tribal leadership. The Book of Judges is about the tribal era preceding the kingdom. So can avatars of God appear in stories that never happened? We may already live inside a fiction, so why not? The story of Hans and Gretl never happened, but we can read it while we may be real ourselves. If you are God and command the scene, you can also write the tales inside it. And indeed, possible avatars of God do appear in the Hebrew Bible.
Hiding it behind human motivations
There is a mundane historical explanation for the existence of the possible avatars of God in the Hebrew Bible that does not require divine interference. Jacob Wright argues that the Jews were too weak to hold on to territory. They had to survive as a minority in the lands of others. Military adventurism could have been fatal. The biblical authors, therefore, may have reinvented the hero. Rather than warriors, biblical heroes were often virtuous people1 and people who had weaknesses.
The biblical authors also refashioned the role of men and women. Men played a significant role in family life. By depicting contributions women made to military victory, the biblical authors undermined the authority of men in war. Women achieved triumph on the battlefield and decided the fate of men.1
For instance, Jacob defrauded Esau of his birthright by deceiving his father, Isaac. Only, it was his mother, Rebecca, who planned it. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. When the Jews started to conquer Canaan, Rahab harboured their spies in her house (Joshua 2). And Esther saved the Jewish people from a plot in the Persian court. The Hebrew Bible does not depict events indicating that Rebecca, Rahab or Esther could be God. The biblical account of Jewish history begins with Sarah and Abraham. And there was something special about Sarah.
Sarah and Abraham
Judaism started with Sarah and Abraham, the Hebrew Bible says. Sarah became pregnant at the age of ninety. God wanted Her to become the mother of the Jews. Jewishness comes with matrilineal family lines, so you are born a Jew when your mother is one. And for that reason, the Jews are not primarily children of Abraham but children of Sarah in the way Christians are children of God.
The will of God coincided with the wishes of Sarah in important family matters. God summoned Hagar to return to her mistress Sarah (Genesis 16:9). And God told Abraham to send Hagar away when Sarah wanted this (Genesis 21:12). The Egyptians were subject to plagues when the Pharaoh tried to make Sarah his wife (Genesis 12:17). King Abimelech received threats from God when he tried to do the same (Genesis 20:3).
Asenath and Joseph
Joseph was a handsome man. When he was Viceroy of Egypt, he married Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian high priest. The Hebrew Bible tells us little about Her. There is a story about their marriage dating from the first century BC. Perhaps it is written to explain how Joseph came to marry a pagan priestess. According to this tale, Asenath was proud and despised men, but She became impressed by Joseph’s looks.
Joseph first did not want to marry Her because She bowed before idols and did not worship the God of the Jews. Asenath showed repentance, and an angel from heaven came to Her chamber to bless the marriage. When She told Joseph of the angel, he changed his mind and decided to marry Her. Asenath’s repentance and change of faith appear insincere and the result of Her desire to marry Joseph. Nevertheless, God approved the marriage.
The Quran dedicates an entire chapter of 111 verses to Joseph. It expands on his good looks as well as the desire women had for him. Hence, Joseph may have been important to God, and his appearance was worth mentioning. The highly desired prize ended up in the arms of Asenath so She could have been God.
Zipporah and Moses
Moses’ wife, Tzipora, saved his life by circumcising her son and touching Moses’ feet with the foreskin, saying he was her bridegroom of blood (Exodus 4:24-26). It is a scene that lacks detail and leaves open many questions. Tzipora saving Moses’ life in this way fits the agenda of the authors of the Hebrew Bible, which was to undermine male authority. If you picture the scene, a woman grabbing a man’s private parts and cutting a bit off can be demeaning for men. It appears that Tzipora knew what God was about to do. Even though it most likely never happened, it is consistent with the idea that Tzipora was God.
Bathsheba and David
The story shows that even God’s favourite king was not without flaws. He was human and weak versus Bathsheba. Bathsheba turned out to be a fate changer. The prophet Natan foretold David that his act cursed his house. David’s eldest son Amnon was murdered by his half-brother Absalom after he had raped Absalom’s sister Tamar. Later Absalom was killed after he had declared himself king and raised a revolt against David. That eliminated two potential heirs to the throne. In David’s old age, Bathsheba secured the succession to the throne of Her son Solomon. And so, Bathsheba could have been God.
Bathsheba turned out to be a fate changer. The prophet Natan foretold David that his act cursed his house. David’s eldest son Amnon was murdered by his half-brother Absalom after he had raped Absalom’s sister Tamar. Later Absalom was killed after he had declared himself king and raised a revolt against David. That eliminated two potential heirs to the throne. In David’s old age, Bathsheba secured the succession to the throne of Her son Solomon. The marriage was a grave sin, but God nevertheless loved Bathsheba’s son Solomon who was to become king. And so, Bathsheba could have been God.
David probably is a historical figure, so Bathsheba may also have lived. The story fits the agenda of the authors of the Hebrew Bible. Israel’s greatest king, David, was not so great after all, and a woman determined his destiny. The name Bathsheba consists of two parts, Bath and Sheba. Bathsheba seduced David by bathing naked on a rooftop near the palace. The Queen of Sheba later visited Solomon. That is a bit odd. Hence, the Queen of Sheba may also have been God. And so, the pun may be intended, even though English is not the original language of the Hebrew Bible.
Deborah, the founder of the Jewish nation
If you read the Hebrew Bible, you might accept the historical account it offers. Perhaps, you find it hard to believe, but you usually do not think of how the Hebrew Bible gradually emerged in a process that took over a thousand years. But that is the way historians look at the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish nation emerged after Egypt retreated from Canaan around 1150 BC. It corresponds with the tribal era of the judges in the Bible. The Hebrew Bible probably started with the Song of Deborah (Judges 5).
The Song of Deborah may date from the twelfth century BC when Egypt retreated from Canaan and left a power vacuum. The Hebrew Bible tells us that Deborah was a leader of Israel during this age. She took part in a battle (Judges 4:8-9), but the wife of a clan leader, Jael, killed the commander of the opposing army (Judges 4:17-22). It further tells us that Deborah was the fourth judge, but that may not be correct. After all, the Song of Deborah probably is the oldest part of the Hebrew Bible. The early Jewish tribespeople could have composed the song to celebrate victory and their heroine, Deborah.
It is here where the history of the Jews as Yahweh’s people might have started. The remainder of the Book of Judges and the Hebrew Bible are from a later date. Deborah may well have been a historical figure and the founder of the Jewish nation. She sent for Barak, the commander of the troops, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’” (Judges 4:6-7) It was Deborah who commanded Barak. And so Deborah might have been the God of Israel.
Latest revision: 1 January 2023
Featured image: Sepphoris Mosaic. Pbs.org. [copyright info]
1. Wright, Jacob L. (2014). The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future. Coursera.