Sepphoris Mosaic

Sarah, mother of the Jews

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

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Jewish nation began to form during the era of the judges. 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). According to the Hebrew Bible, She was the fourth judge, but that may not be correct. The oldest part of the Hebrew Bible probably is the Song of Deborah (Judges 5). It may date from as early as the twelfth century BC based on actual events. It is here where the history of the Jews as Yahweh’s people started. And so, God may have founded the Jewish nation in person.

The remainder of the Book of Judges and the Hebrew Bible are from a later date. And so, Deborah may 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) Deborah commanded Barak so She could have been the God of Israel.

Latest revision: 26 July 2022

Featured image: Sepphoris Mosaic. Pbs.org. [copyright info]

1. Wright, Jacob L. (2014). The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future. Coursera.

Mohammed receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel

Religious experiences and miracles

The Jewish people still exist after 2,500 years, while they did not have a homeland for most of the time. That is a remarkable feat, most notably because the Jews are supposed to be God’s chosen people. It is also a bit of an enigma that Christianity replaced the existing religions in the Roman Empire. Somehow the message of personal salvation through Christ caught on. A pivotal moment was the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 312 AD. He made Christianity the favoured religion in the Roman Empire. A few centuries later, a small band of Arab warriors created an empire stretching from the Atlantic to India, spreading a new religion called Islam. Is it a realistic scenario that the illiterate camel-driver Muhammad became a crafty statesman after he had seen an angel? We only know this world, so we cannot answer that question. Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same deity. Our universe could be a simulation, and the fates of Judaism, Christianity and Islam could be implausible historical developments. In other words, God might be the best explanation. Only, we do not know whether or not these events are plausible.

When Islam arrived on the scene, there already was widespread monotheism as Christians and Zoroastrians in the area believed in an all-powerful creator. Muhammad had met Jews and Christians on his travels, so he was familiar with these religions. Before that, Christianity had faced an uphill struggle. While the Roman state suppressed this religion, pagans left their gods behind and accepted the Christian God as the only true God. And they did so in large numbers. That begs for an explanation, even though the conversion to Christianity was a gradual process that took centuries. The number of Christians increased at an average rate of 2-3% per year between 30 AD and 400 AD. Each Christian may have converted just one or two persons on average, but over time, exponential growth made Christianity grow from 30 followers in 30 AD to 30 million in 400 AD. There appears nothing supernatural about this process until you realise that the most often cited reason for conversions were stories about miracles Christians did.1

An early miracle was Jesus appearing to a few of his followers after his crucifixion. Christians believe that Jesus appeared in the flesh, but perhaps his disciples had visions of him. The New Testament also accounts for some miracles the disciples allegedly performed. These stories may have been exaggerated, but miracles are a consistent theme in Christianity, even today. And so, there may be more to it than science can explain. On message boards, people tell stories about prayers heard and miraculous healings. Chance is not always a plausible explanation. And it seems unlikely that Christians consistently lie about these matters.

Many people have seen the Virgin Mary. She appeared several times in Venezuela. In 1976, she showed herself to Maria Esperanza Medrano de Bianchini, who received special powers. She could tell the future, levitate, and heal the sick. In Egypt, Mary appeared at a Coptic Church between 1983 and 1986. Muslims also have seen her there. There have been many more Virgin Mary appearances. The most notable one was in Portugal at Fatima on 13 October 1917. The sun spun wildly and tumbled down to earth before stopping and returning to its normal position, radiating in indescribable beautiful colours. More than 50,000 people witnessed the miracle. They had gathered in response to a prophecy made by three shepherd children that the Virgin Mary would appear and perform miracles on that date.2

Jesus also appeared from time to time, but less frequently than the Virgin. An intriguing account comes from Kenneth Logie, a preacher of the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Oakland, California, in the 1950s. In April 1954, Logie was preaching at an evening service. During his sermon, the church door opened, and Jesus came walking in, smiling to the left and the right. Then he walked through the pulpit and placed his hand on Logie’s shoulder. Jesus spoke to him in a foreign tongue. Fifty people witnessed the event. Five years later, a woman gave testimony when she suddenly disappeared, and Jesus took her place. He wore sandals and a glistering white robe and had nail marks on his hands. His hands were dripping with oil. After several minutes, Jesus disappeared, and the woman reappeared. Two hundred people have seen it. It was on film as Logie had installed film equipment because strange things were going on.2

In virtual reality, this is possible. When it appears that God has heard your prayer, that could be part of the script. In that case, God did not listen to your prayer. Instead, you were supposed to pray, and the fulfilment of your request was supposed to occur. It is like a meaningful coincidence happening. Many prayers are in vain, so a fulfilled wish does not prove God’s existence. But some stories are incredible, and mere chance seems a poor explanation. And in a simulation, there is little difference between the appearances of Christ, the Virgin Mary, deceased loved ones, UFOs, angels and ghosts.

Feature image: Mohammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. Miniature illustration on vellum from the book Jami’ al-Tawarikh, by Rashid al-Din, published in Tabriz, Persia, 1307 AD. Public Domain.

1. The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. Bart Ehrman. Simon & Schuster (2018).
2. How Jesus Became God The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee. Bart Ehrman. HarperCollins Publishers (2015).

Building a nation with religion

The Israelites started as a tribe in Canaan, much like other tribes living there. For a long time, the area was under Egyptian control. That changed after 1150 BC. Egypt was beset by droughts, food shortages, civil unrest, corruption, and endless bickering in the court, causing it to retreat from Canaan. Agriculture was the basis of existence, which required territorial defence, hence states. In the resulting power vacuum, several petty kingdoms emerged. Israel and Judah were among them. This situation lasted until new imperial powers emerged on the scene four centuries later.

Map of Israel and Judah
The kingdoms of Canaan

Yahweh was one of the gods and goddesses worshipped in Canaan. The people in the area were polytheists. At first, El was the supreme deity in the Canaanite belief system, and the goddess Asherah was his wife.1 The new small states needed religion to justify their existence. The kings of Judah, and perhaps also Israel, promoted a national religion around Yahweh to solidify their authority. Other kingdoms in the region had adopted national deities too. For instance, Milcom was the deity of Ammon, while Moab had Chemosh to defeat its foes and supply the country with blessings (1 Kings 11:33).

Yahweh thus became the deity of the state religion in Judah and possibly Israel. Several parts of the Hebrew Bible originate from this era. People still worshipped other gods. The Hebrew Bible testifies to tensions between those who held on to other deities alongside Yahweh and those insisting on worshipping Yahweh alone. As Yahweh had become the deity of the Israelites, El became a generic word for god, and Asherah became Yahweh’s wife. Records of Jews living in Egypt testify of this.

As time passed by, new empires arrived on the scene. Israel was overrun in 720 BC by the Assyrians. The Babylonians conquered Judah in 597 BC after taking over the Assyrian Empire. The Babylonians destroyed the country and deported many of its inhabitants while others fled to Egypt. The Jewish communities in Egypt, Babylon, and Judah became dispersed. The authors of the Hebrew Bible responded to the situation by reconnecting them and showing that they share a common heritage. They belonged to a larger group, a nation or tribe, a family with common ancestors. The Hebrew Bible thus became a compilation of existing tales from these communities and the royal archives of Judah.2

After the Persians conquered the Babylonian Empire, Emperor Cyrus the Great allowed the Jews to return to Israel. He commissioned the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. Those still living in the area opposed this plan, and a political struggle unfolded. After seven decades, Ezra and Nehemiah finally succeeded in rebuilding the temple. At the time, Jewish society was on the brink of being wiped out. Israel and Judah did no longer exist. The remaining Jews were mixing with the surrounding population. Jewish leaders had to find a way to keep their people together. The editors of the Hebrew Bible aimed to preserve Jewish identity around a common religion, history and cultural heritage.

Meanwhile, Judaism gradually became monotheist under the influence of Zoroastrianism. The prophet Zoroaster believed in a good creator, an opposing evil power. The Jews probably were henotheists at first. They believed in other gods but worshipped Yahweh. It is expressed, for example, in the commandment that ‘you shall have no other gods before me’ rather than ‘you shall believe there is only one God.’ Most of the Hebrew Bible still has a henotheist perspective. Zoroastrianism was widespread in the Middle East. It shaped Judaism by bringing monotheism, messiahs, free will, heaven, hell, and Satan. Zoroastrianism not only affected Judaism. Some of the Greek philosophers around 400 BC were also monotheists.

The Hebrew Bible emerged under the reign of five successive empires: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Hellenistic Rulers, and the Roman Empire. Little evidence supports the historical account in the Hebrew Bible about the time before the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. There may have been a united kingdom under the reign of David and Solomon, but it could be a fiction invented to promote unity. It made the inhabitants in the area all descend from one great nation. Before that, history becomes murky. No written records exist from these times. The tales about Abraham, Isaac, and Moses may have been legends from different communities merged into a single narrative to promote a single Jewish nation.3

The survival of the Jewish people has been hanging by a thread for a long time. After more than 2,500 years, the Jews are still around, so their nation-building project proved a successful long-term survival strategy. They even managed to reclaim their original homeland. It is also remarkable that Judaism stood at the cradle of Christianity and Islam. The Jews have played a central role in world history. It is an impressive feat considering their numbers. And so, the Jews may be God’s chosen people after all.

Latest revision: 29 March 2022

Featured image: Torah scroll (public domain)

1. “El the God of Israel-Israel the People of YHWH: On the Origins of Ancient Israelite Yahwism”. In Becking, Bob; Dijkstra, Meindert; Korpel, Marjo C.A.; et al. Only One God?: Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah. Dijkstra, Meindert (2001).
2. The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future. Wright, Jacob L. (2014). Coursera.

Lucretia Garfield. Library Of Congres

The identity of God

We could be living inside a virtual reality run by a post-human civilisation to entertain an individual we call God. God might be like us and play a role as an ordinary human in this world. If that is correct then existing religions tell us little about God. On the other hand, it may not be an accident that half the people in the world today worship the God of Abraham as the only true God who rules the universe. Hence, God may have interfered with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And it seems that Jesus knew God personally. He may have known God as a person.

According to the Bible, Jesus called God ‘Father’ and had a personal and loving relationship with God. Hence, Christians believe that God is love. All four official Gospels call Jesus the Bridegroom but do not identify the Bride. The Christian doctrine states that Jesus married the Church, but the Church did not exist when Jesus lived. And the Gospels do not mention that Jesus married the Church either. It has the hallmarks of a cover-up.

And so, the Bride of Christ may have been God in the person of Mary Magdalene. She may have made Jesus believe that he was Adam reincarnated and that She was Eve reincarnated, that Eve did not come from Adam’s rib but that Eve gave birth to Adam, and that they were an eternal couple from the beginning of Creation until the End of Times. The Gospels show evidence of a sex change performed on God. For instance, Christians are born of God (John 1:13).

And so, Jesus was God’s son because Adam was. Jesus probably knew he was married to God. The New Testament states that Adam is the Son of God (Luke 3:38) and that Jesus is the Firstborn of all Creation (Colossians 1:15). It could imply that Jesus was Adam and Adam was born. It also appears that Muhammad married God in the person of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, but unlike Jesus, Muhammad did not know that.

Jesus and Muhammad are historical figures. The accounts of their lives may not be accurate because they date from decades after they died, but there is little doubt that they have lived. The early history of the Jews in the Hebrew Bible is mostly mythical. Archaeological evidence does not support it. The Jewish nation emerged in the era of the judges. God may have founded the Jewish nation as Deborah. A song exalting Her exploits probably is the oldest fragment of the Hebrew Bible.

The evidence is circumstantial but significant. One cannot expect otherwise if the Abrahamic deity is a veil behind which the owner of this universe has operated so far. The earliest Christians may have known that Jesus married God. This relationship, and the Jewish context in which Christianity started, may have led to the complicated theology of Christianity.

On a lighter note, Christians may have performed a sex change on God. And it may all be part of God’s plan. Consider the song Gimme The Prize by Queen.

The lyric indicates that the God of the coming kingdom could be Queen:

Here I am, I’m the master of your destiny
I am the one, the only one, I am the God of kingdom come

Queen, Gimme the Prize

It is a queer joke, and to stress its queerness, Freddy Mercury is at the centre of it. That sets the stage for a politically incorrect inquiry into the identity of God.

Latest revision: 26 August 2022

Featured image: Lucretia Garfield (possibly God in disguise)