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’s wife Zipporah saved his life by circumcising him. As the story goes, She knew that God planned to kill Moses because he was not circumcised. She then circumcised him on the spot (Exodus 4:24-26). That must have been a graphic scene. Moses may have been a great prophet because he had a strong woman behind him. Only God knows what God is planning. Zipporah knew what God was about to do, while the tale does not say that She received advance notification of God’s plans.
Bathsheba and David
Bathsheba broke David and his kingdom. She was bathing on a rooftop where he could see Her naked. David ordered Her to come to his palace. She became pregnant after sleeping with him. David then commanded Her husband Uriah to go home, hoping that he would sleep with Her so that the scandal would go unnoticed. Uriah did not comply. David then asked his general to place Uriah on the frontline of the battle so that he would die. After Uriah died, David married Bathsheba. The marriage was a grave sin but God nevertheless loved Bathsheba’s son Solomon who was to become King.
Bathsheba turned out to be a fate changer. The prophet Natan foretold David that his house would be cursed because of his act. 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.
The name Bathsheba consists of two parts, Bath and Sheba. Bathsheba seduced David by bathing naked where he could see Her while the Queen of Sheba later visited Solomon. 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
Early Jewish history in the Hebrew Bible probably is mythical, but God may have founded the Jewish nation in person. Deborah was a leader of Israel in the era of the judges. She took part in a battle (Judges 4:8-9), even though it was Jael, the wife of a clan leader, who 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 to as early as the twelfth century BC. It is here where Jewish history probably begins.
The Book of Judges is from a later date and appears wrapped around this song. 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: 3 May 2022
Featured image: Sepphoris Mosaic. Pbs.org. [copyright info]
1. Wright, Jacob L. (2014). The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future. Coursera.