Ancient Israel
Israel is the culture that contributed the Bible, perhaps
the most influential book of the last three millennia, to
western civilization.
Ancient Israel, circa Christ’s life
By the thirteenth century
B.C.E the Israelites inhabited
the hill country on both sides
of the Jordan river, either as
settlers or nomads.
–Their history was
dominated by warfare,
perhaps because the land was
poor for agriculture making
the economy frail.
–Even periods of strong
centralized rule were marked
by political coups.
Since 1993
• The society was governed on the basis of religious
law that had been handed down to Moses by God.
• Old Testament Israel had a patriarchal family
– a patrilineal descent
– a patrilocal residence,
which was reinforced and institutionalized by its
Only when Hebrew women married and became
the mothers of children did they gain any authority
over other people.
A “Good” Hebrew Wife
was “industrious, wise, prudent, gracious.”
taught her children,
planted and maintained a vineyard,
enhanced her husband's reputation through
her virtue.
• was regarded as a natural and God-ordained
helpmate to her husband.
Laws Governed Women’s Behavior
In some cases, these laws can seem as harsh as the
Sumerian or Assyrian laws
• Sex, for women, belonged to the marriage bed and even a
girl who had been raped had to become, or be treated as,
the wife of her attacker (Exod. 21:7-11, Duet. 21:10-14).
• A bride found not to be a virgin could be stoned to death
by elders of the town.
• An adulterous wife could expect death as a punishment
(although infidelity by the husband with harlots was
tolerated--but not encouraged--and polygamy gained
acceptance--but not with enthusiasm).
• A woman could never divorce her husband, but a husband
could set his wife aside, although he could not divorce her
without substantial cause.
That men dominated religiously meant that they
dominated socially and politically, as there was no
separation of church and state in Ancient Israel.
• Lesko explains in your readings that this was
probably not a conscious effort by men to attain
and retain superiority, that “Male strength,
vigilance, and domination doubtlessly appeared
necessary for the security of Israel's state
throughout a tumultuous and war-torn history, and
women, as a group, consequently became the
state's least effective members.”
• Lesko concludes her discussion on ancient Israel
by pointing out an irony in regard to ancient Israel
and it philosophies and practices:
“The main object of the state was to secure justice
and to respect the worth of the human spirit, yet
the spirit of its women was strictly kept in check.
The prophets did not challenge the inferior status
of women any more than they railed against the
institution of slavery” (73-74).
A Critical Approach to the Bible
• The texts of the Old Testament include
many literary genres and span almost a
thousand years. Not unusually, they reveal
diversity (and complexity) in attitudes about
• Before we look directly at the text, we need
to establish certain aspects (or ground rules)
necessary for the discussion and study of
these texts as works of literature and as
artifacts of history.
Biblical Scholarship
• A common misunderstanding is the thought that
the Bible is a single, complete, and integral
document, unchanged and unchanging, which
transcends the conditions of life on Earth.
• Although the Bible may be the product of divine
inspiration and although it may be regarded in its
entirety as God's revelation, we will acknowledge
in and for this class that God did not put a single
word of it on paper.
As we delve a bit into the study of the Bible, it
is important to keep an open mind.
• Some people have the idea that anything printed is the
truth, especially in the Bible, the most sacred of books,
at least in Western tradition.
– When applied to the Bible, this is called Biblical inerrancy,
the idea that there are NO errors in the Bible. This idea
forces people to make sense of the senseless.
• In this class we'll view the Bible as a literary and
historical document, and we see the Bible as important
because it is a common heritage of all of us in Western
Theory of Biblical Authorship
• Whether or not one believes that the writers of the
Biblical texts were under divine inspiration, one
can still recognize the complexity of biblical
• While certain pieces seem to be the product of the
person whose name they bear, an in-depth
bibliographic study, or Biblical exegesis, (made
more exact by recent increased access to
archeological and epigraphical materials from the
Near East) will show that the forms they take--the
arrangement and selection of the pieces--seem to
have been the work of others.
The Pentateuch
• The best example of this complexity is the first
division of Hebrew scriptures which contains at
least four different sources.
– (five scrolls, Greek) or
– Torah (teaching; or less properly, the Law)
• The Pentateuch covers the first seven hundred
years--roughly 1950-1250 B.C.E.--of Israel's
• It underwent many changes during history,
"finally" becoming shaped into a "salvation
history" around 5th century B.C.E. to give its
people hope, despite their diminished
The Five Books of the Pentateuch
The oldest surviving manuscript of the complete
Bible is the Codex Leningradensis which dates to
1008 C.E. A Facsimile edition of this great codex is
now available (Leningrad Codex 1998, Eerdmans
for $225).
• Traditionally, it is thought to be the traditional
teaching that God gave to Moses on Mount
Sinai, written by Moses for the following
generations, BUT nowhere in the text itself is
there that claim.
• Biblical and critical scholars have long
questioned the veracity of this "Mosaic"
assertion for some time.
Hobbes, Spinoza, Richard Simon, Jean Astruc,
and others have picked up on "discrepancies" or
"clues," which indicate that Moses did not write it
• Biblical scholars (mostly priests) have grappled
with these issues for centuries.
• There was religious opposition to these studies (as
they questioned tradition) throughout the centuries
until the 20th century when in 1943 Pope Pius XII
appealed for investigation into the truth as a way
to strengthen Christian (and Catholic)
understanding of religion.
Biblical Scholars’ Conclusions
• Because several of the sources are the product of an
oral, collaborative tradition, as the so-called J and E
texts allegedly are, the complexity is increased.
• This is made more complex because apparently
redactors, people who made up finished versions of
the texts out of "original" pieces (perhaps different
alternate versions, partial versions, or a nearly
complete version), were involved.
– Redactors may select, arrange, add links, insert explanations,
or create their own narrative or framework in displaying the
– To make things even more complex, one redactor's finished
version can become another redactor's base or partial text.
The Documentary Theory
• The Documentary theory holds that a long
process of creating, revising, deleting,
editing, creating, etc. by a great number of
people at various historical times produced
the Bible.
• This is thought to help explain the
contradictions--to increase understanding
and validate the text--for believers and
• A biblical scholar and former nun, Karen
Armstrong, admits that "We cannot treat the
Bible as a holy encyclopedia where we can
look up information about the divine,
because we are likely to find contradictory
data in the very next chapter."
• Her theory is that by “presenting readers
with more than one story, the editors were
demonstrating that no one human account
can ever comprise the whole of divine
The Various Sources of "Old"
Testament Biblical Writings
• Explanation: there are (at least) four sources of the
material in the torah:
Anthropomorphic presentation of the deity
Dramatic narratives
Uses Yahweh as the name of God
10th Century B.C.E.
Uses Elohim as the name of God
9th-8th Centuries B.C.E.
Found only in the book of Deuteronomy
622 B.C.E.
Overriding interest in ritual legislation
538-400 B.C.E.
Many different times over the history of the Bible
The Creation Stories
and their Contradictions
When one reads the first chapters in
Genesis, one finds two contradictory tales
about creation, tales which explain what
God created and in what order.
The order of creation of men and women
has been used historically to justify
women’s lower status in society.
• The first (Genesis 1-2:4) employs verbal
repetition and is precisely and regularly
organized (poetic).
• The second story is no less skillful, but it is
more down-to-earth. It uses vivid imagery to
appeal to the mind's eye.
Order of Creation, According to Genesis 1-2:4
Man and Woman
Raphael’s God Separates Light from Darkness, 1517
Order of Creation, According to Genesis 2:5+
Detail of the Creation of Adam from Michelangelo's The
Sistine Chapel ceiling, 1509-1512
Consider How these Differences Would
Change One’s Interpretation of the Stories
• In Genesis 1:27-28 in modern translations
male pronouns are used, but in the ancient
Hebrew language no pronouns are
associated with the verbs. “He” created
refers to god, but “He” reflects the
translators’ views of the world and religion.
• The meaning of the passage: simultaneous
creation of men and women.
• In Genesis 2:7 the “man” in the text
comes from the Hebrew adamah
meaning from the earth; no
masculine or feminine status is
contained in the word. When
translating these texts into Greek
and Latin, however; the translators
made masculine choices.
• The fact remains however that the
original writers apparently did not
intend a gender association there.
Man = earth creature, no gender
association is involved.
Lucas Cranach, the Elder’s
Adam and Eve, 1533
• In Genesis 2:23, our version tells us that woman
is second; however, the word still means “earth
creations.” The woman in Hebrew is ishshah,
while man is ish. This is the first time gender is
associated with the creations. Inherently there is
no unequal status as yet.
– In fact, Phyllis Trible, a noted feminist biblical
scholar, tells us, first, that this was a pun; the writers
were having fun with the words.
– Trible also points out that meaning was created in
cyclical constructions in ancient Hebrew. The most
important points were often given first and last.
The Genesis of Genesis
• The Egyptians shared common ideas about the
creation of the world
– In the beginning was a universal flood (Nun or Nu)
– A single deity acts and a mountain is raised from the
flood, upon which more creative acts will occur
• The difference among Egyptian myths centered
around who the deity was and how creation began
Egypt: Four Cult Centers
Each city had its own local deity that
they associated with the creative acts
• Atum
– A solar deity
– Was either the mountain or appeared on the
mountain as a flaming serpent
– Had both male and female traits
– Gave birth to Shu and Tefnut, who gave birth to
Geb and Nut, who gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Set,
and Nephthys
Heliopolis’s Ennead
• Ptah, chief deity
– Spoke to summon Atum from Nun
• Gave birth to Shu and Tefnut, who gave birth to Geb
and Nut, who gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Set, and
• The Ogdoad, eight deities, emerges from
Nun and gives birth to Re, the Creator
• Re then gives birth to the Ennead
Hermopolis’s Ogdoad
Universal Flood
Space or Infinity
Invisible Winds
The Ogdoad
leads to the Creation
of the Ennead
The eight deities of the Ogdoad give birth to Re.
Re, then, creates the Ennead
• Amen, the creator
– The other creator deities were just forms of
Amen appears first in the Hermopolitan Ogdoad,
Then as the Memphite Ptah,
Then as Heliopolitan Atum,
And then as Re
Genesis 1:1-2
• The Beginning
In the beginning God
created the heavens and
the earth. 2 Now the earth
was formless and empty,
darkness was over the
surface of the deep, and
the Spirit of God was
hovering over the waters.
Formless and empty
are translated from
the Hebrew tohu
and bohu, an
expression for
chaos and disorder
Spirit is translated
from ruach,
meaning wind or
violent exhalation
Genesis 1:1-2
• The two opening
Hebrew verses
describe the order of
– An earth and heaven
that take up space but
have no form
– Darkness
– A watery deep
– A wind moving over
Genesis 1:3
3 And
God said, "Let there
be light," and there was
• Amen “speaks and what
should come into being
comes into being”
• Ptah “thinks out and
commands what he wishes
[to exist]”
• Atum “took Annunciation
in his mouth”
Genesis 1:3
And God said,
"Let there be light,"
and there was light.
• Amen “speaks and
what should come
into being comes
into being”
• Ptah “thinks out
and commands
what he wishes [to
• Atum “took
Annunciation in his
Genesis 1:3
And God said, "Let
there be light," and
there was light. 4 God
saw that the light was
good, and he separated
the light from the
darkness. 5 God called
the light "day," and the
darkness he called
"night." And there was
evening, and there was
morning--the first day.
• A hymn to Amen
shows the same
sequence: Amen-Re
“opened [his] eyes
to see with them
and everybody
became illuminated
by means of the
glances of [his]
eyes, when the day
had not yet come
into being.”
Genesis 1:4-5 & 1: 16-19
God saw that the • 16 God made two great
light was good, and
lights--the greater light to
he separated the
govern the day and the
light from the
lesser light to govern the
darkness. 5 God
night. He also made the
called the light
stars. 17 God set them in the
"day," and the
expanse of the sky to give
darkness he called
light on the earth, 18 to
"night." And there
govern the day and the
was evening, and
night, and to separate light
there was morningfrom darkness. And God
the first day.
saw that it was good. 19 And
there was evening, and
there was morning--the
fourth day.
Genesis 1: 6-8
And God said, "Let
there be an expanse
between the waters to
separate water from
water." 7 So God made
the expanse and
separated the water
under the expanse from
the water above it. And
it was so. 8 God called
the expanse "sky." And
there was evening, and
there was morning-the
second day.
• The firmament
rising out of the
waters is the
mountain that
arises out of Nun,
the primeval
• Egyptians saw the
sky as a waterway
that Re sailed
though on his
solar barque.
Genesis 1: 20 & 2:19
• 120 And God said,
"Let the water teem
with living creatures,
and let birds fly
above the earth
across the expanse of
the sky.“
• 219 Now the LORD
God had formed out
of the ground all the
beasts of the field and
all the birds of the air.
• “Teem” can also be
translated as “bring
forth,” changing the
meaning to suggest
that the birds are
created out of the
waters in the first
passage, creating,
then, a contradictory
meaning as the
second passage
suggests that birds
come from the
Genesis 1:27
So God created man in
his own image, in the
image of God he created
him; male and female he
created them.
• Hebrew man is haadam, which means
“the adam,” a pun
because the creature is
formed from clay
The first “man”in the passage translates as
humans or, more literally, earth creatures
Footnote: New Testament
• Metaphor of God as Father
– Old Testament
– New Testament
• With this knowledge of the language, many
of the traditional interpretations about Eve’s
(and thus women’s) status as a subordinate
to Adam have to be re-examined, as do the
assumptions about the nature of God, Himor Her-self.

Ancient Israel - Illinois Valley Community College