Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Part 3. Can we still believe the Bible? A scientific perspective

In this essay I consider the question: Can we still believe the Bible? from a scientific angle. This follows the previous essays in this series where I did the same from a hermeneutical (interpretive) and an archaeological perspective respectively. I engage with the problem of scientific evidence for the existence of God as well as many other related issues.

The Bible is an ancient book. It originated millennia ago within a prescientific age. As such, the Biblical perspective obviously reflects that ancient way of thinking about the world which is very different from the scientific one which goes back a mere 300 years. Does that mean that the Bible cannot say anything to us today? Does its ancient character disqualify the Bible from being taken seriously within our scientific age? These questions introduce an even more fundamental one: How does the prescientific nature of the Bible impacts on its truth? The Bible is, after all, a book that is concerned with "truth".

There are many scholars (from the Biblical Criticism tradition) who think that the prescientific character seriously undermines the validity of the Biblical narrative. They believe that its prescientific origins automatically means that the views presented are "primitive" and not compatible with our scientific understanding of the world. Some of them try to "rescue" some aspects such as the Jesus story (clinging to the truth about the resurrection) but others reject it as an ancient book that is not relevant to our present-day concerns. As such, they see an unbridgeable gap between the Biblical perspective and the scientific one.

Many conservative Christians also think in terms of such a gap but in their case, they reject the scientific perspective as being the untrustworthy one. Their thinking is moulded by the prescientific Biblical perspective which they read in scientific terms (in accordance with their contemporary education) as giving an "objective" perspective - without any concerns for the very different world from which the Biblical text originated. Obviously, the prescientific nature of the book has to be taken into account in our understanding and interpreting it. This, however, does not have to mean (as taken by Biblical Criticism scholars) that the Biblical truth is compromised. In fact, its ancient character may even strengthen the Biblical claim to the truth when it is understood on its own terms - for example, as a book written with integrity but from an observational (instead of scientific) perspective.

One of the significant problems in this discussion is the popular understandings of science which are often not at all scientific but rather belong to a scientism view of the world. When science is taken as the "measure of all things" (to quote the American philosopher Wilfred Sellars (1912-1989)) then obviously the Bible cannot perform that function. When all things are measured in empirical terms, then obviously there cannot be any place for a world beyond our empirical reach. Many people - including scientists - adhere to such a perspective without even knowing that this is a metaphysical standpoint, not a scientific one!

This deeply engrained scientism is reflected in the main reason given by atheists for not believing in God, namely that there is no direct empirical proof of His existence. Although this is (obviously) true, this perspective reflects a very basic misunderstanding about the nature of science. Once one understands the scope and limits of science (especially insofar as its empirical reach is concerned - which has been dramatically exposed within the context of quantum physics) then one knows that science is not in competition with faith.

In this essay, I consider the question whether the prescientific nature of the Bible disqualifies this ancient book as a trustworthy source of information about the ancient world and discredits its message and claim to truth? I consider the role of observation in both the Biblical and scientific perspectives. In what sense is the Biblical perspective different from the scientific one? And what about the ancient worldview in which the Biblical authors were embedded? How does that relate to the scientific view of the world? I take a closer look at the scope and limits of science to determine whether good science is in conflict with the Biblical perspective and even whether science may, in fact, support the Biblical claim to the truth!

Science and the prescientific nature of the Bible

When we consider the Bible from a purely secular angle, it seems to be an ancient book like all such books which would never have been relevant to current debate if it was not a religious book (which takes centre stage in Judaeo-Christian religion with the Jews obviously only accepting the Tanakh which the Christians call Old Testament). This, however, reflects a preconceived dogmatic position, namely that the Biblical claim to be divinely inspired cannot in principle be true. As such, it goes against an honest and open search for the truth. The alternative is to at least consider the Biblical claim that it contains God's message to humankind.

This Biblical claim is grounded on the testimonies of people (prophets and other authors) whom believers regard as true and trustworthy. These people testified about their experience of God who revealed himself in various ways to them: through an angel, vivid dreams, his Spirit and through Jesus Christ, the son of God. Their testimony concerns a very long tradition of oracles going back to those given to Abraham, the most important forefather of Israel, as well as Moses, their most important law-giver, and many other such prophets as well as the events associated with those oracles. As such, the message of God is presented as belonging to a certain historical context which includes even miraculous events such as those preceding the exodus and many others [1]. The main claim is that all the testimonies included in the Bible are true because they were given with integrity (and are sanctioned by God who inspired the authors through his Spirit).

We read, for example, that St. Paul writes: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16). Regarding the prophets, we read in 2 Peter 1:19-21: "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit". The important point is that these were "holy men" of God whose testimony is trustworthy because they would not lie (especially within the context of a holy God who abhors all lying and misleading testimony (see Rev. 21:8)).

Now, even in our day and age witness testimony forms an integral part of our justice system. When enquiring about the true nature of events the court values the "true and trustworthy" testimony of eyewitnesses very high - exactly the kind of testimony that the Bible claims to present! I discuss this aspect (i.e. using the justice system as the point of departure in evaluating Biblical truth) when I considered the Bible from an archaeological angle [2]. In any good justice system, the truth is determined by both witness testimony as well as scientific data. When the testimonies are true, they would not be in conflict with scientific data even though both need interpretation (which may lead to perceived inconsistencies which are purely due to the manner of interpretation).

All witness testimony happens within a certain context which does not belong to a pure scientific setting. The same is true for the Biblical testimony. Although the context of the Biblical authors was very different from our own and they regarded the world in very different terms than us, it is difficult to see how that undermines the truth of their testimony when we take that context into consideration when interpreting the Biblical text. All eyewitnesses have some kind of belief system which may differ radically from each other (and which may to some extent influence their thinking) but that does not in itself disqualify their testimony as long it is truthfully given. This means that we cannot discard the Biblical testimony purely because it originated within the ancient prescientific age.

Even though the Biblical testimonies include pronunciations and mention events which go beyond what natural science allows (i.e. in the case of prophecy and miracles) one cannot merely reject them out of hand as untrue - if the God whom they served really exists then He could obviously have done such things. One may, however, think that those witnesses may have been mistaken because they took purely natural things in a supernatural way. And we do, in fact, find that God is sometimes said to have used natural means to accomplish supernatural things (for example, the wind is said to have opened the path before the Israelites when they crossed the sea during the exodus). But that does not necessarily negate the miraculous aspect thereof as witnessed by the people of that time. We would, however, have to take a closer look at the way in which they engaged with the world through observation to determine if their experience has validity even today.

Science and observation

The most important insight which led to our scientific age concerns the role of the observer. Things are not always as they seem to be. Copernicus discovered that our observation of the sun going around the earth each day is in fact wrong - it is merely an illusion based on the rotation of the earth in its elliptical path around the sun. This is usually understood to mean that the geocentric view is wrong and the heliocentric one correct. Now, although this may be true on the larger scale of things, there is nothing wrong in taking both perspectives as valid as long as the context of observation is taken into consideration.

During the early part of the modern period (from the time of René Descartes (1596-1650) until the first half of the twentieth century), many scientists (and ordinary people following their lead) took the heliocentric perspective in absolute terms (i.e. thinking that the sun is the centre of the universe). This coincides with the modern view that we can achieve absolute objective positions which is immune to different perspectives. Even though it was eventually recognized that the sun is merely the center of our solar system but not of the universe, this absolutist "modernist" philosophical thinking gave birth in the early twentieth century to the neo-Kantian and Logical Empiricist (Logical Positivist) schools of philosophical thought (which subsequently became discredited especially due to the findings of quantum physics - for a detailed discussion, see [3])). The validity of various perspectives was reinforced by Einstein's theory of relativity, according to which we can always define some other valid framework relative to the one we are using. In the end, everything is relative to each other and we can never proceed beyond some kind of observational perspective. This does not undermine the accuracy of the scientific endeavour.

The problem of observation is at the same time one of knowledge. How do we know that what we observe is indeed true knowledge? This is the problem tackled by the philosopher Immanuel Kant in his famous Critique of Pure Reason (also called the first Critique; 1781, 1787). Kant followed Copernicus's lead and acknowledged that all human knowledge is always obtained from the standpoint of the observer. As such, two things are necessary for obtaining "objective" knowledge: concepts (universals) as well as empirical data (particulars) given in our senses. Furthermore, all knowledge involves a determinate judgement that the empirical data (the things that we observe) is consistent with the concepts (theoretical models) that we use. As long as we can obtain such judgments, we can assert that we have obtained "objective" knowledge. 

Of particular importance to our present discussion, is the fact that this approach was developed within the parameters of normal human experience. As such, it is generally valid - but finds its systematic application in science. In this way, Kant laid the theoretical groundwork for all mathematical science.

Although we can obtain "objective" knowledge, this knowledge is not singularly determined. One may have data within certain contexts agreeing with simple models and data in other more complex situations agreeing with more sophisticated models (Kant nowhere says anything contrasting this). In this way, we may think of Newton’s theory as describing objective reality in classical contexts and Einstein’s theories as describing objective reality in relativistic contexts (at least insofar as the measurements are concerned). This reinforces the Kantian view that all knowledge is always defined in terms of the observer and always reflects a human perspective of the world. We can never obtain a "God's eye view" on things. 

This means that the perspective of the Biblical authors cannot be discounted merely because they belong to the prescientific age. All humans share the same kind of experience - and this includes humans of all ages. Their experience involves knowledge claims exactly on par with ours - even though they did not know about science and its aim to obtain such knowledge under controlled conditions. We can therefore not discount their experience only because it dates from the prescientific age! We have to say exactly why we reject the validity of their experience - and that cannot be due to a lack of integrity (see the previous section) or observational skills.

There is, however, more to the Kantian position in the Critique of Pure Reason. This work does not only present the conditions for obtaining objective knowledge - it also shows the limits within which such knowledge can be obtained. We may be able to develop theoretical models which go far beyond experience and experiment (we use the causal connection between our senses and instruments to extend our empirical access to the world) but our empirical access is severely restricted by our human condition. All our empirically-acquired data belongs to those aspects of our world that can be so accessed - that is, those aspects of our world that are measurable by our material instruments. Those things which happen(ed) or exist beyond our temporal and spatial reach can never be so accessed. This includes things which are too complex (for example, an infinity of causally related connections) or which are by their very nature forever outside empirical reach (supersensible - such as the Big Bang or quantum states which are mathematically described in terms of a singularity or imaginary numbers (with no real component)).

One of the interesting features of Kant's philosophy is that he allowed for the possibility of the existence of a supersensible realm within our world which is beyond the empirical reach of our experience and experiments. At that time, many philosophers and scientists thought that Kant merely did this to accommodate faith. In recent years, it had been shown that the conditions for the supersensible realm are satisfied in the quantum realm! [4] Quantum objects are "supersensible" (unmeasurable) and not presentable in proper space-time while being in their pre-measurement phase. As such, they are different from those that we encounter in our experiments - quantum objects adhere to superpositions of states which "collapse" to certain reduced modes that are observable in experiment.

The only reason why scientists argue that quantum objects exist even though we cannot empirically access them is that they cause certain outcomes in our world. If they did not do this (and some don't), we would not even have known about their existence! So, the question is: how extensive is the quantum realm? How many kinds of objects are there that belong to that realm? What kind of existence is that which we do not have empirical access to?

Without trying to answer these questions, we can say the following: we as humans are severely constrained in our understanding of the world! We have no hope that we will ever gain access to this other mode of existence because of the restricted nature of our human kind of sensibility. Although we can think beyond that, and formulate various mathematical conceptions that apply to that kind of existence to the extent that we may encounter outcomes produced by such objects, we would never be able to empirically access them and understand them. We can say: A part of our world is beyond empirical reach. This is also the part where "dark" matter and "dark" energy resides.

The fact that science is so severely restricted in its empirical reach leaves no doubt that it cannot be the measure of all things! There are some scientists who believe that one-day science will be the measure of all things but this is merely a belief which is doomed to fail given the restricted nature of our empirical reach! The important point is that science can only measure those things which are given as matter in space-time. Although we can manipulate quantum objects which are not in proper space-time but which can be realized in space-time, we have absolutely no idea what lies beyond our empirical reach! So, although science can provide a good description of the measurable world it cannot confirm or deny the existence of things that exist beyond that. It has no possible way, for example, to explore the existence of God empirically.

One may argue that the scientific view of the world is still much, much better than the prescientific worldview. In fact, one may argue that the Biblical authors believed in things that are unscientific like angels, spirits, souls and so forth and that that had a major influence on their interpretation of the world. But Christians (and many others) believe in these same things today - and that does not disqualify them from giving trustworthy testimonies which accurately reflect their observation of events!

When considering the validity of the Biblical perspective, one, however, has to confront the issue regarding the existence of angels, spirits and souls. Although it is true that these things do presently lie beyond the reach of science (and their existence cannot be confirmed) that obviously does not necessarily mean that they do not exist! The scientific view of the world does not exclude the possibility of their existence - it is the scientism view which takes current (!) science as the measure of all things which does that. This means that our scientific view of the world might be more in agreement with the ancient worldview that one might suspect. Although many scholars have asserted that the ancient worldview is "primitive" and in direct conflict with the scientific one, this judgment does, in fact, says more about their dogmatic position than reality.

Science and the ancient worldview

At this point, we may take a closer look at the ancient (Biblical) worldview to see how it relates to the scientific view of the world. One of the main features of that view is the distinction between the material world of observation and the invisible world which exists beyond that. We find this distinction all over the ancient world and even in Greek philosophy where Plato (and other ancient philosophers) made that distinction.

Insofar as the invisible world is concerned, the ancients found a way to make that "visible" within their world. They took the starry heavens of the night sky as reflecting the reality associated with the invisible world. In this regard, they observed that the rotation of the starry heaven around the earth (due to the earth's rotation; in the same way that the sun goes around the earth) creates the image of a large rotating cosmic egg on which all the stars are located. The top and bottom of this "egg" are located at the northern and southern "poles" of heaven respectively, in accordance with the projection of the earth's rotational axis to those points. This is where the idea of a cosmic egg found in many ancient cultures originated.

Now, this egg had been divided into three cosmic realms since ancient times (already in ancient Sumer). The middle region, which was identified with the "earth", was associated with the region of the sky between the solstice points (on the horizon). The four "corners" (or "pillars") of the "earth" were defined by the solstice and equinox points. To the north - that is "above" the "earth" - is the region which was identified with "heaven" and to the south - that is "underneath" the "earth" - is the underworld (Hell). Both these regions belong to the otherworld. These regions are brought together by the cosmic tree (the cosmic axis) which stretches through them all. The stars were identified with the gods associated with those regions (for a detailed discussion, see [5]). As such, we often find in the Biblical tradition that the angels (which replaced the "gods" of ancient times) were identified with stars or planets (Judg. 5:20; Job 38:7; Rev. 1:20 etc.).

Some scholars have interpreted this three-tiered picture of the world as a very "primitive" one. Now, it may not be part of our modern scientific view of the world but is nonetheless a very sophisticated worldview in which the movements of the starry heavens are reflected. It is only when one takes this worldview as a true representation of the world as it really is (in scientific terms) that it would be wrong (just like the geocentric view). The ancients, however, did not take it as such but as a reflection of the invisible world which they regarded as the truly real world which lies beyond this material world. In fact, many Christians who accept the scientific worldview see no contradiction in also believing in heaven and Hell which belong to the invisible world.

Of particular interest is the fact that these cosmic regions - which are beyond sensible reach - were within the reach of the shamans and mystics. They journeyed to these regions in inner experience. They were able to do this through some kind of coincidence of their own psychology with the mentioned cosmic regions - they experienced in their inner sense that they travelled through those regions [6]. One can say that the visible representation of the invisible world in the starry heavens served the basis for their own interaction with that world in inner experience. They believed that in the same way that humans bodily interact with the material world through their physical senses, they can interact with the invisible world with their soul through some kind of inner sense. This is the "truly real" invisible world of which the material world is merely a shadow as we find in Plato's beautiful story of the cave in his Republic.

We can now bring this ancient worldview within the framework of science. Whereas the physical world studied by science provides our scientific picture of the world, the invisible world in which the ancients believed was visualized by them as a three-tiered picture of the world. Since the three-tiered picture was never intended to be taken as an image of our material world and it merely served as an imagery device in which the otherworld was brought into focus, we need not see it in any way as being in conflict with the scientific view of the world. The primary question before us is whether such a world really exists?

Those who believe in the spirit world (as the invisible world is also called) think that humans do, in fact, have access to such a realm on a spiritual level. Those who do not believe therein, think that such kind of experiences goes no deeper than our human psychology. As such, all "near-death" and mystical experiences are explained as manifestations of our human psychology. The primary question, which science has not been able to answer, is: Is that world only in the mind or is it rather that we access that world only through the mind?

The problem is again the one of empirical access. There is no possible way that we can empirically determine whether such experiences are merely psychological or whether they involve real entities within a spirit world. Some cases have been reported in this regard where the brain's metabolism had been brought down so that it didn't require oxygen or glucose after which the patient told how she observed the operation from a disembodied position in the room and even described the particular saw used to open her skull. Those who think that this merely reflects psychological states think that the patient's visual imagery came from familiar memory and that she must have been able to see the saw when she was wheeled into the operation room (for a more detailed discussion, see [7]).

Those who believe that this kind of experience is real and that the patient observed the operation through the eyes of the soul (to use Plato's expression) cannot prove it because the soul (if it exists) is beyond empirical reach (it is non-material). Those who believe that this experience is merely psychological can also not prove that this is the case. They merely state that those things which are beyond empirical reach do not exist which is obviously not necessarily the case. Although traditional science focused primarily on the study of material things, the advent of quantum physics has shown that non-material entities outside space-time exist which suggest the possibility of other things existing beyond experimental reach (think, for example, of dark matter and dark energy). This means that we cannot in principle exclude the possible existence of the soul (and the spirit realm) from scientific discussion.

Theoretical physicists who study dark matter, have proposed that humans may have a quantum body made from this stuff [8]. Although they are fast to say that this has nothing to do with the soul, this obviously shows a remarkable correspondence with our understanding of the soul. How something like this could be brought within indirect empirical reach in an experiment has yet to be seen.

There is, however, a way to bring the scientific and ancient worldviews together in one coherent perspective. In this regard, we may remember that Plato's invisible realm had its origin with the mystics as he mentions in the Phaedo. In this, he clearly states that the soul exists in this invisible realm (which belong to the inner experience of the mystics) whereas the body belongs to the visible realm. Now, Kant's idea of the supersensible realm originated from Plato's invisible realm and he also locates the soul in that realm (within the context of his regulative metaphysics).

In Kant's regulative metaphysics - especially in his Critique of the Power of Judgment (also called the third Critique; 1790) where he presents the supersensible realm within the context of his philosophy of science - this realm is clearly delineated as being the substratum of both the material world (more correctly, systemic or mechanistic "nature") as well as our human nature (5:196, 409, 429). Kant proposed (as a regulative idea) that the supersensible realm, which is "outside" (albeit not in any physical sense) proper space/time as well as mechanistic nature, incorporates non-extended "wholes-and-parts" (outside proper space/time) which have a certain potentiality to produce material parts and aggregated wholes in nature. In his view, we need such a conception to explain the biological products of nature [4]. 

The interesting thing is - as mentioned above - that all the conditions of Kant's supersensible realm are satisfied within the quantum realm! [4] This is extremely interesting since this implies that the quantum realm may be our first point of entry to explore the invisible world of the ancients! In the same way that the invisible realm is beyond our sensible reach (and only accessible through spiritual means) the quantum realm is beyond direct empirical reach. This may mean that the invisible world of Platonic and Biblical tradition translates into the quantum world in the framework of contemporary science. Also, the idea of that a part of our human existence may consist of dark matter (and belong to the quantum realm) would be consistent with the ancient idea of the soul belonging to the invisible realm! 

At this point, we enter the realm of metaphysics. Within the modernist tradition of those who take science as the measure of all things, all metaphysics were (and are) viewed with extreme scepticism since they believed that it represents all those unscientific (and therefore, primitive) aspects of society's thinking. In their view, everything that goes beyond science should be discarded as mere metaphysics. The problem, however, is that science has since been confronted with exactly this problem: in quantum physics we have encountered a world which is beyond empirical reach and of which we can only formulate metaphysical views which are represented in the various interpretations thereof (Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation, Von Neumann's observer interpretation, Bohn's view, the many-worlds interpretation etc.). Today, philosophers of science openly speak of the metaphysics of science! We have all sorts of ideas about what that world really is like but we have no way to establish the truth thereof!

Obviously, science has reached a certain limit where it has no choice but to include metaphysics in the discussion. Although the metaphysics of science is clearly delineated, the same can be said about Kant's metaphysics - which may, in fact, be presented as a hypothesis for scientific research! Now, since the Kantian metaphysics may be taken as a rational version of the ancient metaphysical worldview, this implies that we are in effect now able to scientifically test some aspects of that ancient worldview within the parameters of Kantian metaphysics! 

Those who hold a scientism view - and take contemporary science as the measure of all things - now have the problem that science can no longer be strictly kept apart from metaphysics. They do not know whether aspects of the ancient worldview (such as the soul) may eventually be confirmed (through indirect empirical means) in the progress of science. They can try to reinforce the old view that only that which is empirically accessible is real - but no scientist worth that name would seriously consider that. 

Principles for scientific judgment

So, where do we go from here? What is to be allowed and what is to be excluded from serious scientific discussion? Again, Kant has provided us with tools in this regard. We can distinguish three areas of scientific endeavour which correspond with three kinds of scientific judgment. These vary from doing science in classical contexts to immature science (where things at the edge of science such as dark matter and dark energy are studied and theorized about). In the progress of science, things which now lie outside the possibility of experimental access may eventually come within the range of indirect empirical reach (which may eventually require considerable arguments in justifying its truth). As such, things which we may now consider as belonging merely to metaphysics may eventually enter the domain of serious science.

1. Determinate Judgment. When objects (and events) are within sensible reach, we use the classic Kantian judgment discussed above, called determinate judgment. This refers not only to classical objects but also to microscopic particles that become manifest by impacts, bubble chamber tracks and clicks on counters and which "appear" in space-time (see the work of Pringe (2007) in this regard [9]). As such, we can obtain knowledge in the classical (Kantian) sense of all objects which manifest itself as matter in space-time.

2. Regulative Judgment [10]. This kind of judgment is named after the Kantian concept of regulative ideas, which goes beyond the concepts of the understanding which apply to objects given in experience and experiment (in space/time). Regulative ideas of reason apply to objects (and events) which are beyond direct empirical confirmation but which may guide scientific research in the form of hypotheses (when they are so confirmed, we may consider them as valid theoretical models). In current science, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, the Big Bang theory as well as quantum mechanics, are such theories. The true nature of the things described by these theories are unknowable (since they are beyond the reach of determinate judgment) and as such, they are the focus of scientific metaphysics.

Einstein's General Theory of Relativity concerns the totally of mechanistic relations (which goes beyond the limits of empirical reach in degree) and the Big Bang theory concerns something that is forever outside empirical reach (and can only be confirmed very indirectly, for example, through the observation of the redshift of light (which supports the idea of an expanding universe) and the absorption line features in the background radiation which agrees with star formation). Quantum physics is concerned with entities beyond direct empirical reach (which goes beyond the limits of empirical reach in being of a different kind of existence - otherwise they would be so accessible!) [4]. In this case, we may think in terms of the necessary conditions for something to be such or such - for example, the necessary conditions for quantum entities or quantum spontaneity (to use Bohr's expression) to exist. When these conditions are satisfied (through arguments involving mathematical and experimental aspects) we may say that we have good reason to think that these things are true. 

Image result for einstein
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
3. Reflective Judgment. When we are not able to bring things (even indirect) within empirical reach but think that the world may be such, then we use this kind of Kantian judgment. This judgment is merely an estimate that things are such or such and may be regarded as a hypothesis. Often mathematical theories in physics or biology serve as such hypotheses. One may think of Strings Theory, the theory that the universe includes higher dimensions and the hypotheses of dark matter and dark energy in this regard. These things are within the realm of immature science and the possibility of their existence belongs to the realm of scientific metaphysics. They belong to the larger metaphysical picture of the world. In the progress of science, things which were at one stage regarded as falling under this kind of judgment may eventually be found to become accessible in regulative judgment.

Re-considering the Bible

We can now consider the ancient (Biblical) worldview within this context. Insofar as this worldview is part of the Judaeo-Christian belief system we may regard it as belonging to religious metaphysics which is outside scientific concern. In this case, one may think that there is no necessary conflict with science (as discussed above) and decide to believe the testimony of the Biblical witnesses as a trustworthy account of historical events (or not). As discussed above, there are no good reasons why their prescientific context should disqualify their testimony - in spite of many pronunciations of certain scholars to the contrary (for a detailed discussion of the hermeneutical and archaeological views of such scholars, see [2, 11]).

As mentioned above, we are in the lucky position that Kantian metaphysics may be taken as a rational version of the Biblical worldview. As such, we may regard it as a theoretical model on par with any other similar mathematical model which presents a metaphysical picture of our world. The reason why this is of particular importance to our present discussion is that scientific progress has resulted in many aspects of the Kantian metaphysics - which originally belonged to the third kind of judgment (reflective judgment) - coming within the range of the second kind of judgment (regulative judgment). Using the scientific method of testing hypotheses, we may now evaluate the correctness of Kant's metaphysics on various fronts.

Kant's metaphysics includes the following: 1) God created the world (see the fourth antinomy, i.e. conflict of laws), 2) the material world had a beginning (see the first antinomy), 3) the material world has a supersensible (or: noumenal) substrate which is also the substrate of human nature (see the third Critique), 4) the noumenal self of humans is the soul, 5) The supersensible realm is ruled by absolute spontaneity (see the third antinomy). This is necessary for free will which is the ability to live in accordance with the moral law. In the context of biology this may be conceptualized as a potentiality that non-extended "wholes-and-parts" have to produce material parts and aggregated wholes in nature (see the third Critique) [4], 6) an unfolding process of evolution in accordance with God's design through which the potentially of non-extended "wholes-and-parts" to produce material expressions leads to adaptations which result in ever more complex organisms and life forms.

One may take points 2) - 6) as indirect evidence for the existence of the Judaeo-Christian God. These things are consistent with the view that God created all things in the beginning and that his requirement that humans keep the moral law is in line with their human abilities. Kant also presented the opposing view held by contemporary atheists within the context of his first, third, fourth and seventh antinomies which deny these things.

During the period after Kant presented his view, there developed a general consensus (in scientific and philosophical circles) that Kant was wrong and that 1) the world had no beginning, 2) the material world has no supersensible substratum, 3) spontaneity does not exist (only deterministic causes exist), 4) humans do not have a soul, 5) all evolution takes place through mechanistic means as described by Darwinistic theory.

Now, after the advent of Einstein's theories, the Big Bang theory, quantum mechanics and quantum biology, the scientific community now accepts 1) the world had a beginning, 2) the quantum realm exists (which satisfies the conditions of Kant's supersensible realm), 3) quantum indeterminism (which satisfies the Kantian conditions for spontaneity) is proven in the context of the collapse of superpositions of states to reduced states (corresponding with the Kantian regulative concept of non-extended "wholes-and parts" being realized as material parts and wholes). We also find that alternative theories of evolution have been proposed in biology which is consistent with the Kantian model (for a detailed discussion, see [12]). Now, the randomness inherent in neo-Darwinian evolution is replaced by the (quantum) laws of nature in accordance with design in the cosmos [13]. 

These are, in fact, the only things within the reach of science which may serve as indirect evidence for the existence of the Biblical God in contradistinction with other possible gods. The only other evidence is the testimonies found in Scripture. Although the existence of the soul is also important within the Judaeo-Christian worldview, it obviously does not belong exclusively to that view. It may, however, serve as supplementary evidence when taken together with the other evidence.

The remarkable thing is that Kant's metaphysics had (in spite of it originally being generally rejected!) been shown to be correct insofar as we had been able to test that in the progress of science - which serves as confirmation of the Biblical worldview! Usually, when a theoretical model is confirmed in such a spectacular way, scientists accept that it is valid. But somehow, the idea of God's existence is not allowed within the secular approach of scientism (it is banned in principle). What is also remarkable, is that those who take science as the measure of all things have been shown to be wrong in every possible way (on all the mentioned points)! Nonetheless, the general secular opinion is still that they are right!! This is truly mind-blowing.

If we take the Kantian model in its totality, then only the existence of God and the soul is still outside current scientific debate. Now, although God is forever beyond empirical reach, the soul may eventually come within reach as discussed above. One may argue that the confirmation of things predicted by Kant's metaphysical model (consistent with the scientific method!) serve as substantial evidence for the existence of God in the very same way that the confirmation of things predicted by the Big Bang Theory serves to confirm that event which is also absolutely outside experimental reach (in the same way as God; for a detailed discussion, see [14])). Why would one accept the one but not the other if not through a massive bias against the Biblical position?

The only outstanding aspect of Kant's model which may eventually come within scientific reach is the human soul. Above, we saw that it may actually already be within the parameters of scientific mathematical theorizing albeit not under that name (within the context of theoretical models of dark matter). It is easy to show that both the soul as well as noumenal intuition (which Christians take as deep impressions of God's voice) are consistent with the scientific worldview (see [15]). I predict that the existence of the soul will also eventually be confirmed (albeit very indirectly).


When we consider the trustworthiness of the Bible from a scientific standpoint, we find that the idea that it cannot be trusted because it comes from a prescientific age is very wrong. This is just not the case. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot trust the witness testimonies of the Bible even though large parts of society have been conditioned not to believe it. I think the evidence speaks for itself - but for those from the modernist (atheistic) circle, nothing would serve as sufficient evidence. They would always lift the bar - demanding the kind of evidence which is forever outside our human reach, not because God does not exist but because of the limitations of our human condition.

It is exactly because of this radically restricted human condition that one can understand why the Bible asserts that it is through God's revelation in Scripture that he had chosen to communicate with humankind. In the end, we as humans can never proceed beyond "knowing in part". Our hope does not lie in the full understanding of all things that science aspires to (which can never happen) but in faith built upon the integrity and trustworthy witness of those people who wrote the Bible. The Biblical perspective is not in conflict with science. Rather, it goes far beyond the reach of science. As such, science can never be the measure of all things. Biblical truth can, however, be that measure.

[1] Biblical Criticism scholars believe that the Biblical testimony dates long after the events and can as such not be trusted. But that merely reflect their own ideological perspective. The Bible mentions in various places that the authors were indeed eyewitness, for example, the prophets who wrote the monarchical histories of Israel or St. Luke's (Luk. 1:2,3) mentioning his using such eyewitnesses. Various court prophets are mentioned in Hebrew tradition as the ones who wrote down the oracles as well as the story which tells the context in which that happened. Among these were Samuel (I Sam. 10:25), Nathan (1 Chr. 29:29; 2 Chr. 9:29); Gad (1 Chr. 29:29; 2 Chr. 29:25), Ahijah (2 Chr. 9:29), Shemaiah (2 Chr. 12:15), Iddo (2 Chr. 12:15; 13:22), Elijah (2 Chr. 21:12), Isaiah (2 Chr. 32:32) and others. The author of the Chronicles of the Hebrew kings mentions the histories written by Samuel (from the time of King Saul), Nathan and Gad (from the time of King David), Ahijah (from the time of King Solomon), Shemaiah and Iddo (from the time of King Rehoboam), Elijah (from the time of King Ahab) and Isaiah (from the time of King Hezekiah). Regarding the older stories, I discuss that elsewhere [16].
[2] Can we still believe the Bible? An archaeological perspective
The Biblical authors can obviously not be called for cross-examination as we find in our justice system but that does not mean that we cannot use the justice system as the model for evaluating the Biblical story. We can use a process similar to the justice system to make judgments about historical narratives such as those found in the Bible. 
[3] Science and Atheism
[4] Mc Loud, Willem. 2015. Introducing a Kantian Interpretation of Quantum Physics, in accordance with Kant's Philosophy of Science in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, reinterpreted and reworked with special attention to the supersensible realm. Masters thesis. Cape Town: UCT.
[5] The origins of Satan: the ancient worldview
[6] Wilhelm, Richard.  1962.  The Secret of the Golden Flower. A Chinese Book of Life.  (Translated and explained by Richard Wilhelm with a foreword and commentary by C. G. Jung.)  London: Routledge.
[7] The God Impulse
[8] See, for example, http://www.space.com/21508-dark-matter-atoms-disks.html
[9] Pringe, H. 2007. Critique of the Quantum Power of Judgment. A Transcendental Foundation of Quantum Objectivity (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter).
[10] Kant did not conceptualize this kind of judgment but it is in line with his thinking and becomes necessary within the context of indirect empirical data (the idea of which was unknown to Kant).
[11] Can we still believe the Bible? A hermeneutical perspective
[12] The Christian and Evolution
[13] The question is: Where did the lawfulness of nature originate? Science cannot answer this but presupposes this lawfulness in all its endeavour. It needs the lawfulness of nature to explain the evolution of the cosmos and all in it. Science has no choice but to operate as if nature is designed! 
[14] Science and Metaphysics: in search of Russell's teapot.
[15] Science and spiritual intuition
[16] Abraham holds the key

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)

The author is a scientist and philosopher (PhD in Physics, MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy and science.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Abraham holds the key

In this essay, I argue that no other Biblical personage is as important as Abraham when considering the trustworthiness of early Biblical tradition. Abraham stands at the transition between the "ancient history" and the subsequent patriarchal traditions given in the Book of Genesis. As such, both of these traditions are anchored on the historicity of his person. So, the primary question is: Can the Abrahamic tradition be trusted? I provide three levels of arguments why we have good reasons to do exactly that, which centre on 1) the many EARLY Sumerian motifs in the "ancient history" included in Genesis 1-11, 2) the remarkable ACCURACY of the historical information in the story of Abraham and 3) the nature of the Abrahamic tradition which strongly suggests that it had been written down during his own lifetime. This is the final essay in the series on the Book of Genesis.

Our study of the Book of Genesis now brings us to the person of Abraham. Abraham's story is told in Genesis 11:10-25:10. He is the central personage in the Book of Genesis and God's covenant with him prefigures the Mosaic covenant in the Book of Exodus (and even the New Covenant according to Christian thinking). Except for Israel (Jacob) who gave his name to the people of Israel, Abraham is depicted in Hebrew tradition as their most important forefather. 

What makes Abraham especially important for our present discussion, is the fact that he is presented as the figure who stands between the "ancient history" told in Genesis 1-11 and the patriarchal traditions of Genesis 12-50. Whereas the "ancient history" is located in the land of Sumer (as well as regions to the north thereof), Abraham is the one who is said to have migrated from Sumer, the land of his forefathers, to Canaan, the land of promise, where his descendants established themselves. As such, it is quite natural to think that he brought those ancient traditions with him when he migrated westwards. This is the basis for the Sumerian Hypothesis presented in this series of essays.

Although this seems to be a logical conclusion, this is not how some fundamentalist Christians (influenced by the Seventh-day Adventists) or Biblical Criticism scholars see things. The first group often thinks that God revealed those things directly to Moses and that there was no handing down of tradition in this regard. Although this is surely possible, the close correspondence with similar Sumerian stories suggests otherwise. The second group nowadays prefer the Babylonian Hypothesis according to which the Mesopotamian material in the Book of Genesis had its origin during the Babylonian exile (there is also a view that these motifs entered Israelite tradition during the monarchic period but the extent of the correspondence with Sumerian tradition makes it extremely unlikely that it happened at any other time when contact between those regions was not that close). In this view, Abraham is typically not considered as a historical person and the tradition about his migration is not taken seriously. 

In previous essays on this blog (as part of the series on the Book of Genesis), I presented many reasons why the Sumerian Hypothesis is to be preferred to the Babylonian one. Although I have not yet considered the historicity of Abraham in the discussion, there cannot be any doubt that this stands central to the validity of the Sumerian Hypothesis. Even though the arguments presented so far have strong significance on their own (they are very difficult to explain without the Sumerian Hypothesis), they are basically grounded on the idea that the Mesopotamian material in the Book of Genesis had its origin within the context of the migration of the Abrahamic family from Ur in Sumer to Canaan.

In this essay, I discuss the historicity of Abraham from three different angles. The first angle is primarily concerned with the obvious Sumerian motifs in the "ancient history" (Gen. 1-11). I give an overview thereof and show that it is extremely difficult to explain these without calling upon the Sumerian Hypothesis in some way (and by implication, on the truth of the Abrahamic story). The second angle focuses on the Abrahamic story itself and the historical information therein. I argue that some of this information is impossible to explain without accepting that it originated from trustworthy sources. The third angle considers the nature of the Abrahamic tradition (especially its oracular nature) which strongly suggests that it was written down during the lifetime of Abraham himself. These points make a remarkably strong case for a historical Abraham and the Sumerian Hypothesis.

The Sumerian origin of the "ancient history"

There are various motifs in the "ancient history" which are consistent with the Sumerian Hypothesis which at the same time resist any explanation in terms of the Babylonian Hypothesis. What is so interesting, is that there are so many of these motifs! They all point in one direction: an early Sumerian origin. And that suggests that they became part of the Hebrew tradition after being handed down for a long time by the Abrahamic family. 

1. The strong Sumerian influence in the creation story

Any scholar who is familiar with the Sumerian tradition cannot but to observe the remarkably strong Sumerian influence in the creation story. The opening words, namely that God created "heaven and earth", uses the traditional Sumerian term for the cosmos. The "deep" (primaeval waters) which existed before all things (even before God commenced with his acts of creation!) finds its equivalent in the Sumerian primaeval "Apsu" from which "heaven and earth" were created according to Sumerian sources (for example, in Enki and Ninmah).

The light which God created on the first day (as his very first act of creation) finds its equivalent in the brilliant light, called Gibil, which appeared from the primaeval Apsu. The "firmament" (heaven) and earth that were created on the second and third days respectively fit perfectly with the Sumerian worldview – the idea of creation out of water (and establishing dry ground – and even the cosmos as such) is an old Sumerian motif. The creation of the sun only on the fourth day (at a later stage in the process of creation) reflects the late arrival of the sun god on the scene in Sumerian tradition (he was a later offspring of the gods) (see [1] for a detailed discussion).

From a Biblical point of view, this close correspondence with the Sumerian tradition suggests that the author of the Book of Genesis used source material originating from this milieu (i.e., that was the world which moulded the thinking of the person/s who wrote the source material) and that he reworked those ancient motifs within an evolving Hebrew tradition. As such, he included the creation of all sorts of plants and animals, as well as humans, and replaced the polytheistic perspective of the Sumerians with the monotheistic view of the Hebrews. Of particular importance in this regard is the fact that these Sumerian motifs in the creation story show absolutely no influence whatsoever from developments after the Abrahamic period (i.e. no motifs which are distinctively neo-Babylonian or neo-Assyrian).

The idea that the creation story of Genesis 1 was influenced by the Babylonian Enuma Elis (creation epic) is far-fetched. A possible association between the Hebrew word tehom (deep) and the sea monster Tiamat proves nothing since those ideas were around since Akkadian times (ca. 2370-2190 BC). We do not find any of the complicated creation motifs typical of the Babylonian creation story (for example, of the war between the older and younger generations of gods (the latter led by Marduk) or the creation of the world from the body of the killed monster) in Genesis 1. Although there are clear Mesopotamian influences, these are typical of the early Sumerian traditions (the world of Abraham and his forefathers) and not in accordance with later developments in Babylonian thinking. In a previous essay some years ago, I challenged any scholar to provide a single thread of evidence to the contrary!! [2] Nobody has done that.

Those who argue for the Babylonian Hypothesis usually take Genesis 1 as a polemical text written late in Israel's development. As such, they explain the late arrival of the sun, moon and stars on the scene as an effort by the Hebrew author (from the time of the exile or thereafter) to argue that the gods of the surrounding nations cannot be compared with the great creator God of the Hebrews who is so powerful that He could create light and let the plants grow even without the presence of the sun. The problem for this view, however, is that Marduk, the main god of the neo-Babylonians, was a weather god and the sun and moon gods did not play an important role in the Babylonian (or Mesopotamian for that matter) theology! As such, this view makes no sense - why would the author try to assert the authority of the Hebrew God against such unimportant gods? It seems much better to think that this was not a polemical text at all – its purpose seems to have been totally different (see below).

There are also those who think in terms of an Egyptian origin for the creation story. This means that the author was directing his arguments towards the Egyptian gods. This is possible if we assume that the text was written in a period when the Israelites had some interaction with the Egyptians, which happened during various periods in Israel's history. In this case, the argument could work: One of the oldest and most prominent Egyptian gods was the creator god Atum who was syncretized with the sun god Ra. And the motif of the primaeval earth coming forth out of the primaeval waters is also an old Egyptian concept (as it is a Mesopotamian one).

There is, however, an important reason not to accept this view, namely that the rest of the ancient history in Genesis is clearly taken from ancient Mesopotamian (more correctly, Sumerian or Akkadian) sources (Akkadian is the Semitic language spoken in ancient Sumer). So, on what grounds would one prefer an Egyptian background for the text? And why cling to the polemical view? It seems much easier to take the order of creation (with the sun, moon and stars created later in the process) as typical of ancient Sumerian thinking.

2. The Sumerian influence on the story of Adam and Eve

The garden story also shows strong Sumerian influence. The main personage of the Biblical story, namely Adam, corresponds with the similarly named Adapa of Sumerian tradition – Adam is presented as the first known human with whom God had a relationship whereas Adapa was the founding sage who brought civilization to Sumer and the first human with whom the Supreme god An (which in my view corresponds with the Semitic god El) had a relationship. Adapa was misled by the Sumerian god Enki (who is sometimes described as a snake) regarding the food of life in the same way that Eve was misled by the snake regarding the food of the tree. In both cases, God (or a god) prevented them from eating from the food/tree of life. 

In the garden story, God is presented as a potter who made Adam from clay and created Eve from Adam's rib. Both of these are well-known Sumerian motifs which are clearly used by the Biblical author as metaphors. Of special interest is the story of Eve's creation. This story is clearly reworked from a very well-known ancient image which we find in the story of the Sumerian god Enki's creation of eight other gods and goddesses from his own body, who were all named after various parts of his body in a play of words. One of these was a virgin goddess called Ninti, whose name means "lady rib" but play on the words "lady life". Now, this is exactly what we find in the garden story in the Book of Genesis: Eve is taken from the rib of Adam and her name is later said to mean "life" (Gen. 3:20). The reason why the author used and reworked this Sumerian story to introduce Eve was that he wanted to accentuate that she was in the closest sense one with Adam (i.e that they belonged together in marriage which was not universally instituted (presumably even in Canaan) until relatively late as we know from Mycenaean tradition; Gen. 2:24), just as the mentioned gods and goddesses were in the closest possible sense associated with their parent god (for a detailed discussion, see [3]).

The fact that these are very old Sumerian motifs seems to suggest that the author of the source material for the garden story came from a milieu where this was the typical motifs which suggested themselves to him – which is in line with my reading of the creation story in Genesis 1 above. Although these motifs would also have been available to a later author from the time of the Babylonian exile, it would have been very strange if he used these very "heathen" motifs given that he had a long Hebrew tradition behind him which would have included other possible metaphors (the metaphor of God as potter was indeed incorporated in later Hebrew tradition).

3. Other Sumerian influences in the garden story

There are many other motifs in the garden story which go back to ancient Sumer – some of which belong to an ancient stratum of thinking which was very different from that which was current during the period of the exile. In this regard a comparison with the garden (of Eden) stories of the prophet Ezekiel (in chapters 28 and 31) – who did, in fact, live during the exile – is informative.

Consider the geographical location of the garden. According to the story it was located somewhere in the east in the area of the "heads" (headwaters) of the Tigrus, Euphrates, Gihon (Gaihun, called Araxes after the Islamic invasion of the Caucasus) and Pishon (Uizhum) (for a detailed discussion, see [4]). This would be somewhere in the northern Zagros mountains – exactly where the ancient Sumerians placed their own origins. One may suggest that both the Sumerians and Semites living in Sumer traced their origins back to that northern region.

In the ancient Middle Eastern worldview, this garden was close to (or on top of) the "mountain of the gods" which the Sumerians located in the northern Zagros (in the land of Aratta [5]) as we read in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta [6]. Later, during the Ur III period (ca. 2150-2050 BC), this northern location was replaced by one in the Cedar Mountains which was located in the distant west (originally identified with the Amanus and later with the Lebanon mountains) as we find in the Gilgamesh Epic [4]. This change reflects developments during the Akkadian period (ca. 2370-2190 BC) when those kings started making long journeys to the Amanus and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. In accordance with this change in location due to later developments in the Semitic tradition, the garden is placed in the Lebanon mountains in the stories of Ezekiel - in line with the tradition found in the Gilgamesh Epic

As such, the contrast between the locations of the garden in the Book of Genesis and in Ezekiel can be explained easily. The story in the Book of Genesis reflects an extremely old tradition going back before the Akkadian period (2350-2150 BC) when the mountain of the gods was still located in the northern Zagros long before it became associated with the Amanus and later the Lebanon mountains.  This is consistent with the other ancient Sumerian motifs in the book. The story of Ezekiel on the other hand clearly reflects the tradition found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was current at the time of the Babylonian exile.

What about the tree in the garden? In the story in the Book of Genesis, the tree is said to bear some kind of fruit – which stands (once again) in direct contrast with the cedar of Ezekiel's description. What is more, the close association between the serpent and the cosmic tree (growing in the "middle" of the garden) is not unique to the Bible; it is a very old motif that goes back to the earliest strata of ancient Sumerian thought. In ancient Sumerian literature, there are various stories where we find such a close association between the serpent and the tree, namely that of Inana and the Halub tree, the myth of Lugalbanda as well as the legend of Etana. 

In these Sumerian stories, there is another creature which is also associated with the same tree, namely the Anzu eagle. The eagle is typically depicted in the top of the tree, whereas the serpent is depicted at the bottom. One may suggest that these Mesopotamian eagles correspond to the Biblical cherubim which would explain why we find both the serpent as well as such cherubim mentioned in the garden story in Genesis. Cherubim also have large wings and we read in Hebrew poetry that God rides on a cherub (Ps. 18:10, 11; the Anzu was also associated with the abode of the king of the gods in Sumerian tradition). Interestingly, the cherubim of later Biblical tradition are depicted differently with four heads, namely of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle (Ezek. 1:5-10; 10:20-21) [7].

We furthermore find (consistent with such a Sumerian origin for this motif!) the same antagonism between the realms of heaven and the underworld  (to which the snake belonged - it guards the "pit" at the bottom of the tree in the Etana story) in both the Sumerian and Hebrew traditions. This is a very old motif which appears in the Etana legend where the snake and eagle are depicted as antagonists fighting each other. There is a remarkable correspondence with the garden story where God (associated with the cherubim) and the snake are presented as opposing figures. As one expects from such an old text, the snake is, however, not directly identified as Satan as we find in later Hebrew tradition. As such, the depiction of the conflict between God and the snake is much more in line with early Sumerian tradition (as we find in the Etana legend) than later Hebrew tradition from the time of the exile when this conflict was presented as being between God and his great antagonist, Satan (see, for example, Zech. 3:1-5) (for a detailed discussion, see [8]).

It had been proposed by Sumerologists that this motif of the cosmic tree, snake and eagle goes back to ancient shamanistic traditions from northern Asia [9]. What is interesting regarding this shamanistic theme, is that the serpent which tempted Eve shows close correspondence with a motif found in shamanistic traditions from those regions, namely among the Yahut shamans where the "spirit" of the cosmic tree is perceived of as a naked woman at the roots of the tree (which were associated in Sumer with snakes, i.e. suggesting a women with the lower body of a snake as we find with the ancient Sumerian goddess Ninhursag). She tempts the aspirant shaman with the milk of her breasts which is said to be a symbol of the consciousness-altering mushrooms which grow in close proximity to such trees (especially birch trees). This may explain the "fruit" of the tree in the Biblical story which is obviously not of the usual kind since it had the power to "open" one's eyes and enable you to become like "the gods" (for a detailed discussion, see [10]).

4. Sumerian influences in the rest of the ancient history

When we come to the rest of the ancient history of Genesis 4-11 we find that it too has features which show strong Sumerian influence going back to late Sumerian and early Old Babylonian times (i.e. the time of Abraham). It has a very distinct style which differs from that of the patriarchal history as well as the other historical narratives given in the Bible. What distinguishes the ancient history is 1) genealogical lists of the earliest remembered forefathers, 2) particularly long lifetimes accorded to these people, some of whom are said to have lived for nearly a millennium, 3) short accounts of events related to some of these persons – some in-between the genealogies and others within the genealogies, 4) a Sumerian background for some of the stories (taking place in the land “Shinar”).

Readers who are acquainted with the Sumerian King List would immediately recognize a close agreement with that text – in line with the reference to that land in the text itself. The Sumerian King List was probably compiled during the reign of king Utuhegal of Uruk during the end of the third millennium BC although the oldest copies found so far date from the time of the Isin dynasty early in the second millennium BC. As with Genesis 4-11, the list contains genealogies of early forefathers, some of whom also lived centuries-long lives as well as short comments about some of these figures. The difference between the texts is that the Hebrew text includes short stories between the different genealogical lists, whereas the Sumerian King List does not. This is, however, not too far removed from the Sumerian King List which also uses information from Sumerian stories (some of which correspond to the Biblical ones).

One may also compare the Hebrew tradition with the Amoritic king lists from the Old Babylonian Period (during the early second millennium BC). In this case, the king lists of the historical kings were also preceded by the names of their forefathers. The difference is, however, that these lists do not ascribe such long lifetimes to these forefathers as we find in the Sumerian King List and one also does not find the short commentaries typical of that list. So, although the ancient history in Genesis serves as the preamble to the patriarchal narratives (of Abraham etc.) in a similar way that the Amorites’ list their forefathers before proceeding with the reigns of their kings, the correspondence with the Sumerian King List is much closer.

This close correspondence between the ancient history of Genesis 4-11 and the Sumerian King List forces us to consider the possibility that was written (at least in its original version) during the epoch when that style was still in use, which would be some time during the early Old Babylonian Period (the time when Abraham is said to have lived). This would immediately explain why the Hebrew text has so much in common with the Sumerian King List, namely that it originated in the very milieu where that style was in use. The problem with the Babylonian Hypothesis is that one has to accept that the author (for some very strange reason) imitated a style that had been out of use for more than a thousand years! This does not make sense (except if one is has been paradigmatically conditioned to only accept the validity of the Babylonian Hypothesis!).

What is more, the Biblical personages and stories mentioned in the ancient history (Adam, Enoch, the flood, early origins in the land of Ararat, Nimrod, the building of the Tower of Babel and the subsequent confusion of languages etc.) also correspond to a remarkable degree with personages and stories in Sumerian tradition (Adapa, Etana ("he who went to heaven"), the flood, early origins in the land of Aratta, Enmerkar, the building projects during the Uruk period at Uruk and Eridu, the confusion of languages etc.) (for a detailed discussion, see [11]). Just as Enoch went to heaven, Etana is said to have gone to heaven (on the back of an eagle). One finds a remarkable correspondence between the stories and genealogies of the Cush and Kash (Mes-kiag-kash-er) families. One of the members of this family was Nimrod, who correspond with the Sumerian Enmer-kar (N-m-r(d), the hunter). As was the case with Nimrod, Enmerkar was a great Sumerian king who ruled from Uruk and who conquered all the land to the north (including the land of Aratta). The confusion of languages is mentioned in both traditions (called the "Incantation of Nudimmud" in Sumer) and can be grounded historically in the context of the introduction of the first phonetic writing at the end of the Uruk period [11].

What is quite astonishing, and excludes the possibility of later borrowing, is that this does not merely constitute a detailed agreement between traditions (although there are also differences as can be expected from the parallel transmission of traditions), but that these traditions constitute a perspective on ancient Sumerian history that is very much in line with archaeological evidence (with the deluge referring to the well-documented break between the Ubaid and Uruk periods (for a detailed discussion, see [12])). In fact, the Biblical tradition is consistent with a viable reconstruction of Sumerian history from the time before the deluge until after the Uruk Period (ca. sixth to early third millennia BC [11]) – something that is not even found in Sumerian tradition where the ancient history of the land must be reconstructed from the textual sources and archaeological data. The obvious question is: How on earth did the Biblical author know how to arrange his history – placing the personages in the correct historical context? It does not make sense that the author wrote it down millenniums after these things happened without access to a continuous and reliable tradition.

5. A Sumerian/Akkadian origin for Abraham's God

There is also information from the rest of the Book of Genesis which suggests a Sumerian origin. Of particular importance is the reference to two El-gods, namely the Most High God (El-Elyon) and God Almighty (El-Shaddai). Although Abraham is said to have worshipped God in both these forms, the context in which they are worshipped is very different. The Most High God was worshipped on the mountain of God in Salem, whereas the Almighty God was worshipped as the ancestral God of Abraham and the fathers (Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; Ex. 6:3 etc.) (for a detailed discussion, see [13]).

Why this difference and how would one explain it? In Hebrew tradition, the Most High God was identified as the "father of the gods" who gathered on his cosmic mountain (Ps 82:6; Deut. 32:8). These gods (who were in later tradition called angels) are accordingly called "sons of God" (see Gen. 6:2; Job. 1: 6; 2: 1; 38: 7; also in the Septuagint in Ps. 29:1 & 89:6; Deut. 32:8, 43). This is an ancient concept found in both Sumerian and Canaanite (Semitic) tradition. The Almighty God, on the other hand, is called "God of your fathers" (Gen. 49: 23-25) - a concept which also belongs to the world of Abraham. According to Exodus 6:2 this is the God who was later called Yahweh, the God [Elohim] of Israel (Ex. 5:1). So, as one would expect, the "God of the fathers" became the "God of Israel". This name is first introduced in the shortened form "Yahweh God" in Genesis 2:4. 

Now, in contrast with the Most High God who was the father of the gods, this God "of the fathers" is depicted as the great warrior-king of the gods (already in the song about Israel's deliverance from Egypt; Ex. 15:11; Ps. 95:6; 1 Ki. 22:19; Ps. 82:1; 89:7-8). In fact, it seems that this Yahweh was even taken to be the firstborn son of the Most High God (who stands apart from the generic "sons of God") to whom he gave the people of Israel as an inheritance when he divided the nations among the "sons of God" (Deut. 32:8-9). Although it has been suggested that Yahweh has merely set Israel apart for himself, that goes very much against the idea of “inheritance”.

This distinction between the father of the gods and the king of the gods (in the council of the gods) was an ancient one. We find it in both Canaanite and Sumerian tradition but it is only in the Sumerian tradition that the king of the gods was also considered to be the direct (and only) son of the father of the gods. There was a variant tradition that Enki was also a son of An but there cannot be any doubt that this is a mere syncretism since two distinct groups of gods headed by An and Enki respectively go back to our earliest Sumerian sources from Fara (about 2500 BC). 

In Sumer, the father of the gods was called An, whose name means “exalted, most high”. The elevated position of this god can be seen in the manner in which his name was written in cuneiform. All the names of the gods were combined with the sign for “god” which showed the reader that a god is spoken of (called a determinative). In the case of An, however, no such sign appears behind his name; his name is also the sign for god. He was “God”, the elevated one above all other gods. According to the earliest literary tradition from Fara (about 2500 BC) as well as later Sumerian tradition, the worship of this God was extremely old. Since this sign was read by the Semites as "el", we may accept that the name An itself was understood as the god El who was incorporated into the Sumerian pantheon as the father of the gods.

The son of An was the god Enlil who was also the king of the gods in the council of the gods [14]. Sumerian scholars have proposed that this name originated from a duplication of the name El, i.e. that the symbol for El was accompanied by the symbol for god (el) [15]. There are various problems with this view. Although Enlil was indeed a Semitic god, he was worshipped as king of the gods which was very much distinct from El's traditional role as the father of the gods. The other problem is that El.El immediately also presents a duplication of the name El.

The Sumerians would have had theological speculations about the meaning of this name which implies a duplication of the God El into another God El. One may suggest that they would have thought that the God El, the father of the gods, duplicated himself to produce another god who shared his divine being, namely El.El (Enlil) who became the king of the gods. His kingship should be understood in the long Semitic (and Sumerian) tradition where this title was associated with warrior-kings. As king, he had the title "Lord" and was the one who pronounced the decision (word) of the council of the gods. As powerful ruler of heaven and earth, he was called the "Mighty One" [16] (see Gen. 49:24; Deut. 10:17). At this point, one cannot but see the close correspondence with the later Israelite tradition which would then constitute a continuation of this early Semitic tradition.

What I suggest, is that the relation between the Most High God (El-Elyon) and the Almighty God (El-Shaddai) as father and son goes back long before the time of Abraham in Semitic tradition – they were incorporated into Sumerian tradition as An and Enlil (as such these gods developed a particular Sumerian character). It is interesting to hear Balaam, who did not participate in the Israelite tradition going back to mount Sinai, referring to both of El-Elyon and El-Shaddai in one proverb: “He hath said, which heard the words of God (El), and knew the knowledge of the Most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty” (Num. 24:16; see also Ps. 91:1). This parallelism is similar to one from Sumerian poetry in which the fall of Ur is bemoaned: “In truth, I shed my tears in front of An. In truth, myself I mourned in front of Enlil” [17].

In my understanding, the two forms of the God El in the Book of Genesis reflect the ancient Sumerian/Semitic tradition in which the father of the gods and king of the gods were distinct from each other (they were later regarded as manifestations of one God in the Hebrew tradition). In my view, this also explains the way in which the names of God are used in the Book of Genesis which Biblical Criticism scholars usually explain in terms of their Documentary Hypothesis (for a critical analysis, see [2, 18]). This divine duality is found throughout Israel's long literary history until we read in the vision in the Book of Daniel that the “Son of man” appeared before the Ancient of days sitting on his glorious throne to receive eternal kingship over all the gods [13]. 

The historicity of Abraham

At this point, I think that any reader would have to admit that there is a remarkable amount of information in the ancient history (and the rest) of the Book of Genesis which was taken from Sumerian sources. This is true for the creation story (Gen.1), the garden story (Gen. 2-3) as well as the rest of the ancient history (Gen. 4-11). In fact, most of the important themes (although not in their particularly Hebrew presentation) can be found in Sumerian tradition. There cannot be any doubt that the author did not only purposively place the origins of his people (and all their ancient history) in Sumer (and the lands to the north thereof); he (or at least the author of the source material) was also deeply influenced by ancient Sumerian thought in a way that is consistent with the tradition about which he was writing (and from which he himself supposedly came). His writing style, his metaphors, the main characters and their stories find their closest equivalence in the ancient Babylonian milieu from the time of Abraham. And most importantly - there is absolutely no Mesopotamian influence whatsoever in the Book of Genesis which belongs to later developments in Mesopotamian thought per se. 

File:Grechetto (Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione) - Journey of the Family of Abraham - Google Art Project.jpg
Journey of the Family of Abraham (painted by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione in 1650-1660)
These things suggest that the story about Abraham's journey from Ur in Sumer to Canaan should be taken seriously. Although scholars from the Biblical Criticism tradition have consistently refused to do this [19], new archaeological evidence which is consistent with the Biblical tale proves them wrong. Of particular importance in this regard, is the Elamite incursion that is said to have happened in the period after Abraham migrated from Harran (where he and his family are said to have stayed for some time) to Canaan.

We are in the fortunate position that we do not only now know that such an incursion of the Elamites into northwestern Syria actually took place during that time but also when namely in 1822 BC (according to the "high" Mesopotamian chronology; it happened only once during the relevant period). Of particular interest is the fact that the date of this event is consistent with the Septuagint dating of Abraham’s arrival in Canaan, namely in 1837 BC. (The Masoretic text gives a later date).

If we take the Septuagint reading serious, then the Elamite incursion would have happened 15 years after Abraham’s arrival in Canaan, during the reign of Siwe-palar-huppak, king of Elam, which is about 19 years before Hammurabi became overlord of Mesopotamia in 1818 BC after his victory over Rim-Sin of Larsa. The northern invaders might have marched under the leadership of Kudu-zulus, the brother of the Elamite king, who ruled in Esnunna in Sumer [20]. One may even suggest that the name “Kedor” in Kedor-Laómer, the name of the leader of the invaders according to the Biblical narrative, goes back to “Kudu” in Kudu-zulus because these names have the same root form K-d.

Another interesting piece of information in the Hebrew Bible is that Abraham journeyed to Egypt – seemingly directly after his first arrival in Canaan because there was famine in the land (see Gen. 12:5-10). According to the Septuagint, this happened in about 1836 BC, which is consistent with the well-known depiction at Beni Hassan in Egypt of a man called Abishai/r, which is of the same Amorite name-type as Abraham [21]. This Abishai/r is shown in the tomb of Khnumhotep II, administrator of the Eastern Desert who had close ties with the royal court, with his entourage arriving with "greeting gifts" in Egypt in the sixth year of king Senusert II in 1836 BC (according to K. A. Kitchen's low Egyptian chronology). He is described as a "ruler of the hill-lands" (Canaan). This corresponds to the Biblical description of Abraham as a "mighty prince" from Canaan (Gen. 28:6).

Abishai's entourage included thirty-seven men with their families (even though only some of these are shown [22]) who were Asiatics of Shu, a geographical term which probably refers to the southern Levant (most scholars identify it with the region east of the Jordan River – which is also the region through which Abraham came from Harran to Canaan). Also relevant to the discussion, is the colourful robe "patterned with stripes and chevrons" [22] worn by Abishai/r which reminds of such a robe mentioned in the Biblical tradition in connection with Joseph (Gen. 37:3).
Image result for beni hassan
Abishai and his entourage arriving in Egypt from Canaan
What shall we make of this? These correspondences may be a mere coincidence. It is, however, also possible that a Semitic prince called Abraham/Abishai in the Hebrew and Egyptian traditions respectively arrived from Canaan in Egypt in the year 1836 BC (if we take the Septuagint as consistent with Kitchen's low chronology and the Mesopotamian high chronology - I argued elsewhere that this is by far the best way to reconstruct the ancient Middle Eastern chronology [23]). The reason for taking this possibility seriously is that the Hebrew tradition does, in fact, includes data that is consistent with evidence from Mesopotamia in accordance with the high chronology (see above). Also, according to the Hebrew tradition Abraham's coming to Egypt was noted even at the royal court which would be consistent with the remarkable (and unique) depiction at Beni Hassan.

Although we can obviously not prove that Abraham was a historical personage, the remarkable consistency with known archaeological facts as well as the strong Sumerian influence on the stories about Abraham's forebears gives us reason to think that this is indeed a trustworthy tradition. In fact, it is impossible to explain the correctness of the information about the Elamitic incursion to northern Syria without accepting the trustworthiness of the Biblical story (there is also nothing that goes against this assessment). At this point, we may take a closer look at the nature of the Abrahamic tradition with the hope that we may find some clues therein regarding its origin.

The essential nature of the Abrahamic tradition

When we take a closer look at the Abrahamic tradition, there is one thing that immediately jumps to our attention, namely the remarkable amount of oracular material. We read that God first appeared to Abraham at Ur in Sumer and then again at various points throughout his story (Gen. 12:1-3; 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-22; 18:1-33; 22:1-2, 15-18). In fact, the story of Abraham is closely interwoven with the many oracles ascribed to the Almighty God (Gen. 17:1; Ex. 6:2). We even read that Abraham is called a "prophet" in Hebrew tradition (Gen. 29:7).

Now, the tradition of writing down oracles also had a long history in ancient Mesopotamia, since the time of the Akkadian kings who ruled over Sumer (ca. 2370-2190 BC) and persisting in the western regions such as Mari where those traditions were kept alive. In Akkadian times, animals were sacrificed to inspect their intestines for an oracle from the gods. As these were considered to be of divine provenance great care was taken to make clay models of the intestines on which the oracles were also inscribed. Also, in the epic tales of these great kings, these oracles are mentioned as part of their story. These stories belong to a long Semitic oral tradition in which they were told and retold by court poets throughout the centuries. During the early second millennium BC, there were poet-prophets in the western city of Mari who also wrote down prophecies which had come down to us. Some of these prophecies were connected with the kings of Mari - of whom epic tales were also told.

What is of particular importance to our story is the fact that these Mari prophecies date from the time of Abraham - who would have travelled past that city on his way to the west. As such, the custom of receiving and writing down prophecies that we find in Abrahamic tradition - and even the practice of incorporation such oracles in the stories as a whole - have a long history in the world from which Abraham came! Since such oracles were considered with great awe - which is also why they were written down when they were first given - it seems reasonable to assume that this practice also applied to the very similar Abrahamic tradition. This reading is in line with the overwhelming evidence for Sumerian influence in the ancient history - which is also written down in a style that reflects that ancient milieu! This strongly suggests that the patriarchal stories were (indeed) written down (at least in the form of the source material which was used by the Biblical author) during the period in which they are placed!

One cannot but notice that these early literary roots are also reflected in the rest of Hebrew tradition where we read that Moses was a prophet (Num. 12:6-8; Deut. 34:10) who received various oracles from God which he wrote down and taught the people (Ex. 19:7-9; 24:3-8; 34:27, 28). In this case, the circumstances in which they were received are also mentioned (Ex. 17:14; Nu. 33:1, 2). Later, Moses's successor Josua is also said to have written down some of Moses's oracles which are said to have dated from the time of Moses himself (Jos. 8:32; 24:26). Other oracles are also identified with the period of the judges. In later tradition, from the time of Samuel, the Hebrew prophets were the ones who did not only wrote down the oracles but also the historical context in which they were given [24].  

Also interesting is the importance of oral tradition within Semitic circles during the late third and early second millenniums BC. In the time of the Akkadian period, we read how Enheduanna, the daughter of king Sargon the Great, who wrote three poems in honour of the goddess Inana, called in one of these upon the poets to hand it down verbatum: “That which I recited to you at (mid)night, May the singer repeat it to you at noon”. The original use of the word implies that the poem had to be repeated: “in the presumably technical sense of repeating verbatum” [25]. At that time oral techniques may have formed part of the education of such poets. The Akkadian epic tales which recount the great and mighty heroic deeds of those kings also show that they were handed down in poetic circles for centuries.

The reason why this is of importance to us is that the ancient history may originally have been handed down in the same way. Although this tradition was probably first written down in Old Babylonian times (the time of Abraham) (as is reflected in the close correspondence with the Sumerian King List), the material for this may have come from a long oral tradition. This is exactly what happened with the Akkadian epic tales; they were also handed down since Akkadian times and were only written down in the Old Babylonian period. 

The Biblical expression "written on their hearts" reflects this strong oral current in Hebrew circles which may have survived for a long time as Koert van Bekkum writes: “Met het gebruik van de uitdrukking 'schrijven in hun hart' maakt Jeremia tekst gebruik van een bekend beeld in het oude Nabije Oosten waarin het uiteindelijke doel van heel de scholing werd verwoord: het uit het hoofd kennen van de teksten, ingewijd worden in een traditie en ernaar gaan leven” [26]. One may suggest that the difference in literary styles between the ancient history and patriarchal stories reflects the oral nature of the material used for the first in contrast with the second which was written down during the lifetime of the patriarchs themselves.

At this point, we find that we have good reasons to think that the ancient tradition originated from Semitic circles in Sumer and was first written down in Old Babylonian times. The patriarchal story of Abraham also reflects the world of that time and its oracular nature strongly suggests that it was first written down during the lifetime of Abraham himself. Given the fact that Ur was a city of great learning, we may assume that Abraham was educated in the Sumerian scribal tradition and that he or people in his entourage wrote down the source material which was later used to write the Book of Genesis. One may suggest that the recurrent reference to the "(books of) the generations of" (Gen. 2:4a; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10,27; 25:12, 19; 36:1,9; 37:2) refers to various source documents used in this regard.

Who wrote the Book of Genesis?

This brings us in the final instance to the question of authorship. When we want to gain some insight into this, we have to take a closer look at the way in which the author reworked the source material. What was his special concerns and how did he make use of his sources to present his own view of the world? Traditionally the book had been ascribed to Moses to whom God is said to have revealed Himself with the name Yahweh. The use of the divine name "Yahweh God" (or just: Yahweh) throughout the book is consistent with this view. Since this name belonged to a long Hebrew tradition, this, however, does not on its own establishes the authorship of the book. (Some Biblical Criticism scholars used the reference to "Chaldees" in Genesis 11:29, 31 which dates from the time of the exile to support their view but this is clearly the hand of a late editor).

We can start with the creation story in Genesis 1. When we carefully consider this story, we find that the author used motifs typical to the ancient worldview (of Sumerian origin) and rearranged them into a new pattern – into six creation days plus a Sabbath (presented as six periods of creation and one of rest). He did this to establish a divine model for the practice of keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest (Gen. 2:2-3). This practice – to write a creation story which served as the model for cult practice – is found all over the ancient Middle East. This strongly suggests that the purpose of the creation story was not to serve as some kind of polemical text but rather as an argument for keeping the Sabbath when it was first introduced.

Now, although the seven day week was known in the ancient Ur III period (~2100-2000BC) and later in Canaan as one can see in the Ugarit texts (~1400-1200 BC), the Sabbath always played a very central role in Israel. The one person who is indissolubly connected with introducing the practice of keeping the Sabbath is Moses. Keeping the Sabbath is part of the ten commandments which Moses is said to have received from God (Ex. 34:27, 28). So, the most logical time when one expects that this kind of argument would have been made in Hebrew context is when the Sabbath was first introduced. And since Moses is so closely associated with introducing the Sabbath, we may with good reasons think that he was the author of the Book of Genesis as is traditionally held.

There is other evidence which supports this view. The garden story ends with God Himself making clothes for Adam and Eve from animal skins to replace their fig leaves. This would have involved the slaughter of animals (Gen. 3:21). In fact, in the story of their sons Cain and Abel, we find that the right kind of sacrifice is clearly stated to be one of animals - not an offering of the fruit of one's labour which symbolizes one's own effort. Now, as is the case with the Sabbath, we find that God's example (at the time of the "beginning" of known history) is used to introduce the right kind of sacrifice which is consistent with that of Mosaic tradition. Again, the divine model serves as the basis for cultic practice.

There is, however, more to this. The author did not merely introduce animal sacrifice as a way to please God, he also presents this in contrast with the events of the preceding garden story. In the garden story God is depicted as rejecting the practices that are grounded in shamanism - practices like those ascribed to Balaam (which is also placed in the time of Moses) which involved enchantments (Num. 24:1; although such practices also involved sacrifice that was not in the manner required by God). The story of Balaam does, in fact, show some correspondence with the garden story: both, for example, involves a speaking animal (donkey; typical of the shamanistic experience), the idea of "opened eyes" as well as some kind of secret knowledge available to the initiates (Gen. 3:5; Num. 24:16).

We find this rejection of occult practice throughout the Pentateuch. Instead, God requires certain animal sacrifices like those which Moses is said to have introduced into Israelite practice after the exodus during their time in the desert. The story, therefore, serves to confirm the validity of the Mosaic ceremonial laws (see also the story in Numeri 25 where these two kinds of sacrifices are explicitly presented in opposition to each other!). Such a context of writing would constitute a strong argument that the Book of Genesis was indeed written early as has been traditionally accepted.


In this essay, our concern is with the trustworthiness of the Abrahamic tradition. If this story is a true reflection of historical events, then we expect that Abraham's origin in Sumer would be reflected in the ancient history - which is presented in the book as the prehistory of that family. And this is exactly what we found. There cannot be any doubt that the book had been influenced at its very core by the Sumerian world.

This Sumerian influence is visible in the many Sumerian motifs found in the creation story, in the garden story as well as the style and content of the rest of the ancient history. The author(s) - not the one who finally wrote the book, but those who wrote the source material - clearly worked within the ancient Old Babylonian milieu in which the ancient Sumerian ideas dominated. Of particular importance is the fact that the ancient history reflects a valid reconstruction of ancient Sumerian tradition (which cannot be accounted for without assuming some kind of continuous tradition), that this ancient history is in accordance with Sumerian literary tradition as found in the Sumerian King List and that there is absolutely no Mesopotamian material whatsoever included which date from the post-Abrahamic period per se.

We also found that Abraham's story includes information which cannot be explained except in terms of a trustworthy tradition going back to those events themselves. There is no other possible way that the author could have known about the Elamite incursion into northwestern Syra or the other details given in the story. This conclusion is consistent with the nature of the Abrahamic tradition which includes many oracles as well as the story which brings them all together. This way of presenting history is typical of the Akkadian tradition - and the one later found at Mari. Given the fact that such oracles were typically written down shortly after they were revealed, one cannot but come to the same conclusion regarding the Abrahamic oracles. If these were written down at that time (as this evidence suggests) then the trustworthiness of the material is easily explained.

One may ask: Why is the Sumerian information in the Book of Genesis never presented by scholars supporting the Babylonian Hypothesis in the unified way that I do in this essay? Why do such scholars follow an ad hoc approach trying to explain these features - always assuming that it cannot be true! I think this is an example of the deep bais in Biblical Criticism circles against the Bible which goes back to modernist times. The fact is: They cannot explain the things discussed in this essay in any coherent way within the Babylonian Hypothesis. It is time to finally reject the misguided efforts of such scholars and accept the Abrahamic tradition as trustworthy in every possible aspect that we are able to test given the restricted nature of our available evidence [27].

[5] The only known geographical reference to Aratta that is found outside the early Sumerian literature, comes from the account of Sargon II of Assyria's eight campaign. He travelled through the well-known seven mountain ranges across the northern Zagros where he finally arrived at a river called Aratta. This places the land of Aratta (the Biblical Ararat) near Mount Sahand in northern Iran. It is possible that the holy mountain of Aratta with its garden served as the basis for later Sumerian tradition since some of those royal families (such as the one who ruled at Uruk) traced their descent from this very land.
[6] In an ancient text called Gilgamesh and Humbaba (from the Ur III period), we read that the heroes Gilgamesh and Humbaba travelled across seven mountain ranges before they found the beautiful cedar which grew near (or on) the mountain of the gods. These "seven mountain ranges" were, however, not on the way to the Amanus mountains in the west but on the journey to the distant land of Aratta to the north of Sumer (the Biblical Ararat) - which means that this theme had been taken from that tradition and reapplied to the Gilgamesh legends. These seven mountain ranges are referred to in the legends told about an early king of Uruk, named Enmerkar, who ruled during the last part of the fourth millennium BC. His servant travelled through the seven mountain ranges to the land of Aratta beyond the Zagros mountains. In the Gilgamesh Epic of later tradition, Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu travelled to the distant west.
[7] Whereas the cherubim are depicted with four different faces in Ezekiel, we find in Ezek. 10:14 that the ox face is called that of a cherub. As this is in conflict with the rest of Ezekiel's text and does not appear in the Septuagint, we cannot take this as normative.
[9] Dalley, S. 1998. The Legacy of Mesopotamia. Oxford: Oxford University.
[12] The Great Flood: Did it really happen?
Traditionally, Biblical Criticism scholars believed that the Biblical story of the deluge originated from the Akkadian Atrahasis Epic which dates from ca. 1700-1600 BC. In their view, a copy found at Ras Shamra on the North Syrian coast dating to ca. 1300 BC shows that the text was known in Canaan at an early enough data to be incorporated into the J flood story (in accordance with the Documentary Hypothesis). No complete copy of this epic has, however, been found and those copies that we have, lack the crucial sections for comparison. This has led some scholars to propose that the Genesis flood story - which they date to the exilic or post-exilic periods - was taken either from the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic (which was a late addition to that epic) or Berossus's Babyloniaca. Again, the problem is that these versions of the deluge show crucial differences with the Biblical one. In my view, the Hebrew and Babylonian versions of the story go back to a common original tradition in Sumer which was handed down separately within the Abrahamic family and in Babylonian circles. 
[13] Who is Elohim?
[14] Shortly after the time of Abraham, the god Marduk usurped the role of king of the gods to become ruler of the Babylonian gods. After that time the character of Enlil was slandered in Babylonia. There is, for example, the story of his banishment to the Western mountains in which he is depicted as having sexual relations with the goddess Ninlil. This story was clearly taken from the opposing Enki milieu as Michalowski [15] has shown (Enki was the father of Marduk). Marduk was later worshipped by the Canaanites as Baal. In both the Babylonian and Canaanite traditions he is presented as a rebel who led an insurrection against the king of the gods to become king himself. As such his role as king of the gods was never accepted in Israel. Instead, this rebel-leader in the council of the gods was called Satan, which means “adversary”, in the Biblical tradition. The figure of Satan is clearly old and cannot be understood apart from the ancient concept of the council of the gods [8, 13].
[15] Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1977. Inuma Iiu awilum, in Maria de Jong Ellis (ed.). Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts & Science Vol xix. Hamden: Archon Books.
Michalowski, Piotr. 1996. The Unbearable Lightness of Enlil, in J. Prosecky (ed.). Intellectual Life of the Ancient Near East, papers presented 43e Rencontre assyriologique Internationale.
[16] Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1976. The Treasures of Darkness, p101. New Haven: Yale University.
[17] Mullen, E. Theodore. 1980. The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature. Chico (California): Scholars Press.
[19] In South African context, Jurie le Roux is one of the main proponents of the view that the Abraham story dates from after the exile. He has propagated this view in various essays in the official publication of the Theological Faculty of the University of Pretoria (see TEO 27/05/2016). He always quotes Biblical Criticism scholars that agree with his view - all of whom dogmatically accepts the Babylonian Hypothesis. If one accepts the Babylonian Hypothesis then this is the obvious outcome. If one rejects that context, then everything changes! 
In Le Roux's (long-discredited) modernist and positivist perspective, the lack of sufficient evidence for a historical Abraham (in his opinion) is evidence that there was no historical Abraham! He might have remembered how the scholarly consensus that Dawid was not a historical person was overturned by the discovery of the Tell Dan Stela on which mention is made of the "House of Dawid". Le Roux mentions an essay by Joseph Blenkinsopp, Judaeans, Jews, Children of Abraham (2011), in which the latter takes the usual Biblical Criticism stance that the Biblical authors "invented" their stories for all sorts of "necessary" reasons and then resorts to remarkable intellectual acrobatics to argue that the Abraham story was invented after the return from exile. For these scholars one thing stands above all others: The Biblical narrative can under absolutely no circumstances be true! 
[20] Van de Mieroop, Marc. 2005. King Hammurabi of Babylon: a biography. Oxford: Blackwell.
[21] Hoffmeier, James K. 2008. The Archaeology of the Bible. Oxford: Lion Hudson.
[22] Kamrin, Janice. 2009. The Aamu of Shu in the Tomb of Khnumhotep II at Beni Hassan. Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 1(3):22-36.
[24] Various court prophets are mentioned in Hebrew tradition as the ones who wrote down the oracles as well as the story which tells the context in which that happened. Among these were Samuel (I Sam. 10:25), Nathan (1 Chr. 29:29; 2 Chr. 9:29); Gad (1 Chr. 29:29; 2 Chr. 29:25), Ahijah (2 Chr. 9:29), Shemaiah (2 Chr. 12:15), Iddo (2 Chr. 12:15; 13:22), Elijah (2 Chr. 21:12), Isaiah (2 Chr. 32:32) and others. The author of the Chronicles of the Hebrew kings mentions the histories written by Samuel (from the time of King Saul), Nathan and Gad (from the time of King David), Ahijah (from the time of King Solomon), Shemaiah and Iddo (from the time of King Rehoboam), Elijah (from the time of King Ahab) and Isaiah (from the time of King Hezekiah). One cannot but see this as a continuation of the ancient Semitic tradition in which such prophets wrote down the oracles as well as the context in which they were revealed. It also strongly suggests that the historical data in those histories is trustworthy.
[25] Hallo, William & Van Dijk, J. J. A. 1968. The Exaltation of Inanna. New Haven: Yale University.
[26] Van Bekkum, Koet. 2013. Schrijven, schrijvers en auteurs in de oudheid, in Van Bekkum, Koet; Van Houwelingen, Rob & Peets, Eric (Red.). Nieuwe en oude dingen. Barneveld: Vuurbaak.
[27] One of the great problems with Biblical Criticism scholars is that they take no evidence as positive evidence of the negative which according to them "proves" that the literary tradition about Hebrew history is untrustworthy (see [19] above]. One of the contemporary culprits is Israel Finkelstein who is accused by Nadav Naaman of using the "not-found ergo does-not exist" principle (BASOR 317:2). This reflects a basic lack of understanding by a whole generation of scholars (deeply influenced by the long-discredited modernist roots of the discipline) regarding the nature of disciplines such as textual studies and archaeology (for a detailed discussion, see [18, 28]).

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
The author has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)) and is a scientist (PhD in Physics; MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

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