On the Roots of the Hebrew Bible: Mesopotamian or Greek?

*These thoughts are not intended to be fully developed. For the most part, they are musings about my current coursework at the University of Chicago.

In the Hebrew Bible, no copyright page exists. In other words, there is no concrete way of knowing exactly when or where it was written or compiled. From evidence within the Hebrew Bible itself, we know that it was rooted within a Mesopotamian context; however, this is not the full story. Certain elements are not present in Mesopotamian literature. Take, for example, the Primeval Story of Genesis 1-11.

Niels Peter Lemche (2016) discusses this particular issue. Scholarship established, for example, that Genesis is rooted in and influenced substantially by the Gilgamesh. Niels Peter Lemche briefly explicate:

The version in Genesis is more or less a rewritten Gilgamesh (cf. Lemche 2012a). The introduction of the raven as the first bird sent out by Noah, but not returning, is an intertextual reference to Gilgamesh (Genesis 8:7). In the version in Gilgamesh, the raven is the third bird sent out from the ark, the bird that does not return because it finds the world dry again (Gilgamesh XI:153-154) (Lemche 2016: 69).

With this in mind, we should be aware that certain elements of Genesis 1-11 are absent from Mesopotamian traditions. The conflict between Cain and Abel is such an instance. As far as I am aware, there is not extant (existing) Mesopotamian tradition of one brother killing the other out of some sort of jealousy. While the myth of Cain and Abel may be rooted in the authors personal ideas, it is, nonetheless, in line with the motif of brotherly conflict in Livy’s history (Livy was a Roman historian at the turn of the millennium.

I point this out in order to highlight an important part of reading the Hebrew Bible: although it utilizes many ancient Near Eastern and Mesopotamian myths, it did not necessarily only exist and be influenced during that period. Some scholars, in fact, suggest the Hebrew Bible was written in Alexandria. Consequently, its traditions are firmly within the Mesopotamian cultural milieu and a Greek cultural milieu. In other words, reading the Hebrew Bible from a historical perspective is difficulty because it stands at the crossroads, not in terms of the Levant, but it terms of culture.

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