The Case For & Against a Hasmonean Bible

Walter Mattfeld mattfeld at
Sat Aug 4 03:49:48 EDT 2001

George Brooks:
> Ironically, Walter has traditionally been a big fan
> of putting editing and writing of the O.T. as recently
> as possible.
> And I'm getting mixed signals from Ian.  I can't tell
> if he is MORE aggressive than Walter in this regard, and/or
> if he really DOES support the idea that the United Monarchy
> stories were written BEFORE the Babylonian captivity.
> Walter and Ian, could you two clarify which positions
> you support?  You two are confusing the heck out of me!

Dear George,

I understand your confusion. It is true that from 1990-1999 I championed the
notion in my research that the Primary History might be a Hasmonean or even
a Herodian creation. I abandoned that position however by the late Summer of

Since then, it is my understanding that the Primary History is a creation of
the 5th century BCE, as I have argued recently on this list with my latest
articles on "Balaam's Kittim Oracle."

I have never really taken the time to explain in any depth what caused me to
give up the notion that the Primary History was a creation of the Hasmoneans
or Herodians. So this is as good a time as any to explain my "turn-about."

First, let me say, that I am an "amateur-scholar" who has had no formal
education in biblical studies beyond a general introduction course to World
History as a Freshman in College.  This lack of training in the complexities
of establishing a date for the Primary History's creation caused me to
misunderstand valuable clues.

I thought the Primary History possessed knowledge of Greek Mythology,
Japheth being the mythical Titan Iapetos, and Madai's Japhethic descent
being mirrored in the Athenian Greek Medus myth. Many of the motifs in
Genesis were paralleled in Greek works by Homer, Hesiod and Herodotus, and
they do not appear in Phoenician, Egyptian or Mesopotamian compositions. I
erred in assuming this was suggestive of contact with the Greeks in the
Hellenistic period, thus the Primary History must be either Hasmonean or

However, there were persistent "flies in the ointment" that wouldn't
go-away, suggesting the Texts were much older, either Exilic or Post-Exilic

By Hellenistic times it was realized the world was a sphere, yet the texts
spoke of the world in archaic terms mirroring Homer's and Hesiod's worlds
(7th century BCE), it having "four corners" a terminology found in
Neo-Assyrian texts.

The freshwater Edenic river who's four heads end in Ethiopia and Mesopotamia
recalled Homer's freshwater river Ocean that encircled the world and which
was the source of ALL rivers, suggested a pre-Exilic concept. By Hellenistic
times educated men knew it was a fiction.

The archaic notions about a wrathful warrior God and how he was portrayed in
the texts matched perfectly the descriptions in Neo-Assyrian and
Neo-Babylonian hymns to their gods. The Hellenistic world by contrast saw
God in the light Plato, only Good, incapable of jealously, and not wrathful.
The concepts about God found in the Christian texts (New Testament) betray
the Hellenistic influence which has tempered God's portrayal as being ONLY
GOOD (Matthew 19:17).

I am not a linguist, but in reading scholarly articles in scholarly Journals
about this subject I came to realize that the Hebrew language does exhibit a
change in word forms and tenses which have been dated over long periods of
time (just as Medieval English, Shakespearean English and 20th century
English exhibit changes). I came to realize that the Hebrew in the
"non-biblical" texts found amongst the Dead Sea scrolls was a later form of
Hebrew than the Primary History, some scholars noting that the Dead Sea
scribes struggled to duplicate the archaic Hebrew and made errors, betraying
they were more familiar and comfortable with Aramaic. Scholars noted that
the few examples of Hebrew existing on objects from the Pre-Exilic period
exhibited archaic features not found in the Primary History which suggested
the Primary History was written after the Pre-Exilic period.

I finally realized that the only way I was going to determine the Primary
History's date was through archaeology. The texts mentioned various towns,
cities and hamlets, some which had been identified and excavated, their
occupational parameter being established. The youngest sites would give a
rough estimate of when the texts had been composed. I found the absence of
an Iron Age wall for Jericho to be the golden-key to date the text by.

Sooo, George, there you have it in a nutshell, why abandoned the notion that
the Primary History was a composition of the Hasmonean/Herodian world.

In regards to observations made by Ian and others about the books of Ezra
and Nehemiah. I apologize for my comment about the "irrelevancy" in the
dating of these texts. Of course, it is worthwhile to establish when they
were composed.  We are given to understand that many texts were destroyed
under Antiochus IV in attempt to eradicate Judaism and make Hellenists of
the Jews. It may be that the Bible has we have it today is because of the
Hasmoneans, who may have re-worked parts of it for politcial ends. Yet these
re-worked or edited texts do reflect correctly the world established by
archaeology in the 8th-5th centuries BCE. So, even if errors exist in these
texts and some fictionalizations have occurred, real people being
transformed into "literary characters," as noted recently by David Hindley,
the archaeological contexts support the general story-line in my estimation.

I am still open to the possibility that the Hasmoneans could have "slipped
in" statements to support their agendas *if* they "restored" the texts after
the demise of Antiochus IV.

All the best,   Walter

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld
Walldorf by Heidelberg
Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany

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