Hector Avalos writes:
If Triablogue were as wise, they might have Dr. Hoffmeier to guest post on their behalf. But perhaps Triablogue does not have enough credibility to attract experts on their side.A few preliminaries are in order:
i) At the time Avalos responded to Peter and me, he was not, himself, a guest blogger at DC. Instead, he emailed Loftus and Loftus posted his email. Therefore, if Hector's own conduct is any yardstick, I don't need to invite an expert to guest post on my behalf. It would be sufficient for me to do what Loftus and Avalos did.
ii) An expert doesn't have to directly interact with Hector's material. The question at issue is the relationship, if any, between Exod 2 and the Legend of Sargon. There is preexisting scholarship that comments on that issue.
iii) Apropos (i)-(ii), in this post I'm going to consolidate information on the issue from several different sources.
iv) Notice that although different scholars offer different explanations, not a single scholar I cite agrees with Hector's explanation.
[The first four items feature email correspondences while the latter four feature excerpts from published works or articles.]
- Duane Garrett:
Dr. Garrett wrote me back last night. He has a forthcoming commentary on Exodus in which he dismantles the argument of Brian Lewis. Stay tuned!
- James Hoffmeier:
Re: Exod 2 & the legend of Sargon
From: James Hoffmeier
Date: Sun, 27 Jul 2008 4:50 pm
I suspect that Avalos is so ideologically committed to his anti-biblical stance that objectivity is gone, and thus to bring evidence that conflicts with his view to the discussion will simply be ignored. His statements about the dates of biblical books as you know is theory, not fact. Something Avalos and many like him seem to forget.
Indeed the Sargon legend may well be the earliest example of the exposed child motif, but that does not mean that Exodus 2 could not be completely independent. To ignore the clear Egyptian linguistic elements of Exodus 2 (one that does not fit a Mesopotamian setting) is sheer obscurantism!
- Richard Hess:
Re: Exod 2 and the legend of Sargon
From: Hess, Rick
Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2008 5:22 pm
I am not sure who you are but I did receive your long retort from Avalos.
I am not quite sure what the point here is. The Sargon story is generally as Avalos says. Lewis' book has been around and well known. He cites dozens of Sargon story types in the ancient Near East and later, ending with the story of Superman's birth in DC comics. The form of the Sargon legend involves a first person intro and an epilogue that concludes with 1 of the 4: blessings/curses, didactic lesson, temple donation, or prophecy. None of this applies to the Moses story; so if there was a borrowing it was more general than Avalos would like to admit. The general motif of the rescue of a leader as a baby and his/her being brought up by strangers is certainly well known in the ancient world and around the rest of the world. So what? No doubt the author and early readers of the exodus account saw the motif in the Moses story. That says nothing about its historicity.
Avalos seems to find the absence of a pre-Hellenistic citation of Moses outside the Hebrew Bible evidence for the lack of historicity of Moses. Needless to say, this is exactly what Thomas Thompson wrote of David in 1992 when he published his book denying any historical value to the biblical account of pre-exilic Israel. David never existed. Then a year later in July of 1993 Avraham Biran discovered the Tel Dan stele dating from the 9th century B.C. And recording mention of the "house of David." Again, the minimalists tried every kind of way to deny this, but a straightforward reading of the Aramaic text and a comparison with the only known parallel for the two words translated "house of David" has resulted in nearly all scholars agreeing that the dynasty of David was known in the 9th century, within a century and a half of the life of David himself. Perhaps some day the same sort of thing will happen with Moses. Whether it does or not, one is not entitled to conclude that someone is not historical just because they are not mentioned outside the Bible before the Hellenistic period. Manetho's Hellenistic history of Egypt comes to mind as another example. Before the decipherment of Egyptian in the 19th century, the same thing could be said about the names and numbers of Egyptian rulers and dynasties. They were only known from the Hellenistic period (and a few from the Bible). But now Manetho's history has been validated by many Egyptian texts covering about 3,000 years. We will probably not see the same numbers of texts ever discovered in Palestine. Not only is this because it is a poorer and smaller country, but because most Iron Age writing there was done on papyri and leather, neither of which has survived anywhere in the region except in the driest spot of the Dead Sea.
I hope this helps some.
- John Currid:
RE: Exod 2 & the legend of Sargon
From: John Currid
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2008 7:06 am
Indeed, within ANE literature there is a common motif of a birth story in which a child is under threat but survives to become king or leader of his people. The Legend of Sargon is such a story, and many scholars identify it as the very basis of Exodus 2. To go from Exodus to Mesopotamian literature has been the bias of ANE scholarship for a long time (creation and Enuma Elish; flood and Epic of Gilgamesh, etc.). But the reality is, and many do not want to admit it, is that Exodus is set in Egypt (seems obvious, but apparently not!) -- the book is imbued with Egyptianisms (see my Ancient Egypt and OT, for example). Consequently, I think that we ought to be looking in Egyptian literature for any such paradigm: The Myth of Horus contains similar motifs as Exodus 2.
It is at this point that I would diverge from Hoffmeier and others. The Myth of Horus and Exodus 2 are accounts of a child being cast into the waters and then becoming a deliverer/king. The writer of Exodus, who knew Egypt well, would have been familiar with the Egyptian text. So, how do we explain that association? Some argue, like Hoffmeier, that there is no relationship; others say it is simply crass plagiarism on the part of the Bible. I think not. What then was the Mosaic author doing? He was using motifs and themes that were common ones in relating the birth of Moses -- certainly he was recording history, but perhaps more than that. Perhaps this story is a polemic against Egyptian (and, more generally, ANE literature) literature and legend. It may be, in particular, an ironic, belligerent critique of a well-known Egyptian story. What was mere myth in Egypt was true history in Israel -- God truly called a deliverer, saved him from danger, and caused him to lead and deliver his people. Myth in Egypt thus became fact in Israel.
I believe polemical theology may in fact be an important answer to such issues (vs. Enns and others).
I hope this helps even in some small way.
- Allen Ross:
The circumstances of the saving of the child Moses has prompted several attempts by scholars to compare the material to the Sargon myth See R. F. Johnson, "Moses," in IDB; for the text see L. W. King, Chronicles Concerning Early Babylonian Kings, Vol. 2, Texts and Translations (London: Luzac and Co., 1907), pp. 87-90. Those who see the narrative using the Sargon story's pattern would be saying that the account presents Moses in imagery common to the ancient world's expectations of extraordinary achievement and deliverance. In the Sargon story the infant's mother put him into the basket in the river; he was loved by the gods and destined for greatness. Saying Israel used this would indicate that the account in Exodus was fiction, and that would be an unacceptable determination. But there are also difficulties with the Sargon comparison, not the least of which is the fact that there are no other samples of this type of story for comparison. First, the meaning and function of the story are unclear. Second, there is no threat to the child Sargon. The account simply shows how a child was exposed, rescued, nurtured, and became king (see Brevard Childs' commentary on Exodus). Third, other details do not fit: Moses is never completely abandoned, never out of the care of his parents; and the finder is a princess and not a goddess. It seems unlikely that two stories, and only two, that have some similar motifs would be sufficient data to make up a whole genre. Moreover, if we do not know the precise function and meaning of the Sargon story, it is almost impossible to use it as a pattern for the biblical account. The idea of a mother abandoning a child to the river would have been a fairly common thing to do, for that is where the women of the town would be washing their clothes or bathing. If someone wanted to be sure the infant was discovered by a sympathetic woman, there would be no better setting (see A. Cole, Exodus, p. 57). While we may not be dealing with a genre of story-telling here, it is possible that Exodus 2 might have drawn on some of the motifs and forms of the other account to describe the actual event in the sparing of Moses--if they knew of it. If so it would show that Moses was cast in the form of the greats of the past.
- Alan Millard:
Some scholars suggested that the story was written to glorify him. Indeed, a few scholars still maintain this position…Gaston Maspero supposed that the Legend of Sargon projects the deeds of Sargon II into a remote past and says nothing about an earlier king (The Dawn of Civilisation [London: SPCK, 1885]), p. 599. See Lewis, Sargon Legend, pp. 101–107, for a similar view.
What of the birth legend of Sargon? It is hardly likely that documentation of this will appear. The story is one common in various forms in folklore and is obviously comparable to the story of Moses in the bulrushes. Before we dismiss either or both as fiction, however, we should note that Babylonia and Egypt are both riverine cultures and that putting the baby in a waterproof basket might be a slightly more satisfactory way to dispose of an infant than throwing it on the rubbish heap, which was more usual. Today unwanted babies are frequently dumped on hospital doorsteps or in other public places in the hope that they will be rescued. The story of the foundling rising to eminence may be a motif of folklore, but that is surely because it is a story that occurs repeatedly in real life.
- Tremper Longman:
While certainly a folklore theme, the practice of placing a child in the river may have been a widely practiced form of abandonment, similar to the more modern practice of leaving a child on the doorstep of a house.
[Source: T. Longman, Fictional Akkadian Autobiography, 56.]
Medieval foundling wheels were wooden cylinders set in the wall of a convent or church. The baby was placed in the cylinder from the outside and the cylinder was turned towards the inside, where nuns would care for the baby and seek new parents.
The first foundling wheel was believed to have been installed in Rome in 1198 at the orders of Pope Innocent III who was alarmed at the number of newborns, usually illegitimate, found caught in the nets of fishermen on the River Tiber.