Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Holy Moses!

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

Hector Avalos tries to repair the many blunders he made in his first response.1 This is in answer to my initial reply.2
First, Triabloguers admit they really do not have the knowledge to judge which scholar is correct about anything they discuss.
I made no such admission. I simply responded to his Avalos on his own grounds by pointing out that his elitism was self-refuting—given the popular constituency of his target audience (readers of DC).
Triablogue's main defense is that it is addressing a lay crowd.
Wrong again. I pointed out that DC is addressing a lay crowd, and that Avalos is addressing a lay crowd when he has Loftus post his response at DC. Hence, his elitism is self-refuting.
However, the authors should at least be honest and up-front with readers about the tentative nature of their conclusions and the level of their expertise in making judgments.
I'd suggest that Hector redirect his strictures at Evan, a blogger at DC who initiated this debate.
Yet, Triablogue repeatedly issues pontifications that do not warrant the level of certainty that they offer to readers. Thus, they mislead readers into thinking they are offering solid information.
I'm sorry that Hector feels so easily duped. I clearly overestimated my opponent.

But for other readers not as gullible as Avalos, how did my post on the Sargon legend offer something short of "solid" information? In three (#'s 2,5-6) of my six points, I cited two well-credentialed scholars. On point #1 I drew attention to intertextual parallels between Noah and Moses. That's easily documented in the standard exegetical literature. On point #3, I pointed out that Egypt and Mesopotamia are both riverine cultures (a point also made by Alan Millard). And, on point #4, I mentioned papyrus was a natural Egyptian building material for rafts—which I can also document.
Their next defense was that the bloggers on Debunking Christianity are vulnerable to the same charge of lack of expertise to judge my arguments.
Wrong again. Notice what a poor reader Avalos is. This doesn't inspire confidence in his mastery of ancient texts.

What I did, rather, was to point out that his dismissive elitism disqualified the very audience he was targeting. Loftus posted his response at DC. But since I daresay the average reader of DC doesn't know Hebrew or Sumerian or Akkadian, then the average reader of DC is in no position to independently verify information from secondary sources, including Hector's own response.
This is a bad argument because the fact that others also are vulnerable to my objection does not invalidate the objection itself against Triablogue.
To the contrary, it's a perfectly good argument when I'm responding to Avalos on his very own grounds. That's how he himself chose to frame the debate. When I respond to him on his own terms, that's a good argument, not a bad argument.

It says something about Hector's grasp of logic, or lack thereof, that he can't follow the implications of his own argument, and—even worse—that after you have to point it out to him, he still fails to register the point.
And there is one BIG difference between DC and Triablogue. DC knows and is humble about its limits, while Triablogue is not.
Let's remember that Triablogue didn't initiate this debate. DC did. In particular, Evan is the one who started this debate, and continued to defend his position. Obviously Evan isn't "humble" about the "limits of his expertise."
If Triablogue were as wise, they might have Dr. Hoffmeier to guest post on their behalf.
At some point I might well email a few OT professors I know. But for the time being I think it's useful for readers to see how badly an expert fares in a match up with a layman.

By his own, modest admission, Avalos has every advantage in this debate. If he maunders so despite his superior expertise, what does that say about his position?
It is important to show that one is able make expert judgments about the issue under discussion.
Which instantly disqualifies the target audience for Hector's two responses.
My arguments are not meant to be arguments from authority. None of my arguments are of the form "because I say so."
So is Avalos now conceding that one doesn't have to be an "expert" to evaluate the quality of his arguments, or the secondary sources he refers the reader to?
If Triabloguers had read The End of Biblical Studies, they would realize that some arguments are based on simple logic, and they don't require more than a good logical mind to examine them. No other expertise is always required.
Avalos is trying to ride two horses at once. And they're galloping in different directions.

This is his conundrum: on the one hand, he wants to disqualify Triablogue from debating the issue. But, on the other hand, he doesn't want to disqualify the readers for DC from following the debate. So he lurches back and forth between two contradictory standards: one standard for Triablogue, and another standard for DC.

But a double standard is a double-edged sword. That's his problem. And having backed himself into that dilemma, there's no face-saving exit.
Triablogue makes it appear as though I have one book ("the book") that is relevant.
Whatever possessed me to single out that particular title? Hmm. Let me think about that for a moment. Ah, yes, now it's coming back to me now.

It had a little something to do with the fact that Avalos himself was the culprit who singled out that particular title of his. Funny how I get blamed for following his lead. Oh, well, life unfair.

Humiliated by the fact that I merely drew attention to the publisher of his book, Avalos then proceeds to cite a number of other, tonier titles in an effort to bleach out the stigma of this particular title.

I empathize with his acute embarrassment. Common humanity demands no less. Indeed, it was out of compassionate concern for his reputation that I only mentioned one such title.

Since, however, he repays my discreet loving-kindness with this resentful outburst, I'm now compelled to divulge the further fact that he's published no fewer than three—count 'em, three!—titles with Prometheus Books! Oh the shame!

Whether the stain-remover of his other literary associations is strong enough to wash away the indelible odium of this association remains to be seen. Only the cleaners can say for sure.

If that doesn't work, I'm happy to lend him a pair of wraparound shades to conceal his true identity whenever he has to go outside.
I don't see anything comparable from the authors of Triablogue.
True, I've never had a title of mine published by Prometheus Books, much less three titles by Prometheus Books. But perhaps he can put in a good word for me so that when I submit a defense of the Resurrection to Prometheus Books, they'll accept it for publication.
Apparently, they disregard the fact that I have also published my views on Intelligent Design in a very respected astronomical journal—"Heavenly Conflicts: The Bible and Astronomy," Mercury: The Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1998).
And there's less to that than meets the eye.3
I also have a formal degree and graduate work in anthropology, which is the center for the study of human evolution. Intelligent Design and evolutionary theory are the issue.
I see. So if a tenure track position opened up at MIT or Caltech to teach evolutionary biology, and Avalos listed his BA in anthropology on the application form, he'd be a shoe in for the job, right?
In fact, I have written extensively on science and religion.
So has Ken Ham.
Since Triablogue cannot win the credentials game, then it should focus on refuting the actual evidence I presented (again, none of it has to be accepted on my authority—they can check my sources if they can read them).
And the same standard applies to the scholars I've cited as well.
In deciding whether an Egyptian or a Mesopotamian origin for the Moses wet-nurse was more likely, I cited a parallel with the Sumerian-Akkadian ana ittishu legal texts. The parallels are:

1. A foundling
2. Raised by a wet-nurse
3. Until weaned
Actually, there is no parallel since Moses never had a wet-nurse. His mother nursed him, both before and after the incident in question. This is just one example of how careless Avalos is. And he's careless because his comparisons are driven by his infidelic agenda.
The fact is that one need not treat foundlings the same way in all cultures.
I never said otherwise.
Thus, it is clear that the Triablogue authors have no experience in analyzing the complexities and diverse options available in ancient Near Eastern law.
i) To the contrary, I merely answered Avalos on his own grounds. He gave an example, and I commented on his example. Now he's trying to do a patch-up on job on his prior performance.

ii) In the meantime, he disregards an obvious feature of Exodus. The narrative isn't driven by legalities. To the contrary, it's driven by illegalities.

Jochebed is breaking the law. And the princess is also breaking the law. Both of them are violating Pharaoh's infanticidal edict. So this is countercultural.

But Avalos isn't attempting to read the account on its own terms. Rather, he's trying to impose an extraneous framework on the account. Understanding the account on its own, in terms of intertextuality and narrative flow, would undermine Hector's infidelic agenda.
In fact, they show that they have not read the Legend of Sargon carefully at all. In the Sargon legend, Sargon is not given over to a wet nurse but he is adopted.
I didn't affirm or deny that. I merely answered Avalos on his own grounds. Apparently, that's a novel experience for him.

This is how it works, Hector: you give an example; I comment on your example. Try to remember that for future reference. Since, however, he broaches the issue, readers might like to see exactly what all the fuss is about. Here's a standard translation of the Sargon legend:
Sargon, the mighty king, king of Agade, am I.
My mother was a changeling, my father I knew not.
The brother(s) of my father loved the hills.
My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the banks of the Euphrates.
My changeling mother conceived me, in secret she bore me.
She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid.
She cast me into the river which rose not (over) me.
The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the drawer of water.
Akki, the drawer of water lifted me out as he dipped his e[w]er.
Akki, the drawer of water, [took me] as his son (and) reared me.
Akki, the drawer of water, appointed me as his gardener.
While I was a gardener, Ishtar granted me (her) love,
And for four and […] yeas I exercised kingship.
The black-headed [people] I ruled, I gov[erned];
Mighty [moun]tains with chip-axes of bronze I conquered,
The upper ranges I scaled,
The lower ranges I [trav]ersed,
The sea [lan]ds three times I circled.
Dilmun my [hand] cap[tured],
[To] the great Der I [went up], I […],
[…] I altered and [..].
Whatever king may come up after me,
Let him r[ule, let him govern] the black-headed [peo]ple;
[Let him conquer] mighty [mountains] with chip-axe]s of bronze],
[Let] him scale the upper ranges,
[Let him traverse the lower ranges],
Let him circle the sea [lan]ds three times!
[Dilmun let his hand capture],
Let him go up [to] the great Der and […]!
[…] from my city, Aga[de…]!4
And that's it, folks!

Subsequent scholars have refined the translation, rendering enitum as priestess, viz, "My mother was a priestess."
However, there are also other parallels in adoption that show that the Sargon legend was related to laws of the ana ittishu series. So, it is the fact that BOTH the Moses and Sargon stories take different options that are both found in the ana ittishu legal series that is a good argument for a Mesopotamian, rather than Egyptian, parallel here.
Notice the facile assumption: Exod 2 must have a parallel somewhere—the only question is whether it's Egyptian or Mesopotamian. But Avalos never bothers to justify his operating assumption.

Real life events don't require literary parallels. Indeed, every historical event is, in some degree, unique.

Moreover, the behavior of Moses' mother and Pharaoh's daughter is extralegal and, indeed, illegal. Subversive. Seditious. So why would we even expect to find a parallel in Egyptian law?

Once again, Avalos isn't actually reading the text before him. Rather, he's comparing one text to another text under the facile assumption of literary dependence.

The princess didn't seek out a wet-nurse for the foundling because Egyptian law mandated that she do so. Quite the opposite, she was breaking the law by trying to spare a Jewish foundling. Avalos isn't even attempting to read the account in context.

She wants the founding to survive because she takes pity on it. Her maternal instincts kick in. And a foundling can't survive without a wet-nurse.

Avalos is also blind to the dramatic irony of the situation. Pharaoh tries to implement a policy of infanticide against Jewish man-children. Pharaoh's daughter rescues a Jewish man-child, and not just any Jewish man-child, but one who will grow up to one day challenge Pharaonic oppression. That's the providential motif.

Extrabiblical literary precedent isn't driving this story. Rather, the circumstances are driving the story. But Avalos can't be bothered with exegesis since that would scuttle his infidelic agenda.
Hypothetical legal situations do not lessen literary parallels between those laws and some later text. Rather, it is the FORM and CONTENT of laws that are more important in establishing literary dependence.
Once again, he misses the point, although I already explained it to him. Real world events don't require literary parallels. To the contrary, literary or legal parallels, if there are any, tend to be dependent on real world events. To the degree that history repeats itself (the infinite variety), that—in turn—gives rise, both to case laws and stock plot motifs.
Thus, Hammurabi's laws about an eye for an eye are quite verbally similar to those in Exodus 21:22. Many scholars doubt whether Hammurabi's laws were applied in real life, but the form and content of Hammurabi's laws are so similar to some in Exodus that most scholars do see some literary relationship.
Is Avalos claiming that the lex talionis didn't apply in real life? For example, was no one ever executed for murder, either under the Mosaic law code or Hammaribi's law code? Is that Hector's position? If not, then what becomes of his argument?
Otherwise, Triablogue offers nothing but rhetoric to dispute the parallel between Moses and the ana ittishu laws. They could not find a better Egyptian parallel for all their boasted knowledge of Hoffmeier's writings. The reason, of course, is that Hoffmeier also does not have a better parallel.
Notice that Avalos can never think outside his box. He keeps assuming that there must be a literary or legal parallel somewhere, and if no one can't unearth an Egyptian parallel, then we default to a Mesopotamian parallel.

At best, that assumption would only follow if you presume that Exod 2 never happened. Is that logical? No.

9/11 doesn't require a legal or literary parallel. Even if it happened to have a legal or literary parallel, that would be incidental to the event, which can stand on its own.
Whether the Moses story is historical or not will not detract from the fact that the Moses story matches some directives found in those Sumerian-Akkadian laws.
Disingenuous since the point of alleging these parallels is to cast doubt on the historicity of "the Moses story."
In judging literary dependence, one must address these parallels listed by Lewis (The Sargon Legend, p. 255):

I. Explanation of abandonment
II. Noble birth
III. Preparation for exposure
IV. Exposure
V. Nurse in an unusual manner
VI. Discovery and Adoption
VII. Accomplishment of the hero
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that this is accurate. Avalos takes the position that if Exod 2 were independent of the Sargon Legend, the sequence would be different.

Really? What alternative sequence would be available to the narrator? Suppose we reverse the sequence:

I. Accomplishment of the hero
II. Discovery and Adoption
III. Nurse in an unusual manner
IV. Exposure
V. Preparation for exposure
VI. Noble birth
VII. Explanation of abandonment

Is that a viable sequence? No. That would be a thoroughly anachronistic sequence. For that would put later events before earlier events.

Let's try a different sequence:

I. Accomplishment of the hero
II. Noble birth
III. Discovery and Adoption
IV. Nurse in an unusual manner
V. Exposure
VI. Preparation for exposure
VII. Explanation of abandonment

Is that a viable sequence? Only if this is a legend about the hero’s prenatal accomplishments.

Let’s try another sequence:

I. Explanation of abandonment
II. Noble birth
IV. Exposure
III. Preparation for exposure
V. Nurse in an unusual manner
VI. Discovery and Adoption
VII. Accomplishment of the hero

Is that a viable sequence? Does it make sense for the exposure to take place before the preparation for exposure? Only if Exod 2 is literarily dependent on Through the Looking Glass.

Let’s try yet another sequence:

I. Explanation of abandonment
II. Nurse in an unusual manner
III. Noble birth
IV. Preparation for exposure
V. Exposure
VI. Discovery and Adoption
VII. Accomplishment of the hero

Does it make sense that the hero was suckled before he was born? No.

We can keep ringing the changes on the order of events. But even assuming that the parallels are exact, the reason they follow a certain order is because the sequence in question is a realistic sequence. If this were a real series of events, then that's the chronological order in which they would occur.

It says something about Hector's deficient powers of logic that he's oblivious to this obvious consideration.
The Sargon and Moses story share ALL elements except number V (Sargon legend lacks this). Of course, there are differences, but one must ask the likelihood that two people independently would experience 6 of 7 events in this sequence. One could say it was coincidence, but this is statistically improbable.
Thus far, I was assuming, for the sake of argument, that the parallels are accurate. But is that the case? Is V the only exception? Let's go back through the alleged parallels:

I. Explanation of abandonment
II. Noble birth
III. Preparation for exposure
IV. Exposure
V. Nurse in an unusual manner
VI. Discovery and Adoption
VII. Accomplishment of the hero

What about I? Here Hector is confusing a narrative sequence with a chronological sequence. I doesn't come first because it's the first event in a chronological series. Rather, it comes first because the narrator is explaining to the audience what triggered these events.

Is there something unusual about the Pentateuchal narrator explaining an event before describing an event? Does that point to literary dependence?

No. The Pentateuchal narrator often explains an event before describing an event. He's prepping the reader for what follows.

What about II? Was Moses of noble birth? No. So another parallel bites the dust.

What about III-IV? Why do you suppose the preparation for exposure precedes the actual exposure? Is this due to literary dependence? Or is this due to elementary logic?

What about IV? Did Jochebed "expose" her child? No. "Exposure" means that you abandon an unwanted infant to die. To die from heat or cold, starvation, dehydration, or predation.

If she wanted to kill her child, she'd just throw him on a trash heap or toss him into the river, to drown and be carried away by the current.

Instead, she puts in him a waterproof basket. Why bother if she's exposing him?

And she hides the basket in the bulrushes, out of sight and away from the current. And she assigns his big sister to watch over him. Indeed, it's quite clear from Exod 2:3ff. that she's trying to protect him.

We can speculate on why she employed this method. Maybe she felt that this was a way of getting him out of the house, which would be subject to inspection by the authorities, while keeping the child as safe and accessible as possible.

But given the narrative flow, another explanation is that she placed him there because she knew that's where the princess liked to bathe, and she was hoping the princess would find him and take pity on him. Only royalty could get away with flouting the law.

What about V? Moses was returned to his mother. Is there something unusual about a mother nursing her child? If Avalos thinks there's something unusual about that, a lot of nursing mothers would beg to differ. But maybe he was bottle-fed.

And, as Avalos is forced to admit, there is no parallel between this event and the legend of Sargon.

What about VI? But that's the narrative solution to the narrative problem. It's explicable, not by literary dependence, but by the inner logic of the narrative. He was meant to be discovered and adopted—whether by Jochebed's design or God's. That's how he escapes infanticide.

What about VII? Did Moses become a king? No. In fact, we have a double reversal of fortunes in Exod 2. He's spared infanticide. And he's moving up the social ladder. But then he becomes a fugitive. Moreover, Moses is even denied an opportunity to enter the Promised Land.

All Avalos has done is to trump up a series of specious parallels. He doesn't make any effort to examine his alleged parallels. And that's because, as militant apostate, Avalos has an ax to grind.
And there are more parallels between Sargon and Moses that are found in other types of documents mentioning Sargon. One document is a liver omen text from the Old Babylonian period (ca. 2000-1600 BCE, though variant parameters exist). The omen is reproduced by Lewis (p. The Sargon Legend, p. 136), and reads:
...omen of Sargon who made an incursion during darkness and saw a luminous phenomenon.
Does Exod 3 say the angelophany took place at night? No. Does the liver omen describe the "luminous phenomenon" as a burning bush or angelophany? No.

Where, exactly, is the parallel? Sunshine is a luminous phenomenon. Starlight and moonlight are luminous phenomenon. A torch is a luminous phenomenon. A campfire is a luminous phenomenon. This is a good example of parallelomania.
It is also noteworthy that one of Sargon's achievements is to climb mountains, and Moses also climbed a famous mountain (Sinai).
Is that noteworthy? Is the life of Sir Edmund Hillary literarily dependent on the legend of Sargon? After all, they were both mountain climbers, and Everest is a famous mountain.

The fact that Avalos is reduced to this sloppy, last-ditch exercise in parallelomania to prove his point merely disproves his point.

In the meantime, he studiously disregards a genuine literary parallel, because that undercuts his thesis of literary dependence on a legend of Sargon. But as one scholar observes:
The water ordeal Moses underwent is reminiscent of the redemption of Noah in Genesis 6-8. After the birth of Moses, his Mother Jochebed could not hide him for more than three months, so she placed him in a gome' tebah ("wicker basket"; Exod 2:3). The first term, gome' is an Egyptian word that means "papyrus." Tebah, an Egyptian word which means "chest, coffin," is also used in reference to Noah's ark. One should observe as well that in Exodus 2:3 Jochebed covers the wicker basket with "tar and pitch" as Noah did the ark (Gen 6:14). The deliverance of Noah can be viewed as a re-creation because God directs the cultural mandate of Genesis 2:18 to Noah and his offspring: "And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth;" (Gen 9:1). That command is the same decree that the Hebrews were fulfilling in Exodus 1 as they multiplied and increased in Egypt. So the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt is being cast by the Biblical writer as a re-creation.5
Suppose we applied Hector's analysis to the Jimmy Carter Legend:

Jimmy Carter

Born in the 20C
Born in the South
Southern Baptist
Southern Democrat
College graduate
Southern Governor
U. S. President
Time Magazine Person of the Year

Bill Clinton

Born in the 20C
Born in the South
Southern Baptist
Southern Democrat
College graduate
Southern Governor
U.S. President
Time Magazine Person of the Year

What's the statistical probability of two different people having so much in common—including some very rare distinctions? Oh, and here's the kicker: the Jimmy Carter Legend is demonstrably earlier than the Bill Clinton Saga. Obviously, the Bill Clinton Saga is a fictitious account, indebted to the Jimmy Carter Legend.
But where do they get the idea that Exodus and Deuteronomy are from Moses' lifetime? Apparently, being set in Moses' lifetime is the only evidence they need to conclude that the books about Moses are from his lifetime.
First of all, I didn't say Exodus "and" Deuteronomy, but Exodus "through" Deuteronomy (see the dash).

Second, I don't need to reinvent the wheel for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, or subsections thereof. Conservative commentaries, monographs, reference articles, and OT introductions have done that.
By this logic, therefore, The Story of Sargon, must also be from Sargon's lifetime, since the text is set in his lifetime and it is portrayed as autobiographical. Yes, this is what passes for historical reasoning by the Triabloguers.
If the arguments were comparable—which I don't concede.

And the authenticity of Exod 2 or the Pentateuch generally doesn't depend on the inauthenticity of the Sargon legend. That's one of Hector's diversionary tactics.
Indeed, with Sargon it is MUCH different because we have actual archaeological artifacts with his name from his supposed lifetime. And then we have references to Sargon in subsequent centuries and all the way down to the existing copies of his story in the seventh century BCE.
This is a bait-and-switch tactic. General evidence for the historical Sargon doesn't translate into evidence for any given tradition, absent specific evidence for any given tradition. Avalos is trying to muddy the waters.
Nothing like that for Moses. If I am wrong, let Triablogue give us a document or artifact mentioning Moses that actually comes from around 1400 BCE, 1300 BCE, or 1200 BCE. The fact is Hoffmeier can't do it. Triablogue can't do it.
This is special pleading. Let's take a comparison. To my knowledge, our earliest copy of books 1-6 from the Annals of Tacitus dates to the 9C. And books 11-16 date to an 11C MS.

Is Avalos just as sceptical of Tacitus as he is of Moses? Why doesn't he lay his cards on the table? Is he sceptical of Exodus because our MSS are late? Or is he sceptical of Exodus because he doesn't believe in the supernatural?
Again, the fact is that all we have are stories of Moses extant in manuscripts from the 1-3 centuries BCE, and that alone cannot tell you that those stories were there in 1400 BCE or even in the 7th century BCE.
As I've pointed out before, but Avalos is too obtuse to absorb the point, questioning the fidelity of our MSS does nothing to help his case for literary dependency. For example, it's possible that the long ending of Mark is literarily indebted to a 2-3C scribe, who was—in turn—literarily indebted to bits and pieces of Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts. But since the pericope is spurious, who cares?
Triablogue deploys another standard apologetic technique (arguing against something a scholar did not say)…But, I did not say that textual criticism cannot help us reach "earlier" compositions.
Here's a verbatim quote of Hector's original disclaimer:
We can talk all day long about textual or literary criticism supposedly helps us reach earlier or to 'original' compositions…
Of course, given Hector's position on the "outdated" notion of the Urtext, perhaps the statement I quoted is not an original composition which goes all the way back to Avalos. Maybe it's been redacted by some pseudonymous editor.

As such, we can never hope to reach the historical Avalos, assuming he ever existed. We must content ourselves with the literary Avalos, making due allowance for legendary embellishment.
Triablogue is still dealing with an increasingly outdated notion that textual criticism is only about finding the "original." Triabloguers apparently think themselves as sophisticated by using the term Urtext, without realizing how increasingly outdated this concept is for biblical materials…Since the concept of an Urtext is eroding, textual criticism is focusing increasingly on textual histories (earlier compositions and relationships are included, even if "originals" are not.).
Actually, Emanuel Tov has a lengthy discussion of this "outmoded" concept in his standard monograph on the Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible.6

If you take a liberal view of Scripture, then you regard the composition of Scripture as an open-ended affair. First, there's a stage of oral development, followed by an initial commitment to writing which—in turn—undergoes multiple redaction. On that theory, the objective of textual criticism is to recover the final text. So the notion of an Urtext is only outdated on a liberal view of Scripture.

Of course, some books of the Bible are admittedly of composite authorship, viz. Psalms, Proverbs. But that doesn't invalidate the concept of an Urtext—only the application of the Urtext to anthologies like Psalms or Proverbs.

Hence, all Avalos has done is to beg the question in favor of his liberal views on Scripture.
This brings me to another FACTUAL ERROR made in Triablogue in this statement…Lewis DOES NOT SAY THIS, and no direct quote is presented for evidence.
I can understand why Avalos would be so easily befuddled. Just as he can't read Exodus in context, he can't read my own comment in context. I was summarizing a statement which Alan Millard made with reference to Lewis. So his argument is with Millard, not me.
Notice also how Triablogue uses an ad hominem argument to dismiss my conclusions (they call me an "apostate" as though that invalidates my arguments for parallels between Moses and Sargon).
To begin with, Avalos doesn't hesitate to characterize where opposing scholars range along the theological spectrum. In his initial reply to me, he said:
Such as those found in Hoffmeier, Hess, and other conservative scholars. I know the work of these conservative scholars well.
And in his rejoinder he says:
Alan Millard, who is a rather conservative Christian Near Eastern scholar…
So why is Avalos so hypersensitive when someone measures him by his own yardstick?

And, yes, it's useful for readers to know where he's coming from. It's not as if he rejects the historicity of Exodus on purely textual or archeological grounds. No, it goes much deeper than that. He doesn't believe that those things could happen.
Yet, as Evan has so insightfully pointed out, Alan Millard, who is a rather conservative Christian Near Eastern scholar, also thinks that the Sargon traditions were in circulation about a thousand years prior to the 7th century manuscripts.
This is another example of Hector's bait-and-switch tactic. The fact that some Sargon traditions antedate the 7C MSS by however long is no evidence whatsoever that any particular tradition antedated the 7C by any particular amount of time. Indeed, Millard's point is based on documented traditions that antedated the 7C MSS.

Avalos has already admitted that the legend of Sargon underwent internal development over time. It's therefore illicit to simply infer that a particular motif in a later MS can be trace back to a much earlier stage in the evolution the legend. Given the internal development of the legend, according to Avalos, we know that such an inference is fallacious. That Avalos keeps repeating the same fallacies doesn't bode well for his critical discernment.

Avalos also quotes Millard out of context. Indeed, it's striking that Avalos would presume to misrepresent Millard position when his article is available online for all to see. This is what Millard actually said about the disputed issues:
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.

However, the absence of Aramaic, Persian or Greek influence in grammar and vocabulary of the sort visible in the books that are dated by obvious criteria after the Babylonian Exile (sixth century B.C.) makes it likely that the Exodus text is earlier.

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.7
It makes you wonder how trustworthy Avalos is in reproducing positions not readily available to the general public.
In an apparent attempt to fend off the flood of evidence that cuneiform literature was present in Palestine…
I have no problem with such evidence. I do have a problem with Hector's diversionary tactics.
In establishing the direction of literary influence…
Observe, as usual, how Avalos assumes what he needs to prove. He takes literary influence for granted. It's just a question of establishing the direction of literary influence.
That does mean that scribes in Palestine could be familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh and other Mesopotamian stories.
We already knew that OT writers were conversant with pagan mythology. After all, a fair amount of the OT is explicitly directed against pagan mythology.
In contrast, we have ZERO biblical Hebrew texts in Mesopotamia from the equivalent periods.
That would only be germane on the gratuitous assumption that one borrowed from the other, and it's just a question of establishing the direction of literary dependency.
This alone shows that cuneiform literature was established BEFORE Hebrew literature, even in Palestine.
Given the fact that Canaan was occupied by Canaanites before Israelites took possession of the Promised Land, this is another one of Hector's trite observations that he tries to repackage as a devastating discovery.
And why should the Sargon legend be different? If Gilgamesh was known in Palestine, what is so difficult about hypothesizing that the Sargon legend became known in Palestine or among Hebrews living in Babylon?
"Hypothesizing." That's his case in a nutshell, all right.

As to Hebrews living in Babylon, that's an allusion to the Documentary Hypothesis, a theory which even a secular Jew like Cyrus Gordon didn't take seriously. So Avalos is simply propping up one bad argument with another bad argument.
I am not arguing that the Moses legend is copied directly from the Sargon legend. However, the similarities are too many to posit that two people experienced so many similar things independently.
Like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
We have one reasonable explanation, and that is that there was some literary relationship, even if indirect, between these stories.
Just as the only reasonable explanation for the parallels between Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton is a literary relationship. After all, their stories couldn't both be true. And maybe both of them are false.
If we were to assign a literary priority, we would have to start with what we actually have.
Notice that Avalos can never break free from his Pavlovian conditioning. If we were to assign literary priority…

But his argument is worthless on two grounds: he doesn't establish the truth of the premise, and even if the premise were true, literary priority doesn't entail literary influence. The poor guy is too logically challenged to think straight.
I. There is no actual evidence that a Moses river-story was present in the seventh century BCE.
That would only be pertinent if you assume a liberal view of Scripture, according to which the final text was the end-product of centuries of oral development and subsequent redaction. In that case, it would be a problem if the final text of Exod 2 were an imaginary retelling of a story about someone else at another time and place.

If, however, you take the Mosaic Urtext as your point of reference, then any major, creative deviation from the Urtext would be equivalent to the Comma Johanneum, the Pericope Adulterae, or the Long Ending of Mark. Avalos can keep drilling this dry hole until he's committed to a nursing home, but it won't get him anywhere with folks who don't already share his far left views of Scripture.
II. There is plenty of evidence that the Sargon river-story was present in the seventh century BCE.
Notice that Avalos has a habit of plagiarizing my argument as if this were his argument, then acting as if that argument were detrimental to my position when I was the one who brought it up in the first place. Just remember that I'm the one who originally had to inform Evan about the actual date of his source material. So it's amusing to see Avalos try to co-opt my argument and then pretend that he's scored some sort of coup.

Since imitation is the highest form of flattery, I appreciate the compliment, but I also claim the right to point out that I'm the real deal, and Avalos the impersonator.
III. Sargon's presence in actual documents can be attested from the late third millennium BCE and far into the first millennium BCE.
This is another decoy on his part. He keeps resorting to the same sophistries.

Once again, did I ever deny the existence of Sargon I? No. Was my position ever predicated on his nonexistence? No.

And Avalos builds on this straw man argument to insinuate another fallacy. General evidence for the historicity of Sargon I is completely irrelevant to whether Exod 2 is indebted to the legend of Sargon.

In some ways, Avalos is still a faith-healer at heart. He's now an apostate, but he continues to play on the credulity and stupidity of his nullafidian audience in the very same way as health-n-wealth scammers.
IV. Moses' presence cannot be found in any extra-biblical record before around 1-3 centuries BCE.
So what? Corroboration is nice, but to demand corroboration is viciously circular or viciously regressive. For you must assume that the corroborative evidence is reliable. And what corroborates the corroborative evidence?

Why assume that extrabiblical records are more reliable than biblical records? Why not reverse the burden of proof?

The only reason is that Avalos is a militant atheist, so he doesn't believe the Pentateuch could possibly be true.

4 J. Prichard, ed. The Ancient Near East (Princeton 1973), 1:85-86.
5 J. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker 2001), 114.
6 Pp. 164ff.


  1. Why assume that extrabiblical records are more reliable than biblical records? Why not reverse the burden of proof?

    The only reason is that Avalos is a militant atheist, so he doesn't believe the Pentateuch could possibly be true.

    I love watching and reading a good Triablogue fisking of someone who desperately needs to be fisked.

  2. Avalos also pointed people toward Lewis as the authority. It was pointed out to him that Lewis put the Sargon I birth legend during the reign of Sargon II. Avalos denies this, but short of purchasing the book for $100, even those more hostile to our side have sided with this reading of Lewis. Thus, The Creation of History in Ancient Israel by Mark Brettler (Routledge, 1995). Brettler's aim is to show that much of the claims of the Old Testament are "inaccurate or untrue." He aims to show that Israel was influenced by other sources (see back flap). So, this isn't a "conservative" scholar. He's more-so on Avalos's side. Anyway, in endnote #84 on page 180 he says: "A likely case is the Sargon birth legend, concerning Sargon of Akkad, but probably written under Sargon II; see Brian Lewis: The Sargon Legend: A Study of the Akkadian Text and the Tale of the Hero who was Exposed at Death, esp. 99-107..."

    Now one could see why a Hoffmeier would side with us, being "conservative" 'n all, but why a Brettler would concur with what we've claimed is an odd fact to reconcile. Unbelievers always want to see hostile critics who support the "other side." What can explain this massive ignorance on behalf of Brettner? Certainly not the scurge of "conservativism."

  3. Avalos is the most militant of atheists, because in his book Fighting words he provides an omininous solution to what he calls the problem of "religious violence".

    His solution"

    "The elimination of religion from human life."

    Think about that, mull it over.

    Where have we heard that before?

    (On a side note, I saw an assistant Professor from the History department in the campus bookstore and told him that since I don't know French I will not be able to study any of the material regarding French history. He was not amused, and I carefully explained that it was a joke...describing what was going on here about not being able to read cuneiform, etc. He couldn't stop laughing.)

  4. Regarding the alleged high standards of Debunking Christianity, keep in mind that John Loftus said:

    "FYI I did not ask Avalos to respond to you. He was reading and sent me what he wrote." (source)

    Do the authors at Debunking Christianity usually ask somebody like Hector Avalos to write for them? No.

    Though Avalos' material is itself problematic, as Steve has demonstrated, a better place to look to get an idea of Debunking Christianity's standards is the material written by people like John Loftus and Evan. For some examples of their low standards, see here and here.