Three of the Twelve Tribes are described as seafaring people in early biblical times. Judges 5:17 chides Dan for dwelling in ships, and Asher for its maritime habitat. Genesis 49:13 depicts Zebulun as nautical in Sidonian style. To be sure, Israel was destined to become less sea-minded as time went on (with notable exceptions such as Solomon’s reign), but 25 per cent of the Tribes were sea people according to the biblical text itself.
For reasons that we need not delve into now, scholarship tends to be geared to the tacit assumption that Old Testament Palestine (unlike Roman Palestine) was not a Mediterranean country. Yet the Mediterranean factor in the Old Testament is comparable in magnitude with the Mesopotamian and Egyptian factors. Therein lies the most important aspect of Old Testament research in the foreseeable future.
The only way I know to pursue biblical studies is to take the text on its own terms against the background of authentic collateral information from the world of the Bible. I am not in the least concerned with schools of thought or with the theories of influential scholars.
Genesis 10 charts for us the geographic and ethnic horizons of the Hebrews. In addition to the Asiatic and African Near East, it definitely includes the Aegean and the Greek world. The islanders embrace the Caphtorim of Crete and the Kittim of Cyprus.
The Caphtorians of Palestine include the Philistines (e.g., Amos 9:7) who appear in the Bible as linguistically Semitized. In fact the distinct implication of Scripture is that even the earliest waves of Philistines (to say nothing of the last large wave around 1200 B.C.) were already Semitized. The Philistine King of Gerar in the days of Abraham and Isaac bears the pure Hebrew name of Abimelech. Moreover, Hebrews and Philistines never require the service of interpreters for intercommunication. The Bible mentions interpreters for communication with Egyptians or Mesopotamians but never with the Philistines of Caphtor, for the simple reason that a language closely akin to biblical Hebrew had long been the main language of Minoan Crete.
It is no surprise then to find that the Minoan inscriptions are in a Semitic language resembling Hebrew. When it first crossed my mind that this might be the case, I cannot say. But it is a matter of record that in my Ugaritic Handbook (p. 204) published in 1947, I cautiously asked concerning Ugaritic literature, which is quite close to the Hebrew: “And who can at present prove or deny that such an unknown quantity as Caphtor influenced Ugaritic literarily?”
In 1947, Minoan script was a dark mystery. But a young English amateur, Michael Ventris, was brooding over it. He was destined to achieve success in deciphering the later form of the script called “Linear B.” He had been completely wrong in surmising that it was related to Etruscan. But he searched relentlessly for the truth, and realized that his Etruscan hypothesis had led him to a dead end because it was false. Then he assumed that the language of the Linear B texts of Crete and southern Greece was Greek. This guess—so self-evident in retrospect—was right, and from that moment his efforts were crowned with success. Ventris’ phonetic values for the signs of Linear B Greek were in the main applicable to the earlier language of Linear A Minoan, as was evident from proper names appearing in both sets of inscriptions. The fact that such names as “George” or “Maurice” occur in both French and English texts shows that while the two languages are different, the values of the letters are more or less the same in French and English. The same holds for Greek Linear B and Minoan Linear A.
In 1956 when Ventris and Chadwick published their Documents in Mycenaean Greek, I was enabled to make the decisive step toward the decipherment of Minoan. A Linear A Minoan tablet consisting of pictures of pots with their special names spelled out over them captured my attention. Three out of five of the legible pot-names were good Semitic: su-pu, su-pa-la, and ka-ro-pa looked sufficiently like the Semitic pot-names written consonantally as SP, SPL, and KRP to encourage me to pursue the possibility that Minoan was Semitic. The word for “all” was ku-lo, the same as Semitic kull, “all.” Two correctly identified Semitic words (u, “and,” and ku-ni-su, “emmer wheat”) known in East Semitic induced me to stress the East Semitic affinities of Minoan. This turned out to be mistaken because both words are also West Semitic, if one knows where to find them off the beaten path in West Semitic.
Toward the end of 1961, an edition of the Minoan texts appeared with new photographs and hand-drawn copies. A cult object dedicated to the chief god of the Minoans (with the good West Semitic name Yasha-shalam, “he who gives shalom or peace”) contained the typically West Semitic words le, “to,” ki, “so that,” and qiryat, “city.” The text reads “To Yashashalam—so that the city may thrive” in unmistakable West Semitic that any intermediate student of Hebrew should be able to follow without difficulty.
Now that I had pinpointed the character of Minoan—as not merely Semitic as I had maintained from the start, but specifically as Northwest Semitic closely related to Phoenician and Hebrew—things moved swiftly. Early in 1962, I tackled four Eteocretan inscriptions written in Greek letters between the fifth and third centuries B.C. in the pre-Greek language of Crete. Scholars had gotten exactly nowhere with Eteocretan because they never asked the right question: Could it be Semitic? But since everyone was right in assuming that Eteocretan was the descendant of Minoan, and since I knew that Minoan was Northwest Semitic, I had the answer. Three texts from the Cretan town of Praisos turned out to be funerary. Invocations, in the name of the deceased, to the future passerby appeared in these texts; for example nas iro u kl es, “the people of his city or any man” (in slightly Hebraized form nash iro u kol ish) and et me u mar krk o kl es u es, “with whosoever he be—lord of a fortress or any man at all” (in slightly Hebraized form et mi hu mar krak o kol ish u ish). Now it is a fact that most people have difficulty in recognizing familiar words expressed in different symbols. Personally I feel that a normally bright undergraduate at the end of his first semester of Hebrew-l ought to be able to see anything as simple as this. I doubt that any professional Hebraist lacks the knowledge to see this. But I have abundant reason to conclude that many a Hebraist lacks the mental flexibility to grasp these simple facts. It is for this reason that in my first articles on these new developments, I welcomed “particularly young Semitists, into a new and challenging field” (Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 21, 1962, p. 210). This does not mean that none of the veteran scholars will see the light. The elder statesman of German Old Testament scholars—Otto Eissfeldt—was quick to see that I was right in establishing the Northwest Semitic character of Minoan. But anyone who has followed Eissfeldt’s publications, showing his keen awareness of Phoenician influence, will not be surprised. The leading Czech Old Testament authority—Stanislaus Segert—was equally fast in catching on. Moreover, he is fortunate to be among academic colleagues in Prague who are prepared for the new developments by the great Bedrich Hrozny, who deciphered Hittite.
Falsehood is a blind alley, whereas truth opens a thousand doors and is sooner or later confirmed in many ways. In October, 1962, a bilingual from Dreros, Crete, reconfirmed what was already crystal clear. The Dreros bilingual repeats the same text in Eteocretan and Greek. Someone makes a dedication “to his mother,” (tai) matri tai a (wtou) in the dialectal Greek corresponding to lmo in the dialectal Semitic. For those who know only the classical languages, te(i) metri te(i) autou and l-immo should ring the bell. The text of this bilingual—like all of my material—is in press.
There are still more texts—including a bilingual from Cyprus—that bear on the problem, but I have told enough to make matters clear to any open-minded student of Hebrew and Greek who prefers to follow facts rather than some academic party line.
Effect On Biblical Studies
The Minoan and Eteocretan (and in all probability also the Eteo-Cypriote) inscriptions will change the course of Hebrew linguistics. But more than this, the effect of the new development on the study of the Bible will be profound. Let us see what is involved:
The decipherment of Minoan confirms a fact that was recognized long ago by individual scholars such as Victor Bérard and Raymond Weill (to mention only two), but these scholars were shouted down and discredited by the exponents of compartmentalization. The essential truth is stated in Genesis 10: the cradle of our civilization was One World and not a compartmentalized Near East. But run-of-the-mill minds cannot grasp great and simple truths. Everything must be fragmentized for them into pieces small enough for them to comprehend. In 1894 a German savant named K. J. Beloch—with vast knowledge and a small soul—propounded the doctrine that there could be no Semitic influence on early Greece, and that even when the Greek sources tell us of the Phoenician impact on early Greece, the ancient Greek authors were in error.
Beloch won the day. In fact his influence can still be felt, in spite of the mounting evidence to the contrary. Greek tradition tells us quite definitely that Minos, King of Crete, was the son of a Phoenician princess Europa; that Europa’s brother, Cadmos, conquered Thebes and introduced the art of writing; that the Danaoi (as the ancient Greeks are often called) were descendants of the Semite Danaos who conquered southern Greece; that Phoenicians occupied the islands of Thera, Thassos, Cythera, and so on. I could lengthen the testimony of the ancient Greek authors to the effect that the Phoenicians were a major factor in what became the Greek world, but it is unnecessary. Many scholars sensed the real situation. M. P. Nilsson (Homer and Mycenae, 1933, p. 131) stated, “It is, however, a fairly common opinion that the Phoenicians of Homer are in reality the Minoans.” Well, it turns out that the discarded “common opinion” was right. The salient fact to remember is that prior to 1500 B.C. the entire East Mediterranean—islands and mainland shores—was dominated by the same Phoenician-type sea-traders. Throughout the Middle Minoan period and down to the fifteenth century (i.e., from about 2000–1450 B.C.) the hub of that culture was Crete Only later was it forced to center itself on Phoenician cities such as Sidon and Tyre on the Syro-Palestinian coast.
A Common Denominator
What emerges from this panorama of history is the fact that Hebrew and Greek civilizations arose on different segments of the same Semitic-dominated East Mediterranean order. Palestine remained Semitic. The Aegean became Greek. But both had been part of the same cultural sphere before Priam ruled Troy and before Moses led his people to freedom. This means that early Hebrew and Greek literatures have a common denominator and should be used to illuminate each other.
How much the modern West is an outgrowth of the ancient East Mediterranean is reflected at every turn. We have a seven-day week with roots in the East Mediterranean. Where it first started is hard to say, but the Mesopotamians reflect seven-day time spans in their early literature such as the Gilgamesh Epic. Ugaritic literature—written before the Trojan War and the Age of Moses—has seven-day periods built into it. Greece and Israel got the seven-day reckoning from the same East Mediterranean milieu. We of the West have inherited it simultaneously from Israel and from pagan Europe. The Greco-Roman heritage lingers on in the pagan names of Sunday, Monday, and Saturday—named after the Sun, Moon, and Saturn. From Genesis we get the same seven-day system, but with a difference: the institution of the Sabbath.
If we compare Israel of the Age of the Literary Prophets with Periclean Athens, of course they appear poles apart. But not so if we go back to the days when Israel and Greece were closer to their common origins. Achilles and Samson had careers within a century of the year 1100 B.C. in different segments of the same East Mediterranean milieu. Achilles was no more a Greek philosopher than Samson was a Hebrew prophet. Both were fighting leaders in the same general heroic age. Their social climate had much in common. Both of them caused the death of many men by their common pattern of conduct. Achilles’ wrath over a woman taken away from him did not subside until he had sent many brave souls into Hades. When Samson’s wife was taken away from him (Judges 15:1, 2) he went into a rage that was not assuaged until he had smitten many a Philistine hip on thigh (15:6–8). Neither Achilles nor Samson had the middle-class virtue of cooperation. Both were heroes who would stand alone against the world. Even Samson’s long hair followed the same mode as fostered by his contemporaries, the long-haired Achaeans of Achilles.
Ancient Greek tradition saw in the Iliad and Odyssey the two halves of the same great Homeric epic. By the time the critics got through with it, not only did the Iliad and Odyssey represent entirely different stages of civilization, but each was chopped into different sources corresponding more or less to the J, E, D, and P of Pentateuchal criticism. For instance, the marvelously constructed story of the Odyssey was broken into three separate, originally different compositions: the story of Odysseus’ return, the story of Telemachus’ search, and the story of Penelope at home in Ithaca. The combining of three allegedly different documents into the finest narrative poem ever written was explained as the work of a compiler.
The arguments of the critics looked good. After all, the Iliad deals with a fighting aristocracy; the Odyssey is the tale of coming home to a plantation. The society of the Iliad is heroic; the society of the Odyssey was said to belong to a different age with more sedentary pursuits. Actually, however, both epics reflect the same society: the Iliad, during military operations; the Odyssey, between wars. This is precisely what we find in Scripture when we compare the books of Judges and Ruth. In Judges we see the warring aristocracy of Israel during campaigns. In Ruth we see the agricultural pursuits on the warlord’s plantation between campaigns. The story unfolded “in the days when the Judges ruled” Israel (Ruth 1:1). Boaz is rightly called a warlord (gibbor hayil in Ruth 2:1). Between campaigns he administered his large estate. The upper class in heroic Israel as well as in heroic Greece enjoyed large farms in exchange for military service.
New Confidence In The Record
It is possible that our grandparents found the truth in such matters through simple faith. Since Ruth opens with the statement “it came to pass when the Judges were judging,” they asked no questions and had no further problems. Students of my generation, however, studied Scripture in a different atmosphere. For my teachers, the narrative in Ruth had little to do with the period of the Judges, and for them the opening verse was meant only to mislead. But new developments tend to inspire confidence in the traditions.
The scene on the Shield of Achilles described in book 18 of the Iliad is a single artistic composition. Its two main subscenes are a city at peace and a city at war. Life was envisaged as divided between war and peace (though the latter is more accurately defined as the time between wars) corresponding to the Iliad (or Judges) on the one hand, and the Odyssey (or Ruth) on the other. In addition the Shield has still further detail. Its description opens and closes with the cosmos: the sun, the moon and the stars, and the cosmic river, Oceanos. It tells of agriculture, herding, and sacrifice. In the city at peace litigation is going on, as well as a wedding. In other words, a single composition included war and peace, the structure of the universe, social and legal institutions, modes of producing the means of subsistence, sacrifice, and so on.
With this background let us turn to the Pentateuch. Traditional Judaism, from remote antiquity, never doubted that the Five Books of Moses formed one perfect opus. The critics, however, came along and asked how the Pentateuch could be a single work, when it deals with the universe, law, agriculture, herding, hunting, sacrifice, social institutions, war and peace. The Shield of Achilles answers the question: life is made up of just such elements. The Pentateuch, being the perfect book, told the ancient Hebrew all he had to know about the universe, history, human relations, religion—in short, everything essential. I cannot think of a book that has fulfilled its momentous mission so grandly. It teaches us that all men are brothers and created in the image of God. It embraces the Ten Commandments and the Covenant. It gives us not only law but the highest ethical and moral principles, including the precept to love one’s neighbor as oneself. It imposes on us the duty to meditate on God’s words day and night, and to teach them diligently to our children. Of course, parts of the Pentateuch stem from earlier material. The text itself tells us so (see CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Nov. 23, 1959, p. 133). But the kind of mentality that can see only a jumble of parts in a great unity is unworthy of so precious a heritage.
Objections may be raised to what I have just written. Some may say: But Deuteronomy is in a completely different style from the earlier books. The Hebrews called Deuteronomy “The Repetition of the Law” (Deuteronomy 17:18), which might perhaps be rendered more intelligibly as “The Recapitulation of the Law.” Similarly the last book of the Homeric epic (the twenty-fourth book of the Odyssey), before bringing the story to a close, gives a recapitulation including the Iliad in direct discourse, told by famous participants in the Trojan War. This is pretty much what we find in Deuteronomy: as the story of Moses is concluded, we have, in the form of direct discourse spoken by Moses, the recapitulation of the Law. Much that is new is added; much is repeated (e.g., the Ten Commandments). The thing to note is that the style of the Bible world calls for a summation or, to use the Hebrew phrase, a Mishne ha-Torah, “Repetition of the Law.” To put things differently: the recapitulation we find in the Mosaic and Homeric books confirms the antiquity of each other’s style. That these early Greek and Hebrew classics differ in content and spirit is too obvious to require exposition here, but that they reflect the same East Mediterranean common denominator at many a turn should be equally clear by now.
The Law of Moses embraces a sharp reaction against East Mediterranean religion. The Pentateuch repeatedly tells us not to do what the surrounding nations do. While all the nations practiced idolatry, the Pentateuch strictly forbids it. The cult of the bull (including that of the young bull) was widespread throughout the area. It was entrenched in Egypt (note the Apis cult) and Ugarit (where El is called “The Bull”), but nowhere more than in Minoan Crete, where the bull played a tremendous role in the life of the people.
The family of Moses, as well as the Hebrews in general, had been involved in bull-worship. When Israel sinned she tended to lapse back into the paganism from which she was gradually emerging. No sooner did Moses turn his back than Israel fashioned and worshiped the golden calf (actually “young bull”) under Aaron’s personal supervision. When the Northern Kingdom of Israel went astray, the golden calf was worshiped at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:28, 29). The cult at Dan was set up by Jonathan, the son of Gershom, who was in turn the son of Moses (see Judges 18:30, where the scribes have inserted a raised N in the Hebrew text to alter the name of Moses to Manasseh). Gershom the son of Moses is well known from the Pentateuchal narratives (e.g., Exodus 2:22). The fact is that Moses, who gave historical monotheism to the world and taught future generations to shun idolatry, was unable to control his own brother, let alone his own grandson, from worshiping the golden calf. The Mediterranean aspect of Old Testament studies explains why of all idols, Israel repeatedly lapsed into the worship of the young bull. It was deep-seated.
The ancient connections between Israel and Greece were well recognized by the Greeks and Jews down into Greco-Roman times. Arius, King of Sparta, stated that his people possessed written records showing that Spartans and Jews shared a common ancestor (1 Maccabees 12:21). Josephus assures us that the Jews of his day also had documents confirming the statement of Arius. This claim (affirmed by Greek and Jew alike) may be explained because the Greeks as “Danaoi” claimed descent from Danaos, who was equated with Dan in the minds of both peoples. The Semitic identification of Danaos, and the sea-connection of the Danites, prevent us from brushing aside the traditions of I Maccabees and Josephus as foundationless.
Tacitus goes so far as to pass on a tradition current in his day that the Jews came from Crete via Northeast Africa (Histories 5:2) and that some of the Jewish institutions (specifically the Sabbath) were of Idaean (i.e., Cretan) origin (Histories 5:4).
The reader who wants more information about the Mediterranean common denominator underlying Greece and Israel can find it in my book Before the Bible.
On The Dead Sea Scrolls
Another important aspect of biblical study is the field of the Dead Sea Scrolls—especially those from Qumran. They provide new texts giving us first-hand insight to a Jewish sect in Palestine during the ministry of Jesus. They also shed important light on the lower criticism of the Old Testament, illuminating such matters as spelling, grammar, and variant wording. For Old Testament study, I would say that the Scrolls have the limitations imposed by the fact that they all come from after the close of Old Testament times. For the Intertestamental period, they are of direct importance. For New Testament, they are valuable for background, but they do not change our basic understanding of the New Testament books.
The decipherment of Minoan is of a more fundamental order, not because of the character of the texts themselves but because they bridge the worlds of Israel and Hellas from before the emergence of historic Israel (i.e., Israel as reflected in the Pentateuch) and of historic Greece (i.e., as portrayed in Homer). Indeed the Semitic character of Minoan is touching off a drastic reappraisal of Hebrew and Greek origins and, by the same token, a rewriting of the origins of Western culture. I would say that nothing in the Scrolls is as important as the Minoan bridge that brings Homer and Bible to bear on each other.
Homer And The Scriptures
Homeric literature deals with a warring aristocracy belonging to the kingly class. Rules of succession were flexible, but kingship was open only to members of the ruling class. Despite social differences between heroic Israel and Greece, many basic features are shared in common. It thus turns out that in the narratives of heroic Israel (as in Homer), the only people who count are those of the kingly class. The same holds for the two epics of Ugarit: both Kret and Daniel are rulers. In Israel, Abraham and Sarah are not only the progenitors of a people; they are the founders of a royal line. The divine promise to Abraham includes the significant detail that kings shall issue forth from him (Genesis 17:6). Moreover, Sarah is the mother of kings in accordance with God’s promise (Genesis 17:16). The royal aspect of the patriarchal narratives was brought to the fore by collateral information from Homer.
It is current academic doctrine that the Judges were elevated to the position of rulers by inspiration alone. By bringing the character of Homeric society to bear on the problem, it has become quite clear that the Judges always came from the ruling class, at least on their father’s side. Inspiration to rule could elevate those on the lowest rungs of the ladder of the aristocracy, but it never descended on those whose fathers came from lower classes in the heroic age. Jephthah may have been the son of a socially low woman, but through his father, Gilead, he was a gibbor hayil: a member of the warlord class (Judges 11:1).
No one ever questioned the Jewishness of Jesus. His opponents, however, did question his right to be King of the Jews. The first chapter of the New Testament, therefore, deals with the genealogy of Jesus, to establish the legitimacy of his kingly office. It would be interesting for New Testament scholars to probe the possibility that tracing Jesus through David all the way back to Abraham was prompted by the desire to trace him back not so much to the first Jew, but to the first king of the Jews. The Septuagint of Genesis 23:6 designates to Abraham the term basileus, “king,” which is the royal title applied to Jesus in the Greek Gospels.
Arnold Toynbee in reviewing Before the Bible agrees that my “demolition of the previous partition wall between Greek and Hebrew studies will endure” (London Observer, Dec. 16, 1962). He also notes that “these partition walls are built of intellectual rubble, but the rubble is compacted with prejudice, and this is as hard as the best cement ever used by Roman architects.”
A learned Talmudist (Professor Zeitlin) specializing precisely in the period of the Scrolls considers the Scrolls to be a hoax, even as an erudite Hellenist (Professor Beattie) has seen fit to deny the validity of Ventris’ decipherment of Linear B. If Professor Albright (CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Jan. 18, 1963, p. 359) wishes to follow in their footsteps and be an opponent of the decipherment of Minoan and Eteocretan, he may do so at the peril of his reputation for critical judgment in the Old Testament field.
This is not the first time he has been wrong about my work. He did everything he could to prevent my writing the Ugaritic Grammar. In reviewing the book, however, he showed a bigness of spirit that all of us admire. Professor Albright admitted in print that he had been wrong in discouraging me and magnanimously paid my work the following tribute: “Gordon’s Ugaritic Grammar is of greater lasting importance for OT research than any dozen assorted recent commentaries taken together” (Journal of Biblical Literature, 60, 1941, pp. 438 f.).
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