Friday, March 30, 2007

Speaking of historical biography: blogging before breakfast

John Barton reviews David Rosenberg's Abraham: The First Historical Biography (Basic Books) in TLS (March 23, 2007). Rosenberg reconstructs Abraham as an educated Sumerian, a trained scribe, who belonged to a family that made statues of the gods. All events in Genesis about Abraham are regarded as historical. Abraham translates Sumerian sensibility into a culture that would become Israel. Rosenberg believes that Abraham may have written a record of his life on cuneiform tablets which found their way to the royal archives in Jerusalem. In the 10th C BCE they were translated into Hebrew and reworked into a strand of narrative material scholars call J (in it God is identified as Yahweh--or Jahwe to German speaking scholars).

Of course this connects to The Book of J written with Harold Bloom in 1990 in which J, a learned princess created a literary masterpiece, the J source which translates material from Sumerian and Akkadian into classical Hebrew. Barton thinks that J is later than Rosenberg proposes, not written by a Judaean princess, and that the reconstruction of Abraham's life in the new book is "wildly speculative." Why would Abraham be a Sumerican scribe? How Hebrew culture was a transposition of Sumerian culture is unexplained. Charitably, Barton considers the value of Abraham to be philosophical: Rosenberg's Abraham may never have existed, but is a figure around which ideas like the nature of religious culture clustered. Might the same be said of Judas in regard to ideas about discipleship, human nature, and free will at a later time and place?

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