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Review of Russell E. Gmirkin, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and E...


Russell E. Gmirkin, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the
(Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies, 433; Copenhagen International Series, 15; New
York/London: T & T Clark, 2006). Pp. xii + 332. Cloth US$135.00. ISBN 0-567-02592-6.
Reviewed by Joyce Rilett Wood

This book has a bold thesis and detailed argumentation: The Pentateuch was written in the third century BCE (circa 273272) by the
same Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew text into Greek (pp. 14). The primary literary evidence for this late dating comes from
two Hellenistic historians, Berossus and Manetho, whom Gmirkin identifies as major figures of influence in the production of the
Pentateuch. Accordingly, Genesis 111 is entirely dependent on Berossus Babyloniaca, thus on a single late source, and not directly on
early Mesopotamian sources (pp. 89139). The simplicity of this model is stressed (p. 136), since in lieu of multiple independent sources
of different ages influencing Genesis, Berossus drew on the same Mesopotamian texts for his history and made them available in Greek
to a wide readership, including Jewish scholars in Alexandria (pp. 91, 13639). The Church fathers suggested dependence of Berossus
on Genesis 111, but Hellenistic scholars (e.g. Schnabel, Burstein) think that a number of references are not what Berossus wrote
himself but later interpolations by Jewish writers to make a reading conform to Genesis (pp. 9697). For this reason most references are
deleted from modern translations of his text (Burstein, The Babyloniaca of Berossus, 1978, p. 14, note 11). Gmirkin, however, talks
about strong parallels between Berossus and Genesis, arguing that Genesis 111 borrowed from Berossus (p. 91). Berossus wrote
Babyloniaca to instruct Greco-Macedonian rulers about Babylon and its cultural history (Burstein, pp. 56, 13). Not surprisingly, no one
before Gmirkin has ever supposed that Berossus is the direct source for the authors of Genesis 111, especially since the hypothesis
implies that learned Jews of the third century BCE chose an inferior literary work on Babylonian history, written in poor Greek
(Burstein, p. 9), as the foundation for the introduction of their national history.

Gmirkin rightly stresses the indebtedness of Genesis 111 to Mesopotamian sources (p. 135), but he is unable to show that Berossus has
better parallels to Genesis than the older cuneiform sources (p. 136). If some parallel exists between Genesis 12 and Enuma Elish
that does not appear in Berossus, Gmirkin asserts that it was likely present in the longer original version of Babyloniaca, thus resorting
to argumentum e silentio to make his case (pp. 93, 9495). The parallels between Genesis 12 and Berossus that are absent in Enuma
Elish (the darkness of the primeval waters; the creation of animals) can be explained without the dependency of Genesis on Berossus
(pp. 9394, 96100). Gmirkin contends that the description of the primordial universe as darkness and water in Genesis did not derive
directly from Enuma Elish, but was strikingly similar to the expansion of Enuma Elish seen only in Berossus (p. 100). But if Berossus
was able to deduce from Enuma Elish that Tiamat the primeval sea was darkness, then the writer of Gen 1:2 would have been able to
make the same inference. Gmirkin supposes that Berossus exclusively based his story of creation on Enuma Elish (pp. 92, 96), thereby
excluding the option that both Berossus and Genesis knew about the creation of animals from some Babylonian text other than Enuma
Elish (Heidel, Babylonian Genesis, 1963, pp. 64, 11718). For Gmirkin the creation sequence in Enuma Elish is not exact enough to
show direct dependency of Genesis 12 on the Babylonian Creation Story (p. 92). Reversal of sequence, however, is one way ancient
authors marked their reliance on literary sources (e.g., the order of stars, moon and sun in Enuma Elish is reversed in Genesis). Gmirkin
makes the incredible claim that Berossuss Oannes is the prototype for the wise serpent of Gen 3 (p. 107). Gen 3:1 does not say that
the serpent is the wisest of all animals (p. 106), but the serpent is more cunning ( )than any other creature. Other than human
speech, there is no resemblance between the snake of Genesis and the half-fish-half-human monster of Berossus (pp. 106107). Gmirkin
mentions the snake in the Epic of Gilgamesh who stole and ate the plant of life that would keep Gilgamesh eternally youthful (p. 104;
ANET, 96). Parallels with the Garden story are acknowledged (p. 105), but Gmirkin seems unaware that the snake in the Gilgamesh Epic
is the obvious source for the snake of Genesis who dupes the Man and Woman into eating fruit from the prohibited tree, thus preventing
them from living forever.

Gmirkin legitimately questions the scholarly hypothesis that Manethos History of Egypt depended on the biblical Exodus story for his
account of the invasion by foreigners into Egypt and their eventual expulsion. Thus, he underlines the importance of distinguishing
statements of Manetho from those of Josephus who identified the Hyksos with the Jews on the basis of the similarities between the
Israelites of the Exodus story and the Hyksos of Manetho (pp. 8182). What Gmirkin also needs to acknowledge is the great difficulty
scholars have in identifying genuine Manetho in the excerpts cited by Josephus (F912 = Gmirkin, pp. 17187, 192214). How then
can Gmirkin so confidently assert that the Exodus story is dependent on Manetho (pp. 182, 188) when his text, subject to ongoing
polemic during the Hellenistic Age, was altered and embellished by pro- and anti-Jewish editors and chronographers? (Verbrugghe and

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Review of Russell E. Gmirkin, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and E...

Wickersham, Berossos and Manetho, pp. 11520). How can Gmirkin be certain that Manetho mentioned Moses but also argue that
Manetho knew nothing about Jewish traditions? (p. 188). Manetho may or may not have mentioned the Jews and the exodus, but if he
did, we cannot be certain as to his point of view (Verbrugghe/Wickersham, p. 116). Even if it is true that Manetho did not have the
Exodus story in mind (p. 182), it does not logically follow that the biblical story is modelled on Manethos account. At best this claim is
only possible, as Gmirkin himself concedes (p. 188), but not probable unless it can be rigorously demonstrated. Gmirkin does not
consider the possibility that Babylonian and Canaanite literary sources lie behind the Exodus story. Instead of identifying the Legend of
Sargon as the literary model for the story of Moses birth (ANET, 119), Gmirkin interprets this subplot as a polemical response to
Manetho: It was not the Hyksos foreigners (Israelites) who tried to exterminate the Egyptians, but the Egyptians who tried to
exterminate the Israelites (p. 178).

Gmirkin identifies striking parallels between the Exodus story of the Israelites and Manethos story of the Hyksos. Both Hyksos and
Israelites were foreigners in Egypt, described as shepherds, expelled by the Egyptians and settled in Jerusalem (pp. 173, 175, 188). There
are similarities in the storyline, but Gmirkin does not show there is detailed referencing in the Exodus story to Manethos account. That
both accounts record a blast of God on Egypt (p. 188) is a general observation but not a specific quotation from Manetho that attests to
literary dependence on him. Gmirkin analyzes common themes (expulsion, conquest, slavery) between Manetho and Exodus, but not the
biblical text itself. His claim for the late dating of the Pentateuch is based on a small amount of text. Even Gmirkin accepts something of
the Documentary hypothesis in proposing that diverse Pentateuchal sources, JEDP, were written by Jewish scholars in Alexandria (p. 3).
In sum, Gmirkins book adds to our knowledge of the third century BCE but does little to increase our understanding of the Bible. Yet
this volume is an intriguing read because it challenges us at every turn to think about source-critical questions and to ask about the
direction of literary dependence.

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