[ExI] what the hell was i thinking?

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Fri Mar 15 15:07:20 UTC 2019

On Mar 14, 2019, at 4:54 PM, <spike at rainier66.com> <spike at rainier66.com> wrote:
> Keith don't take it more seriously than it deserves.  I invented the notion,
> my main source being breezy leisure speculation from a tragically idle
> imagination.
> The reason I find this whole line of speculation interesting is in relation
> to a particular technological advance: writing.  Consider that some of our
> oldest written historical records come from the point of view of one of
> those predator packs.  Read on please.

What you’re talking about — the Book of Numbers and the story of the invasion of Canaan in particular — is not among the “oldest written historical records.” That distinction would go to the Egyptians and Mesopotamians and predate the writing of Numbers by about two thousand years. Then there’s the issue of whether Numbers is reliable history.   

> Imagine the scenario where there are early agricultural societies forming,
> which creates an attractive target for predatory groups.  These groups are
> making their living by going around knocking off agricultural
> establishments.  Practicing their warrior skills, they hone their weapons
> and get good at using them.  OK cool.
> Now they happen upon the land of Canaan, send in spies, like what they see,
> arrange for their prophets to see visions and have God instruct them to go
> in there and take that place as their homeland.  That's how the trouble
> started, and it is still with us to this day.
> The whole story is found in Numbers chapter 13.
> Long story short: they invade, they win, they settle, they write about what
> happened.  We know that writing is a critically important technology, for it
> establishes continuity in any culture.  It also introduces new troubles:
> once written, writing doesn't change, even if culture does.

Actually, it does change. Redactions and mistakes occur and then there are outright losses (in other words, a text is lost as in doesn’t get preserved or copied and then might be forgotten). Plus the oral culture still continues and still has an influence on writing. 

> Be that as it may, this predator pack created some of our oldest surviving
> historical records.  So some of the earliest history we have in the west was
> written from the point of view of the predator/invader.  We don't have
> surviving records from the people who were there already when the invaders
> arrived with instructions from their god to take their land and the weapons
> to make it happen.

Again, it’s not the earliest writing, not the earliest history. And it’s not part of what’s considered the West. Ancient Israel and Canaan were part of the East. And the Hebrew literature is quite young by comparison with other writings — not the oldest and not even the oldest in the region. (Heck, that the Hebrew writing system is derived from the earlier Phoenician one should also give a strong hint that the ancient Hebrews weren’t doing the writing thing first even in their region!)

(In the West, to my knowledge, the oldest written records are in the as yet undeciphered Linear A in Crete — if calling this the West is acceptable. Later Mycenaean Linear B texts still predate Numbers by probably a thousand years. But these are definitely in the West and in an Indo-European language — Mycenaean Greek.)

> People making their living invading existing agricultural establishments
> will generally not develop art.  That would be too hard to transport while
> wandering about in the wilderness for 40 years.  They won't develop
> architecture since they will be moving on soon.  They will develop weapons
> and writing.  They develop writing because books are relatively easy to
> transport, and weapons because they need them to slay the infidel.
> Consequence: some of our earliest written history is from the point of view
> of the invader.
> Consequence: modern descendants of that warrior culture are to this day
> known for remarkable accomplishments in letters and weapons technology.
> This is the world according to spike.

Actually, modern archaeology seems to call into question the whole invasion narrative. The ancient Israelites seem to be actually a branch of the Canaanites rather than outside invaders. The later biblical writings seem to be along the lines of Virgil: a national origins myth that’s not a reliable guide to history. This shouldn’t be too surprising since the book in question was redacted in the post-Exilic period — sometime after 515 CE. Just like Virgil is a bad guide to the history of Troy, Carthage, and Rome, the Hebrew Bible isn’t much of a historical guide to the ancient Levant.


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