This is a compare and contrast between two different approaches regarding Abraham and Yahweh. This is the 3rd compare and contrast post that I’ve done. Be sure to check out my compare and contrast posts of John Piper (Romans 8:28) and allegorical interpretation (Genesis 1).
I first discovered Bernard on The Non-Sequitur Show and respect his novel interpretation, a rarity in a field dominated by tradition. I find him to be cordial, open-minded and graceful in his interactions with others. Ultimately, though, I disagree with his position. Bernard has invited others to critique his work, so I am taking him up on that invitation. However, my focus won’t be on disproving his theory (although I’ll make a few points about that), but rather comparing and contrasting it to my own theory derived from mirror-reading, which I feel offers a better explanation of the Biblical text in question.
This post won’t be a thorough presentation of his views, so if you want to know the details of his argument be sure to check out his website, or buy his book. I will only be quoting or briefly summarizing his positions just enough to contrast with my own. Having said that though, if Bernard feels I’ve misrepresented him here or would like to clarify something, I will certainly add it to this post.
This post will also be limited in scope. Bernard’s analysis covers Genesis 12-25, but mine will only include the Elohist’s Genesis 20-22, the Yahwist’s Genesis 13,18-19 and the Bridger's Genesis 14.
There are a few things that Bernard and I agree on however, and I will mention those things before I get into our differences.
We both are proposing novel ideas about the Bible, and there isn’t exactly a large market for that sort of thing. As Bernard explains:
We both seek to discover what was the original intent of the Biblical text. Bernard asks:
How can we steer towards the original intent rather than stray away from it?
Lamborelle, Bernard. The Covenant: On the Origin of the Abrahamic Faith, by Means of Deification (p. 51). Kindle Edition.
Our methods lead us to different conclusions, but we both share the same desire for original authorial intent.
Bernard argues that Abraham actually existed in history. I also believe that he existed in history (or, at least, the original readers thought he existed in history). Bernard believes this because historical and archaeological evidence allows for him to exist in the time-frame described in the Bible. I believe he existed because mirror-reading shows that the Biblical author assumed the original reader believed that there were descendants of Abraham (see Elohist: Abraham Cycle).
Now onto our differences:
Dissociative Exegesis vs Mirror-Reading
Bernard’s approach to the text is what he calls “dissociative exegesis”.
To help put things into perspective, it would now be useful to adopt the paradigm of an earthly covenant and revisit the Abrahamic narrative through the eyes of the inhabitants of Sodom. This is achieved by performing what I refer to as a dissociative exegesis, an exercise of textual analysis that invites you to assess the story of Abraham in the Bible while: 1) Identifying and dissociating the humanistic Yahweh from the immaterial Elohim. 2) Picturing Yahweh as a powerful Mesopotamian overlord (i.e., Baal Berith) in league with the four Eastern Kings.
Lamborelle, Bernard. The Covenant: On the Origin of the Abrahamic Faith, by Means of Deification (p. 67). Kindle Edition.
I, on the other hand, use a technique called “mirror-reading”. Mirror-reading is the process of mirroring the text in order to recreate the opposing narrative that the Biblical author was responding to. So, for example, if the Biblical writer says to do “x”, then the opposing narrative may have been saying not to do “x”. Of course, not all of the text should be mirrored, and I use causal connections to help determine my mirror-reading. If you’d like to learn more details, please check out my about page. It should be noted that most of the mirror-reading in this post is only a cursory mirror-reading. If you'd like to see mirror-readings with my methodology fully applied, check out those listed as such on this page.
Secular History or Political Propaganda?
Bernard believes that the text in question was secular history that was later theologized by later Biblical authors. Yahweh was a powerful human (Hammurabi is his leading candidate) who eventually became deified by later writers of the Bible.
I believe the text was political propaganda that was later theologized by readers of the Bible. That propaganda is still there in the text, but later readers, unfamiliar with the original political concerns, would force theological meaning into the text. Fortunately, mirror-reading can help us reconstruct what those original political concerns were. I’ve discerned many of those concerns in the Elohist Source and the Northern Book of Judges.
Dr. Steven DiMattei writes:
In the majority of cases, scribes wrote for a scribal guild or a monarch. As patrons of their kings, one of the responsibilities of the court scribe was to write political propaganda—that is literature that advertised, endorsed, and legitimated the king’s policies and even his ascension to the throne if need be.
This explains why Biblical authors include such terrible moral examples in their text. It is because they are not concerned with morality. The political agenda was primary. If Abraham has to lie, Samson has to sleep with prostitutes and genocide has to be committed against the Amorites, that was fine, as long as it supported the political agenda of the Biblical author. This also means the writers weren’t concerned about what actually happened in history and so, undercuts Bernard’s secular history view of the text.
2 Gods or 1 God + 1 Man?
Bernard believes Yahweh was a man, and that later scribes made him into God and used the term “Elohim”. This is a problem for Bernard because he needs the text to say “Yahweh” and not “Elohim” in certain places. This leads him to attack the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP Theory) first developed by Wellhausen.
Wellhausen’s theory centers around Genesis being written by different authors (sources) and spliced together to produce the finished product. As such, Elohim was God of northern Israel in the Elohist Source, and Yahweh was the God of Southern Israel in the Yahwist Source. When the sources were mixed together, the God’s identities became combined. Bernard argues that the Documentary Hypothesis is now seriously contested because it has been proven incomplete and flawed.
Exploring a different hypothesis is therefore in line with the current post-Documentary trend, which, as seen earlier, suggests that the unification of the two terms does not result from the assembly of separate sources, as presupposed by Wellhausen, but is instead the result of a slow cultural evolution. The gradual amalgamation of the terms Yahweh and Elohim would eventually take place in the minds of the Hebrews as they sought to merge two powerful figures into a single entity.
Lamborelle, Bernard. The Covenant: On the Origin of the Abrahamic Faith, by Means of Deification (p. 50). Kindle Edition.
This “gradual amalgamation” of the terms “Yahweh” and “Elohim” allows Bernard to switch out Elohim for Yahweh wherever it suits his needs based on later scribal error or bias.
I disagree and believe the Documentary Hypothesis has evolved since Wellhausen and seems to be alive and well today. To assign all Elohim references to the Elohist source and all Yahweh references to the Yahwist source is an oversimplification and a misrepresentation of the current Documentary Hypothesis. Although I agree that the classical Documentary Hypothesis should be rejected, I believe the Supplementary Hypothesis is the correct approach, specifically as developed by Tzemah Yoreh at biblecriticism.com. This hypothesis says that there were separate sources, but instead of being spliced together, each author built upon the previous author. This allows the Yahwist and other sources to use the name Elohim when they see fit. When we add political propaganda to the mix, we see that the Biblical authors were taking the already accepted text of the previous author and spinning it with their own additions to support their political agenda.
In the case of the names Elohim and Yahweh, this is also the case. The Elohist is the earliest of the sources and thus, is not concerned at all with Yahweh. The Yahwist however, is building on the text of the Elohist and spinning it to his political propaganda: Combining the identities of Northern Israel and Southern Judea. This strategy is first seen in the Northern Book of Judges (developed independently of the Elohist text), when it’s author (N) uses parallel descriptions, one with Elohim and one with Yahweh, in an effort to equate the two names as one, in order to produce a unified national identity. As a side note, “Elohim” may have just been a generic name for “God”. The Elohist source seems to be concerned with making sure the Israelites worshiped the “Elohim” of the land of Canaan and not the “Elohim” of some other land.
So, although I agree we should avoid an Elohim/Yahweh false dichotomy of sources, I believe the Supplementary Hypothesis and mirror-reading provide the best explanation of the Biblical text. When I’ve mirror-read the sources as attributed by Tzemah, each source has shown that they address the political concerns that were prevalent at the time that they were written.
Babylonian King or Edomite God?
Bernard argues that Yahweh was originally king Hammurabi. So that would make his origins from Babylon. But that’s not what the Biblical writers seem to be responding to. A number of Biblical passages seem to indicate that the origins of Yahweh was from Edom.
The absence of the name ‘Yahweh’ in West Semitic epigraphy (except for the Mesha Stela) agrees well with the biblical evidence on Yahweh’s origins. A number of poetic - and presumably archaic - texts have preserved the memory of a topographical link between Yahweh and the mountain area south of Eom. In these theophany texts Yahweh is said to come from Seir, from ‘the field(s) of Edom’ (Judges 5:4;note the correction in Psalm 68:8). According to the Blessing of Moses Yahweh comes from Sinai, ‘dawns from Seir’, and ‘shines forth’ from Mount Paran (Deuteronomy 33:2). Elsewhere he is said to come from Teman and Mount Paran (Habakkuk 3:3). The reference to ‘Yahweh of Teman’ in one of the Kuntillet Ajrud inscriptions is an extra-biblical confirmation of the topographical connection. All of these place - Seir, Mt Paran, Teman, and Sinai - are in or near Edom.
Karel van der Toorn, Family Religion in Babylonia, Syria & Israel pg 282
Toorn lumps Sinai in with Edom, but I disagree since Elohim from Sinai was already established in the Moses Cycle of the Elohist source, but that it had more to do with accusations that Moses was a Midianite than it did with the God of Israel having Midianite origins. In the Deborah/Barak/Jael Cycle, N attempts to equate Yahweh with the Elohist’s God of Sinai. It’s important to note that N was not saying that Yahweh was from Edom, only that he was responding to accusations that He was. Which raises the question, if Yahweh was from Babylon, why are Biblical authors responding to accusations that Yahweh was from Edom? If Yahweh was a man, he was a man from Edom.
Son of Hammurabi or Son of Abimelech (Genesis 20-22)?
Bernard argues that Isaac was the son of Yahweh, who was a man (most likely Hammurabi). This is because Hammurabi had made a covenant with Abraham, and an heir was needed to continue it. Abraham could not produce a child with Sarah (because she was his half-sister), and Ishmael was not acceptable because of his Egyptian bloodline. So Hammurabi steps in and impregnates Sarah himself.
I see a couple of issues with that argument. One, the text says Sarah could not conceive because she was past menopause. It wouldn’t of mattered what man tried to impregnate her, she was out of eggs. Second, this would be a highly unusual strategy to solidify an alliance. The typical way to do so would have been for Hammurabi to offer one of his daughters for Abraham to take as another wife. In an honor/shame culture, having another man impregnate his wife would have been devastating to Abraham’s honor and a great humiliation. Furthermore, any future potential allies would have been reluctant to enter into any kind of agreement with Hammurabi upon hearing of how he solved the issue with Abraham. Finally, this would have been against Hammurabi’s very own law code as Bernard points out in his book when talking about Abimelech:
Incidentally, Hammurabi’s code of law prohibits a man from sleeping with another man’s wife, a crime one would think would be especially reprehensible if committed with the wife of his representative: § 129. If a man's wife be surprised (in flagrante delicto) with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves.
Lamborelle, Bernard. The Covenant: On the Origin of the Abrahamic Faith, by Means of Deification (p. 290). Kindle Edition.
Regardless, I think mirror-reading provides a better explanation for the text. For this section, I’ll only be mirror-reading the Elohist Source in order to understand its original purpose. You can view the source material I used here.
The opposing narrative said that Isaac was the son of Abimelech because he had been with Sarah, and Sarah couldn’t have been Abraham’s wife because she was his sister. And although Abraham had taken custody of Isaac later in life, he had sacrificed Isaac. So Abraham’s inheritance should not go to anyone claiming to be Isaac’s descendants but instead should go to Abraham’s other son(s).
If that is true, then we would expect the Elohist to counter those ideas in his narrative. He does this in a few different ways:
Isaac was Abraham’s son
Isaac is repeatedly referred to as Abraham’s son throughout the narrative. Also, Abraham and Isaac repeatedly refer to each other as father and son in dialogue. The Elohist repeatedly mentions that Sarah is Abraham’s wife and provides an alternative explanation as to why it was thought Sarah was his sister: Abraham only said that because he was afraid. Sarah is repeatedly described as bearing Isaac to Abraham.
Abraham only had one son
Elohim declares that Isaac is Abraham’s only son. Hagar’s son is one possible candidate for being Abraham’s son but is disregarded by the Elohist and cut out from Abraham’s inheritance. Referring to Hagar as a “slave woman” further de-legitimizes Hagar’s son as a potential heir.
Although speculative, the two young men, who accompanied Abraham and Isaac en-route to the sacrifice of Isaac, could have also been argued to be Abraham’s sons. This could also be the reason why they are anonymous, since naming them would have given their descendants an excuse to claim Abraham's inheritance.
Make the sacrifice of Isaac ambiguous
Isaac carrying the wood and the knife himself would bolster the idea that there were no witnesses to what transpired, since the two young men would not be needed to carry the items. This is the Elohist’s way of questioning the two young men’s testimony. They never actually saw Isaac being sacrificed.
The Elohist writing Isaac back to life is not the only time a Biblical writer implements this strategy. The Elohist will do it again with Joseph to integrate Ephraim and Manasseh into the Israelite family, and the Yahwist will do it with Lot to cut out any common ancestors with the Israelites. .
Land Covenant with Hammurabi or Land Dispute with the Moabites and Ammonites? (Genesis 13,18-19)
Bernard argues that Sodom and the other cities were destroyed because they rebelled against the man, Yahweh (again, Hammurabi). The supernatural destruction is really about a military conquest.
Again, I think mirror-reading provides a better explanation. For this section, I’ll only be mirror-reading the Yahwist in order to understand its original purpose. You can view the source material I used here.
The Elohist source does not include the tribes of Southern Israel as part of the Abrahamic tradition. In an attempt to unify the southern and northern tribes of the Israel, the Yahwist attempts to write the southern tribes into the tradition. The story of Sodom is part of that strategy.
The narrative that was opposing the Yahwist was saying that the southern tribes and land were part of the Moabite and Ammonite tribes. That was because they shared a common ancestor that was a descendant of Lot, who lived in Sodom and had died during its destruction.
If that is true, then we would expect the Yahwist to counter those ideas in his narrative. He does this in a few different ways:
Remove Common Ancestors of Southern Israel, the Moabites and the Ammonites
The Yahwist does this by cutting out any common ancestors that may have descended from Lot. This is done by limiting Lot’s children. The Yahwist only gives him two daughters. The angels/messengers highlight this:
- "Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city--bring them out of the place."
Even if Lot had other children, his two daughters were the only ones to survive the destruction of Sodom.
Second, the Yahwist needed to prevent Lot from having anymore children. He does this by turning his wife into a pillar of salt, and then making Lot a hermit who lives in a cave with no or very little outside contact.
Third, the Yahwist needed to make Lot survive the destruction of Sodom. You can see a few instances where the Yahwist is countering the idea that Lot had died:
- "they brought him out and left him outside the city."
- “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed.”
- "you have shown me great kindness in saving my life;"
- "for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die."
- "and my life will be saved!”
The Yahwist makes it so that Lot is in Sodom but escapes with his life. But the Yahwist’s critics would ask, “If Lot had survived Sodom, why is there no record of him after it’s destruction”? Again, the hermit/living in a cave aspect serves another purpose here by also explaining why no one heard of Lot after the destruction of Sodom.
Fourth, Lot’s daughters needed to be made virgins so that no common ancestors could come from them.
- "Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man;"
In addition to explicitly stating they are virgins, the fact that Lot is able to offer his daughters shows that they are not married and still the “property” of Lot.
However, the Yahwist also had to deal with the common held belief that Lot had son-in-laws. He does this by making them not yet married to his daughters and then killing them in Sodom’s destruction:
- "So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up, get out of this place; But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting."
Now with Lot and his daughters secluded in a cave, the Yahwist is free to cut out any common ancestors with the Israelites, and make Lot the direct father of the Moabites and Ammonites by telling of their incestuous relationship. (This same type of strategy will be used by a later source when he makes Sarah Abraham’s half-sister, thereby cutting out those who would have been part of her maternal family.)
However, the Yahwist wants to keep a cordial relationship with the Moabites and Ammonites and will still keep a family tie between them and Israel by making Abraham and Lot brothers. Later sources will further the relational distance by making Lot the nephew of Abraham.
In addition, the Yahwist will make both Abraham and Lot servants of Yahweh in order to further the bond and promote Yahweh as Israel’s God.
Separating Abraham and Lot
With Abraham and Lot as direct relatives, the Yahwist needs to separate them so that there is no confusion about who the land and people in Southern Israel belong to.
First, since the Abrahamic tradition originates in the north, the Yahwist needs to get Abraham into the South. He does this first by migrating Abraham from the north to Egypt and back again, then by moving him to Hebron. Notice that the Yahwist points out that Lot is with Abraham:
- "and Lot with him,"
- "Now Lot, who went with Abram,"
After getting Lot and Abraham together in the south, the Yahwist makes a clear but cordial break between the two. This is done by Abraham giving Lot the choice of land. Lot takes the plain of the Jordan and Abraham takes Canaan.
- "thus they separated from each other."
Critics of the Yahwist would ask, “Why would Lot choose the plain of the Jordan when Canaan was the better land?”. This is countered by saying that, before the destruction of Sodom, “the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt”.
After their separation, Yahweh then gives his promise of the land of Canaan. Notice:
- "The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him,"
Then the promise:
- "Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northwards and southwards and eastwards and westwards; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever."
- "Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you."
Furthermore, the Yahwist will shift Sodom from being Lot’s central location to a border location between Abraham and Lot. He does this by making Lot an alien in Sodom and saying Lot’s tent had only gone as far as the city:
- "This fellow came here as an alien"
- "Lot settled among the cities of the Plain and moved his tent as far as Sodom."
The Yahwist responds to critics who might have claimed that the descendants of Abraham weren’t that many and couldn’t possibly include the southern tribes, by saying that Yahweh would bless Abraham with many descendants:
- "seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?"
- "I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted."
Where was Abraham?
The opposing narrative was saying that the destruction of Sodom was not caused by Yahweh. Unfortunately, the text doesn’t appear to give us any hints as to who the opposing narrative said did destroy Sodom, although we may have an answer in Gen. 14 as I will discuss in the next section. Regardless, if Abraham and Lot were brothers, why didn’t Abraham help Lot during the destruction of Sodom? The Yahwist responds to this criticism by shifting the cause of Sodom’s destruction to Yahweh.
- "and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.”
- "for the LORD is about to destroy the city.”
- "Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire"
- "from the LORD out of heaven;"
Abraham cannot interfere because his God is the one doing the destruction. However, the Yahwist does have Abraham petition Yahweh for leniency. This serves two purposes: one, it shows Abraham did something to try to help Lot. Two, it helps the Yahwist counter the idea that Yahweh is an unrighteous and unmerciful God. There are a number of instances where the Yahwist attempts to show Yahweh as righteous, merciful and to justify His acts of violence.
- "by doing righteousness and justice;"
- "Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?"
- "Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD."
- "Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin!
- "But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly."
- "13 For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD"
- "the LORD being merciful to him"
Furthermore, this issue seems to be a concern throughout the Yahwist Source:
- "The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually."
- "Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation."
- "Now Abimelech had not approached her; so he said, "Lord, will you destroy an innocent people?"
- "Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people."
- See also Numbers 14:15-18
Shifting the time of Isaac’s birth
The Yahwist shifts the time of Isaac’s birth until after the destruction of Sodom, presumably to ensure no ancestral connections between Isaac and Lot’s daughters. In order to do this, he has to show that Sarah was still alive, and that she could have a child in her old age.
- [Abraham] and his wife [went up from Egypt]
The Yahwist anticipates his critics asking, “If Sarah was alive, why didn’t anyone see her?”. The Yahwist counters this by saying that she was in the tent.
- "Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah,"
- “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.”
- "Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him"
Where was Abraham….Again? (Genesis 14)
Bernard argues that in Genesis 14, Abraham fights and defeats the four Eastern Kings, one of them being the man, Yahweh (who is ultimately Hammurabi). When Abraham raises his hand in v.22, Bernard takes it to mean raising his hand against Yahweh and not raising it as part of an oath.
Tzemah Yoreh takes Genesis 14 to be a source later than the Yahwist, one he refers to as “The Bridger”. You can view the source material I used here. Genesis 14 seems to be dealing with a seperate Sodom tradition, one where kings of the east destroy Sodom and not Yahweh. Regardless of who destroyed Sodom, the Biblical writer needs to write Abraham into the account. I’ve already discussed how the Yahwist writes Abraham into his account. Now I will show how the Bridger writes Abraham into his account in Genesis 14.
The Bridger needs to prove that Abraham was part of the original Sodom story even though the original Sodom story didn’t include Abraham. This is similar to when “N” needed to show that Ehud assassinated King Eglon, even though there was no evidence of it.
The Bridger will do this by tacking Abraham onto the end of the Sodom story. Abraham will defeat the kings of the east after the Battle of Siddim. Again, Lot is made to be alive by being taken prisoner. In this account, Abraham does do something to help Lot, and he is rescued. The Bridger also shifts the battle from Sodom to the Valley of Siddim. The odd detail of some falling into tar pits may be the spinning by the Bridger of the conquered Sodomites being thrown into the tar pits by the victors.
The Bridger also anticipates his critics asking, “If Abraham defeated the kings of the east, why do we not hear of Abraham taking the spoils of the battle?”. The Bridger responds by having Abraham returning everything to the king of Sodom and refusing any of the spoil except for his allies.
- I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, “I have made Abram rich.”
If Abraham had “lifted his hand” against Yahweh, the words that follow it, make less sense. “ That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine…” - those words are part of an oath and make more sense if Abraham was raising his hand in that regard.
Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20)
Since such a small amount of text deals with Melchizedek, it is difficult to mirror-read. I can only make a few broad points.
Bernard’s theory has Melchizedek giving the tithe to Abraham. Although that interpretation may be possible, it would be unusual. People usually gave tithes to priests, and priests would give a blessing. To turn the tithe around would be going against the grain. Furthermore, Abraham says that he wouldn’t accept anything from the King of Sodom, so it wouldn’t make sense for Abraham to receive a tithe from all, if “all” included the King of Sodom.
Remember, the Biblical writer is not concerned about what actually happened in history but how his writing would affect his readers. So we must ask, what does this have to with the descendants of Abraham and the descendants of Melchizedek? This is difficult to answer since we’re not sure who the descendants of Melchizedek were. However, it does seem to promote the idea that it was okay for the descendants of Abraham to give tithes to the descendants of Melchizedek. There are some interesting connections with the Zadokite priesthood that could be at play here. I won’t go into detail about that in this post, but simply point you to the wikipedia page as a starting point for those who might want to look into that possibility.
Additionally, the strategy being employed by using the name Yahweh here is to equate it with El Elyon. This is the same strategy used throughout the Northern Book of Judges to equate Yahweh with Elohim.