From Gods to God


From Gods to God

How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths and Legends

Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch
Translated by Valerie Zakovitch

320 pages
6 tables, 1 glossary, index


December 2012


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eBook (PDF)
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December 2012


$27.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

The ancient Israelites believed things that the writers of the Bible wanted them to forget: myths and legends from a pre-biblical world that the new monotheist order needed to bury, hide, or reinterpret.
Ancient Israel was rich in such literary traditions before the Bible reached the final form that we have today. These traditions were not lost but continued, passed down through the ages. Many managed to reach us in post-biblical sources: rabbinic literature, Jewish Hellenistic writings, the writings of the Dead Sea sect, the Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and other ancient translations of the Bible, and even outside the ancient Jewish world in Christian and Islamic texts. The Bible itself sometimes alludes to these traditions, often in surprising contexts.
Written in clear and accessible language, this volume presents thirty such traditions. It voyages behind the veil of the written Bible to reconstruct what was told and retold among the ancient Israelites, even if it is “not what the Bible tells us.”

Author Bio

Avigdor Shinan is the Yitzhak Becker Professor of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous books in Hebrew on rabbinic literature, Jewish liturgy, and the Aramaic translations of the Bible.
Yair Zakovitch is the Emeritus Father Takeji Otsuki Professor of Bible Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a professor of Jewish Peoplehood at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya. He is the author of numerous books in Hebrew on biblical literature and ancient interpretation of the Bible.
Valerie Zakovitch is a translator and editor of works in Jewish studies and the humanities.



“Shinan and Zakovitch approach 30 specific Bible stories (e.g., Was Goliath really slain by a young boy named David?) as literary archaeologists. . . . Their thoughtful and sympathetic exegesis uncovers possible explanations why the biblical authors saw their interpretations of these stories as best suited to instruct a nation. Most important, they introduce the oral and literary traditions of ancient Israel with breathtaking clarity and ease.”—Christopher McConnell, Booklist

“A meticulously researched primer on the Hebrew Bible’s role as part of an evolving theological and political discourse. . . . Shinan and Zakovitch paint a richly nuanced portrait of the biblical literature as an interlocutor in the debates of its day. . . . An illuminating, challenging look at the original significance of many of the Bible’s stories.”—Kirkus

"This was a well researched book and shares some strong arguments on how we have come to be where we are today."—Christopher Lewis, Dad of Divas’ Reviews

"This book is wonderful, not just for its scholarship or for its many fascinating themes, but also because it is, simply, a joy to read."—Bob Rickard, Fortean Times

"Readers interested in the legends of ancient Israelites or examining the possibilities of the biblical text from a different viewpoint will enjoy exploring the lessons of From Gods to God."—Rabbi Rachel Esserman, Reporter

"This book will open readers' eyes to a whole new way of reading our sacred texts. It could forever change the way its readers will approach the subject. The term "must read" may be overused, but I believe it is appropriate in describing this book."—Stuart Lewis, Jewish Chronicle

Table of Contents

Translator's Note

Introduction: When God Fought the Sea DragonsPart 1. The World of Myth
1. Eden's Winged Serpent
2. When Gods Seduced Women
3. Moses or God? Who Split the Sea of Reeds?
4. What Is Manna?
5. The Hero Who Stopped the Sun

Part 2. Cult and Sacred Geography
6. The Wandering Gate of Heaven
7. Seeing and Weeping: Managing the Story of a Divine Defeat
8. Where Were Rachel and Jacob Buried?
9. Where in the Wilderness Did Israel Receive the Torah?
10. Some More Reasons for Eating Matzah
11. Was Worshiping the Golden Calf a Sin?
12. Where Was the Law Given? In the Wilderness or in the Land of Israel?
13. When and How Was the City of Dan Sanctified?

Part 3. Biblical Heroes and Their Biographies
14. What Did Ham Do to His Father?
15. Out of the Fire: Recovering the Story of Abraham's Origins
16. The Reinterpretation of a Name: Jacob's In Utero Activities
17. Were the Israelites Never in Egypt? A Peculiar Tradition about Ephraim
18. Moses's Most Miraculous Birth
19. Moses's African Romance
20. Moses's Necessary Death
21. Son of God? The Suspicious Story of Samson's Birth
22. A Cinderella Tale: Clues to David's Lost Birth Story
23. Finding the Real Killer of Goliath
24. How a Savior Became a Villain: Jeroboam and the Exodus

Part 4. Relations between Men and Women
25. Sister or Not: Sarah's Adventures with Pharaoh
26. The Story of Rebekah and the Servant on the Road from Haran
27. Reuben, Bilhah, and a Silent Jacob
28. Seduction before Murder: The Case of Jael
29. No Innocent Death: David, Abigail, and Nabal
30. Not Just Riddles: Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
In Closing

Glossary of Extra-Biblical Sources

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