Q&A: If the Bible were set in the forests of ancient Europe, how would the stories be different?

If the Bible were set in a purely desert environment (as it is usually depicted in Western films), it would not likely not have produced stories that Europeans could relate to. But it wasn’t. The landscapes of the Galilee and the Judea-Samaria mountain range west of the watershed were (and are) very similar to those found in southern Europe (Greece, Italy, and Spain).

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Q&A: Was Moses the inventor of the first alphabet?

No.

For starters, there is no historical evidence for the existence of Moses as a historical figure—i.e., a Hebrew raised as an Egyptian prince who flees into exile then returns to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt.

Secondly, the Exodus story is most likely an embellishment of the forced exodus of a quarter of a million Canaanites from northern Egypt at the end of the Middle Kingdom period in 1550 BCE, which marks the beginning of the New Kingdom period. Even if they had a charismatic leader who might serve as the basis for Moses, casual but clearly assured graffiti inscriptions in a well-defined Canaanite/Old Hebrew script on statues in the western Sinai at that time support the evidence of Canaanites indicate that by this time, even ordinary folk (probably teenage boys, or young men) were literate in that script—which indicates that the script was invented a considerable time before that.

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Why does God in the Bible at first harden the heart of the pharaoh and then punishes him for not letting Jews go?  

[A2A] Because He was putting on a show, to demonstrate to the Hebrews* and other nations that He is the greatest—nay, the only—God.

This was, if you like, God’s comeback performance (His first since the Flood), so he was intent on making a big impression. And what greater impression could there be than to beat up and humiliate the most powerful kingdom in the known world at that time?

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Q: Was the golden calf of the Bible not Israelite at all, but actually the Egyptian Apis or Hathor?

It was definitely not Hat’ḥor , for the simple reason that a number of statues of Hat’ḥor at the turquoise mining site now known as Serabit el-Khadim were defaced with Hebrew graffiti—not something that worshippers would do:

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The Egyptian goddess Hatḥor (a.k.a. Astarte) at Serabit-el-Khadim in the western Sinai Desert

This occurred at a time corresponding to the expulsion of Canaanites and other western Asians from Egypt by the founders of the New Kingdom around 1550 BCE—which is the most likely inspiration of the Exodus legend.

The most famous of these inscriptions (above), says, in the Paleo-Hebrew script (upside down—i.e. inscribed by someone sitting on top), Mat[tat] le-Ba’alat = ‘A gift for the goddess’—a sarcastic reference to something undoubtedly unspeakable that they left on the statue, as further desecration.

Baalat means ‘Mrs. Baal’—in recognition of the fact that the goddess Hatḥor was in fact the Egyptian incarnation of the Canaanite goddess Astarte (a.k.a. Ashera, Ishtar, etc.), who was the wife of Baal, the chief Canaanite god.

Since the inscription is in Canaanite, and the Hatḥor/Astarte was worshipped by all Canaanites except the Israelites in their new, Moses-led religion that we now know as Judaism, it follows that the vandals in this case must have been Israelites. The casual, slipshod manner of the inscription (upside down, and not on a straight line) suggests that it was made by young hooligans, as well, not at an official desecration ceremony—likely with the encouragement of Moses himself or one of his priests.

As for the ‘golden calf’, this was more likely not a calf, but a bull, representing not Hatḥor, but Baal himself (the Bible’s reference to it as a ‘calf’ was the attempt by the biblical compilers and editors to denigrate it, and to obscure the fact that the incident was a case of Baal-worship). It happened because when Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the Commandments and failed to return after one, two, three, four, five weeks and counting (he returned only after 40 days), the Israelites quite naturally got cold feet and fell back on their ancestral religion.

Long after Moses’ return, however, and the resettlement of Canaan, worship of Baal (and of Astarte) remained a deeply entrenched and persistent feature in Israelite religion and tradition—not least because all other Canaanites continued to worship him—so much so, that even centuries after the Exodus, in the late First Temple period (ca. 950–585 BCE), Judean and Israelite prophets and righteous kings still struggled to root it out.

Amazing what one can tell from a simple graffiti inscription, isn’t it?

Q: Why was almost all the knowledge of Ancient Egypt lost until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone? Did the Romans or Greeks write nothing about it?

hieroglyphics

Ancient Egyptian paid the price of being over-exclusive. Since the skill of writing (and reading) hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic writing was jealously guarded by a small, exclusive caste of scribes, once the Alexandrian and Roman conquests undermined the old Pharaonic regime and made Greek the new language and culture of the elite, that skill became largely redundant, and died out with the scribes.

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Why do Greek, Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, etc. have names for their letters like alpha, beta, lamda?

The names of the Hebrew/Phoenician alphabet were given by the ingenious Canaanite slave(s) who first invented them some time in the 1900s BCE, possibly in Wadi El-Hol in Egypt:

wadi_el_hol-inscription-over
Detail of an inscription on a rock face in Wadi El-Hol, Egypt (near the Valley of the Kings)

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