A request re: Tubal-cain, the Iron Age and transparent aluminum

So the other day I tripped over Tubal-cain and wound up wishing I’d paid more attention in my biblical studies classes and/or done more of the reading for my history classes.

Let me explain where this is going, then ask for your help in pointing me toward where I might learn more to sort this out.

The story of Tubal-cain is a bit obscure. It’s a one-liner tucked in amongst the “begats” of Genesis 4. The biblical begats — long genealogical lists — don’t make for compelling reading, and this section is even less compelling than most such lists, since it traces the children and grandchildren of Cain. It’s difficult to get too caught up in the details of these people since we know that they’re all about to drown in the flood a couple of pages later.

Like everything else in the book of Genesis — particularly in these first 11 chapters — this passage intends to tell us how and why everything got started. These chapters are overflowing with origin stories — just-so-stories of how the snake lost its legs, how the rose got its thorns, or of where rainbows or giants came from. Hidden here amongst the begats of Cain are three more mini origin stories, succinct little tales of the origins of nomadic herders, musicians and metalworkers.*

Those three things, we’re told, were innovations introduced by the firm of Lamech & Sons, a family that seems to have been the Bell Labs of prehistory:

Lamech took two wives; the name of one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.

What tripped me up here was Tubal-cain and the assertion there in Genesis 4:22 that he was the inventor of “all kinds of bronze and iron tools.”

One of the gaps between seminary grads and so-called “traditionalists” involves the question of who wrote the books of the Pentateuch and, more importantly, when they were written. The traditional folklore holds that Moses wrote the books of Moses — you know, just like Father Brown wrote the Father Brown mysteries. That’s not what most biblical scholars think. Those scholars — boo! hiss! liberal intellectuals! — believe these books were written much, much later.

And that brings us to what I don’t know here. The story of Tubal-cain certainly seems like it ought to be a part of this conversation about when the book of Genesis was written.

Here is a one-verse origin story about the invention of iron tools. It makes sense, then, to assume that this story was written some time after such tools were invented, which is to say this story could not have been written before the Iron Age.

We generally do not bother telling origin stories for things that haven’t yet originated. We couldn’t even if we wanted to. So attributing the story of Tubal-cain to an early Bronze Age author seems doubly anachronistic. In that framework, Genesis 4:22 might as well read, “Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made iPhones and transparent aluminum.”

So here is my request. As Ta-Nehisi Coates often says to his readers, “Talk to me like I’m stupid.” I’m hoping some of you can point me in a good direction for clarifying two things:

1. Does anyone know of a good discussion of the authorship of Genesis that addresses this story of Tubal-cain? Or, more broadly, of a helpful book or article exploring metallurgy in the Bible and what it can suggest to us about the dating of these books? (I’m thinking also of things like Sisera’s iron chariots in the book of Judges.)

2. The “Iron Age” seems like an extremely flexible span of history, covering a very long period and a very different period for different cultures. Any attempt to pin down the historical context of the Moses story will locate it squarely in the Bronze Age, but the pertinent question here would be whether such a Moses figure could have known of “all kinds of iron tools.” For example, Ramesses II battled the Hittites, and they seem to have been precocious early adapters of iron tools. So if we posit an Egyptian prince circa 1200 BCE or circa 1446 BCE, would it make sense for such a man to speak of “all kinds of iron tools”?

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* This trio of mini-origin stories is pretty clearly out of place. They don’t work here where the authors/editors of Genesis have put them. The inventions of the sons of Lamech were all features of life for those reading and hearing the stories of the book of Genesis — which is to say they all remained features of life after the flood. The logic of the narrative of Genesis 1-11 does not allow us to accept Jabal as “the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock,” because that narrative does not allow Jabal to have any descendants at all. Oops.

My guess is that these references to Jabal and Jubal and Tubal-cain aren’t so much miniature stories here as they are allusions to other stories that the original authors/editors expected their audience to be familiar with and only needed to name-check here. I think it’s similar to if I wrote something like: “The Galveston seawall was the most ambitious public works project in southern Texas since Pecos Bill lassoed that tornado.” I’m not telling the story of Pecos Bill there, merely referring to it with the expectation that readers will know the full story. But again, that’s just my guess.

Oh, and if you don’t know the story of the Galveston seawall, then go read it now. It’s more audacious and astounding than any tall-tale involving Pecos Bill and it really happened.

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  • friendly reader

    I actually just randomly posted on my FB about how sick I am of people, when they want to criticize the Bible, referring to it as “Bronze Age (fill in the blank).” It’s Iron Age, guys. This is basic scholarship. Don’t buy into the fundamentalist idea that the Bible was written by the characters in it.

  • This is the first I have heard of this, though it now makes a NewsRadio episode make more sense.  

  • EnopoletusHarding

    Meteoritic iron was used to a small extent in the Middle and Late Bronze ages in Egypt and Palestine, but there was no significant use of iron tools in Palestine until the late 12th to early 9th C’s BC. The Hittites did use some iron in the LBA if I remember correctly. So, no, I don’t think a Late Bronze author of Gen 4 is anything close to likely. Besides, there are better indicators of the date of the composition of a text than merely technologies (look, for example, at Gen 4’s Mesopotamian context).

  • walden

    But isn’t Moses (as traditionally dated) within the “iron age”? 

    Iliad (as we have it) has both bronze and iron, but the weapons are all bronze — the iron is a rare and valuable curiosity.   (I think first prize in one of the athletic contests is a hunk of iron….third prize is various captive daughters of kings)

  • Fred: I recall reading a midrash that Naamah was Noah’s wife, and thus the line of Cain didn’t perish in the flood. All humans are therefor descended from both Seth and Cain, and this is way, in the words of the song, “there is good and bad in everyone.”

    EnopoletusHarding: Meteors are of course the reason why the Ancient Egyptian word for iron is bỉɜ-n-p.t “sky metal.” This name survives all the way into Coptic, long after ironworking became terrestrial technology.

    walden: The weapons are bronze in the Iliad, yes, but the farm equipment is iron! One book I read (can’t recall which) pointed out that this is a situation that doesn’t occur in nature, so to speak: normally swords are converted to iron before plowshares are.

  • EnopoletusHarding

     Moses is dated by the fundamentalists to the late 15th C BC (LB IB) and by the conservatives to the mid-13th (LB IIB). That’s well before the widespread use of iron in Canaan.

  • Jessica_R

    In that case I’m going to spin a wonderful story in my head that Naamah was as bright as blacksmith as her brother and she reintroduced metallurgy into the world after the flood. 

  • The idea of the “Iron Age” in and of itself is complex.  Think about it like baseball.  We have what we call the “modern age” of baseball, which starts around the turn of the 20th Century.  From that point we more or less have baseball as we recognize it today, with leagues and World Series Championships and all that jazz.  We tend to separate records and players in to modern baseball and, for lack of a better term, pre-modern baseball.  That does not mean, however, that before 1903 there was no baseball anywhere.  There was, in fact,  a World Series stretching back to the 1880s or so and there were a bunch of teams that exist now that existed back then (the Chicago Cubs — known as the White Stockings but with no relation to the current White Sox, the New York [San Francisco] baseball Giants, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Cincinnati Reds, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Boston Red Stockings, who are now the Atlanta Braves, etc).

    The older teams were generally barnstormers, who spent as much time traveling around and playing exhibition games for cash against anybody who happened to show up as they did playing against actual league teams.  There were leagues, but they didn’t have the structure that we know and love now.  What changed was when the American League was founded in 1900.  We’ve called it the modern era of baseball since they had the first championship competition between the AL and the NL in 1904.

    That, again, doesn’t mean there was no baseball before 1904.  That also doesn’t mean that they stopped having barnstorming exhibition teams after 1904.  There are, in fact, still exhibition games played today, generally between a team and international competition or a team and its top farm system prospects.  The primary change, though, is that we have recognized a systemic way of doing things in major league baseball since 1904 that we did not recognize before that.

    The Bronze Age and Iron Age are similar.  There were iron tools and weapons in the Bronze Age.  There were still bronze tools and weapons in the Iron Age.  The Iron Age also happened at different times in different areas (Anatolia and the ANE were first, with Europe and the Indus River Valley following close behind, China several centuries later, and then Korea, Japan, and the other Asian periphery lands a few hundred years after that).  That progression makes sense, as the Iron Age reflects three things: access to raw materials, civilization centralization/specialization, and what I would call a desire or need, for lack of a better term.

    Iron, basically, requires a lot more work to smelt and form than bronze.  You need hotter furnaces and better smiths.  So it takes more work, but gets a better outcome than the softer bronze tools.  Only a civilization that’s developing specialization can have enough iron workers to make widespread iron weapons and tools a reality.

    It therefore makes perfect sense that the Egyptians and the Hittites would have been the first large-scale adopters of iron weapons and tools, at least in Anatolia and the ANE.  The Egyptians were in a primo location and the Hittites were extremely expansionistic, whilst hanging out on the edges of Mesopotamia, which was a place overrun by one guy after another.

    As with any technology, though, the first to make widespread use of iron weren’t necessarily the first to use iron.  And the poorer or less centralized tribes around and between the Hittites and the Egyptians didn’t necessarily get iron at the same time.  They would have wanted to hang on to their competitive advantage, after all.

    So…yeah.  Hope that helps.

  • AnonymousSam

    Exodus has God giving a commandment to celebrate the completion of the Torah.

  • Guitars are kind of like lyres, right?

  • I love it!

  • christopher_young

     Specifically like a type of lyre called a Kithara, which is where the word “guitar” comes from.

  • I don’t have an answer to the actual question here, though I’m interested in the wisdom of the commentariat on the issue.

    That said, I can’t see how someone who believes that Moses invoked the spirit of the creator of the universe to split the Red Sea, swallow up his political opponents into the earth, and more generally perform a variety of miraculous acts, would balk at the idea that he could also have anachronistic knowledge of iron tools.

  • ReverendRef

    I’m not sure if this helps you or not . . .

    I found an interesting post on Tubal-cain with a Freemasonry framework:   http://antinewworldorder.blogspot.com/2009/04/tubal-cain.html

    I also found an interesting etymology post here:  http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Jabal.html#.T_MmuPWvPBE

    And Walter Brueggemann talks about this in his Genesis commentary.  He says that this is the first references to the arts as legitimate and recognized enterprises. 

    Nothing should be deduced from this about the actual history of culture.  But as the story stands, the appearance of art in human history is linked to the vitality of the murderer (this being the genealogy of Cain, exiled for murder but blessed with life and family).  The names Jabal, Jubal & Tubal-cain are all derivative from “yabal,” meaning “productive.” 

    A link may be suggested between the relation between “desire” and arts and city, or between desire and culture.  [Referring to Freud] He has seen that on the one hand there would be no culture without desire.  On the other hand, there will be no culture unless desire is channeled and controlled.  Thus behind the arts and city of verses 17, 21-22 is the desire of verse 7.  Perhaps the narrative suggests that the family of Cain has now begun to “master.”

    Taken all together, Gen. 4 is a telling juxtaposition of themes.  It asserts the peculiar appearance of (a) radical sin, vv. 8-11; (b) high culture, vv. 17, 21-22; and (c) confessional religion, v. 26.  The three seem to come together in an uneasy combination which reflects our common life.

    So maybe the issue isn’t the dating of Genesis to a particular age; maybe the issue is understanding that it was written to explain things as people found them and that this snippet of a story is cultural creation myth just as Gen. 1-3 is a physical creation myth.

    But then, you probably already knew all that and I haven’t actually helped you find an answer to the question you were asking.

  • Tricksterson

    “Seth also had a son and named him Enosh.  At that time people began to use the name of THE LORD”

    So Cain’s line domesticated animals , became bards and and smiths while Seth’s line created organized religion?

    GO CAIN!

  • Sam Ashwell

    I ‘d always been under the impression that the Egyptians were particularly late adopters of iron, never really going in for it until the Assyrians invaded them.

  • Robyrt

    Haven’t heard anything about Tubal-cain in particular, but yes, a 13th century BC Moses could have known of iron tools from his time in the courts of Egypt, although the Israelites certainly wouldn’t have been using them. (See above posts.)

    Also see Judges 1:19:

    And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.

    Whoever wrote those verses would be in a perfect position to write down the oral tradition of Tubal-cain by using the phrase “all kinds of bronze and iron tools”, because he was standing on the border of the two ages.

  • histrogeek

    Just as a time frame thing, bronze developed in Mesopotamia around 3500 BC. Iron was introduced from Anatolia around 1500 BC. Egypt weirdly lagged way behind in both, bronze around 1750 BC and iron around 750 BC. 

  • Münchner Kindl

    I don’t know what words exactly are used in the Hebrew text – but could it be a case of the word for “iron” originally meaning something else? Ancient Egypt had (no source, sorry) a special kind of blended metal with its own name that was harder than copper but not iron yet. So maybe the pre-cursors of Iron was called with the Hebrew name that later got transferred to real iron, too? Since the early Israelites were nomadic before they settled in the promised land, they would trade rather than make their own metals, and thus, wouldn’t know the exact properties of full iron compared to blends.

    Alternativly, as AnonymousSam pointed out, the original story said “bronze” only for the time the oral story was told; and when the later editing team wrote things down, it was logical to them that people who made bronze tools would also make other tools of iron, because they already lived in the iron age.

  • Dmoore970

    My understanding has always been that the Egyptians learned about iron from the Hyksos, and that Ramses II built his Egyptian Empire after driving out the Hyksos.  Moses, in turn, had to have come after Ramses II because Ramses had an empire extending into Israel, and there is no mention of any such empire in the Bible.  There is, however, abundant mention of the sort of general chaos that occurred in the area after Ramses’ empire failed.

    As for bronze weapons and iron tools, it is my understanding that when people first began working iron, the quality was not very good, not as good as bronze.  It might be good enough for tools, because it was cheaper than bronze, but not good enough for weapons.  Of course, as iron forging technology improved, iron soon became both cheaper than bronze and superior.  At that point, bronze stopped being used. 

  •  I ‘d always been under the impression that the Egyptians were
    particularly late adopters of iron, never really going in for it until
    the Assyrians invaded them.

    Depends on what you mean by “adopters,” I suppose.  There are iron artifacts going back to the mid-1500s BCE in Egypt, but most of those probably came from Mesopotamia or Anatolia.

    Egypt had distinct problems with mass production of both bronze and iron.  For bronze they simply didn’t have much access to copper, and most of that was hard to get to.  For iron they didn’t have access to good materials for making fire hot enough to actually smelt.

    As such, all the evidence I have indicates that they were aware of the technology more-or-less as early as the earliest civilizations and they knew what to do with it.  They didn’t make it a widespread thing until they absolutely had to, though, which would pretty much have been the growth of the Hittites.

    Other little known fact: the Egyptians and the Hittites invented the peace treaty.

  •  My understanding has always been that the Egyptians learned about iron
    from the Hyksos, and that Ramses II built his Egyptian Empire after
    driving out the Hyksos.  Moses, in turn, had to have come after Ramses
    II because Ramses had an empire extending into Israel, and there is no
    mention of any such empire in the Bible.  There is, however, abundant
    mention of the sort of general chaos that occurred in the area after
    Ramses’ empire failed.

    Don’t know where you got that.  The Hyksos hung around from the end of the 13th Dynasty through the 15th Dynasty.  Ramses II was the 19th Dynasty, and Eygpt remained quite powerful (probably it’s most powerful, as he fought the Battle of Kadesh against the Hittites) through the end of the 20th Dynasty and Ramses III, who was bankrupted by the so-called Sea People.

    Some historians have claimed the Hyksos were the Israelites, but that totally doesn’t work with Ramses II.  The Egyptians may well have learned iron working from the Hyksos, though, as the 14th and 15th Dynasties are at the right time for all that.

    I, for the record, am of the opinion that the so-called “Sea People” eventually ended up in the Levant and that their muddled cultural memory became the story of the Exodus.  There’s absolutely no historical record (outside the Bible, natch) of an Israelite presence in Egypt and it’s a well known historical fact that all of the great projects of Egypt were built by Egyptians, not foreign slaves.  Everybody owed the Pharaoh a certain amount of work every year and we know the exact infrastructure they used to call up, house, and feed the workers.  There’s no archaeological evidence for a massive slave class, either.  The Hyksos are too early and would have gotten smashed by the Hitties.  So that leaves two strong possibilities (by my recoking): the Israelites were the “Sea People” or some other group was just making crap up.

  • mcc

    “My guess is that these references to Jabal and Jubal and Tubal-cain aren’t so much miniature stories here as they are allusions to other stories that the original authors/editors expected their audience to be familiar with”

    I feel like the more interesting thing to pick at here is maybe less the “when was this written?” questions raised but rather the “*how many* people wrote this?” questions. The idea that every part of the bible, including the mosaic books and each individual gospel, consists of composite texts stitched together from various sources is (1) taken as the fundamental starting point of all “actual” bible scholarship (2) vaguely obvious from just reading the thing and (3) never talked about in mainstream Christianity that I’ve ever seen (you can talk about how Luke and Mark were different authors, but you can’t talk about Luke himself being a composite or the thing where Luke was actually copying sections from Mark). Obvious things to point to here are the redundant earth creation stories, Noah’s story possibly being ripped from the Epic of Gilgamesh, significant rapid changes in vocabulary in the Mosaic books as if someone intercut chapters from various texts, etc.

    So the obvious thing to say when one chapter tells you “X person was the origin of the metalworking caste” and then the next chapter tells you “everyone on earth died, including all the descendants of X person” is, hey, we found a contradiction. But that’s maybe not the right frame. If you point out to someone they have a contradiction in their holy text, they can find a rationalization, or decide something is “not literal”, or just blank one of the two parts out. The thing I’d want to focus on though is less the fact that the two passages contradict, but rather that the nature of the contradiction shows that the author of the Tubal-cain story *hadn’t read the story of Noah’s Ark*. The person who wrote that story literally didn’t know that someone was going to be retconning a flood myth into their own history and placing it after their “origin of metalworking” story. Even someone who was writing an allegorical story wouldn’t write an allegorical story which is structured like that. So this is another good sign of the bible being written by a committee of people working in isolation and unaware of either each other or the exact nature of this “Bible” thing they were accidentally contributing to, and that’s a much more poisonous thought than merely “the Bible contains contradictions”. You can try to follow a text with contradictions and just find a way to work those contradictions out (see also: all human laws), but once you start thinking about individual bible verses as having potentially unique authors with unique agendas, you can’t just go ahead and follow the text as given. It’s much easier to suppose it’s okay to just flat-out *disagree* with part of the bible once you start seeing the various authors *within* the bible as disagreeing with *each other*.

  • I don’t know how much help this will be, but iron working doesn’t necessarily mean iron mining. Meteoric iron impacts are thought to be one way that early metalworkers got access to iron before widespread mining. I *wish* I could remember where I read this, but I can’t. But a light brighter than the sun screaming out of the night, impacting with a boom that echoes for a full minute and bearing metal harder than anything anyone on earth was making at the time would certainly seem like a divine gift, wouldn’t it?

  • Keromaru5

    The translation that is used on Chabad.org–a Hasidic Jewish site–is: ”
    And Zillah she too bore Tubal cain, who sharpened all tools that cut copper and iron, and Tubal cain’s sister was Na’amah.”  The NRSV gives “bronze and iron.”

    Chabad also has commentary by Rashi, a medieval rabbi, who drew on earlier Midrash, saying:

    Tubal-cain: “He refined the craft of Cain. Tubal is related to the word תַּבְלִין (spices). He “spiced” and“refined” Cain’s craft to make weapons for murderers- [from Gen. Rabbah 23:3].”  

    So Rashi’s interpretation was that Tubal-cain primarily made and refined weaponry, which would seem to lead in to the violence that in turn leads to the flood.  He also gives the “Naamah is Noah’s wife” interpretation.  That–more than chronology–is the important thing.

    I’d like to find some good Christian Patristic commentary, but that can be difficult because of which translations are public domain and which aren’t.  Ephrem of Syria’s supposed to have a mostly definitive commentary on Genesis, but it doesn’t say much about Tubal-Cain.  It just skips straight to Lamech.  Plus finding it involved digging through articles by Eastern Orthodox Creationists against Eastern Orthodox evolutionists.  Bleh. 

  • Ken

    Bill Moyer’s Genesis (book and PBS series) has a section on this passage. He finds it interesting that it’s the descendants of Cain who are credited with inventing, basically, civilization.

  • Someone already mentioned Judges, but to be clear, one of the reasons the Israelites disliked the Philistines was that the Philistines had iron tools, and the Israelites were stuck with bronze. This is the subtext to a lot of the fights in Judges and Samuel.

  • That’s kind of how the Civ games work. You don’t run across iron, and you’re more or less stuck with the spirituality line of tech. Hope you have a coastline!

  • histrogeek

     Actually the Egyptians had decent sources of copper practically no tin. Egyptian quarry saws were copper with sand. Another reason why Egypt didn’t go into metallurgy the way the Anatolians and Mesopotamians did was a lack of pressure to adopt them . They had the population to make do without stronger tools and weren’t threatened by metal-using neighbors, as the later Native American empires did.

  • hawkwing

    There’s  another suggestion that the “Sea People” were displaced then-inhabitants-of-the-area-now-called-Greece, who went on to become the people Biblically referred to as Philistines. (But there is very little evidence to actually support this.) Linguistics – which I know little of – seems to suggest however that the Hebrew language is related to languages from Mesopotamia.

    And Geds is right: there’s nothing in the Egyptian record that suggests an Israelite entry or exodus, and nothing in the archaeological record of the (12th-8th Cs BC) Iron Age Levant to suggest the neighbouring kingdoms of Judah and Israel were founded by an entirely new population group.

    Anyway,  Joel Baden has a new book on “The Composition of the Pentateuch,” and Amihai Mazar has an edited volume,”Studies in the Archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan” (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement). When I was taking courses in the history of the ancient Near East, we had a lot of recourse to Joseph Blenkinnsopp. (I understand Francesca Stavrakopoulou has started doing a lot of interesting complementary things with religious diversity in ancient Israel, which might be worth a look – there’s usually a lot of looking at the Pentateuch and the prophets for how it reflects possible syncretisms that later got written out of the elite record.)

  •  Actually the Egyptians had decent sources of copper practically no tin.

    Oooooh, that makes WAY more sense.  I must have mis-read something and gotten copper and tin reversed, because I’ve seen a lot about mining copper, so I was having a weird cognitive dissonance thing going.

    Another reason why Egypt didn’t go into metallurgy the way the
    Anatolians and Mesopotamians did was a lack of pressure to adopt them .

    That would go a long way towards explaining why iron became a lot more important post-Kadesh.  The Hittites had iron and they were the first exterior force to truly counter Egyptian power on equal footing.  From my recollection of the battle, Ramses II came way closer than anyone wanted to admit (who wasn’t, y’know, a Hittite) of getting beat like a rented mule.

  • There’s  another suggestion that the “Sea People” were displaced
    then-inhabitants-of-the-area-now-called-Greece, who went on to become
    the people Biblically referred to as Philistines. (But there is very
    little evidence to actually support this.) Linguistics – which I know
    little of – seems to suggest however that the Hebrew language is related
    to languages from Mesopotamia.

    I’m familiar with the “Sea People” = “Philistines” argument.  That one makes sense for basically the same reasons the “Sea People” = “Israelites” argument makes sense.

    But, yeah, linguistics (a field I cannot speak authoritatively on, either) supports something completely different.  It’s entirely possible, though, that the Sea People or someone like the Sea People did show up and one of the local groups simply absorbed them or at least some of their stories.

    Either way, the actual available non-Biblical histories do not support the Biblical Exodus at all.  Archaeology isn’t particularly friendly, either.

  • See, I know Tubal-Cain from Babylon Rising: The Secret on Ararat where he scoffed at Noah’s ark but gave his sister (Noah’s wife) some pretty toys which could do magic metal transformations or some such.

    It’s  a Tim Lahaye book, there was a water canopy.

  • EnopoletusHarding

     I don’t exactly see how a (historically probable) Philistine origin story of them coming from Caphtor (Jer 47:4) would influence Israelite stories (rather historically improbable) of them coming from Egypt. James Hoffmeier (“in Sinai” makes a good case that there are Egyptian elements in several features of Israelite cult as portrayed in Exodus (e.g., the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle).

  • J. Richard Middleton’s book “The Liberating Image” suggests that all these origin stories are actually meant to upset the Mesopotamian applecart.  In Mesopotamian origin stories society is static, given by the gods, and humans invent nothing.  In Israelite origin stories God creates beings who themselves have the freedom to create.  (Even if their creations are a bit ambiguous – there’s commentary in the fact that it’s Cain descendents who invent most of civilization.)  Part of the reason for thinking this is that most of the stories around these origin stories (like the creation and flood) have parallels in Mesopotamian myth that make very different points, as if someone is lining up Mesopotamian ideas and disagreeing with them.

    As for the Iron Age, it’s got no clear boundary.  People working with bronze get good at working with bronze to the point where their superb bronze implements outperform their crappy iron ones.  There’s some discussion that suggests that the iron age was precipitated by a tin shortage that forced people to use the crap-metal at which point they got good at using it and realized it could be made better than bronze.

  • EnopoletusHarding

     If the Philistines did not originate from the Anatolian-Aegean-Cypriot sphere, from where else did they originate? Ramesses III mentions the Philistines as a group of Sea Peoples he defeated. According to Jer 47:4, the Philistines came from Caphtor (probably Keftiu/Crete). Indeed, after the fall of Egyptian rule in Canaan, the locally-produced Philistine Monochrome pottery produced by the early Philistines has strong parallels with Mycenaean IIIc:1b pottery produced in the mid-12th C BC in the Aegean region. Also, can you cite a source for your claim that “the Hebrew language is related to languages from Mesopotamia” any more than it is to local Canaanite languages?

  • EnopoletusHarding

    Walter Mattfeld (of BibleOrigins) is especially eloquent at espousing this view regarding the composition of large parts of Genesis.

  • NS

    I don’t see what Fred means to accomplish here. The Hebrews were a branch of the Canaanites. That means that everything earlier in the OT narrative than Judges is ahistorical – maybe mythical, maybe heavily distorted passed-down memories, but certainly not history. So how does speculating about whether Moses would have known about iron tools accomplish anything when we know Moses-as-described was not a historical figure?

    Or perhaps I mean, how exactly is it productive to try to persuade someone out of a literalist view of Genesis by adopting a literalist view of Exodus?

  • SketchesbyBoze

    Did anyone else immediately picture John Noble and Leonard Nimoy when Fred mentioned “Bell Labs”?

  • I must be dense or not paying attention, but I don’t get the Trek call-out in the post title.

  • ako

    It’s  a Tim Lahaye book, there was a water canopy.

    How does that work?  Is it a canopy made of water, or is there like a big cloth holding the water up?

  • mcc

    ako: Oh, yeah, this isn’t just Tim LaHaye’s thing, it’s an old-standard YEC idea. Nothing about it seems to make sense and there’s heavy overlap between the concept’s proponents and people who are literally crazy, if you can find someone who will seriously mention the words “water canopy” chances are not bad the Nephilim are going to come up by the end of the conversation. Even AIG won’t touch the idea. I think it supposedly served as a radiation shield and that’s how Noah lived for 800 years or whatever. I suggest just typing “water canopy” into Google and savoring the pages and pages of madness.

  • mcc

    Y0u know, this seems like a relatively sensible time to ask– I remember at one point running across by accident on Google a really long analysis of both Genesis and a bunch of Mesopotamian myths, floating the hypothesis that YWH actually should be identified with a particular “child God” that shows up in several other Mesopotamian myths, suggesting either that this particular tribal god expanded in Hebrew myths to become a universal creator-God, or that the God of the already-monotheistic Hebrews was written into other local myths as a sort of slander (I remember them mentioning one myth in which this particular child god took over the throne of the king of the gods while the king of the gods was out of the house, or something). The analysis then had a lot of fun suggesting that the vaguely inconsistent behavior of the God character over the course of Genesis is best explained by the fact that in some earlier version of the story the beginning of the story God is the equivalent of an eight year old child, creating humanity as a sort of pet or experiment, and then God matures over the 
    course of Genesis at the same time humanity does. The whole thing seemed wildly speculative at best and crank-y at worst (I remember not being able to tell if its descriptions of Mesopotamian myths were remotely accurate) but it was pretty fun as a sort of Neil Gaiman-y religious fanfic thing. Anyone have any idea what I might have been reading? The web design of that bibleorigins site looks familiar.

  • According to some young earth creationists once upon a time, long long ago, there was a canopy of water above the earth, like the rings of [whatever your favorite gas giant happens to be]  some say it was water vapor, some say it was ice, some say it was liquid water.

    In the flood that water came down.

    Back when it was up there it filtered out the harmful parts of the suns rays and whatnot allowing for people to live much longer than they do today.   And such.

    From Wikipedia:

    Isaac Vail (1840–1912), a Quaker schoolteacher, in his 1912 work The Earth’s Annular System, extrapolated from the nebular hypothesis what he called the annular system of earth history, with the earth being originally surrounded by rings resembling those of Saturn, or canopies of water vapor. These were hypothesised to have, one by one, collapsed on the earth, resulting in a “succession of stupendous cataclysms, separated by unknown periods of time” burying fossils. The Genesis flood was thought to have been caused by “the last remnant” of this vapor. Although this final flood was geologically significant, it was hypothesized to account for far less of the fossil record than George McCready Price attributed to it.

    This hypothesis gained a following among Jehovah’s Witnesses and from Seventh-day Adventist physicist Robert W. Woods, before being given prominent and repeated mention in The Genesis Flood in 1961.

    Though the vapor canopy theory has fallen into disfavour among most creationists, recent defences of the theory have been attempted by Dillow and Vardiman.  Among its more vocal adherents is controversial Young Earth Creationist Kent Hovind, who uses it as the basis for his eponymous “Hovind Theory”.

  • Ken

    The water canopy “theory” claims there was a layer of water above the layer of air, with no separator (cloth or otherwise). Stupid idea – even the writers of the Bible recognized the need for a “firmament” to hold the water up – but that’s YECs for you, trying to make their religion into science or vice-versa and damaging both in the process.

    One of them actually did an analysis that showed the situation could be stable. By “stable” I mean of course “completely unstable,” since the assumptions required a constant sun angle and absolutely no motion in the air or water, and even with those assumptions it was only in unstable equilibrium. So yeah, as long as everyone from Adam to Noah lived on a flat, non-rotating planet (with no moon) and didn’t move or breath, the water canopy could have existed.

  • Tricksterson

    AIG?  I googled and came up with American International Group which I’m resonably sure wasn’t it.

  • mcc

    AIG meaning Answers In Genesis, the gold standard for young earth creationists trying to sound reasonable while saying constantly ridiculous things.

  • PJ Evans

     ST movie 4, where Scotty needs big sheets of stuff make a tank for the whales, and he tells the business owner/engineer, where he goes for the big sheets of stuff, how to make ‘transparent aluminum’. And lo, the records show that the business owner/engineer invented ‘transparent aluminum’ and made a metric Sagan of money.

  • I have little to say except: Fascinating history lesson, all! :D

  • Dde607

    Here’s a pretty good intro to the Iron Age, and it even mentions Tubal-cain:

    Short explanation:  Iron tools and weapons are around looooonnggg before they become common.