Sunday, October 31, 2010

I spit on Robert Graves: a review of Robert Graves’s The White Goddess


Jewish date:  23 Marḥeshwan 5771 (Parashath Toledhoth).

Today’s holidays:  Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), St. Bob Crane (Night of a Thousand Screams) (Church of the SubGenius), Reformation Day (Christianity), Hallowmass/Festival of Liberty (Ritual of the Elements) (Thelema), Samhain (Neopaganism).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Call on ABC News to drop Andrew Breitbart”, “Tell ABC News: Don't give Andrew Breitbart a platform to spread his lies.”, “Jewish Rights on the Temple Mount - Petition Spot”, “Unite Deserving Dads and Their Children! - The Petition Site”, “Stop Iceland's Cruel Whale Slaughter - Take Action Today @ The Rainforest Site”, “Stop the Yellowstone Bison Slaughter - Take Action Today @ The Animal Rescue Site”, and “Take Action: The Senate Must Act!”.

I would like to apologize for having not posted anything for about three weeks.  This is has been due to two factors:  1) I have had a respiratory infection, which is not conducive to getting much of anything done.  2) I have been working on a review of Robert Graves’s The White Goddess, which is a decidedly nontrivial book.  Having reached a stage where the review is more or less presentable, I present it without further adieu:

The White GoddessImage via Wikipedia
I spit on Robert Graves:  a review of Robert Graves’s The White Goddess

I have been told that I tend to give negative reviews.  Fair enough.  This is Divine Misconceptions, the blog which concentrates on religious fallacies and misinformation.  Thus I often read or watch material containing religious fallacies and misinformation—material I know full well has something wrong with it—and report on it, thus leading to negative reviews.  Despite the overtly negative title of this review, I will nevertheless endeavor to start by telling what is right with Robert Graves and his The White Goddess.

Graves clearly knows a lot.  He references religious and legendary texts from places stretching all the way from Ireland to India and from religions as different as Judaism and Hinduism.  He knows details of the lives and properties of plants which one would only expect botanists to know these days.  He knows multiple languages.  He knows something of geography and history.  And since he is a poet, he really knows his poetry.  And not only does he know a lot, he is brilliant enough to tie all this information together in a single framework.

If Graves is brilliant, why does he merit the negative title of this review?  His knowledge and his brain-power are not in question.  Rather it is what he does with them.  His methodology, detailed in chapter XIX, is wholly irrational.  He works for the most part through insight (“analepsis”), not by consciously thinking things through.  Now, one might object that the mark of rationality is not how one gets one’s ideas.  What really matters is whether one can back up one’s claims with solid facts.  And this is where Graves goes horribly wrong:  he lacks self-criticism and intellectual honesty.  Rather that using facts as a test of his framework and to guide its revision, he bends the facts to fit his framework.

For example:  Graves places a lot of emphasis on Welsh poetry.  In chapter II he analyses “Cad Goddeu” (“The Battle of the Trees”).  After presenting the original poem (in translation), he claims that it is actually composed of multiple poems and proceeds to reconstruct what he believes is the original “The Battle of the Trees”.  He does not simply carve up the poem into sections which may have been plausibly stitched together; he chooses various lines of the poem which he believes poetically make sense together, not necessarily even lines next to each other—and which he can use to support his ideas in further analysis.  There is a technical term for this, one which should be familiar to almost everyone:  cheating.  Rather than deal with his source material as it is, Graves cheats his way from cover to cover in order support his favored framework with little in the way of self-criticism.

Graves’s framework is unusual, to say the least.  He believes that in the distant past, at least in Europe, human society was matriarchal.  Every year, a queen would take a new husband, a sacred king who was ritually lamed.  This king would rule for a year, he would be sacrificially killed, and a new king would replace him.  In parallel with this form of government goes a religious story of a (male) god and a (female) goddess.  The god is in love with the goddess, and he fights for her with another god who is his other self.  The god dies, and he is reborn as the son of the goddess.  Graves alleges that in time the sacred kings were able to extend their reign and even usurp their wives by offering substitute victims, eventually leading to patriarchy.  In parallel with changes in government go changes in religious stories.  These ideas reportedly originated with the anthropologist Sir James George Frazer in his The Golden Bough (the next step back planned in my reading from The Hebrew Goddess)—and to be sure, they seem to be completely forgotten by historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists these days.  (E.g., they do not appear either explicitly or implicitly in Biblical Archaeology Review, even to disparage or refute them.)

Graves, being a poet and not an anthropologist, delves into poetry, religious stories, and legends and uses them as the basis for creating his own version of Frazer’s ideas.  Graves sees the texts he works on—and even the alphabets they are written in—as codes.  He sees his source material as coded history and dealing with the “poetic theme” of the story of the god and the goddess.  He uncovers purported traces of a matriarchal past and the continued, hidden survival of goddess-centered religion until a few centuries ago.  And he believes the old Welsh poets not only knew these secrets, but they hid them in their work such that only other poets could find them.  

I know practically nothing about Welsh poetry, but I do know quite a lot about Judaism.  In his efforts to support his ideas Graves bends the facts and dissembles to a degree that any student of Judaism should recognize that he is making clearly false claims.  A list of 74 items, some containing multiple, related errors, it is included below as an appendix.  The errors listed therein range from implausible syncretism to reading texts implausibly to demonstrating a poor knowledge of Hebrew—and this list is not exhaustive.  A truly exhaustive list would exhaust the patience of this and probably any other reviewer, but the material presented in this list should be more than enough to demonstrate Graves’s scholarly incompetence.  He cannot be bothered to get his facts straight, he rewrites material to suit his pet hypothesis, and he makes unrealistic assumptions.  Rather than exegesis, the process of teasing information out of a text, he performs eisegesis:  reading what he wants into texts, whether or not it is actually there.  This does not automatically mean that the hypothesis of an ancient matriarchy is necessarily wrong (or right); it means that Graves is the wrong person to make a case for it.

Graves’s irrationality is also reflected in his ideas of what religion is supposed to be.  Graves asks, “Then is Christianity a suitable religion for the poet?  And if not, is there any alternative?” (p. 422).  Someone thinking sensibly and traditionally about religion would note that whether one is a poet is irrelevant, as a religion which is true for one person is true for another.  Furthermore, it is only sensible to believe what is actually true.  Thus the question should be whether Christianity is true or not.  Graves, however, treats the question in terms of whether or not Christianity fits his ideals for being a poet.  Truth, as in what is actually correct about the reality we inhabit, does not fit into his reasoning at all.  Graves treats all religion as codes and symbols, so presumably his Goddess and the story he weaves around Her should also be treated in terms of codes and symbols.  Indeed, Graves never treats the Goddess, Whom he wants people to worship, as a real entity—and this is a problem.  In a traditional religion deities are considered real entities Who make real demands and Who are ignored or rejected at one’s peril.  Graves’s Goddess is only a symbol, an ideal, and to reject Her is easy because ideals are only opinions, which by definition one may accept or reject at will.  One might argue that a society based on Graves’s matriarchal ideals might be a better society, but if one starts with a different set of assumptions of how a society should be, Graves’s ideas may not seem so great.

Graves’s ideals themselves are arguably dangerous for society.  His Goddess story is a reflection of that early phase of love when it is most exciting.  Most of us know the thrill of such love, being irresistibly attracted to someone, almost as if one were addicted to them.  But this kind of love is also dangerous; those feeling it are more easily manipulated, biased or blinded by their own emotions.  The God in love with the Goddess is manipulated by Her so He ends up lamed.  He also fights for Her, itself an activity fraught with the danger of injury or death.  Furthermore, this phase of love is liable to end painfully.  Graves’s God is killed by the Goddess at the end of His year.  Though this is (thankfully) not the usual ending for even bad relationships in the real world, many of us also have the experience of heartbreak, an emotional nightmare which can be almost physically painful.  And notice that the Goddess never settles down with a God, but rather repeats the same cycle every single year.  A more mature, longer-lasting form of love is not part of Graves’s system.  Taken to its logical conclusion, the Gravesian ideal is pathological serial monogamy:  nothing long-term, no stability, emotions running high all the time, always having to be ready to move in with someone or move out, and women treating men abusively.  Try to imagine raising children under such conditions.  This may work for a masochistic adrenaline addict who hates children, but the rest of us may have trouble seeing the appeal of such a system.

Theological rating:  F.

Postscript:  Those who know well ancient Greek religion, Roman religion, Welsh poetry, or any other subject dealt with by Graves, please feel to comment on how good or bad a job he does with the subject.

Acknowledgement:  My brother Barry invented the title I Spit on Robert Graves for a fictional movie, and I would like to thank him for letting me use it.

Appendix:  Errors made concerning the Hebrew Bible and Judaism in The White Goddess:
  1. Graves persistently uses “Jehovah” to refer to the God of Israel (p. 59).  Anyone working within Jewish tradition never does, as this is an erroneous vocalization of the Tetragrammaton (the name “YHWH”).  Graves thinks Jews used his own ideas of a Secret Name as the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, even though his ideas are in violation of Hebrew pointing rules (pp. 286-287).  Graves also implausibly misunderstands the masorah note “qere’ ’Adhonay” as a title meaning “Lord Q’re” (p. 339).
  2. Graves claims the crow is sacred to YHWH, while in reality the Hebrew Bible mentions no birds sacred to YHWH at all (p. 118).
  3. Graves implausibly identifies YHWH with Cronos/Saturn, Bran, Ninib, Dionysus Sabazius, Dionysis Liber, Adonis, Elath-Iahu, Bel, Set, Apollo, Zeus-Jupiter, and Ormazd (pp. 118, 264, 335, 336, 337, 414, 437, 472).  Graves also gives YHWH the title “Lord of the Sabbath” (p. 335), a title never applied to Him in the Hebrew Bible, but applied to Jesus unambiguously in the New Testament (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5).
  4. Graves thinks YHWH is a thunder-god and his tree the oak (p. 176).  This might be going too far with Psalms 68:5, which poetically depicts YHWH as riding on the clouds.  Graves also claims YHWH originally lives “in a mountain to the far north” (p. 440), has a birthday (p. 469), and is male (p. 475).
  5. Graves thinks that whales are “the first living thing created by Jehovah” (p. 293).  Taking the first creation story literally, the correct answer is actually grass and trees (Genesis 1:9), and if one wants to be picky over whether plants count as “living things”, the first animals created are all aquatic and flying animals (Genesis 1:21).
  6. Graves thinks that ’Adham (Adam) and Ḥawwah (Eve) eat from “the forbidden tree of intelligence” (p. 253).  Genesis 2:17 mentions the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as forbidden.  No tree of intelligence is mentioned at all.  Graves also thinks that that the fruit was given to ’Adham and Ḥawwah by the snake (p. 467), while in the original text they get the fruit without the snake’s help.
  7. Graves rewrites the second creation story of Genesis to fit his framework.  In this version, YHWH is totally absent, and Ḥawwah is the goddess who throws ’Adham out of the garden to till the soil.  ’Adham is recast as a sacred king and the Snake as his rival, while the creation of Ḥawwah from a rib is chalked up as a later addition (p. 257).
  8. Graves refers to ’Adham as “the red man”, even though his color is left unidentified in the Hebrew Bible.  Graves notes in a bungled way that ’adham (“human”) and ’adhom (“red”) have the same root and assumes the two must go together.  He also thinks that ’Adham is the same as ’Edhom (Edom)/‘Esaw (Esau), as ’Edhom is also of the same root and that Yosef started off as part of ’Edhom but switched allegiances (p. 162).
  9. Graves claims that “according to Genesis, III, 24, Cherubs were stationed at the East Gate of Eden.  ּThey were armed with ‘the whirling sword of Jehovah’—the one with which (according to Isaiah, XXVII) he killed the Dragon… to prevent anyone from entering” (pp. 415-416).  The original text of the Hebrew Bible does not mention ‘Edhen (Eden) having a gate, nor is the spinning sword mentioned to be that of YHWH, nor is Liwyathan (Leviathan) a dragon, and it is not clear that either sword is anything but metaphorical or allegorical or identified with any other sword.
  10. Graves mentions a “Biblical conception of the necessary supremacy of man over woman” (p. 406), which may be taking the curse in Genesis 3:16 as if it were an obligation.
  11. Graves refers to the fully human, never-worshipped Tuval Qayin (Tubal Cain) (Genesis 4:22) as “the Kenite Goat-god” (p. 401).
  12. Graves identifies Noaḥ (Noah) with Gilgamesh (p. 467).  If one is really going to identify someone from the Hebrew Bible with someone from Babylonian religious stories, one should at least try to make the identification plausible.  More plausible is Utapishtim, who builds a boat on divine command and survives a flood in it.
  13. Graves thinks that ’Avraham (Abraham) is a tribe from Armenia (p. 161).  (Hint:  Mesopotamia is to the south of Armenia.  Think modern-day Iraq.)
  14. Graves believes that Sarah is a laughing Aphrodite-like sea goddess(!) worshipped by the tribes of ’Avraham and Yiṣḥaq (Isaac) (pp. 160-161, 277).  Sarah being taken by Pharaoh is alleged to refer to “the sacred marriage by which the ancestors of the Hebrews joined the great confederacy of the Peoples of the Sea, whose strongest base was Pharos”, and Graves also believes that Jews have lived in Lower Egypt ever since (p. 277).
  15. Graves claims that Malkiṣedheq (Melkizedek) has neither father nor mother (p. 162) with no apparent reason, even an irrational one, for doing so.  Graves also thinks that Malkiṣedheq claims to rule “by the will of the God” (p. 373).  Neither allegation is supported by the original text.
  16. Graves misinterprets the Cave of Makhpelah (Machpelah) as an oracular cave and Be’er Laḥay Ro‘i (Beer-Lahai-Roi) as an oracular shrine.  He does not quite understand that Judaism has no notion of oracular places, and his translation of the latter’s name as “the Well of the Antelope’s Jawbone” is forced, especially in “antelope” part.  He misinterprets the mourning party of Ya’aqov (Jacob) passing through ’Avel Miṣrayim (Abel-Mizraim) Genesis 50:11 for actually burying him there, thus inventing a spurious contradiction.  Graves somehow infers from this a shift in the location of Sarah’s shrine (as if she actually had one).  It is through much of this sort of bending and folding of the texts into ridiculous shapes that Graves speculates that the purchase of the Cave of Makhpelah refers to “a seizure of the oracular shrine of Hebron by Saul’s Benjaminites from the Calebites” (p. 160-162).
  17. Graves imagines that the Edomites were originally priests and kings to the Jews and warps the theft of ‘Esaw’s blessing by Ya‘aqov (Jacob) into an initiation ceremony in which Rivqah (Rebecca) is a priestess, Yiṣḥaq gives Ya‘aqov a secret formula and a cooked baby goat, and “mock-slaughter and resurrection of the initiate” (pp. 219).  To support this imagined usurpation Graves reads into Hosea 12:4 Ya‘aqov “draining” his brother ‘Esaw of his “royal virtue”.  Graves also thinks that Ya‘aqov’s real name is “Jah-aceb, ‘the heel-god’” (pp. 325, 327), which is implausible.  (Hint:  Yahh is a personal name of the God of Israel, not a generic term for “god”; and Graves has the grammar backwards.)
  18. Graves claims “In Genesis, XXXII Jacob wrestles all night with an angel at Peniel and is lamed by him so that the sinew in the hollow of his thigh is shrunken” (p. 324).  Actually, in the original story, while Ya‘aqov is injured, what happens to the sinew in the hollow of his thigh is not mentioned.  Graves claims based on this a prohibition “on eating the flesh around the thigh-bone” (p. 334), when the text only supports a prohibition on eating the sciatic nerve (Genesis 32:33).  Graves baselessly claims that Raḥel (Rachel) is a “Dove-priestess” so that Ya’aqov, recast as a sacred king, can be claimed to have experienced symbolic death and rebirth with the new name “Ish-Rachel” (man/husband of Raḥel); this formation is decent Hebrew, but an implausible etymology for the name Yisra’el (Israel) (pp. 161, 325).
  19. Pereṣ (Perez) and Zaraḥ (Zarah) are misidentified by Graves as Edomite when they are actually sons of Yehudhah.  Qayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel) are misidentified as being twins.  All four are misidentified as being Hercules, despite the lack of any real resemblance (p. 127).
  20. Graves believes that there are tribes named “Jacob, Joseph, Jerah, Joshua, and Jachin” mentioned in Genesis, while there are no tribes mentioned therein.  Only Yosef (Joseph) eventually actually becomes the name of a tribe (p. 150).
  21. Graves implausibly misinterprets Moriyyah (Moriah) as meaning “the god of the sea” (p. 118).  (Hint:  mor does not mean “sea”; Yahh is a personal name of the God of Israel, not a generic term for “god”; and Graves has the grammar backwards.)
  22. Graves claims that YHWH speaks to Mosheh from an acacia (p. 266).  Exodus 3:4 fails to identify the species of bush, completely invalidating any reasoning one might make based on the assumption than it is an acacia.
  23. Graves misinterprets Miryam (Miriam) as equivalent to “the Holy Spirit”, a purely Christian and thus relatively late idea, thus not what could possibly have been intended (p. 161).
  24. Graves, while correctly noting that the name of the festival of Pesaḥ (Passover) comes from the root P-S-Ḥ, mistranslates the root as “to dance with a limp”, completely forgetting the correct “to pass over” (p. 327).
  25. Graves, using the common inaccurate terminology “The Ten Commandments”, makes the original error of thinking there are only eight items.  “Thou shalt worship me alone” is a paraphrase suggesting trying to emphasize monolatry rather monotheism.  “Thou shalt kill” is a mistranslation which is untenable because there are times killing is permissible or even obligatory.  “Thou shalt not bewitch” totally bungles the prohibition on coveting by turning it inside-out.  Graves deletes the prohibition on idolatry (p. 471).  This is consistent with his inability accept that there were Jews in the First Temple Period or before opposed to idolatry, despite all the obvious textual evidence to the contrary.  He uses his baseless assumption to illogically infer that the term Neḥushtan in 2 Kings 18:4 must really be a parody of a Greek term, even though it makes perfect sense in Hebrew (it means “coppery one” and refers to a copper snake) and there is no reason to believe that the Jews at that time knew any Greek (pp. 138-139).
  26. Graves assumes the quail incidents in Exodus 16 and Numbers 11 must be one and the same, thus leading to an artificial contradiction in outcomes.  The interpretation of the place name Qivroth hatTa’awah (Kibroth-Hattaavah) as “the grave of lust” is untenable; the correct translation is “the graves of desire”, of which it should be noted that not all desires are sexual (p. 328).
  27. Graves is somehow under the impression that the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple faced west-southwest towards Heliopolis (the lamps actually ran north to south) and that Mosheh was a priest of the Sun-god (which was never reported in the Hebrew Bible) (p. 268).
  28. Graves claims the High Priest’s breastplate was made by “Egyptian craftsmen”, when was actually made by Beṣal’el and company (Exodus 39:10).  Graves’s claim that the king of Tyre also wore a breastplate in honor of Hercules Melkart is an exaggeration of Ezekiel 28:13 way beyond anything actually written in the text.  It should be no surprise that Graves gives unwaveringly certain identifications of the stones on the breastplate and fits them all into his scheme of months and sacred alphabets, with Dinah assigned to the extra month.  For some reason Graves thinks Dinah is the twin of Dan, even though Dan is the son of Bilhah and Dinah is the daughter of Le’ah (Genesis 35:23, 35:25) (p. 269-271).
  29. Graves claims use of a bundle of palm, willow, and quince on Sukkoth (Tabernacles), while universally palm, willow, myrtle, and a citron are used.  He also claims the Jews “presumably” borrowed the practice from the worshippers of Astarte, but brings no reason to believe this (p. 59).  Later on Graves gets the bundle right, but insists the citron was not the original fruit (pp. 261-262).  Graves also takes the citron/quince and myrtle as being “a reminder of his [YHWH’s] annual death and translation to Elysium” (p. 340), even though nowhere in Jewish literature of any era is there any mention of YHWH ever dying or being translated to Elysium. 
  30. Graves also believes that “promiscuous love-making” was practiced by “the peasantry” on Sukkoth (p. 336), completely ignoring Jewish sexual mores.
  31. Graves reads a lapwing into Leviticus 11:19, when in reality it is not mentioned there at all (p. 53).  In the same list of prohibited flying vertebrates, he claims there is also mentioned the barnacle-goose, which in reality is not mentioned there at all (p. 54).
  32. Graves speaks of a “sparrow” sacrifice in Leviticus 14:4, when the Hebrew text specifies “birds” and sparrows are never mentioned anywhere as sacrificial animals.  He believes this sacrifice was originally offered to a goddess on the basis that the ritual involved burning cedar and hyssop (p. 339).
  33. Graves claims the clan of Kalev (Caleb) is Edomite, when he (an individual) actually is from Yehudhah (Judah) (pp. 61, 162).
  34. Graves claims “The goat-Dionysus, or Pan, was a powerful deity in Palestine”.  Note that neither Dionysus nor Pan is mentioned in any way in the Hebrew Bible.  ְGraves is unaware of this basic fact and shoves Him in anyway in the mysterious goat sacrifice “to ‘Aza’zel (Azazel)” (Leviticus 16:8 and 16:10), the location Ba‘al Gadh (Baal Gad, apparently confusing Gadh (Gad) with gedhi (“baby goat”)), and the prohibition of cooking a baby goat in its mother’s milk (Deuteronomy 14:21) (pp. 218).
  35. Graves thinks that the red cow sacrifice (Numbers 19) was originally offered to a goddess, apparently on the basis that the ritual involved burning cedar and hyssop (Numbers 19:6) (p. 339).
  36. Graves illogically thinks that the prohibition of making a baldness above the eyes in Deuteronomy 14:1 indicates that hair was originally sacrificed to YHWH (p. 340).
  37. Graves thinks that the Essenes were Pharisees.  (They were not.)  He also claims that the Essenes believed that Mosheh (Moses) was a demi-god, distinguishing between an historical and “celestial” Mosheh.  Graves also claims that Mosheh in the Torah was a sort of Hercules—the resemblance escaping me completely—who became a hero and judge after death, despite the Torah not mentioning anything of what happened to Mosheh after he died and was buried (p. 149).
  38. Graves confuses Raḥav, a prostitute, with Rahav, prince of the sea (p. 161).  This may be due to both being mistransliterated as “Rahab”.
  39. Graves somehow thinks the Song of Devorah (Judges 5) indicates that Shechem once belonged to ‘Amaleq (Amalek), despite the city not being mentioned therein.  He also somehow thinks that Gidh‘on “presumably” marries “a priestess of the Lion-Goddess Anatha” (pp. 370-371).
  40. Graves thinks that Devorah is a goddess (p. 424).
  41. Graves identifies Shimshon (Samson), along with many other characters from religious texts and legends, as just another Hercules (p. 126).
  42. Graves believes, without reason, that Shimshon is from Tyre and gets a haircut every year (p. 339).
  43. Graves thinks that Shimshon is a “Sun-hero” or “Sun-god” (pp. 140, 315), even though the Hebrew Bible makes no such connection.  Graves claims his (His?) his name means “Of the Sun”, which is implausible in Hebrew (p. 316).  He also claims that Shimshon was shackled to a “corn-mill”, which seems to be a reference to Judges 16:21, where what sort of grinding tool Shimshon used in prison is not specified (p. 140).
  44. Graves forces the story of Dawidh and Mikhal (Michal) into his paradigm by claiming that Mikhal was a goddess(!) and that Dawidh became king by marrying her (Her?) priestess.  He also argues that Hebron can be termed the center of the Earth, despite the fact that its qualifying position of where Europe, Asia, Africa, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Red Sea meet is really shared by all of Israel (p. 159).
  45. Graves misinterprets 1 Samuel 26:20 as having Sha’ul (Saul) taunted for hunting Dawidh “who is as insignificant as a flea but as easily caught as a mountain partridge” (p. 328), while the original text has Dawidh begging Shau’l for his life, comparing the chase to a partridge in the mountains pursuing a flea.
  46. Graves misinterprets 2 Samuel 12:11, 2 Samuel 3:3, and 2 Samuel 13:7 to mean than ’Avshalom (Absalom) could not possibly be Dawidh’s son but was really Talmay ben ‘Ammihudh (Talmai, son of Ammihud); this is in flagrant contradiction to these verses’ simple meaning, which indicate that ’Avshalom was the grandson of Talmay ben ‘Ammihudh.  ּGraves further misinterprets ’Avshalom’s public rape of his father’s concubines in Yerushalayim (2 Samuel 16:20-22), meant to show he was now king, for him marrying “the royal harem of heiresses at Hebron” (pp. 331-332).
  47. Graves misinterprets a necromancer (ba‘alath ’ov) as an oracular cave (p. 107).
  48. Graves mislabels 1 Kings 5:9-13 as the nonexistent 1 Kings 4:33 and takes it as a sign that Shelomoh (Solomon) “knew all the mystic lore of the tree-alphabet” (p. 339).
  49. Graves implausibly confuses the name ’Aḥ’av (Ahab) with ḥaghav (locust) (p. 118).
  50. Graves incredibly conflates the one-time contest between ’Eliyyahu and the priests of Ba‘al (Baal) (1 Kings 18) with the yearly Pesaḥ/Passover sacrifice (p. 327).
  51. Graves claims that 42 children who teased ’Elisha‘ for being bald were devoured by she-bears (p. 287), while 2 Kings 2:24 only mentions the bears splitting the children open but not eating them.
  52. Graves claims that children were sacrificed to “Jehovah Melkarth”(!) in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, even though the Hebrew Bible never claims that YHWH was ever identified with Melqart.  Nor is it clear from the Hebrew Bible to which god babies were sacrificed (p. 128).
  53. Graves gravely misunderstands the imagery in Ezekiel 1 and implausibly conflates the Keruvim (Cherubs) and the ’Ofannim (wheels), leading him to spend the next few pages reasoning—if what Graves does can be called “reasoning”—based on this false identification, which somehow reaches identifying Keruvim with swastikas/fire-wheels (p. 416).  Graves also thinks the Keruvim serve “the Sun of Righteousness”, who is not mentioned in the text at all (p. 413).
  54. Graves somehow sees the Trinity in Ezekiel 1 (p. 468).  It must be noted this bizarre, unsupportable claim appears in a section filled with mystical reasoning so dense that it is difficult to make any sense at all of what Graves is claiming.
  55. Graves seems to think that Melkarth is mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel (p. 416).
  56. Graves blames Yeḥezqe’l (Ezekiel) with tampering with an alphabet which there is no real reason to believe he was ever aware of (pp. 464-465).
  57. Graves thinks that Isaiah 14:13, Ezekiel 1:4, Psalms 48:2, and Job 37:29 indicate the existence of “a Palestinian North Wind cult” (p. 437).  That last verse does not exist, and the rest do not mention anyone worshipping the north wind, no matter where a certain mountain was placed.
  58. Graves writes “The she-monster Tiamat… was used by the author of The Book of Jonah to symbolize the power of the wicked city, mother of harlots, that swallowed and then spewed up the Jews” (p. 480), not withstanding that Tiamat is not mentioned at all in Jonah.
  59. Graves asserts that Song of Songs (AKA Canticles) celebrates a sacred marriage between “Salmaah the King of the Year and the Flower Queen” (p. 261).  “Salmaah” seems to be a botched rendering of Shelomoh, and “Flower Queen” may be a Gravesian interpretation of Song of Songs 2:1.  Actually, while Song of Songs clearly depicts a romantic relationship, recasting it as a sacred marriage is a stretch.  The Shulamith is a shepherdess, not a queen (Song of Songs 1:6).
  60. Graves believes that the Song of Songs deals with incest (p. 449), which appears to be due to an overly literal interpretation of Song of Songs 4:9, 4:10, 4:12, 5:1, and 5:2.  Song of Songs 8:2 shows these verses are not meant to be taken literally.
  61. Graves asserts that 1 Chronicles 14:15 is about oracular trees, rewriting it after the fact to suit his symbolism (p. 440).
  62. Graves claims the Book of Tobit is “Perso-Egypto-Greek” when in fact it is part of the (Jewish) Apocrypha (p. 129).  Graves stretches the story of Tobit by recasting Tobit as “Zeus” and Asmodeus as “Set”, even though Tobit is human and does not qualify as a god at all (p. 130).
  63. Graves thinks that Ḥanukkah has its origins before the Maccabean rebellion, and he does not understand that the practices of increasing the number of lights each day and decreasing the number of lights each day go back equally far.  Neither does he understand that the menorah is lit in homes, not just in synagogue (p. 469-470).
  64. Graves claims the (Jewish) Apocryphal Book of Judith is a Canaanite version of the story of Shimshon, which requires some dishonesty to imagine.  Judith is recast as a queen and the enemy general Holofernes as the sacred king she dutifully murders since his year is up (p. 317).
  65. ֶGraves is unaware that there is no book referred to as “Joseph” in the New Testament (p. 163).  OK, that is not really Judaic, but it was too mind-bogglingly obvious not to mention.  But what should one really expect of one who cites the nonexistent Talmudhic tractate Haggada (p. 414)?
  66. Graves is unaware that the Zohar is a fairly recent book, going back only to the 1200s (p. 268).  (I now wish I had not packed up my Qabbalah books in preparation for moving to Israel, but one may find much on the origins of the Zohar in the works of Gershom Scholem.)
  67. Graves is clear unaware of what alphabets the Essenes were using; he invents one that never existed (p. 150).
  68. Graves believes that the Jews got the alphabet from the Greeks.  In reality, the Jews got it from the Phoenicians or their Semitic neighbors, and the Greeks got it from the Phoenicians (p. 150).  Contrary to what he claims, the names of many letters are known to have perfectly good Semitic meanings, namely:  ’alef (“ox”), beth (“house”), gimel (“camel”), daleth (“door”), waw (“hook”), zayin (“weapon”), yodh (“hand”), kaf (“palm (of a hand)”), lamedh (“goad”), mem (“water”), nun (“fish”), ‘ayin (“eye”), pe’ (“mouth”), quf (“monkey”), resh (“head”), shin (“tooth”), and taw (“mark”) (p. 235).
  69. Graves misidentifies She’ol (Sheol) as “the Hebrew Hecate”, when it is really a term for the grave or the afterlife.  He also seems to think Gavri’el ran errands for She’ol (p. 151).
  70. Graves believes that the Torah was not compiled until the Babylonian Exile (pp. 149-150, 155, 262).  This is impossible because the Samaritans have a version of the Torah which is not greatly different from the Jewish versions.  The Samaritans originated in the late First Temple Period, but were decisively excluded from the Jewish people at the start of the Second Temple Period.  A late compilation of the Torah would require that the Jews imposed it upon a group they refused to admit among themselves.  The Torah must therefore be of earlier origin.  
  71. Graves’s interpretation of Yeraḥmi’el (“Jerahmeel”) as “beloved of the moon” is implausible.  Yeraḥ may mean “moon”, but there is nothing meaning “beloved” in that name; more plausible is “’El [= YHWH] will have mercy upon me” (p. 155).
  72. Graves assumes, without evidence, that the Essenes had a patron angel (p. 156), even though the concept of a patron angel for a specific group of Jews is foreign to Judaism.
  73. Graves thinks Jews hold swineherds in “horror” (p. 220), as if the prohibition of eating pork were an obsession rather than a simple prohibition.
  74. Graves claims there is a “Hebrew canon of trees of the week” (p. 263).  There is no such thing.
Enhanced by Zemanta