Monday, October 28, 2013

It's Time To Drop The Phrase "Bronze-Age Goat Herders" Like A Hot Rock

In case you've been lucky enough not to have encountered it yet: "Bronze-Age goat herders" is a doubly unfortunate meme used to describe the authors of the Old Testament. The phrase was coined by Richard Dawkins. It's unfortunate one time because it's completely inaccurate, and a second time because it's become wildly popular, passed along by countless people who've never read Dawkins, neither his brilliant work on biology nor his less-brilliant, wildly-popular books on religion, nor the Bible.

We possess some Bronze-Age writing in Sumerian and some other languages written in cuneiform, and also in Egyptian, but we have not yet encountered one little bit of Bronze-Age writing in Hebrew. The very oldest examples of Hebrew of which we know originate well after the spread of the Iron Age throughout the Middle East. Their possible connections to Bronze-Age writing, or more probably Bronze-Age oral storytelling, are matters of speculation. They were written by city dwellers, not by people who herded animals. And as far as that goes, the rural Israelites who did herd animals herded many more sheep than goats.

If you want to make it crystal-clear that your intention is not to have a sensible conversation about the Old Testament and the people who made it, but just to express contempt for people and things about which you don't have a clue -- then by all means, keep on referring to the Old Testament as the work of "Bronze-Age goat herders." But just know: I'm done talking to you about it. I've had enough, I've had it up to way, way past here.

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