Christianism ("Christianity"), Etc.


Subjects (abstracts): Arthur Darby Nock; pictographscuneiform; Babylonians and Assyrians; A.H. Sayce; Myth and History in Biblical Chronology.

from: Arthur Darby Nock Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, 2 Vols., Harvard U., 1972.

[thanks to H.H. Scullard, Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, 1982 (c1981 Thames and Hudson), 14-15].

"The key to all religions and to all mythologies has been sought in various theories—in an emphasis on the worship of ancestors, or on the worship of the heavenly bodies, or on the worship of inanimate and even artificial objects charged with power, or on the kinship of certain social units with animals or plants called totems, or again in the interpretation of all phenomena in terms of mana, the obscure magical force present in various objects, or again in the henotheistic ideas reported as held among quite undeveloped tribes. Each time the key has opened certain doors, but no amount of filing has enabled it to open all doors. Each time the attempt has shown a naïf assumption, characteristic of the ancients and excusable in them, that the universe and the facts of life are ultimately susceptible of a simple explanation. But the universe and the facts of life are stubborn and recalcitrant and the quest for simple explanations is doomed to failure. No big thing is so to be explained. There is no single and simple origin of tragedy or of sacrifice or of funerary ritual. Life does not happen like that. If any domain of the history of man and of his thoughts seems to us quite straightforward, we may be fairly certain that we are ill-informed about it or view it from a partisan standpoint. " [Vol. 1, 333].

"the primitive [and ancestral man] is not a different biological animal [?]; he is by no means necessarily less sophisticated or less prone to make elaborate social and religious patterns; and his problems of subsistence and self-adjustment, physical and moral, are not altogether diverse from those of civilized man....Analogies will not teach us what happened in the past: they may help to keep our reconstructions within limits consistent with what is known to happen. "

[Vol. II, "603"]. [See: #7, 182].

"How far can we interpret Roman custom and language, zede en taal [Dutch], from our knowledge of primitive peoples? And what is the value of anthropological parallels?5

Primitives, as commonly defined, make up an aggregate varying enormously in degree of development and in nature and nurture. Yet as a whole they differ from civilized men mainly in that they lack the art of writing". [Vol. II, "603"].

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Cross Road Image

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from: A History of the World's Cultures Cradle of Civilization, Samuel Noah Kramer and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Time, 1967. [a "Must See" book!].

[Illustrations] 'The sign for "star" evolved over the centuries from a drawing (far left) [Sumerian pictograph, 3100 B.C.] into a more abstract symbol (right) [Assyrian cuneiform, 700 B.C.]. It also stood for the words "heaven" and "god" in both the Sumerian and Assyrian tongues.' [133].


from: The Making of the Past The First Empires, Nicholas Postgate, Elsevier · Phaidon, 1977. [See: illustrations (color), chart, glossary, maps, etc.].

'Opposite [reproductions in color]: two mathematical tablets from Old Babylonian levels at Tell Harmal and Tell Dhibai (c. 1850 BC): that on the left is an exercise for the aspiring surveyor, based on a right-angled "Pythagorean" triangle with sides 45 : 60 : 75 (i.e. 3 :4 :5), and depends for its solution on the Euclidean [sic! (Euclid: Greek mathematician: fl. [flourished] 300 BC)] principle that "In a right-angled triangle, if a perpendicular is drawn from the right angle to the hypotenuse, the triangles on each side of it are similar to the whole triangle and to one another. " Baghdad.' [27].


from: The Astronomy and Astrology of the Babylonians, with Translations of the Tablets relating to these Subjects, Rev. A.H. Sayce [1845 - 1933], Harrison and Sons, 1874. [found 5/19/96].

"So far as I can see, the Chaldaean deities were primarily the powers of nature,the earth, the sun, or the sky. These developed into distinct personalities, and the numerous epithets which were applied to them originated a vast mythology and an endless array of divinities, each epithet becoming a separate personality. As in the case of other nations, the Sun had been the chief object of worship, and the larger portion of the mythology accordingly grouped itself about the Sun-god and the numberless forms which he had assumed. The more I examine the Accadian mythology, the more solar does its character appear. " [165-166].

"The sun-dial Herodotus assures us (II, 109), together with the division of the day ["24 hours"] into 12 parts,—casbumi, or asli, as we now find them to have been called,—was the invention of the Babylonians". [149].

[note: '"sun-dial"' history is complex].

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'The general result of the statements we have been reviewing is to bring out the belief of Greek and Roman writers in the great antiquity of Babylonian astronomy. Whether it were older than the less developed science of the Egyptians, it is impossible to say. We need not suppose that the one people borrowed it from the other; indeed, wherever a calendar has to be constructed, a native independent astronomy will take its rise.

It is hardly necessary to refer to what the Old Testament has to say upon the subject. In Isaiah [Dates: "Each passage must be handled on its own". Dates proffered, extend from the 8th 4th centuries B.C.E. (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Metzger, 1993, 328)] xlvii, 13, the prophet says to Babylon, "Thou art wearied with the multitude of thy astrological consultations: let now the dividers of the heavens, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators stand up": and the Book of Daniel [c. 164 B.C.E.] abounds with references to the astrologers and magicians.' [149-150].

"We may now pass on to the Moon, the principal object of Babylonian worship [compare first quotation (243): "the Sun had been the chief object of worship"] and observation. As befitted a nation of astronomers, the Moon was considered prior to the Sun, and the originator of civilisation. The number of tablets relating to the appearances of the Moon, its eclipses and conjunction with the Sun, is very large. The great work [The Astronomy and Astrology of the Babylonians], part of which I have translated in the Appendix, is wholly concerned with the eclipses of the Moon and Sun. " [207].

"Babylonian astronomy may have been rude and superstitious; it may have had little that we hold to be scientific in it; but so also was the alchemy of the middle ages. And just as out of the alchemy of our forefathers has arisen chemistry, so out of the astrology of Chaldea came not only the observations which rendered possible the astronomy of Greece and modern Europe, but also the formation of a Calendar; and this one practical discovery—for discovery it was—is sufficient to secure to the star-gazers of Accad the respect and gratitude of succeeding generations. " [238].


from: Lectures Upon the Assyrian Language, and Syllabary, Delivered to The Students of the Archaic Classes, by Rev. A.H. Sayce, M.A., Deputy Professor of Comparative Philology, Oxford. Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1877. [found 5/19/96].

"While Pliny was busied in collecting vague and contradictory scraps of information about the ancient astronomy of Chaldea, there were still living men who could have interpreted to him those very astronomical tablets which have lain so long buried under the soil. With characteristic contempt for the languages and culture of other nations, the Romans like the Greeks before them neglected the knowledge which lay at their doors, and left it to the skill and patience of the nineteenth century to decipher the records which throw so precious a light on the history of human civilisation. "

[End of Lecture IV] [42]. [See: #7, 182-188 (Cyrus Gordon)].

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from: The "Higher Criticism" and the Verdict of the Monuments, Rev. A.H. Sayce, Queen's College, Oxford, Third Edition, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1894. [found 5/19/96].

'the "higher critic" and the archaeologist are agreed. Both alike are seeking for the truth, and this truth is historical and not theological.' [25].

"Perhaps the clearest example of the growth of a literary work, as yet afforded by the clay tablets of Babylonia, is the great Epic [Epic of Gilgamesh (earliest verses composed before 2000 B.C.E.)] of primitive Chaldaea. It centres round the adventures of the hero Gilgames, the prototype of the Greek Perseus and Herakles, and assumed its present form in the age of the literary revival under King Khammurabi (B.C. 2356—2301 [Hammurabi now dated: 1792 - 1750 B.C.E. (reign)]). The adventures have been woven together into a poem in twelve books, the subject of each book corresponding with the name of the Zodiacal numerical order. " [33].

"A discovery made in Egypt in 1887 has revolutionised all our old conceptions of ancient oriental life and history, and has proved that the populations of Western Asia in the age of Moses ["Moses" "15th—13th century BC" ["Abraham" "c. 2000—1650 BC" (see Cam. Bio. Dict.)]] were as highly cultured and literary as the populations of Western Europe in the age of the Renaissance. This discovery was that of the cuneiform tablets of Tel el-Amarna [14th century B.C.E.].1" [46-47].

"So thoroughly had the cuneiform system of writing been adopted throughout Western Asia, and so long had it had its home there, that each district and nationality had had time to form its own peculiar hand. We can tell at a glance, by merely looking at the forms assumed by the characters, whether a particular document came from the south of Palestine, from Phoenicia, from the land of the Amorites, or from the natives of Northern Syria. The use of the Babylonian script by the nations of Western Asia must have been earlier by many centuries than the time of Khu-n-Aten [(pharaoh: founder of el Amarna) "Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) (1352—1336 BC)"]. " [50].

"Schools and libraries, in fact, must have existed everywhere, and the art of writing and reading must have been as widely spread as it was in Europe before the days of the penny post. The cuneiform characters, moreover, were usually written upon clay, a material that is practically imperishable. Papyrus and parchment are preserved only in the dry and frostless climate of Egypt; the clay tablet will endure for ever unless it is destroyed by man. " [51].

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'The Sabbath-rest was a Babylonian, as well as a Hebrew, institution. Its origin went back to pre-Semitic [Sumerian] days, and the very name, Sabbath, by which it was known in Hebrew, was of Babylonian origin. In the cuneiform tablets the Sabattu is described as "a day of rest for the soul,"1 and in spite of the fact that the word was of genuinely Semitic origin, it was derived by the Assyrian scribes from two Sumerian or pre-Semitic words, sa and bat, which meant respectively "heart" and "ceasing. "' [74].

"Mr. George Smith's discovery, more than twenty years ago, of the Babylonian version [from the Epic of Gilgamesh (eleventh book)] of the story of the flood has now become a common-place of books on the Old Testament or ancient history. We have only to compare it with the narrative in Genesis to see how startlingly alike the two are. This is the way in which the old Chaldaean poet described the great catastrophe—" [107].

[George Smith 1840 - 1876 See biography: Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XVIII, 447-449].

"It has already been stated that this history of the deluge has been introduced as an episode into the eleventh book of the great Chaldaean Epic, and that in its present form it gives evidence of being a combination of at least two earlier poems on the subject, in one of which, for example, the flood is described as having been caused by the Sun-god, while in the other its author is said to have been Bel. The Epic was probably composed in the age of the literary revival under Khammurabi, who first made Babylon the capital of a united kingdom (B.C. 2350 [Hammurabi (reign), now dated: 1792 - 1750 B.C.E.]), and it was consequently already ancient in the time of the writers of the Tel el-Amarna tablets [14th century B.C.E.]. " [113].


from: The Semitic Series Babylonians and Assyrians, Life and Customs, The Rev. A.H. Sayce, Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, Scribner's Sons, 1899.

[found 5/17/96].

"Up to the last the Babylonian woman, in her own name, could enter into partnership with others, could buy and sell, lend and borrow, could appear as plaintiff and witness in a court of law, could even bequeath her property as she wished. " [14].

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"Long before the age of Khammurabi [Hammurabi: Babylonian king: 1792 -1750 B.C.E.] a royal post had been established in Babylon for the conveyance of letters. Fragments of clay had been found at Tello, bearing the impressions of seals belonging to the officials of Sargon of Akkad [2334 - 2279 B.C.E.] and his successor, and addressed to the viceroy of Lagas, to King Naram-Sin [2254 - 2218 B.C.E. (grandson of Sargon of Akkad)] and other personages. They were, in fact, the envelopes of letters and despatches which passed between Lagas and Agadê, or Akkad, the capital of the dynasty. Sometimes, however, the clay fragment has the form of a ball, and must then have been attached by a string to the missive like the seals of mediaeval deeds. In either case the seal of the functionary from whom the missive came was imprinted upon it as well as the address of the person for whom it was intended. Thousands of letters seem to have passed to and fro in this manner, making it clear that the postal service of Babylonia was already well organized in the time of Sargon and Naram-Sin [24th - 23rd centuries B.C.E.]. The Tel-el-Amarna [Egypt] letters show that in the fifteenth [now dated: 14th century B.C.E.] century before our era a similar postal service was established throughout the Eastern world, from the banks of the Euphrates to those of the Nile. To what an antiquity it reached back it is at present impossible to say. " [212-213].

"At all events, when Khammurabi was King [1792 - 1750 B.C.E.], letters were frequent and common among the educated classes of the population. Most of those which have been preserved are from private individuals to one another, and consequently, though they tell us nothing about the political events of the time, they illustrate the social life of the period and prove how like it was to our own. " [213].

"Babylonian and Assyrian letters were treated much as ours are when they are put into a post-bag to which the seals of the post-office are attached. There were excellent roads all over Western Asia, with post-stations at intervals where relays of horses could be procured. Along these all letters to or from the King and the government were carried by royal messengers. It is probable that the letters of private individuals were also carried by the same hands. " [228].

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"The letters of Tel-el-Amarna [(Egypt) 14th century B.C.E.] give us some idea of the wide extension of the postal system and the ease with which letters were constantly being conveyed from one part of the East to another. The foreign correspondence of the Pharaoh [Amenhotep IV 1352 - 1336 B.C.E.] was carried on with Babylonia and Assyria in the east, Mesopotamia and Cappadocia in the north, and Palestine and Syria in the west. The civilized and Oriental world was thus bound together by a network of postal routes over which literary intercourse was perpetually passing. They extended from the Euphrates to the Nile and from the plateau of Asia Minor to the confines of Arabia. These routes followed the old lines of war and trade along which armies had marched and merchants had travelled for unnumbered generations. The Tel-el-Armarna tablets show us that letter-writing was not confined to Assyria and Babylonia on the one hand, or to Egypt on the other. Wherever the ancient culture of Babylonia had spread, there had gone with it not only the cuneiform characters and the use of clay as a writing material, but the art of letter-writing as well. The Canaanite corresponded with his friends and neighbors quite as much as the Babylonian, and his correspondence was conducted in the same language and script. Hiram of Tyre ["contemporary of David...and Solomon"], in sending letters to Solomon [Son of David "(1000961 B.C.)". King of Israel "(c. 961922 B.C.)" (Harper's Bible Dict., 1973)], did but carry on the traditions of a distant past. Long before the Israelites entered Palestine both a foreign and an inland postal service had been established there while it was still under Babylonian rule. The art of reading and writing must have been widely spread, and, when it is remembered that for the larger number of the Tel-el-Amarna writers the language and system of writing which they used were of foreign origin, it may be concluded that the education given at the time was of no despicable character. " [228-229].

[See: #1, 3, 22. (Persian postal service), 23. (Roman postal system)].

"The spelling of the Babylonian and Assyrian letters is in general extraordinarily correct. We meet, of course, with numerous colloquialisms which do not occur in the literary texts, and now and then with provincial expressions, but it is seldom that a word is incorrectly written. Even in the Tel-el-Amarna tablets, where all kinds of local pronunciation are reproduced, the orthography is usually faultless, in spite of the phonetic spelling. " [229].

"The correctness of the spelling in the Assyrian letters is really marvellous, especially when we consider all the difficulties of the cuneiform script, and what a tax it must have been to the memory to remember the multitudinous characters of the syllabary with their still more multitudinous phonetic and ideographic values. It gives us a high idea of the perfection to which the teachers' art had already been brought. " [230].

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'Istar was an independent deity, owing no allegiance to a husband, and standing on a footing of equality with the gods. But this was because she had once been one of the chief objects of Sumerian worship, the spirit of the evening star. In the Sumerian language there was no gender, nothing that could distinguish the goddess or the woman from the god or man, and the "spirits," therefore, were indifferently of both sexes. Moreover, the woman occupied an important place in the Sumerian family; where the Semitic [gender] translation speaks of "man and woman" the Sumerian [no gender] original makes it "woman and man. " To the Sumerian mind, accordingly, the female "spirit" was as powerful as the male, acting independently and possessing the same attributes. Hence it was that in taking Istar over from their Sumerian predecessors the Semitic inhabitants of Babylonia took over at the same time a goddess who was the equal of a god.' [239].


from: The Dictionary of National Biography, 1931-1940, Oxford, 1970 (1949).

"SAYCE, ARCHIBALD HENRY (1845—1933)....From birth Archibald Sayce was very delicate, and until over the age of seven suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis; during this time he did not even learn the alphabet. But at ten he was reading Virgil and Xenophon and attacking Homeric Greek and English literature with a tutor. " [786].

"In 1891...Oxford offered Sayce an extraordinary professorship of Assyriology; he accepted it gladly, and this led to his still living part of each year in Oxford. But from then on he spent much of his time in a large Nile-boat which he fitted up with his considerable library. "

"He [Sayce] died, unmarried, at Bath 4 February 1933, having bequeathed his oriental books to his college, his notes and copies to the Bodleian Library, and his collections, Near and Far Eastern, of antiquities, ceramics, etc., to the Ashmolean Museum. " [787].

"Sayce was an excellent and active lecturer, and gave addresses in many parts of the world. He often chose this form for the communication of important discoveries made by him. He published in 1887 his Hibbert lectures on Babylonian religion; in 1902 his Gifford lectures on Egyptian and Babylonian religion; and in 1907 his Rhind lectures on The Archaeology of the Cuneiform Inscriptions. He received honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dublin, and Oslo, and the triennial gold medal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1925). " [787].

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"Sayce was a great vulgarisateur [(French) popularizer], especially in opening people's eyes to the importance of oriental archaeology for the understanding of the Bible. He both read and wrote enormously, and his great activity (including a number of excavations) was one of his most striking features. It was said that no man of his time (Jules Oppert perhaps excepted) had such a linguistic equipment, and that he could write good prose in at least twenty ancient and modern languages. His memory was extraordinary. He was a veritable clearing-house of archaeological learning and news, conversing and corresponding freely with the orientalists of three generations. In Assyriology he was one of the most remarkable figures of what has been called the heroic age of that subject. " [787-788].

"Few men so active and long-lived can have been so continually dogged by ill health as was Sayce. Weak lungs (his first utterance was a cough) and weak eyes were lifelong banes; the first, with their tuberculous tendency, forced him to live out of England most of his time, and gave him four attacks of pneumonia; the second hampered his work by making the reading of cuneiform tablets difficult. Typhoid, blood-poisoning, a fractured knee-cap, haemorrhage, sciatica, a snake-bite which he cauterized himself with his cook's red-hot tongs, thus saving his life, and a collision with a motor-car were among his set-backs, to which he opposed a wiry physique and great powers of recuperation. " [788].

"Sayce had a very lovable character, and never spoke harshly of those who denounced his work. His charm was deeply felt by his colleagues and a large circle of other friends and acquaintances, by his pupils, to whom he devoted much time and attention, and by the natives of Egypt and Mesopotamia. " [788].


from: British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, British Museum, 1995.

"Ancient Egyptian is probably the second oldest written language in the world, being preceded only by Sumerian in Western Asia. " [156].

[See: Amarna (Tell) el; cuneiform; language; Sumer; etc.].

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from: Secrets of the Times, Myth and History in Biblical Chronology, Jeremy Hughes, revised version of doctoral thesis, Oxford, 1986, JSOT Press, 1990.

[found 5/18/96]. [See: #2, 17-18 (chronology)].

"One reason why modern Biblical scholarship has been inclined to overlook the schematic nature of Biblical chronology may be that it is, in a way, rather embarrassing. Modern Biblical scholarship is largely historical in outlook, and considerable effort has been devoted to establishing a reliable chronological framework for the history of the Israelite and Judean kingdoms. If the chronological data on which this framework is based should turn out to be mythical rather than historical this might be regarded as undermining part of the basis of modern Biblical scholarship. IT COULD BE WORSE THAN THIS: IF THE CHRONOLOGY IS MYTHICAL RATHER THAN HISTORICAL, THE SAME MIGHT ALSO BE TRUE OF THE NARRATIVE WHICH CONTAINS THIS CHRONOLOGY. In which case Biblical scholarship may be seriously misguided in its preoccupation with historical fact rather than mythical meaning. " [3].

[See (my reference numbers): #1, 16., 26., 33.-39., 71., 83., 88., 89., 91., 93.; #3, 395., 420.; #4, 532.. Etc.].

"I should perhaps explain my use of the term 'myth'. Many Biblical scholars avoid using this term in relation to the Bible because they argue that myths are stories about the gods, and that Biblical religion, by recognizing only one God, is therefore inherently non-mythical. This is, in my view, a simplistic definition of myth. A more adequate description would be to say that myth is fiction which is used to express truth [?]. In arguing that BIBLICAL CHRONOLOGY IS ESSENTIALLY MYTHICAL, I am saying that IT USES HISTORICAL FICTION to express ideological beliefs. " [3].

[See ("historical Fiction"): #1, 1; #2, 17; #3, 41; #4, 105].

"Various motivations underlie early Christian interest in chronology. One of these was apologetic: Christian writers sought to reject the accusation that Christianity was a recent superstition by claiming that Christianity was the legitimate continuation of Jewish religion, and by using Biblical chronology to prove that Moses and the prophets antedated Greek writers and philosophers by several centuries. But their interest in chronological schematism shows that they also used chronology to express their belief that history manifested a divine purpose which could be traced from creation to the end of the present era. " [259].

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"Luther [1483 - 1546] also had a particular reason for wishing to associate the year 4000 AM ["AM stands for Anno Mundi ('year of the world'). " [11]] with the start of the Christian era. According to the Babylonian Talmud, the Rabbinic 'school of Elijah' calculated that the world would last for a total of 6000 years: 'the first 2000 years are to be void, the next 2000 years are the period of the Law, and the following 2000 years are the period of the Messiah' (T. b. Abodah Zarah 9a; T. b. Sanhedrin 97b). This saying was well-known to the reformers. Luther learnt of it through Carion and Melanchthon, and worked out his chronology to fit this scheme. Ironically, he was unaware of the fact that the saying came from the Talmud, and seems to have thought that it derived from the Biblical prophet Elijah. " [261].

"James Ussher (1581 - 1656), Archbishop of Armagh from 1625, is famous for the fact that he dated the creation of the world to October 23rd 4004 BC.27" [261].

[from footnote 27] "Ussher's chronological calculations later gained quasi-canonical status through their insertion into the margins of English Bibles published after 1701. " [261].

"In Ussher's scheme of things, Christ is born in 4 BC (shortly before the death of Herod the Great), the Jerusalem temple is completed 1000 years earlier in 1004 BC, and the world is created 3000 years before that, making a total of 4000 years from creation to the birth of Christ (this agrees with the Rabbinic tradition that there would be 4000 years from creation to the age of the Messiah). In this respect Ussher stood in direct line from the original Biblical chronologists, who used similar patterns of chronological schematism to express their own (pre-Christian) ideologies. " [262].

"There is one other feature of Ussher's chronology which deserves comment. Ussher was not the first person to have dated the creation of the world to 4004 BC. Forty years before the first volume of the Annals appeared, Thomas Lydiat had published a chronological study entitled Emendatio temporum, in which the creation of the world was dated to the same year. " [262].


This does not mean that it is historically worthless. Large parts of Biblical chronology are indeed worthless from a historical perspective, but this is not true of the chronology of Kings. " ["264"].

"THE 'HISTORICAL' BOOKS OF THE BIBLE MAY BE MORE APPROPRIATELY CATEGORIZED AS MYTH THAN AS HISTORY. Some of the events described in these books are purely fictitious (the flood, for example), while others, such as Sennacherib's [(King of Assyria) "d. 681 BC"] invasion of Judah, are historical events that have (to varying degrees) been FICTIONALIZED. " [265].

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