The Lion Hunt Mosaic, Pella, Greece.
It has often been taken for granted that the Hellenic peoples of the Aegean, without any substantial exception, descended from the Japhethic patriarch Javan (Genesis 10.2). Indeed, Javan seems to have sired many of the early Greeks, particularly the Ionians, but there remain many unanswered questions about Greek ethnogenesis as it relates to Biblical history. A long time has elapsed since the period in which Genesis 10 is set and the solidification of Classical or even Archaic Greek culture, and undoubtedly many migrations have occured in that time.
When we study the names of the sons of Javan in Genesis 10 and the records of their descendants in history it is evident that they are all associated with the Ionian Greeks and certain islands and coasts about the Mediterranean basin such as Rhodes, Cyprus and Tarshish. There is no evidence of any connection to other prominent Greek groups such as the Danaans/Achaeans or Dorians, nor to other early Aegean peoples such as the Minoans and Pelasgians.
There are hints in the Scriptures that the Philistines are to be associated with Crete, but it was not until more recent advances in archaeology and genetics that it became certain that the pre-Hellenic Minoan civilization of the Aegean was that of the Biblical Caphtorim and Philistines. These discoveries go to show that the mysteries of Greek ethnogenesis in relation to the Biblical narrative are still unraveling in the modern day.
The Danaans, by all Classical accounts, had come to Greece from Egypt with the eponymous patriarch Danaus. Here we shall examine two accounts recorded by Diodorus Siculus in his Library of History. First let’s look at the account which Diodorus relates to us from Hecataeus of Abdera, a Greek historian of the 4th century BC:
“… the aliens were driven from the country, and the most outstanding and active among them banded together and, as some say, were cast ashore in Greece and certain other regions; their leaders were notable men, chief among them being Danaus and Cadmus. But the greater number were driven into what is now called Judea … The colony was headed by a man called Moses, outstanding both for his wisdom and for his courage.”
-Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 40.3.2-3
It is evident here that Hecataeus is relating a version of the Exodus from an Egyptian perspective. Undoubtedly political and ethnic biases taint this account of the Exodus, Hecataeus reporting of what he learned in Egypt. Nonetheless, he was clearly aware of the events that took place around the time that the Hebrews departed from Egypt and he, a Greek, associated the eminent Greek patriarchs Danaus and Cadmus with the Hebrews who fled Egypt under Moses. Diodorus also mentions Danaus again in connection with the Israelite migration out of Egypt:
“They say also that those who set forth with Danaus, likewise from Egypt, settled what is practically the oldest city of Greece, Argos, and that the nation of the Colchi in Pontus and that of the Judeans, which lies between Arabia and Syria, were founded as colonies by certain emigrants from their country. And this is the reason why it is a long-established institution among these two peoples to circumcise their male children, the custom having been brought over from Egypt.”
-Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 1.28.2-3
This event was parodied in later Classical Greek writings as the retreat of the “daughters of Danaus” from the “sons of Aegyptus”. One such example is the play Suppliant Maidens by Aeschylus. Cadmus is called “the Phoenician” throughout Classical Greek literature and was regarded as the founder of Thebes (Lord Neaves, The Greek Anthology pp. 160-162). Cadmus is said to have been the grandfather of Dionysus (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4.2.1-3), and to have come from the city of Thebes in Egypt (ibid. 1.23.4).
There is no scholarly consensus as to the etymology of the name Cadmus, but the most likely explanation is that is comes from the Semitic triliteral root *qadm- meaning “East”, with the addition of the Greek masculine name ending -os giving the meaning “man of the East”. This certainly is suitable to a figure who came to Greece from the East from either Egypt or Canaan. Herodotus credits the Phoenician colonists who came with Cadmus with introducing the art of writing to the Ionians who had preceded them into Greece:
“The Phoenicians who came with Cadmus … introduced into Greece, after their settlement in the country, a number of accomplishments, of which the most important was writing, an art till then, I think, unknown to the Greeks. At first they used the same characters as all the other Phoenicians, but as time went on, and they changed their language, they also changed the shape of their letters. At that period most of the Greeks in the neighborhood were Ionians; they were taught these letters by the Phoenicians and adopted them, with a few alterations, for their own use, continuing to refer to them as the Phoenician characters—as was only right, as the Phoenicians had introduced them.”
-Herodotus, The Histories 5.58
Diodorus Siculus likewise attributes the origins of the Greek alphabet to Cadmus the Phoenician, though his account attributes their initial adoption to the Pelasgians rather than the Ionians.
“… when Cadmus brought from Phoenicia the letters, as they are called, Linus was again the first to transfer them into the Greek language, to give a name to each character, and to fix its shape. Now the letters, as a group, are called “Phoenician” because they were brought to the Greeks from the Phoenicians, but as single letters the Pelasgians were the first to make use of the transferred characters and so they were called “Pelasgic.””
-Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 3.67.1
From a Greek perspective Israelites would certainly be regarded as Phoenician, being inhabitants of Canaan. Indeed, no Canaanites departed from Egypt with Moses, Danaus or Cadmus, but Israelites certainly had. The seafaring habits of the tribe of Dan are certainly in line with those of the Phoenicians (Judges 5.17) and Scripture tells us that the tribe of Dan was sailing the Mediterranean alongside the Ionian Greeks (Ezekiel 27.19) so we should not be at all surprised to see “Phoenician” colonists of the tribe of Dan alongside Cadmus introducing these Ionians to the art of letters.
That the Greek alphabet derives from the Phoenician is now known to be a matter of fact, hardly a surprise considering that the names of the letters have, for the most part, scarcely changed from their original Northwest Semitic names, e.g. alpha=aleph, beta=beth, gamma=gimel etc. The Phoenician script itself is known to have derived from the Proto-Sinaitic or “Proto-Canaanite” alphabet which derives from Egyptian hieroglyphs (Elizabeth J. Himelfarb, First Alphabet Found in Egypt, Archaeology 53, Issue 1: 21).
It can be demonstrated through an analysis of ancient Egyptian correspondence with their Canaanite chieftain subjects that the Israelites did indeed depart Egypt and conquer Canaan as described in the books of Exodus and Joshua. It must be these Hebrews departing Egypt who introduced the Proto-Sinaitic and Phoenician alphabets to Greece, Canaan and nearby regions supplanting the cuneiform scripts originally used by the Canaanites.
During the Greek Dark Ages and the Archaic Greek period there were complex linguistic relationships established between Northwest Semitic and Hellenic languages and the former had a very profound influence on the latter (Cyril Aslanov, Northwest Semitic Structural Influences on Archaic Greek: a Reassessment, academia.edu). Certainly these must have formed as the Israelites settled in the developing Hellenic world.
So-called Mycenaean artifacts and burials have been unearthed in Palestine, though the Jewish archaeologists privileged to study them rarely admit the connection to the Hellenic ties of the Danites. One such site is at Tel Dan (Dan II; A Chronicle of the Excavations and the Late Bronze Age “Mycenaean” Tomb, academia.edu). Another notable site host to so-called Mycenaean artifacts is Tel Dor (Biblical Archaeology Review, July-August 2001 p. 17 and November-December, 2002, Gorgon Excavated at Dor p. 50) a city of Manasseh. In light of the clear connections between ancient Israel and Greece, we ought to further consider the possibility of a relationship between Tel Dor and the Dorians of Greece.
The earliest mention of the Dorians is found in Homer’s Odyssey book 19 where we read in a description of Crete: “The Dorians, plumed amid the files of war, Her foodful glebe with fierce Achaians share”. Ostensibly Crete was a perfect staging area for an invasion by sea, and the Dorians seized upon this to conquer much of the Aegean, forcing the Danaans and others inland. That the Dorians had emigrated to Crete from Palestine is indicated in several ancient sources. As we saw in Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, the Hebrews leaving Egypt with Danaus were said to have settled Argos; not a city of the Danaans, but of the Dorians. Here the ancient Judaean historian Flavius Josephus records a letter written by a Lacedemonian (Spartan) king to the high preist at Jerusalem:
“Areus, King of the Lacedemonians, To Onias, Sendeth Greeting. We have met with a certain writing, whereby we have discovered, that both the Judeans and the Lacedemonians are of one stock; and are derived from the kindred of Abraham: It is but just therefore, that you, who are our brethren, should send to us about any of your concerns as you please.”
-Josephus, Antiquities of the Judaeans 12.4.10
The reply to this letter was long delayed due to the Maccabean wars and other problems amongst the Judaeans, but it is recorded in Josephus’ Antiquities 13.5.8 as well as in the deuterocanonical book 1 Maccabees in the twelfth chapter:
“Jonathan the high priest, and the elders of the nation, and the priests, and the other people of the Judaeans, unto the Lacedemonians their brethren send greeting: There were letters sent in times past unto Onias the high priest from Darius, who reigned then among you, to signify that ye are our brethren, as the copy here underwritten doth specify. … we also, albeit we need none of these things, for that we have the holy books of scripture in our hands to comfort us, have nevertheless attempted to send unto you for the renewing of brotherhood and friendship … We commanded them also to go unto you, and to salute you, and to deliver you our letters concerning the renewing of our brotherhood. … And this is the copy of the letters which Oniares sent. Areus king of the Lacedemonians to Onias the high priest, greeting: It is found in writing, that the Lacedemonians and Judaeans are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham …”
-1 Maccabees 12.6-21
Egyptian records tell of a confederacy of tribes that attacked Egypt and other points in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Late Bronze Age Collapse. Among the names of these peoples are two which are connected with Greece: Denyen and Ekwesh. The Denyen have variously been identified as the Danaans (Jorrit M. Kelder, The Egyptian Interest in Mycenaean Greece, Jaarbericht Ex Oriente Lux p. 126), the Israelite tribe of Dan (ibid.) and the Dorian Greeks (Eckhard Siemer, Der Friedensvertrag von 1258 v. Chr. und die Ehe der Naptera, Der hethitisch- mykenische Zinnhandel in Europa und der Untergang ihrer Reiche (1430 – 1130 BC) sowie, Vincent von Beauvais De plumbo p. 228). Whether or not the Denyen of Egyptian records are Danaans or Dorians, they were surely Israelites.
The identification of the Denyen as Israelites is supported by the fact that Egyptian records mention them alongside the Peleset (the Biblical Philistines) indicating their proximity (Edward Hincks, An Attempt to Ascertain the Number, Names, and Powers, of the Letters of the Hieroglyphic, or Ancient Egyptian Alphabet; Grounded on the Establishment of a New Principle in the Use of Phonetic Characters, The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 21: 176, William Osburn, Ancient Egypt, Her Testimony to the Truth of the Bible, Samuel Bagster and Sons p. 107).
The Ekwesh have been identified with the Achaeans/Danaans (Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe of ca. 1200 B.C., Princeton University Press pp. 49, 54, Jorrit M. Kelder, The Egyptian Interest in Mycenaean Greece, Jaarbericht Ex Oriente Lux p. 126). Interestingly we find on the Great Karnak Inscription that the Ekwesh were circumcised (Manuel Robbins, Collapse of the Bronze Age: the story of Greece, Troy, Israel, Egypt, and the peoples of the sea, Authors Choice Press p. 158).
This ought to be compared to the report by Diodorus Siculus that circumcision was brought to Judaea by the Israelites “who set forth with Danaus” from Egypt (Library of History 1.28.2-3). There Diodorus only states that the Colchians and Judaeans practiced circumcision, this practice evidently having fallen out of favour among the Achaeans by his time, but apparently it had been known to them in the Late Bronze Age.
The ancient Judaeans were very similar in appearance to their contemporary Greeks as we should expect of kindred peoples. A famous ancient mosaic from the Huqoq synagogue in Palestine depicts Judaeans right alongside Greeks and they are both portrayed just the same with fair skin, straight noses and light hair.
Flavius Josephus informs us that the Greeks and Judaeans were physically indistinguishable but for the circumcision of the Judaeans:
“Wherefore they desired his permission to build them a Gymnasium at Jerusalem. And when he had given them leave, they also hid the circumcision of their genitals, that even when they were naked they might appear to be Greeks.”
-Flavius Josephus, Antiquities 12.241
It ought to be noted here that the ancient Israelite practice of circumcision differed greatly from the later Jewish custom widely practiced in the Jewish, Islamic and American worlds today. I will not get into any grisly details here, but suffice it to say that Jewish circumcision is a horrific mockery of the Biblical rite of circumcision.
Samson the Danite is famous for his long locks of hair (Judges 16.13, 19) of which he had seven. Strong’s defines Samson’s locks (machalapha, H4253) as “a ringlet of hair (as gliding over each other) — lock.” Brown-Driver-Briggs defines it as “braid, lock, plait”. Samson most probably wore his hair in seven braids, plaits or locks.
Such locks were popular among the Greeks in ancient times (Rick Steves, Athens and the Peloponnese, Avalon Travel p. 165, Ian Jenkins, Archaic Kouroi in Naucratis: The Case for Cypriot Origin, American Journal of Archaeology vol. 105 pp. 168–175, Richard Hook, The Spartan Army, Osprey Publishing p. 24).
A similar hairstyle is also seen in the famous Akrotiri Boxer Frescoe of Santorini Greece where it is worn by Minoan youths. The Minoans of course were one and the same stock as the Biblical Philistines; neighbours of the Danites and a people the Israelites extensively interacted with. Samson the Danite had a Philistine wife (Judges 14).
Though they had adopted many of the customs of the Japhetic Ionians and Hamitic Minoans as well as the pagan religions of these tribes, the Israelites who settled in the Aegean surely maintained many of their Hebrew customs and beliefs. As we have seen, the Ekwesh/Achaeans were still practicing circumcision in the Late Bronze Age, and even in the time of Strabo (63 BC-23 AD) some Greeks (such as those in the temple-city of Comana in Pontus) considered swine to be unclean (Strabo, Geography 12.8.9). Many examples of Hebraisms have been found in Classical Greek literature, and certainly this is no mere coincidence.
That the Dorian Greeks were Israelites was certainly known to St. Paul. Here he tells the Dorian Greeks of Corinth that their fathers had all passed through the Red Sea with Moses in the Exodus. St. Paul was not speaking in an unexplained allegory here; rather he was telling his audience at Corinth that they descended from the Israelites of the Exodus:
“1 Now I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all had passed through the sea. 2 And all up to Moses had immersed themselves in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all had eaten the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank of an attending spiritual rock, and that rock was Christ.”
-1 Corinthians 10
St. Paul again indicates that the Corinthians are flesh and blood descendants of Israel where he warns them of the evils of idolatry:
“18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?”
-1 Corinthians 10