Not Bronze Age Myths – let’s end this misleading cliche

Time and time again I hear Jewish and Christian beliefs described as “Bronze Age myths” on supposedly rationalist sites. This is rather silly and annoying, not least because they are not Bronze Age at all!

The most likely dates for the redaction of the Book of Genesis  is around the 950-450 BCE, with some material (the Patriarchal narratives) being based upon narratives from maybe 1200BCE. The LBA (Late Bronze Age) in the region is usually considered to have ended by at 1300 BCE, a century before the earliest suggested origin dates, which are based upon certain legal and cultural forms found in the Patriarchal letters which are known to us from Mitani sources. They may have an origin back then, but the material we have and the redaction is indisputably Iron Age, and not remotely Bronze Age. The earlier material also predates the tribal organization of the region, but I won’t get in to the cultural anthropology of the region unless you are interested – but the “bronze age myth” nonsense one hears repeated so often on sceptic sites merely shows the authors lack of familiarity with the history and archeology of the region, which saddens me. I keep trying to point this out, in my truly pedantic manner!

So next time you see someone write “Bronze age mythology” do the world a favour, and correct them. “Iron age mythology” sounds much nicer anyway. Oh, and refer the poor sod to the Genetic Fallacy, as clearly epistemology is not their strong point: it’s the belief that somethings value now is equivalent to its origin, displacing it from context. Here’s wiki on this

Anyway, thought might amuse.

cj x


About Chris Jensen Romer

I am a profoundly dull, tedious and irritable individual. I have no friends apart from two equally ill mannered cats, and a lunatic kitten. I am a ghosthunter by profession, and professional cat herder. I write stuff and do TV things and play games. It's better than being real I find.
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22 Responses to Not Bronze Age Myths – let’s end this misleading cliche

  1. rich says:

    You have completely missed the point. It is not the date of the writing of the book of Genesis that is being ascribed to have occured during the bronze age – it is the myths that are the basis for the Genesis story (and many of the other old testiment stories) which have originations in the bronze age civilizations. If you can get over the nonsense that the bible was divinely inspired, you can trace most bible stories back to preexisting myths of civilizations who had stories to explain what they did not understand and stories with moral (sic.) dictates to control or influence the actions of the populus.

  2. Chris says:

    Hi Rich – firstly I doubt very much myths are “Primitive Science” that si explanatory – or rather they often are, but in the singular not the generic. So that tree resulted from such a hero being turned to wood, that rock formation was The Devil’s Chair, that is Robin Hood’s oak etc, etc. Have a look for my critique on Frazerian approaches to myth on here.

    Secondly, sure, Genesis for example draws upon the motifs of the Atrahasis Epic and Gilgamesh Epic to give just two examples – in fact it is a theological response to the former as far as i can see – and sure some of those myths date back to the Bronze Age. However the written form we have is definitely Iron Age, and “Bronze Age” myths remains a misnomer.

    cj x

  3. rich says:

    I have had no formal education in mythology or bible studies. I consider the Old Testiment to be fiction and dangerous to be taken literally in any sense. I did read some of Joseph Campbell’s writings many years ago however and I watched his series of interviews with Bill Moyers.

    Do you think Joseph Campbell would have completely agreed with you?

    Are all the origions of the old testiment stories really limited to “history and archeology of the region” as you say or were some of these biblical foundations perhaps even tracable to far eastern and Sub Saharan cultures rather than just indigionus to the region? Aren’t varients of the Noah flood and Adam and Eve stories as well as Genesis variations quite universal to early civilizations across far reaching geographies and predating a written record? Didn’t even the earliest bronze age peoples suppose a deity and form mythologies and behaviors around those beliefs and fears…and therein lie the origions, the seeds of the mythology that became such fodder for “Let there be Light”?

  4. Chris says:

    Campbell? Nope. We would have agreed on a lot – we both see archetypes as interesting and useful, but he took Jung’s notion and applied it wholesale to mythology; all trickster gods are one trickster god, and tell us about the trickster archetype. Jung was fascinating, but I recommend Richard Noll’s book on him.

    Right, on ANE religion – Judaism is typical of the Semitic faiths in many respects, but curiously has quite a lot in common with Hittite temple practice from my limited reading. So Sumerian/Babylonian/Hittite/Caananite/Egyptian etc, etc, influences sure. Flood myths are universal, but beware – the similarities were greatly exaggerated by the followers of Erich Von Daniken. The one thing I will say about ancient religion is I’m usually more surprised by the differences than the similarities!

    Genesis is a great example. The basic story of the first couple of chapters comes from Ancient Near Eastern Creation myths – but in them humans outwit the gods, and the gods want to destroy humans because they are too noisy and make a mess of Creation! The gods are capricious, argumentative and certainly not “good” – and humans outwit the gods, and survive. This is what Genesis 1-12 is about – it reverses all this! That was what makes it different – its a really old (over a thousand years) and well known story given a new theological spin – same story, different way of telling it.

    Actually I have some great books on ANE mythology and their relationship to ancient Hebrew religion – if we ever end up in same part of world and you want a beer I’ll lend you some, or I can make recommendations. Problem with archeology of the region is everybody’s got an agenda – it’s funny or painful depending how cynical you are (and i’m incredibly cynical) to read about, but if interested have a look at Readable even to non-archaeologists, it covers the whole history from the “this proves the bible” excesses of the Evangelicals of the 19th and early 20th century to the “not a word of the bible is true” excesses of the extremer end of the minimalists in the late 20th century. On mythology of the ANE I’d recommend this as an excellent introduction —

    Bloody expensive for either, but the latter at least is fun and will teach you an awful lot about the other religions of the Biblical era. Hope of interest!

    cj x

  5. Rich says:

    Thanks for answering. Very interesting and I believe I may just read more and see if I can maintain an interest level to follow your suggestions. My part of the world is the desert southwest of the USA.

  6. Scott says:

    If you’re going to use Wikipedia to define “genetic fallacy”, perhaps you should use it to define “bronze age”. They date the end of the bronze age in the middle east as 1200 BC, which you already acknowledge as the date of the bible’s “narratives” and Wikipedia, too, uses as the date for the oldest material in the bible. So the bible does, in fact, appear to originate at the tail end of the bronze age.

    However, (and quoting Wikipedia’s Old Testament page), the bible “presented a picture of ancient Israel based on information they viewed as historically accurate.” In other words, the bible’s stories of Israel’s history and origin and that of its god, YHWH, obviously precede the writing of the bible. So even if you deny the writing of the bible began in the bronze age, the origin of its stories clearly originate in the bronze age period.

    Of course, whether the bible was written in the bronze age or iron age, it doesn’t make stories of 900 year old men and putting all the animals of the world on a big boat and a man living inside of a whale any less preposterous.

    • Chris Jensen Romer says:

      Agreed, and i never said otherwise (about the last bit) – I don’t take them literally, I do regard them as myths. About preceeding oral traditions – I agree with you, but many of the more fringe elements of Biblical scepticism would disagree, and claim the whole thing was written much later (this is not the case as it happens). In fact, and ironically, I do think parts of Genesis may really be old enough in written form to be Bronze Age, and maybe parts of the rest of the Pentateuch: but that would be going further than mainstream scholarship would allow. So they dating the Levantine Bronze Age up till 1200 BCE now? It’s a very complex issue: bronze has an incredibly ancient history in that part of the world. Thanks for the wiki heads up, I’ll have to see if I can find where the dating comes from. Originally my piece was inspired by constantly reminding friends over on the Richard Dawkins forum that “iron age myths” would be the correct term: when they ceased to listen, and kept up the B.A.M meme, I thought sod it, I’m going to point out once and for all this is rubbish. Problem is there are no hard and fast boundaries for dating as far as I know: I used Kenyon, which is respectable enough I think.

      Nice to meet you, and do comment and critique other bits of ye olde blog.

      all the best
      j x

      j x

  7. Hazmat says:

    Splitting semantic hairs over period names does seem to be missing the main point, namely that God is no more than a superstitious myth. From a factual point of view, if facts are important, I’m afraid he’s in the same boat as fairies, unicorns, gnomes, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, werewolves, vampires, the Bogeyman and so on through the list of childish nonsense. There is nothing wrong with ridiculing the ridiculous.

    • Joseph G says:

      So here we see the essential point of the B.A.M. meme – that because something is old, it must be primitive, childish, etc. This is at the heart of the genetic fallacy. C.S. Lewis referred to it as chronological bigotry. The B.A.M. meme reflect a Frazierian view that has been thoroughly discredited by more than a century of anthropological research on religion (i.e., SCIENCE), but the heck with it, let’s stick with a false, unscientific, ethnocentric model because it works well in trying to discredit religion. This is an incredibly anti-intellectual stance and therefore one of a kind that is almost never seen employed by genuine scientists (especially social scientist, who see human beings with far more nuance than other scientists). I’m an archaeologist and it cracks me up to see pseudo-intellectuals repeating this meme, because all it does is make them look ignorant. Nevermind the fact that there were early Bronze Age engineers and architects who were able to construct a building such as the Great Pyramid, which we are STILL arguing about how it was built. Instead, Bronze Age people were stupid, childish, superstitious and ignorant, although they invented writing, domesticated a wide array of plants and animals, etc.. Contemporary people in contrast, are enlightened, rational, etc., I suppose except in contrast to people living 3,000 years from now, who will disparage us as howling savages because of their more advanced technology. What rubbish.

      • jrom517 says:

        It’s beyond belief to hear all the nay-sayers so quick to talk about Bible myths, Old Testament fallacies, preposterous theries of a Global Flood, Solomon’s Temple, Belly of the Whale tales, etc.

        And yet, they are the very ones who go above and beyond to prove Homer’s Odyssey true, the Battle of Troy true, Gilgamesh true (more true than the Genesis account), Sumerian King list true (even though each lived for thousands of years), etc…

        They actually believe Gilgamesh over Noah, that Sumerian King’s lived longer than the Ante-Diluvian Heroes – and stress these could not!

        It’s outrageous. Yes, do I believe on some of Ancient stories outside those written about in the OT, but I believe that the Bible is TRUE, that it is Divinely Inspired by YWHW.

        Yes, archeological evidence for the Kingdom of Israel is nil, but Nebuchadnezzar and the Romans made sure they would erase them from history. Even Jesus said, “not one stone here will be left here upon another…”

        The Ancient World is fascinating and alot of weird and strange things existed and happened. I mean Hanibal crossed the Alps on an Elephant….Alexander the Great conquered the known World! The Greeks built the Parthenon, the Romans the Aqueducts.

        Giants existed in the Levant, and according to Gen 6 “the sons of god came down….” Something did happen at Troy, the Israelites were tasked with conquering the Promised Land and destroying these Giants and battling the Sea People’s.

        Odysseus saw weird sea creatures, but Jonah was not swallowed by a whale?….ludicrous…..If Odysseus could experience giant sea creatures, so could Jonah…..

  8. Dan Molter says:


    I found this site with a Google search of “bronze age myth”. As Rich pointed out above, many myths which eventually were written down had their origin in oral tradition. Just because the first written evidence of a myth appears in the Iron Age, it does not follow that said myth did not originate in the Bronze age.

    That said, I am not a historian, so I cannot hope to challenge anyone on historical detail. As a philosopher though, I question whether an Iron age myth holds any greater claim to truth than a Bronze age myth. Both the Bronze age and the Iron age occurred many hundreds of generations before the information age. Nobody back then had any clue about Earth’s real place in the universe or the evolutionary origin of humans. Ancient stories of gods and creation, though interesting from an historical perspective, are simply not true.The stories are not true in any factual sense of “true”, regardless of whether they were first propagated before or after primitive human learned to smelt iron.

    Dan Molter

  9. Jerome,

    You are wrong on both accounts…

    If one accepts the writings of the primary foundational books of the bible as being written by Moses himself (ignoring the lack of his existence), that places the writings around 1400 BCE.

    Even actual scholarly research places many of the books in the bronze age era:

    B.C.E. Old Testament
    c. 2166 to c. 1876 Job
    c. 1446 to c. 1406 Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
    c. 1406 to c. 1050 Joshua, Judges

    And as others have said, the subject of these myths occured in the bronze age. Are you embarassed by this or something? The characterization fits…

    • Chris Jensen Romer says:

      Not in the slightest, and yes following Wenham (who actually taught me at uni) and others I think the Patriarchal narratives are very early indeed. I’m pointing out the current redaction is Iron Age: I don’t dispute at all that some of the patriarchal narratives date from Mitani times f’r instance. Did I say otherwise? cj x

  10. David W. Bearg says:

    Here we are in a universe that is 13.7 billion years old, on a planet of some 4 billion years of existence, how can anyone of rationale thought put any credence on the organized religion that is derived from bronze age mythology to 2 to 3 thousand years? Shared common belief systems among tribes may have offered some benefits back then but now it only seems to fuel hatred and warfare.

  11. jdam2007 says:

    yeah okay and when was the Septuagint written and confirmed by the 72 jewish representatives summoned by the roman emperor at the time. and the septuagint is the religious book that the old testament is based upon. It was between the years of 300 BC and 200 BC. If you know your history this is technically the iron age. Before the Septuagint there was no consensus among the jewish peoples since they where thrown out of Israel by Assyrians 400 years before in 722 BC. Before the Septuagint there was the Torah which was passed down through the generations by mouth and some was transcribed by the rabbi of there local synagogues. The only problem with this theory is that when the assyrians invaded and dispersed the Jewish people and that is where you get the 10 lost tribes of israel. There is a reason they are called “the lost tribes” because no one can really account for where they all are. So how did the Romans get the 72 rabbis (6 from each tribe. legend) to come together from all over the world to write and approve the Septuagint so that thy could rip it off and add matthew mark luke and john only 600 years later. Thats right that is not possible. awwwwww go cry in the corner now.

    • Chris Jensen Romer says:

      I think you mean Ptolemy II of Alexandria? Yes the septuagint dates from that period as a collection sure. The material within is older but that was when it was collected according to legend. Where do we disagree?

  12. Juana de la Gaviotas says:

    Time magazine asked astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson,
    What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the universe? His reply:

    The most astounding fact–the most astounding fact–is the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on earth, the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars, the high-mass ones among them, went unstable in their later years. They collapsed and then exploded, scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy, guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas clouds that condense, collapse (and) form the next generation of solar systems–stars with orbiting planets. And those planets now have the ingredients for life itself.

    So when I look up at the night sky, I know that, yes, we are part of this universe; we are in this universe. But perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us.

    When I reflect on that fact, I look up. Many people feel small because they’re small and the universe is big, but I feel big because my atoms came from those stars. There is a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life–you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant, you want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are just by being alive.

  13. Stuart says:

    CJ, everybody has this wrong. They do not see that the Bible is a work of Enchantment. Most of the stories therein (at least the Old Testament), pre-date even the Iron Age.
    This is how it works: We live within a ‘Dimensional Bubble’ (DB.) Sometimes, a rent appears in the ‘skin’ of this DB; at which point, other dimensions can ‘seep in’ and cause Chaos.
    Chaos is the ‘natural order’ of the Universe and can be termed: ‘Disenchantment.’
    In order to prevent Chaos happening within our own dimension, elemental forces (EF) of nature; which can be termed: Enchantment, rush to repair the damage.
    This process can be termed: Re-enchantment.
    This happens in much the same way that antibodies rush to the defence of a skin wound.
    To achieve this end, EF draw upon everything they can. They take from the Past, Present and, indeed, Future, although they have to be pertinent to the present. In doing so, EF will use tried and tested methods from the past.
    That is why some stories in the Bible appear to mirror stories found in other cultures/times.
    It is not necessary for cultures/civilizations to have any knowledge of the histories of those that went before. They are processes that will occur time and again, whenever a ‘rent’ appears in a DB. They will appear to be pertinent to those living at the time – that is all.
    Therefore; the idea that the Bible was ‘cobbled-together’ is without foundation. SC

  14. Alice C says:

    So it makes it a good idea to blindly follow these myths because their from the Iron Age, and not the Bronze Age which you so claim? Where is the logic in that? Oh yeah, sorry, that was a low blow. You base your life on illogical fears and superstitions from men of the Bronze Age. Oh, I’m sorry, men of the Iron Age.

    • Chris Jensen Romer says:

      Er I’m sorry. My objection is to bad history and a historical one not a religious one. I never made any claim for the validity of the beliefs – I just pointed out the meme is bollocks.

    • Stuart says:

      Alice, I cannot see that there’s anything illogical about fears and superstitions – from whatever age they originate? They only appear to be illogical because we live within a different time/dimension. Yet those fears/superstitions could resurface at any time.
      Surely you’ve heard the phrase: ‘There’s nothing new under the Sun.’ ?

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