God Covers His Tracks


David Steinberg




The last of the Patriarchs was named Ya'akov (Jacob).  According to JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis by N. Sarna p.180

"By folk etymology, the name is here derived from Hebrew `akev, "heel." In reality, Hebrew ya`akov stems from a Semitic root `-k-v (more accurately `qb), "to protect."  It is abbreviated from a fuller form with a divine name.. (e.g.) Ya'akov-El, 'May El Protect.'"

If we consider that God has been active in the history of Israel we must assume that he arranged things to cover his tracks which in Biblical Hebrew (e.g. in Shir Hashirim) is expressed using the plural form of the word `akev, "heel."

First Temple and Second Temple Jewish society was fairly literate.  However, due to the scarcity of stone inscriptions, and the use of perishable writing materials, all the written remains found to date could be printed on a few pages.

This contrasts sharply with the situation in Egypt and Mesopotamia.  In Egypt papyrus lasts for thousands of years and there were many inscriptions on stone.  The papyri include personal letters, legal documents, tax receipts, literature of all kinds.  In Mesopotamia the clay tablets, inscribed in cuneiform, last for ever.

The result is that that we have many thousands of documents from, say, Babylon, covering a wide range of topics.  In fact, the first known written language, Sumerian (third to early second millennium BCE), has left us copious records and a cultural heritage –

“The Sumerians were prolific writers, scratching their cuneiform script with a stylus on moist clay tablets…. They recorded stories and poems, songs and technical data, laws, receipts, medical prescriptions.  They recorded, it seems, everything of interest in their world and to their imaginations, and much of what they recorded has survived, an enormous body of documentation that surpasses that of the Romans and Chinese.  ‘We have more from the Sumerians than from any culture in history before the invention of the printing press,’ …. We know the names of their gods and the list of their kings; we know their epics – including the world’s first tales of creation and of the flood, and the oldest written tale of paradise – and … we know their legacy; the legal and religious tradition the Sumerians bequeathed to Israel, and of the magical, astronomical and mathematical lore bequeathed to Greece.  We know it because it became part of our legacy too.”[ii]

Many Mesopotamian tablets were private records recording contemporary issues and concerns meant only for the eyes of the recipient.  Thus we have a better idea of what life was like and what people thought in Mesopotamia, under Ur III in 2100 BCE that we have for almost any period of pre-modern Jewish history!

If the God of Israel is arranging history, why has He denied us knowledge of our own?


[i] King pp. 310-317

[ii] From the article The New Sumerian Dictionary by William McPherson in the Biblical Archaeology Review Sept./Oct. 1984 (vol. X no. 5) which was reprinted from the Washington Post.