Yosef ben-Jocanon: A Critique

Yosef ben-Jochanan (hereafter YBJ) is a conspiracy theorist. He is in this specific coterie of writers who insist that true history has been altered by a racist establishment that is hiding such facts as:

We will have little to say about these sorts of claims here, other than that classical scholars and historians, and other professionals in the relevant realms of the sciences and anthropology, regard such claims as outlandish, and recognize that they are made by unqualified persons. YBJ himself often claims that he is a trained "Egyptologist" although his critics note that he has no working knowledge of the Egyptian language.

YBJ is written of here not because of these things, but because of a specific book of his I was asked to look into, entitled African Origins of the Major "Western Religions" (Alkebu-Lan Books, 1970). If you find this book, do not expect technical brilliance in its composition. It is badly typeset, and filled with spelling, grammatical and typographical errors. Words are capitalized completely for emphasis. There is also, at least once every page, a reminder that we would realize that all of what YBJ was saying was the golden truth were it not for those racist conspirators.

Finally, the source work is naturally dismal; among the works consulted are an extraordinary number from the 19th century, like Gerald Massey and Godfrey Higgins, all of them long superseded by 21st century scholarship) and Homer Smith, the kidney specialist who wrote Man and His Gods.

The premise of this book is that the three major "Western" religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have origins not in the West, but in Africa (and, YBJ admits grudgingly, Asia).

Well, of course they do. No one denies any of these things; nor does anyone teach (as YBJ seems to think, but he never quotes anyone) that Europeans invented the Ten Commandments. The precepts contained in this code, YBJ tells us, were "used in Egypt and Ethiopia thousands of years" before Moses; and yet, we "are still taught as if the first time they ever came to the knowledge of mankind" was Mt. Sinai and Moses.

Who teaches this, I can't say. The 10 Commandments are recognized by scholars of the ANE as an examplar of a typical moral code for the period, and indeed universally; which is not to say that there is any indication of dependence. No one needed to plagiarize the commands not to kill or steal, as though Moses and the Hebrews or anyone else had no such command before in their society and went about indiscriminately killing people and stealing their chariots until one day they found the Code of Hammurabi in one of the libraries they were looting and decided it contained some good ideas.

Much of what YBJ argues involves this kind of accusation of "borrowing" or "stealing" some universal concept, as though the Egyptians came up with the idea alone and everyone else was unab;e to think of it likewise. He quotes the Egyptian Book of the Dead as saying that the sun god Ra is a "...jealous God..." and as commanding "...no other gods before me..."

What's the issue? Is there any deity, true or false, who would say, "I don't mind if you abandon me and turn to other gods"? Maybe Moses borrowed the terminology; maybe it was a universal and correct conception of what a deity was supposed to be/is like; what difference does it make? None at all; all that matters is whether the deity in question is a true one.

We are told that ancient African voodoo ceremonies are "very similar in purpose" to ceremonies held at "the so-called 'storefront churches' in Harlem." (xvii)

Proving....what? Similar...in what way, exactly? It's not clear, although it is interesting that we are not given precise descriptions of the Harlem "ceremonies," much less given any insight into their anthropological genesis; we are also told little of the voodoo ceremony supposedly at issue, other than, for example, that they were to