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Source: (consider it) Thread: Purgatory: The Bible Unearthed
Woodworm
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I have just finished reading The Bible UnearthedWikipedia here by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman. The authors examine archaological evidence to build up picture of what was going on in in Palestine roughly 1500-500 BCE, and compare it with OT stories of events at the time. They make what I think is a pretty convincing case, for example, that:

1. The Exodus never happened. There is no shortage of archaelogical evidence from the era in both Egypt and Palestine, but none to suggest that the people of Israel were ever held in captivity in Egypt, escaped, spent a period wandering around Sinai, or subsequently "arrived" in the promised land.

2. The story of Israel's Kings in the book of Kings, and whether they were successful or unsuccessful depending on whether they were faithful or unfaithful to Jahweh, is the creation of theological bias and is not historically accurate. The Bible portrays Josiah, Hezekiah, Manasseh as being successful or unsucessful depending whether they had required the worship of Jaweh-alone (in which case God favoured them and the nation prospered) or were tolerant of the worship of other gods (in which case God condemned them and disaster followed). In fact, the archaological evidence doesn't bear out this supposed correlation - the reigns of the biblical baddies could be very prosperous, whereas the reigns of the faithful could be a total horlix.

My question is, if this is true, where does it leave us Christians? Is it enough for the Exodus to be a powerful myth? Can it be meaningfully distinguished from powerful secular myths or stories? If the OT authors misrepresented history to suit their own agenda, is there anything in the Bible that we can trust?

This is old ground I expect but I am properly perplexed & would be grateful for views.

[ 15. June 2016, 18:47: Message edited by: Belisarius ]

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NUH MUH! Nuh.. muh...

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tclune
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ISTM that this view would be much more devastating to the nationalistic claims of the current state of Israel than anything else. For Christians, the claims with respect to who Christ is and was are the bases for our faith. If it were to turn out that Jacob and/or Moses were mythical or composite characters, it hardly seems that it would roil the surface of Christianity at all. But, if Christ were mythical or not raised from the dead, then (as Paul noted)our faith is in vain.

--Tom Clune

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El Greco
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quote:
Originally posted by tclune:
ISTM that this view would be much more devastating to the nationalistic claims of the current state of Israel than anything else. For Christians, the claims with respect to who Christ is and was are the bases for our faith. If it were to turn out that Jacob and/or Moses were mythical or composite characters, it hardly seems that it would roil the surface of Christianity at all. But, if Christ were mythical or not raised from the dead, then (as Paul noted)our faith is in vain.

--Tom Clune

Well, it depends on what kind of Christianity we are talking about.

Traditional Christianity gave a huge fight to preserve the historical accuracy of the divine economy in the Old Testament, stressing the unity of the two testaments.

If God is not like the God we read about in the Old Testament, then we have a problem here, because it would turn out that Christianity gives a false image of God.

And let's not forget that the history of Israel is connected with the history of the Christian church via all sort of bizarre ways, from typology to allegory. If you take away the historicity of the Old Testament, the Christian story turns out to be the result of the ancients' creative imagination, rather than divine revelation.

Of course, this doesn't need to concern those who believe in a Christianity Light (TM), where none of those historical claims matter, except for a couple of "essentials" like the resurrection. But for traditional Christianity, and traditional Judaism, that would be unthinkable. Heck, the lack of an Exodus does away with Israel being the chosen people, which then does away with the Messiah coming from Israel.

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ken
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quote:
Originally posted by Woodworm:
the reigns of the biblical baddies could be very prosperous, whereas the reigns of the faithful could be a total horlix.

But that's exactly what it says in the Bible! (Well, in Kings - Chronicles is a bit flaky...) Omri and Ahab are described as beign among the nastiest and most godless kings - but also the most successful.

If it was all a fudge Ahab & Jezebel would have come to their bad end a lot earlier. Or (more likely) the successful kings would have been portrayed as godfearers.

As it is even David, the king the writer of Samuel/Kings likes most, more or less the hero of the story, has his sins described in great and bloodthirsty detail detail. If the whole thing was a bit of post-exilic priestly spin-doctoring then I would expect David (& Solomon) would have been written up in a very different light.

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Ken

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Johnny S
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quote:
Originally posted by Woodworm:
They make what I think is a pretty convincing case, for example, that:

1. The Exodus never happened.

2. The story of Israel's Kings in the book of Kings, and whether they were successful or unsuccessful depending on whether they were faithful or unfaithful to Jahweh, is the creation of theological bias and is not historically accurate...

...In fact, the archaological evidence doesn't bear out this supposed correlation - the reigns of the biblical baddies could be very prosperous, whereas the reigns of the faithful could be a total horlix.

My question is, if this is true, where does it leave us Christians?

I'm not sure where it all leaves us. For a start, as Ken says, it actually fits the biblical record of the OT as far as the Kings are concerned.

More generally archaeology is only as good as its dating method. Usually it is very good but it can be a rather blunt instrument. If you read someone like David Rohl then he'd give a different take on dating the Exodus. I'm not putting David Rohl up as being correct just that he does illustrate that if a dating system is flawed from the start then all its dates will then be out. He's not a Christian BTW.

All in all I'm not that bothered.

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tclune
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quote:
Originally posted by §Andrew:
Traditional Christianity gave a huge fight to preserve the historical accuracy of the divine economy in the Old Testament, stressing the unity of the two testaments.

If God is not like the God we read about in the Old Testament, then we have a problem here, because it would turn out that Christianity gives a false image of God.

You're conflating a lot of things into one lump here. I am not aware of the Church fighting to preserve the historical accuracy of the OT at all. It just didn't seem to be an issue at all before modern archeology. But maybe I am unaware of some history here.

The image of God has very little to do with the question of whether the revelation of that image is communicated through history or literature. There aren't many folks who are troubled by the notion that the creation stories may be less than clinically precise, yet most Christians find them to be vehicles for revealing the nature of the Divine to us, for example.

--Tom Clune

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Mad Geo

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Thanks Woodworm. You've provided me with something I've been looking for. I have heard lots of scholars say that the Exodus didn't happen in archaeological evidence, but it is hard to find such things through the chaff of people that are defending that it did. I look forward to reading it.

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Diax's Rake - "Never believe a thing simply because you want it to be true"

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El Greco
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quote:
Originally posted by tclune:
I am not aware of the Church fighting to preserve the historical accuracy of the OT at all.

True, the issue with archeological findings arose in the modern times. But the issue of the historical accuracy of the Old Testament is taken for granted by both sides during the debate on the theological accuracy this historical picture gives.

The Church was very adamant that the God who appears to behave in that way in the Old Testament is the God of Christianity, and the salvation history of the Old Testament is God's Revelation to man.

Which brings us to:

quote:
The image of God has very little to do with the question of whether the revelation of that image is communicated through history or literature.
Oh, but it does. Because the Christian claim has been that this personal all-loving and all-powerful God intervened in the history of Israel in such a way, and this is how we get to know about Him, because He revealed Himself in the history of the elect people, which he prepared, so that the Messiah would be sent from them to the whole world.

If you take away the historical accuracy, you do not have revelation as traditionally understood.

You might have poetic inspiration, but it's an altogether different kind of revelation, than the one that comes through God intervening in the history of one people and making Himself known in those ways which it was thought that He did.

In other words, one is left with imagination making claims for reality, which is circular, because the only way those imaginative stories came to be powerful is because the church thought they were actually -historically- true.

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Ξέρω εγώ κάτι που μπορούσε, Καίσαρ, να σας σώσει.

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Lord Jestocost
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quote:
Originally posted by Ken: If the whole thing was a bit of post-exilic priestly spin-doctoring then I would expect David (& Solomon) would have been written up in a very different light.

That raises a further question, and one I was thinking about recently: is there evidence outside the Bible for the Exile? The wholesale movement of populations strikes me as something that would leave all kinds of interesting traces: archaeological, linguistic, DNA ...
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Jengie jon

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You mean apart from the existence of the Iranian Jewish Community.

Jengie

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Adam.

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I don't know about DNA, but there's plenty of evidence for the historicity of the exile, including very precise dating. It began in 597 BCE when a group of Judeans, including the king, was exiled to Babylon and then in 586 the First Temple was destroyed and more Judeans were exiled. It ended in 538 with the decree of Cyrus.

All of these events have plenty of extra-Biblical witnesses. Even if they didn't, the Biblical evidence is much stronger than simply claims that it happened. The linguistic evolution of Hebrew, for instance, shows clear signs of the exile which can be used to date texts. SocioTheologically, it created a crisis for practically all the institutions of Israel, particularly the monarchy, which no longer had land to rule, and the priesthood, which no longer had a Temple in which to offer sacrifice. Much Exilic and post-Exilic Biblical literature only really makes sense as an attempt to process this.

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Bullfrog.

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I've actually heard that while there isn't evidence for everything in Exodus, the basic story of a group of people wandering into Egypt during a period of famine, becoming something like indentured servants, and later leaving during a period of political instability is plausible and attested by other ancient sources. It doesn't mean that Exodus is a nice and accurate portrayal of everything, but it wasn't a pure fiction woven of whole cloth, so to speak.

Also, "the People of Israel" probably didn't exist at this point in the same way they did during the monarchic period. That got organized later. Trying to project the monarchic or post-exilic period onto the really ancient stuff is anachronistic.

One problem with trying to read the Torah in as if it were an historical record of one time and place is that there's a lot of editing that went into it, so what you're really seeing is the memories of a much later time reflecting on the earlier one. Trying to get a pure historical account out of that part of the Old Testament (or indeed anything in the bible) is very difficult. There's history there, but it is a history written by people, in all of their dysfunctional glory.

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Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me, I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train. --Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

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Merchant Trader
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One expects controversy over ancient sources; Homer is conventionally regarded as myth based on fact. Heroditus is the first said to have written real verified 'history' but

quote:
Herodotus' invention earned him the twin titles "The Father of History", first conferred by Cicero, and "The Father of Lies".[5] As these epithets imply, there has long been a debate—at least from the time of Cicero's On the Laws (Book 1, paragraph 5)—concerning the veracity of his tales and, more importantly, the extent to which he knew himself to be creating fabrications.
The OT is a collection of different kinds of literature written in different periods and some more poetic like Homer and other more historical like Heroditus. I can understand why we have to treat with caution but I dont understand why anyone would think it likely to be a complete fabrication when, even from a secular standpoint, it is much more likly to be based on real events but distorted through transmission.

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... formerly of Muscovy, Lombardy & the Low Countries; travelling through diverse trading stations in the New and Olde Worlds

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Woodworm
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That raises a further question, and one I was thinking about recently: is there evidence outside the Bible for the Exile? The wholesale movement of populations strikes me as something that would leave all kinds of interesting traces: archaeological, linguistic, DNA ...

Hart's response is right, plenty of evidence, although according to The Bible Unearthed (sorry) the external evidence is that the numbers exiled were relatively low, with a lot of folk left behind (as I guess you would expect).

Thanks v much to all for the other responses, which I am still processing. I can't agree with the posts to the effect that that it doesn't terribly matter; Andrew is right that traditional teaching claims a factual paradigm, hence my question as to whether it is "enough" if the stories are myths.

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NUH MUH! Nuh.. muh...

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by Mad Geo:
Thanks Woodworm. You've provided me with something I've been looking for. I have heard lots of scholars say that the Exodus didn't happen in archaeological evidence, but it is hard to find such things through the chaff of people that are defending that it did. I look forward to reading it.

Part of the issue lies in how we understand "history" as well. We have to remember that the "historical" books of the OT are written by ancient authors, not modern authors. Thus they reflect ancient understandings of history, not post-enlightenment literalism.

One difference in such a worldview is the way ancients understood "their" history as "our" history. When an ancient Hebrew is telling the story of Exodus, he's not telling it as something that happened to them, it's something that happened to us. Thus a redactor, writing centuries after the event, is going to write what may have happened to a handful of people as if it happened to the entire group at the time of writing.

Thus Exodus might be seen as the story of a handful of slaves, that was appropriated and owned by the nation of Israel.

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"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid." -Frederick Buechner

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Bullfrog.

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quote:
Originally posted by Woodworm:
That raises a further question, and one I was thinking about recently: is there evidence outside the Bible for the Exile? The wholesale movement of populations strikes me as something that would leave all kinds of interesting traces: archaeological, linguistic, DNA ...

Hart's response is right, plenty of evidence, although according to The Bible Unearthed (sorry) the external evidence is that the numbers exiled were relatively low, with a lot of folk left behind (as I guess you would expect).

Thanks v much to all for the other responses, which I am still processing. I can't agree with the posts to the effect that that it doesn't terribly matter; Andrew is right that traditional teaching claims a factual paradigm, hence my question as to whether it is "enough" if the stories are myths.

Does that mean that the seminary I'm at, which is at least officially endorsed by the United Methodist Church, is wildly bucking tradition?

IIRC, for years the dominant teaching was that the bible was best understood allegorically. The "factual" paradigm only claimed (and claims) preeminence among post-enlightenment fundamentalists. As others posted, while these are numerous and in some places very dominant, they're hardly the spokespersons for the entirety of tradition.

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Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me, I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train. --Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

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Mad Geo

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quote:
Originally posted by cliffdweller:
quote:
Originally posted by Mad Geo:
Thanks Woodworm. You've provided me with something I've been looking for. I have heard lots of scholars say that the Exodus didn't happen in archaeological evidence, but it is hard to find such things through the chaff of people that are defending that it did. I look forward to reading it.

Part of the issue lies in how we understand "history" as well. We have to remember that the "historical" books of the OT are written by ancient authors, not modern authors. Thus they reflect ancient understandings of history, not post-enlightenment literalism.

One difference in such a worldview is the way ancients understood "their" history as "our" history. When an ancient Hebrew is telling the story of Exodus, he's not telling it as something that happened to them, it's something that happened to us. Thus a redactor, writing centuries after the event, is going to write what may have happened to a handful of people as if it happened to the entire group at the time of writing.

Thus Exodus might be seen as the story of a handful of slaves, that was appropriated and owned by the nation of Israel.

I live in a country of Fundiliteralists in many ways. I honestly "get" that the story is not literal, unfortunately, many people don't.

I personally think it didn't happen....at....all as described. But I am willing to let an expert inform me otherwise, thus the book. [Big Grin]

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Diax's Rake - "Never believe a thing simply because you want it to be true"

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PhilA

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As far as the Exodus is concerned, lets be clear: there is no evidence of it happening as the bible portrays.

However, there is an unnamed city, dating from Ramses II that was unfinished for no discernible reason. Because the Egyptians didn't write about failures, only victories, there is nothing in the Egyptian archives about this place, it was literally stumbled upon by farmers and mentioned to archaeologists.

One explanation for why it wasn't finished is because the work force picked up and legged it. It is quite possible that these slaves (of which the Egyptian word is translated as 'Hebrew') began to identify as one people and became somewhat nomadic for a time. If you look at a lot of the laws in the Torah, they make sense for a nomadic people - no pigs, because they don't travel well, no shellfish, it travels really badly, no permanent worship space but a tabernacle, YHWH portrayed as a defender and warrior God pre settling in the promised land, no king initially, no idols to carry around, be careful who you shag (babies don't travel well either), speedy settling of disputes, punishments for transgressions comprise of leaving the social group (ritual uncleanliness) rather than banishment from the land as in other 'nation based' societies- this all adds up and points towards a transitional people.

Of course, when this changed and the people settled in the promised land, this also became part of the story and you can see the rules and society change and the image of God changes to one of a protector and defender. As farming and agriculture becomes more important, it is no longer simply livestock that is to be sacrificed, but tithing of fields as well... the examples go on through all 613 rules and can be placed chronologically in the narrative they sit alongside. Their implementation and integration can be plotted through three primary phases of Hebrew life: 'nomadic and transitional', 'settling and building' and 'settled and farming'.

When the stories were written down many years later (probably whilst in Exile in Babylon) they had already taken on much more mythic and foundational properties and became entwined with the group's identity both socially and religiously.

Being able to academically study the past of a people through its religious writing doesn't make that history and story any less true or any less important. However, one has to view the story through the understanding that many of the different books were written for different audiences and for different purposes, just as the NT books were. To categorize them as either 'history' or 'fiction' is such a blunt tool as to be useless.

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Organ Builder
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I happen to love archeology as long as someone else is doing the digging in the dirt under a blazing sun, but it needs to be read skeptically as well.

Anyone who doesn't think so needs to order this book.

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Curiosity killed ...

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Just as stupid question, as I've not read the book, but I have done some archaeological digging: if people are wandering in the desert, what archaeological evidence is there likely to be? The stuff that provides good archaeological evidence tends to be buildings, nice solid stone ones for preference, which don't stack up with nomadic tribes.

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Mugs - Keep the Ship afloat

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Leetle Masha

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Organ Builder, Macaulay's book puts me in mind of a clever little novel from the '60s by Walter Miller: A Canticle for Leibowitz

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eleison me, tin amartolin: have mercy on me, the sinner

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Lamb Chopped
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Just two cents here and there--

I suspect that what would remain from desert wanderings would be mainly tiny things (amulets? easily portable, anyway, even though made of stone or metal) and the occasional piece of leather clothing or harness, that just happened to get discarded in the right environment to last 4000 years. I have a hard time thinking of much else desert wanderers would leave behind.

I thought there WAS quite a bit of evidence for warfare in Canaan? Of course, proving who did what to whom when is another matter. But that area was Grand Central Station for every army on the move in the Middle East, due to trade routes and geographical issues; the biblical accounts of almost unceasing war are aparently right on.

As for "the good guys" have the good reigns, and the "bad guys" never prosper, the Bible shows nothing of the sort. It is David, Israel's first and in many ways best king, whose hands are so covered in blood that God won't let him build the temple; and it is Solomon the apostate and enslaver of his fellow Israelites who enjoys the most peaceful, powerful and wealthy reign in the whole catalogue. The correlation between faithfulness and peaceful prosperity is never very clear. There's a bit clearer link between repentance and (temporary) rescue.

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Er, this is what I've been up to (book).
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orfeo

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Well, all I can say about this at the moment is that I'm glad I'm not the ONLY person who read point 2 and thought "Um, yes, I already knew that, that's exactly what the Bible says actually".

Nowhere does the Bible suggest that the 'good' kings had the most EARTHLY success and the 'bad' kings had the least. It is quite clearly judging them on theological grounds. But 'good' kings died young and 'bad' kings reigned for decades.

To be honest, if point 2 is the book's idea of a gasp! shock! horror! the Bible is wrong! moment, then it greatly diminishes my interest in reading it to find out more about point 1. Because point 2 looks very much like someone having an agenda, and creating a straw man in order to knock it down.

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Barnabas62
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I came across this critique on line. It seems pretty measured to me.

I've no doubt that history, oral tradition, legend, politics and theological outlooks are all intertwined in the OT and the evidence of archaeology can shed light on those things. I'm going to take this advice at the end of the linked critique.

quote:
I recommend this book if you like to be rattled—if you enjoy a provocative, polemical read. Finkelstein and Silberman tell us there were no patriarchs, no Exodus, no conquest of Canaan, and no united monarchy. Such assertions challenge any complacent acceptance of conventional views. They force biblical scholars to recheck the evidence behind their own visions of the Bible and Israel’s history.
My current view is that the abiding memory and ubiquitous celebration of the Passover within Judaism arose out of real historical events, rather than a subsequent desire of leaders to form a monotheistic community out of a ragbag. In short, that some kind of real escape from slavery formed the community, rather than the community leaders formed a myth of escape from slavery to form the community.

I suppose the real issue is whether the return of some slaves from Babylonian Exile (for which the evidence is impressive) provided fertile ground for such earlier myths to take root - or for a reminding and recording of a pre-existing oral and written tradition. Anyway, I'm going to read the book.

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Who is it that you seek? How then shall we live? How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

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ken
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quote:
Originally posted by cliffdweller:
Part of the issue lies in how we understand "history" as well. We have to remember that the "historical" books of the OT are written by ancient authors, not modern authors. Thus they reflect ancient understandings of history, not post-enlightenment literalism.

In some ways the Old Testament has a more modern view of history than the Greek writings do. I am very impressed by the general background of technological advancement in it.

If the OT is a cleverly made-up historical fiction it was cleverly made up by someone who knew that the Bronze Age preceded the Iron Age and had the same idea about when and were the Iron Age started as modern archaeologists do. The Exodus-period Egyptians did not yet have "chariots of iron". Israel had to go down to the Philistines to get iron tools repared because "in those days there was no smith in Israel" How did they know that, other than if they remembered it? We are literally getting a view of history from the point of view of a late Bronze Age semi-nomadic tribe.

And it would have been made up by someone who knew that no-one in the middle east used horses in the early Bronze Age (the horses mentioned in Genesis are wild animals) but that they used them to pull chariots later. And that after that they started riding donkeys, not horses, and later rode mules. The king's sons ride mules, not horses, in the book of Samuel. Horse-riding didn't come in till the early iron age. There are no cavalry in most of the Old Testament (they might come in in the Syrian army at the time of Ahab and Jezebel, but aren't explicitly mentioned in Israel till later) . Though this surprisingly well-informed redactor disagrees with most (but not all) modern writers on when they started to use camels (I am tempted to beleive the Bible on this though)

quote:

Thus Exodus might be seen as the story of a handful of slaves, that was appropriated and owned by the nation of Israel.

Well, yes. "My father was a wandering Aramaean" and all that.

And the Torah and the books of Joshua and Judges are quite clear that the Hebrews picked up other people on the way. They don't exactly put it centre-stage but its there. Especially if you look at all the genealogies.

For example, there are the non-Israelite women who married Israelite men. Some in the ancestry of David - such as Rahab and Ruth (certainly not Israelites) and Tamar and Bathsheba (probably not) (and they are the only four women remembered in the New Testament as ancestors of Jesus, presumably partly to make exactly this point - that Jesus was NOT only descended from Israelites). Both of the wives of Moses (one a Midianite, the other a Cushite, that is a black African). And they aren't the only ones.

There are fewer references to Israelite women marrying non-Israelite men, but they are there. Inclusing David's own sister Abigail (and also Bathsheba if she is in fact intended to be Israelite) Many of the prophets condemn intermarriage between Israelites and others. They would hardly have bothered to do that if it wasn't going on.

And there are all the people of Gibeon who tricked the Hebrews into letting them join.

Best of all there is my favourite tribe, the Kenites (who may or may not be the same people as the Kenizzites) who seemed to turn up from nowhere and merge with Israel. God's covenant with Abraham promises that:

quote:

To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates - the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.

But a few books later the Kenites and/or the Kenizzites have become part of the people of Israel. Caleb - the leader of Judah at the Exodus - was one of them. He is quite explicitly given a portion in the land in return for faithful service (Judges 14) but it is nowhere claimed that he was originally an Israelite. He certainly has no recorded ancestors other than Jephunneh the Kenizzite, and if he did have any Israelite forebears they would presumably have got into Chronicles. (Though Chronicles does perhaps try to obfuscate him with the presumably different Caleb son of Hezron, in a bit of genealogy in chapter 2 that seems to be talking about towns rather than people (so "Caleb son of Hezron" may be a garbled memory of Caleb of Hebron) - though it does also point out that David's sister Abigail married an Ishmaelite, and their sons counted as part of Judah)

And then Judges chapter 1 lists about a dozen tribes and cities that Israel did not destroy (there are similar lists all the way through the latte rpart of Joshua). It says that some of them were enslaved (which if they were following the Law means that the women at least were allowed to marry and that their children were counted as Israelites) and it also claims that the tribes of Asher and Napthali didn't conquer their local Canaanites at all but lived among them - presumably at peace.

Most strikignly of all the very account of the Exodus itself, the one read on the Passover, claims that "Many other people went up with them" (Exodus 12.38)

Whether or not these people actually existed, or actually lived in the way describes doesn't matter to this argument - the point is that whoever prepared the Bible we now have did NOT go through it editing it to claim that all the people of Israel were in fact the descendents of the original twelve and nobody else. The plain literal reading of the text says that Israel arrived in the Promised Land as a mixed group including Hebrews, Egyptians, and Midianites, as well as at least some individuals from other peoples, and that when they arrived there they allied with at least one Canaanite city and one or two local tribes against the rest, that they enslaved and married many of the people they conquered, and that after they had settled in the land they continued to live amongst other peoples and intermarry with them.

If the whole thing was redacted in an attempt to prove that all living Israelites were the descendents of the original sons of Jacob and no-one else then those parts would presumably have been edited out.

And the very fact that they weren't edited out in the post-exilic period, when they attached great importance to blood-lines, purity, and separation is itself a clue that those later redactors had too great an attachment to the texts to feel free to alter them. (or that there were enough diverse copies that they would have been found out if they had)

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Ken

L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

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PaulTH*
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As ever, Ken, your knowledge is impressive! I can't see the Exodus in terms of millions of people wandering in the desert for 40 years, but there may be some historical base to it. It is certainly a good description of the journey of a soul from the slavery of this world, into the desert of purgation in blind faith in God. After enduring numerous trials and setbacks, they cross into the Promised Land of union with God. Its primarily a spiritual story.

It would be more problematic if David didn't exist, and I don't believe there's any archaological evidence that he did. That would put into question the whole Messianic lineage. But I, personally, take at face value, the Davidic authorship of many of the psalms.

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Yours in Christ
Paul

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Bullfrog.

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Besides, if it's really a fabrication...

Who the hell expends that much energy making up names for cities and peoples and inventories that never existed? If so, that's a volume of imaginary cultures and places that even Robert Jordan (RIP) would find daunting!

--------------------
Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me, I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train. --Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

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Mad Geo

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I cannot recall the details, but there was some recent discoveries that David did exist FWIW.

As to fictional narratives. I have no issue with the names and places, what I find troubling is the apparent serious lack of evidence of a tribe running around and the lack Egyptian evidence. It just seems really odd, at minimum. That someone would contrive that part to make a story around all these people doesn't seem like a stretch at all.
It's like watching as Moses sits his grandchildren and spins a yarn for them all to keep their attention.

There is also the following question....
Where does one begin to question the entire merits of a book if it is sold as "some level of literal" and is later proven to be some version of not "literal at all"? I have answered the question for myself, I pose it rhetorically.

I guess if the Bible was sold as "Don't get to worked up in the details folks! Its a terrifying tale with raunchy bits, action, and a power packed ending with moral lessons thrown in for fun" I wouldn't have had such an expectation for it. As it is, that's almost never what I hear except for sometimes the most liberal of liberal folks.

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by ken:
In some ways the Old Testament has a more modern view of history than the Greek writings do. I am very impressed by the general background of technological advancement in it.

I guess it depends on what you consider to be "the Greek writings". I would argue strenuously that Herodotus and Thucydides are much closer to modern standards of history than anything found in the Old Testament. Of course, given that they were writing about a century and a half after the Babylonian exile (the likeliest date for the final compilation of the historical portions of the OT) this may be an unfair comparison. Still, even Homer is comparable in his historicity to the OT, insofar as the Catalogue of Ships represents the political layout of Greece approximately four centuries prior to the most likely date of composition of the Iliad. The boar-tusk helmet used by Odysseus in Book 10 of the Iliad is another example of something that would have been an anachronism in Homer's time but which was commonly used in the he was writing about.

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Humani nil a me alienum puto

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Ynot
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Isn't it more important that the stories in the Bible are good stories, or God's stories, as opposed to true stories?
I think I'd be more worried if science came up with facts confirming the truth of the Bible stories. I'd loose my faith. I know faith doesn't keep me good, but it keeps me better than I would have been without it.

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Bullfrog.

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quote:
Originally posted by Mad Geo:
I cannot recall the details, but there was some recent discoveries that David did exist FWIW.

As to fictional narratives. I have no issue with the names and places, what I find troubling is the apparent serious lack of evidence of a tribe running around and the lack Egyptian evidence. It just seems really odd, at minimum. That someone would contrive that part to make a story around all these people doesn't seem like a stretch at all.
It's like watching as Moses sits his grandchildren and spins a yarn for them all to keep their attention.

There is also the following question....
Where does one begin to question the entire merits of a book if it is sold as "some level of literal" and is later proven to be some version of not "literal at all"? I have answered the question for myself, I pose it rhetorically.

I guess if the Bible was sold as "Don't get to worked up in the details folks! Its a terrifying tale with raunchy bits, action, and a power packed ending with moral lessons thrown in for fun" I wouldn't have had such an expectation for it. As it is, that's almost never what I hear except for sometimes the most liberal of liberal folks.

It literally is what it is. The trick is teasing the history out of the literature.

As for the "one guy spinning a yarn to amuse his children" theory, that doesn't jibe at all with modern scholarship that reads the Torah as a collaborative effort that spanned centuries. There are places where you can still see the seams if you read closely. As has been observed, there are (as my prof, Julie Duncan, who FWIW, worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls put it) kernels of history throughout the whole text. It's very heavily mythologized history (as a lot of history from this time was), but it's still history.

It's not pure fiction, and it's not pure non-fiction. It's a sloppy mess of both.

And personally, it's fun getting worked up on the details. That's how you work it out.

Besides, what sick fuck of a parent would read their kids Leviticus as part of a bedtime story? [Ultra confused] And who would make up all those, well, numbers at the beginning of Numbers? or the Genealogies? Or all those screwy details for how to construct a Tabernacle that we've been paraphrasing in Kerygmania?

Like I said, I'm not arguing for hard literal historicity, but to me the argument for pure fiction makes about as much sense as pure non-fiction. Nobody would write and collate this much material just because it was fun. There's an historical reason this stuff was put together the way it was, and it was done by historical people.

I suppose a more fruitful question might be: Why did they do it?

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Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me, I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train. --Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

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Bullfrog.

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quote:
Originally posted by Ynot:
Isn't it more important that the stories in the Bible are good stories, or God's stories, as opposed to true stories?
I think I'd be more worried if science came up with facts confirming the truth of the Bible stories. I'd loose my faith. I know faith doesn't keep me good, but it keeps me better than I would have been without it.

Is God absent from real human history? If you think so, then I suppose it's not a problem.

--------------------
Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me, I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train. --Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

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MerlintheMad
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# 12279

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quote:
Originally posted by Woodworm:
...My question is, if this is true, where does it leave us Christians? Is it enough for the Exodus to be a powerful myth? Can it be meaningfully distinguished from powerful secular myths or stories? If the OT authors misrepresented history to suit their own agenda, is there anything in the Bible that we can trust?

This is old ground I expect but I am properly perplexed & would be grateful for views.

Not old ground, as the book is not old. This is all very current angst and controversy among Biblical archeologists and scholars: "the jury is still out", as it were.

But I am with you: the authors seem to my estimation to be honest seekers of "the facts, Ma'am, just the facts". They make a strong case, if they are interpreting the evidence from the ground accurately.

There is always the possibility that some future discovery will prove an Exodus and historicity of the essential Biblical stories. But that does not seem reasonable to expect, given the complete lack of any such evidence to even suggest that the OT stories are literally true. Everywhere you look in the Middle East the discovered evidence refutes the OT picture of "history": it is out of place or non existent, i.e. made out of whole cloth for religious agenda purposes, as you've pointed out.

I read this book before I had admitted that all religions are manmade: I still held out for the belief that Mormonism is revealed, ergo the Bible stories are literally true (why would "God" give a fresh revelation, and let everyone believe in OT "history" when it isn't the truth?). But this book went a long way toward altering my attitude about scripture: I decided, because of this book, that all scripture is concocted with the religious agenda in mind: and when you add in the propensity of each generation to interpret their traditions/history according to the present, and furthermore add in illiteracy (i.e. oral transmission of the traditions/history), you end up with a written version (religious legend and myth) that could not possibly bear the slightest accuracy with real events.

I don't think it matters, where faith is concerned. "God" evidently works within and through stories; it's their true-to-life quality that is effective, not whether they literally happened. BUT, I do feel that teaching children the stories and knowing that they are no more real than Santa Claus, yet you don't let them know that you believe this, is very wrong of us: children in Sunday School ought to be taught that these are stories, very, very, very old stories; and therefore probably true from a point of view, but being very, very, very old we can't tell anything more about them than that: and then when you tell about the Exodus, and the miracles, etc., you always teach with the lesson in mind: if there isn't a lesson that applies today, then the stories ought to not be inculcated as truth. Either the lessons are true or they are not. It doesn't really matter if the stories conveying true principles are true history or not: but children ought to be taught the difference between history that is supported by facts, and madeup "history"....

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MerlintheMad
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quote:
Originally posted by ken:
...If the whole thing was redacted in an attempt to prove that all living Israelites were the descendents of the original sons of Jacob and no-one else then those parts would presumably have been edited out.

And the very fact that they weren't edited out in the post-exilic period, when they attached great importance to blood-lines, purity, and separation is itself a clue that those later redactors had too great an attachment to the texts to feel free to alter them. (or that there were enough diverse copies that they would have been found out if they had)

Iirc, Lieberman and Fincklestein are making the point that the OT was probably first written during the reign of king Josiah: portraying this Jewish king as the legitimate leader of ALL the local people, attempting to unite them according to the purported tradition of their shared ancestors: and that this was being attempted in order to form a coalition under the king at Jerusalem to hold off the giant powers of Egypt and Syria/Babylon. So there isn't any purported agenda by the OT "authors" to show a pure Israel at all, but rather, to show that all the people in Palestine were included in the promises, i.e. were legitimate descendants of the rightful inhabitants who had lived under the reigns of Josiah's ancestors.
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MerlintheMad
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quote:
Originally posted by Bullfrog.:
Besides, if it's really a fabrication...

Who the hell expends that much energy making up names for cities and peoples and inventories that never existed? If so, that's a volume of imaginary cultures and places that even Robert Jordan (RIP) would find daunting!

The misconception of posters here is that the authors of this book are asserting that the OT was "invented" history: when actually they are saying Israelite history was up till c. the 8th century BCE an orally transmitted one, and that when finally written out as the Torah, it drew all the physical details from that century. The picture of the world of the Patriarchs does not fit into the era claimed for it: but it does fit very well into the 8th century BCE: there are no made up names of towns and rulers: these are just misplaced by a bunch of centuries!
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MerlintheMad
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[Iirc, Lieberman and Fincklestein]

I need to look up spellings before posting: I meant of course Silberman and Finkelstein; sorry about that.

[8th century BCE]

I meant king Josiah's century, the 7th, not the 8th....

[ 03. June 2009, 17:23: Message edited by: MerlintheMad ]

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mousethief

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I'm having a hard time picturing the people writing the Tanakh down going, "Okay, we know King Hezzababble invaded some city. Let's call it, oh, Tarshish. And King Gobblegobble was beset by some tribe, oh, let's say the Hezzakites."

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This is the last sig I'll ever write for you...

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ken
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quote:
Originally posted by MerlintheMad:
The picture of the world of the Patriarchs does not fit into the era claimed for it: but it does fit very well into the 8th century BCE:

That is simply not true. For example the horses and mules as I pointed out in my long post above.

This "revolutionary" look at the Torah sounds pretty much like par-for-the-course late-19th/early-20th-century biblical criticism.

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Ken

L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

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Bullfrog.

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quote:
Originally posted by MerlintheMad:
quote:
Originally posted by Bullfrog.:
Besides, if it's really a fabrication...

Who the hell expends that much energy making up names for cities and peoples and inventories that never existed? If so, that's a volume of imaginary cultures and places that even Robert Jordan (RIP) would find daunting!

The misconception of posters here is that the authors of this book are asserting that the OT was "invented" history: when actually they are saying Israelite history was up till c. the 8th century BCE an orally transmitted one, and that when finally written out as the Torah, it drew all the physical details from that century. The picture of the world of the Patriarchs does not fit into the era claimed for it: but it does fit very well into the 8th century BCE: there are no made up names of towns and rulers: these are just misplaced by a bunch of centuries!
How many is a bunch and what details in particular?

Actually, IIRC, some of the place names in the Torah are actually existed during the later periods, but not nearly all of them, which is evidence of later redaction. How and why that happened is an interesting discussion.

Also, the Oral Tradition theory subverts the claim that the entire history pre-David was fabricated out of pure unadulterated myth or was totally falsified (as some seem to argue). Oral history is still history, written more or less honestly within its own space and passed on to later generations. While I wouldn't expect something like that to hold up to modern scientific models of examination, I say that it was ahistorical or made as from whole cloth.

--------------------
Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me, I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train. --Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

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Ricardus
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I remember having the opportunity to ask an Eminent Professor of Biblical Archaeology* for his opinion on the book, and he reckoned it was on the far end of mainstream - i.e. the authors might be right, but it's by no means certain, and you can't go much further down that road without being probably wrong.

* See, I always credit my sources ...

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Then the dog ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news, shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail. -- Tobit 11:9 (Douai-Rheims)

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The Atheist
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quote:
Originally posted by Woodworm:
My question is, if this is true, where does it leave us Christians? Is it enough for the Exodus to be a powerful myth?

No change, I would think. Just file it under allegory, along with Genesis, Jonah, Job, Jericho and just about the entire rest of the OT.

It won't be a problem for fundies either, because I know which of these two fundies will believe:

God

A bunch of god-hating scientists and heretics who have manufactured evidence.

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Pottage
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quote:
Originally posted by MerlintheMad:
There is always the possibility that some future discovery will prove an Exodus and historicity of the essential Biblical stories. But that does not seem reasonable to expect, given the complete lack of any such evidence to even suggest that the OT stories are literally true. Everywhere you look in the Middle East the discovered evidence refutes the OT picture of "history": it is out of place or non existent, i.e. made out of whole cloth for religious agenda purposes, as you've pointed out.

I don't agree that wherever you look in the Middle East you will find clear evidence of findings which refute Biblical history. There are plenty of things recorded in the Biblical record for which there is nothing in archaeology, for sure. That might be because the Biblical version of events is inaccurate, or it may be because nothing pertinent has survived, or what has survived remains undiscovered. But clear evidence sitting in every museum you care to visit that the Bible is, as you say, all just "concocted"? I don't think so.

My personal view is that events described in the OT in deep antiquity are probably signifcantly corrupted, and the further back in time the events are the greater the likelihood that this is so. There could be a number of reasons for this. Really ancient events will have had a very long period of purely oral transmission rendering them particularly liable to distortion, inadvertent and otherwise. Some may only ever have been intended to be allegorical anyway. But I think you overstate the case for deliberate invention many hundreds of years after the fact.

For instance, why does it seem unreasonable to expect that ongoing excavatations such as that at Khirbet Qeiyafa may substantiate the basic historicity of the OT? Most of that site remains to be excavated in a project that is likely to take some years, but already it appears to be a significant settlement dating from the 10th century BCE. It stands near to Gath but it contains materially different types of pottery to those found in Gath, and it has yielded what appears to be Hebrew writing. A fortification that required the placing of 200,000 tons of stone doesn't SOUND like Finkelstein's vision of Israel in that era as a scattering of hamlets and hill settlements under no central authority. Evidence from that site of everyday literacy dating back to the 10th century BCE suggests in fact that it is relatively UNlikely that the earlier events recorded in the OT are just legends redacted hundreds of years later than this period. And as Ken has explained, the Biblical texts which describe Bronze Age events put them in a Bronze Age context, not that of the the seventh century BCE or later.

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Mad Geo

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Apparently the capacity for humans to make-completely-believable-shit-up-wholesale is lost on some. (Not you Bullfrog)

Bullfrog:
I do not think it "fun" anymore, but then you probably surmised that. The "sloppy mess" is irritating, especially when you got Fwits that proof text shit out of thin air. I digress.

As to "Why they did it?":

Humans have evolved all kinds of interesting "God Shaped Holes" and there is an endless supply of writers to fill those holes. Some of those peoples were bound to be good story tellers, some were even better redactors, some threw in a little history to sell the "truth", and so on.

The problem of course is......the best way to sell a lie is to mix it with a good dose of truth.

For those of us that prefer "straight talk" that....is a problem.

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Diax's Rake - "Never believe a thing simply because you want it to be true"

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Jayhawker Soule

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If and when you have the opportunity, visit the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Located along side the Shrine of the Book housing the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is truly a labor of love, a monument to the very best of (Biblical) archaeology. Spend serious time there. You'll search in vain for the slightest evidence of the Exodus. This is the consensus of a broad spectrum of archaeologists from Finkelstein to Mazar. It is acknowledged and expected by all but those committed to conforming their 'facts' with their dogma. So, for example, William Dever writes ...
quote:
Let me begin by clarifying which books of the Hebrew Bible I think can be utilized by the would-be historian, whether textual scholar or archaeologist. With most scholars, I would exclude much of the Pentateuch, specifically the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. These materials obviously constitute a sort of "pre-history" that has been attached to the main epic of ancient Israel by late editors. All this may be distilled from long oral tradition, and I suspect that some of the stories -- such as parts of the Patriarchal narratives -- may once have had a historical setting. These traditions, however, are overlaid with legendary and even fantastic materials that the modern reader may enjoy as "story," but which can scarcely be taken seriously as history.

- What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? (pg. 97)

After a century of exhaustive investigation, all respectable archaeologists have given up hope of recovering any context that would make Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob credible historical figures. Virtually the last archaeological word was written by me more than 20 years ago for a basic handbook of biblical studies, Israelite and Judean History. And, as we have seen, archaeological investigation of Moses and the Exodus has similarly been discarded as a fruitless pursuit. Indeed, the overwhelming archaeological evidence today of largely indigenous origins for early Israel leaves no room for an exodus from Egypt or a 40-year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness. A Moses-like figure may have existed somewhere in southern Transjordan in the middle 13th century B.C., where many scholars think the biblical traditions concerning the god Yahweh arose. But archaeology can do nothing to confirm such a figure as a historical personage, much less prove that he was the founder of later Israelite religion. As for Leviticus and Numbers, these are clearly additions to the "pre-history" by very late Priestly editorial hands, preoccupied with notions of ritual purity, themes of the "promised land," and othe literary motifs that most modern readers will scarcely find edifying, much less historical.

- ibid (pg. 99)

Now let us turn to the biblical data. If we look at the biblical texts describing the origins of Israel, we see at once that the traditional account contained in Genesis through Joshua simple cannot be reconciled with the picture derived above from archaeological investigation. The whole "Exodus-Conquest" cycle of stories must now be set aside as largely mythical, but in the proper sense of the term "myth": perhaps "historical fiction" ...

- ibid (pg. 121)

It didn't happen, not in the 15th century BCE and not in the 13th century BCE. The Bible Unearthed. while very readable and worth reading, is old news.

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if G-d (G-d is not X for all X)

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MerlintheMad
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quote:
Originally posted by Pottage:
I don't agree that wherever you look in the Middle East you will find clear evidence of findings which refute Biblical history.

I was unclear, again: the evidence I was referring to is in the digs themselves: the book uses several examples from digs miles apart, where the levels equating to the same time span produce evidence for high population density and urban development when there should not be: or low population density, village life, when we would expect urban development: and destruction when it does not coincide with the Biblical record: or no evidence for destruction/violence when it should manifest in the archeological record, etc. It is the dating and the Bible which are out of synch: i.e. evidence "everywhere" that the OT chronology is fabricated and distorted.

quote:

... But clear evidence sitting in every museum you care to visit that the Bible is, as you say, all just "concocted"? I don't think so.

That isn't what I meant. The Bible redactors did not concoct the whole thing, but rather distilled their traditional history to include the peoples around themselves in a bid to legitimize king Josiah as the sovereign of the entire region (that is the agenda, hypothesized by Silberman and Finklestein, behind the writing and disseminating of the Torah for the first time in the late 7th century BCE).
quote:


My personal view is that events described in the OT in deep antiquity are probably signifcantly corrupted, and the further back in time the events are the greater the likelihood that this is so.

The authors of this book would agree with you.

quote:

But I think you overstate the case for deliberate invention many hundreds of years after the fact.

As I said that was not my intention: the only invention would have been to bring the context of traditional, oral history into the then-modern context: e.g. portraying Abraham and other Patriarchs as moving through a world that the 7th century people could identify with (and possibly or probably the redactors did nothing deliberate here either: but rather copied out the history referencing 7th century details -- states, towns, regions, kings -- without awareness of any anachronism).
quote:


For instance, why does it seem unreasonable to expect that ongoing excavatations such as that at Khirbet Qeiyafa may substantiate the basic historicity of the OT? Most of that site remains to be excavated in a project that is likely to take some years, but already it appears to be a significant settlement dating from the 10th century BCE. It stands near to Gath but it contains materially different types of pottery to those found in Gath, and it has yielded what appears to be Hebrew writing. A fortification that required the placing of 200,000 tons of stone doesn't SOUND like Finkelstein's vision of Israel in that era as a scattering of hamlets and hill settlements under no central authority. Evidence from that site of everyday literacy dating back to the 10th century BCE suggests in fact that it is relatively UNlikely that the earlier events recorded in the OT are just legends redacted hundreds of years later than this period.

Could be: as I said the jury is out: we are getting new information all the time.

But no matter how much of the authors' theories is proven or otherwise, one thing seems abundantly clear: the OT is not what traditional Judeo-Christianity has believed it to be: the revealed "word of God" and literal history, but instead a collection of very old (oral) traditional tales woven into a much more modern concept to legitimize the claims of Judah over the lands round about.

quote:

And as Ken has explained, the Biblical texts which describe Bronze Age events put them in a Bronze Age context, not that of the the seventh century BCE or later.

That's what I am talking about: the authors went to some effort to show that the "age of the patriarchs" was NOT fitted into the right period for early bronze age or context; the archeological record does not support the details as given in Genesis, but rather places them in the 7th century world of the redactors....
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Ynot
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quote:
Originally posted by Bullfrog.:
quote:
Originally posted by Ynot:
Isn't it more important that the stories in the Bible are good stories, or God's stories, as opposed to true stories?
I think I'd be more worried if science came up with facts confirming the truth of the Bible stories. I'd loose my faith. I know faith doesn't keep me good, but it keeps me better than I would have been without it.

Is God absent from real human history? If you think so, then I suppose it's not a problem.
I've clearly not studied at any theological colleges, but I thought God only chose to present himself as a human on earth when he sent Jesus. Prior that his influence seems to have been through dreams, visions, and the writings of the prophets.
I've always assumed, perhaps wrongly, that God was present in all human history, giving similar care and guidance to all human beings, whether in Africa, Asia, the Americas, or the tribes of Israel. That God chose to give us his guidance through the history of one particular nation, whether factual or allegorical, has never seemed that important to me.

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Pottage
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quote:
Originally posted by MerlintheMad:
But no matter how much of the authors' theories is proven or otherwise, one thing seems abundantly clear: the OT is not what traditional Judeo-Christianity has believed it to be: the revealed "word of God" and literal history, but instead a collection of very old (oral) traditional tales woven into a much more modern concept to legitimize the claims of Judah over the lands round about.

OK. To some extent we're talking about differences in emphasis then, your case having been stated in more absolute terms than you actually see it. But I still think that the older parts of the historical Biblical narrative display an understanding of what the world was like many centuries earlier than the 7th century BCE rather than as it was at that time. It's not accurate to say that what the Bible describes is simply a lot of old legends pulled together and reduced to writing for the first time in 7th century BCE and given what was then a contemporary context either to make sense of them or to pursue what was then a contemporary political agenda.

Leaving that aside though I'm interested in the part of your reply I've emboldened. You put the two concepts of "revealed word of God" and "literal history" together as if they are all one, but I don't see that this necessarily follows. I certainly don't have any difficulty with understanding parts of the Bible to be allegorical or figurative and yet nevertheless to be God's word. I'm thrilled when I find a reference to an historical event in the OT that I can tie into non-Biblical accounts, like Jeremiah's references to the Battle of Carchemish with which I recently tried the patience of my housegroup. But that's because I'm geeky enough to like that sort of thing not because it's an important element of my faith. Happily the members of my house group are gracious about the occasional rambling diversion into the Land of Nerd.

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Jayhawker Soule

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quote:
Originally posted by Pottage:
quote:
Originally posted by MerlintheMad:
But no matter how much of the authors' theories is proven or otherwise, one thing seems abundantly clear: the OT is not what traditional Judeo-Christianity has believed it to be: the revealed "word of God" and literal history, but instead a collection of very old (oral) traditional tales woven into a much more modern concept to legitimize the claims of Judah over the lands round about.

OK. To some extent we're talking about differences in emphasis then, your case having been stated in more absolute terms than you actually see it. But I still think that the older parts of the historical Biblical narrative display an understanding of what the world was like many centuries earlier than the 7th century BCE rather than as it was at that time. It's not accurate to say that what the Bible describes is simply a lot of old legends pulled together and reduced to writing for the first time in 7th century BCE and given what was then a contemporary context either to make sense of them or to pursue what was then a contemporary political agenda.
This impresses me as a false dilemma: folk lore typically displays a (nuanced and evolving) understanding of what the world was like which, in part, sustains it through generations of oral transmission, but that renders it no less folk lore - a tapestry of political propaganda, folk history, theology, and re-imagined myth.

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if G-d (G-d is not X for all X)

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ken
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quote:
Originally posted by Curiosity killed ...:
Just as stupid question, as I've not read the book, but I have done some archaeological digging: if people are wandering in the desert, what archaeological evidence is there likely to be? The stuff that provides good archaeological evidence tends to be buildings, nice solid stone ones for preference, which don't stack up with nomadic tribes.

That's worth making as a general point. Why on earth should we expect archaeology to provide us with evidence for the way of life or even existence of any one arbitrarily chosen group of people from three or four thousand years ago? It doesn't even give us that for people we know existed three or four hundred years ago.

Partly its a scope problem, to do with the kind of evidence we are dealing with. Archaeology really doesn't tell us the same kind of thing as narrative history does. They can support and illustrate each other, but its very hard to use them to prove or disprove hypotheses made in the other field.

Partly its a scale problem. We've dug up literally hundreds of millions of relics of dead people. But that is out of countless billions of possible relics. So the chance of hitting any one ancient group of people is tiny. Its like the famous golfball and blade of grass effect. Bloke hits golfball. It lands on blade of grass. How unlikely is that?! There are thousands of blades of grass per square metre! Tens of thousands of square metres on the golf course! Its far less than a one-in-a-million chance! But you always hit at least one blade of grass. What's difficult is choosing which blade of grass (or hole) you are going to hit before you strike the ball. Archaeologists are playing on a golf course the size of the planet with millions of holes.

It is bloody difficult to associate stuff dug up by archaeologists with individuals known to written history. More or less impossible for anyone other than kings with their faces on coins - and that applies as much to the 15th century AD as BC. The chance of finding detailed evidence about any one family of ancient shepherds is tiny. Even a big one with lots of camels. There are hundreds of millions of families of ancient shepherds whose bones might be in those hills. And we're talking about a small group of people who are described as living alongside larger numbers of people with a different culture - or rather many different cultures. In a case like this absence of evidence really isn't evidence of absence. What archaeological evidence is likely to be left in modern England by Gypsies or Travellers or Malaysian students or Spanish tourists or Polish plumbers or Tamil shopkeepers? But we know that there have been tens of thousands of such people here.

And if you had the luck to dig up the actual pots and pans that Abraham or Joshua or Jesse ate off, how would you possibly identify them with those people anyway? We only know about the Patriarchs from a handful of books which we have in one version written maybe a thousand years later in a different language from the one they spoke. (Well, different from what Abraham and Joshua spoke, maybe not Jesse - Hebrew is a Canaanite language pretty close to Phoenician, but the OT says that the original Patriarchs were Arameans from Harran - Abraham, like Jesus, spoke Aramaic at home, not Hebrew) Whether it is accurate or not that is a different kind of information from the kind archaeology gets.

And I don't just mean that we shouldn't expect to find evidence of named individuals or families. We should expect to miss whole cultures and lifestyles. Whole groups of cultures. Never mind ancient nomads. We are still discovering the remains of lost cities in the Middle East. Big cities with stone buildings and walls and canals. That we are still finding new ones means there are almost certainly more still to find - and many more we will never find. Which means that not finding one is not conclusive evidence that it never existed.

Heck, every now and again we discover the remains of a entirely unknown urban civilisation in the Middle East. And often we don't know exactly who they were or what language they spoke or what their religion was, or anything.

Elamites are mentioned in the Bible. We dug up some of their cities. They seem to have been the people who invented writing. We still can't read their earliest writings nor do we know if they represent one language or more than one. There are whole lost cultures in there. Same with the Indus Valley/Harappa cultures. We don't really know whether the Hurrians were the same people as the Mitanni and whether or not they are the same as the people the Bible calls Horites. (Don't even start on the Hivites and the Perizzites) Inscriptions in previously unknown writing systems have been found in Iran and Turkmenistan and Xinjang form the early 4th century BC (lending credence to the idea that the invention of writing spread to China from Iran) There are remains of pyramids in Iran, and we have no idea who built them. That we are still discovering such things is a clue that there are more to discover and many we will never discover.

In the last few years archaeologists have uncovered neolithic megaliths and sculptures Turkey that almost certainly predate any others we know about. There are carved stones three metres high, and lifesize 3d sculptures of animals.
This is evidence of a culture apparently unlike any other we know about, totally unknown till the 1990s. It is just outside the city of Urfa, which is ancient Edessa, and so smack plonk in the middle of exactly the bit of the world that the Biblical Patriarchs were supposed to live in. (Which is also pretty much the same area we now know agriculture was invented in) Abraham's family are described as living in Haran, which is about thirty miles away. Think about that. We have, in the lifetime of this website, discovered an entire previously unknown civilisation in the same county that Abraham was supposed to have lived in.

We lost all record of he entire Hittite Empire for three thousand years. If you read books published in the early 20th century they aren't even on the map, literally. We're not talking about a few dozen semi-nomadic shepherds here. These people built big cities out of stone. They had armies and tax collectors and ambassadors and schools and a unique hieroglypic script and two or three religions all their own. They fought against the Egyptians and Assyrians and the Hurrians/Mittani and Urartu and Ugarit and loads of other people; and sometimes they won. They may have invented iron working. Almost certainly the first people to do it on a large scale. They are really very important to history. And we forgot them entirely.

And we still aren't quite sure how the original Hittites related to the Hittite Empire Hittites ("Nesli" IIRC) or to the Hittite and/or Mitanni/Hurrian/Luwian successor state at Carchemish (which is also near Urfa and Harran, and is the site of the battle at which the Babylonians beat the Egyptians and made the exile described in Jeremiah inevitable). And we don't know at all how they relate to the Hittites mentioned in the Pentateuch (which is set contemporaneously with the early Hittite Empire) or the Hittites that Uriah was one of (which on the face of it might mean the neo-Hittites of Carchemish, or their relatives in nearby cities - who were establishing themselves in Syria at exactly the time of King David [Smile] )

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Ken

L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

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orfeo

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Fantastic post Ken.

I started thinking of the 'Hittite' Empire part way through before you started mentioning. Saw a documentary about that only a few weeks ago. One of the biggest empires of its time, and yet they were utterly missing from the recorded history that had come down to us.

(And the doco said they had nothing to do with with the other Hittites, this was simply the name that was picked early on for them. What else are you going to do with a people you have NO reference point for?)

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Technology has brought us all closer together. Turns out a lot of the people you meet as a result are complete idiots.

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