The Bible Unearthed, by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman
The Biblical Patriarchs
In the first chapter, the authors consider the Genesis story of the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Did these characters actually exist, or not? According to the authors, the answer is no: these figures did not exist. Even if they did exist, then they did not exist exactly like the Bible portrays them. If we consider the supposed chronology of the Biblical events, then the Patriarchs lived during the time period between 2100 BCE and 1400 BCE. The exact time period of the Patriarchs is anything but conclusive. However, we know that their stories were not recorded in writing until the eight-century BCE, or even later. The Judahites only became literate after being conquered by the Assyrians in 720 BCE. Since the Judahites were illiterate until the eighth-century BCE, all of the Biblical stories were passed orally from generation to generation, until literacy developed. It is likely that when Judah was finally able to record these stories in writing, that they embellished the Patriarchal stories in order to promote their religious agendas. The Patriarchal stories are filled with anachronisms to the eighth and seventh-century BCE, despite the fact that we know the Patriarchs lived much earlier. Therefore, the Bible cannot be interpreted as a strictly historical document.
In all of the Deuteronomic stories, the geographic locations and descriptions are accurate. Similarly, the descriptions of the landscapes, contemporary figures, and geopolitical events is accurate. For this reason, many scholars believe that the entire Biblical narrative is accurate. However, the authors argue that the Bible cannot be interpreted as a strictly historical document. Rather, the Bible should be interpreted verse by verse, and the historicity of each verse should be questioned.
According to the authors, there is no conclusive evidence that the Exodus actually occurred. Similarly, there is inconclusive evidence that the Exodus did not occur. Despite the lack of conclusive evidence, the authors attempt to argue that the Exodus, like the other Old Testament events, did not occur.
In Egypt, it was common for immigrants to come from Canaan and seek refuge in Egypt, especially during famine or drought. Furthermore, the Egyptian writings confirm that sometimes an immigrant or immigrant people would rise to power. In one example, which is probably most closely related to the Biblical story of Joseph, the Hyksos (translated as “shepherd kings”) rebelled against the Egyptians and were eventually driven out of Egypt. Therefore, it is possible that an event like the Exodus did occur. But, the Exodus story, just like the stories about the Patriarchs, is filled with anachronisms to the seventh-century BCE. The seventh-century BCE was a time of great political revival, led by King Josiah during the downfall of the Assyrian empire. During this time, Judahites learned to read and write, and their wealth significantly increased. Therefore, the authors argue that the Exodus story is more accurately a tool that was used by the King to spread religious ideology and advance his political agenda.
Joshua Conquers Canaan
Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, as described in the Bible, did not happen. Although many of the geographical locations and descriptions are correct, the dates do not line up with the archeological evidence. According to the authors, Joshua’s conquests probably occurred during the thirteenth-century BCE. In the 1900s, several Biblical archeologists discovered evidence that suggested several relevant cities were destroyed in the thirteenth-century BCE: Bethel, Lachish, Hazor, and others. However, no archeological evidence exists to support Joshua’s conquest of the primary cities mentioned in the Bible, including Jericho, Ai, and Gibeon.
Concisely, the authors argue that the Biblical Patriarchs, the Exodus, and Joshua’s Conquests did not happen.
How Were the Biblical Stories Canonized?
If the none of the Deuteronomic stories, i.e., the Biblical Patriarchs, the Exodus, Joshua, David, and Solomon, were historical events, then the question remains: how did these stories become canonized as the basis of all three major world religions? According to the authors, the Israelite people were blessed with intelligent story-tellers, and they experienced a great deal of luck.
During the reign of King Josiah (639-609 BCE), the Judahites became literate, thanks to the contemporary world-power, the Assyrians. The Judahites used their literacy to record the Deuteronomic stories, which were traditionally passed down orally from one generation to another. During the transcription of the oral stories to written text, the priests and scribes enhanced the stories and added seventh-century anachronisms in order to make the stories more relatable to their citizens. The primary reason that the priests manipulated the stories was to advance Josiah’s political and religious ideologies. Therefore, the Deuteronomic stories are nothing more than well-written religious propaganda.
In addition to being blessed with a competent ruler by all Biblical and extrabiblical accounts, King Josiah, the Judahite region experienced a great deal of luck. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had fertile farmlands and productive people, but because of their economic resources, Israel was plundered by the Assyrians. Judah, on the other hand, was poor and sparsely populated, with little to offer the Assyrians. Therefore, the Judahites and Davidic line survived, while the Israelites were destroyed. The Bible claims that Israel did not follow the Lord’s commands, beginning with King Jeroboam son of Nebat, and because of this, Israel was cut off from God. Instead of Israel, God gave His blessing to Judah. In the Bible, God often acts in mysterious ways and gives his blessing to unexpected people. Judah was not blessed with excellent wealth or agriculture, yet this misfit region birthed the people that God chose to bless. The Bible attributes Judah’s rise due to their piety and God’s covenant with David. God chose to bless or curse the people, pending how closely they followed His commands.
However, because we have archeology and science in the twenty first-century, we can understand the history of Israel and Judah from an economic and political viewpoint. At the time that King Josiah canonized the Deuteronomic stories, literacy was developing, the world powers were shifting, and the setting was ideal to instill religious ideologies into the people. According to the authors, the Deuteronomic stories were not divinely inspired. Instead, they were created as a consequence of the economic, geological, and political events in the Middle East.
Earliest Extrabiblical Evidence of Israel
The Merneptah stele is also known as the “Israelite” stele because it is the earliest extrabiblical evidence of a people called “Israel.” On this stele, Pharaoh Merneptah (son of Ramesses II) describes how he attacked Canaan and destroyed Israel. It is dated to the thirteenth-century BCE.
Pig Husbandry, Or Not
By examining the strata layers of numerous archeological sites in Jerusalem, archeologists have discovered a drastic dichotomy in the Canaanite region during Iron Age I, which is the time period that the Israelites emerged, approximately 1150-900 BCE: in the Philistine territories, pigs were an important and heavily utilized resource, whereas in the Israelite lands, there is clear evidence that pig husbandry was strictly avoided. In the Hebrew Law, God commanded His people to avoid pork consumption. The fact that there is a strict boundary between Philistine lands and Israelite lands, based on the evidence of pork remains in the strata, or absences thereof, clearly supports God’s commands to His Chosen People.
Kings of Judah, Israel, and Assyria
This book provides an excellent summary of Assyrian, Judahite, and Israelite kings, as well as a synopsis of Biblical events and archaeological evidence during each of the reigns.