A book offering a comprehensive overview of this subject and a mother lode of peer-reviewed research is still The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.
New findings point to completely different histories of Israel and Egypt than those in the Bible and thought to be true, including by Finkelstein himself:
• Archaeological evidence contradicts all four stories that make up the foundations of the Bible; andEarly archaeologists in that part of the world were typically trained as clerics or theologians, the authors note, and so forced artifacts they found to match with Bible stories. That all changed once new excavations, chemical analysis of soil samples and refinements in the carbon-dating technique to determine age, revolutionized the study of these two of the most heavily excavated areas of the planet.
• the Bible was written, re-written, edited and redacted for the purposes of propaganda.
Because many references to places and events in this period show contemporary details were integrated into stories biblical authors maintained happened hundreds or thousands of years before, the modern assessment that the foundations were laid during the late 8th and early 7th centuries BCE appears to be an open-and-shut-case.
Why Was the Bible Created?
To provide motivation and moral justification for the territorial aspirations of a little kingdom called Judah.
Contrary to biblical history, Judah was a backward little region while its envied and despised neighbor to the north, Israel, was far more advantaged economically. Both, however, were usually under domination by one foreign power or another.
Finally, in the 8th century BCE, came Israel’s destruction and later the Assyrian retreat. That’s when King Josiah went to work.
An ambitious plan to take advantage of the political vacuum required powerful propaganda, the authors note, and so one of the religions practiced in the area was chosen. That of the Israeli cult fit the bill.
Archaeologists say at the same time the literacy rate rose, prompting “an unlikely coalition of Judahite court officials, scribes, priests, peasants and prophets” to create a new movement. By weaving in ancient heroic tales, legends and folklore, along with further reworking, elaboration and censoring, stories of the Old Testament were to “become a coherent and persuasive prophecy for the people of Israel.”
The first story molded with these goals in minds is that of the patriarchs in Genesis – starting with God’s favored family, that of Abraham, whose descendants would include Israel and Judah.
Besides the fact the genealogies of the patriarchs, some of whom were said to have lived hundreds of years, are contradicted in various passages, the “combination of camels, Arabian goods and Philistines and place names, which were prevalent at the time of writing but nonexistent during the time period depicted in the Bible,” showed the story to be written centuries later.
This story was crafted to provide Josiah’s subjects with a common ethnic and religious history, and ultimately fulfill the promises given to the patriarchs by God of a unified people living securely in their land.
The belief that God had their backs would bring on Judah’s success.The Exodus
The second foundational tale is that of the Exodus, where God chose Moses to liberate 600,000 men from enslavement in Egypt, and they proceeded to wander around the desert for 40 years.
However, there was no record of any Israelites being in Egypt at that time, and hundreds of thousands of people trekking the desert would likely not have been allowed by Egypt, which tightly controlled the area. There are records of small bands passing through, yet none indicating a mass movement of people. There is also no evidence such a group camped for extended periods – including in the places mentioned in the Bible.The Exodus offered a shared vision of solidarity and hope for exiles of that time and later. The message was that exile is not the end, and “deserts can be crossed, the land can be reconquered.”
The Conquest of Canaan
After the Israelites emerged from the desert they went on to conquer Canaan, now known as Israel. But archaeological evidence shows just the opposite. Israelites were originally Canaanites who started out as nomads and gradually became farmers.
“It is a story which, as it is presented in the Bible, definitely never happened,” the authors write.
Many of the sites in the story were not inhabited at that time so there was no sign of destruction. Instead, local kings paid tribute to foreign kings in exchange for protection. This is why most villages were unfortified including Jericho, which has been thoroughly excavated and had no walls that could be considered fortifications.
So how did the Israelite ethnic identity develop? Archaeologists aren’t completely sure, but a clue involves an absence of pig bones in a culture of highlanders, in contrast to neighboring cultures. Dietary customs are a way ethnic boundaries are delineated. “When modern Jews do the same,” the authors reflect, “they are continuing the oldest archaeologically attested cultural practice...”
By conjuring up this story, Judah’s hierarchy could justify seizure of Israeli territories as the divinely-determined inheritance of the people of Israel.
The United Monarchy
After Canaan’s fall, the Bible goes on to tell of kings Saul, David and Solomon who ruled Israel in succession until ten northern tribes seceded creating two kingdoms: Israel and Judah.
Artifacts show, however, these northern and southern territories were only united later. Before that they were distinct and competing entities since they occupied dramatically different environmental zones.
Additionally, for “all their reported wealth and power, neither David nor Solomon is mentioned in a single known Egyptian or Mesopotamian text,” note the authors. The house of David was known in the region, but “any archaeological evidence for the Davidic conquests and grandeur of the Solomonic kingdom came as a result of badly mistaken dates.”
As far as Jerusalem goes, Finkelstein marveled at how a “typical mountain village” and a “joke in comparison to the cities of Assyria, Babylon or Egypt,” only “belatedly – and suddenly – rose to the center of Israeli consciousness.” Only in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE was it linked to the unification of all Israel. This, say the authors, was the true birth of the Judeo-Christian culture.Conclusion
The spin about a schism in a United Monarchy provided a kosher veneer to Judah’s seizure of Israeli territories, as if to say, “We’re just reinstating the glorious monarchy of David, which was the first to rule these territories.”
The authors use terms like “tales” and “myths” throughout the book to describe Bible stories, but this should not lead one to believe they are Atheists. Their belief in the spirit meant to inhabit the Judeo-Christian religion appears to remain intact.
They also appear to hold in awe the “glorious epic” of the Bible, which held just enough kernels of truth to give it credibility over competing religions.
The war against idolatry was one such truth, including the worship of sun gods which, because of the scores of similarities, many comparative mythologists believe seeded the Jesus story.In that vein, I was surprised that this ancient book – which declares the Earth to be flat (Job 38:13; Isaiah 11:12; Rev. 7:1), stationary (Eccles. 1:5; Psalms 93:1, 96:10, 104:5; Joshua 10:12; 1 Chron. 16:30) and resting on pillars (I Sam. 2:8; Job 9:6, 38:4) – held any genuine history whatsoever. It also explains the hundreds of contradictions within its pages.
But considering the fact that secular societies like Denmark and Sweden see far less societal dysfunction than the religious US, the main take-home message for me was if this information ever became well-known it would turn the planet on its head – for the better.
Imagine the conflicts that might have been averted, spawned by various interpretations of this “Good Book,” including that of the Christians and Muslims now taking place in Central African Republic.Or perhaps the Jews might see fit to allow Palestinian self-rule in the land given to them after WWII, or maybe the Muslims, the Quran of which draws abundantly from the Hebrew Bible, might treat their women more as equals.
So perhaps the better question to begin this blog with is: How much longer is the world going to allow itself to be yoked to this Iron Age propaganda?
Finkelstein, Israel 2013. The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel, Society of Biblical Literature: Atlanta.
http://www.sbl-site.org/... (retrieved Dec. 18, 2013)
Finkelstein, Israel; Silverman, Neil Asher 2001. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Text, The Free Press: New York.
Lori, Aviva 2013. Grounds for Disbelief, Haaretz: Tevet 16, 5774 http://www.haaretz.com/... (retrieved Dec. 18, 2013).
Murdock, D.M. 2009. Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection, Stellar House Publishing: Seattle http://www.truthbeknown.com/
Paul, Gregory S. 2011. Is Religion Good for society? Reuters http://www.faithstreet.com/... (retrieved Dec. 18, 2013).
Prickett, Stephen; Carroll, Robert P., eds. 2008. The Bible: Authorized King James Version (Oxford World's Classics), Oxford University Press: New York.
Zuckerman, Phil 2008. Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, New York University Press.
Wed Dec 25, 2013 at 1:37 PM PT: A note regarding King Josiah's propaganda team was added for purposes of clarity.
Sat Dec 28, 2013 at 10:37 PM PT: Lots of comments made, some quite good (including those critical), a few notes: There appears to be a broad consensus among mainstream archaeologists that the first three Bible stories mentioned above did not happen, whether some want to believe it or not. There is less of a consensus re a United Monarchy, but there is scant evidence for it as well. Also, some have questioned the timing of the piece, but the link was posted solely to Atheist sites so there was nothing mean-spirited about it. Lastly, the authors definitely do not appear to have an agenda. Finkelstein said he only began to doubt the Bible stories after he began his research. Both authors stated they don't believe the evidence negates Israeli claims to the land.