Sunday, December 09, 2007

How Not to Read the Bible, Part 8

From the New York Time article:
Most unsettling to religious Jews and Christians may be Kugel’s chapters about the origins of God and his chosen people. Kugel says that there is essentially no evidence — archaeological, historical, cultural — for the events in the Torah. No sign of an exodus from Egypt; no proof that Israelites ever invaded, much less conquered, Canaan; no indication that Jericho was ever sacked. In fact, quite the contrary: current evidence suggests that the Israelites were probably Canaanites themselves, semi-nomadic highlanders or fleeing city dwellers who gradually separated from their mother culture, established a distinct identity and invented a mythical past.

Here and here are some articles which deal with the archeological issues from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. The basic gist is that there is some evidence, but not a lot of it. And these articles help explain why.

This article goes into the conquest of Canaan in very fine detail.

Now, before I quote some portions of the above articles. Let me say that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

That said, writes:
Through the 1980s it was commonly held opinion that excavations in Jericho had failed to discover a city there at the time of Joshua.

In the early 1990s, however, Dr. Bryant G. Woods, then of the University of Toronto, reported finding startling remnants of Jericho in Joshua's time. The error of previous excavations, he asserts, was that archaeologists were digging in the wrong section of the mound of ancient Jericho.

Woods reported finding a 3-foot layer of ash covering the entire excavated area, clear evidence of destruction by fire. He further discovered large caches of wheat from the spring harvest that had barely been used. This means that the city fell not as a result of a starvation siege, as would be expected against a walled city, but rather after a very brief siege. All this matches the account in the Book of Joshua. Furthermore, the wheat was from the spring harvest; Joshua conquered Jericho immediately after Passover, the spring holiday.

Concerning Woods' work at Jericho, Dr. Lawrence Stager, the respected professor of Archaeology in Israel from Harvard University said: "On the whole the archaeological assessment is not unreasonable. There is evidence of destruction and the date isn't too far wrong."

Rarely can an archaeologist claim that "this is the very item the Bible spoke about." Yet Dr. Adam Zartal, chairman of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, may have done it. Joshua 8:30-35 tells of the fulfillment of Moses' command to build an altar on Mount Eval (Deut. 27). Zartal reports that his excavation team found this very altar. The place is right, the time is right, and the animal bones are consistent with the biblical offerings. Even the style of the altar is right, in such detail, says Zartal, that it looks nearly identical to the description of the Temple's altar as described in the Talmud -- a uniquely Israelite design that no Canaanite temples used then or later.

Zartal laments the response of the revisionist archaeological community. "What happened regarding the new accumulation of facts I have cited? Almost nothing. Since the appearance of the detailed report and the many articles I have published on the excavation... silence has descended on the scholarly world."

Regarding Zartal's find, Dr. Lawrence Stager said: "If a sacrificial altar stood on Mount Eval, its impact on our research is revolutionary. All of us [biblical archaeologists] have to go back to kindergarten."

This is how Glen Miller summarizes the data:
In summary, I consider the biblical model of the Conquest/Settlement to be a better predictor of the data we find, than competing theories (especially the 'gradualist' views):

It explains the large and sudden population explosions in the border communities of Israel.
It explains the large and sudden emergence of a 'new' (but mixed) material culture in the central areas.
It explains how 'Israel' got such significant and sudden attention from Egypt.
It explains how the mixed material culture came to be.
It explains the uncommon aspects of the 'destruction' phenomena--specifically the anti-cultic behavior.
It explains how most of Transjordan was 'spared' from the disruptions/warfare that occurred in Palestine.
It explains the emergence of the Hebrew language as a dialect of Canaan.
It has tons of supporting archeaological data for the details.
It has adequate explanations for (and generally, contrary data against) the alleged 'contradictions' in the archix record.
It is the only model that actually explains the 'stubborn persistence' of the Exodus story in the history of the Jewish people.

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