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Mythology/Religion

The Old Testament and Iron Age Palestine

Let’s talk about the Old Testament and actual history for a second. We’re all familiar with the stories: The Israelite nation is descended from Abraham, a tent-dwelling herdsman to whom “God” promised the land of Canaan. In an attempt to escape famine, his grandson Jacob and his family traveled to Egypt, where their descendants were enslaved. Moses led the Israelites back out of Egypt to Canaan, which they conquered under the leadership of Joshua.

Until relatively recently, archaeologists and historians attempted to match this story with the evidence provided by excavations and documents discovered in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere in the Near East. Most now believe that this biblical account is primarily mythical. [1]

This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is the fact that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom.

And it will come as an unpleasant shock to many that the God of Israel had a female consort and that the early Israelite religion adopted monotheism only in the waning period of the monarchy and not at Mount Sinai [See Is God Divorced?].

Most of those who are engaged in scientific work in the interlocking spheres of the Bible, archaeology and the history of the Jewish people – and who once went into the field looking for proof to corroborate the Bible story – now agree that the historic events relating to the stages of the Jewish people’s emergence are radically different from what that story tells. [2]

Now, the above conclusion was put for by Prof. Ze’ev Herzog, an Israeli archeologist and professor of archaeology at The Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University.

According to Mr. Herzog, the archaeological findings blatantly contradict the biblical picture: the Canaanite cities were not “great,” were not fortified and did not have “sky-high walls.” The heroism of the conquerors, the few versus the many and the assistance of a God who fought for his people are a theological reconstruction lacking any factual basis.

Following years of intensive excavations, archaeologists have found that the patriarchs’ acts are legendary and that the great united monarchy is an imaginary historiosophic creation, which was composed during the period of the Kingdom of Judea at the earliest.

The many Egyptian documents that we have make no mention of the Israelites’ presence in Egypt and are also silent about the events of the exodus. Many documents do mention the custom of nomadic shepherds to enter Egypt during periods of drought and hunger and to camp at the edges of the Nile Delta. However, this was not a solitary phenomenon: such events occurred frequently across thousands of years and were hardly exceptional.[2]

Mr. Herzog is not a lone wolf, many of the findings mentioned here have been known for decades. The professional literature in the spheres of archaeology, Bible and the history of the Jewish people has addressed them in dozens of books and hundreds of articles.

Introducing Prof. Israel Finkelstein, an Israeli  archaeologist and academic. He is currently the Jacob M. Alkow Professor of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze Age and Iron Ages at Tel Aviv University and is also the co-director of excavations at Megiddo in northern Israel.

According to Finkelstein, the united kingdom of David and Solomon – and much of the history of Israel presented in the Bible – represents the political and theological interests of the court of King Josiah, which reinstituted the exclusive worship of the god of the Israelites, centered on the Temple of Jerusalem, and aspired to see their king reign over both Judah and the territory of the former northern kingdom. The intellectual and spiritual atmosphere of this new religious movement led it leaders to create a coherent narrative of Israelite history as an instrument of god’s will. [3]

Finkelstein has presented his findings in “The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of it Sacred Texts”, a book written with archaeological journalist Neil Asher Silberman.

The power and grandeur of kings David and Solomon were the inventions of King Josiah’s propaganda machine. Such stories were meant to provide a mythical past for a Jewish people who achieved and unique theology during the time of the Babylonian exile (586 – 538 BCE) or perhaps even as late as the Hellenistic period (332 – 63 BCE).

The demographic and material evidence produced by archaeological survey of the central highlands, the territory that was the cradle of the emerging Israelite nation, also show that Judah was a sparsely populated and economically backward chiefdom. Only when it absorbed refugees following the Assyrian conquest and control of the north from 715 – 642 BCE did Judah achieve attributes of a state.

And as far as Solomon’s temple (aka: the First Temple) goes, to date, no archaeological evidence for it has been found and the only information regarding the First Temple in Jerusalem is contained in the Bible. Given the preservation of the remains from earlier and later periods, it is clear that Jerusalem in the time of David and Solomon was a small city, perhaps with a small citadel for the king, but in any event it was not the capital of an empire as described in the Bible.

The name “Israel” is mentioned in a single Egyptian document from the period of Merneptah, king of Egypt, dating from 1208 BCE: “Plundered is Canaan with every evil, Ascalon is taken, Gezer is seized, Yenoam has become as though it never was, Israel is desolated, its seed is not.” Merneptah refers to the country by its Canaanite name and mentions several cities of the kingdom, along with a non-urban ethnic group. According to this evidence, the term “Israel” was given to one of the population groups that resided in Canaan toward the end of the Late Bronze Age, apparently in the central hill region, in the area where the Kingdom of Israel would later be established.

This is incredible research; nevertheless, these revolutionary findings are not penetrating the public consciousness. Why?…

Simple: religion is in the business of regulating truth and suppressing knowledge. Specifically, the nation of Israel perceives any attempt to question the reliability of the biblical descriptions as an attempt to undermine their historic right to the land. The blow to the mythical foundations of the Israeli identity is apparently too threatening.

Any nation, institution, and/or people who prefer to turn a blind eye to the truth are dangerous, plain and simple. The myths are kept alive and sold as factual because of political reasons. Think about it.

Promote the truth.

Thanks for reading,

Notes:

  1. Watzman, Haim, “Biblical Iconoclast”, Archaeology Magazine, September/October 2001, Pg. 32
  2. Ze’ev Herzog, “Deconstructing the walls of Jericho”, Ha’aretz.com Friday, October 29, 1999: http://mideastfacts.org/facts/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=32&Itemid=34
  3. Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher, “The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts”, Free Press, May 28, 2002.
  4. Prof. Ze’ev Herzog:
    http://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/archaeology/directory/dir_zeev_herzog.html
  5. Prof. Israel Finkelstein:
    http://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/archaeology/directory/dir_israel_finkelstein.html

About elpidiovaldes

Human, All Too Human.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “The Old Testament and Iron Age Palestine

  1. I found your artical because I wanted to know when do scholars think davidic period occurred. I know most of my history of these times from the bible or “regulated truth and suppressed knowledge”. It would help if you could tell me based off of the classic iron stone bronze system since this is what most archeological writings seem to classify things by.
    no lie I felt some kind of way by your artical, we all have biases and I did come looking for facts. What follows was my initial response before I realized I would love you to respond to my question. Please respond to the above what age did davidic kingdom minor tribal sphere or not take place in as I think it will help me in my search for truth. Respond to the below if you choose but i confess I was feeling defensive when it was first typed. Thank you.
    Artical was much ado about nothing. You essentially rest your case on the fact that Egyptians do not mention Israel. I am not up on ancient cultures but my knowledge of modern cultures tells me that people do not take too much time to dwell on small failures. If the Exodus story is true it is not a “nation” rising up against Egypt but rather a slave escape in which a bunch of people died in the slave chase. If Red Sea story were true who would write it down? Only the Israelites and we have that recorded through king Josiah. If you mean to point out that king Josiah is far removed from this moment I don’t see how that is evidence. We ourselves are further removed and yet there are scores of theories based off of fragmented writings and shards of pottery. That does not make our history books untrue. We all learn through stories.
    Ok enough bashing your artical. I am biased in that I think just as I have an agenda to believe articals like yours smell of a bias as much as my response. I will say this is my gut reaction and I intend to look up your two sources.
    Thank you again. I respect you for trying to get the truth out even if I not think you had any meat to your argent. I hope we have the same aims. -kE

    Posted by Kevin erdner | July 12, 2014, 08:22
    • Hi,

      I’m going to request that you read the article one more time. You will notice that I’m constantly referencing Jewish archaeological scholars. Is there a better source? Any follow up questions should be directed at them. I’m merely echoing what their yet to be challenged investigations have produced. Whether we agree with Finkelstein or not, no one on this planet has been able to prove the contrary. The archaeological record is simply incompatible with the Old Testament, not to mention Earth’s natural history (e.g. the great flood). The starting point for this topic is logic and science, not some book about a magical sky wizard. If we agree on this approach as a foundation going forward, then we can begin to discuss dates and other Biblical stories.

      To quote Herzog: “biblical archaeology is not anymore the ruling paradigm in archaeology and that archaeology became an independent discipline with its own conclusions and own observations which indeed present us a picture of a reality of ancient Israel quite different from the one which is described in the biblical stories”. [Source: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/archives/s120784.htm%5D

      Thanks,

      Posted by elpidiovaldes | July 23, 2014, 09:58

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