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imageI sometimes get into debates with theists who refreshingly appear to wish to discuss evidence.

Not surprisingly, the evidence they have is usually “I’ve got this book”, or “historians admit the Bible is real, they know Jesus existed”.

On investigating further, they will then say there is archaeological evidence to say that all places in the Bible have been proven to exist so the stories in the Bible actually happened, it must all be true. Yes, I know your seeing the flaw in this logic too but, hey, let’s go along with it for a little while. Let’s take a look shall we?

Are you sitting comfortably? Grab me a beer and we shall begin!

ONCE UPON A TIME…

The historical saga contained in the Bible is not a miraculous revelation, but a brilliant product of human imagination. It was conceived, as archaeological evidence suggests, during a span of 2-3 generations about 2,600 years ago.

It is an epic saga woven together from historical writings, memories, legends, folklore, anecdotes, royal propaganda and ancient poetry. Partly original writing and partly adapted from earlier mythological and foreign folk tales.

The 7th Century leaders in Jerusalem declared all traces of foreign worship illegal and embarked on a campaign of destruction to eradicate all traces of alternative mythologies (Sounds familiar right? all religions seem to work the same way, eradicate previous religions so ours looks to be the original – the perpetual irony). From then on Jerusalem’s Temple was recognised as the only place of worship for the people of Israel and modern monotheism was forcibly born.

Such is the power of the Bible story, it has persuaded the world that Jerusalem was always the centre of religion, when infact, it was just another aristocratic family fighting to remain in power despite internal and external threats as many ancient lands went through.

Such a tiny area that the world seems to believe was created by god, and  a  mere 1,500 acres. Bizarre.

Recent discoveries in archaeology have revolutionised the study of Israel and has cast doubt on the historical basis of such famous biblical stories as The Exodus from Egypt, Conquest of Canaan and the Empire of David and Solomon. What Archaeology aims to do is seperate history from legend, and let me tell you, its as messy as a Tramp’s beard!

THE BIBLE 

  • imageThe Torah – Five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deutoronomy
  • Prophets – Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
  • POETRY –  Psalms, Proverbs, Job
  • THE FIVE SCROLLS – Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther
  • PROPHECY – Daniel
  • HISTORY – l Chronicles, ll Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah

WHO WROTE THE PENTATEUCH
Established religious authorities naturally assume the five books of Moses were written by Moses.
The books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel – by Samuel
Book of Kings – Jeremiah
Psalms – King David
Song of Solomon and Proverbs – King Solomon
By the 17th Century scholars questioned the bible’s reliability
By the 18th Century scholars began to doubt that Moses had any hand in the Bible at all (how right they were!)
PRODUCT OF MANY HANDS
Some scholars argue the texts were composed and edited during the united monarchy in (c 1000-586 BCE).Others insist they were compositions collected and edited by priests and scribes during the Babylonian exile (5-6 BCE) or even as late as Hellenistic (4-2 BCE).
All agree the Bible is not a single seamless composition but a patchwork of different sources, each written under varied historical circumstances to express different religious and political viewpoints.

THE BIBLE WAS WRITTEN WITH AN HISTORICAL BASIS, HOWEVER, CONTRADICTORY BIBLICAL NARRATIVES SUGGEST IT CANNOT BE USED AS A SOURCE FOR PRECISE JEWISH HISTORY.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

We can use the bible as a characteristic artefact that tells a great deal about the society that produced it. We now know that the compiling of such writings are linked to a particular stage of social development, other traits of this stage are monument building, economic specialisation and the presence of a dense network of communities.

The biblical narrative is a product of hopes, fears and ambitions of the kindgdom. The core of the bible arose from clear political, social and spiritual conditions of its peoples. The fanciful stories of Exodus for example, is the creative expression of a religious reform, stories taken from older foreign mythology and used for their purpose.

DEVELOPMENTS IN ARCHAEOLOGY 

EARLY ARCHAEOLOGY

imageMany of the early biblical archaeologists were trained as clerks or theologians, this of course shaped their results.

The French Dominican biblical scholar and archaeologist Roland de Vaux noted :-

If the historical faith of Israel is not founded in history such faith is erroneous, and therefore our faith is also

The American biblical archaeologist William F Albright echoed the sentiment :-

as a whole, the picture in Genesis is historical and there is no reason to doubt the general accuracy of the biographical details

Albright argued that unique details in Genesis might hold the key to verify their historical basis. Sadly later on even Albright realised this couldn’t be so, the search for proof of accuracy was unfruitful. The patriarchal narratives are based on ancient local traditions, his search was unsuccessful since none of the periods around the biblically suggested dates provided any comparable background.

The mistake early biblical archaeologists made was trying to work the excavations to fit the Bible stories. However, new trends began to influence the conduct of biblical archaeology, that changed its focus and completely reversed the traditional relationship between artefact and biblical text.

For the first time archaeologists did not seek to use excavated finds as illustrations of the Bible, in a dramatic shift to the methods of social science, they sought to examine the humans behind the texts.

They started to study the human interaction with the complex fragmented natural environment of the land and how it influenced the development of a social system and their religion. Within the Bible we can see some genuine history if we separate the religious myth and legend.

As the German biblical scholar, Julius Wellhausen said:

“The biblical stories should be regarded as a national mythology with no more historical basis than the Homeric Saga of Odysseus’s travels or Virgil’s Saga of Aeneas’s founding of Rome”

Let us take one or two stories of the bible and take a closer look, I won’t be discussing The Great Flood or The Exodus as I have covered both in previous articles.

DAVID AND SOLOMON

  • KING DAVID – 1005-970 BCE 

BIBLICAL TESTIMONY – Conquers Jerusalem and makes it his capital; establishes a vast empire covering most territories of the Land of Israel.

ARCHEOLOGICAL FINDS- no evidence of David’s conquests or for his empire. In the valleys Canaanite culture continues uninterrupted. In the highlands continuation of Iron l settlement system.

  • KING SOLOMON – 970-931 BCE 

BIBLICAL TESTIMONY – Builds the Temple and the palace in Jerusalem. Also active at Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDS – No sign of monumental architecture, or important city in Jerusalem. No sign of grand-scale building activity in Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer; in the north, Canaanite material culture continues.

David became a central figure in the early Israelite history, his slaying of Goliath, his adoption into the royal court as a harpist, his adventures as a rebel, his pursuit of Bathsheba, his conquest of Jerusalem. His son Solomon is remembered as the wisest of kings and the greatest of builders.

For centuries,  Bible readers have looked on this era as the golden age in Israel’s history. Until recently many scholars considered these stories as history, they saw it all as an historical saga.

Digging in Jerusalem has failed to produce evidence that it was a great city of David or Solomon’s time. The monuments ascribed to Solomon are now connected with other king’s. If there are no  Patriachs,  no Exodus, no Conquest of Canaan, no monarchy of David and Solomon how can we say that early biblical Israel as described in the five books of Moses even existed at all?

In the summer of 1993 at Tel Dan in Northern Israel a fragmentary artefact was discovered with the “House of David” inscription, part  of a black basalt monument, the evidence dates 100 years after the supposed Davidic Dynasty in the Bible.

Am I saying David and Solomon didn’t exist, not at all, what I am saying is they didn’t exist in the context of the Biblical reference.

Imagine if you will all the written history we have for Europe, the proof of wars, economy, invasion by foreign powers, then invent a sky fairy, voila you have the “European Bible” does the addition of a mythological being mean he is real?

There are indeed some archaeological histories we can attribute to the Bible, but that doesn’t prove a man made god. On the contrary it proves the imagination and socio-economic needs of the ruling classes. No more no less.

Much of what theists take as accurate histories – the stories of Exodus, the monarchy of David and Solomon are actually the creativity of the Judean scholars to control the masses. We are saying they wove a ‘god concept’ into their historical tapestry.

JERICHO
imageDuring archaeological excavations there was no trace of a 13th Century settlement and the earlier bronze age settlement was small and poor, almost insignificant and unfortified. There was also no sign of destruction.

Therefore the famous scene of the Israelite forces marching around the walled city with the Ark of the Covenant, causing Jericho’s mighty walls to collapse after blowing their war trumpets, simply didn’t happen, just a romantic mirage.
A similar problem arises between archaeology and the bible when Ai was found, where according to the Bible, Joshua carried out his clever ambush. Scholars identified the large mound of Khirbet et-Tell, as the ancient site of Ai. There was no bronze age site in its vicinity when excavated in 1933 and 1935, a later excavation in the 1960’s produced the same results.

Like Jericho, there was no settlement so no conquest by the children of Israel.
THE FAILED SEARCH FOR THE HISTORICAL ABRAHAM
imageSo many biblical scholars have been convinced that the patriarchal narratives were historically true. Many of these scholars have been trained as clerics and theologian’s and were persuaded by their ‘faith’ that God’s promise to Abraham was real. Presumably if God’s promise was real it would have been passed onto real people not imaginary creations of some ancient scribes pen?

The search for Abraham was unsuccessful, since none of the periods around the biblically suggested dates provide a completely compatible background to the biblical stories. The assigned westward migration of groups from Mesopotamia to Canaan were later shown to be illusory.
Archaeology completely disproved the contention that a sudden mass population move had taken place at that time.

What we can say is the story of Abraham is based on local tribal traditions and may possibly be a legend on a par with King Arthur, the landscape of the patriarchal stories is dreamlike, stitched together from memory, snatches of ancient customs, legends of the birth of the peoples and the concerns aroused by contemporary conflicts. It shows a richness of traditions and the diverse audience it was aimed at.

IN CONCLUSION

The Judean’s became known throughout the Mediterranean as a community with a unique devotion to their God. The Biblical saga gave them a shared vision of solidarity and hope for every individual community as they dispersed over the centuries, a heroic mythology no more or less than Homer’s Illiad or The Odyssey.

 ***

Would you believe I have now been writing my blog post for a year today, and of the comments I get many are the fact I rarely put links to substantiate my claims. There are three reasons for this.

Firstly-  I am I.T. challenged and find adding links somewhat difficult and a pain in the ass, so I rarely include them (ask me and I will send the relevant links to you) .

Secondly – I research on such a scale that adding all links etc would take as many characters as the blogs themselves.

Thirdly – I write the blog for pleasure and as an historian in real life research is second nature to me, this is my downtime which means the blogs are well researched but I add my opinionated self to them ;-).

However on this occasion, I have given you a bibliography list which is half of what I have used for this blog but hope it helps if you wish to delve deeper into what I have discussed. I can of course add a bibliography list to every blog post in future if you are so inclined to further reading…

I can tell you I don’t use google or wikipedia for my research but to give you a tip I definitely recommend Oxford University Press and Academia.edu. among other academic sites and published works.

Please see below listings for this article :-

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Geography of Israel – Orni, E and Efrat, E
  • Who Wrote The Bible – Friedman, R.E
  • Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice – Renfrew,C and Bahn,P
  • The Pentateuch: A Social Science and Commentary – Van Seters,J
  • Israels Past in Present Research, Essay on Ancient Israelite Historiography – Philips Long,V
  • Ancient Ammon – McDonald, B
  • The Late Bronze Age – Biblical Archaeologist 52: 4-39 – Leonard,A
  • The Emergence of Early Israel in Historical Perspective – Coote,R B and Whitelam, K W
  • The Integrative Transformation: Patterns of Socio-political Organisation in Southern Syria – Marfoe,L
  • The Proto-Aeolic Capital and Israelite Ashlar Masonry – Shiloh,Y

 

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