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Exposing the roots,
This review is from: The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel (Hardcover)
During the past century, archaeology's tool kit gained immensely in size and quality. New, accurate, dating systems pinpoint events. Researchers study humble pollen, weather conditions, changes in household implements along with building construction plans and methods. Even the "dismal science" of economics contributes information on trade, surpluses, products exchanged and records. Documents, always problematic, are subject to intense criticism and comparison. Inevitably, this investigative array has turned to the eastern Mediterranean and the societies flourishing there in "biblical times". During the 19th and early 20th Centuries, scholars rooted in the desert sands seeking evidence that Biblical episodes indeed occurred. The authors turn that process on its head, accepting the occurrence of events but challenging their dating. Biblical dating, they argue, is generally contrived.
What would be the reason for fabricating excess longevity to the founding of the Jewish people? According to the authors, it was an attempt by priest-scribes to formulate a theologically-based ideology. The purpose of this propaganda document was to justify a forced reunification of the "dual kingdoms" of Israel and Judah, long sundered, but still related. Instead of a history written over strung out centuries, Finkelstein and Silberman say the authors of the Torah flourished during the 7th Century BCE. Their intent was to galvanise the people of Judah to participate in the reconquest of Israel.
As the biblical writers put it, David founded a glorious kingdom, further enhanced by Solomon. This empire was centred on the Temple in Jerusalem. A centralised dogma with adherence to a single deity [no matter how capricious] represented by a single building in a central city was the rallying point. The Torah, then, was little more than a manifesto for conquest and unification. Past failures and successful invasions by Egyptians, Assyrians and Persians were attributed to idolatry, intermarriage with foreign women and rejection of YHWH, the all-powerful desert god. Finkelstein and Silberman credit the biblical authors with manipulating, if not fabricating past events to build the case for Jewish unity.
The book's authors bring every tool in archaeology's kit to bear in constructing their case. Each chapter opens with a "biblical account" of periods and events. The archaeological evidence is then presented for comparison. The Exodus, for example, a Jewish foundation stone of tradition and celebration, lacks all support. The Egyptians, meticulous record-keepers, say nothing of large Hebrew slave populations. Pharonic border guardians, ever alert to invasions from the east, apparently missed half a million people crossing the other way. The great infrastructure projects attributed to Solomon were more likely to have come from the despised Omride dynasty of Samaria. The evidence derives from gate construction techniques. Even business makes a contribution - it was Judah's rise in commerce that improved its level of literacy. A more learned population was more susceptible to the wave of propaganda insisting Israel and Judah should be reunited.
Finkelstein and Silberman avoid sinking into the morass of "biblical minimalism" prevalent in recent years. They don't contest the "historical reality" of biblical events. They do insist on better evidence for chronology, and for realistic assessment of the power of Jewish leaders. David couldn't have ruled more than a minuscule kingdom and nobody seems to have heard of Solomon. The authors acknowledge the long-term impact of the Torah and its successors in the Christian world. The reason, they argue, is that no other theological or political documents of the time reached so many people so intimately. Greeks, Persians, Egyptians and Babylonians all produced their commentators. None of these, however, could prescribe the daily lives of their readers. The Hebrew Bible's writer's provided this and other guides with a surety of purpose other societies never matched. It proved an effective, if historically flawed, document. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]