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on 18 July 2017
Excellent. Convincing. Torpedoes any sense that 'the old testament' is historically accurate any time before the second captivity.
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on 28 February 2014
Great book well researched. As a Christian I have always been troubled by the text of the Old Testament as it seems to be at odds with all the scientific data and increasing archaeology from the area. This in no mean undermines my belief. If anything it has made the understanding clearer when viewed with the archaeology and science.
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on 4 April 2016
Erudite and a must for anyone interested in this subject.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 April 2015
Sometime during the seventh century BCE, Judahite scholars in Jerusalem were employed to gather up the legends of their forebears and synthesise them into a coherent narrative for the purpose of uniting a people, to give them an identity and to promote a system of laws and norms by which their rulers wished them to live. The events they recorded had largely transpired over the previous six centuries, although the very earliest preceded that period. Around a century later, a similar task was undertaken in Athens to record feats of the Greeks in the Trojan War during the thirteenth century BCE, assembling the best of the oral tradition attributed to the troubadour we know as Homer. Again a ruler wanted a narrative that would unite and inspire a people.

The results of both endeavours have been handed down to us as some of the finest literature the world knows, although it is sometimes difficult to regard the Judahite production, which we now know as The Bible, or rather The Old Testament, as such due to its continuing use for ideological and moralistic purposes.

In The Bible Unearthed, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman recount the biblical story and compare it with other evidence from the region in which it originated in order to separate myth from likelihood.

Based upon this they conclude, amongst other things, due to counter-evidence in the form of alternative documentation, or sometimes absence of evidence in places where there really should be some, that there was never a specific person called Abram, that the biblical exodus never took place, and that there were no walls to be brought tumbling down at Jericho. Where the biblical authors would have us believe that the god of the Judahites, identified as YHWH, rewarded his people when they were loyal only to him, and punished them when they turned to worshipping false gods, we find that Josiah, on whose behalf they believe the scriptures were recorded originally and supposedly the best of the best, was ignominiously killed by the pharaoh Necho for some reason unknown whilst before him Manasseh, who succeeded the “good” Hezekiah and was regarded as the apostate’s apostate, ruled for fifty-five years following the destruction wrought on Hezekiah’s fief by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. A later revolt, under the tutelage of the “good” Zedekiah, was brutally suppressed by the Babylonians who then proceeded to destroy the Temple of Jerusalem. The untimely death of the virtuous, blessed Josiah is doubly inconvenient as by then the original scriptures were already in existence, meaning that revisions had to be carried out (two distinct versions have been identified) which skated over the encounter with Necho, with later additions providing spurious detail.

In setting out their evidence, Finkelstein and Silberman are scrupulously agnostic. They neither engage in gotcha-type sniping at believers, nor do they attempt to rationalise away the archaeological or documentary evidence as irrelevant to the religious message. Instead they respect the Bible as a priceless cultural artefact, one which has been unsurpassedly influential in shaping the thinking of a large proportion of humanity, and in establishing a system of values which transcend the boundaries of faith and permeate large sections of secular society.

Hence, whilst it is difficult not to conclude that, given its unsound historiography, Judaeo-Christian theology is built on shaky foundations, the Bible serves a higher purpose for all of us, albeit one divorced from any faith-based end.
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on 10 May 2015
Read this and kiss the Old testament goodbye. Instead of taking the idea that the bible represents fact, this starts from the prmise that the evidence should show us what in the bible is real, and what is not. A surprising and interesting read. Bible literalists will hate it.
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on 25 December 2014
I am no expert on archaeology, so can only judge the internal logic, and it doesn't look good. Take for example, the reasons for rejecting an early bronze age date for Abraham:

"But much of the population remained sedentary, living in villages and hamlets. In sharp contradiction to the theory of a great migration of nomads from the north, the continuity of architecture, pottery styles, and settlement patterns suggests that the population of Canaan in this interurban phase was predominantly indigenous."

This is a straw man attack. The Bible only talks of Abraham's journey, not "a great migration of nomads from the north".The argument continues:

"No less important was the fact that some of the main sites mentioned in the patriarchal stories --such as Shechem, Beersheba, and Hebron-- did not yield finds from the Intermediate Bronze Age; these sites were simply not inhabited at that time."

This is another straw man. Abraham's Shechem was a region controlled by a person called Shechem. (see Genesis 33:18-19) It was not the city of Shechem that grew up later. Abraham's Beersheba was the name of a wilderness, not an inhabited city (Genesis 21:14,31). Abraham's Hebron was simply a region (containing the plain of Mamre), not a city (Genesis 33:18).

This is a very common error in the book. The editor of Genesis helpfully gives modern names where an ancient site was no longer in use. E.g. "the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron," Mamre was no longer in use after 2000BC, so would mean nothing to later generations, but they all knew where Hebron was. The book repeatedly sees helpful notes like this as something sinister:

"These factors convinced some seventeenth century scholars that the Bible's first five books, at least, had been shaped, expanded, and embellished by later, anonymous editors and revisers over the centuries."

No, that does not follow. Giving a modern place name does not mean "shaping, expanding and embellishing."

To be fair, there is the occasional example of embellishment in Genesis, but it is of the helpful and innocuous kind. For example, the romance in genesis 24 adds the charming detail of camels kneeling while waiting for the beautiful Rebekah. This illustrates the point of a wealthy man's servant waiting a long time (Genesis 24:10-14). Yes, it embellishes the story, but only to drive home the point.

Adding camels to Genesis 24 is like those medieval illustrations of Bible texts that add medieval armour to show that an ancient warrior was dressed for battle. The readers would not have recognised ancient armour, so the addition was helpful. But imagine if pre-medieval Bibles had not survived: Finkelstein would conclude that the Hebrew Bible was largely invented in medieval Europe.

Finkelstein has an excuse with Abraham, because we have no earlier copies. But happily when we look back at the more important stories, such as the creation, we do have earlier copies to check: the Sumerian and Akkadian texts. But it appears that Finkelstein has not not examined these in any detail. Take for example his assertion that:

"A careful reading of the book of Genesis, for example, revealed two conflicting versions of the creation (1: 1- 2: 3 and 2: 4- 25)"

This does not follow, as there could easily be other explanations. Occam's razor says we should not multiply creation accounts unless absolutely necessary. The explanation for the two creations of man is in the Sumerian and Akkadian sources. The first part refers to the highest god or divine council (called El in most middle eastern cosmologies), who created a world for the lower gods. The lower gods are clearly high caste humans: they are divine Adams. They walk in the garden, do not know where Adam is, etc. The lower gods do not like doing the work themselves, so they create another caste, another "Adam" to do their work for them. Their main role in keeping the garden is to dig ditches. Hence the concern in Genesis 2:4-25 with water (there was not enough rain, so the garden needed to be near rivers). The first part of creation is about preparing the world, the second part is about importing slaves to do the irrigation.

So the "Yahweh-Elohim" who appears in Genesis 2 is the familiar Sumerian concept of a god-king. When the God-king makes mistakes (e.g.he si inconsistent when rejecting Cain's offering while accepting Abel's) he is simply referred to as Yahweh, not Yahweh-Elohim.

Finkelstein's confusion seems to arise because in later generations Yahweh and Elohim were interchangeable names for the higher gods. But in the earliest texts, had he checked the source material, he would have seen that Yahweh was mortal, and the "two creation stories" are in fact one story of supernatural Gods, the creation of mortal god-kings, and then the creation of slaves to handle irrigation.

The book is full of errors like this, which are then treated as facts in order to support much larger conclusions. It all makes the book hard to take seriously. I would have given this just one star, but it does serve as a guide to current fashions in scholarship, so may be of some use to future historians.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 November 2014
This book takes the results of several centuries of textual investigation of the Bible and matches it with up-to-date results of archaeology. This has produced a fascinating reworking of the history of Israel. The authors present a series of summaries of various stories from the Bible. For each story they then discuss how the Biblical texts have been analysed and interpreted as ancient literature rather than Holy Scripture and then introduce the archaeology to give what they consider to be a probable real history. The paraphrases of the biblical stories are interesting on their own and the discussion of the archaeology is accessible and not at all dusty. Everything is easy to read.

The authors concentrate on Deuteronomy and the books known collectively as the Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1 and 2) and Kings (1 and 2). Their conclusion is that if was the northern kingdom (confusingly also called Israel) that was the power in the land, but after its destruction by the Assyrians and the forced relocation of its people, it was the smaller, poorer southern kingdom of Judah, centred on Jerusalem, that took over the leadership of the people. In Jerusalem the various writings were compiled, redacted and spun together into the collection that would become the Bible. The temples and hill-top altars of Judah were gradually closed and the temple in Jerusalem became the only recognised centre of worship in the new centralised, literate state. Coincidently, it was at this time that the "Book of the Law" was "discovered" in the temple at Jerusalem. This is thought to have been the book of Deuteronomy. The books of the Former Prophets are often called the Deuteronomistic Histories because of their textual similarities to Deuteronomy. Here history was not written by the victors but re-written by the survivors.

THE BOOK's chapters are in an historical sequence, divided into three parts. Part 1 concerns the early history: the patriarchs, Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. Part 2 concerns the rise and fall of the northern kingdom of Israel up to its annihilation in 720 BC. Part 3 concerns the southern kingdom of Judah's making of the biblical history. Other information is put into the seven appendices. There is a detailed 17 page Bibliography arranged by chapter and then by subject and a 13 page Index. There are also 29 black and white line drawings scattered throughout the text; these are mainly maps and town plans. There are also some dynastic tables of the two Israelite kingdoms and their neighbours. This book became a bestseller in its subject area and is reviewed in detail on Wikipedia. It was made into a four-part television series. This can be seen on YouTube. An overview of this series is on a DVD, but reviews suggest that it has been sanitised to appeal to a wider audience.
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on 8 August 2014
Compelling evidence that the Old Testament Bible was invented 'history' written in the 7th or 8th-century BCE. The Exodus never happened nor the conquest of Canaan, the destruction of Jericho, etc.
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on 23 February 2014
As to content, this is an excelent book but the Kindle transfer lacks page numbers, which makes finding citations difficult, and also makes citing less useful, ax although one can cite the Kindle location that dos not help someone who has the print edition. Bizarly, the index still includes the page numbers though as they are also hyperlinked to the text the ndex still works.
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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]
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