Top critical review
17 people found this helpful
Weak internal logic
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.