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HALL OF FAMEon 21 December 2005
This book presents new discoveries and ways of looking at previous discoveries in the area of archaeological research and the origins of the Bible. This is one of the latest contributions of major scholars to the continuing quest for clarity and understanding of the development and meaning of the biblical texts. 'We believe that a reassessment of finds from earlier excavations and the continuing discoveries by new digs have made it clear that scholars must now approach the problems of biblical origins and ancient Israelite society from a completely new perspective.
The book is divided into three main sections. After a brief introduction and prologue, the three main sections are 'The Bible as History?', 'The Rise and Fall of Ancient Israel', and 'Judah and the Making of Biblical History'. There follows an epilogue and several appendices that address particular key questions.
Prologue and Introduction
Finkelstein and Silberman begin with a small 'snapshot' of Jerusalem in the time of king Josiah. Josiah is a very important figure, as it is thought by many that it was during his reign (circa 639-609 B.C.E.) that much of the Torah and other major biblical texts came into the beginning forms of what we have today.
Following this brief glimpse into the past, the authors explore key definitions of the Bible (what is meant in this book, for the sake of archaeological research in to ancient Israel, is the Hebrew Bible, a book that contains the same material as the Christian Old Testament, in a different order, without apocryphal or deuterocanonical additions), historical periods, archaeological and anthropological ideas, and set the stage for the authors' main thesis:
Many scholars believe that elements of the Bible were written hundreds of years before this time. Thus, the authors have a task to prove their case.
The Bible as History?
The modern idea of history is a foreign concept to the biblical authors. One of the major problems that arises in biblical interpretation today is the application of twentieth century standards of history, epistemology, and ethics to a set of writings whose origin is upwards of 3000 years earlier. The very ideas of individuality, family, tribal and ethnic identity, economy, justice, and good and evil have undergone major developments through time. While it is true that there are timeless elements of the Bible that continue to speak, this is not due to a parallel sense of history between biblical writers and modern readers. We must always take great care to understand that our interpretations (and yes, 'taking it literally' is an interpretation, one that was most likely never intended by the original authors) are rooted in our modern times and owe more to that culture than to biblical integrity.
The Rise and Fall of Ancient Israel
In this section the authors investigate the historical record as presented both from biblical sources and archaeological data. Finkelstein and Silberman do not see a unified kingdom as a likelihood during the Davidic/Solomonic period. The archaeological record, they claim, does not support such a conclusion. While many biblical scholars and archaeologists have taken the postulated progression of the kingdom of Israel from one of tribal cooperation to royal unity to division to disintegration as a given, the authors here argue that the northern and southern split was always greater in sociological and political terms than the Bible presents.
Judah and the Making of Biblical History
The key to understanding these writings in the Bible is to understand Judah, the place and people who produced it. Judah is not presented in unambiguously glowing terms, but there is a theme of faithfulness and favour that preserves the inheritance of Abraham for Judah. Judah had always been a small and isolated kingdom in relation to the northern kingdom of Israel, without its population, resources, wealth, and international contacts. However, with the fall of the northern kingdom, the importance of Judah increases, and, as it is the origin of the survivors of the tradition, those looking back on the history rate the relative importance in perhaps less than objective fashion.
After examining the development under several kings, the authors come to the reign of Josiah. Josiah institutes religious reforms, based on a 'found' book in the Temple. This 'found' volume is most likely much of the book of Deuteronomy as we have it today. Many scholars believe that this 'found' volume was actually written at the request of Josiah or his advisors, to provide a standard model for history and worship that would serve as a more firm foundation for his rule. Likewise, and important from the standpoint of Finkelstein and Silberman's argument for the seventh-century origins of the biblical text, archaeological evidence shows a widespread and sudden increase in literacy throughout Judah, with extensive use of writing, signet rings, seals, and other literary pieces that speak to the ability of the people to produce an extensive literary text like various books of the Bible.
Epilogue: The Future of Biblical Israel
The authors give a brief essay on the importance of the people after return from exile, the brief periods of freedom (yet always under the domination or influence of some foreign power), and the continuing importance of the Bible as formative document for Jews, then later Christians, then later other cultures that tap into the narratives as part of the collective cultural heritage of the world.
The authors are Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. Finkelstein has a position at Tel Aviv University, as director of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Archaeological Institute, and is currently working on excavations at Tel Meggido (better known to modern readers as Armageddon). Silberman is director of historical interpretation for the Ename Center for Public Archaeology and Heritage Presentation in Belgium. Both are frequent contributors to major scholarly and popular archaeology magazines and journals, and each has published a number of noted books in the field of Syro-Palestinian archaeology.
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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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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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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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on 3 August 2009
Enjoyed reading this book, but realise that already it is in need of heavy revision. It now appears that the scholarly consensus has shifted with regard to the dating of the chambered gates at Hazor, Meggido and Gezer back to Solomon. Finklestein et al supposed them to be Omeride. Also evidence of earlier destruction of Canaanite Hazor is now being attributed to the Israelites due to the destruction of Canaanite Idols. The positive dating in 2005 of a 7th century silver ambulate bearing the Aaronic Blessing has given greater support to the antiquity of the torah. This is still a very helpful snapshot of the state of Archaeological thinking in 2001. But is perhaps now itself becoming of historical rather than contemporary value.
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on 1 August 2002
Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman set out to explain how and why the Bible's historical saga differ so dramatically from the archaeological finds. They then offer another version based on the archaeological evidence. They state the most of the early books of the Bible were written in the seventh century BCE giving another explanation of the origins of the Bible.
They set out the history of the theories of when the events in the Pentateuch (the Torah) [Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy] and the Former Prophets [Joshua, Judges, 1& 2 Samuel 1& 2 Kings]. I was swept along by their case that these books of the Bible where put together under King Josiah in the kingdom of Judah in the seventh century BCE. They present the case for the first five books of the Bible to be the result of an editorial process of the three or four main source documents and the final redaction to have taken place in the post-exilic period. They also present the case for a two-part process in the production of the "Deuteromistic History" of the Former Prophets.
The only criticism I have is that when presenting the archaeological evidence they debate mainly only one particular theory and then present their own theory. They do not cover all possible theories.
They produced a readable, enjoyable book for general readers on the debate about the historical reliability of the Bible. Reading it may well lead one to use the extensive bibliography to delve further into this subject.
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on 17 October 2001
This is a stunning book. In clear language, neatly organized and carefully explained, the authors analyze the first few books of the Bible and put them through a rigorous scientific filter. Using the latest historical and archaeological data available, they truly "unearth" the facts behind one of the world's most influential documents. In a world castigated by religious extremism, this book is proof positive that the truth can indeed set you free. Far from being a confrontational work, this is a book for those who want to know who the ancient people of Israel and Judah truly were, how they lived, when and why they wrote such an important and awe-inspiring opus. The tone is earnest and thoroughly professional. The authors stride boldly forth and maintain a refreshing honesty that kept me glued like a cat to a fishbowl. Bravo. My faith in human nature has been reinforced. One wishes there were more books like this one, shedding light upon the darkness of ignorance.
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on 20 May 2016
This book totally destroys most of the old testament, using archaeology and historical digs. There are some youtube videos based on it but for the full story, you need to read this book to find out why the old testament stories, often written many centuries after events portrayed, has nothing to do with history. An absorbing read.
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on 14 August 2002
This book is a must read for any Christian, Jew or Muslim who would like to see what exactly has been found in extensive excavations in the Holy Land. Doubtless, Professor Finkelstein's book will be criticised by fundamentalists of every stripe, as it challenges the veracity of the Hebrew Bible, and by extension, that of the Quran as well.
His characterisation of the two Kingdoms of the Divided Monarchy (Israel and Judah) are a little too simplistic though: Israel is open, cosmopolitan, integrated into the (ancient) world economy, tolerant of non-Israelites; Judah is closed, inward-looking, fundamentalist, intolerant. Is this perhaps his own projection of modern Israeli society and the deep differences that exist between the liberal and conservative (peace and non-peace) factions back into the seventh century BC? I find this characterisation a little too black and white.
Also, he does not give the Deuteronomistic Historian(s) a good press - although he never explicitly says this, one always has the impression that the Historian is the ancient equivalent of the modern televangelist (or perhaps in Israeli terms - the ultra right-wing, settler types). I prefer Baruch Halpern's characterisation of the Historian as a genuine historian who has written history in the context of his own time and place (7th century BC Judah) - and has produced a text that is seriously flawed by modern standards - but still a great history (in the sense of the 7th century BC, if not that of the 21st AD). After all, if Plato were to write the Republic today he would probably be subject to widespread ridicule as well.
Nevertheless, a fantaastic book and worth about five times the price it is going for!!
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on 29 May 2008
This book "The Bible unearthed" is concentrating on the Biblical history starting from the great patriarch Abraham until the exile in Babylon. Based on archeological evidence this journey of Abraham can never have taken place and is describing more the political settings of the period of king Josiah of Judea from the 7th century BCE. The kingdoms or tribes described have not existed during Abraham's times, no Camels were domesticated to be part of a caravan taking Abrahams offspring into 430 years of Egyptian exile.
There were Canaanite settlements in the Nile delta but no mass Exodus, at least not at the time mentioned in the Bible, no wandering for 40 years of 600.000 chosen people in the desert of Sinai, all invented during Josiah's term from the YHWH-alone movement.
The core of the Jewish religion was founded in the Judean highlands from sheep and goat herders who were settling there since ancient times and not arriving refugees after 40 years of wandering after the Exodus.
The kings David and Solomon were only some tribal chiefs of these highland goat herders and not the magic powerful rulers of huge kingdoms as stated in Biblical texts. So the stories are more fairy tales inspired by the powerful northern neighbor kingdom under the Omri dynasty. And Solomon is not mentioned anywhere outside the Bible and his existence can not even be confirmed by any evidence- but there is another book from the same authors just about this period.
The best periods of the Judean chiefdoms are under polytheistic rules mentioned as wicked in the Bible, the worst periods full of lost wars and hardship under YHWH-alone rules mentioned as righteous and good in the Bible.
And of course the temple scroll miraculously found in 622 BCE happened under the `most righteous' king Josiah and this king is even explicitly mentioned as great messiah in the alleged 1000 BCE prophecies.

In short the whole stories are invented from a small kingdom of Judea to support the claim over the historical `ownership' over the 10 tribes of Israel e.g. the much bigger but crumbling northern kingdom of Israel.
"The Bible unearthed" is really a big blow to the entire validity of the Old Testament.
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