Friday, September 11, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- First Principles

Your assignment for this week was to read the Lemekh story, Genesis 4:18-24.
In this lesson I’m going to introduce a great principle of archaeology which the urban legends ignore.
I copied it from paleontology, the sister-science of archaeology. If somebody else already put it in these terms, I haven’t read their work.
Natura non facit saltus.
When paleontologists discover a fossil with certain characteristics, they know that those characteristics weren’t installed in that fossil through genetic manipulation by humans. They were expressed in that fossil due to genes inherited from the ancestors of the life form. The genes were not harmful or the ancestors would have died instead of producing offspring that inherited the genes. They might have been neutral in effect. But every once in a while, environmental conditions let an individual with certain genetic changes survive to produce more generations of offspring with those characteristics, until an entirely new species resulted, which sometimes spawn a genus or even larger life form group, while older life forms died off because they couldn’t cope. Accumulating genetic changes while waiting for the environment to change lasts many times the life of an individual.
The same is true for human technology up until about the mid-1600s CE. Before the development of science, human cultural and technical developments were the product of small changes, possibly accidental, which it took many trials to learn to produce consistently on purpose. New technologies developed over generations and centuries and millennia.
So when the Lemekh story says that his son Tuval Qain worked in iron, that means that iron-working was set into the earliest stages of time by Jewish stories that became scripture.
But, you will say, the Israelites were a Bronze Age culture and didn’t know anything about iron-working. That’s an urban legend that has been busted by the march of archaeology.
Archaeology has turned up iron smelting in Anatolia in the 2500s BCE, a period that will show up in later posts. Carbon steel shows up among the Hittites by 1800 BCE and arrives among the Amorites by 1600 BCE. Meteoric iron usage goes back at least as far as 4000 BCE. Remember that date.
Since cultura non facit saltus, people were messing around with iron one way or another for generations or centuries before they used or produced the items the archaeologists found.  This is the same argument I used to show that people were eating grain for generations, centuries, even millennia before they produced the sickles that date to 18,000 BCE.
If the Ingress to the Holy Land happened when most people think it did, before 1200 BCE, there is no doubt that the Israelites found carbon steel in use, among people who could afford it. As a result, there can be no doubt that smelted iron products were in use in the Holy Land before the Ingress, as early as the 1800s BCE perhaps.
You’ll say, but the Hittites would have used border controls to keep their monopoly on their high-tech weapons. The earliest known attempt at impenetrable borders might be “the Walls of the King” in Egypt in the 2000s BCE. Archaeology shows that these walls periodically collapsed, and that even when they were in repair, non-Egyptians might be allowed in for trade or diplomatic reasons. We have no reason to think the Hittites were any more exclusive. On the contrary, we know that they had a client kingdom of Wilusa west of them in Anatolia, and that they had copies of the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh epic from almost 1500 kilometers away. The first relatively non-porous borders were imposed and maintained by the Assyrians in the 600s BCE, as far as I know, and they lasted less than a century. More on those much later.
So the idea of iron-workers in the early history of the people who became the Jews is not only thinkable, it’s probable, and there’s no reason to insist that Tuval Qain reflects the period of the Hittites. At least not the period that most people think of.
Your assignment for next week is to go back and read Genesis chapter 5.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved


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