Friday, May 6, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- voila! Evidence!

Countering a false argument from silence can be done a couple of ways.  One is from existing data by means of Occam’s razor.  Since archaeology finds that the oldest written reference to an ethnic group postdates the earliest remains of that group, sometimes for centuries, the oldest reference to Israel, the Merneptah stele, may have been put up centuries after the Israelites came into being.
But what physical remains of the Israelites exist?  None, and that is where the false argument from silence comes in.  Knowing that physical remains don’t always survive for centuries, archaeologists cannot reasonably conclude that the Israelites didn’t exist simply because such remains haven’t been found that reliably represent the Israelites.
Here is where it becomes necessary to know what currently identifies Israelites – or their survivors, the Jews – from other ethnic groups.  The mezuzah commanded in Torah did not exist in its current form, a small attachment for doorframes.  The Chanukah lamp didn’t exist at all until Mishnaic times.  Modern Seder plates are painted, not molded, and since paint chips off or wears off, we couldn’t identify anything as a seder plate.  The oldest known parchment related to Torah is from Qumran and dates back to Hasmonean times, in fact to 150 BCE.  The oldest definite sample of Hebrew writing goes back to 800 BCE and another arguable one to 1000 BCE.  What would we look for?
Archaeologists came up with one thing and only one that might distinguish Israelite settlements from non-Israelite, which is whether settlements in the Holy Land did or did not have pig remains in them, and how far back they went.
And lo and behold, they were found.  Archaeologists at the end of the 20th century distinguished scores of settlements all over the Holy Land which were established in the 1100s BCE, on previously unoccupied ground in the highlands (more than 200 meters above sea level), and this phenomenon lasted into the 900s BCE.
These settlements have two distinguishing features.  They have pottery made from local materials in a unique style, and they have no pig remains.
You’re saying big deal, no pig remains, but you probably have bought into an urban legend about pigs in the middle east.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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