Friday, June 3, 2016

Fact-checking the Torah -- realistic expectations

The problem with the false argument from silence and the Exodus rests on a basic truth of archaeology.
Archaeologists cannot dig everywhere on the surface of the earth or for an unlimited distance below it.
They don’t have the time.  They don’t have the funding.  They can’t hold up agriculture or construction indefinitely so they can do their work.
So I believe it was William Albright who stated that archaeologists can only look where they think they’ll find something.
Since the finding of the Merneptah stele, the looking has only gone down to the 19th dynasty of Egypt.
But now that we know that Tell el-Maskhuta was not a treasure city in the 19th dynasty, and was inhabited in Hyksos times, we have to figure out should we look down to 17th dynasty levels in Goshen?
And here we run into the same problem as with Umm al-Bini.  We can’t get in there.  Egypt is very violent just now.  What’s more, it has sort of a dual personality.  While it realizes that most of its tourism comes from Pharaonic material, as a Muslim state it has severe scruples about hanging onto those remains and may ignore the economic benefit of the people working at archaeological digs due to the same scruples.  They’re a sovereign nation and they have every right to run their country that way.  The result is that it’s going to be a while before an archaeological expedition can get to Goshen and dig.  And no way am I going to recommend that some Indiana Jones wannabe go in and rob heritage sites in a sovereign nation. That’s bad archaeology as well as insulting on an international basis, and dangerously stupid.
And again, what are you going to look for?  It would be wonderful if the pigless trash dumps also exist in Goshen – but Goshen supposedly was about 2300 square kilometers in size and so where do you dig?
Or it would be nice to dig at Mt. Sinai where the Israelites lived for about 2 years while creating the tabernacle.  The location currently associated with Mt. Sinai is 37 kilometers around at the base.  And then what would you look for?
There’s a report from an archaeologist who went through Tell el-Maskhuta a few months after one season of digging ended, and the fresh wood used to block off the sand had already been consumed by insects.
So with the fragility of pottery and the edibility of wood, we’re left with stone and metal.  In spite of what I wrote some weeks ago about iron, the metal most likely to be found is bronze or brass.  Numbers 31:22 says that the Israelites were going to get other metals from the spoil of the Midianites, including iron and tin. 
Metal detectors don’t pick up brass or bronze so well, especially at 17th dynasty depths, and they have more trouble picking metal up in hot dry conditions like the ones the Sinai has now.
In other words, we’d love to do the work, but it’s going to be expensive and difficult both in terms of the work itself and in terms of the political and military situation.
But that’s no reason for accepting a false argument from silence.

Next week I'll demonstrate the other fallacy that makes trouble for archaeological claims.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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