Friday, June 24, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- wrapping up the digs

When you read archaeological material – from the original report not the mass media or a fringe website – and it claims to relate to the Bible, you have to be skeptical.
First, you have to make sure it’s not a weak analogy.  It has to deal with all of the Biblical words and details, not just pick out useful parts.  In the next two parts of this blog, I’ll show why it has to deal with the Biblical words in Biblical Hebrew, not in translation.
Second, you have to make sure that the writer doesn’t deny something happened just because the data don’t say it did.  The dig has to be at the right place and go down to the right level, look for culturally relevant material and evaluate it accurately compared to the situations cultures normally find themselves in.
Third, you have to make sure the material evaluates the provenance reasonably.  A report that doesn’t go through the provenance of a find but tries to claim that it relates to something in Bible cannot be relied on.  The week this post goes up, there was a follow-on to the story about the papyrus that supposedly talked about “Jesus’ wives”.  In fact, the original study did not have that phrase; it was an invention of mass media to gain attention.  Second, there was absolutely no information about the provenance from archaeology; it came from the possessor and his story keeps shifting.  The next thing that has to happen is a radiocarbon test, just like the one that proved the fabric of the Turin shroud was made in the 1400s CE.  I’m sure the possessor of the “Jesus” papyrus doesn’t want that but if he refuses, there’s no there there.   Without  provenance information from archaeology, you don’t  really have an archaeological “find” and you may not have an antiquity.  At best, you might have a curiosity, but it could also be a forgery.
The chronology of the Torah goes something like this:
Noach’s wine grapes come from about 4000 BCE in a location later known as Urartu; we don’t know what it was called in 4000 BCE, its oldest known name is Urashtu.  This is in Anatolia, where and when proto-Semitic first developed, and also near where meteoric iron was in use, and where smelted iron and carbon steel show up over the next 2000 years.
Gan Eden relates to the 3000s BCE, the Jemdet Nasr period of Mesopotamia, somewhere to the east of where the Euphrates flows now, and where it joined up with the Tigris and two minor rivers, one of which vanished from human memory and one of which is permanently dry now.
The destruction of the Cities of the Plain had to be observed by the ancestors of the Jewish people when they were near Numeira, Jordan, about 2350 BCE.  This places them far from Mesopotamia prior to the time of the Sumerian Kings List, Gilgamesh, Atra-Hasis, and Enuma Elish in the written forms we know of.  It coordinates with the end of Ebla, which traded with the Cities.  All writing in Mesopotamia was in Sumerian or Akkadian cuneiform at this time; reading and writing cuneiform had to do with royal decrees and religious material; archives were royal property, not freely open to anybody who chose to browse in them.
The Israelites migrated to Egypt in the 1800s BCE and were familiar with the conditions there at the end of the reign of Amenemhet III, the end of the Middle Kingdom.
The Israelites left Egypt about 1630 BCE, heading southeast.  The Hyksos rulers of the delta were trying to recover from the effects of the Thera explosion.  Before they had completely recovered, Ahmose I attacked and took back the north.  He chased the remains of the Hyksos rulers of the Delta northeast to Sharuhen.  Torah has the only written record currently known, relative to the Thera explosion, except for the Tempest Papyrus from the start of Ahmose’s reign.
This leaves 400 years for the period of the Judges and the cult at Shiloh.  About 1100 BCE, the Israelites established settlements throughout the Holy Land, more than 200 feet above sea level, and refused to trade pottery with the lowlands, showing that they had to be self-supporting.
They remained self-supporting, engaging in mixed agriculture, to about 900 BCE, the time of Shlomo.
The Israelites were not descended solely from the Hapiru; the two groups were not identical.
The Israelites did not copy their monotheism from Akhenaten.  Even his son didn’t copy it; Tutankhamen changed back to the original Egyptian polytheism.
The Israelites did not invent the Exodus after their culture had been up and running for centuries; it was so well known that 100 years after the hilltop settlements dissolved, Amos could talk about it to the southerners and Hoshea could reference it to the northerners, without going into a song and dance about what they meant.
Cultures like the Celts and Sea Peoples began developing 300 to 400 years before they first appeared in text from another culture.  It is no stretch to accept that the culture of the Israelite hilltop settlements goes back to at least 1500 BCE, but the geological evidence in Torah is that their ancestors originated nearly a millennium before that.
Those assigning a late date to every characteristic of Jewish culture, religion and law, are almost certainly wrong.  I’ll give more evidence for this in the next two sections.  Starting with evidence from the language itself – Biblical Hebrew.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved


  1. "The Israelites did not invent the Exodus after their culture had been up and running for centuries; it was so well known that 100 years after the hilltop settlements dissolved, Amos could talk about it to the southerners and Hoshea could reference it to the northerners, without going into a song and dance about what they meant."

    I don't understand this point. You give 1630 for the date of the Exodus. Amos is writing around 750. That's a roughly 900 year span. The story could have been invented any time prior to, let's say, 900 BCE and still be widely known by 750. Scholars don't claim it was invented "after their culture had been up and running for centuries". Most believe it is an older legend – not necessarily originally an Israelite one – that was adopted and elaborated by the Israelites and eventually codified when the Torah text was written.

    Your argument here only establishes, perhaps, that the story was not invented close to the time Amos and Hoshea referred to it. It has no bearing on whether it is history or legend.

    Similarly, "The Israelites did not copy their monotheism from Akhenaten. Even his son didn’t copy it; Tutankhamen changed back to the original Egyptian polytheism."

    Tutankhamen preferred to deify himself and other gods. That doesn't mean the Israelites might not have learned from Ahkenaten. I don't think they did, but what Ahkenaten does teach us is that monotheistic ideas were considered and sometimes adopted in the ancient Near East. We have no evidence of Israeli monotheism from Ahkenaten's time (14th Century) or for centuries later. Even in the Tanach, we frequently see a less than pure monotheism, with multiple references to other gods the Israelites should not worship, as well as other celestial beings. The evidence is that Jewish monotheism was an evolutionary product.

    You can certainly hold to your traditionalist beliefs. I don't think you can claim that those who follow the evidence "are almost certainly wrong". You are working primarily from faith; they are working from evidence.

    1. The bibliography links to some founding works of Documentary Hypothesis that are available online for free. For those who don’t know, one fundamental claim of DH is that the pieces of Torah were invented out of whole cloth at specific times. In the DH assignments given on Wikiquote, you will see that all of Exodus is marked as no older than J from the 800s BCE, a century after the split in the kingdoms and multiple centuries after the Ingress to the Holy Land. You can also try to find Friedman’s book in a library; I don’t remember exactly but I think he says pretty much the same.
      Aside from Documentary Hypothesis, go to Gary Rendsburg’s papers online at his university. In some of them he takes issue with writers who do indeed claim that Judaism was invented after Amos. His argument is that they don’t cover all the relevant data, which I would call a clear failure of the test of Occam’s Razpr.
      Brightman arrogates the title “scholar” strictly to people who agree with DH. Yes, it’s a fallacious redefinition, but in fact he would dismiss your claim that scholars don’t yadda yadda yadda because he would not consider the writers you’ve been reading scholars if they don’t agree with DH.
      You can find out more on things like fallacious redefinition and false argument from silence on Gary Curtis’ Fallacy Files web page, to which I give a link on the Resources page. The peer-reviewed Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy also has a large article on fallacies.
      People who read your comment would surely like a link to your website where you’ve posted the results of your studies. Hopefully you have a bibliography so that your readers can evaluate your use of “most”.
      And thank you for bringing up issues that I have yet to address; I’ve rewritten half a dozen draft posts to cover what you say. However, the blog won’t cover every possible subject, that’s a promise. I cover more issues in Narrating the Torah, which is in its second comprehensive rewrite.
      I will address DH end of June/start of July. I’ve been reading critiques of it around the web and none of the ones I found make the points I’ll make.