The Bible Unearthed : Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts
In this groundbreaking work that sets apart fact and legend, authors Finkelstein and Silberman use significant archeological discoveries to provide historical information about biblical Israel and its neighbors.
In this iconoclastic and provocative work, leading scholars Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman draw on recent archaeological research to present a dramatically revised portrait of ancient Israel and its neighbors. They argue that crucial evidence (or a telling lack of evidence) at digs in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon suggests that many of the most famous stories in the Bible—the wanderings of the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt, Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, and David and Solomon’s vast empire—reflect the world of the later authors rather than actual historical facts.
Challenging the fundamentalist readings of the scriptures and marshaling the latest archaeological evidence to support its new vision of ancient Israel, The Bible Unearthed offers a fascinating and controversial perspective on when and why the Bible was written and why it possesses such great spiritual and emotional power today.
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May 27, 2002
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Excerpt from The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein
Introduction: Archaeology and the Bible
The story of how and why the Bible was written -- and how it fits into the extraordinary history of the people of Israel -- is closely linked to a fascinating tale of modern discovery. The search has centered on a tiny land, hemmed in on two sides by desert and on one side by the Mediterranean, that has, over the millennia, been plagued by recurrent drought and almost continual warfare. Its cities and population were minuscule in comparison to those of the neighboring empires of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Likewise, its material culture was poor in comparison to the splendor and extravagance of theirs. And yet this land was the birthplace of a literary masterpiece that has exerted an unparalleled impact on world civilization as both sacred scripture and history.
More than two hundred years of detailed study of the Hebrew text of the Bible and ever more wide-ranging exploration in all the lands between the Nile and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers have enabled us to begin to understand when, why, and how the Bible came to be. Detailed analysis of the language and distinctive literary genres of the Bible has led scholars to identify oral and written sources on which the present biblical text was based. At the same time, archaeology has produced a stunning, almost encyclopedic knowledge of the material conditions, languages, societies, and historical developments of the centuries during which the traditions of ancient Israel gradually crystallized, spanning roughly six hundred years -- from about 1000 to 400 BCE. Most important of all, the textual insights and the archaeological evidence have combined to help us to distinguish between the power and poetry of biblical saga and the more down-to-earth events and processes of ancient Near Eastern history.
Not since ancient times has the world of the Bible been so accessible and so thoroughly explored. Through archaeological excavations we now know what crops the Israelites and their neighbors grew, what they ate, how they built their cities, and with whom they traded. Dozens of cities and towns mentioned in the Bible have been identified and uncovered. Modern excavation methods and a wide range of laboratory tests have been used to date and analyze the civilizations of the ancient Israelites and their neighbors the Philistines, Phoenicians, Arameans, Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites. In a few cases, inscriptions and signet seals have been discovered that can be directly connected with individuals mentioned in the biblical text. But that is not to say that archaeology has proved the biblical narrative to be true in all of its details. Far from it: it is now evident that many events of biblical history did not take place in either the particular era or the manner described. Some of the most famous events in the Bible clearly never happened at all.
Archaeology has helped us to reconstruct the history behind the Bible, both on the level of great kings and kingdoms and in the modes of everyday life. And as we will explain in the following chapters, we now know that the early books of the Bible and their famous stories of early Israelite history were first codified (and in key respects composed) at an identifiable place and time: Jerusalem in the seventh century BCE.