Here’s the book I wish I had read before I went to look at archaeological sites in Israel/Jordan last fall: The Bible Unearthed, by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman (Free Press 2001) (link). It’s an assessment of how the archaeological evidence fits with the Bible, or more precisely the Old Testament, or more precisely the “Deuteronomistic History”—the material in Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings that makes up about 25 percent of the Old Testament.
No point in suspense here: FS think the archaeological evidence does not support the narrative very well. But it does support a historical narrative all its own, and explains how the remarkable Deuteronomistic History came into being—together, cultural artifacts of the first order in their own right.
More precisely, FS find no convincing evidence of (1) an Egyptian captivity; (2) a flight out of Egypt; (3) military conquest of the Canaanites by the Hebrews; (4) a “unified kingdom” of Israel and Judah (or at any rate, not before, say, the Third Century BCE). They seem willing to accept that there was a King David and King Solomon, but they treat them as minor local strongmen in a political backwater. They do accept the notion of a strong kingship in “
Of course this is not going to be everybody’s dish of tea. If you are going to criticize it, I can think of at least two important lines of approach. One, if you believe in Biblical inerrancy, then this is all bollocks from the get-go. And two, whether or not you believe in Biblical inerrancy, there may be all kind of arguments over issues of, e.g., dating and interpretation. It is hard for me to imagine any two archaeologists agreeing with all this stuff in detail, any more than they agree on, for example, the historic home of the Indo-European language.
Either way, however, this might make a pretty good guidebook for the amateur archaeologist. FS do as good a job as you can expect (within the limits of the format) to lay out the substructure of their argument and, so far as I can tell, a fair-minded job of exposing its limitations. Still, you are left with an excellent framework for considering why it is you might care about particular archaeological sites and what it is you might want to look for and at when you are there.
I’ve got more I want to say about this book, but this post has gone on too long already. I may do another one later.
Credit: Thanks, Joe!
Credit: Thanks, Joe!