April 16, 2010

BAR Article: The Devil Is Not So Black as He Seems

If you have heard of things like "low chronology vs. high chronology," "maximalist vs. minimilast," liberal archaeology, or the "10th/9th Century debate" and have no idea what to make of them than this article will be a good introduction to the figure-head of most major modern Biblical Archaeology debates.

A couple quick quotes from Hershel Shanks' interview with Israel Finkelstein- one that saddens me a little and another that helps illustrate what is very wrong with Finkelstein and his ilk's interpretations.
Shanks: Was there an Exodus from Egypt? (part of a longer question)
Finkelstein: You should start with a different example, because the Exodus is really a difficult case. I have to really concentrate now because there are many aspects to it. You put a trap. I know you, Hershel, you put a trap here. So I have to be very careful. We know each other, Hershel, 35 years or so. This is an ambush ... But I’m not going to run away. There are many answers to this question. The easiest answer is, “I don’t know.” But I think that one can offer a better answer. But the answer is again not black and white. It’s nuanced. If you are speaking about an Exodus the way it is described in the Biblical text—a very large group of people marching through the desert for 40 years—the answer is “no.”
Shanks: Of course; everyone accepts the fact that two million people did not cross the Sinai desert. We don’t need to argue about that.
Everyone does not accept the fact that two million people did not cross the Sinai desert (and yes that is a double negative mom if you are reading this) - perhaps every card-carrying member of the Late Date Exodus theory (13th century) rejects Israel's massive size (although even that is not entirely accurate).  Notice that the entire questioning is centered around a 13th century date - not a mid-15th century date - i.e. the Biblical date. 
Shanks: Where did these Israelites come from?
Finkelstein: Well, you know my take on this. There were local groups in Canaan in the Late Bronze Age. I don’t want to go beyond what archaeology can tell us. The majority of Israelites came from this local Bedouin-like stock, from the people of Canaan in the second millennium B.C.E. (emphasis mine)
This is the biggest problem with guys like Prof. Finkelstein (by the way almost all archaeologists would for the most part agree with the statement above - the dissidence comes in the monarchical period) - they assume the absence of textually attested remains and political situations (i.e. archaeological remains and contexts) = the negation of said text.  But here is the catch - the only text that applies to is the Bible.  If some other "un-biased" historical text, say the Amarna Tablets (13th cent. BCE correspondence between Canaanite city states and Egypt), does not quite match the archaeological record (which is a characteristic of the Amarna tablets and archaeology in many instances) than they get a free pass because they were not an "ideologically" driven document.

The hermeneutical scalpel of history and legend then becomes searching out and cutting through the cancerous tumor of Jerusalem/Davidic/Yahwistic bias in order to find the clean and clear and under-control unbiased historical facts.  But - what if - and yes I know I am going to sound crazy for suggesting something so otulandish - what if the Jerusalem/Davidic/Yahwistic bias is historically factual?  Does bias make something untrue or even factually flawed?  You tell me.

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