The Bible Unearthed

I, for one, strongly respect Israel Finkelstein and, to a lesser extent, Neil Silberman, for the outstanding book they have written (though I respect Finkelstein far more for his scholarly works). I reject no broad point which they have made in regards to history. I accept the Low Chronology, Israel’s probable origination within Canaan (though see Hoffmeier, “in Sinai”), the ahistoricity of the United Monarchy, and the political weakness of Josiah’s kingdom and the poverty of the province of Yehud. I have also written a review critical of Richard Hess’s negative review of TBU here. However, throughout “The Bible Unearthed”, Finkelstein and Silberman make easily avoidable, and sometimes highly stupid mistakes. This is a record of them, to serve as a guide for future and present readers of the book.

pg. 18 “1207”-Actually, between the 27th of July 1209 and the same date in 1208; the Egyptians did not use accession years (Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, pg. 159).

pg. 20 “900 BCE”-As the Shoshenq list shows, more like 930 BC, see Chronology page.

pg. 41 “none of these specific names were relevant or even present in the experience of the people of Israel before the Assyrian period”-This is a classic example of an unjustified “argument from silence”. The silence we have from before the Assyrian period is justified; who else would have recorded the Arabian tribes in preservable texts before the Assyrians? Our inscriptional corpus from the 8th and 9th century in Israel is breathtakingly irrelevant to foreign trade.

pg. 57-Last paragraph is filled with non-sequiturs. How are we to distinguish Israelites from any other ethnic group? Asiatics are, in the archaeological record of Egypt, Asiatics. There is nothing in any record, Egyptian or archaeological, that distinguishes sub-groups within this term when Asiatics are referred to as living in Egypt.

pg. 59 “a record should exist”-This is where Finkelstein and Silberman utterly forget that all the administrative corpus found at Pi-Ramesse (excavated since 1984!) is five wine jar dockets from 1228 BC. A record should not exist.

pg. 61 “ca. 1300 BCE”-Actually, precisely 1290 BC.

pgs. 60-61-Various non-sequitors regarding the fortifications on the Way of Horus and how this was supposed to make the escape of Israel impossible, entirely forgetting the existence of Exodus 12:31-32 (yes, Finkelstein and Silberman did not read any of the Exodus narrative before writing this).

pg. 62 “not a single campsite or sign of occupation from the time of Ramesses II and his predecessors and successors has been identified in Sinai” -This is contradicted by F&S themselves on pg. 83, where they mention that “Turquoise and copper mines in Sinai and the Negev were exploited by Egyptian expeditions”. Needless to say, the latter statement is correct and the earlier statement is incorrect, as long as the “Negev” is extended to include the southern Aravah.

pg. 63 “Excavations there in the years 1938-1940”-There is no evidence Tell el-Kheleifeh should be identified with Ezion-Geber, and, indeed, evidence contrary to this assertion. The only fortified settlement mentioned near the Gulf of Aqaba in the biblical account is Eloth. There is not the least bit of evidence Ezion-Geber was a settlement.

pg. 67 “these dramatic touches would only make sense after the great age of Egyptian power of the Ramesside period, against the background of the invasions of Egypt by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians”-This is utter nonsense. While the 7th or 8th centuries are certainly viable times for the Joseph story’s composition, Egypt had, during the Hittite age and the first two intermediate periods, been heavily threatened by invaders from Canaan.

pg. 82 “and there was no alternative Late Bronze Age site anywhere in the vicinity”-This is false; Khirbet el-Maqatir was inhabited in LB.

pg. 82 “revealed remains from the Middle Bronze Age and from the Iron Age, but none from the Late Bronze Age”-Two tombs were found from the Late Bronze.

pg. 84-Abu Simbel is too far north.

pg. 155 “Shechem and (according to most scholars) Jerusalem.”-There is no evidence either of these was inhabited during the time of the writing of the Execration Texts.

pg. 161 “Shishak… is the likeliest candidate to have caused this wave of destruction”-Finkelstein now rejects this assertion, rather, claiming this wave was caused by Israelites, and that there is no necessity any destructive action was taken against the settlements in his list, although the Benjaminite sites in the list were destroyed by Shoshenq I.

pg. 235 “these royal building operations [Mizpah’s Great Wall and Rehoboam’s cities] are now known to have taken place almost two hundred years after the reigns of those particular kings”-Mizpah’s Great Wall is presently dated by Finkelstein to the Aramean period (of Hazael and Ben-Hadad), largely due to architectural style, stratigraphy, and geopolitical analysis. Rehoboam’s cities are now dated by him to the Hasmonean era; I do not view them as reflecting any single reality.

pg. 250’s footnote-Finkelstein and Silberman now accept that the Arad temple ceased to remain in use in Stratum VIII and dates to strata X-IX.

pg. 259 “anonymous fifth or fourth century BCE writer”-Finkelstein now dates Chronicles to the Hasmonean period, after 114 BC, based on strong archaeological argument.

pg. 262 “it is even possible to identify the precise vantage point of the artist who made the sketch for the relief”-There is not the least bit of evidence any sketches were ever made in the battlefield. Rather, the Lachish excavations showed that the Assyrian siege ramp did not, as in the relief, extend to the left of the gate.

pg. 264 “Only Jerusalem and the Judean hills immediately south of the capital were spared”-Rather, only the Shephelah and Negev were not spared. Gibeon and Mizpah were not destroyed until the Persian period.

pg. 284 “Judah had become a highly centralized state in which literacy was spreading from the capital and the main towns to the countryside. It was a process that had apparently started in the eighth century, but reached a culmination only in the time of Josiah.”-As the Khirbet Raddana inscription demonstrates, this is manifestly untrue; the process started in the tenth or eleventh century.

pg. 307 “Bethel… continued to be inhabited in the same era [the exile]”-A later analysis by Finkelstein and Singer-Avitz showed this was not the case, the “6th century” pottery being, rather, eighth century.

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