Friday, February 17, 2006

The Josiah Hypothesis

Israel Finkelstein is a professor of archeology at Tel Aviv University. He has devoted his life to studying Palestine during the Iron Age - or, in other words, the Holy Land during the time of Bible. He has reached some conclusions about Biblical Jewish history.

He believes first of all that there were Canaanite cities four to five thousand years ago in Palestine. The Canaanites were Semites, speaking a Semitic language and writing using an early Semitic alphabet.

About 3,300 years ago, for reasons now unclear, the Canaanite cities were destroyed. Many formerly nomadic herdsmen then began to settle in small farming villages in the remote hills of Palestine in order to cultivate grain, which they could no longer purchase in the cities. Then they, for some reason, began to change. They called themselves "Israel". They stopped eating pork and worshiping idols. They gradually created small, independent Israelite provinces, which were soon snuffed out by foreign invasions once they achieved some slight prominence. Israel should have been just another forgotten Canaanite community.

However, about 600 BCE, King Josiah of Jerusalem wrote the Torah along with Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. He was a fanatic monotheist who wished to destroy all idols and prohibit all worship in his kingdom except within his temple in Jerusalem. It's unclear exactly why anyone accepted this entirely falsified history as fact. However everyone did accept it as fact. The slavery and Exodus from Egypt may have been based on the true story 1000 years earlier of the Hyksos invasion of Egypt and their subsequent defeat. Joshua's invasion of Palestine may have been based on memories of the destruction of Canaanite cities by the Sea People (Mediterranean pirates). David and Solomon were minor local leaders however Josiah naturally exaggerated their importance since they were his ancestors, although he emphasized their sins and weaknesses as well. Josiah, or perhaps some anonymous scribe in his court, seems to have been one of the world's first great novelists, writing amazing and complex stories for sheer enjoyment, mixing in supernatural details the way science fiction movies today include special effects. Josiah, king of a little Canaanite province in Palestine, was a Homer and a Shakespeare. And amazingly, Josiah's subjects accepted his fictions as absolute fact, not mere entertainment.

A couple of centuries later, Ezra put the finishes touches on the Torah as well as the rest of Bible.

[Incidentally, in a personal email to me, Professor Finkelstein did affirm his belief in the Documentary Hypothesis: "In The Bible Unearthed we argue that document J should probably be dated in the 7th century BCE NOT the entire Pentateuch. E is earlier, as far as I can judge, while P is later -- most of it post-exilic."]

This is basically the true origin of the Bible, Judaism and Jewish people according to Finkelstein.

How does Finkelstein reach this conclusion?

First of all, I think he is an atheist. Therefore, to him, obviously the Bible is a very suspicious book full of total nonsense. It's just a question of how much exactly is fictitious. It is clear to him from the beginning that everything in Bible is presumably false unless archeological evidence shows it to be true.

Secondly, he seems to believe that archeologists today have a crystal clear and precise knowledge of events in the Middle East 3,000 years ago. If we haven't found evidence of it, it didn't happen. [It's interesting how archeologists claim to know everything about the past, and therefore the Torah is in invalid. Paleontologists however claim to know almost nothing about the past and therefore evolution is valid.]

Both these assumptions I would disagree with.

First of all, it is an obvious fact that God exists. And if He does exist, then shouldn't we expect to find some record of His attempt to communicate with mankind and making His wishes known to us? Doesn't it seem probable that the first half of the book of Exodus records that event?

Secondly, I think that our understanding of events in Iron Age Palestine is really very poor. The ink has not dried on "The Bible Unearthed" and some of Finkelstein's assertions are being proven false. One of Finkelstein's proofs that the Torah was written about 600 BCE not 1300 BCE is the fact that Edom is mentioned as a strong country with a king in the Torah (Numbers 20). However, "archaeology has discovered" that Edom was only a "sparsely populated fringe area" until 600 BCE ("The Bible Unearthed" page 68). Recent excavations in Jordan have shown that a developed, urban culture existed in Edom since at least 900 to 1000 BCE.

Another problem is the Samaritans, who converted to Judaism before Josiah and were not part of his kingdom, however they accept the Torah.

Finally, the idea that Josiah would bother to write such a book and, more so, that his subjects would fanatically believe such nonsense, contradicting everything which they knew about their past, seems incredible. Bear in mind that no other religion or mythology anywhere describes any miracles occurring on a massive, national scale, apparently since no one is gullible enough to believe it. The first half of the book of Exodus is totally unique in the history of myth, legend and religion. Besides that, no society will accept a radically falsified version of its own national history. History may be edited, embellished and garbled a bit, however no ruler can create history from scratch as Finkelstein alleges Josiah did. In addition, it is also odd that if Josiah was in fact the primary founder of Judaism, and therefore Christianity and Islam, why is he so unknown? Very few people have even heard of him. Less than 1% of the Bible is devoted to his biography. The Talmud and Jewish prayer book barely mention him. I've never heard of anyone named after him. It's a little mind boggling - one of the greatest theologians and artists in world history, King Josiah, simply went unrecognized and unknown until now, 2,600 years later, Finkelstein has discovered him.

In addition, remember that Josiah was a failure. He was killed at age 39. His Temple was destroyed and all his subjects went into Babylonian slavery a mere 23 years later. Rather than remaining devoted to his monotheistic ideals, the Jews should have concluded that the old Canaanite gods were obviously angry about being rejected and were taking well deserved revenge. They should have reverted to the religion of their parents and grandparents, not remained fanatically devoted to Josiah's phony Torah.

Finkelstein's Josiah sounds reminiscent of Egypt's Pharaoh Akhenaton who c. 1350 BCE attempted to force all Egyptians to worship only one god - the sun god. This revolution was quickly rejected by the Egyptians and logically Josiah's reform should have met a similar fate.

In essence, Josiah would have to have completely brainwashed the Jews of 2,600 years ago to believe falsely that:

- they are not Canaanites; they are really Babylonians; the Canaanites are their worst enemies
- their ancestors were all enslaved in Egypt
- they were redeemed miraculously by the Eternal Lord, the only true god
- the Eternal Lord spoke to the entire nation at Mount Sinai; his prophet Moses then taught them the Eternal Lord's law
- afterwards they invaded the land of the enemy Canaanites
- they must now destroy all idols and worship only the Eternal Lord in His Temple in Jerusalem and nowhere else.

And then the Jews continued to fanatically believe this for thousands of years after the death of Josiah and after the destruction of his Temple.

This would seem to be a greater miracle than the actual Exodus itself. It seems more reasonable to believe in the smaller miracle! I believe that Finkelstein raises more questions than he answers.