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.


Jewish Atheist said...

Interesting post. I don't have any knowledge about the subject that I didn't already say in my Ezra post.

I do think that your insistence that people can't be convinced of made-up histories is silly.

jewish philosopher said...

People can be convinced by made up personal stories. I might convince someone that my 4th great grandfather who served in the American Revolution was saved by an angel. However making up national history seems to be pretty difficult. Convincing people that the entire Revolutionary War was won by an angel would be tough. Even totalitarian regimes didn't have much success in this department.

Jewish Atheist said...

I think most countries and peoples had founding myths. What about Romulus? Romans believed that he founded Rome and was later a deity, yet it is now believed that he never even existed. Things are different now that there is written history.

jewish philosopher said...

The fact is that the Roman foundation myths are primarily accurate. See The only major fallacy is that centuries after the fact story tellers adding a few glorious details. Nothing tremendous, just that the founder of Rome was not a group of primitive shepherds but rather was a semi-divine man named Romulus (Romulus = Rome). People liked that idea and accepted it, perhaps not unlike the way Americans might accept stories about Paul Bunyan.

I’m now reading an interesting book entitled “The Master Plan” by Heather Pringle. It discusses an institute created in the 1930s by the Nazi German government to rewrite ancient history and create a new story about how the blue eyed blonde haired “Aryan race” evolved in the Artic thousands of years ago. Interesting stuff; the Nazis were very scientific you know. But I don’t think the idea really caught on. It’s very hard to actually reinvent history, and I think even more so it you are going to include a lot of incredible supernatural events in it.

smoo said...

Concerning Josiah, I would refer you to Who Wrote The Bible by Richard Elliot Friedman. He is extremely clear as to the correlation between the historical situation in Eretz Yisrael and the development of various parts of the Bible. He identifies parts of the Bible as being written from 9th to 8th century and other parts to Josiah’s time but not by Josiah himself. The books of Jeremiah and Deuteronomy have similar language and outlook. Both were written at time of Josiah (Three common themes are centralizing the religion to the temple in Jerusalem, the Davidic covenant, and loyalty to Hashem). There is even a passage in the Talmud that says that Kings (part of Deuteronomistic History) was written by Jeremiah.

I'm still in the research phase and I hope to have a greater synthesis later in my blog -

For now, on my blog, I have given on overview of William Dever's book: Who Were The Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From. He has a different view than Finkelstein yet he also demonstrates (quite thoroughly and more convincingly)that the proto-Israelites emerged from Canaanite society.

Hope you get a chance to check out my site.

A word about God attempting to communicate with man. Why would he choose a limited audience? Why would he not speak to other nations? Why hasn't he communicated since then (the world is clearly off the derech)?
Most importantly, why would He write Exodus with so many unverifiable (if not completely deniable) 'facts'???

jewish philosopher said...

The Sinai revelation wasn’t really a secret. The Ten Commandments are probably the most well known document ever published. They were revealed to the one and only community of people who ever agreed to observe them.

I did a little research on the web about Professor Dever’s book. Here is one comment

Overall, Dever's case for the pottery as the decisive factor for his theory is not compelling, and a number of archaeologists would question its continuity, including Amihai Mazar, Aharon Kempenski, and, at least in his 1988 book, ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE ISRAELITE SETTLEMENT (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1988), Israel Finkelstein. These writers claim that some pottery from the LB/lron I transition is "transitional" and some stands "in sharp contrast" to that of the Canaanite centers.

I would argue that broadly the archeology does fit the Bible. Canaan was destroyed about 3,300 years ago and then sections were occupied by new people who did not consume pork and generally did not worship idols. Egyptians inscriptions do not mention the Exodus which is hardly surprising. Dictators do not like recording their defeats.

smoo said...

1. Egyptians have been the master record keepers even before the second millennium BCE. I find it odd that at the height of their building and great rule over the vast 'Jewish' slave population (before the exodus), that they wouldn't brag about it.

2. Even if we did date the destruction layers to the time of the exodus, there still is the problem of occupation. Some of the sites on the Israelite 'conquest' were not occupied during this time. The destroyed wall of Jericho was from Egyptian campaign to expel Hyksos (ca.1500). In 13th century, Jericho had long been completely abandoned. (Not even a potsherd from Late Bronze II). Ai was massive fortified city-state in the Early Bronze Age & was destroyed in 2200 BCE. It was deserted from 1500-early 12th century! So who were the Israelites conquering?

3. Dever points out that there are no weapons found in the hill country at the time of Israelites emergence. This doesn't bode well for a warrior nation conquering a land.

4. As for Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar, Dever addresses their research at length. When I read Finkelstein, I felt he wasn't as comprehensive in his defense of his position.

jewish philosopher said...

Dear Smoo, the Egyptians certainly used slave labor. The question is, what was the demographic make up of the Egyptian slave population specifically during the 14th century BCE? That was the entire period of the large scale Jewish bondage. Have any detailed Egyptian slave census records been recovered for that century? Not to my knowledge.

As far as I know, the primary archeological proof against the Book of Joshua is the carbon 14 dating of the destruction of Jericho. C-14 puts the destruction at 1550 BCE while Jewish tradition puts it at 1273 BCE, a difference of about 275 years or a variation of 8%. However it should be borne in mind that C-14 dating is not an exact science. C-14 levels are measured in wood samples whose age is calculated using tree ring analysis. Then those levels are compared to other organic samples (for example, grain discovered in the ruins of Jericho) and a date is estimated. If, however, for some reason the grain in Jericho absorbed C-14 at a slightly lower rate than the wood being used for comparison, then it would appear older than it actually is.

It is interesting to note that C-14 dating in the eastern Mediterranean area is considered to be inaccurate from about 2,000 to 4,000 BCE for some unknown reason. The C-14 dates are younger than dates from other sources, such as pottery analysis.

Other than this C-14 dating problem in Jericho, the archeological evidence seems to perfectly support the Book of Joshua. The walls of Jericho did fall for some reason. The city was burned but not looted.
According to the Bible, two other cities were burned by Joshua - Hazor and Ai. Hazor was apparently burned at the time of Joshua. Ai was a small city (Joshua 7:3) and has possibly not been correctly identified by archeologists. Following this period of destruction, small settlements sprang up through out Palestine. These new settlements show no evidence of swine or idols, in contrast to all other cultures in that area. These were the Israelites.

Shlomo Leib Aronovitz said...

The rise of monotheism in Israel and the conquest by Zoroastrian Persians form an interesting parallel.

Ezra and Nechemiah were agents of the Persian government, anxious to establish a loyal and stable satrapy consisting of Persianized Jewish exiles. This was the methid by which Koresh (and other Persian kings) stabilized the empire. Persian language and religion were mandatory upon all members of the empire, but the names of the original local gods were kept; the ideas behind the gods, however, took on a "Persian" flavor.

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