Friday, February 15, 2008

Torah and Archaeology

[the Merneptah Stele]

Does archaeology support the Torah or contradict it?

The answer is: Yes, it may do both.

Archaeology is not similar to chemistry or physics. Archaeology does not involve the study of processes that reoccur today and which can be directly observed. Rather, by definition archaeology is “The systematic study of past human life and culture by the recovery and examination of remaining material evidence, such as graves, buildings, tools, and pottery.”

The number of artifacts retrieved limits archeology. Obviously the vast majority of tools, pottery and documents from the period of the Torah (4,000 BCE to 1,200 BCE) have been destroyed. Of those that still exist, very few have been excavated and fewer have been studied.

To gain some idea of the problem, consider something from my own area, New York State. According to Colonial New York by Michael Kammen page 8 “Archeologists have not been able to locate or identify any of the particular Mahican or Wappinger villages mentioned in written accounts.” Similarly, in Virginia, only after a century of searching were archeologists able to locate James Fort, Virginia, whose existence and almost exact location were know from 17th century written records.

Based upon this, it surely seems foolish to assume that because archaeologists have not found something mentioned in the Torah, this refutes the Torah. Generally this is the argument used from archeology against the Torah – because Egyptian records don’t mention the Exodus, for example, therefore it did not happen. Egyptian records from that period also do not mention the Thera eruption, however we know that it did happen.

Absence of evidence, particularly in archeology, is not evidence of absence.

In addition to that, evidence which does exist can be interpreted in different ways by different experts – as in clear in Israeli archeology today.

I think that archeology is comparable to finding a painting which has been shredded, recovering about 1% of the pieces and then, based on that, attempting to guess what the original picture was of. Different people may see different things and the bottom line is, based on archeology, we just don’t know very much with any certainty.

In general outlines, however, the Torah and archeology do agree.

The Torah states that man was created about 6,000 years ago. Archeology tells us that writing began about 6,000 years ago.

The Torah tells us that the Deluge destroyed all life on earth about 4,000 years ago. Archeology tells us that the Egyptian Old Kingdom and the Sumerian civilization ended about 4,000 years ago. (There are no other civilizations from that period whose writing has been deciphered.)

The Torah (Genesis 6:4) tells us that very powerful men lived before the Deluge. We find today the Egyptian pyramids, the Sphinx, Stonehenge and other remarkable monuments from that period.

The Book of Joshua tells of the invasion of Canaan by the Israelites about 3,300 years ago. Israel Finkelstein in “ The Bible Unearthed” page 119, reports that about that time villages began appearing in Palestine, which did not raise swine or possess idols. Also, the Palestinian cities of Hazor and Jericho were destroyed at about that time. From about this period an Egyptian inscription mentions the people of Israel in Palestine.


James F. Elliott said...

Absence of evidence, particularly in archeology, is not evidence of absence.

You're right. One hopes you maintain this proper attitude with respect to the fossil record, as well.

jewish philosopher said...

The entire pattern of the fossil evidence contradicts evolution and indicates catastrophism.

scott gray said...

" surely seems foolish to assume that because archaeologists have not found something mentioned in the Torah, this refutes the Torah. Generally this is the argument used from archeology against the Torah..."

archeology isn't 'against the torah.' archeology isn't even 'against the torah as a record of history.' archeology isn't 'against' anything. it's a system of discovery of evidence. if there is no historical evidence of the flight from egypt, then that's what archeology says--there ins no historical evidence of the flight from egypt. archeology does not say, 'therefore it didn't happen.' you've placed this conclusion in the metaphorical mouth of archeology-- an interesting strawman. why would you wish to demonize archeology?

jewish philosopher said...

I didn't say archeology is against the Torah. Please reread.

natschuster said...

I read that the archaeologists have found inscriptions dated to the time of the Avos that contain names of the Avos and the Shvotim. Moreover, inscriptions from the time of the Avos say that if a woman was barren, she had to find a second wife for her husband, just like Soroh, Rochel and Leas h did.

DrJ said...

I agree that archeology as science is not very useful to convincingly prove or disprove the Torah's historical assertions, with one glaring exception: the age of the earth. There is no way to reconcile archeological and cosmological evidence with the traditional assertion of a world 5700+ years old.

badrabbi said...

"Absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence."

This is generally a true statement. But it can be taken too far.

For example, If I claimed that there was a heavy snow storm last year and you went to the window and saw no snow, you can not say, "there is no snow now, so you are lying". Absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence.

If on the other hand I told you that last night we had a great snow storm, and you went to your window and saw no snow, well, indeed, your lack of finding snow is evidence against my claim of a snow storm. Here, absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence.

Similarly, if I claimed that last year an army of 100,000 Russians invaded Manhattan, quartered themselves in for a while, then left, well then you would require some sort of evidence to believe me. If you searched around Manhattan and found no evidence of the Russian army, well then this absence of evidence in fact constitutes evidence of absence!

Now, if it is claimed that 3 million people lived in the desert of Sinai for 40 years, well then it helps to have some sort of evidence of this. We know that the Jews left Eygypt armed with much metal weapons, etc. The longer archeologists fail to find any artifacts of this huge # of Jews being there, the more the suspicion that the story of exodus is not correct as it is claimed.

Of course lack of archeologic evidence does not clinch or prove anything. But it is interesting how 3 million people could have lived in a desert for 40 years, fought many battles, and yet not one shred of evidence is available to support that.

Rebeljew said...


You wouldn't know what the evidence indicated, fossil nor archaeological if it jumped up and bit you on your vestigial coccyx.

Rebeljew said...

Just for the actual information, in case anyone thinks this blogger speaks from anything other than his own fantasies (JP and Nat, since we will now address real facts, you can go into denial or just take a coffe break at this point), archeology does not support evidence of the exodus, as the Old Kingdom was destroyed centuries earlier, Jericho was not a walled city, Ai was not walled and probably not inhabited according to archeology, and the earliest corroborative inscriptions mention Beit David, not the Avos nor the Shvatim. The exodus, Israeli conquest of Canaan, the miracles of Matan Torah and the Great Flood in Noahs time are all uncorroborated and archeology has discovered counter evidence, not just lack of evidence but evidence that strongly suggests that these things did not happen. An honest Orthodox Jew will admit at this point that there is no evidence that these things happened and that we take them on faith. Perhaps one day will be able to reconcile the traditional myths with actual history, but today is not that day.

Any of this can be confirmed with any primer on Middle Eastern archeology. Try as a start.

Rebeljew said... just had a piece explaining how the pyramids were probably built based on new discoveries in archeology. Needless to say, no superhuman strength involved. In the article, they are trying to refute the concept that aliens were required to build the pyramid, but it also refutes this silliness quite nicely.

Ok, JP and Nat, please return from your coffee break and continue your usual nonsensical references to imaginary facts.

jewish philosopher said...

DrJ, regarding the age of the earth, I have a post on that.

Bad, it’s hard to know how fragmentary our knowledge of the second millennium BCE in the Middle East actually is. Ebla, a major city, was previously almost unknown until its excavation in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Three thousand years is a long time. James Fort, Virginia, as I mention in my post, was abandoned only a few hundred years ago and was almost impossible to relocate.

Rebel, the Great Flood in Noah’s time is corroborated. Also I cannot find, so can you please enlighten me about “evidence that strongly suggests that these things did not happen”?

There is no question that even with modern technology, building the the Great Pyramid would be a huge project. Using the technology of the 4,500 years ago, it’s barely imaginable. What was the motive for making such a massive structure then, which has never even now been repeated? Unless perhaps the builders were not as helpless as we imagine. It’s just a suggestion.

And keep your grubby hands off my coccyx please.

natschuster said...

I understand that Kathleen Kenyon did find the walls of Jericho. I saw pictures. Moreover the book of Joshua says that Joshua made apoint of destroying all that remained of the city of Ai.

natschuster said...

Nobody ever said that the Exodus had anything to do with the collapse of the Old Kingdom. The New Kingdom did seem to go into a decline around the time of the Exodus.

Recently, discover magazine ahd a whole article about the existance of ocean bottom sediments found miles inland. The scientists suggested that this was the source of the flood stories. Sounds like corroboration to me.

natschuster said...

One of the Amarna letters says that the King of Jerusalem asked the Pharoh for help because his country was being invaded by the Haburi, which sounds a lot like Ivri, the biblical word for Hebrew. The Egyptians also have inscriptions about their apuri (sounds like Ivri) slaves. The archeaologists, of course say that this isn't refering to the biblical Ivri, but they have come up wiht so many different possible meanings for the term that it hard to take them seriously. One person says that it means mounted archers, another says it does slaves, a third says it means nomadic tribes. Well, some of these definitions match the Biblicla meaning of the word "Ivri."

natschuster said...

I have a friend who has a MS in Egyptology. He told me that the title given to Yosef by Pharoh, "Tzafnas Paneach" was in fact an Egyptian word and was one of the titles given to the Vicroy. Moreover the Author of the Bible knew seems to have known a lot about Egyptian culture. He knew how a victoy was appointed. He knew about embalming. Where did He get this knowledge.

natschuster said...

I forgot, Potiphar is Egyptian for "household officer" which is exactly what the Torah says Potiphar was. Potiphera means "priest of the sun god Ra". Priests in ancient Egypt, according to my friend where celibate. Rashi says that Potiphar had himself emasculated, so priest would be a likely career choice for him.

Rebeljew said...

There is a synopsis of Dr. Kenyan's findings, and the shakla v'tarya around it. She concluded that there were no walls in the days attributed to Joshua. Wood's work questioned some of her conclusions, but he could find no proof in either direction regarding Kenyan's convlusions.

As far as the flood, JP would bring foreign mythology as corroboration. You would bring spurious examples. I think we must admit that there is no current corroboration of the "great flood". The earlier mythology only strengthens the likelihood that the Hebrew's only copied the myth, attributed to a later time. AFAIK, there is no credible peer reviewed example of inland ocean sediments in Mesopotamia from 4500 years ago, never mind that there is clear counter evidence of a 3 mile high flood. No amount of pagan mythology can change that. Will we then corroborate ghosts, witches, giants, and corporeal gods? Those were also common in pagan myths.

The Egyptian pyramids show a clear progression from simpler structures to more complex pyramids. There would be nothing difficult to build them today, when we build skyscrapers with relative ease. In their day, it was a monumental accomplishment, requiring thousands of slave laborers, lots of cut stone, and many years. They had all of these things. They meant to honor their kings and their gods, so it was worth it to them. The technology is not a drastic jump from what came before them, the pyramids and sphinx are just large.

If the writer of the Bible was familiar with Egypt, why would that be odd? They were a "superpower", and their merchants probably traveled far and wide. It was not far from Canaan to Egypt, as the Palestinians have proven. The writer was also familiar with many things that happened later. Anacronism in the Torah is yet another area that you can fabricate apologetics for.

natschuster said...

Jericho did have walls. Dating is always a tricky thing. So the walls may have been at the time of Jericho. I understood you to be saying that the fact that Jericho had no walls contradicts the Bible. Well, maybe Jericho did have walls.

The ocean bottom sedimaents have been found all around the Indian Ocean, not just in Mesopotamia. The sediments you mentioned in Mesopotamia are different. In some places they are nine feet thick. Moreover, geologists are stuggling to explain the origin of the Grand Canyon. The Kaibab plateau is higher than the headwaters of the Colorado. Oroginy of the Kaibab plateau is not a good explanation because the upstream part of the Canyon is older than the downstream part. So maybe it was the Flood. There is wide scale evidence of massive flooding in Washington State. Scientistsd attribute this to the bursting of a pleistocene ice damn. Or maybe it was the flood. Culture all over the world have flood legends that closely parallel the Torah. Cultures that the ancient Hebrews could never have contqact with such as the Maya, Aztec, Choctaw, Hopi all have flood legends.

It wasn't just egyptain language that the Author of the Torah was familiar with, it was details of Egyptian culture.

What's happenig here is that we are providing evidence and you are explaining it away. That doesn't sound like apologetics to me. It sounds like you are doing the apologizing.

natschuster said...

One last point.

Linguist say that all the Indo-European Languages evloved from a proto-language that was spoken in Anatolia anwhere from about 7000 to about 3000 years ago. Anatolia is very close to Bovel. And one of the estimates gives a date very close to the biblical date of the Tower of Babel. Did the Torahs Author also know modern linguistics?

badrabbi said...


You are displaying the so-called "Gish Gallop", a technique whereby a whole bunch of disparate facts are thrown around, hoping that they would not be caught or responded to.

Let me start with one of the things you are saying:

You say that there is "culture all over the world" that has the legend of a flood mimicking the Torah. Stop for a second and try to explain this. Why are there many cultures that have such a legend?

Remember that according to the Torah, at the time of the flood of Noah, all life perished save Noah and his family. So the Mayans, Aztecs, Choctaws, etc., if they saw the deluge, never lived to tell legends about it. They perished! So where did the legends come from?

Remember, you have used the notion that deluge legends serve as evidence of the historicity of the flood. So please explain it to me.

natschuster said...

The Aztecs Mayans and Choctaw are descended from Noach. The flood story was handed down from father to son from the time of Noach. If the flood naratives isn't true, then why do so many cultures who has no contact with each other, have the same story?

natschuster said...

One more thing. The Torah says that one of the names of Moshe's Father-in-Law was Chovev. The name Chovev was found inscribed on a rock in the Sinai.

natschuster said...

I apologize for the bombardment. Its just that I was reacting to your goading us. It was immature of me.

jewish philosopher said...

Regarding the Deluge, I have a post on it.

Rebeljew said...


Not to get into the well traveled area that is ARKiology. Suffice it to say that no credible scientist believes that there was a flood at the time attributed to Noah, never mind a three mile high flood, that no one believes that the Ararat saddle was the highest mountain on earth, etc., and even such a great sage as JP admits that "G-d did it" is about the only answer.

Surely, you will not retreat to foreign mythology as a confirmation. Every society had stories about giants, gods, witches and magic creatures, ghosts and ghouls, and a hero atop a flood. They are universal themes for a story, and prove nothing.

I do not want to take the time to refute all of the other posh that you and the sicko dish out, but I want to point out that you misinterpreted a very clear statement I made earlier. YOU brought a particular archaeologist as proof of your position and I simply pointed out that said scientist DOES NOT EVEN AGREE WITH YOU! It does not prove that Jericho did or did not have walls, I was pointing out that you just throw stuff out there as bad said and hope something sticks somewhere. You are intent on deception. Even the sicko JP admits that archeology connections with Torah apologetics show some contradictions with Torah.

natschuster said...

There are credible scientists who say that there was a flood within recent history that wiped out most of humanity. See the Nov. issue of Discover Magazine. And 11/14/06 New York Times Science section. Dating is always a tricky thing. Scientists are constantly recalibrating the C-14 dating scheme.

I'm of the opinion that we are allowed to think for ourselves, and not just be mindless, dogmatic robots and swallow everything that our leaders tell us is true.

Every culture has legends, but they vary greatly from one culture to another. But so many have a flood story with details that very closely parallel the Torah's down to the good person surviving in a boat, that it gives us something compelling to think about.

Rebeljew said...

"I'm of the opinion that we are allowed to think for ourselves, and not just be mindless, dogmatic robots and swallow everything that our leaders tell us is true."

Um, nat, nat. Ah shucks. Don;t let anyone tell you that you have no sense of humor.

natschuster said...

I'm responding to the statement that there is no evidence form archeaology. There may very well be evidence, but people are explaining it away. I wasn't siting what Kathleen Kenyon said. I was siting what I saw with my own eyes that she found.

Rebeljew said...

"Dating is always a tricky thing"

That is why we use several independent methods of dating in trying to establish a date.

The best contraevidence I find about the flood is ice cores going back 40K and tree going back 10K. Neither shows evidence of extinction or a global flood 4500 years ago. Myths are fine too, but they only prove that pagans tell stories and we reject the majority of them. Even the flood myths vary widely, some saving the hero in a tree or hill rather than on a boat. Even Gilgamesh, the most similar, is radically different from the Noah story.

My Exodus evidence was that there is no record of "ki avda mitzrayim" at the time of the exodus, unless you go back to the old kingdom. There is no evidence of the overun of Egypt by its many strong enemies, which would have inevitably followed the collapse of its military. There is no corroborating evidence from the surrounding peoples, who all supposedly saw this event, and many would have been more than happy to trash Egypt in their books.

Just sayin'

jewish philosopher said...

Rebel, I have a post about the Flood.

Regarding the Exodus, which “books” were written by “surrounding peoples”? If you have the titles and authors and I would love to buy copies on

Rebeljew said...

I have read your post about the flood and I agree that "G-d did it" is the only possible answer. It make no sense at all logically nor is there any other verification of it. G-d removed all of the signs. I am fine with that.

The other comment was a defense by Nat saying that Egypt would not record derogatory information about itself. The other powers of the time, Sumerians, Chaldeans, Akkadians etc also do not record it, as far as we know. Of course, it may be in the yet to be discovered scrolls that they will definitely find tomorrow. I am OK with that too. I am just sayin' that we do not have any corroborating evidence today, counter to the claims of Herr Schuster.

jewish philosopher said...

Circular reasoning. You don't believe in the Flood because you don't believe in God. And you don't believe in God because you don't believe in the Flood. It make no sense at all logically and I'm not fine with that.

natschuster said...

Rebel Jew:

Tree ring dating is a tricky thing because it attempts to match tree the pattern of rings from different trees. But individual trees will never have an exact match. Local conditions can effect the ring pattern. Even two sides of the same tree can have different patterns. Carbon 14 dating is constantly being recalibrated, so its tricky also. Things like weather conditions can effect how much C14 is taken into an organism, so this can effect the reading. Samples can be contaminated. And ice cores, to the best of my knowledge would only indicate broad temperature patterns.

natschuster said...

Egypt did seem ot go into a decline as a world power around the time of the Exodus. Egypt was not able to make successfully make incursions into Asia after that. The King of Jerusalem asked the Pharaoh for help resisting an invasion of the Apuri. Pharaoh wasn't able to help. The Philistines attempted an invasion of Egypt a short time after the Exodus. This might indicate that Egypt was weakened.