Friday, February 15, 2008
[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.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 1:30 PM