Saturday, March 11, 2017

Israel Finkelstein told me: " We Exaggerate."


The Short answer is “no.” The whole subject of the Exodus is embarrassing to archaeologists. The Exodus is so fundamental to us and our Jewish sources that it is embarrassing that there is no evidence outside of the Bible to support it. So we prefer not to talk about it, and hate to be asked about it.

For the account in the Torah is the basis of our people’s creation, it is the basis of our existence and it is the basis of our important Passover festival and the whole Haggada that we recite on the first evening of this festival of freedom. So that makes archaeologists reluctant to have to tell our brethren and ourselves that there is nothing in Egyptian records to support it. Nothing on the slavery of the Israelites, nothing on the plagues that persuaded Pharaoh to let them go, nothing on the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, nothing.
Nothing at all. There are three Pharaohs who said they got rid of the hated foreigners, but nothing to say who the foreigners were, and no Pharaoh is named as having persecuted foreign slaves or suffered unspeakable plagues.

However, there is another way of looking at it, another way of seeking support for this fundamental experience of our peoplehood.

We do not look for evidence from the biblical text, but we can look to it for the general context of a sojourn in, and an exodus from, Egypt, and there are three major elements.

The first is that the Israelites were slave workers in mudbrick. They had to manufacture the material and they were semi-skilled workers in laying the bricks. As there were thousands of Israelites, what projects were they working on? The pyramids and the temples were in stone, the mudbrick houses of the peasants were built by themselves, so what project needed hundreds of workers in mudbrick? Secondly, when the Israelites escaped, it was during a period of turmoil brought on by the magical plagues, a period when the Egyptians were off their guard and keen to see the slaves go as they wished into the desert.

When could that have been? And thirdly, the Israelites escaped into the desert and there built a most luxurious portable shrine to their God, to accompany them through their long desert trek and to house the Deity that would lead them and protect them on the way. It was to be made of fabulous materials, in hardwood and colored cloth with gold and copper trimmings, as described in detail in 16 chapters of the Torah.

How could all that have been manufactured and assembled in the arid Sinai wilderness? We should then ask, is there any period in Egyptian history when the conditions for these three elements could have come together and thus formed a basis for the context and account of the Exodus? And the answer here is “yes” – there was one such period.

It was around the death of the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten, the one who decreed that all worship should be directed to the single god Aten, the disc of the sun, and all other gods should be downgraded to secondary rank. To impose his new religious order, Akhenaten closed the old cultic centers of Saqqara and Luxor, closed the temples there, disowned their priests and founded a new city, Akhetaten, called the Horizon of the Aten, on a prime site well away from the old centers.

TO IMPOSE the new rule, the city had to be built quickly, and it went up in the incredibly short time of two years, being built throughout in mudbrick, except for the temple and palace, which were in traditional stone.

How could it have been built so quickly? It was said to have employed thousands of slaves working under military taskmasters. It was the largest mudbrick project in Egyptian history and it required thousands of bricklayers and millions of bricks. It employed the army to supervise the slave workers and force them to work as fast as the Pharaoh demanded.

The new city was at El Amarna, on the east bank of the Nile, where there was plenty of soft mud for the bricks but little straw.

Thanks to slave labor, Akhenaten’s model city was built in record time, but it did not last long. After only 16 years, Akhenaten died, his reforms had been deeply unpopular and when he died, his new religion was abandoned, and so was his city. Akhenaten and his beautiful wife Nefertiti had had no son, only six daughters, and so it was one of the sons-inlaw who succeeded him: Tutankhamun, the famous boy king Tut.

He had the onerous task of restoring the old order, the old religion, the old gods and their priests, and he was under threat if he did not do so. The restitution stele says that the old gods would punish him if they were not given back their old rights and positions.

Hapi, the androgynous god of the Nile, would make its waters undrinkable; Kermit, the goddess of fertility, would release her frogspawn to swarm over the land; Osiris, the god of corn, would not prevent the locusts from consuming his cereals, and Ra, the sun god, would refuse to shine. Sound familiar? The laws of succession had already been altered, there was no firstborn son to succeed Akhenaten, only a daughter and son-in-law.

As the new city was abandoned, there was breakdown in law and order and the Israelite slaves saw their chance to escape. Like the other departing inhabitants they took with them any treasure they could lay their hands on. They “despoiled the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:36) and marched off with precious materials and above all the battle shrine of Tutankhamun.

Every Pharaoh had a portable battle shrine, to go with him into war, so he could consult the deity and look to it for guidance on the field. Tutankhamun did not go to war, as far as we know, but he had to be ready and he had a war chariot, as one was figured on his furniture, so he would have had a battle shrine as well, but none was found among the luxurious treasures of his tomb when it was uncovered by Howard Carter in 1922.

Where then was his battle shrine ? It had been taken away by the Israelites.

And what was its form? We can assume that it was similar to that of Ramesses the Great, whose battle shrine is depicted on the walls of his temple at Abu Simbel. It was a two-chamber movable building set in a large courtyard; the inner chamber was square and contained the ark of a deity protected by two winged birds, and the outer room was twice as large, for the worshipping priests.

That of Tutankhamun was taken by the fleeing Israelites and converted by artisans Bezalel and Oholiab, as instructed by Moses, to become the portable Mishkan or Tabernacle, that accompanied them through the wilderness and landed up at Shiloh, in Canaan. Thus it was made of the finest material, as was everything else that Tutankhamun left behind, including furniture with carrying poles and a golden chest surrounded by cherubim. Sound familiar? THUS, AT the death of Akhenaten we have a situation in Egypt where the three major conditions of the Israelite account of the Exodus came together; the building of a vast mudbrick project; a period of unrest and turmoil when slaves could escape; and the foundation of the Mishkan in the shape of a luxury battle shrine. The date of the death of Akhenaten is placed at about 1330 BCE, and Tutankhamun came to the throne the same year. Was that then the date of the Exodus? Dating is a tricky subject and it is difficult to see how the Hebrew Bible can give us exact dates, for how were they counted in antiquity? But the Bible gives us two hard dates. One is that the Children of Israel were in Egypt for exactly 430 years, from entry to Exodus (Exodus 12:40). If the Exodus was 1330 BCE, the entry would have been in 1760 CE. That of course is too early for Jacob and his 12 sons, and the rabbis themselves have rejected that period of 430 years and reduced it to 210 years in the Passover Haggada, to relate it more logically to the four generations from Jacob to Levi, to Kehot, to Amram, to Moses. But it works with the idea that the Israelites came to Egypt with the semitic Hyksos, as proposed by Josephus Flavius, the early Jewish historian, and that event is placed by scholars at around 1750 BCE.

The other “fixed” biblical date is that the Solomonic Temple was built 480 years after the Exodus (I Kings 6:1). That is a nominal date as the author will have counted 12 generations and multiplied them by the biblical reckoning of 40 years per generation. But that figure is too high, as a generation, for even in biblical times it was more like 30 years. If we then say 12 generations make up 360 years, then 360 years after 1330 is 970 BCE. The Temple is dated by most scholars to around 950 BCE, so 970 BCE is not a bad fit.

Evidence or not for the Exodus? Evidence there is none, but we can see that there was one period in Egyptian history when such an event could have taken place, one period when the three major conditions suggested by the biblical account came together and could have given it plausibility. And that would make Akhenaten the Pharaoh of the Oppression and young Tutankhamun the Pharaoh of the Exodus. And the date? That would be around 1330 BCE.


DennisCDiehl said...

Seems so. When digging at Megiddo in Northern Israel in '94 I got to sit alone with Israel Finkelstein during a break where he shared some of what eventually was to go into his then upcoming book, The Bible Unearthed. I asked him how "all the armies of earth would gather here at "Har" (Valley) Megiddo, from which we get Armageddon. It was pretty but not all that big. He told me that as I toured Israel, I'd find "We exaggerate." LOL. It proved true.

And truly, The "Sea" of Galilee is merely a big lake, and "Mt Zion, the Joy of All the Land", just south of the Temple Mount is non-descript and looks like a dirt bike hill.

The story of the Exodus seems to be also highly exaggerated with logistical, literal and magical impossibilities too numerous to mention here .

It's how people tell stories . When I think of all the division and wrangling over Passover and Exodus issues I have sat through in the past with people yelling and threatening to "leave the church if.." this or that wasn't examined and changed, I mourn over the waste of time it all was. Just reading the texts and taking them at face value is a big mistake it seems and not worth arguing over as if we could know what really happened and who, including "God" actually said.

DennisCDiehl said...

And then we have the highly muddled and contradictory Gospel accounts of the Passover and Passion because the original anonymous authors also took it literally but in some cases did no know Jewish law, practice or custom or had read the other Gospel accounts before coming up with their own.

Anonymous said...

"In the classical form of biblical archeology, archaeology was expected to decorate the story. Archaeology was not expected to give its own testimony. Archaeologists started their investigation from the biblcal story, and archaeology was expected to give some sort of illustration, nice slides for a talk. My opinion is that archaeology is not in the business of decorating any text, a biblical text or another text. Archaeology has its own voice."
—Israel Finkelstein

Black Ops Mikey said...

As I've been saying all along, Chronicles absolutely proves there was no Israelite captivity in Egypt nor an Exodus, the Jews just made up the whole thing. It's fantasy. Maybe alternative earth history science fiction just as British Israelism worst science fiction ever.

Therefore, as you day, Dennis, there is no valid Passover, no valid Days of Unleavened Bread and the New Testament was based on lies, deceptions and myth, twisted and perverted by the Apostle Paul, not that that matters, since most of the books were forged, authors unknown, written decades after the fact by people who couldn't have know a Jesus if he existed and summed up by a really stupidly weird book of horror fantasy based on wishful thinking directed at the hated Roman Empire and an emperor or two.

So here we are: Armstrongism has no basis at all. None.

There is not one iota of respect that we can have for any of the Armstrongist leaders, since they are organizers of sects of a cult which has no business existing -- except to be in the business of existing for the sake of salaries and for some retirement as well as the perk of being worshipped and adored by those who would be their narcissistic source.

Of course, shocking people by opposing their ideas is an attack on them, and we're all committing a hate crime by expressing the facts.

And shame on the Jews. Shame!

If you're going to tell a good story of myth, at least give it a disclaimer at the outset so people won't assume it's true.

Shame on you Jews! Shame!

Well, OK, the religious ones, not the secular ones.

Retired Prof said...

"If you're going to tell a good story of myth, at least give it a disclaimer at the outset so people won't assume it's true."

No, no, anon. A myth doesn't have to be true, but people have to believe it is. A disclaimer would have robbed the Hebrew myth of its function. By "myth" I don't mean "a false story, a cosmic error." I mean "a grand story that explains the origins of a people and/or their place in the universe." People have to see the myth as a background to hold their life up against, or maybe a framework to hang it on. If they read or hear it as a quaint piece of oral literature from a bygone age, with a merely metaphoric relation to their lives, or none at all, they have no foundation for relating to the world. For that matter, they may see no way to relate to each other. When a girl in the second college I attended discovered I did not subscribe to her myth and was unsure whether any god actually existed or not, her next question was, "Then how can you ever love anybody?"

The myth clung to by most modern educated persons is the two-chapter Big Bang/Process of Evolution narrative. It is based on facts, and is credible enough in broad outline for scientists such as the late Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson to persuade many followers to accept it as a true picture of their place in the universe. As reported recently on this blog, not everyone is in agreement on the matter. Some theorists are reinterpreting the observed facts to propose variants of and/or alternatives to the "classic" Big Bang narrative. We can't be sure yet until more facts are discovered and more calculations are performed how closely any of the proposed narratives approximate our actual situation and its background. The thing to keep in mind is that the stories give some people a framework for their lives. The good news is, there is no reason any of them should keep us from loving somebody.

Retired Prof said...

Sorry Black Ops. The title of your comment was scrolled above the top of the screen for a while, and by the time I wrote the comment I forgot that you were the author. That's how come I unthinkingly credited it to anon. I am sorry.

Zippy said...

So the Egyptian gods turned on the Egyptians and the Israelites took the Egyptians gods mobile home and booked out of town, basically?

senior citizen said...

The gorilla was considered a myth for ages.
Troy was laughed at and considered a mythological story as well until Heinrich Schliemann proved otherwise.
I have an old translation of Herodotus' history in which the translator mocks Herodotus for his belief in 'giant ants' that eat people during the night. He has a good laugh at this and yet these giant camel spiders who inject people with numbing toxins so they can eat their prey do exist in Iraq and are huge. Just ask returning service men about those creepy things.

Modern man has a problem with arrogance. We know it all and the ancients were just too incredibly stupid to know much of anything at all. How in the world did they stay alive without us and our modern thinking?
Why their flowery language shows that everything is myth.
Just imagine people believing that you could make a human/animal hybrid! How stupid right? Why it is impossible! Yet those ancients believed in just that.
Imagine those ignorant Indians believing that machines could fly or that nuclear was was something that occurred in the past! How silly.
Yet there was superstitious old J.Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.", and claiming that we invented the first atomic bomb of "the modern era".
Stoopid man!!

Yes it is good to live in modern times and be able to look back and laugh to scorn our ancestors and their goofy ideas. What morons they all were.

Byker Bob said...

This is one more post, one more area that perfectly illustrates one poignant fact which emerged as I returned to Christianity several years back: No matter what area you examine, if you are doing your due diligence deeply, you are going to discover that there are simply too many variables to allow for a system of strict legalism, for knowing all of the answers, or for having a precise understanding of prophecy. Yet, Armstrongism gets away with committing all of these serious errors in precariously building its house of cards on sand, in a direct attempt to establish absolute control over its membership. They make an end run around established facts and unclear areas, even introducing plagiarized theories, by declaring their leader (or later, leaders) into all-knowing apostles who disseminate revealed truth. There is zero evidence supporting the validity of such "apostleships", and they vigorously repudiate all evidence against! We have forensically dissected and presented all of this, yet some refuse to either examine or consider it.

It wouldn't be quite so bad if they didn't then use their system to override the general principles which are an integral part of Christian living. Unfortunately, all of their eisegesis and proof texting are very convincing to a certain percentage of the general population. After all, once someone has convinced you that you have ultimate truth, you no longer look for further evidence or answers. The special 20-20 bias confirmation filters which they have carefully crafted for you only allow in information which supports what you have already come to believe.


Black Ops Mikey said...

"People have to see the myth as a background to hold their life up against, or maybe a framework to hang it on. If they read or hear it as a quaint piece of oral literature from a bygone age, with a merely metaphoric relation to their lives, or none at all, they have no foundation for relating to the world. For that matter, they may see no way to relate to each other."

Yes, Retired Prof (in history, perhaps?), the myth helps bring the tribe together.

That is the basis for the tribe to go to war. For example, the Bible -- that myth book -- has been the basis for wars that killed millions upon millions of people, not to mention such things as the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition.

These days, it is the basis of the wars amongst the sects of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia. Thankfully, not that many deaths have occurred because of the Bible myths. A few, but not that many.

No, instead, it has become the basis of outright robbery by oppressive con men.

Just think, Prof -- if the Jews had admitted up front that the Old Testament was only used culturally to bring their tribe together, there would have been no Christianity and The Journal wouldn't exist... well, Armstrongism wouldn't exist, particularly because no one would have a basis for believing British Israelism, since, well, the Israelites weren't really slaves in Egypt, they didn't have an Exodus, Ephraim would never have become one of their tribes (no wonder it was 'lost'), living over a thousand miles away at the time Joseph was supposed to be in Egypt (you have to know a bit about Chronicles).

And darn it all, this blog wouldn't exist either.

Shame on the Jews. Shame on them. They could have told us sooner much more clearly.

On the upside, it's easy to forgive them for wrongly executing a man who never existed. There is that.

But you know, they claimed quite a bunch of land based on a myth and that's something a court of law would have never allowed. It would be like the Vikings claiming North America because of their god, Odin. Or something like that.

Oh, and the universe existing forever? You want to offer a better explanation?

Michael said...

I think that even further damning to the myth of the Exodus is the fact that archaeologists will tell you the civilizations found to have existed in Palestine in the BC period can be traced without any large influx of "invading Israelites" surging into the region at any time.

nck said...

So, the life in times of Don Quixote, what is it about?

That someone's belief in virtue is more important than virtue itself?

Yes... that's in the there. But what is it about?

Could it be how rational thought destroys your soul? Could it be about the triumph of irrationality and the power that is in that? You know, we spend a lot of time trying to organize the world. We build clocks and calendars and we try to predict the weather. But what part of our life is truly under our control? What if we choose to exist purely in a reality of our own making? Does that render us insane? And if it does, isn't that better than a life of despair?


nck said...

"It would be like the Vikings claiming North America because of their god, Odin."

I can live with:
-hunger striking in sweden
-only eldest son inheriting, prompting second and third to look for fortune elsewhere
-technical capabilities making such voyage possible
-little availability of land for agriculture for swelling population in Norway
etc etc etc etc

But one just should not deny that such voyage is a hell of a lot easier when "Odin" is on your side, taking your burden and anxiety while settling in L'Anse Aux Meadows while a bunch of terrifying cretins start firing arrows on you while entering the "prophesied land of Vinland."

And do not forget to thank him for arriving there safely.


nck said...


I think your comment is very interesting.

Of course from those parts in the OT which were not edited by the temple scribes we CAN learn that the HEBREWS had been there all along. The Israelites only being subtribes to the larger "Hebrew" context.

Try and forget what you ever learned about the OT and try to seek an answer to the question why Joshua grovelled before the "LEADER OF THE HOST OF THE LORD" who paid him a visit. This was obviously a man, a powerful army leader, who combined huge spiritual authority such that the Israelite leaders had to remove their shoes.

Oh no this was not a "ghost" an "angel" or some "otherwordly" being. This was THE leader of the most powerful tribe holding the keys to the original religion on the high places, Joshuah knew it and had to pay his respects UNTIL the Jews invented their own story and edited the EDOMITES out.


Miller Jones said...

Some thoughts on the subject of the exodus:

nck said...

Miller Jones,

I like your proposal as a sermon or spiritual lesson.
To me it sounds too much as the way I explained watching the Rambo movies to my parents and all the spiritual lessons those movies contained.

There is just to much conclusive archeological evidence for an actual invasion of Israelitic tribes at exatly the right time. I am referencing the Tel Hazor digs the combined Ambassador College - Rothschildt digs (even if the names may sound biased, it was under auspices of Hebrew scientists.


Anonymous said...

Israel Finkelstein is condemned by his scholarly peers as a "showman." To wit: "It is impossible to summarize Israel Finkelstein’s latest book, The Forgotten Kingdom, in a brief review because its numerous errors, misrepresentations, over-simplifications and contradictions make it too unwieldy. Specialists will know these flaws, since all of Finkelstein’s pivotal views have been published elsewhere. Here I can only alert unwary BAR readers that this book is not really about sound historical scholarship: It is all about theater. Finkelstein is a magician, conjuring a “lost kingdom” by sleight-of-hand, intending to convince readers that the illusion is real and expecting that they will go away marveling at how clever the magician is. Finkelstein was once an innovative scholar, pioneering new methods; now he has become a showman." By Dr. William G. Dever, who is professor emeritus of Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona. Prior to that he served for four years as director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem (now the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research). A world-renowned archaeologist, Professor Dever has dug at numerous sites in Jordan and Israel. He served as director of the major excavations at Gezer from 1966 to 1971.

Anonymous said...

Aaah but there is physical evidence of Exodus. More has been found than I can post here.

Here's a couple of non-armstrong sources:

And at about the 1-hour mark in this youtube for the Exodus / Mt Sinai:

Just because you nuts have wandered away from God and don't believe the Bible doesn't change the truth and reality. Do you ever consider the harsher judgement that might be coming your way for these blog posts? Does it ever cross your mind that maybe you should just be silent and watch? Like the Jews, could you be fighting God?

Is there not something better you can be doing with your lives? How about helping someone? Maybe feed the hungry? Or help a widow in distress? Teach a skill to a young person? Help an elderly person get groceries?

Anything? Or does posting to this site sum up your existence? Dennis? Mikey? Biker Bob? If you like blogging, how about teaching a young person how to use a computer and start a blog? Contribute something useful to the world and those around you. Please. And, no, this blog is not "something useful". Can't believe you don't get that.