Historical accuracy of Bible called into question

The Straits Times, Singapore
Pg. 18 of WORLD News
Monday Nov. 1st 1999


Archaeologist says scholars doubt early part of the Bible because of the virtual absence of archaeological or textual evidence corroborating it

THE millions of pious pilgrims expected to arrive in the Holy Land during the coming millennial year will be visiting holy places and archaeological sites but they would be well advised to keep away from archaeologists.

An overwhelming number of archaeologists in Israel have concluded, on the basis of excavations in recent decades, that much of the biblical story they had once hoped to verify never happened.

In an article published on Friday in Ha'aretz, Israel's most prestigious newspaper, Professor Zeev Herzog, a veteran Israeli archaeologist, said that the scholarly community was almost entirely in agreement on the dubious historicity of the early part of the Bible.

However, he said the public in Israel and abroad refused to listen to what they were saying.

"It's difficult for the public to accept this," he wrote, "but it is clear to scholars that the Israelites did not dwell in Egypt, that they didn't wander the desert, that they didn't conquer the Holy Land and divide it among 12 tribes, and that the kingdom under David and Solomon, described in the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom."

Although Prof Herzog did not mention it in his article, the very existence of David and Solomon has been challenged -- mostly by foreign scholars -- because of the virtual absence of archaeological or textual evidence from non-biblical sources attesting to their rule.

These ideas have been percolating in scholarly circles with growing intensity in the past two decades, but mostly in scholarly journals and professional congresses.

Prof Herzog noted that numerous ancient Egyptian documents make no mention of a flight of slaves across the desert.

(They do, however, mention tribes from the east fleeing drought and settling on the fringes of the Nile delta as in the biblical story of Jacob and his sons.)

Scholars believe that the Bible began to be compiled about the 6th Century BC by scribes on the basis of written records and, when these did not go back far enough, on national myths.

The records seem to have gone back at least to the 9th Century when corroboration begins to appear in the records of other countries.

The Assyrians staged regular military campaigns across the Middle East and recorded them in monumental stone palace inscriptions.

Many of the Israelite and Judean kings mentioned in the Bible from this time onwards are mentioned in such sources.

Israeli public figures queried about Prof Herzog's article gave mixed responses. Some denounced it as baseless. Others said it contained nothing new.

Poet Natan Zach said that whatever its historical accuracy, the Bible remained one of man's greatest works.

He said: "The smaller that ancient Israel is proven to be, the greater is the wonder at the genius of this creation."

PROOF: Lacking

THE Biblical story of the Israelite fording of the Jordan under Joshua and conquering Canaan by the sword has not been borne out by excavations.

Some of the cities said to have been taken in the 12th century BC assault did not seem to exist then and it appears Jericho then had no wall around it to be destroyed by trumpet blasts.

A surprising and disappointing discovery was that 10th century BC Jerusalem -- the mighty city of David and Solomon -- was small and seemingly inconsequential.

Some scholars argue the site, on a steep ridge, had been eroded by numerous wars and by weather but others say there still should be more formidable remains of a regional power capital.

Field surveys in the past 30 years on the West Bank -- heart of ancient Israel -- have led more and more scholars to believe the Israelites did not come from afar but were indigenous to the area.

But if the early biblical story is discounted, their precise origins are more a mystery than ever.


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