Since Israel and the religions that formed there receive so much attention worldwide, it is odd to remember that it is one of the world's countries that we know least about historically. Not only has archaeological research been difficult to perform there until the later 20th century, but the history that we do know has been muddied by a literal reading of the Bible.
About a third of Americans believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and many more believe that some variation of the scriptures is true. Did the Exodus actually occur? Is it an exaggeration of an actual event? Were David and Solomon historical figures? As atheists, most of us are biblical minimalists, but there has always been very little evidence on which to build any sort of a strong case. Slowly, however, the archaeological field work taking place in Israel has been yielding results and we are now able to reconstruct a ‘new' history of ancient Israel. The truth has finally emerged from the sand and rubble.
Israel Finkelstein is the director of Tel Aviv University's excavations at Megiddo while Neil Asher Silberman is a contributing editor of Archeology Magazine. In the introduction, the authors quote Roland de Vaux, who stated, "If the historical faith of Israel is not founded in history, such faith is erroneous." This is very true. And since the books of the Hebrew Bible are the foundation of the entire Judeo-Christian canon, the deeds and philosophies of all later prophets, including Jesus, have had the rug pulled out from underneath them.
The book is divided into three sections: Part one challenges the traditional history of the patriarchs and the conquest of Canaan. Part two explores the rise and fall of the Northern kingdom of Israel, and part three looks at the southern land of Judah and the composition of the Bible. There's no need to be a Biblical expert to read the book; the Old Testament stories are given a brief and readable synopsis before the evidence is examined and the alternative hypothesis given.
For all the textual critics and debaters out there, this book gives ample ammunition. The once thought ‘glorious' reigns of David and Solomon have been shown to be little more than chiefdoms while Deuteronomy is shown to be nothing more than propaganda by King Josiah in order to create national identity for Judah in the 7th century BCE. Finkelstein's archaeological work is the final nail in the coffin of any form of Biblical literalism. It's enough to actually make reading the Bible enjoyable. -Vic Tanner
The Bible Unearthed