Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Historical Reliability of the Old Testament II

External Evidence Test

We have observed the dictum of Aristotle that Moses and Joshua should be trusted unless there are valid reasons to doubt them. The very nature of literary and historical evidence requires this. To justify giving them this benefit of the doubt we now look at how their testimonies stand up against evidence outside the OT.

Critics claim that there is no external evidence whatsoever to support the claim that the Exodus or the Conquest took place. One piece of external evidence for each event is adequate to prove them wrong as well as meet the requirement of the external evidence test to confirm the above conclusion of the internal evidence test. And if the OT stands up to scrutiny on these two events, which are accompanied by more miracles than any other events recorded in the OT, critics will have virtually no reason to question the historical reliability of the OT as a whole. After all, the rejection of the supernatural is fundamental to the critical view of the OT.

Numbers 33:3-50 summarizes the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Jordan River. It lists the stations where they camped. Of interest here is the last six stations (Num 33:45-50): Iyyim--Dibon--Almon-diblathaim--Nebo--Abel-shittim--Jordan. Traditionally, because the account was so specific and precise in detail, Bible scholars saw it as evidence for its historical reliability.

However, what was considered as a strength became a weakness in the eyes of the modern critic. Based on archaeological work at a site believed to be where Dibon was, it was concluded that Dibon did not exist before the 9th century BC. That means Dibon did not exist during Moses’ time. This is taken as an “irrefutable evidence” that the record is unreliable. This is also one of the main reasons why critical scholars deny there was ever an Israelite conquest of Canaan.

But recently Charles Krahmalkov of the University of Michigan found Dibon mentioned in an Egyptian inscription dated to 1500-1400 BC. So the city existed during Moses’ time; archaeologists just have not identified it. Furthermore, this inscription lists some of the stations along a road leading from the southern end of the Dead Sea to the Jordan River. (Comparing this with two other similar lists shows that none of them lists all the stations along this road.) The stations listed are: Iyyin--Dibon--Abel--Jordan. A comparison with the longer list in Numbers 33:45-50 shows that this was the same road taken by the Israelites. So we have an external confirmation that the account of the route of the Exodus is historically reliable.

John Garstang, who excavated the site of Jericho between 1930-1936, created excitement when he concluded that “the walls fell, shaken apparently by an earthquake, and the city destroyed by fire, about 1400 BC.... The link with Joshua and the Israelites is only circumstantial but it seems to be solid without flaw.” Unfortunately, his successor Kathleen Kenyon, after reviewing his findings and then “confirming” her conclusion through further excavations, said the city was destroyed in 1550 BC, 150 years before the Conquest. That means the biblical account was unreliable.

For 25 years this view could not be challenged because she published her conclusions without supplying the detailed evidence. An independent assessment was not possible. But 12 years after her death the detailed evidence was published. When archaeologist Bryant Wood reviewed both Garstang and Kenyon’s findings, he returned to Garstang’s conclusion that Jericho was destroyed in 1400 BC.

It is not disputed that Jericho was destroyed violently. The question is the date. One reliable dating method is to look at the design of the pottery, which changed with time, much like the design of our cars. Wood, whose Ph.D. thesis was on Canaanite pottery between 1550-1200 BC, was uniquely qualified for the job. He discovered that Kenyon came to her conclusion not by looking at what she and Garstang found but what she did not find. She looked in vain for imported pottery (suggesting luxury) in an area she herself considered to be “simple villages” giving “no suggestion at all of luxury.” Wood’s conclusion is based mainly on the pottery that Garstang and Kenyon found. Although Wood’s arguments are difficult to refute, Kenyon’s conclusion is still assumed in critical circles.

The archaeological evidence confirms the account of the conquest of Jericho in the following ways: the city was strongly fortified (Josh 2:5,7,15, 6:5,20); the attack occurred just after harvest time in the spring (2:6, 3:15, 5:10); the inhabitants had no time to flee with their foodstuffs (6:1); the siege was short (6:15); the walls were leveled, possibly by an earthquake (6:20); the city was not plundered (6:17-18); the city was burned (6:24).

Dating events in the ancient biblical world is not an exact science. And the date of the destruction of Jericho will continue to be debated. But regardless of whether the date is 1550 or 1400 BC, the uncanny similarities of the unusual circumstances surrounding the fall of Jericho as revealed by archaeology with that recorded in Joshua, should caution any fair-minded person from saying, “there is still no external evidence whatsoever that the conquest took place.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!