Monday, August 14, 2017

Creation and Science

Many have the opinion that the Bible’s story of creation is a myth. By that they mean that it is a superstitious fiction rather than a real account of the origin and development of the universe, the earth, and the appearance of life on earth. However, the remarkable agreement between the scientific story and the Bible story and big differences between the Bible’s story and the creation myths of the ancient Middle East point to a different explanation. Let’s look at the similarities first.

The universe began 14 billion years ago in an event called the Big Bang in which the universe began from nothing.

The universe expanded and developed over 10 billion year before the star we call the Sun and the planet we call Earth came into existence.
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That creation was out of nothing.

No date for creation is given.
The earth developed from material circling the Sun about 4.5 billion years ago. It was a molten rock ball with nothing that is close to the organization of the present earth. It was chaos. Genesis 1:2 “And the earth was formless and empty and darkness covered the deep waters.” The earth was unorganized and in chaos.  

No date is given for this period of earth’s history.
For the first 500 million years of earth history the conditions on earth did not allow for life. The earth was cooling and was covered with smoke and steam. Volcanoes and volcanic activity was everywhere. It is unlikely that the sun would have been visible from the earth’s surface.

At some point in the early development of the earth a small planet –like object collided with the earth and a mass of material was ejected coming finally to orbit the earth. This became the moon.

But gradually the earth cooled and the smoke and steam cleared enough for light to reach the surface of the earth.

 The steamy atmosphere gradually cleared and there was clear sky and clouds and the surface of the earth.

Gradually dry land and seas developed. The first life on earth appears about 4 billion years ago, almost as soon as the earth became capable of supporting life.

The life during the next 3 to 3.5 billion years was simple single cellular life. Science does not describe the earliest life as either plant or animal. It was similar to bacteria.
 Genesis 1:6-8 Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” There atmosphere is clear enough for clouds to appear above the surface of the earth.

 No date is given for this period of earth history.
Genesis 1:3-5 “Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”  

No date is given for this period of earth history. 
Genesis 1:3-5 “Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

No date is given for this period of earth history
Genesis 1:6-8 Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” There atmosphere is clear enough for clouds to appear above the surface of the earth. No date is given for this period of earth history.
Life with photosynthesis appeared about 3 billion years ago. Photosynthesis is a characteristic of plant life.

Evolutionary History of Life
Genesis 1:11 “Then God said, ‘Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.’”

The Bible describes these plants in words that describe plants today, but today’s plants are related to these first single-cells that directly used the energy of the sun.

 No date is given for this period of earth history.

We do not know when the sun might have been visible from the surface of the earth. But the continued cooling of the earth and the volcanic activity would have kept the sun hidden behind clouds and smoke for many millions of years.

Genesis 1:14, 15 “Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.’”
Simple animals appear about 600 million years ago. It was life living in the seas. About 570 million ago arthropods appear. These are the ancestors of insects. About 500 million years ago all the animal phyla appear. This appearance of the animals was very rapid by evolutionary standards and still presents one of the biggest puzzles for evolutionary scientists. Genesis 1:20, 21 “Then God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.’ So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water,”

The word for birds is a general term for flying things. It might refer to the flying insects, which at this period were very large.

No date is given for this period of earth history
The first physically modern man appears 200,000 years ago. 

But the earliest evidence for human beings who were clearly religious dates from 12,000 years ago. The earliest site was Göbekli Tepe.

 “Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt's way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario [that civilization came before religion]: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it.”

Earliest religious site

Jacque Cauvin suggested that the Neolithic Revolution was influenced by an important theme he termed the "The Revolution of the Symbols" suggesting the birth of "religion" in the Neolithic.
Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.’”

 No date is given for the first man who fits the description in the Bible of a man having a spirit. But we can estimate the times as being within 10 to 15 thousand years ago.

The rise of organized religion in Göbekli Tepe in what is now Turkey took place very close to the location the Bible describes as the Garden of Eden.

Science and the Bible’s story of creation and the origin of man are remarkably similar. The Bible was, of course, written in a pre-scientific age and is not a scientific description. But neither is it myth or legend. The earlier creation myths of the Middle East are very different from both science and the Bible.  If the Bible story were myth, coming from the Middle East, it would be more like the Babylonian creation myth. Instead it is more like the modern view of the origin of the universe. No myth comes close to the sober accuracy of the Bible story.

As a story it worked perfectly for those who lived before the scientific age. As a description of the sequence of creation it fits very well in the scientific age.

There is one place where the Bible differs from science.  It puts God at the center of the story. Fundamentally, it is a theological story about God’s relationship to the world and mankind. And that is a message for every age.


There is in America a sect of extremely fundamentalist Christians who believe that Mark 16:17 endorses the handling of venomous snakes  and that their handling those snakes is a sign of their faith. Though this sect is very new, beginning in the early 20th century, and consists today of only about 40 churches wiki  with about 3000 members in the rural American South, Bible critics like to point out the stupidity of the practice and blame the Bible for it.

   So let's look at what the Bible says. The passage most often quoted is Mark 16:15-18.
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

   The accusation by skeptics is that the Bible - Jesus himself since this passage directly quotes Jesus - exhorts snake handling. Before looking at the passage critically, we should note that most conservative Bible scholars today consider the verses at the end of Mark, verses 9-20, to be a later addition to the Gospel. Most modern translations today indicate that in footnotes.

   Yet Mark 16 does mirror the words of Jesus at the end of Matthew where the command to go and preach the gospel is found  and in Luke 10:19 where Jesus says  to the seventy disciples,  " I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you." So what do we do with Mark 16?

   First, we should determine what it says. It includes only one command, and that is to preach the gospel. "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." The one verb is "preach" (κηρύξατε).  It is an aorist active imperative 2nd person plural. All that means it is a command to the disciples (and us) to preach the gospel until the task is completed. 

   In verse 17 and 18, "drive out," "speak," and  "pick up"  are all future indicative active. That means they are describing what will happen in the future not commanding it. And, in fact, those things did happen. Paul was bitten by a venomous snake and lived; believers spoke in tongues and drove out demons. Some Christians did place their hands on people and they were healed. But not all did so. 

   The passage says these signs will accompany or follow those who believe. It does not say, as the snake handlers preach and as the skeptics affirm, that all believers will do these things. And the rest of the New Testament affirms that few believers, even then, cast out demons;  not all spoke in tongues; and only Paul is said to have handled a venomous snake. 

   Secondly, we should not allow the foolishness of some believers and the critique of skeptics to divert us from the message. Snake handling is not a practice that is to be followed. Speaking in unknown tongues is not for everyone. Even the gift of placing hands on the sick for healing is not a gift for every believer. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:
29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
   But the command to preach the gospel is for all. And the promise that follows the command is one we can hold on to: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved."

   Don't let the mistaken ideas of a few and the accusations of the critics deter you.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Slavery in the Promised Land

When the Hebrews left Egypt, they had endured slavery and forced labor for one hundred years. They knew what it was like working for hard taskmasters.

   They had come to Egypt along with many other Western Canaanite Semitic people in a wave of migration beginning about 1800 B.C. They settled in Lower Egypt along the Nile River in a land called Goshen along with the multitude of other Semitic or Asiatic people. These Semitic people later became known as the Hyksos. Joseph, Jacob's son, due to wise council he had given Pharaoh, had risen to a place of authority and served as Pharaoh's governor (Genesis 42:6).

   In the years that followed Joseph's death the Hyksos people and the Hebrews grew more numerous and stronger, and by 1650 B.C. the Hyksos, meaning foreign rulers, had come to rule all of Lower Egypt from Avaris, the Hyksos capital. The Egyptians, however, resisted the rule of the Hyksos and in a war between Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt that ended in 1550 B.C. they expelled the Hyksos from Egypt.

   At that point Canaanites and the Hebrews, who remained in Egypt and who were virtually indistinguishable from the Hyksos were subjected to increasing oppression.The Bible says that a Pharaoh came to power "to whom Joseph meant nothing." He conscripted the Hebrews into forced labor, and so the Hebrews were slaves for nearly 100 years. The Bible describes their servitude as harsh.

   When Moses rose to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, the treatment they had experienced as slaves was a fresh and bitter memory they took with them. At the mountain where Moses received the law from God that would govern their life as a nation, laws were included to ensure that the Hebrews did not turn to enslaving their own people or treating others as they had been treated.

Here are some of those Old Testament laws: 

Exodus 21:2, Hebrew slaves.

Hebrews might become slaves, usually because of economic necessity. But Hebrew slaves were to be set free after 7 years. They were to be set free fully provisioned (Deut. 15:12-15). But a slave wife, if she had been purchased separately by the slave owner and she became the wife of a slave later, was not set free at the same time. She apparently still had to fulfill the 7 years of service due her master.

Exodus 21:7-11, women slaves.
When a woman was purchased as a slave she was to be considered the wife of the slave owner. She had the rights of a wife, and that included protection from being sold to someone else. She would not be displaced by a later wife. If she was not treated as a wife, she had the right to her freedom.

Exodus 21:20, killing a slave.
If a slave owner killed a slave, it was a crime to be punished. Whether that was to be capital punishment or some other is not certain in the verse. But because no other penalty is required, we can infer the same punishment for a man who kills another either by accident or intention (Ex. 21:12-14).

Exodus 21:21, 26-27, injury to a slave/servant.

If a slave owner injures his slave but the slave recovers from his injuries, the loss to the slave owner of the time of recovery was considered to be the penalty. But if the injury was serious enough to maim the slave, that slave was to be freed as compensation for his injuries.

   Some have argued that Ex. 21:21 allows a slave owner to beat his slave nearly to death and get away with it or that if the slave dies after a few days the slave owner is not to be held responsible for the death. That takes the passage out of context with the other rules of just treatment and penalties. Because the death of a slave due to beating is covered in verse 20 and the significant and long term injury to a slave in verses 26-27, we can infer that this case was different. It was an injury that didn’t lead to death and it was an injury that was not permanent.

Leviticus 25:42-46, a Foreigner could be a slave for life.
Foreigners were not protected from slavery. They were protected as slaves by the same laws that applied to all slavery, but they did not have the right of release after 7 years or at the year of Jubilee. They would be slaves for life.

   Yet, there is no evidence of an institution of slavery. Apparently, the children of those slaves were not to be considered slaves. Those children might even have been considered as Israelites since they would be circumcised.

Deuteronomy 23:15, runaway slaves.
Slaves who had run away from masters outside of Israel were to be given refuge and not returned to their owners. They were to be free.

   The land of Israel was a land of refuge for both the Israelites who were refugees from Egypt and for anyone else seeking refuge. It was better to be in Israel than anywhere else. That general principle might be the guiding principle regarding slavery and foreigners. Being a slave in Israel for a foreigner was better than being free outside of Israel. As noted before they were accorded the same rights as Israelites, except for their bondage. They had become, as it were, the people of God and covered by the covenant.

   That was a blessing that far outweighed their bondage. They had the blessing of knowing of God and his mercy. They had the blessing of knowing God personally, and many foreigners became fully men and women of faith – as did Ruth and Rahab.

Tying it all together: Slavery was a reality everywhere. But it was not universally evil. In some cases it served the critical needs of a slave for home and livelihood. In some cases it resulted in the opportunity for improvement for their families that would not have been possible otherwise. In every case from beginning before the law to the end of the Old Testament, slaves were to be treated generously and with a sense of equality. Mistreatment of slaves was punished. A Torah observant, faithful Jew, such as Boaz, lived a well ordered life following the law as a servant of Yahweh God. He would not have mistreated his servant/slaves.

Slavery in the New Testament

Slavery was an institution in the Roman world. At the beginning of the first century A.D. and through the second century the number of slaves might have been as many as 10 million people, 1/6 of the population. Many had been captured during wars with Rome, but many were also the children born to those captured and enslaved enemies. Since Rome had no provision like the Jews of including the children of slaves in the nation as people with rights under the covenant of God, slave children often remained slaves. These slaves might have been laborers and have been mistreated, but there were also well educated slaves who served in households as servants and many times as what we would consider professionals like teachers and doctors.

   When Christian began to make converts among the Romans and Greeks many of those Romans were slaves, and a few were even slave owners.

   To these Christian slaves and slave owners Paul wrote instructions in several of his letters to churches and one letter to a particular slave owner, his friend Philemon. Here’s what he said:
To slaves he urged obedience to their masters (Ephesians 6:5-8 and 1 Timothy 6:1). They were to render service to their masters in the same spirit as they were to serve God. They were to consider their service to their masters AS service to God. Paul told them that in so doing they would bring honor to the Lord.

   Their life witness to the Lord was more important than even freedom, especially if that freedom would result in defrauding their master. Paul even sent runaway slave Onesimus back to his master Philemon because he did not want Onesimus to live with the fact that he had not only wronged Philemon by running away but had apparently stolen from Philemon when he left and had not returned what he had stolen (Philemon 14 )

   But Paul’s instructions were not to slaves alone. He also wrote to the masters who were Christians. He wrote that they treat their slaves with kindness, those who were believers as fellow believers (Ephesians 6:9). It is the same thing he asked of Philemon (Philemon 16). But he went beyond merely asking Philemon to take Onesimus back; he asked Philemon to accept him back as a redeemed freed man, redeemed by the debt Philemon owned Paul (Philemon 19)
   Paul believed that freedom is God’s design for human beings. He says so in Galatians 3:28 and 4:7. But that freedom of which he wrote was more than the freedom from slavery to a human master; it is freedom to God. And he believes that freedom to God is God’s design equally for men and women, Jew and Gentile, slave or free (Galatians 3:28). That freedom to God is our most urgent need. Freedom from slavery to a human master is desirable, and if it can be obtained lawfully a slave should seek it, but if not believers who were slaves should consider slavery as the place where God had placed him (1 Corinthians 7:21,22); it was his job.  On the other hand, if you are free, Paul says, do not choose slavery.

(The last may sound odd, but, in fact, a free man in Roman society could sell himself into slavery.)

Tying it all together: Slavery is not God’s design for human beings. But it is a reality in our world and has always been. God’s laws given to Israel controlled slavery and made it humane. His commands for Israel also resulted in foreign slaves having the rights, privilege and blessing of a natural born Israelite. That was a blessing that could not be measured. It made the serving worth the cost.

In the New Testament, Christians were the agents of freedom. They not only proclaimed the good news that God had set them free from slavery to sin but by their transformed lives began the process of changing the culture. And they did change the culture. Historian David Brion Davis argues that "the Judaeo-Christian belief in a monotheistic God who rules over a homogeneous group of people generally prevented European Christians from enslaving one another. As more Western Europeans converted to Christianity, this unified religious identity enabled the decline of slavery in Europe." Slavery in Europe

   But there remains the sad fact that hundreds of millions today are in slavery. Had God made a law making slavery wrong would it all be different? Unlikely. God made a law against stealing and lying yet there remains stealing or lying. No. Our selfish human natures pay no attention to God's laws. What is needed and what God provided was an inner change of heart and mind that willingly submits to God's design for a well ordered life, a heart that is generous to the slave and servant and careful about his or her good and sets the prisoners free.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A People in Search for a History, Pt. 5

The Exodus

Ask anyone in my generation about the exodus and a movie  immediately comes to our minds. Yeah.
Charlton Heston. Yul Bryner. Towering waves. A romantic triangle between Moses, Rameses, and Nefertiri. Huge armies and spectacular panoramas of Egypt. If that was the exodus, any thought that this exodus actually happened seems silly. It's a movie, for goodness sake!

   But if you saw the movie as I did on the big screen rather on television last Easter season, you may remember the producer and director Cecil B. DeMille stepping out on a bare stage to speak to movie-goers about the background of the story. (This preamble is usually skipped on TV.)

   I was vaguely aware of the biblical story before seeing DeMille and the movie, and I remember thinking: There's more here than I remember from Sunday school. Fifty years later when I watched the entire film again, this time on DVD, I was again intrigued by what DeMille knew of Moses that the Bible does not relate.

   Where did he get the additional information?

   Some of it came from Josephus Antiquities, Book II some from Philo Judaeus Philo. Today as we read these texts, the first impression is that there is a lot of hype, literary license, and a clear apologetic purpose.  But there is also information that cannot be accounted for by creative license, filling in the sparse narrative of the biblical narrative, or by allegory (Philo). There are pieces that are intended to be read as factual and which seem to have required sources outside the Bible.

   What were those sources?

   Jospehus refers to several of his sources in Contra Apion. They include a quotation from an Egyptian priest-historian Manetho writing from about 300 B.C. (see Josephus' quote of Manetho Manetho). Egyptologist Dr. Donald B. Redford writes in Pharaonic King Lists, Annals and Day Books (Benben Publications, 1986) "we may with confidence postulate for the material in his history a written source found in the [Egyptian] temple library, and nothing more." But we can postulate that, and infer that written sources were purely Egyptian without dependence upon the biblical account.

  Josephus also includes a reference to Chaeremon of Alexandria (mid-first century A.D.) who, as a Egyptian historian, wrote about the Egyptian history of Moses. His account of Moses and Manetho's agree sufficiently to say that they are the same story, but they differ in significant details so that we may infer they depended upon different sources.

   Josephus and Philo may have been DeMille's sources, but they were not the only ancient writers to mention Moses. Wiki Moses  It turns out that Moses and the exodus is a very durable story in ancient history. It is true that Greek and Egyptian writers portray Moses as a mythical or legendary character. BUT THE CORRELATION IN THE CORE OF THE STORIES POINT TO A LITERAL PERSON AND TO THE EXODUS AS A HISTORICAL EVENT.

Before Moses

   Here we return to the biblical account and to the history of Egypt.

   The book of Exodus begins with the backstory of the people of Israel in Egypt. Sometime after Joseph brought his family to Egypt during the time of Asiatic  (Hyksos) migration in the early 2nd millennium B.C. a new king came to the throne who "knew not Joseph." ("Knew not" may mean had no respect for rather than did not know about.)
8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. (Exodus 1)

   This would have been after the Egyptians under Pharaoh Ahmose I (reign 1570-1546) expelled the Hyksos Pharaohs and the Asiatic people of Avaris in 1550 B.C. At that time Ahmose I and Thutmose I (reign 1520-1492)  in several campaigns north along the coast of the Levant pursued the Hyksos as far as the Euphrates River in Syria and sought to make the borders of Egypt firm against any reinvasion of the Hyksos.

   Much of the focus of the Pharaohs in the years after the expulsion of the Hyksos was defensive. They feared the return of the Hyksos. It is understandable that the Egyptian Pharaohs would have seen any remaining Asiatics in Egypt, including the people of Israel, as potential enemies.

   Consequently, the Pharaohs established measures to reduce and control the Asiatic (Canaanite and
Israelite) and Nubian people who had allied with the Hyksos rulers. This mural painted on the walls of the tomb of Rekhmire, the Egyptian vizier (or prime minister) in the mid-15th century B.C.E. illustrate the practice of forced labor during the reign of Thutmose III (reign 1458-1425). Center for Online Jewish Studies The painting includes both Asiatic and Nubian slaves. This is at precisely the traditional time of the exodus and is described in Exodus 1:
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly. (Exodus 1)

   Moses and the Exodus

   As noted above, there is adequate reference to Moses or a Moses-like character in Egyptian sources in addition to the biblical text to conclude that Moses was a literal, historical person. There is adequate reference to conclude that he was seen by the Egyptian Pharaohs as a threat and that the Egyptians expelled him and the people of the upper eastern Nile Delta from Egypt. In other words, there is adequate evidence to affirm as historical an exodus of the Israelite people, or a portion of the Israelite people, at about the time that has been traditionally assigned to the exodus, 1450 B.C. But the exodus itself?

   The biblical account of the exodus, however, still seems exaggerated. Six hundred thousand men on foot plus women and children and baggage leaving Egypt in mass is extreme. The lack of evidence for a forty-year trek through the desert or an encampment at Kadesh Barnea for "many days," not to speak of two  million people in the desert, leaves archaeologists skeptical. The opposition from the people of Edom, a people far fewer in number than the estimated two million Israelites and the details of life and organization in the desert, leave biblical scholars puzzled. They don't seem to make sense if there were two million people. And there are other anomalies. But...

  The large numbers in the biblical text are really not a surprise. Egyptian literature ascribes equally large numbers to their own armies in various campaigns. There were four hundred-eighty thousand soldiers who laid siege the Hyksos capital of Avaris according to Manetho in Josephus:

"The shepherds [Hyksos] had built a wall surrounding this city, which was large and strong, in order to keep all their possessions and plunder in a place of strength.
Tethmosis, son of Alisphragmuthosis, attempted to take the city by force and by siege with four hundred and eighty thousand men surrounding it. But he despaired of taking the place by siege, and concluded a treaty with them, that they should leave Egypt, and go, without any harm coming to them, wherever they wished. After the conclusion of the treaty they left with their families and chattels, not fewer than two hundred and forty thousand people, and crossed the desert into Syria. (Against Apion, Book 1, section 73)
   Exaggeration? Maybe not.

   Though the numbers in this campaign, for which there is ample historical evidence, seem exaggerated to us, it is possible they are not. Ahmose's campaign against the Hyksos may well have taken the larger part of the men under arms in Upper Egypt, the Theban Pharaoh's kingdom.

   It is likewise possible that the  number of Israelites who left Egypt under Moses a century later were, in fact, "six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children" (Exodus 12:37). Manetho writes that the people of Avaris (the presumed Israelites) were aided by two hundred thousand men from those who had been previously expelled to Jerusalem (Against Apion, Book 1, section 227). Those men would have considerably increased the number of Israelites.

   Josephus continuing to quote Manetho writes that the Egyptians mustered "three hundred thousand of the most warlike Egyptians against the enemy," which in this case was the people gathered to Osarsiph, the man Josephus identifies as Moses. Three hundred thousand would not be out of line with the biblical account that states Pharaoh took "six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them" (Exodus 14:7).

   Our present knowledge of Egypt calls into question the accuracy of Manetho's history. He seems to conflate several different events, and he doesn't seem to have the kings identified correctly. Even Josephus considered Manetho's history inaccurate and an anti-Semitic polemic. But if Manetho was using numbers he found in more ancient Egyptian texts, the numbers may have reflected an older tradition, and related to the biblical account of the exodus, the numbers found in Exodus at least fit the custom of the ancient writers to insert large numbers when writing about military campaigns.

   Bottom line, the large numbers do not make the biblical narrative unhistorical any more than the large numbers make the Egyptian siege of Avaris unhistorical.

   In addition, the story of the Israelites in Sinai is plausible. If the route taken by the fleeing Israelites took them to south central Sinai, as the tradition biblical description recommends,  "they would have found a reasonably adequate water supply and a relatively comfortable climate that makes it possible to maintain a daily lifestyle suitably adapted to the conditions of the desert." Itzhaq Beit Arieh  


   Other details and sometimes lack of details in the biblical narrative of the exodus are still puzzling. Were the forty years of wandering symbolic or literal? Where did their journey take them? Is Jebal el Lawz in Arabia a better fit for Mt. Sinai than Nebal Musa in the southern Sinai? What were the Egyptians doing? Were they simply glad to get rid of the rebels? Neither the Bible nor Egyptian history give us enough information to answer those questions.

   But the core of the exodus narrative, correlated as it is with Egyptian texts, reliefs, and archaeological evidence for Israel in Canaan in the centuries following the exodus, seems very probable. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

A People in Search of a History, Pt. 4

 Israel in Canaan
Pharaoh Merneptah, son of Rameses II
The people who are called Jews today show up in history 3200 years ago when we first see their ancestral name Israel on the Merneptah Stele.

Pharaoh Merneptah (reign 1213-1203 B.C.) made a short campaign into Canaan. On the stele that recorded his victories is this mention of Israel. It reads in part:
Plundered is Canaan with every evil;
Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer;
Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;
Israel is laid waste, his seed is not;
Hurru is become a widow for Egypt!
All lands together, they are pacified. Yinon Blog
   Scholars have debated what the reference to Israel means precisely. Does it mean that Israel was engaged and completely defeated by Merneptah, or is "seed" a reference to grain supplies that were destroyed? Is this "Israel" in the trans-Jordan east of the Jordan River or in the hill country of Canaan west of the Jordan? One scholar, Dr. Joseph Davidovits, even proposes that the stone has been mistranslated and should read that "Israel exists" rather than "is laid waste." In any case, most all agree that Israel as a people are present in Canaan in  1206 and are significant enough to be  mentioned alongside the city states of Ashkelon and Gezer.

   (In traditional Bible chronology, 1206 would be in the latter years of the period of judges.) 

   That raises a question for Bible scholars, historians and archaeologist: where did the Israelites come from?

Origin of Israel

   The biblical narrative is quite clear. The people of Israel are the ancestors of Abram (later named Abraham). And Abraham came from Ur in lower Mesopotamia (now in Iraq) in the late third millennium B.C. (circa 2100).  He migrated with his family first to Haran in upper Mesopotamia (now in Turkey). Then he moved on to Canaan where he lived as a semi-nomadic Shepherd.

   In Canaan he had a son named Isaac. This son married a woman from his extended family that remained in Haran and had two sons Esau and Jacob. Jacob married two women also from the extended family in Haran and had twelve sons. Eventually, this family, seventy in all, migrated to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. The year was about 1800 B.C.
The travels of Abraham

   After some centuries in Egypt this family had increased greatly and were eventually seen as a danger to the Egyptians who saw them as foreigners who might take sides with the enemies of Egypt (Exodus 1:1-9).  So the Egyptians forced them to work as laborers making clay bricks to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses. (If this happened prior to the time of the Pharaoh Rameses, the name is probably a reading back into the historical memory the name of the city that replaced Zoan.) Finally, Moses a Israelite who had been adopted and raised by an Egyptian princess, took the side of the oppressed Israelites, confronted the Pharaoh, and escaped with these Israelite people into the desert finally coming into Canaan in about 1400 B.C.according to traditional biblical dating.

   It is a remarkable story. It may be the oldest continuous family narrative that we have from ancient history. The story has been made into epic movies and told to countless Jewish boys and girls and Sunday school children over many centuries. But did it really happen? What can archaeology and history tells us?

   We begin with Abraham. Is it plausible that a family, Semitic people, in Ur migrated to Canaan? Some scholars say no. See California State University, Long Beach. The author of "An Incomplete History" writes:

One problem with the Hebrew history is the dearth of good archaeological evidence to support the Abraham story, and the richness of contradicting archaeological evidence. As Gary Greenburg notes, "while it used to be almost universally taken for granted that the Patriarchs and the sons of Israel where historical figures and that Genesis mixed some basic historical truths with a variety of legends, a growing segment of the scholarly community accepts that the patriarchal stories may have no historical core at all."

   The answer from history and archaeology is that it is not only plausible but that it happened. Thousands of people left lower Mesopotamia around 2000 B.C. The reason was unrest and war in Mesopotamia. First the Guti people from the northern mountains invaded and controlled the region. After they were repulsed by the Semitic inhabitants of Mesopotamia, specifically of Ur, Mesopotamia was again invaded, this time by the non-Semitic Elamites from the east. According to the author of "Mesopotamia" the result was devastating.

By 2000 B.C. the combined attacks of the Amorites, a Semitic people from the west, and the Elamites, a Caucasian people from the east, had destroyed the Third Dynasty of Ur. (Iraq: a Country Study Sam Huston State University)
   There is no record of a single mass migration. But there is textual evidence of a movement of Semitic people taking place over many years. Much of that is found in the Mari archives. More of those later.

   The natural migration route is north along the Euphrates River. It led eventually to the lands of the west-Semitic speaking people called the Amorites whose homeland was Syria and along the coast of the Levant including into Canaan.

   At the northern-most point of the route was an oasis, the city and region of Haran. Today on a google map satellite view the area is green with crops and well water from the Balikh River, a tributary of the Euphrates. In 2000 B.C. Haran was also the location of an important city, important because it was on the crossroads between Egypt and Babylon and points east. It is there that the biblical narrative tells us that Abraham's family stopped - for a time.

   Haran was a wonderful place. But just because it was rich and on a strategic crossroads, it was also a place contested by every people group from nomadic tribes to major empires. So many of the migrating people moved on from Haran.

   Is it plausible that Abraham of the biblical narrative was among those migrating peoples? Absolutely. The biblical narrative fits so well the history of this period of time and the descriptions in the Mari texts, an archive of documents found at Mari in Syria,  that Genesis reads like a primary source for the history of the time.

   Dr. Bryant Wood writes in  Biblical Archaeology that "the findings at Mari show that the Patriarchal narratives [biblical narratives] accurately reflect the socioeconomic conditions of that time and place." Bryant Wood.

   In the Jewish Virtual Library the author writes:

The picture revealed in the Mari archives, of far-reaching tribal migrations (such as those of Yaminite groups) and caravan conditions between the Euphrates region and Syria-Northern Palestine, provides an analogy for the biblical narratives of the patriarchal wanderings between Aram-Naharaim and Canaan. Mari
In other words, the Biblical narrative and the sources outside the Bible fit together. In fact, reading the whole article in the Jewish Virtual Library we find that many of the features of life for the Israelites such as covenants, patrimony, the ban, et al. were features of the society described in the Mari texts.

   [It is difficult to believe that these could be made up 1500 years later or that the authors of 600 B.C. who the New Biblical Scholars claim to be the authors of Genesis could have access to these details and have written them into the story.]

   Is it plausible that Abraham was among these migrating people?

   It is more than plausible. The detail and the correlation between the events testified to in history and the socioeconomic conditions revealed in the Mari texts make it highly likely. The Bible is history. It is the story of an ordinary individual and a family rather than a king or official, but it is history. 

   The biblical narrative says that Abraham also moved on after a period of years, though not all his family; some of them remained in Haran. Abraham's destination was Canaan.

   Canaan was not in 2000 B.C. a wilderness as it is often characterized in Sunday school stories of Abraham. In fact, a close reading of the biblical narrative in Genesis reveals that it was well populated with towns and cities that date back thousands of years, as in the case of Jericho, and the target of raids from kings to the north and east. And Canaan was on the road - we could almost call it a freeway - between the cities and Empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

   Canaan was also, even this early, a battlefield over which the armies of the Empires of that day sought control. We might actually see Canaan as in the very center of things rather than a land protected by it remoteness.

The Hyksos

   But Canaan was also a land dependent upon rain. No great rivers Like the Nile or the Euphrates  provided water through dry seasons. Drought would bring famine, and famine drove many of these newly arrived migrant people onward toward Egypt. So as early as 1900 B.C. Egyptian texts and art describe migrating people from the east, whom the Egyptians called Asiatics, filtering into lower Egypt and settling in the water rich delta region of the Nile River. These people would later be called the Hyksos, but ethnically they were Semites.
An earlier group of Asiatic peoples depicted entering Egypt c. 1900 BC, from the tomb of a Twelfth Dynasty official Khnumhotep II under pharaoh Senusret II at Beni Hasan.
   The Bible describes just such a migration but in miniature. It was the migration of Joseph's family to Egypt. The date was around 1800 B.C. (Genesis 45). The picture above shows what such a migration looked like.

   At that point in the biblical narrative in Genesis we are told that Joseph became powerful, second only to the Pharaoh, and that the family of Joseph, the Israelites, were given land in Lower Egypt. At that point the narrative ends. But we know from many Egyptian historical sources that in fact the Asiatic Hyksos increased in number in Egypt and by 1650 B.C. came to rule Lower Egypt and for a time most of Egypt. Their capital city was Avaris in the delta area. That is precisely where Joseph's family settled, Goshen.

   Over the next 100 years tensions between the Hyksos rulers and the native Egyptian rulers in Upper Egypt increased. War ensued and the Hyksos of Avaris were forced to retreat to Sharuhen, a city in the vicinity of present day Gaza along the coast of Canaan.  The battle is depicted in this mural and described by Ahmose, son of Abana, a soldier in the Egyptian army.

Ahmose, son of Abana, describes his part in the battles with the Hyksos:

Now when I had established a household, I was taken to the ship "Northern", because I was brave. I followed the sovereign on foot when he rode about on his chariot. When the town of Avaris was besieged, I fought bravely on foot in his majesty's presence. Thereupon I was appointed to the ship khaemmennefer ("Rising in Memphis"). Then there was fighting on the water in "P'a-djedku" of Avaris. I made a seizure and carried off a hand. When it was reported to the royal herald the gold of valour was given to me. Then they fought again in this place; I again made a seizure there and carried off a hand.  Then I was given the gold of valour once again. Then there was fighting in Egypt to the south of this town. and I carried off a man as a living captive. I went down into the water - for he was captured on the city side - and crossed the water carrying him. When it was reported to the royal herald I was rewarded with gold once more. Then Avaris was despoiled, and I brought spoil from there: one man, three women; total, four persons. His majesty gave them to me as slaves. Then Sharuhen was besieged for three years. His majesty despoiled it and I brought spoil from it: two women and a hand. Then the gold of valour was given me, and my captives were given to me as slaves. Ahmose biography

   In the battle of Sharuhen Ahmose I prevailed and pushed the Hyksos further back from Egypt and dispersed them.

   Was there an exodus from Egypt of the Asiatics? Absolutely.

   This exodus, however, is not the exodus described in the biblical narrative in Exodus. It is the vanquishing of rulers, not slaves. And it is earlier by traditional chronology than the biblical exodus by about 100 years. But it is virtually certain that among the Hyksos who were expelled and dispersed from Egypt there were some of the Israelite people. The Egyptians would not have distinguished between the Hyksos and the Israelites. They were of the same ethnic origins. They lived in the same area of Lower Egypt. And they spoke the same Semitic language. Some would have been caught up in the retreat from Egypt.

   But it is certain that not all the Asiatics were expelled. In fact, over 100 years later what look like Asiatics are pictured along with Nubians in this "famous painting from the tomb of Rekhmire, who served as Grand Vizier to two pharaohs in the 15th century BCE" which shows a large group of slaves making bricks as forced laborers for the Pharaoh. Stephen Tempest, Quora

 The 15th century is the time of the biblical exodus.

   It is significant that the dispersed Asiatic Hyksos who were pushed back into Canaan would be there, already aligned with the Israelites left in Egypt, and ready to merge with them as they came out of Egypt in a second exodus.

   But was there a second exodus? There is no extant evidence for it in Egyptian art or texts. However, Josephus quotes Manetho, an Egyptian historian writing in 300 B.C.  who indicates that an Egyptian priest named Osarsêph who after the expulsion of the Hyksos organized a revolt of the "lepers" in Avaris which was the Hyksos city in Lower Egypt. The "leper" leader (some scholars see "leper" as a metaphorical reference to people who worshiped a different God from that of the Egyptians) later changed his name to Moses.University of Chicago See lines 227-287.

   Manetho's story appeared to Josephus to be an anti-semitic rant and a fiction.  But some scholars see in it a kernel of fact. If so, Manetho may well be referring to the Moses of the biblical exodus. In that case there is a foundation for a second exodus in Egyptian history.

   We have come to the final chapter of our quest for the historicity of the exodus account. That will be the topic of Part 5 of this series.

Friday, May 26, 2017

A People in Search of a History, Pt. 3

Archaeology Tells the Story

It is of interest but no surprise when archaeologists find evidence for the Roman siege of Jerusalem
Ballista Balls
2000 years ago.These ballista stones pictured to the right were hurled against the defending Jews by the Roman legion attacking Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Along with the stones, arrowheads of the Jewish defenders were also found recently as excavations organized by Nahshon Szanton and Moran Hagbi have been carried on. Times of Israel But we need no stones or arrow heads. It is no big deal. The history of the Jewish-Roman War is well documented.

   When a royal seal that once belonged to King Hezekiah is found in what appears to be a collapsed administrative building, that is a big deal. haaretz That find is evidence that Jerusalem was no insignificant village but the administrative center for
Hezekiah Bulla
a kingdom. And it, of course, confirms the reign of Hezekiah prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C.

   The seal, or bulla, was not the only find in the dig conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology under the direction of Dr. Eilat Mazar. Thirty-three other bullae were uncovered including one with the name of one of the officials in Hezekiah's court.

   The historicity of Hezekiah does not depend on the seals, however. Long before those finds the reign of King Hezekiah was confirmed in the historical records of Assyria. 

   One of those was the Sennecharib prism found by Colonel Robert Taylor in 1830. The Taylor Prism was found in Ninevah, the capital of Assyria. In all, three prisms have been found. The three Sennecharib prisms give the Assyria version of the wars between Hezekiah and the
Sennecharib Prisim
Assyrians. Though there are differences in the Assyrian accounts and the Bible, they agree on the larger picture and not only mention Hezekiah but imply by what is not said: Sennachrib did not conquer Jerusalem.

   Additional Assyrian texts confirm the fulfillment of the prophecy Isaiah made regarding Sennecharib's death given in 2 Kings 19:6-7. An inscription from the annals of Esar-haddon (680 B.C.):
In the month of Nisan . . . I made my joyful entrance into the royal palace, the awesome place wherein abides the fate of kings. A firm determination fell upon my brothers. They forsook the gods and returned to their deeds of violence, plotting evil . . . . They revolted. To gain the kingship they slew Sennacherib, their father"
   These finds anchor the biblical narrative found in the Hebrew Scriptures to the history of the Middle East known through other texts and artifacts. The Bible is right on through about 700 B.C. But the trail becomes more difficult to follow as we look for Judah and Israel in the years between 700 B.C. and the time of David's kingdom in about 1000 B.C.

Moabite Stone
  One significant find does provide evidence for Israel, the Moabite Stone. It mentions King Omri of Israel, the "House of David," Israel's God Yahweh, and the political situation which the Bible describes in 2 Kings 3:4-8. It is also one of four other artifacts that mention Israel: the Merneptah Stone, Tel Dan Stele, and two Assyrian Stelae called the Kurkh Monoliths Kurkh Monoliths

   The Kurkh Monoliths date to the mid-ninth century and mention Ahab King of Israel. The Tel Dan Stele mentions the House of David. It dates to approximately the same time. The Merneptah Stele dates to about 1200 B.C.

   That is pretty solid evidence for Israel being in the land of Canaan and for many of the events recorded in the biblical narrative.

   In addition, archaeology has uncovered many of the details of ordinary life in Israel during the period of the kings (1000 - 600 B.C.). Those include many of the high places of pagan worship and figurines of gods and goddesses whom many Israelites and Jews worshiped along with Yahweh and which were destroyed in the purges of Hezekiah and Josiah recorded in  the Bible.

   There is, of course, much more. Archaeologists have recently uncovered what might be a wall of the palace of David in the City of David. NOVA and mines that may have supplied the copper for articles created for Solomon's temple. National Geographic

   A list of artifacts related to the history of Israel can be found here Wiki

   None of this is fiction.

   Contrary to the opinions coming from the men and women who are the New Biblical Scholars there was no rewriting of history at the time of Josiah or following return of the Jews to the land of Israel after the exile in Babylon. Along with the biblical narrative in the Old Testament we have pretty detailed and conclusive archaeological evidence for Israel from the time of the kings, and those two lines of evidence, the biblical narrative and archaeology, agree.  It is the time before the  kings which is quite a bit fuzzier. In particular, the archaeological record leaves us with little direct evidence for the exodus or the conquest of Canaan that is recorded in the Pentateuch and the books of Joshua and Judges.

   One of the complications is the fragmented history of Egypt between the coming of the Hyksos to Egypt and the expulsion of these Asian people a several hundred years later (1550 B.C.). And fragmented it is - literally. The Hyksos were an Asiatic people from the east of Egypt who migrated to Egypt and settled beginning in about 1900 B.C. They gradually became numerous and powerful and reigned in  Lower Egypt as the 15th Dynasty between 1650 and 1550 B.C.

   Tensions grew between the Egyptians and the Hyksos new comers until the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt in 1550 B.C.

   So thoroughly did the Egyptians hate the Hyksos that they sought to erase the memory of their existence in Egypt. The Egyptians destroyed or defaced the statues of these Hyksos Pharaohs and erased the record of their exploits from temple walls, leaving a very incomplete record for historians to trace. Today Egyptologists are not even sure how many Hyksos reigned as Pharaohs.

   What we do know is that the Hyksos and the Hebrews were in Egypt at the same time.

   A number of authors and historians have even seen a correlation between the Hyksos and the Hebrews. Josephus went so far as to say the Hyksos were the Hebrews. That is probably not accurate. But the time in which the Hyksos came to Egypt, a name that sounds like Joseph that recurs again and again in this history, and the final expulsion of the Hyksos have some very interesting parallels with the biblical narrative of the the Hebrews in Egypt.

   The author of Biblical Archaeology: Evidence of the Exodus from Egypt on Bible and Science has
Asiatics (Hyksos) entering Egypt

put together a long list of evidence that reveals many of the details of this period of time. At the core of the evidence is the period of the Hyksos and the 15th dynasty.

(The picture to the right is from the tomb of a 12th dynasty official Khnumhotep II, circa 1880 B.C.  It depicts Asiatic people, possibly Semitic, migrating to Egypt. It is fascinating to think that this group of Asiatics may have looked very much like Jacob's family as they traveled to Egypt. )
   The Hyksos entered Egypt in what modern scholars now see as a gradual migration being in about 1900 B.C. approximately at the time when the clan of Jacob went down to Egypt to escape a famine.They were shepherds, probably from Canaan and east, and settled in Lower Egypt delta which the Bible calls Goshen.Though the Hebrews were not the Hyksos, they were related and would not have been seen by the Egyptins as distinct. The correlation between the story of Joseph in Genesis makes that story entirely plausible if not highly probable.

   The Hyksos gradually increased and became the rulers of Lower Egypt between 1650 and 1550 B.C. when the Egyptians who ruled Upper Egypt expelled them. Many of the Hyksos settled in Canaan. Along with the Hyksos it is plausible that Hebrews were also included in this expulsion. This settlement in Canaan in
Arial picture of the tel of ancient Jericho
the mid-1500s correlates with the date for the destruction of Jericho estimated by British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon to be about 1550 and tentatively dated by Carbon-14 to a range that would include that date Jericho  though more recent research on Jericho suggests that the traditional date of 1400 B.C. may well be the more accurate date. Biblical Archaeology

   In any event, the destruction of Jericho correlates with what was happening in Canaan during that turbulent period of the Hyksos and the subsequent expulsion of another group of Asiatics mentioned by Ptolemaic Egyptian writer Manetho (cc. 300 B.C.)  and quoted by Josephus in Contra Apion.

   It was Manetho's contention that the rebellion and expulsion of a group of Asiatic rebels led by a man named Moses told on the walls of a temple is the Egyptian version of the exodus story. Or so the story goes as we read the strange tale as told in Josephus' writing.

   There are other even stranger tales of Moses told by Josephus and others, but Egyptologist Jan Assmann is of the opinion that there is some truth in Manetho's story.
Assmann, author of the book "Moses the Egyptian," argues that the story Manetho recounts is based on traditions that were left over from two traumatic events in Egyptian history: the religious revolution by Pharaoh Akhenaten, known as the Heretic King, who tried to ban idol worship and impose a monotheistic religion with the sun god Aten at its center; and Egypt's conquest by the Semitic Hyksos shepherds. Haaretz
   It is here that we come to the exodus story in the Pentateuch. Is it historical? Is it a hero tale or legend as other Moses stories seem to be? How should read and understood? That will be the topic of "A People in Search of a History, Pt. 4." What we know so far is that the stories in Genesis and Exodus about the Hebrew people in Egypt are credible. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A People in Search of a History, Pt. 2

History Tells the Story

Nothing is more politically and emotionally charged in the Middle East today than the question of Israel's legitimacy. That passionate debate has found its way into archaeology and more recently the science of DNA. The battle lines can be seen in the wiki article on the subject of "Y-chromosomal Aaron" Wiki 

   What seems to be emerging, however, is a growing body of evidence that traces the traditional Jewish priestly line, the Cohens, back to the tenth century B.C. if not earlier. (Since the Kohanim are one of the tribes of Israel, that would also connect the rest of the Jewish people to an origin earlier than 1000 B.C. ) Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz writing for Breaking Israeli News states the case for tracing the line of the Cohens (kohanim) back to biblical Aaron.  

While it may sound a bit like science fiction, geneticists have verified the link which connects the present-day group of men classified as kohanim to the Biblical figure of Aaron, who lived over 3,000 years ago....

Based on the mutations found in the genes, scientists place the original kohen – the first common ancestor – at approximately 3,300 years ago, a timeline that fits neatly within the Biblical parameters of the lifetimes of the first priestly family.

   Berkowitz is writing unabashedly from an Orthodox Jewish perspective and pro-Israeli position. Yet it is a mistake to dismiss the evidence in the DNA. The fact is the priestly line of the Cohens has a history, and that history takes them back very close to the time at which they emerge in the biblical narrative of the exodus in Leviticus 8 and 9 with the consecration of Aaron.

   If the DNA evidence takes us back to the time of the  exodus, there should be other evidence that would coordinate with the DNA evidence. And there is; it is the written history of the Jewish people, nation, and religion.

   First of all, there are the traditions and festivals in Leviticus 23 passed on from the days of Moses and, many of them, kept continuously and carefully, week by week and year by year to this day by Jews around the world.The Passover is one example. It is the defining tradition for the Jews.

   The Passover, celebrates the salvation of Israel from Egypt. Though there were times of apostasy during the period of the kings in which the Passover was neglected, the Passover festival is traced in the written history back to its origin in the exodus and to the moment when the Jews escaped the slavery of Egypt and began their journey to becoming a nation (Exodus 12). It was commanded as a perpetual festival in Leviticus 23, and Jews around the world celebrate it each year.  Without that command and the event upon which it is founded, it would be difficult to imagine how or why such a highly detailed and symbolically meaningful tradition might have originated.

   The Sabbath is another tradition for which there is evidence of an unbroken chain reaching back to the its inception as part of the Law given by God through Moses. It is mentioned ninety-six times in the Hebrew Scriptures and fifty-eight times in the New Testament. It too is kept today by Jews around the world.

   Perhaps the most significant acknowledgement of the importance of the Sabbath through the history of the Old Testament is the Levites' review of the history of Israel before the assembly of the Jews in Nehemiah 9. The Jews had recently returned from exile in Babylon. They had rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians.  After they had read from the book of the Law they praised God for his calling and protection of the nation, and they mentioned in particular the Sabbath among the laws given though Moses.
You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good.  You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 9:13,14)
   A wise rabbi Ahad Ha’am had this to say on the subject: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” And he is right. The Sabbath has for all its history been a weekly reminder that they the Jewish people ARE because the Lord called them into being as a people. It has kept them distinct and separate among the nations for 3300 years.

   The blessing the kohanim speak on holy days is another tradition passed on through the centuries. The kohanim are the priests and the sons of Aaron the brother of Moses. They have keep an unbroken lineage from the time of the exodus (witnessed to by the DNA evidence above) and continue to bless Israel with the blessing they received from Moses: "Say to Aharon and his sons… Thus shall you bless the people of Israel."
May HaShem bless you and protect you.
May HaShem shine his face upon you and be gracious unto you.
May HaShem lift up His face to you and may He grant you peace.
Numbers 6:22-26

   But the most impressive evidence comes from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Scriptures are made up of 37 books (Kings and Chronicles are each single books) written at various times over about 1000 years by a variety of authors, yet they form an  interdependent, connected narrative of the history of the Israelites tied together by the religion the Jews believe was revealed to them through Moses.

   One of the significant features of the Hebrew Scriptures is that they often include multiple witnesses to the history of the Jews. The books of Kings and Chronicles are roughly parallel narratives of the period of the kings (1000 - 600 B.C.) narratives that are augmented by the writing of the prophets who lived during the time covered by Kings and Chronicles. Together they constitute a strong historical record.

   Chronicles tells the story of the Jews from the priestly point of view and emphasizes the religious and spiritual life of the nation and the kings. Kings emphasizes the political life and traces the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Both of the histories are written in retrospect in dependence on the annals of the kings that were written during the lifetimes of the kings.

   The two books were written by different authors, Kings during the exile in Babylon in the mid-sixth century Chronicles after the exile as the nation is being reconstituted. The two histories overlap and agree. And they both include a number of shared motifs.

   Consider the temple. Without exception from the time of Solomon, as recorded in  the books of Kings and Chronicles through the books of Nehemiah and Ezra, the temple occupies center stage in the religion and life of the Jews.

   The construction of the temple is recorded in 1 Kings 7 and 2 Chronicles 3 under King Solomon in the mid-tenth century. Both descriptions agree.

   Two hundred years later Isaiah's experience in the temple (Isa. 6) was the moment of his calling as a prophet.  Isaiah writes: " In the year that King Uzziah died [about 740 B.C.], I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple."

   Micah writing about the same time as Isaiah foretells the destruction of the temple, and writer who wrote the addendum to Jeremiah (Chapter 52) tells of the destruction of the temple by the  Babylonians in the year 587/586 B.C.

   Corroborating the Babylonian conquest of Judah, the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle briefly refers to the first siege of Jerusalem about 10 years earlier than the the second siege at which Jerusalem was captured and the temple and city destroyed. No extra-biblical source records the second siege or the destruction of the temple.

  After both sieges many of the Jewish men of rank were deported to Babylonia. (Jer. 52:27-30)   Clay tablets discovered in Iraq in the 1970s describe the life of the Jews who were deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar 
One of the tablets from Iraq

   In 538/537 B.C. after the Persian king Cyrus had conquered Babylon he allowed return of many deported people including the Jews to their homelands. Cyrus also allowed the Jews to rebuild the temple which was completed in  516 B.C. exactly 70 years after its destruction - as Jeremiah had foretold.

   The book of Ezra tells of the building of the second temple in the mid-fifth century under the authority of Cyrus King of Persia. The prophets Zachariah and Malachi speak to the Jews during this period encouraging them to remain faithful to the old laws and religious traditions. This is the temple that stood at the time of Jesus and was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D. And though 450 years separate Ezra and Jesus, the same rituals, sacrifices and priesthood continued. The several inter-testamental books (the Apocrypha) witness to the continued history of the temple (1 Maccabees 4:36). 

   Included in the books of Israel and Judah's history are the stories of kings one after the other in Biblical Archaeology
King Jehu of Israel bowing before Assyrian King Shalmanesser III.
connected narratives. Assyrian records corroborate nine of the  kings of Israel and Judah.

   Chronicles includes list of the priests and Levites associated with the temple and worship (1 Chronicles 6) in a lineage that takes the reader back to Aaron and Moses.  The prophets writing in first person during these times agree with the picture sketched in the books of history.

   A second motif found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is the exodus, Moses, and the rescue from Egypt. Moses is mentioned almost 100 times in  the Hebrew Scripture in fifteen books outside the Pentateuch. In the book of 2 Kings Hezekiah destroyed the bronze snake made by Moses 600 years earlier:

He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (2 Kings 18:4)
   In the 2 Chronicles 30 Hezekiah called for a celebration of the Passover, which had been neglected for some years:

They slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the temple of the Lord. Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God. (verses 15,16)

   Psalm 99:6  refers to Moses and Aaron: "Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them."

   If we add the many references and allusions to Egypt and the exodus, the total number of references to Moses, the exodus, and the rescue from Egypt create an impressive witness to a real history that began for Israel as a nation at about 1400 B.C.

   This is the coherence and multiple witnesses and careful references we expect from real history. But there is more. There is the witness of the stones - archaeology. That will be the subject of "A People in Search if a History, Pt. 3"