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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 begining 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"


Thursday, May 4, 2017

A People in Search of a History

Science Tells the Story

It would come as something of a shock to be told by or one of the other family tree websites that you have no family.

   Nope. None. We can trace your family back to 1920, and then it disappears. Yup. No great grandparents. No history. No homeland. That's it.

  That is what the Jews are being told by the New Biblical Scholars: the Jews are a people without a history or a homeland.

   What about the Tanakh? Doesn't it tell our story?

   Nope. It is all fiction.

   And then along came DNA, and the Jewish people came alive again.

   An article in Pub Med, "Extended Y chromosome haplotypes resolve multiple and unique lineages of the Jewish priesthood," published on a US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website " reports on a study of DNA and Jewish ancestry:

"These results support the hypothesis of a common origin of the CMH in the Near East well before the dispersion of the Jewish people into separate communities, and indicate that the majority of contemporary Jewish priests descend from a limited number of paternal lineages,"

and that
"Dating based on variation associated with five of these six Y-STRs suggested that contemporary CMH chromosomes trace to a common ancestral chromosome 2,100–3,250 years ago (Thomas et al. 1998). This time roughly corresponds to the period between the biblical exodus and the destruction of the first temple."
   Suddenly science has given new life to the Jews.

   That of course, comes as no surprise to the Jews.

   Despite the dire conclusions of the New Biblical Scholars, the Jews have a narrative of their history that extends back to the time indicted by the DNA and earlier. Included in that narrative, which is called by the Jews the Tanakh or the Hebrew Scriptures, are the traditions and laws that defined their lives, the heroes of the nation, descriptions of the wonderful architectural creations like the first temple, the battles they fought, and the wonderful body of literature called the Psalms. And it includes the story of the origin of their nation in an event that is still celebrated yearly by Jews worldwide, Passover.

   It is that story that prompted my quest to explore the historicity of the exodus, the point in history when it all began. As an aficionado of history and a lifelong student of literature, I was interested in whether those disciplines might shed light on the questions arising from the exodus. I determined to trace back the history of the Jews by following the trail of the traditions and the heroes in the biblical narrative using the principles history and literary analysis, backed by the many artifacts that corroborate the narrative.

   It will be a fascinating journey. Wait for Part 2.

Thomas MG, Skorecki K, Ben-Ami H, Parfitt T, Bradman N, Goldstein DB (1998) Origins of Old Testament priests. Nature 394:138–140