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. 


Neil said...

And one day, when archaelogists uncover the remains of King's Cross Station, they will 'conjecture' that the events of the Harry Potter stories 'might' really have happened. As a result, they may well conclude that it is 'possible' Harry himself was a real person.

I can't wait for that 'evidence' - can you?

Don Camp said...

Why not react to the actual evidence, Neil? There's a lot.

Neil said...

My point, Don, expressed in my little analogy, is that evidence of places and individuals mentioned in the bible is not evidence that the bible's accounts of events puportedly involving these places and individuals are accurate. More importantly, such evidence confirms nothing of the supernatural elements of your faith.

Don Camp said...

I agree. The evidence of places and individuals is not evidence for the events and claims. But what would be?

Evidence for people and places do make the events plausible, however. And if there is sufficient corroborating evidence, the evidence makes the events probable. Take for example the ballista balls. We have multiple written histories of the destruction of Jerusalem. We know that the temple is no longer standing. The ballista balls and arrow heads add to the evidence for the destruction of Jerusalem and make it highly probable.

Another example, the claim that the family of Abraham migrated from Ur to Canaan and from there to Egypt and then back to Canaan fits the background evidence so well (see the next blog in the series) that it should be accepted as highly probable. Is it absolutely true? No. Nothing in history is absolutely true. Historical events can only be probable or improbable to some degree varying betweeen highly probable to highly improbable.

As for supernatural elements, I don't expect the historicity of people and place or even the events to verify the supernatural elements. In most cases, they would not do so even if we were there and witnessed the event. But again, they make the supernatural elements possible and if possible to some degree probable or improbable.

Supernatural elements or claims can always be explained by appealing to coincidence or unusual natural causes or even trickery. But such explanations do not prove that they are natural events rather than supernatural either. Those are interpretations just as much as the claim that the event was supernatural is an interpretation.

The fundamental truth for a Christian is not a supernatural event but a supernatural encounter. Such an encounter is very hard to deny, and if the encounter is truly remarkable, it is virtually impossible for the person who experienced it to deny. My encounter, however, will not stand in for your encounter. You must experience God yourself. Until then, all this debate is an exercise in philosophy, interesting but not conclusive.

Neil said...

Don, you're not justified in making the leap from possible to plausible, much less to probable in the way you do. Just because something is possible does not make it plausible.

For example, it is possible you are Dan Brown writing under an assumed name. Just look at the evidence! You're American (so is he); you have a writing style that to my mind is suggestive of Brown's; you deal in far-fetched ideas that you attempt to make sound plausible (as he does) and the photo on your blog-site looks fake. So, not only is it possible you are the famous author, it is also plausible and therefore, I conclude, probable.

But you're not Dan Brown, are you. The kind of thinking that led me to conclude that you probably are was flawed. It was of the kind engaged in by conspiracy theorists and it's the kind you employ in your recent posts. Possibility does not equate with plausibility, much less probability.

Apply the same principle to what you consider to be a personal encounter with the supernatural. Is it possible that this was caused by the Holy Spirit? Well, yes (though only just). Is it plausible it was the Holy Spirit or is there a better explanation? Yes, it's possible the feeling of euphoria (or whatever), once stimulated by an event outside yourself (an altar call, a worship service, the laying on of hands or whatever), was generated entirely by your own brain. Is this explanation more plausible than that which says it was the influence of an improbable supernatural entity? Is it probable that the naturalistic explanation is actually what happened? Yes, given what we know of the brain's functioning, it is, and certainly more probable than your interpretation that it was an 'experience of God'.

I have, Don, had such experiences 'of God' myself, back when I became a born-again Christian. However, I now recognise that as a god is a highly improbable proposition, the feelings were not only plausibly, but also very probably, internal. As indeed were yours.

Don Camp said...

This blog post is about the possibility, plausibility, and degree of probability for the existence of the people and nation of Israel and the historicity of the Old Testament narrative about Israel. It focuses on the archaeological evidence.

Using just that evidence (there is actually a lot more than I mentioned in the blog post) I am convinced that the biblical narrative related the historicity of Israel is very probably accurate.

I go on in the next post - if you have not read it yet - to consider the possibility, plausibility, and degree of probability of the historicity of the pre-exodus narrative of Israel in Genesis and Exodus. My conclusion there is that there is more than enough evidence to conclude it is possible. There is enough evidence to conclude it is plausible (believable). There is enough evidence for the background of the biblical story to conclude it is probable, though because there is not the more tangible evidence as there is for Israel after the exodus, the probability is lower.

That has basically been my focus. You introduced the question of the supernatural elements and question the "personal encounter" element.

It should be of note, since this has been about the Old Testament, not one person I am aware of in the OT account was convinced of the God of Israel apart from a personal encounter. The same is true of the NT. So personal encounters are fundamental to anything the Bible has to say about supernatural elements.

From my experience personal encounters are powerful and compelling but not incapable of denying. It is possible to explain them as a natural function of the brain. And if all we/I had was an experience, it would be easy to be skeptical of its supernatural origin.

But that is not all we/I have. We have the collective experiences of millions of people who tell of similar experiences. We have the testimony of millions to the life transforming power of that experience. We have the testimony of millions to the correlation of their experiences with real literal effects - i.e. God's leading, protection in danger, healing, answered prayer, etc. In other words, it works in real life.

We also have the witness of the cosmos to the plausibility and probability of a supernatural entity. We have the words this entity has spoken to prophets and apostles that are both accurate and life probing.

We have Jesus who embodies all of these things and by whom the disciples who knew him personally were convinced that he spoke God's words.

All of that does not insulate us from doubts now and then. I have them. When I do, I walk over to the window that looks out on a forested area behind my house and I think: All this from nothing? On its own? By itself? Without an intellect? And my answer deep down is Naw. That is not even possible.

And that is the only alternative to the supernatural. So if we are talking about possibilities, plausibilities, and probabilities, my mind tells me to bet on the possible, not the impossible. A universe without a God is impossible.

Neil said...

Aah, the good old argument from incredulity. 'I can't understand how all this came about... therefore God.' It's not persuasive, Don.

I too live in with countryside and as well as what looks beautiful to the human eye, I see the mercilessly cruel working of nature: ruthless competition, even between plants, certainly among wildlife; waste on a vast scale; predation - young chicks in my garden were eaten last week by magpies; sex and death. I know... fallen world and all that, but how come nature actually relies on waste and cruelty in order to function? A fallen natural world, so far from how it was 'designed', would, with all these inherent 'faults', have failed long ago.

Again, the cosmos, spectacular as it is, is, as far as we know, void of life, most of it inimicable to it. So, where you see God, I see phenomena that do not require a supernatural explanation. (Where is the evidence that there even is a supernatural? The natural isn't that evidence. That would be like saying music created the automobile.)

Further, even if lots of people have had similar experiences of the supposed supernatural, that is more likely because they are all similarly human. All that these experiences tell us is that because humans are all wired in much the same way, they are all inclined to have similar experiences.

As for for Jesus embodying 'all of those things', you know from your reading of 'Debunking Christianity' that he is largely a construct developed from 'visions' (the disciples' and Paul's), unreliable oral tradition and the interests/concerns of early cult communities.

Have you David Chumney's book Eclipsing Jesus? You really should - he demonstrates fairly conclusively how much of the Jesus narrative is literary invention, modelled on stories from the OT. Your beloved accounts of Jesus are incredibly unreliable as either history or fact.

Don Camp said...

Hi Neil,

I'm glad you are thinking this through.

"Incredulity" I don't use this as an argument only an explanation for my own process.

I have the same feeling as I look at people.

I attended a concert Saturday by a group 70 and 80 year-olds called the "Memorie Singers." As they sang the songs of their generation, I was in wonder at the depth of soul I could see in these people, the musical gifts, sensitivity into the human condition, and creativity. It is something as a student and teacher of literature I see often in the literature created by men and women over the centuries - going back as far as the wonderful literature of the Sumerians and Babylonians. I find no explanation in science for human creativity and the human ability to see into the soul.

I see people as the wonderful creation of God, mirroring his image as creative, sensitive, wise creatures. I ask myself: All this from nothing? By itself? With no mind to guide it? Naw.

If you do not, I am sorry. You are missing a tremendous beauty.

"Jesus" If according to Chumney Jesus is the construct of visions, oral tradition, and literary traditions modeled on the Old Testament, credit these people with the most amazing literary creation in human history. Award the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Neil, I have been deeply immersed in literature all my life. I know of nothing like this Jesus character in anything I've read. I know nothing like the process you and Chumney describe that has ever created such a character. I'd suggest you and Chumney spend more time with the stories of Jesus.

Neil said...

I don't know about you, but I didn't come from nothing. I came from my parents, who came from theirs and so on, back through time.

Human beings developed from creatures not too dissimilar from themselves, who developed from creatures not unlike themselves, and so on, back through billions of years.

We don't yet know how the universe was formed, and so we do not know that it came from nothing. Current thinking, however, is that there is no such thing as nothing, therefore the universe did not need to arise from nothing.

Jesus is a character similar to Superman or any of the other mythical beings humans have created during their history. There is no evidence at all that Jesus' alter-ego, the Christ, invented for him by a man prone to hallucinations and visions, ever existed. If you have evidence he did, however, then please provide it. Unfortunately, subjective human feelings, including a sense of wonder, and the writings of the man prone to hallucinations and visions, do not constitute evidence.

Don Camp said...

Evidence: the church. It began and exists on the basis of the resurrection of this man Jesus. It began among people who would have known if this was true or not. No hallucinations here.

So if you are unwilling to trust what Paul says, you could trust what history says. Or you could ask God to reveal Jesus directly to you. He promised to do so if you ask.