History Archaeology and the Bible – What Really Happened and How can we Know it?
This is both a scholarly issue and something that touches the Bible's authority affecting the values and emotions of many Christian and Jewish believers.
Are the “Historical Books” of the Hebrew Bible “History”?
‘“Let us learn to live with ambiguity."
Donald B. Redford,
in Ancient Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992)”
‘… Though we do not have full biographies of Herodotus or Thucydides, we have information that serves as a significant guide toward understanding their works. Furthermore, each work contains an important statement of purpose. Though like any statements outlining an author's goal, these are somewhat suspect, they still may help to guide the reader. In contrast, the biblical historical books are written anonymously and the date of their final composition and of the sources that they have integrated is extensively debated. In addition, no biblical historical book contains a statement of purpose, like that found in Herodotus or Thucydides. For these reasons, many fundamental questions about biblical historical texts remain unresolved. The relationships of biblical historical texts to actual Israelite historical events are certainly quite complex, probably more complex than is suggested by most biblical scholars. Some texts are probably written very close to the events they describe, and reflect authors who did not have a heavy ideological bias or great creative flair, but were interested in what actually transpired. At the opposite end of the spectrum, certain ancient historians lived many centuries after the "events" that they described, and they constructed or created events without recourse to sources....
‘As many scholars have pointed out, the Bible contains
several commands to "remember" particular events; in that sense,
‘There is a danger in a civilization assigning such great importance
to the past…. the past is often used to serve the present or the future….
"memory and history, as constructions of the past, are often more
clearly adjusted to what really serves the present than to what may 'really'
have happened and cannot in fact be altered." Texts are typically
written or reshaped to foster or to overthrow particular perspectives or
ideologies. This tendency is especially acute in civilizations, or
subcultures where historical texts are of fundamental importance, such as
‘A useful analogy to this process may be found in the
study of a subcategory of biblical history - genealogies. In some cases,
no doubt, genealogies reflect the actual lineage of individuals. However,
genealogies also had important social functions in the ancient world, functions
which they still serve in many non-Western societies, such as legitimating
a particular powerful group or ruler…. Within the Bible, for example, we
can see how a later author has created a genealogy of the priest Zadok, who
according to the Book of Samuel, first served under David. Early sources do
not connect Zadok to the line of Aaron the priest; this has allowed for the
speculation that he was originally a Jebusite priest in
‘The central problem for the contemporary scholars of
biblical history is to distinguish between material which is historically
reliable and that which is not. A fundamental difficulty impedes this venture - there is
no distinction in form between a work which accurately depicts the past and a
work depicting the past that has no historicity. They frequently both look
identical, just as the genealogy of Zadok in Chronicles, which is considered
specious, is similar in form to that of the kings of
‘Biblical historical texts reflect a combination of genuine interest in the past, strong ideological beliefs and refined rhetorical devices.... [T]he extent of the ideological involvement of various authors and editors is difficult to discern with full confidence, and many biblical texts have reached us in heavily edited forms, which may have obscured their earlier relationship to events. Texts may have a historical kernel, but there is no easy way to decide where it may be located and how large it may be - is it the size of a grape seed or an avocado pit? Additionally, it is difficult to know the distance between any event and its literary description in the Bible, although the author's proximity to an event is not a guarantee of his text's facticity..
‘Additionally, we know little about the forms of textual
transmission in ancient
‘So what is the modern historian of ancient
‘Though the modern historian, applying the standard canons of historical research, may despair of reconstructing the actual Israelite past in the same way that he or she might reconstruct the Egyptian or Mesopotamian past, most biblical exegetes are simply unwilling to give up on the past. …
'[W]e cannot know enough about the real David or Saul to
see how the biblical authors' accounts relate to the facts. Only in rare
circumstances, where we have a multiplicity of biblical and ancient Near
Eastern sources which bear on the same event…. Most historians would agree
that it is best to reconstruct actual history when we have multiple sources
bearing on the same event.… In some small number of cases, we can reconstruct
elements of biblical history "beyond a reasonable doubt." We know,
for example, "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Jehoiachin, according
to the Bible, the next-to-Iast king of
From The Creation of History in Ancient
"The history of Judaism begins with the Hebrew Bible.
But the history of the Hebrew Bible does not begin with the events depicted
in it. It starts long afterward. As Morton Smith points out, "The Hebrew
Bible. . . is primarily evidence of the interests of the Pharisees, who not
only selected and interpreted the books but also carefully determined and
corrected their texts. Behind the Pharisees, the previous critical period of
selection was probably the Maccabean revolt. . . Thus the Hebrew Bible is the
product not merely of partisan collection and revision but of a long series
of partisan collections and revisions. . . . It represents therefore the
literature of a large number and long succession of parties.” But seen as a
whole, from the perspective of the history of Judaism, the Hebrew Bible is a
single, unitary document, telling the story of the faith and destiny of the
The Way of Torah: An Introduction to Judaism by Jacob Neusner,
'Let me begin by clarifying which
books of the Hebrew Bible I think can be utilized by the would-be historian,
whether textual scholar or archaeologist. With most scholars, I would exclude
much of the Pentateuch, specifically the books of Genesis, Exodus,
Leviticus,and Numbers. These materials obviously constitute a sort of
"pre-history" that has been attached to the main epic of ancient
'Or take the Patriarchal narratives. After a century of exhaustive investigation, all respectable archaeologists have given up hope of recovering any context that would make Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob credible "historical figures… And, … archaeological investigation of Moses and the Exodus has similarly been discarded as a fruitless pursuit. Indeed, the overwhelming archaeological evidence today of largely indigenous origins for early Israel leaves no room for an exodus from Egypt or a 40-year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness .A Moses-like figure may have existed somewhere in southern Transjordan in the mid-late 13th century B.C., where many scholars think the biblical traditions concerning the god Yahweh arose. But archaeology can do nothing to confirm such a figure as a historical personage, much less prove that he was the founder of later Israelite religion. As for Leviticus and Numbers, these are clearly additions to the "pre-history" by very late Priestly editorial hands, preoccupied with notions of ritual purity, themes of the "promised land," and other literary motifs ….'
From What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They
Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient
Further reading The First Historians: The Hebrew Bible and History by Baruch Halpern (Paperback - August 1996)
Archaeology and the Historicity of the Hebrew Bible
From The Bible Unearthed; Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, N.Y. 2001
“The historical saga contained in the (Hebrew) Bible-from
Abraham's encounter with God and his journey to Canaan, to Moses' deliverance
of the children of
“After decades of excavation, researchers have been able to reconstruct the vast archaeological context into which biblical history must be fit …. By the end of the twentieth century, archaeology had shown that there were simply too many material correspondences between the finds in Israel and in the entire Near East and the world described in the Bible to suggest that the Bible was late and fanciful priestly literature, written with no historical basis at all. But at the same time there were too many contradictions
between archaeological finds and the biblical narratives to suggest that the Bible provided a precise description of what actually occurred….
“We will see how much of the biblical narrative is a
product of the hopes, fears, and ambitions of the
“But suggesting that the most famous stories of the
(Hebrew) Bible did not happen as the Bible records them is far from implying
“During the eighth and seventh centuries the lucrative
caravan trade in spices and rare incense from southern Arabia, winding
through the deserts and the southern frontier of
“It is entirely possible and even probable that the
individual episodes in the patriarchal narratives are based on ancient local
traditions. Yet the use to which they are put and the order in which they are
arranged transform them into a powerful expression of seventh century
Judahite dreams. Indeed, the superiority of
“The patriarchal traditions therefore must be considered
as a sort of pious "prehistory" of
What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?
by William G. Dever
The subtitle of this book, "What Can Archaeology Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel?" asks whether the writings of the First Testament can be located in a real historical setting. In this work, the harvest of some thirty-five years' fieldwork in Syro-Palestinian archaeology, Dever asserts unequivocally that they can. He also launches a sustained, vigorous, and informed offensive against those who would tear the First Testament from any historical moorings and present it as a piece of theological invention from the Persian or Hellenistic period. Such scholars are variously described as revisionists or minimalists.
The book divides naturally into three sections. The first (chapters 1 and 2) presents a clear definition of the issues involved in the current scholarly quest to remove the Bible from the realm of history and place it in the realm of literature.
In his opening chapter, Dever effectively summarizes both extremes of the debate and rejects them; but he obviously regards the minimalists as more of a threat than any conservative scholars who maintain the essential historicity of the biblical tradition. He typifies as absurd the post-modern, deconstructionist school of literary criticism, which dismisses the importance of authorship or authorial intention, thus allowing a text to be read and interpreted in any way (p. 14). He also admits, however, that traditional biblical archaeology and its goal of finding tangible proof of the central events of the First Testament failed.
In chapter 2 he sharpens
his criticism of the minimalist school and depicts its adherents as a small
but highly organized and influential group bent on the abolition of a
The second section
(chapters 3-5) introduces biblical, more recently designated Syro-Palestinian
archaeology as a discipline and assesses its ability to contribute to the
understanding of the Bible and of ancient
Chapters 4 and 5, the core of the book, offer a detailed discussion of the major archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century and relate them to the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-2 Kings). Dever's method is to correlate text and artifact to demonstrate that significant material in the narrative plausibly derives from Iron Age II (ca. 1000-600 BCE) and not from later periods. His table on p. 125 associating the textual, Judges and 1 Samuel, and arachaeological evidence concerning the 12th century BCE village settlements in the central hill country exemplifies this. Another good example of his methodology is his careful situation of the description of Solomon's temple in Kings and Chronicles securely within the parameters of Syro-Palestinian temple building and decoration from the Middle Bronze to the Iron Age.
In the third section, a
final chapter (6) attests once more to an historical core, evidence of a real
Written by a veteran
archaeologist and passionate scholar, this book raises critical issues. Dever
agrees with the revisionists that much of the
More disquieting is his disclosure that his opponents dismiss as forgeries or redate inscriptions that question their conclusions, for example the 9th-century Tel Dan inscription that most scholars agree mentions a "king of Israel" and the "House of David." In this rich, vivid, and "no holds barred" book scholars and general readers alike are given a compelling and thought-provoking read.
John Barclay Burns
COPYRIGHT 2002 Biblical Theology Bulletin, Inc in association with The Gale Group and LookSmart.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group
What Do We Know About the Historic David and Solomon?
Bertrand Russell, in A History of Western Philosophy (Simon and Schuster 1945) writes
"Socrates is a very difficult subject for the historian. There are many men concerning whom it is certain that very little is known, and other men concerning whom it is certain that a great deal is known; but in the case of Socrates the uncertainty is as to whether we know very little or a great deal."
The historian of Ancient Israel is in a similar position vis-a-vis Saul, David and Solomon." Some texts are probably written very close to the events they describe, and reflect authors who did not have a heavy ideological bias or great creative flair, but were interested in what actually transpired. At the opposite end of the spectrum, certain ancient historians lived many centuries after the "events" that they described, and they constructed or created events without recourse to sources.... The central problem for the contemporary scholars of biblical history is to distinguish between material which is historically reliable and that which is not."
Some serious scholars eg. Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman maintain that our source, the Books of Samuel-Kings date from the 7th century BCE leaving us only with the certainty that these leaders existed and that David founded the Judean monarchy. Other, equally capable scholars, such as Baruch Halpern (see below) maintain that careful historical analysis allows us to recover an outline of at least the historic David and Solomon with some degree of confidence. However, the historic David, so recovered, may bear little resemblance to the paragon of Jewish and Christian traditions.
leading scholar of biblical history and the ancient
"The preceding investigations indicate that David's enemies regarded him as a non-Israelite. Specifically, they thought of him as the Gibeonite agent of Philistine masters. They accused him of importing a foreign icon, the ark, as his state symbol. He consistently allied with foreign powers to suppress the Israelites whom he dominated. He spent most of his career as a brigand-king, and, where he ruled, he did so by employing murder and mayhem as tools of statecraft.In fact, the only murder in the books of Samuel of which he was probably innocent is the one murder of which he stands accused in the apology. His enemies considered him a mass murderer.
such as it was, was first confined to
"At the end of his
life, David was certainly betrayed by one of his harem women, Bathsheba, and
his foreign mercenary bodyguard. Instead of his heir, Adonijah, they
installed Solomon, hitherto known as the son not of David but of Uriah the
Hittite, on the throne. Quite as homicidal as his predecessor, but more
punctilious and self-righteous about it, this second king of
"The real David was
not someone whom it would be wise to invite to dinner. And you certainly
would not be happy to discover he was marrying your daughter, or even a
casual acquaintance. But he did have one virtue. His achievement in creating
From David's Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King by Baruch Halpern, Eerdmans 2001
Oral World and Written Word: Ancient Israelite
(Library of Ancient
Where is the Tenth Century? H. Shanks, Biblical Archaeological Review March/April 1998
How Reliable are Oral Traditions?
It is often assumed, that prior to their being written down, mainly in the seventh century BCE (see Box 29), oral traditions of distant events were maintained, with great fidelity, in Israelite society. In that regard the following is worth considering -
The Real Basis for the Exodus
The Exodus from
The Biblical account and the archaeological evidence go hand in hand from the 10th century B.C.E. on. Everything earlier, however, was probably fixed for the first time in writing during or shortly after the Babylonian exile, that is, around the 6th century B.C.E. It is very unsound methodology to use this material to reconstruct the history of the end of the 2nd millennium B.C.E.
Nearly all peoples of which we have information have heroic epic tales concerned with miraculous migrations, fantastic battles and supernatural deeds by the protagonists of these tales. For example, in the Serbian guslar songs recited for several hundred years since the battle of Kosovo in 1389 between the Turks and the Serbs, we can see how the three basic elements of each story - i.e., the events, the personages and the place-begin to float in time and space after even a relatively short time. Each of the three elements is carefully preserved in varying degree for the first two or three generations of bards, but then begins a process of additions, omission sand telescoping. Events that took place are put in a different chronological order, persons who in the beginning had nothing to do with these particular events suddenly appear as protagonists at places where they never were, and certain events "wander," often from one geographical environment to another. Deeds which for the bard or his audience concern less important figures are attributed to a few dominant characters who gradually assume the role of "superheroes."
Because we can control the historical events concerning the battle of Kosovo by several historical sources on both sides- i.e., the Ottoman Turkish historiography as well as local Slavic monastic records-we can follow these developments very closely and study the process.
Similar trends are found with respect to the battle of Troy as recorded by Homer and other classical writers, the Finnish Kakvala, the Persian Shahnamehof Firdousi, the Japanese Kojiki and Nihongi (although to a lesser extent), the Irish Leabhar Gabhala, the Book of Conquests and many other epic creations.
In all cases we can see a
"historical" event with its participants in a particular setting
become "ephemerized" by successive layers of additional elements,
certain omissions of "unnecessary" facts and reinterpretation in a
new environment. It would seem foolish to base the archaeology of
The same applies to the "Exodus" tradition and the "Conquest": There must have been many "Exodi" and several conquests that might have started the Biblical account. For example, there. was some sort of migration of early Semitic tribes from northeast Africa into Syria-Palestine by the end of the... 2nd millennium....All this shows is that anytime was a good time for an "Exodus" and, thereafter, for a "Conquest."
Not even the
"where" can be guessed at with any certainty, for "
Is it so difficult to
accept the first books of the Hebrew Bible for what they are: a grand epic
created by a great mind (or minds) with roots deep in the memory of the
people and its neighbors, using epic songs, folklore and literary material
originating from all over the Ancient Near East? The material was
re-interpreted and adjusted to the psychological needs of the deportees in
Letter to Biblical Archaeology Review (March/April
1988) from Mattanyah Zohar, Department of Archaeology,
Note also some of the points made on myth by Northrop Frye
to Challenges to the Historicity of Biblical History
The traditional Jewish view, still treated as a fundamental belief in Orthodox Judaism, was clearly stated by the great medieval rabbi-philosopher Moses Maimonides –
“The Eighth Fundamental
Principle is that the Torah carne from God. We are to believe that the
whole Torah was given us through Moses our Teacher entirely from God. When we
call the Torah "God's Word" we speak metaphorically. We do not know
exactly how it reached us, but only that it came to us through Moses who
acted like a secretary taking dictation. He wrote down the events of the
time and the commandments, for which reason he is called
"Lawgiver." There is no distinction between a verse of Scripture
like "The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim" (Gen. 10:6), or
"His wife's name was Mehetabel and his concubine was Timna" (Gen.
36:39, 12), and one like "I am the Lord your God" (Ex. 20:2), or
A Maimonides Reader; Edited,with introductions and
notes, by Isadore Twersky,
A Reform Jewish response –
“It is generally held in Reform circles that the Higher Criticism has irrevocably destroyed the authority of the Pentateuch. The Jew in the past held that the Five Books of Moses were dictated by God to Moses. Modem scholarship is said to prove that this could not have been so, that, on the contrary, the Torah is a compilation of documents composed during several centuries.
“If these premises are accepted, we can draw from them the logical conclusion that the Jew in the past was mistaken in his view about the authorship of the Pentateuch. What does not follow logically from the findings of the Higher Criticism is the widespread notion that, because Moses did not write the Torah, it can no longer be the authoritative rule of-Jewish life.
“Let us be clear about this: the Jew in the past lived by the dictates of the Torah, not because Moses had written it down (although he was firmly convinced of this), but because the Torah was divine revelation, because God had made known His wilI in its pages. The information that it was not Moses… who wrote the Torah merely shows-if the claim can be fuIly substantiated-that the Jew in the past was not too familiar with the literary history of his own people. It does not necessitate the conclusion that God could not have made use of J. E. P. and D in the same way in which, at one time, it was
thought (mistakenly, it is now said) He had made use of Moses.
“Again, the question of whether or not a certain ritual is a divine commandment cannot be settled with a reference to archeological findings pointing to a non-Israelite or pre-Israelite provenance of the particular rite under discussion. No Reform Jew would insist that the prohibition of murder is not a commandment of the God of Israel-merely because murder is also discountenanced in the Egyptian Book of the Dead…. This is an interesting piece of information, but it can hardly rule out the possibility, on logical grounds, that God used this pre-Israelite raw material and incorporated it in His Torah. Does every worthwhile religious ordinance have to be a creatio ex nihilo?
“After all, according to the view of the Higher Critics, and of Reform's own Julian Morgenstern in particular, each "code" now contained in the Pentateuch was accepted at a specific historical occasion by the people as a whole, in a solemn covenant. Accepted as what? As the definite demands which the covenant deity made upon his partners of the covenant. If we follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, we must arrive at a point in Jewish history when the Pentateuch as a whole (in the form in which it left the hands of its last redactor) was accepted as divine revelation by the people. This would be the canonization" of the Torah. Tradition ascribes this "canonization" of the complete Pentateuch to the time of Moses. Modern scholarship would set the date at about 400 B.C.E.-that is, a good 700 or 800 years after the time of Moses. Inasmuch as the findings of modem scholarship clash with the traditional notion, it is very much a question of temperament and training as to which of the two dates a modern Jew will ultimately accept. But,… the question of dating the Pentateuch has very little to do with the authoritative or non- authoritative character of that book.”
Problems of Reform Halacha by Jakob J. Petuchowski in Contemporary Reform Jewish Thought edited by Bernard Martin, Quadrangle Books 1968
Two Conservative Jewish response –
“For Conservative Jews, the Torah is no less sacred, if
less central, than it was for their pre-modern ancestors. I use the word
"sacred" advisedly. The Torah is the foundation text of Judaism,
the apex of an inverted pyramid of infinite commentary, not because it is
divine, but because it is sacred, that is, adopted by the Jewish people as
its spiritual font…. The sense of individual obligation, of being commanded,
does not derive from divine authorship, but communal consent. The Written
Torah, no less than the Oral Torah, reverberates with the divine-human
encounter, with "a minimum of revelation and a maximum of
interpretation." It is no longer possible to separate the tinder
from the spark. What history can attest is that the community of
The Sacred Cluster: The Core Values of Conservative Judaism by Ismar Schorsch
See further the discussion by Louis Jacobs in We Have Reason to Believe
"The claim of Judaism on men's minds was once advanced on the basis of truth and ultimate seriousness. Judaism claimed to present a true and correct understanding of the nature of the Jew, of the world, man and God. That claim was expected to be considered seriously and therefore to be measured against the criteria of all that men knew, or thought they knew, about reality. No source of insight or information could stand apart from Judaism, and none might be ignored.
"In brief, Judaism once claimed to speak truly about God, one and unique, who created the world and all that is, and happens in it; who revealed His purpose and will for creation to men through Moses and the prophets; and who expected men to carry out that will as it was recorded in Scripture, and elucidated by the sages of each generation. The task of the religious Jew was to uncover, explicate, and fulfil what was always immanent: the word of God in the world.
"If, therefore, for Philo Scripture became a mystic allegory, or for Maimonides an Aristotelian treatise, for the Talmudists a source of law, or for the Agadists a source of religious insight, or for Rosenzweig an existential record, the reason was always the same. The Torah could be nothing less than the abiding source of insight and illumination, and the alternative, that its relevance was limited by temporal or intellectual contingency, was unthinkable.
"The task of the Jew, and especially of the Jewish teacher, was to apprehend the truth of Judaism, to apply and to transmit it. The process of transmission never took precedence over the principle of truth, and it was rare that a teacher or sage, however troubled he may have been by the results of his inquiry, held back his findings or sought to distort them in order to preserve an edifice he feared might otherwise collapse. The consequence was that the tradition of Judaism was transmitted never intact but forever unimpaired....
"Judaism will survive anything but deceit. Atheism and heresy take many forms, but the most pernicious of all are the cloaks of legitimacy. The most dangerous enemies of Judaism today are therefore sentimentality and stupidity, which take the forms today of anti-intellectualism and unwillingness to reckon seriously with the scholarly endeavour and its manifold consequences.
"If day by day we come to a crossroads, then the choice of the way ahead should be guided by one principle, that of undeviating loyalty to plain truth, which itself must be the consequence of integrated and fully self-conscious perceptions about the world, man, and God emergent from the living traditions of humane and scientific learning, both Jewish and Western, of yesterday and today.
"'For you are my witnesses, says the Lord. When you are my witnesses, then I am the Lord, and when you are not my witnesses, then I am not the Lord.'"
Intellectual Honesty in Jewish Learning in History and Torah: Essays on Jewish Learning by Jacob Neusner, Schoken Books, NY 1965
A Christian Response to Challenges to the Historicity of Biblical History
“The French Dominican biblical scholar and archaeologist Roland
de Vaux noted ..."if the historical faith of
The Bible Unearthed; Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, N.Y. 2001
“Moreover, by presenting the faith of
“But the stories about the promise given to the
patriarchs in Genesis are not historical, nor do they intend to be historical;
they are rather historically determined expressions about Israel and Israel’s
relationship to its God, given in forms legitimate to their time, and
their truth lies not in their facticity, nor in their historicity, but in
their ability to express the reality that Israel experienced. To the extent
that this experience can be communicated, it is a revelation of the faith
Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: The Quest for the Historical
Abraham by Thomas L. Thompson, Walter de Gruyter .
The Tel Dan Stele is strong evidence that a Kingwas known, in the 9th century BCE, as the founder of an Israelite dynasty but, of course, is not evidence that the story of David, as recounted in the Bible, is accurate. Naturally, the same goes for the other people mentioned in our inscriptions who appear in the biblical narrative.
The Tel Dan Stele undoubtedly refers to the conflicts
· if the descriptions of lifestyle and realia described in the biblical texts, fit what we have learned of the various stages of Israelite history between c. 1200 BCE and the end of the First Temple Period (586 BCE) through archaeology, and do not fit the archaeological context of the Second Temple Period (approximately 536 BCE -- 70 CE)
· then it can be assumed that the biblical writers based their works on traditions or records going back to the periods in question though the presentation might still be tendentious or simply erroneous
“As for Omri king of
N.b. According to a recent reconstruction, line 31 originally read "And the House of David dwelt in...." (See André Lemaire, “‘House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription,” Biblical Archaeological Review, May/June 1994.http://pages.sbcglobal.net/zimriel/Mesha/index.html )
A different view of this event is recorded in 2 Kings 3:1-26
“In the eighteenth year of King Jehoshaphat of
So King Jehoram marched out of
The next day, about the time of the morning offering,
suddenly water began to flow from the direction of
House of Yahweh Ostracon “a pottery shard
dated to about 800 BC that contains a written receipt for a donation of silver
shekels to (possibly…DS) Solomon's
Sennacherib Prism (i.e. Sennacherib's own account)
the Judahite, who did not submit to my yoke: forty-six of his strong, walled
cities, as well as the small towns in their area, which were without number,
by leveling with battering-rams and by bringing up siege-engines, and by
attacking and storming on foot, by mines, tunnels, and breeches, I besieged
and took them. 200,150 people, great and small, male and female, horses,
mules, asses, camels, cattle and sheep without number, I brought away from
them and counted as spoil. (Hezekiah) himself, like a caged bird I shut up in
A very different (and rather theological) version is given in the Bible
the third year of King Hoshea son of Elah of Israel, Hezekiah
son of King Ahaz of
the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of King Hoshea
son of Elah of Israel, King Shalmaneser
of Assyria came up against
king of Assyria sent the Tartan,
the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish Hezekiah at
King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth,
and went into the house of the LORD. And he sent Eliakim, who was in charge
of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with
sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They said to him, "Thus
says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace;
children have come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them
forth. It may be that the LORD your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh,
whom his master the king of
Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah;
for he had heard that the king had left
Isaiah son of Amoz
sent to Hezekiah, saying, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I have
heard your prayer to me about King Sennacherib of
very night the angel of the LORD set out and struck down one hundred
eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; when morning dawned, they
were all dead bodies. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria left, went home, and
Cyrus Cylinder - Cyrus
describes a general policy of restoring cults suppressed by the defunct
Neo-Babylonian regime but makes no specific mention of
“the cities on the other side of the Tigris, whose sites were of ancient foundation the gods, who resided in them, I brought back to their places, and caused them to dwell in a residence for all time”
II Chronicles 36:22-23
“In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him! Let him go up."
“In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people--may their God be with them! --are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel--he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem."
The LORD “who says of Cyrus, "He is my shepherd,
and he shall carry out all my purpose"; and who says of
There is no uniform result of this type of analysis. Sometimes archaeology seems to support biblical accounts (especially in the later First Temple Period, and sometimes it contradicts them and often evidence is lacking or ambiguous. However, we must bear in mind that the biblical books, especially the Deuteronomic History (Deuteronomy- 2 Kings) see were written as polemical literature promoting reform. Thus it is a kind of Can the Bible Be Trusted? (historic accuracy of the Bible) , a product of archaeology, can give us some insight into the worldview of the worshipers of Baal who are polemically denounces in the Bible.
The Second Temple Period was the milieu from which emerged Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. In the early part of this period it seems that the tradition of history writing among the Jews virtually disappeared. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls our sources for this period were
Ø Rabbinical sources, authored in the late second century CE (Mishnaic literature see http://www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudMap/Mishnah.html#Term http://mb-soft.com/believe/txo/mishnah.htm http://www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/RelS367/Oral_Torah.html) and later which purported to describe the centuries before their time.
Ø The New Testament – this reflects how the Church, retrospectively, saw the late Second Temple Period which tended to be in terms of a struggle between Judaism and Christianity. See
written by Jews in
“Jubilees is mentioned in the
literature of the community of Qumran, and fragments of it were found in the
The I and II Maccabees and a
number of minor sources. Although not as severely polemical as the
biblical history of the
The Dead Sea Scrolls enables
us to read the opinions of the Qumranites (see ) concerning the Jewish leadership in