[b-hebrew] dating the bible

Pastor Mark Eddy markeddy at adams.net
Tue Nov 18 22:28:28 EST 2003

I've seen a lot of support for the minimalist dates on the list, but not much on the more conservative
side. So here goes.
I have to question the impartiality of much of "current thinking" about the Bible and so I question the
validity of their opinions. My reasons follow.
----- Original Message ----- 
> "Walter R. Mattfeld" <mattfeld12 at charter.net> wrote:
> I can "second" Naomi's nomination, _The Bible Unearthed, Archaeology['s New
> Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts_ by Israel
> Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman (The Free Press. 2001). Another equally
> important book with similar conclusions, is Profesor Burton MacDonald, _East
> of the Jordan, Territories and Sites of the Hebrew Scriptures_(Boston.
> American Schools of Oriental Research. 2000). Like Finkelstein and
> Silberman, MacDonald concludes that the archaeological evidence suggests
> that the Exodus narratives were written between 640-562 BCE, because this
> the ONLY era that most of sites appearing in the narratives are in existence
> at the same time and contemporary with each other.

I have not read either of these books, but I am familiar with Finkelstein's methodology. He favors
archaeological evidence over the internal evidence of the Bible itself and over the evidence provided by
historical witnesses to the biblical text. But just because we currently have no conclusive physical
evidence that these sites were all in existence in the 15th century B.C. does not logically mean that we
have proof that these sites did not in fact exist at that time. His is an argument from silence. There are
plenty of tells in and around Israel that have not been dug down to bedrock. Archaeology cannot prove that
a location was uninhabited in the 15th century just because a shaft down one side of a tell has found no
evidence of occupation at that level. (There are also many subjective aspects to dating the pottery and
other artifacts that are found in various layers of debris.) I'm looking at the cover of the latest
Biblical Archaeology Review, on which you can see how little archaeology has been done on Megiddo. It is
highly subjective to make conclusions about an entire site based simply on what has been found to date on
far less than 10% of the available evidence. (Most of the archaeological evidence still lies buried under
later levels, which we understandably do not wish to destroy.)

I also cannot consider Finkelstein's approach to be impartial, because he does not take seriously the
assertions of the biblical text itself. Nor does he take seriously the fact that the biblical text has
been taken seriously by knowledgable people in every generation since it was written. I think the burden
of proof should lie on Finkelstein and others. They need to prove that what the Bible says is not true.
Otherwise we accept what the Bible says about itself to be true. The biblical record has been preserved
and studied far longer than has the archaeological evidence. Unless the findings of archaeology contradict
what the text of the Bible says, I have to determine the date of the authorship of the various biblical
writings based on the texts themselves (and subsequent texts based on them). I cannot limit myself to only
what the spotty discoveries of archaeology can prove to be correct. I could not prove that I had
great-great-great grandparents, if I had to rely on archaeology alone. But obviously I had them, or I
wouldn't exist.

From: "Uri Hurwitz" <uhurwitz at yahoo.com>

> It is a good book, but like anything written on the subject , speculative. Prominent archaeologists like
Mazar and Ben-Tor completely disagree with Finkelstein on the tenth/ninth century, for instance.
> When the general subject of  'dating the Bible' arises it is not clear  what stage of biblical
composition is under discussion, since it underwent so many reworkings and editions. There is no consensus
on the matter.

I need to add that there is even debate about how much "reworking" or editing went on. The people who
copied and preserved the Bible considered it to be the words of God's chosen prophets. They were loathe to
make changes to the inspired words of God. There is no hard evidence (e.g. manuscripts) that shows that
anyone reworked previously-existing texts and then passed off their reworking as if it were original. The
writer(s) of Samuel-Kings clearly identified previously-existing sources that were available to him
(them). The Chronicler did not replace Samuel-Kings but wrote a new work with different emphases. The
scribes of Israel preserved both books. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls has shown that the
consonantal text of the Hebrew Scriptures has remained virtually unchanged for as long as we have any hard
evidence of it. The Masoretes simply added vowel points to the consonantal text, which they carefully left
as they found it. A few vowel letters or misspellings does not make a "reworking." Transcription from the
old Hebrew alphabet to the "modern Hebrew" alphabet is hardly the same as the "reworking" that proponents
of the documentary hypothesis suggest happened to the Torah in the 6th century B.C. E.g. there is no
manuscript evidence (or any other hard evidence) that there ever was a J, E, D, P, or any combination of
them or editor of them.

> For an excellent summary of Israelite literacy which succinctly sums up extrabiblical findings by
individual centuries see:
>     Literacy in Iron Age Israel by Richard S. Hess
>     in the volume: Windows into Old Testament History ed. Long, Baker and Winham, Eerdmans, 2002.

Getting back to the original question: "Can anybody recommend a book that impartially lays out the current
thinking and controversies around dating the bible?"

It seems that impartiality is almost impossible. I readily admit that I am partial to the Bible. I am
convinced that God does not lie or make mistakes, and that the prophets whose writings were accepted into
the biblical canon really did speak for God. (Otherwise their contemporaries would not have preserved
their writings. There were plenty of false prophets, who were properly rejected.) And I readily admit that
for me the testimony of Jesus to the Mosaic authorship of the Torah is most convincing. Jesus claimed that
Moses wrote (e.g. John 5:46-47, etc.). The veracity of Jesus' teaching was attested by God with signs and
wonders, culminating in His resurrection from the dead. That historical evidence is most often not taken
into account by "current thinking." It cannot simply be dismissed. I admit that the "traditional"
understanding of the dating of the Bible is "biased" in favor of believing that God really, miraculously
authored the Bible. We need to realize that Finkelstein (and many others) are biased against believing in
a miracle-working God.

So, in order to balance the books that favor archaeological evidence over literary and other historical
evidence, you might want to look at a more "traditional" book, one that tries to date the biblical
writings based on dates (and other evidence) from within the Bible itself. I suggest _An Introduction to
the Old Testament_ by Edward J. Young, or the more recent and more massive book _Introduction to the Old
Testament_ by Roland Kenneth Harrison.

Mark Eddy

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