As I’ve said before, I don’t know as much about the Old Testament as I do the New Testament. Thus, I found The Bible Unearthed really interesting, but wasn’t sure how much stock to put in some of its claims (see posts here and here). I’ve attempted to dig deeper into OT scholarship on my own, but am not real satisfied with my work so far. For example, so far I’m disappointed with Thompson’s The Mythic Past (see post here).
I’ve decided it would be helpful to narrow it down to a few key claims and the case Silberman and Finkelstein make for them, so here they are:
No United Monarchy: ”United” here means uniting Israel and Judah; according to the Bible these two nations were one under David and Solomon, but split afterwards. But Silberman and Finkelstein argue that while David and Solomon probably existed, they would have been local Judahite chieftains. The idea that they also ruled over Israel was later propaganda.
The evidence: Silberman and Finkelstein list several lines of archaeological evidence in support of this conclusion, but probably the most important one is the archaeological evidence regarding Jerusalem:
Not only was any sign of monumental architecture missing, but so were even simple pottery sherds. The types that are so characteristic of the tenth century at other sites are rare in Jerusalem. Some scholars have argued that later, massive building activities in Jerusalem wiped out all signs of the earlier city. Yet excavations in the city of David revealed impressive finds from the Middle Bronze Age and from later centuries of the Iron Age— just not from the tenth century BCE. The most optimistic assessment of this negative evidence is that tenth century Jerusalem was rather limited in extent, perhaps not more than a typical hill country village.
They also argue that archaeological sites once linked to the United Monarchy are really from a different era, though that doesn’t seem to matter as much: even if those other sites were the right era, it seems unlikely they were part of an empire ruled from Jerusalem (as the Bible claims), given the state of Jerusalem at the time.
7th century date for Joshua: This one’s pretty simple. Specifically, the claim is that Joshua was (mostly?) written during the reign of King Josiah. As Silberman and Finkelstein explain:
Perhaps most telling of all the clues that the book of Joshua was written at this time is the list of towns in the territory of the tribe of Judah, given in detail in Joshua 15 : 21 – 62 . The list precisely corresponds to the borders of the kingdom of Judah during the reign of Josiah. Moreover, the placenames mentioned in the list closely correspond to the seventh-century BCE settlement pattern in the same region. And some of the sites were occupied only in the final decades of the seventh century BCE .
Silberman and Finkelstein also argue for a 7th century date for Joshua based on the similarity of its ideology to that of Deuteronomy, which brings us to the third claim I’m interested in…
7th century date for Deuteronomy: In 2 Kings 22, King Josiah suspiciously “discovers” a Book of the Law. Many scholars believe this was not the whole Torah, but specifically Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy is the only book of the Pentateuch that asserts it contains the “words of the covenant” that all Israel must follow (29:9). It is the only book that prohibits sacrifice outside “the place which the Lord your God will choose” (12:5), while the other books of the Pentateuch repeatedly refer, without objection, to worship at altars set up throughout the land. Deuteronomy is the only book to describe the national Passover sacrifice in a national shrine (16:1–8). And while it is evident that there are later additions included in the present text of the book of Deuteronomy, its main outlines are precisely those that are observed by Josiah in 622 BCE in Jerusalem for the first time.
They also argue that this dating of Deuteronomy fits with the rise of widespread literacy in Judah at the time.
Deuteronomy resembles an Assyrian vassal treaty: I’m throwing this one in because it’s interesting, but I don’t know what you could say about it without knowing quite a bit about Assyrian vassal treaties.
So, what should I read to find out if these claims are true? Fundamentalists, of course, will hate all of them, but I don’t care what the fundamentalists think. My impression is that there are some moderates who would be OK with the dating claims, but opt for slightly more glorious reigns for David and Solomon. And I understand that extreme “minimalists” might opt for a much later date for Joshua and Deuteronomy. How do I navigate all this?