I first encountered Eric Cline in the wonderful documentary on Joshua and Jericho in the Ancient Evidence series. Now that I have read his recent book From Eden to Exile, I am all the more impressed. His book simply sets forth the current state of our knowledge. He treats even amature archaeologists with respect, even though not endorsing most of their conclusions – even in mentioning Ron Wyatt, words like “con” and “artist” are never used (either separately or together). Cline clearly feels that at times the evidence from archaeology does not support the accuracy of the Bible. He nevertheless presents the diverse views of scholars and experts fairly, and presents them in a way that is accessible and clear to non-specialists.
The topic he covers that I know the most about is the archaeology of Israelite origins. He emphasizes what is most crucial: the destructions of various cities, even if they are connected with the Israelites, do not line up. They happened over the course of centuries and perhaps even more than a millenium. And so, even if one takes a “maximalist” approach to the Bible, the most one can claim is that the stories in Joshua compress events over a much longer period of time into a single lifetime. Lachish clearly was not conquered until after Israel had emerged in the land (as the cartouche of Ramses III that was found there indicates). Hazor is the only city that might fit a conquest scenario at the generally-accepted date for the Exodus and conquest. Yadin’s dates, however, have recently been questioned.
More plausible, however, is that the story told in Joshua should simply be removed as reflecting the ideology of the era of Josiah. So many cities that were supposedly conquered by Joshua are said to have been conquered later in the book of Judges. And while the details of the stories cannot be confirmed, the general picture of isolated groups coming to dominate in diverse areas is at least more consonant with the archaeological evidence. To laypeople, it can seem like historians pick and choose. Unfortunately, they do indeed have to when details are incompatible with one another, as well as in those instances where some details are at odds with the archaeological evidence.
Cline mentions the “Andrews Way” of doing archaeology, named after Andrews University in Michigan. Randall Younker, a key faculty member in Biblical archaeology there, emphasized the following principles (Cline, p.187):
- Be forthright with findings. Do not minimize problems of stretch interpretations of data to explain things away.
- Do not make claims beyond what data can support.
- Be quick and complete in publishing results.
- Engage and work within mainstream scholarship.
- Include a diversity of people and specialists.
- Take the history of the Bible seriously, but do not place upon archaeology the burden of “proving” the Bible.
I was genuinely moved to read this. Cline, I feel, lives up to these aims enough to reproduce this challenge. I share it in admiration of his work and all others committed to such a high level of scholarship and of honesty.