“Patterns of Evidence: Exodus”: Superb Pop Archaeology

“Patterns of Evidence: Exodus”: Superb Pop Archaeology December 23, 2015


The Israelites Leaving Egypt (1828-1830), by David Roberts (1796-1864) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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I watched this documentary tonight and last night. It’s available on Instant Netflix. I’ve never seen a finer or more interesting piece of biblical archaeology on film. The crux of the issue at stake, and featured in the piece, is the theory that the Exodus happened around 1450 BC, rather than 160-200 years later. The latter is the standard, accepted view of archaeology, based on the established time framework of renowned archaeologists such as Kathleen Kenyon, William F. Albright (who thought the Exodus happened in c. 1300 BC), etc.

As so often, we seem to see a profound bias and dogmatism within archaeology, as we do in many academic fields. Theories become set in stone, and then real evidence that contradicts the fashionable theory is ignored or dismissed. Theory too often seems to take precedence over fact. Philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn made note of this in his famous and influential work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould also wrote often and eloquently about human bias in science.

I observed the same mindset  in many instances, when I did my own bit of “pop archaeology” as part of my book about Israel and biblical archaeology, Footsteps That Echo Forever: written in conjunction with my pilgrimage to Israel a year ago. I pondered (and provisionally accepted) several “new” theories, such as the location of Jesus’ baptism, and of His trial and the route of the Via Dolorosa; also about the location of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Joshua’s altar on Mt. Ebal.

I even argued about some of these with our first tour guide while we were there (who did not take kindly at all to disagreement!). Our second tour guide, however, agreed with me, since he seemed to be more aware of the progression of biblical archaeology away from the biblically skeptical theories of those like Israel Finkelstein, who is in the film. He and other archaeologists of like mind  follow the c. 1250 BC date of the Exodus (insofar as they even accept an Exodus and conquest of Canaan at all).

Wikipedia has a lengthy article on this controversy, entitled “New Chronology (Rohl).”  This is a reference to Egyptologist David Rohl (b. 1950), who is featured in Patterns of Evidence. Rohl is an agnostic, so he can’t be accused of special pleading based on a prior acceptance of the Bible as inspired revelation.

Jericho was mentioned in the film, as evidence for the earlier date of the Exodus and subsequent conquest of Canaan by the Hebrews. Indeed, Kenyon, based on her excavations there from 1952-1958, dated the destruction of the city to 1500 BC. Since the currently accepted chronology places the conquest after 1250 BC, it was thought that by many that Jericho was a disproof of the accuracy of the biblical text.  The first excavator of Jericho, John Garstang, dated the destruction to 1400 BC: which fits in exactly with the controversial chronological theory advanced by David Rohl and others.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908-1910), dates the Exodus to “about 1277” [BC]. New Bible Dictionary (1962) states (“Chronology of the Old Testament”): “The probable date of the Exodus is thus narrowed down to the period 1290-1260 BC.” Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (1975) opines: “. . . the Exodus took place under Rameses II (1299-1232).”

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1939), states: “We therefore find that Joshua’s conquest is placed about 1480 BC, and the Exodus about 1520 BC.” Archaeologist Bryant G. Wood (also in the documentary) wrote an excellent summary (2009) of the biblical and archaeological evidence for a date of 1446 BC for the Exodus. See also his similar article for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48/3, (September 2005).

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