Let there be no doubt whatsoever, to the Yahwehist – the practicing Jew, the Christian and the Muslim – whose entire religious faith rides E X C L U S I V E L Y on the historical validity of the Pentateuch this quote from Israel’s oldest daily Newspaper, Hareetz, is murderously troublesome in two torturously uncomfortable ways. Firstly, it announces without fanfare what’s been known within archaeological and scholarly circles for well over two generations: the entire Jewish foundation narrative is a myth, and characters such as Moses are nothing but inventive fiction knitted together to service the geopolitical needs and territorial longings of Judah after the fall of Mamlekhet Yisra’el (Kingdom of Israel) in 722 BCE. Secondly, and phenomenally more importantly, the author concedes in the last line that the field of biblical archaeology has not only flat-lined, but is now beyond hope of resuscitation.
Now it might not seem at all obvious at first, but one way to understand why precisely Hareetz would make such a sweeping public admission one need only study Caravaggio’s 1602 masterpiece, The Taking of Christ. It’s a remarkable painting for any number of reasons, his use of three different light sources not least among them, but don’t let that distract you. Look at it carefully. Study its characters. Caravaggio’s treatment of this famous New Testament scene actually explains an awful lot about how historians know today the Pentateuch is a work of 7th and 6th Century BCE geopolitical fiction that was simply made to appear historical. That is to say: historical fiction. The Roman soldier with his black metal gauntlet wrapped around Jesus’ throat is the key. Now even someone with a rudimentary understanding of history can see he’s dressed in medieval plate armour with a steel pauldron, bevor and visored sallet helmet; field battle wear common to the day of the painting but as unheard to the 1st Century CE Roman soldier as prokaryotes were to the lifeless proto-earth 3.6 billion years ago. Plate armour simply didn’t exist at the time the scene depicts, nor would it exist (as shown) for another 1,300 years, and this leaves later scrutinisers a relatively simple task of fingering, if need be, the probable date of the paintings actual composition as opposed to the date it alludes to.
The same conspicuously obvious period-blunders saturate the miracle-filled Hebrew Bible from the tales of the Patriarchs to Joshua’s military conquest of Canaan; the very bits which introduce a ghastly god named Yahweh. These sometimes catastrophic bungles are, in effect, the soft underbelly of the archaeology; the finer, more obscure details which complement the larger, physical excavations like those conducted at sites such as Cades Barnea (Kadesh-Barnea) where seventy years of exhaustive excavations have revealed nothing of the two million Jewish refugees who were supposedly encamped there for many, many, many years before allegedly entering Canaan. Ignoring the awkward fact that there is no evidence whatsoever for the Israelites ever being enslaved in Egypt or them then crossing the Sinai, many of the stations named in the Exodus narrative (Etham, Pi-hahiriroth and Baal-zephon to name just three) simply weren’t in existence in the 14th Century, but were well-establish (and well-known) in the 7th Century BCE… precisely when it’s now known the story was first knitted together. A city even more out-of-place is Pithom which the Israelites were apparently forced to build (Exodus 1:11), yet this site has been discovered to of in fact been a project of Egyptian King Necho II, placing its date of construction no earlier than 605 BCE; in plain sight to the authors of the tale yet nothing but a barren field when the slaves were said to have been hauling stone. Even more carelessly, numerous Canaanite cities which were supposedly razed by a marauding Joshua – including the famed Jericho which was in fact destroyed in the late 17th Century BCE – were found to have been long-abandoned at the time of the alleged conquest, or worse still, simply non-existent in that critical period. Harder however to explain than even missing cities is the revelation that Canaan was in fact under Egyptian military rule at the time Joshua was said to be raping the land, yet strangely no mention is made of this otherwise impossible-to-ignore geopolitical reality of the day. Egyptian garrisons were stationed at strategic points across Canaan including Jerusalem and Megiddo, and administrative centers were located in Gaza, Yaffo and Beit She’an, as well on both sides of the Jordon River which the Israelites supposedly crossed en masse before launching their assault on Canaan. Here the biblical authors bungled so dreadfully that it can only be compared in absurdity to a storyteller 500 years from today writing a “European history” where Luxembourg invades, defeats and then occupies France in 1942 without mentioning the Nazis.
Perhaps the ugliest of all the out-of-place warts are, however, the dreaded Philistines; a people (origins unknown) who invaded the coastal plains of the Levant and who greatly annoy the Jews throughout the narrative. The Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) have many dealings with them (Genesis 20:1-18; Genesis 21:22-31; Gen. 26:1-11; Gen. 26: 13-33), and at the onset of the Exodus narrative Yahweh warns Moses not to travel up the coast for fear of warring with them (Exodus 13.17). Evidently unknown to the authors but the Philistines (the “sea people”) didn’t arrive on the eastern Mediterranean coast and begin to establish themselves in cities like Tel Dor (after first warring with Ramsses III) until sometime between 1,150 and 1,200 BCE; long after the purported Exodus, and many, many, many hundreds of years after the supposed age of the Patriarchs.
Even such seemingly benign details as camels are as out-of-place in the biblical narrative as Caravaggio’s 1602 armour. Abraham, we’re told, owned many, his servant Eliezer used them as both beasts of burden and transportation, we’re informed that they were in the Canaanite foothills in great numbers, in the north in Padan Aram, the Ishmaelites apparently had huge herds, the Hagarites had 6,000, 1 Chronicles 5:21 speaks of soldiers mounted on 50,000, and the Midianites had so many that “Their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude” (Judges 7:12). Camels are everywhere, from the Sinai to northern Syria, which sounds like an entirely reasonable garnish to the meat of the story until an archaeozoologist sits down at the table. While there’s reason to believe camels might have been domesticated in small numbers in Egypt as early as 2,000 BCE there is simply no evidence (bones and teeth, textual references, inscriptions) of their presence on the Levant until after 1,000 BCE, roughly a thousand years after the Patriarchal age. There are bones, plenty have been found and are documented in the National Museum of Natural History, Tel Aviv, but none that date from before this period. Further still, 1 Kings 10:2 talks of “very great camel trains” entering Jerusalem supposedly around 950 BCE, yet by cross-referencing texts and trade practices it’s known today that camel trains did not start passing through Judah until some 250 years later in the 7th century BCE when it became a vassal state of the Assyrians and villages like Jerusalem began to grow in import; precisely when the story was first conceived of. Prior to this period Jerusalem was little more than a hillside hamlet, “a typical mountain village… [with] wretched material infrastructure,” as noted by famed Israeli archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein, and therefore hardly an epicenter of regional trade, let alone the seat of a grand united monarchy.
In a sentence: where the Jewish foundation narrative doesn’t flatly contradict the archaeology (the excavations, the cross-textual analysis, settlement patterns, population maps, steles, reliefs, amulets and diplomatic correspondences) it’s been found to be simple mythology superimposed over a dream landscape using descriptions of places and events that were present and unraveling in the 7th and 6th Century BCE; not the 14th Century, and certainly not 1,800 BCE. It’s also now known the authors borrowed heavily from far older mythology such as the Babylonian tale of King Sargon of Agade around which they invented the character Moses, then simply fashioned a heroic origin tale using contemporary reference points to make that tale sound historically plausible. In total, the profound inconsistencies have left even conservative biblical advocates like Professor Mazar no option but to concede that the entire Masoretic text and Deuteronomic history of the Hebrew Bible – the first and only document to mention a god named Yahweh – to be nothing but an inventive 7th Century geopolitical myth, with positively nothing on the horizon which even remotely hints at threatening this consensus position.