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Archaeology and Torah


Question:

I've read that "the findings of the vast majority of biblical archaeologists dispute the historical accuracy of the Bible stories, including the Exodus." It seems that it would be impossible that a civilization of 2 -3 million people would leave virtually no archaeological footprint after 40 years in the Sinai desert, as one example. What's the Orthodox response to this?



AskTheRabbi.org answered:

1. Many archaeologists today are from the post-modernist minimalist school. They have an a priori position than any ancient text, especially if religious in nature is not a representation of history – period. They dismiss it until shown otherwise. There are other archaeologists, more traditionist, who accept the Torah as an historical text, albeit with editing and obviously these different philosophies will heavily the outcome of their investigations.

2. Archaeologist often take only one part of the Biblical narrative and attack it, ignoring other crucial parts of the narrative. E.g. the sojourn in the desert. Indeed the Torah says the Jews were in Sinai for 40 years – if so, say the archaeologists, where is the expected evidence of agriculture, dwellings etc. Of course, this is only expected if you don’t accept the crucial Biblical details that the sojourn was for the most part miraculous – mannah from heaven, clouds of glory etc. So they have read the Torah selectively, refuted one part, while ignoring the other part. I cannot prove the miracles, but they are a definite part of the Torah’s narrative.

3. Often archaeologists ignore the Oral Tradition. So for instance the Sages say that the Jews lived in Kadesh Barnea for  19 years (Deuteronomy 1:46, Rashi ad loc. Seder Olam Rabba 8:4) and indeed that is the one place where MBI dwellings (Middle-Late Bronze Age interchange period – ie. The time of the Exodus) have been found.

4. I believe that there is also strong cultural (and sometimes anti-Semitic) prejudice that affects many researchers. Keep in mind that every archaeological find that supports the traditional Torah account, also supports the traditional Zionist view – I am sure you are aware that Zionism is not popular in academic circles today (even in Israeli universities too). Don’t think that academics are above hatred, prejudice and subjectivity.

5. There are some excellent articles on www.aish.com about the Exodus and also see www.dovidgottlieb.com for an article called “Has the Exodus been disproven?”

6. Some books that I suggest that take a more Torah orientated view – Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Odyssey by David Rohl, Israel in Egypt by James Hoffmeier and (In Hebrew) Lachpor Et HaTanach.


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