BIBLE AND POLITICS IN ANCIENT TIMES AND TODAY
Israel Finkelstein is a professional archaeologist and professor at Tel Aviv University. He understands the topic he raised.
We will have to analyze in detail his postulates in order to distinguish the well-known facts, established by science over the past three centuries, listed in his book, from his own inventions, interwoven between scientifically based positions.
As a scientist, Israel Finkelstein drew on long known and new facts, but added his own, to put it mildly, dubious, and more often clearly anti-scientific hypotheses, which were criticized by most specialists.
“The book by Finkelstein and Silverman, published by Tel Aviv University, goes even further, trying to explain how the familiar biblical text was born if the events it describes did not actually happen.”
Yes, some of Finkelstein’s postulates may be true. For example, he rightly claims that the books and prophecies found in the Bible are focused on the practical politics of their days.
To understand the prophecies, it is necessary to analyze the historical and political context in which the prophets spoke. Both the prophets and the priests, who wrote, and more often compiled books on the basis of more ancient sources, tried to instill their ideas in readers and the entire “people of the Book”.
I came to this conclusion long before Finkelstein published his book. When I first read the Bible, I could not get rid of the impression that it was akin to works like Karl Marx’s Capital, or the Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Seemingly, there is no common between Bible and Communism.
But in fact, the common thing is that the authors of TANAKH, as well as the ideologists of communism, wrote their works with a predetermined goal, ideological and political.
Now it turned out that this assessment is also true in relation to the «scientific» work of Finkelstein and Silverman. Their book is not a science, but a politically sharpened ideology.
The authors of the book «The Beginning of Israel» developed a conspiracy theory, according to which the king of ancient Judea, Joshiyahu (Josiah) (649-608 BC) ordered to compose the entire biblical history in order to ideologically justify his seizure of the territory of Palestine (Israel).
According to Finkelstein, the Zionist aggressor Josiah sucked out of his thumb the stories of the forefathers who roamed from the Nile to the Euphrates and captured Canaan, and the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, and the story of Yehoshua bin Nun, and the story of the united great kingdom of David and Solomon.
Allegedly, everything that is stated in the biblical story is a deliberate lie and fiction of the political strategists of King Josiah. Josiah’s copywriters wrote all this just to substantiate the Zionist claim to Eretz Yisrael!
According to Finkelstein and Silverman, there was no exodus of Jews from Egypt, there was no Moses, there was no campaign of conquest by Yehoshua bin Nun, and, most importantly, there was no unified kingdom of the Jews under David and Solomon. As there was no division of these kingdoms. Israel and Judea originally emerged as separate states.
As for the origin of the people of Israel, according to Finkelstein, some of the inhabitants of Canaan fled from their heavily fortified cities to the open spaces of Palestine «for social reasons» and settled there peacefully in unfortified villages.
From them, the ancient Israelites allegedly went to multiply, formed tribes, and then two separate kingdoms, Israel and Judah.
And now, today’s Palestinian leaders assert that they are the descendants of these peaceful refugees from Canaan, and the Jews are European colonialists who have nothing to do with this land.
All of the above Finkelstein asserts on the grounds that he, as a professional archaeologist, has not found archaeological confirmation of biblical tales. According to Finkelstein,“Jerusalem even in its heyday was an anecdote in comparison with the cities of Assyria, Babylon or Egypt. Typical mountain village. No famous finds, no Nebuchadnezzar gates, no Assyrian reliefs, no Egyptian tombs and temples, nothing. The temple did not compete with the temples of Egypt and Persia. «
Yes, everything is correct about Jerusalem, and this is far from being Finkelstein’s discovery. I read this in an old German encyclopedia published in the 19th century. But the archaeological «poverty» of Jerusalem in the times of David and Solomon is not scientific evidence that their kingdom did not exist.
Let me remind Professor Finkelstein and readers: Chinggis Khan did not have a capital, nor a permanent headquarter. That the capital of the Khazar Empire, Itil, has not yet been found, because, according to written Arab testimonies, there was not a single stone building in it. The kagan preferred to spend most of the year in yurts outside the city.
And that, according to the Bible, David did not build a temple in Jerusalem. His palace, excavated in the City of David, looked more like a fortress. No pomp, no jewelry, no luxury, no works of art.
David’s heir Solomon built a magnificent wooden temple from which nothing remained. The founders of empires fought and saved money. The descendants of the founders of empires and the kings who replaced them led luxurious life. The son of Solomon so crushed Israel with taxes that most of the tribes were set aside from him.
As Finkelstein himself notes, the rich archaeological finds date back to the Northern Kingdom, two centuries after the time when David founded his empire.
Finkelstein substantiates the denial of the kingdom of David by the fact that the archaeologist Yadin, who excavated the ancient city of Megiddo, mistakenly attributed the «stables of King Solomon» to the period of his reign, when in fact their dating is later. But this single fact cannot serve as confirmation or refutation of the existence of a military empire.
The hypothesis about the kingdom of David “invented by the political strategists of King Josiah” cannot be confirmed or refuted on the basis of archaeological data only.
Israel Finkelstein ignored all other scientific data, primarily the science of biblical studies, which has been developing for over 300 years and has led us to generally known conclusions and knowledge. His incredible hypothesis aroused well-grounded mistrust of serious scientists.
Ultimately, under the pretext of “analysis,” Finkelstein completely denies the historical basis of the Bible. He declared archeology the only source of knowledge about the ancient world, while written sources, primarily the Bible (but not only the Bible!) Finkelstein puts in the Procrustean bed of archeology. What does not correspond, is cut off with an ax.
The same goes for genetics data. As if archaeologists, analyzing shards of dishes, can determine the genetic origin of the people who created these dishes.
Finkelstein’s emphatic assertion that the Jews, in fact, are the same Canaanites, does not stand up to scrutiny.
Finkelstein’s predecessor, the eminent archaeologist Benjamin Mazar (1906-1995), excavated both the fortified cities of the Canaanites and the unfortified villages of Israel. He noted the huge civilizational difference between the one and the other. Mazar had no doubt that the ethnicity of the “scattered” population and the city dwellers was different.
If the Israelites did not ethnically differ from the Canaanites, why would they come up with a separate ethnic history, separate tales, and myths that differ sharply from the Canaanites, but in many cases coincide with the myths of Mesopotamia and Egypt?
I can agree with the statement that there was a mixture of newcomer nomads with the sedentary population of Canaan. But Finkelstein declares that there was no introduction of nomads, that this is a fiction of the political workers of King Josiah!
The reason for this denial was the lack of archaeological confirmation of Yehoshua bin Nun’s campaign of conquest. Yes, archaeologists did not find much destruction during the period of this «conquest».
This can be explained by the fact that actually, the settling of the Jews was peaceful, and the story of the formidable campaign of conquest was greatly exaggerated.
Instead, the Bible describes in detail how Yehoshua bin Nun prepared the Jews for resettlement from Moab to the west, achieved divorces from the Moabite wives who kept the Jewish husbands at home in Moab. How he circumcised sons from mixed marriages to be incorporated into Israel and separated from their Moabite mothers.
This story has parallels in the book of Ezra and Nehemiah, who performed a similar operation with returnees from Babylonian captivity and their Samaritan wives. This happened a hundred years after the death of King Josiah.
Yehoshua bin Nun’s «campaign of conquest» is described schematically. Apart from the clearly fabulous description of the fall of Jericho, we do not find any detailed descriptions of the battles of commander bin Nun.
Archaeological confirmation of the peaceful settlement of Jews, immigrants from Egypt, was discovered about 20 years ago on Mount Gerizim, where, according to the Bible, Yehoshua bin Nun gathered the people of Israel and concluded a new pact with God.
Archaeologist Finkelstein flatly refused to investigate the artifacts discovered there. This is not the behavior of a scientist whose goal is to establish the truth.
The idea that Jewish monotheism took shape during and at the initiative of King Josiah was voiced over a hundred years ago. Finkelstein borrowed it and altered it beyond good sense, transforming the eminent reformer king into a malevolent 20th century-style Zionist invader.
«Were the stories of Joshua’s conquest of the land, the settlement of the tribes, and the kingdom of David and Solomon born in the brain of a creative copywriter who invented a glorious national past to justify political claims in territories that had not previously belonged to the king?»
This question was not asked by me, but by a journalist from the leftist newspaper Haaretz who sympathizes with the revolutionary archaeologist.
I’ll ask another question. Why is such a crude, ill-conceived, and unsubstantiated hypothesis of less known Israeli scientists set out in a book with a pretentious title and published in mass-circulation in different languages? Who is behind this propaganda spin?