Israelite Origins: The Song of Deborah

When attempting to glean historical information from the biblical text we should employ the utmost caution. As Kofoed explains,

All sources, primary/secondary and firsthand/secondhand, need to be checked for ideological, propagandistic, religious, or other biases before the encoded historical information can be used for historiographical purposes.1

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Divine Violence: the Conquest of Canaan

I recent spoke at a small event, organised for and by laypeople, on the topic of Divine Violence. Given my main area of interest, I approached the topic through the lens of the Conquest of Canaan.

This topic is a favourite among Christian Apologists, often coming at it from the angle of Divine Command Theory. Putting it politely, I find that approach abhorrent. It’s a stain on Christianity. Instead of going down that road I though it would be more useful to use the Conquest of Canaan as an example of how taking a historical-critical reading of the relevant texts usually demonstrates that we’re trying to defend something that doesn’t need defending.

Summary of the talk: The conquest described in the book of Joshua didn’t happen, and the command in Deuteronomy 20 to annihilate the Canaanites wasn’t given by God. That shouldn’t be a surprise given that Jesus isn’t a genocidal maniac, and he’s a better revelation of God’s character than much of what we read in scripture.

Here’s how it went:

Israelite Origins: Population decline and explosion

In the preceding posts in this series we’ve seen how the scriptures do not speak in one voice when it comes to figuring out exactly where the Israelites came from.

  • Instead of there being a single “biblical” date for the conquest we’ve seen that several can be derived from the text.
  • Instead of the Israelites running the show in Canaan as we’d expect from the first half of the book of Joshua, we’ve seen that Egypt, for 250-300 years starting from around 1450 BCE, completely dominated the area (and that precisely nothing is said about this in the books of Joshua or Judges).
  • And, instead of finding archaeological evidence of sweeping destruction throughout Canaan at a time that lines up with either the Early or Late Date Exodus and Conquest, we find little evidence of systematic destruction, or of cultural change. In some cases we even find that cities said to have been defeated by Joshua didn’t even exist at the time.

It’s felt like a whole load of deconstruction – the rosy picture painted in Sunday School has all but shattered.

From now on in the series we’re going to see what can be salvaged. What can we know about Israelite origins? In this post we’re going to look at the data for the archaeological phenomenon known as the “Israelite Settlement”, but but we’re going to start one stage before that – the Late Bronze Age population decline.

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Israelite Origins: the Late Bronze Age collapse

At around 1200 BCE, during what is now seen as the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the eastern Mediterranean world suffered mass societal collapse. In his excellent 1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed Eric Cline sums up just how serious the chaos was:

The magnitude of the catastrophe was enormous; it was a loss such as the world would not see again until the Roman Empire collapsed more than fifteen hundred years later.1

Far from being a few squabbles between some knuckle-dragging savages on the edge of some desert somewhere, the Late Bronze Age collapse resulted in the disintegration of international trade, the end of dynasties, and an entirely new world order prompted by mass migration.

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Gerasa, Gadara, Gergesa – from where did the pigs stampede?

A friend recently asked about the geographical problem of Mark 5 so I thought I’d write up some thoughts on the topic.

The narrative in question is the healing of Legion. Jesus is in Capernaum, he gets on a boat, sails across the Sea of Galilee, ends up in a storm, and calms the water. When they arrive on the shore he gets out and is met by two demoniacs/a guy called Legion. After Jesus heals him/them, the demons are sent into a herd of pigs. These demon-possessed pigs then run headlong into the lake and, presumably, drown. It’s fair to say this is one of the weirder gospel narratives.

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Does Jude quote Enoch?

A few days ago I watched a twitter conversation on the topic of whether the Epistle of Jude contains a quotation from the book of Enoch or not. This question comes up every now and again, mainly because it causes problems for those that claim the Bible was dictated word-for-word by God (“verbal plenary inspiration”), believe that it doesn’t quote extra-biblical works authoritatively, and think that the bible is self-interpreting leaving us in no need of any extra-biblical context for its proper understanding (loosely, the “perspicuity of scripture”). So, let’s get down to business: does Jude quote Enoch?

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