Author: Biblical Historical Context (page 1 of 4)

Israelite Origins: Working backwards

Up to now in this series we’ve been slaughtering some sacred cows: claims of biblical dates for the Exodus and subsequent conquest of Canaan, claims that the scriptural narrative of the Israelite conquest matches the archaeological record, and claims that the bible gives us a coherent narrative on where the Israelite people came from.

Scripturally speaking, we’re left with practically nothing. So, we’re going to look at the archaeological record (well, at least what scholars tell us about it) and see what we can work out from there. Continue reading

A “Land Bridge” off Nuweiba?

Explanations for the Red Sea crossing described in Exodus 14:21-29 abound, and range from the sublime to the ridiculous. In this post we’re going to look at a claim that’s at the extremely-ridiculous end of that spectrum – the popular idea that the Israelites walked over a purported “land bridge” stretching underwater from Nuweiba, a promontory on the east coast of the Sinai Peninsula, to Saudi Arabia on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba.

The view that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea at this location has been popularised by nurse anaesthetist and discoverer of Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, and the very blood of Jesus Christ; the late Ron Wyatt. So the idea is off to a strong start… Continue reading

Israelite Origins: Late Date Exodus

Just before we get into the historical background of the relevant time period for investigating Israelite origins in Canaan we have one side issue to deal with – the “Late Date” Exodus. The date of the Exodus is intimately connected to the emergence of the Israelites in Canaan when looking at the topic as a Christian because the Israelites, according to a selective and face-value reading of the narratives, arrived in Canaan forty years after they left Egypt. If that’s what happened then we’ve got our Israelite origins sorted, and we can stop this series right now. Continue reading

Israelite Origins: Biblical Counter-narratives

As we saw in the last post, the narrative found in Joshua that explains how the Israelites came to be in Canaan does not stack up with the archaeological evidence; in fact, it’s completely contradicted by it. The glorious conquest of Canaan and complete annihilation of its indigenous people described in Joshua 10-11 quite plainly did not happen – this is a bit difficult for those who work on the assumption that a plain reading of the biblical text provides reliable historical information. However, if your faith requires scripture to be “true” (read, “historically accurate”) then this discrepancy between the conquest narratives and the archaeological evidence pales into insignificance when it’s pointed out that scripture lacks internally consistency in its narratives of Israelite origins. Continue reading

Israelite Origins: putting away childish things

We concluded the previous post by stating that almost everything of the Sunday School narrative on Israelite Origins is contradicted by the archaeological evidence. In this post we’re going to see why that is, taking a look at what the relevant scholarly experts, in their own words, have to say about just how well their discoveries match the main biblical narrative. We’re going to quote mainly from Amihai Mazar’s widely-used textbook, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000-586 B.C.E.1 though we’ll also dip into other resources as we go along.

We pick up the story toward the end of the wilderness wanderings… Continue reading

Israelite Origins: the Sunday School version

Let’s remind ourselves of the story of Israelite Origins we learned in Sunday School. If your experience was anything like mine, it goes a little something like this:

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob multiplied in Egypt. Forced to work as slave labour on Pharaoh’s supply cities the Israelites, now a people, were led on a daring bid for freedom by Moses. Step by step through the waste howling wilderness they found their way to Mt Sinai where they met their God and received his law.

After a few decades Continue reading

Mustard seeds and confirmation bias

The past couple of days have seen an idea floating around twitter that sounds nice; it goes something like this: Jesus didn’t use the mustard seed as his illustration for the kingdom of God because it was small, but because it was illegal to sow, and that it was an “illegal”/”banned substance”.

Vague claims of the idea being “in the Talmud” seem to have satisfied the hundreds of people, some of them well known and pretty influential, who have retweeted this idea into timelines everywhere. The message is being well received by many.

This episode is a fine lesson in confirmation bias and the need to check your sources – especially when something seems to fit your narrative. Continue reading

Israelite Origins: An Introduction

Before we get started on this series on Israelite Origins I want to get one thing absolutely straight:

The origins of the Israelites and the crystallization of their national entity are among the most controversial topics of biblical history.1

Most of us Christians appear to be blissfully unaware that this is a complicated area. Some are willingly ignorant. Others try to come up with cheap apologetics to explain the problems away. Others still try to defy the relevant experts, claiming that they’re looking for evidence of the Israelite conquest in the wrong place, in the wrong time period, or with “atheist assumptions”. These are all hopeless approaches that leave you ignorant, misinformed, or needing to defend the indefensible – none of which are the sort of stance we ought to have. Continue reading

The smallest of all the seeds

I recently listened to someone make a defence of a very high view of biblical inspiration. The claim was that every word in the Bible was written down by authors whose involvement in the process was little more than taking dictation from God. If that’s correct, the presenter explained, it would follow that there are no errors of any kind in the Bible.

After making his case the presenter moved on to dealing with “apparent errors” in the bible, starting with its “scientific claims”. Valiant attempts at explaining away biblical cosmology and human anatomy were made before he moved on to one of Jesus’ parables: the parable of the mustard seed. Continue reading

Joshua 10 and 11: Conclusion

As we’ve made our way through this series on Joshua 10 & 11 we’ve come across a number of extra-biblical texts that look like ancient war reports. But as we’ve looked deeper we’ve found that they contain some pretty odd features: Continue reading

Older posts
%d bloggers like this: