Tuesday, June 13, 2006


The standard position of modern scholarship is that the Bible--particularly the Old Testament--is historically unreliable. In fact, usually it's not only guilty until proven innocent, but guilty in the face of any amount of evidence to the contrary.

The latest example of this involves the ancient Edomites, a frequent nemesis of Israel in the OT. New evidence suggests that the Edomites were developed earlier than scholars have tended--or wanted--to believe:
An international team of archaeologists has recorded radiocarbon dates that they say show the tribes of Edom may have indeed come together in a cohesive society as early as the 12th century B.C., certainly by the 10th. The evidence was found in the ruins of a large copper-processing center and fortress at Khirbat en-Nahas, in the lowlands of what was Edom and is now part of Jordan.

Thomas E. Levy, a leader of the excavations, said in an interview last week that the findings there and at abandoned mines elsewhere in the region demonstrated that the Edomites had developed a complex state much earlier than previously thought.

With the addition of new dates and more evidence of the importance of copper in the emergence of Edom, the two archaeologists have amplified their interpretations in an article being published this month in the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review.

"We have discovered a degree of social complexity in the land of Edom," they wrote, "that demonstrates the weak reed on the basis of which a number of scholars have scoffed at the idea of a state or complex chiefdom in Edom at this early period."

The findings, Dr. Levy and Dr. Najjar added, lend credence to biblical accounts of the rivalry between Edom and the Israelites in what was then known as Judah. By extension, they said, this supported the tradition that Judah itself had by the time of David and Solomon, in the early 10th century, emerged as a kingdom with ambition and the means of fighting off the Edomites.

The Hebrew Bible mentioned the Edomites no fewer than 99 times. In Genesis, Esau, Jacob's twin brother, is described as the ancestor of the Edomites, and a reference is made to "the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites." Dr. Levy said this statement showed that the Israelites acknowledged Edom's early political development.

In the context, Dr. Levy and Dr. Najjar wrote, "the biblical references to the Edomites, especially their conflicts with David and subsequent Judahite kings, garner a new plausibility."

Not so fast, say the Biblical literalists:
Most criticism has come from advocates of a "low chronology" or "minimalist" school of early biblical history. They contend that in David's time Edom was a pastoral society, and Judah not much more advanced. In this view, ancient Israel did not develop into a true state until the eighth century B.C., a century and a half after David.

More widely held in recent years is the estimate that Edom did not become a complex society and kingdom until the eighth or seventh centuries, presumably as a consequence of rule by the Assyrian empire.

Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University and a leading proponent of the low-chronology model, has said the new research does "not shed new light on the question of state formation in Edom." He argues that perhaps the copper operations were controlled by chieftains in Beersheba, to the west, and supplied material for urban centers west and north of Edom.

Dr. Levy and Dr. Najjar said their excavations showed that "this image of external control is not convincing."

Finkelstein's objections amount to little more than a child putting his hands over his ears and repeating "I can't hear you!" over and over. The evidence mounts year by year that Bible is historically reliable. If you've already decided it can't be true, however, you'll always find a way to make sure it's not.

[Thanks to Wild Bill for the link.]

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