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The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts Paperback – June 11, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Bible Unearthed is a balanced, thoughtful, bold reconsideration of the historical period that produced the Hebrew Bible. The headline news in this book is easy to pick out: there is no evidence for the existence of Abraham, or any of the Patriarchs; ditto for Moses and the Exodus; and the same goes for the whole period of Judges and the united monarchy of David and Solomon. In fact, the authors argue that it is impossible to say much of anything about ancient Israel until the seventh century B.C., around the time of the reign of King Josiah. In that period, "the narrative of the Bible was uniquely suited to further the religious reform and territorial ambitions of Judah." Yet the authors deny that their arguments should be construed as compromising the Bible's power. Only in the 18th century--"when the Hebrew Bible began to be dissected and studied in isolation from its powerful function in community life"--did readers begin to view the Bible as a source of empirically verifiable history. For most of its life, the Bible has been what Finkelstein and Silberman reveal it once more to be: an eloquent expression of "the deeply rooted sense of shared origins, experiences, and destiny that every human community needs in order to survive," written in such a way as to encompass "the men, women, and children, the rich, the poor, and the destitute of an entire community." --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Finkelstein, director of Tel Aviv University's excavations at Megiddo (ancient Armageddon), and Silberman, author of a series of successful and intriguing books on the political and cultural dimensions of archeology, present for the first time to a general audience the results of recent research, which reveals more clearly that while the Bible may be the most important piece of Western literature--serving concrete political, cultural and religious purposes--many of the events recorded in the Old Testament are not historically accurate. Finkelstein and Silberman do not aim to undermine the Bible's import, but to demonstrate why it became the basic document for a distinct religious community under particular political circumstances. For example, they maintain that the Exodus was not a single dramatic event, as described in the second book of the Bible, but rather a series of occurrences over a long period of time. The Old Testament account is, according to the authors, neither historical truth nor literary fiction, but a powerful expression of memory and hope constructed to serve particular political purposes at the time it was composed. The authors claim quite convincingly that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah became radically different regions even before the time of King David; the northern lands were densely populated, with a booming agriculture-based economy, while the southern region was sparsely populated by migratory pastoral groups. Furthermore, they contend, "we still have no hard archaeological evidence--despite the unparalleled biblical description of its grandeur--that Jerusalem was anything more than a modest highland village in the time of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam." Fresh, stimulating and highly engaging, this book will hold greatest appeal for readers familiar with the Bible, in particular the Old Testament--unfortunately, a shrinking percentage of the population. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Carol Mann.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 385 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Reprint edition (June 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684869136
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684869131
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (244 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

422 of 458 people found the following review helpful By Mark Wylie on March 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In "The Bible Unearthed," Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman display a rare talent among scholars--the ability to make specialized research accessible to a general audience. In this book the authors reveal how recent archaeological research forces us to reconsider the historical account woven into the Hebrew Bible. Among the conclusions they draw are:
1) The tales of patriarchs such as Abraham are largely legends composed long after the time in which they supposedly took place. This is seen in anachronisms such as the use of camels, not domesticated in the Near East until nearly 1000 years after Abraham's time, in many of the stories.
2) There is good reason to believe that the Exodus never happened. Had migrants to the number of even a small fraction of the 600,000 claimed in the Bible truly sojourned in the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years, archaeological evidence of their passage would be abundant. In fact, there are no traces of any signifant group living in the Sinai at the supposed time of the Exodus.
3) The Israelite "conquest" of Canaan, such as there was, was far from the military invasion of the books of Joshua and Judges. Many of the cities described as being conquered and destroyed did not even exist at the time, while those that did were small, unfortified villages, with no walls to be brought down, by blowing trumpets or otherwise.
4) While there is evidence that a historical David existed, and founded some sort of ruling dynasty known by his name, there is good reason to believe that he did not rule over the powerful united monarchy described in II Samuel. One reason for doubt: Jerusalem, portrayed as the great capital of a prosperous nation, was during the time of David little more than a village.
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264 of 286 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Appler on January 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I just finished The Bible Unearthed and I have one overall word to say about it: EXCELLENT! First of all, the authors provide a complete and easy to read explanation of ALL of the "hot" issues currently debated in the field of archaeology and biblical studies. Should the reader not find full agreement with the authors' final conclusions, he or she will have the data available to express this disagreement, especially since the authors place their arguments in the context of what is believed by both majority and minority scholarly opinions. They provide an excellent summary of the opposing arguments; summaries that are fair and complete. Too often people are quick to dismiss Finkelstein as a "biblical minimalist" because these readers are often misinformed or have misread Finkelstein's work. In "The Bible Unearthed," Finkelstein and Silberman are clear to disassociate themselves from the biblical "minimalists" while affiming the questions that they raise, questions that even the most "maximalist" scholar must honestly deal with in light of the paucity of archaeological evidence associated with the time of the ancestors through the rise of the Omride dynasty in 9th century Israel. One of the major questions plaguing the field of biblical studies is the one concerning David and Solomon. Do they really exist? Finkelstein and Silberman unequivocally state that both David and Solomon are historical beings. The magnitude of their kingdom, however, is the issue at hand. Based on the archaeological evidence, the authors suggest that the biblical account of these kings is a mixture of both fact and some embellishment by later authors, most likely writing during King Josiah's reign in 7th century Judah.Read more ›
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136 of 154 people found the following review helpful By Beverly Hines on October 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Whoa! If you are a person who interprets the Bible from a modern, traditional perspective then be prepared to be troubled when you read this book. These authors suggest some brow-raising hypotheses and seem to show some support for them.

I read this book after I read Richard E. Friedman's book Who Wrote the Bible? That was a good way to do it. Friedman's gentle voice (he seems to still value the Bible as a spiritual guide of some sort and states he still holds a Christian perspective) tenderly lowered me into the cauldron while Finkelstein and Silberman's more stark and detailed punches knocked me around a bit.

I will say that this book took some discipline for me to get through. It was definitely worth the effort, but it is not quite as easy a read as Friedman's.

I do grieve and mourn that the Bible will never be the same for me again. On the other hand, I am beginning to be hopeful that one can embrace all these new perspectives of the Bible and still find spiritual food (Walter Brueggemann is a Christian author that seems to have embraced many of these new findings and yet seems to be unperturbed by them. In fact he seems to be finding a way to incorporate them into his spiritual journey.)

I must also admit that I am excited about what this new paradigm can do in liberating many of us from Biblioidolatry.
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90 of 105 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Brucia on February 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book turned my view of the Bible inside out. When my vision cleared, many things made sense for the first time. -------- The basic argument of this work is that "archeology can show that the Torah and the Deuteronomistic History bear unmistakable hallmarks of their compilation in the seventh century BCE... [and that] much of the biblical narrative is a product of the hopes, fears, and ambitions of the kingdom of Judah, culminating in the reign of King Josiah at the end of the seventh century BCE." -------- The commonsensical implications Finkelstein and Silberman draw from this are earth shattering. Did Abraham ever exist? Did the Jews live in Egypt, and follow a man called Moses into the Sinai desert? Did the invasion of The Promised Land occur - and were the battles at Jericho and Ai actual events? Was Solomon a historic figure, and if so, was he a king over a large nation - or only a minor tribal chieftain? Ditto, David? Did they build an empire - or was that just a myth? And how late was it that the Jews really became monotheists? --------If the archeological record and the biblical accounts meshed, this book could not have been written. The fact that they do NOT makes this a fascinating adventure into the past. Much of the archeological proof of the authors' thesis is of recent provenance: the last 30 years... Finkelstein and Silberman typically present the Biblical story or stories, then their critique of that narrative, and finally, their alternative explanation. They focus on (1) uncovering historical truth and attempting to distinguish it from myth; and (2) explaining the motivations of the author(s) of the Biblical narrative. I believe that they have done a scholarly job of both.Read more ›
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