401 of 436 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2001
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.
5) Neither Israel nor Judah emerged as organized kingdoms until significantly after the supposed period of the united monarchy. Israel does not appear as a recognizable kingdom until the time of the Omrides of the 9th century BCE, while Judah does not appear as such until the late 8th century BCE, at the time of kings Ahaz and Hezekiah.
Along with their revision of the biblical account of history, Finkelstein and Silberman attempt to explain the origins of the Hebrew Bible, suggesting that the composition of much of the Bible can be tied to the religious agenda of King Josiah of Judah during the late 7th century BCE. While the origins of the Bible will never be known with certainty--there simply isn't enough evidence--Finkelstein and Silberman definitely provide a plausible interpretation.
The authors, as I noted above, do a superb job of making their work understandable to non-specialists; since even college history majors often don't study the ancient Near East, they take care to include sufficient background information for the reader to understand the context of their account. Anyone with an interest in the subject will find "The Bible Unearthed" to be fascinating reading. And anyone who thinks the Bible is an accurate history book should definitely read it.
251 of 273 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2001
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. Finkelstein and Silberman argue convincingly that Josiah, wanting to expand his kingdom to include the now fallen kingdom of Israel, found it useful to weave together the "histories" of the northern and southern kingdoms to create one unified and sacred text uniting the peoples of these two kingdoms. This understanding is not so far afield from earlier scholars who attribute the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua--2 Kings) to the time of Josiah and later. As a seminary professor and an ordained Christian minister, I am not willing to throw David and Solomon out and I struggle with those who argue that the Bible was constructed in the Persian and Hellenistic periods. Finkelstein and Silberman are not amond these minimalists and are well within what is argued by mainline scholars, especially those trying to come to terms with how the Bible and the archaeological data coincide and differ. Yes this book will rankle feathers yet it isn't far afield from what has been recently argued by biblical experts. This book will be assigned to my students because I want these people, who will be church leaders and scholars, to struggle with these issues. It is a well written and researched book and has a great deal to offer the reader. Besides, should questions threaten one's faith, one must question the veracity of the faith that was threatened.
123 of 141 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2004
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.
82 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2001
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. One useful characteristic of this tome is that it is liberally strewn with maps (13), drawings (14) and tables (9) that definitely round out the text. -------- Despite the title, "The Bible Unearthed" is strictly a study of two-thirds of the Tanakh (or Old Testament) - specifically The Torah (aka Pentateuch), and The Prophets (Neviim). [Not included are the non-historical accounts known as The Sacred Writings (Ketuvim), which were written between the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE and the first century BCE.] -------- I find it difficult to understand how one could substantially disagree with the authors' thesis but even those who disagree with the authors' conclusions should read this enthralling book. One can learn a lot from it, no matter what one's ideological stance
54 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2012
The authors offer a provocative thesis enveloped in an engaging narrative that carries the reader along, charming them into believing the provocative thesis must be correct. But something is strangely absent from the engaging narrative: evidence. Broad generalizations interspersed with standard textbook facts about the archaeology of Palestine propel the narrative to its controversial conclusion.
I realize this was aimed at a popular audience unfamiliar with biblical studies or the archaeology of the ancient Near East so that likely explains the minimal scholarly interaction in the book. Even so, I found it frustrating (knowing the other side of the issues they're addressing) that they consistently asserted their interpretations of archaeological data without arguing for their perspective or acknowledging there was even a debate about what some of these things mean.
The book is at the same time thought-provoking and frustrating. It is thought-provoking because some of their interpretations make a lot of sense. It is frustrating because of the lack of interaction with competing interpretations and the general lack of hard data for the most controversial parts of their thesis. As far as the provocative thesis goes, the authors claim that most of the Hebrew Scriptures--at least, the main historical narrative of Genesis-2 Kings -were produced in the time of King Josiah. In their view, the Hebrew Bible is an attempt to project Josiah's hopes for expanded territory and purer Yahweh worship back in time to the history and geography of the Exodus and Conquest. The glory days of David and Solomon are no more real (and just as legendary) as King Arthur and Camelot. The composition of the Hebrew Bible can then be understood in somewhat messianic terms centered on King Josiah, especially passages reflecting the hopes and dreams for the nation pinned on a special Davidic king (Josiah) and later passages responding to the theological crisis of failure (Josiah's death at the hands of Neco in 605).
I find elements of this thesis compelling. I think Josiah and the late 7th century was a pivotal time for the composition of the Hebrew Bible. In fact, it makes sense that a lot of literary activity was going on from 722-586 BCE as Judah saw the cultural destruction of Israel and absorbed many of her refugees. However, I think Finkelstein and Silberman have overplayed the evidence with their thesis. The main weakness of the book is that they prefer to assert their conclusions rather than demonstrate their evidence. You have to take their word for it because they're not going to give you any help in retracing their steps with the evidence.
I know that many of their conclusions based on archaeology are hotly contested, especially concerning the dating of possible 10th century structures and the identity of the early Israelites. But they don't acknowledge any doubt or alternative opinions in their narrative. Since they don't use footnotes or endnotes, they couldn't engage the scholarly literature there either. The only semblance that they are even aware of the scholarship on the subject is a detailed bibliography at the very end listed according to chapter. Ironically, they present alternative interpretations for some subjects in the back in a series of appendices, but their rebuttal of the evidence sometimes seems to undermine the argument they were trying to make in the rest of the book - about Josiah's program of expansion, for example.
The book is worth reading if only because it raises important questions about who wrote the Bible, when did they write it, and why. At every turn, the authors challenge the simplistic traditional answers to these questions.
57 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2003
Wow! A lot to think about. The authors, Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University, and co-director of the university's excavation at Megiddo) and Neil Silberman (Ename Center for Public Archaeology and Heritage Presentation, Belgium), have really put a great deal of material together in a small volume (355 pages). I had come across their names in other venues and become curious. In some of the popular archaeological magazines, their theories have created quite a stir--most notably the proposal that the united monarchy of David and Solomon might not have existed or at least not as it was portrayed. When The Bible Unearthed came to my attention, I decided it was a "must read" kind of book.
My own areas of interest have always been Mesopotamia and Egypt. When I studied ancient history for my MA, I tended to avoid the Levant as too fragmented and confused. It almost seemed one had to have a score card to know who all the players were! I realized, however, that it was an area rich in cultural, social, and political diversity and rampant with change--as most transitional regions are--and I could well understand other students' fascination with it.
The Finkelstein-Silberman work makes these facts abundantly clear. They examine the Biblical narrative from the prospective of archaeologists and political historians. I was first introduced to this more collaborative approach to biblical studies by a recent book by George Mendenhall entitled Ancient Israel's Faith and History, a work that typifies this type of multidisciplinary approach. I was very impressed. Hitherto I had been exposed only to the "Bible as history" approach, which tends to be very circular. In both books the authors start with more recent archaeological data, based on more modern methods of research and more current dating, and with external historical material to make sense of how the patriarchal age and that of ancient Israel as a political entity were likely to have fit the international venue of which they were a part. The results are very informative.
Almost from the first it becomes evident that much of what the Biblical narrative records does not quite fit with what is actually seen in the material remains from the area. When making sense of the discrepancies through a more anthropological approach to interpretation, both the Mendenhall and the Finkelstein and Silberman books come up with some surprising results. Although they do not necessarily agree entirely with each other's vision, their recounting of the events of the period makes abundant sense.
I found the central theme of The Bible Unearthed, namely that the narrative was a seventh century BCE redaction of popular oral traditions designed to suit a dynastic political and social agenda, to be eminently believable. Admittedly this is partly because I myself live in an environment where politically motivated propaganda is an almost daily occurrence and when historical redactions occur with every generation. Still their argument from the material data is impressive and forceful.
Although the authors don't stress it until the end of the book, one might well perceive the activities of the political players of the Middle East at the time as being more of a competition of ambitions rather than of nations. Instead of seeing the populations of the territories as identifying themselves as "Assyrians," "Egyptians," "Elamites," "Edomites," etc. one might rather view them as populations controlled, to a greater or lesser degree determined by proximity, by the individual dynasties on whose "estates" they lived--much as during the European feudal period. Officially sanctioned written histories might be seen as attempting to the achieve political goals of individual rulers, in this case that of the Davidic line in Jerusalem. What makes the Biblical tale more unique than other popular tales is that by post-exilic times, this particular tale had been again redacted to take into account the on-going experiences of the people themselves, something that had not heretofore occurred. The book became not simply an account of heroes and mythical figures, it became a book of inspiration and national identity, perhaps the first time that a coherent philosophy and shared laws had been created that actually did so, the test being that the population survived a sojourn in exile and returned an identifyable body. With further redactions, including the Christian testaments, the work could become a source of personal inspiration. What finally made the Bible a more international book was probably the mass communication possibilities that alphabetic scripts, wide spread literacy, and Roman roads and internationalism created much later. At this time, the book could become a recipe for living with ones fellow man.
The entire episode suggests that the "meme," a theory by Richard Dawkins, was working overtime in this instance. Each redaction of the material created a mental "animal" that was more "fit" to its environment, allowing it to be propagated into the next generation until we have the work in its present form. As the authors write, "The power of the biblical saga stems from its being a compelling and coherent narrative expression of the timeless themes of a people's liberation, continuing resistance to oppression, and quest for social equality (p. 318)." In short a keeper.
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2001
Hysterical fundamentalists notwithstanding, informed readers of the Hebrew Bible have for the past century recognized that many of its stories are exaggerations or outright fabrications. The documentary hypothesis which crystallized under Wellhausen has, overall, weathered many assaults (from both minimalist and maximalist sides!) and remains the "standard model" of favor among Pentateuchal scholars (i.e. the Pentateuch is a redacted composite created over a roughly 500 year period from ca. 900 BCE - 400 BCE). Albright's vision that archaeology would confirm the essential historicity of the Bible has evaporated with the realizations that (i) the patriarchal tales, which 50 years ago were viewed as reflective of a 2nd millenium BCE milieu, have since the work of van Seters and Thompson been reassessed and deemed to be of dubious historicity; (ii) there is nary a shred of extrabiblical evidence for the exodus; (iii) the conquest model presented in Joshua, which itself is irreconcilable with that of Judges 1, is impossible to square with the material record from Jericho and Ai and other sites; etc.
Yet there also are undeniable material elements which support, if not confirm, many aspects to the biblical account. The Merneptah stele of ca. 1207 BCE mentions a people Israel. The Mesha stele refers to the Israelite king Omri (and possibly David); the Tel Dan stele very likely mentions the "House of David", and of course there are extensive Assyrian and Babylonian annals which mention many Israelite and Judahite kings and corroborate certain broad features of the history recounted in 1 and 2 Kings.
In "The Bible Unearthed", Finkelstein and Silberman present a coherent and generally compelling model of Iron Age Palestine and the composition of Israel's epic history. While the authors are no match for Richard Friedman ("Who Wrote the Bible?") when it comes to making modern scholarship exciting and suspenseful, they have produced a useful and quite readable volume. The authors are generally skeptical of the biblical historian(s), but they should not be confused for minimalists.
Finkelstein's reconstruction is based largely on an amalgamation of recent data from surveys of Samaria and the Judean hills. Such data afford, he claims, a broad view of settlement patterns in Palestine over a period of many thousands of years. Moreover, a proper understanding of settlement patterns in the highlands is more important than surveys of sites such as Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo, if one is to gain an understanding of Israelite origins.
The book begins with chapters on the patriarchal tales, the exodus, and the conquest of Canaan. The authors have little to add to the consensus on the first two of these topics, and they concur that the biblical account is of dubious historicity. Their story gets more interesting and their contributions more original with the start of the Iron Age. Specifically, they claim:
(1) The emergence of Israel was not a unique phenomenon in the history of ancient Palestine. Rather, it was the third in a series of settlement waves extending back to the early Bronze age. Furthermore, technological developments such as hewn cisterns and terraced landscapes were not Iron I innovations (pace Dever). (Remarkably, the incidence of pig bones in highland faunal assemblages dramatically is reduced during the Iron I settlement wave. Yet pig bones are found in the Transjordanian Iron I sites.)
(2) The first great Israelite kingdom was that of the Omrides, who surpassed anything ever achieved in Judah. Judah was, throughout most of its existence, a backwater and a weak sister to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It was only with the destruction of Assyria in the late 7th century that Judah finally came into its own, during the reign of Josiah, the biblical description of whom nevertheless is substantially inflated. David, while he probably existed (cf. Tel Dan stele), was little more than a regional chieftain presiding over a small 11th/10th c. village in Jerusalem. Finkelstein engages in a bit of patricide in downdating Hazor, Gezer, and Megiddo from the 10th to the 9th century BCE, insisting that Yadin was mislead by Solomon's reputation as a builder.
(3) Most of the Deuteronomistic History is of 7th c. BCE provenance, at the earliest. Lists of conquered cities from the Book of Joshua include locations which only existed toward the end of the Iron Age.
(4) The authors advance a model of Israelite origins in which nomadic herders encroach upon the highlands starting from the east. This picture, despite the authors' claims of uniqueness, is rather similar to the "peaceful infiltration" model of Albrecht Alt. It is, of course, much better contextualized by the extensive archaeological surveys and hence all the more compelling.
I found the authors' forays into text criticism to be too often unrestrained and somewhat weak. They focus almost entirely on the Deuteronomistic History, ignoring some important data in early prophets such as Amos, Hosea, and Micah. (For example, the Deuteronomistic Historian(s) was/were not the first to focus on social justice, as one might conclude based on their book; Amos did it a century earlier.) This book would have been stronger had Finkelstein collaborated with a competent Bible scholar. Still, I enthusiastically recommend "The Bible Unearthed" as a strong introduction to the subject of archaeology and the Bible. As an introduction and a popular account, this book is understandably sketchy when it comes to details (though it is adequately referenced). For those interested in a readable but more complete and scholarly account of the fieldwork, see Finkelstein and Na'aman (eds.) "From Nomadism to Monarchy" and Ahituv and Oren (eds.) "The Origin of Early Israel - Current Debate". The collection "The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land" (T. Levy, ed.) is very good, but it is comprehensive and only a few of the contributions treat the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. Silberman and Small (eds.) "The Archaeology of Israel: Constructing the Past, Interpreting the Present" also deserves mention. William Dever's "Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research" also is a good read, and his most recent popular book, "What did the biblical authors know and when did they know it?" is outstanding (and very spicy).
57 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2001
Israel Finkekstein and Neil Asher Silberman have truely thrown the gauntlet out to biblical scholars and to the general public with publishing of this outstanding piece of research and analysis. Essentially THE BIBLE UNEARTHED is a social scientific exploration of the Hebrew Bible pointing to its composition in the last decades of the 7th century B.C.E.. Why was it written? What we recognize as the Bible was written as an ideological manifesto to centralize power (political, economic, and religious) in the general environs of Jerusalem in the court of King Josiah (this announcement is a bit startling considering there is "no signature" present). Finkelstein and Silberman will undoubtably rankle literalists and even nationalists in terms of their assessment of archaeology and historical evidence; but to ignore this work and to dismiss it as "garbage" would be a serious scholarly mistake. The research is impeccable ... from the analysis of archaeological material (textual and nontextual) to consultation with other scholars. Yes certain "truths" have been challenged; but then Biblical research has moved beyond using the Bible in one hand and the spade (as was the case of the 19th century and much of 20th century) in another to prove theological and nationalistic agendas (see Silberman's DIGGING FOR GOD AND COUNTRY as a wonderful analysis of this phenomena). Is this another "minimalist" dimissal of the Bible? No, but there are caveats to the history of Israel and Judah that are highlighted; thus the reader is allowed to see the people in the Bible as products of their social environment and not an exceptionally unique group out of touch with the life and times of the Ancient Levant.
40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Dealing with the Sacred Scriptures from a historical point of view is a daunting task, and only those with strong hearts should ever undertake such an endeavor. People generally have opinions before a book is even read, and more often than not read the book either to support or refute a claim. Authors need to be thick skinned to say the least.
My hunch is that Neil Asher Silberman and Israel Finkelstein will need thick skins. The two extensively research current biblical archeology in regard to ancient Israel and Judah and look at the scripture in light of these claims. The two challenge a popular and prevalent hypothesis that even though specific historical details may be incorrect, the Bible is basically a sound historical document. Looking not only at the history of ancient Israel and Judah, but also other ancient civilizations, the two challenge much of the historical data in the texts. They also look at small details in stories such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, ET. Al. to back up their theories. Some of their claims are that there was no large migration of people which would have made the Exodus improbable, details of nomadic times do not match the stories of the Patriarchs, and the dates of David's reign do not square with a strong and powerful Israel. While the two do not question the religious significance of the great figures of the Hebrew Bible, they do question their historical identities which puts these figures on a mythic scale, not only as larger than life figures who teach us lessons about life, but also in terms of believability. I suppose this could be troubling for some readers, but at this point in time, so many theories about scripture come and go when new finds and discoveries are made, most readers are probbaly used to new ideas that startle and challenge readers. New dicoveries and books really do not shake a person's faith.
As a Christian reader, I am somewhat used to biblical scholars who question the historical accuracy of certain texts. My faith is strong enough that claims such as those in this book will not change my point of view. I will use what is helpful as I do with so many books I read. As I read the work I could not help but wonder if the authors do for the Hebrew Scriptures what authors such as Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan do for the Gospels. The book is almost guaranteed to cause controversy. Personally their findings are interesting, and deserve to be taken seriously, especially since the book is well written by two scholars who know their subject and have done ample research. Their research also helps people in exegetical work as far as dating texts would be concerned. Their work also stirs debate which means that the texts have to be examined and interpreted in order to be relevant today. This is not a bad challenge for ancient texts, especially texts that are ancient yet still are living.
Now, as a person who uses scripture both personally and professionally on a daily basis, I would urge some caution when reading this book. Often when a book such as this is written, especially a book that is researched as much as this one is, it often becomes the "final word", and please pardon the pun, "biblical truth." This remains the case until the next book is published, containing all the available research that is current at the time, and often has very different conclusions. In the future another book may be published that will refute the claims of this book. Since new theories and discoveries frequently arise, these findings may not be the final word. The book is worth buying and definitely worth reading, even if you do not agree with all of its conclusions, and should provide much information that can be helpful in preaching, teaching, Bible study, and other forms of ministry.
48 of 60 people found the following review helpful
The loud contingent which maintains that the Bible is literally true on all matters won't accept Evolution or the universe millions of years old, of course, and increasingly it is being faced with more scientific data it will have to reject as well. While it is accepted by most people that the Old Testament is not a science book, it was still held to be the history of Jewish people. Now even that claim is questionable, with scientific archeology rewriting the history of the Holy Land. Archeologists digging there now have no particular religious ax to grind, and are coming up with data unfound by archeologists who set out to prove the Bible true. Israel Finkelstein is chairman of the Archeology Department at Tel Aviv University, and with journalist and archeology historian Neil Asher Silberman, he has told about the new archeology in _The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts_ (The Free Press). While some of Silberman's claims are more controversial than others, most of them are accepted by archeologists, but no Bible fundamentalists will accept any. They are, however, well explained in a clear style here, and ought to be attended by anyone who thinks the Bible is an important book.
Take, for example, the very idea of the exodus out of Egypt. Biblical historians have always had to confront the fact that while the Egyptians were very good record keepers, none of them had recorded this particular slave revolt or miraculous defeat. The explanation used to be that it was just too embarrassing for the Egyptians to describe, but now it seems that there may have been nothing to record. There were strongly guarded forts established that would have made an escape of thousands of Israelites impossible, or at least, well noticed. The biblical story about Moses and the troop wandering around in the Sinai desert also lacks any sort of archeological confirmation. There has never been evidence of any such encampment, not the slightest shard of pottery, left in the area, even around Kadesh-barnea where most of the time was to have been spent. This and other sites mentioned in the stories are real ones, some famous. The archeology shows that some were occupied well before and some well after the exodus occurred, but they were empty during the wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness. The locales mentioned were occupied in the seventh century BCE, lending credence to the idea of composition of the legends around that time.
The legends succumb: The walls of Jericho didn't fall because it had no walls at the time, and wasn't even occupied. Solomon's Temple cannot be found. The despised Ahab may have been the best builder and best ruler of Israel. There is plenty more in this fascinating look at the light modern digs are throwing on the old stories. The literalists will have to ignore such findings, of course, and those less literal will have to reassess the Old Testament. As _The Bible Unearthed_ says, after casting doubt on so many venerable stories, "The power of the biblical saga stems from its being a compelling and coherent narrative expression of the timeless themes of a people's liberation, continuing resistance to oppression, and quest for social equality. It eloquently expresses the deeply rooted sense of shared origins, experiences, and destiny that every human community needs in order to survive."