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The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts Hardcover – January 10, 2001
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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
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.
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I initially wanted to read a book about the ancient history of the people of the Bible. I specifically wanted a book goes over everything regarding the origins of its sacred texts with relation to political, social, economic, and religious developments throughout history. I was also interested in the historicity of their stories, and (most importantly) in learning why the Bible says the things it does from a nonreligious point of view. At first, I bought "A History of God" by Karen Armstrong, but her book did not answer most of my questions. Specifically, it did provide some but insufficient archaeological basis for its claims, and while it did go into metaphorical meanings of some of the biblical stories, it did not sufficiently explain why these stories existed beyond the basic statement, "people were simply just trying to find meaning to their lives". I wanted to know how the development of the Bible ties into secular history, and how the beliefs of the people of Israel evolved throughout time in relation to real world events.
That's when I found this book, "The Bible Unearthed" by Israel Finklestein and Neil Asher Silberman. This was everything that I was looking for. It demonstrated using lots of archaeological evidence that many stories in the Bible do not tell events how history suggested they occurred, while other stories proved to fit perfectly in archaeology. It explained that some stories, such as the wandering of the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt, the Conquest of Canaan, and the United Monarchy under David and Solomon may not have happened and rather may be based on stories indigenous to the people of Israel. It explains how the original Israelites were actually Canaanites themselves, only becoming strict monotheists when a new "Yahweh Alone" movement arose after the invasion of the northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian Empire. This movement became significantly intertwined with the territorial ambitions of King Josiah after the decline of the Assyrian domination of northern Israel. This is the environment that produced the Bible, a book meant to unify the histories of the northern people of Israel with that of the histories of the southern Kingdom of Judah. When the goals and predictions that were made were not achieved, priests, prophets, and religious scholars sought to redefine the theological meaning of past events creating the Bible in its final form. This book supports all of these conclusions with textual analysis, archaeological finds and physical evidence. Though not all scholars might not agree with ALL the conclusions the book makes, the authors definitely qualified their statements with compelling evidence.
As a nonreligious person myself, with a very religious upbringing, this was the book I have been searching for. It answered so many questions and was engaging at the same time. To a religious person, this book should still be very fascinating, because the authors by no means diminish the literary meaning and rather amplify the Bible's historical beauty. However, if someone is dogmatic in their religious beliefs and is searching for evidence supporting a literal interpretation of Biblical history, this is not the book for them. It will not set well with Biblical Literalists and Fundamentalists, though I still encourage people, even with these beliefs, to read this book to expose themselves to other interpretations that are out there..
For the first time in my life, which included nine years of education at Jewish day school and a bar mitzvah, I feel like I understand the Hebrew Bible. For the first time, I feel like I have been presented a compelling and truthful narrative of the ancient history of the Jewish people and their holy book. The radically different reconstruction of this ancient history is jarring at first. It is so strange at first to learn that it is impossible that King David ruled over a great, united Jewish empire with its capital in Jerusalem in 1000 BCE, as the story is traditionally told.
But "The Bible Unearthed" does not intend to destroy history -- it intends to build a new one, based on archaeological findings. Archaeology disproves the story of Moses's mass Exodus from Egypt, so the Israelites must have come from somewhere else. Finkelstein clues us in on these origins and many other findings that suggest that most of the Torah is legend and metaphor -- not authentic history. Even so, these stories have important lessons that would have been especially inspirational to the Bible's authors in the period of 600-400 BCE.
Finkelstein's background in archaeology is obviously the core of the book's arguments. But no less important is the contribution of Silberman, the journalist, who paints vivid pictures of this alternative history. More than the original Bible ever could do, "The Bible Unearthed" gave me an appreciation for the very human emotions and motivations of early Jewish texts' subjects, authors, and followers. "The Bible Unearthed" is a humanist companion to the Bible, a scholastically ambitious but deeply emotional translation and clarification of history's most important document.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who's ever been afraid to ask "What in the Bible really happened?" Don't be afraid of learning that many of the lasting stories are ancient legends. Embrace the fantastic accomplishment of the Bible's composition and how it is a reflection of the true history of the ancient Jewish people.