You’ve probably answered this b4, but who was the Pharaoh of and what date do you think was the Exodus? I like the Amarna period and the one God people all got exiled to Canaan … but so many theories.

Note Before I Answer: This is not a political response, nor is it a religious one.

Short Answer: According to my readings of the Hebrew Bible, Ancient Near Eastern myths, contemporary archaeological works, Biblical scholarly literature, and the history of the Levant in the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age, I am of the opinion that the story conveyed in Exodus–>Joshua never happened. I also might be wrong.

Long Answer: 

There’s this thing called the Documentary Hypothesis, founded by Julius Wellhausen, and recently expanded upon by Richard Elliott Friedman. There is no scholarly consensus on the veracity of the Hypothesis, but it makes the most sense to me when placed alongside the archaeological records, the known historical record, and Sumerian (etc) myth cycles. The very short and sweet explanation of the Documentary Hypothesis is that there are four main narrative strands within the Hebrew Bible: the J Source, E source, D Source, and P Source. Plus the Redactor. The J (“Yahwist”) and E (Elohist) sources are the oldest. J represents the oral history, mythos, etc of what would become the southern Kingdom of Judah, and E represents the same for the northern Kingdom of Israel. The two sources were combined by the D Source, the “Deuteronomist” sometimes after the fall of Israel to the Neo-Assyrain Empire in 721 BCE. The P Source is the “Priestly” source and it’s not really relevant to this particular conversation

The D Source’s combining of J and E wasn’t just about creating a compendium of myth, or folk religion, or oral history, it was about asserting the political and spiritual dominance of the Kingdom of Judah over the Kingdom of Israel, and hegemonizing Israelite worship practices from polytheistic to hardcore monotheistic. So, in Genesis we see a lot of cosmological and general mythological archetypes which, if you knew where to look, reflect aspects of God/Goddess cycles from all across Asia Minor, Egypt, and the Ancient Near East. (Check out my posts from 2011 and 2012 to learn more about how Genesis is secretly about a life goddess murdering some guy who kept stealing shit from her garden and banging his granddaughters)(that’s a hyperbolic assessment)

So Genesis happens blah blah blah, and then Joseph heads down to Egypt, his fam follows, time flies, and then came a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph etc the Israelites left Egypt, wandered the desert for 40 years, then blew down the walls of Jericho under Joshua, slaughtered all the Canaanites and took back the Promised Land. A grand, epic ending to a super-long Israelite cosmology.

Except, according to Joshua, the Israelites were supposed to have destroyed a large number of Canaanite cities within a fairly small period of time. But the archaeological record of those cities show destruction layers hundreds of years apart, even within the larger 1100-1300 BCE timeframe typically used to look for a historical Exodus situation. And to make things even more awkward, the Book of Judges is supposed to happen after the Book of Joshua. Except, in the Book of Judges, the various Israelite clans very obviously live alongside Canaanites and Philistines. And they don’t even have hegemony over Canaan, like, most of the Book of Judges is about Israelite groups getting into border skirmishes with Canaanites. Who, according to Joshua, were supposed to be dead.

Awkward, but there’s an explanation.

There’s an archaeological theory called the Israelites as Canaanites theory, and it’s the one that makes the most sense to me. According to this theory, there was no Exodus, and the proto-Israelites never left the Levant; the Israelites WERE Canaanites. During the Bronze Age, the Levant was pretty evenly split between Egypt and the Hittite Empire, possibly leading to a memory of life under Egyptian rule which the D Source used as inspiration for the Exodus. The Bronze Age Collapse left the Levant in a bit of a power vacuum. That power vacuum opened the door for new groups and peoples to form identities, and claim territories, and have border disputes and form like, little backwater kingdoms for the Neo-Assyrians to laugh at.*

According to archaeologist William Dever, sometime around 1200 BCE, evidence starts to show up in the archaeological record of something new happening in the central Judean hill country: semi-permanent circular settlements, removed from other Canaanite sites of the period, with no evidence of pork consumption. The archaeological record does not show evidence of a new group entering Canaan, but it does show evidence of a new material culture growing in the highlands.

If we are to understand Judges as a compendium of oral history, verse, myth, legend, and regional adapted archetypes from the pre-monarchical Israelite past, then that past is one of slow emergence and separation, not of dramatic racial and territorial conquest. And honestly, how do you go from winning a glorious genocidal campaign under one ruler to fighting a vague series of clan and border disputes within a loosely organized tribal society ruled by a warrior/mystic figure? Well, you kind of don’t. At least, not within a year.

So, that’s how Biblical textual analysis, ancient near eastern history and mythology, and the archaeological record come together for me to lead me to view that Exodus, the grand Israelite cosmology as conveyed in the Genesis-Joshua, didn’t happen. At least, not the way it is described, and not the way we think about it.

Now, further reading because you know I don’t pull this out of my ass ok:

Old Testament Parallels (New Revised and Expanded Third Edition): Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East by Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) by Eric Cline

From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible by Eric Cline

Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? by William Dever

Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel by William Dever

The End of the Bronze Age by Robert Drews

The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Neil Silberman and Israel Finkelstein

Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Eliot Friedman

A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, Second Edition by J. Maxwell Miller and John Haralson Hayes

A Brief History of Ancient Israel by Victor H. Matthews

The Social History of Ancient Israel: An Introduction by Rainer Kessler

A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000 – 323 BC [Blackwell History of the Ancient World Ser.] by Marc Van De Mieroop

The Philistines and Aegean Migration at the End of the Late Bronze Age by Assaf Yasur-Landau

*I’m going to Jew hell for that one.

whats the accepted timeline for biblical events such as exodus? who was the pharoah? were the Jews the Habiru or the Hyksos?

Some archaeologists, and myself, hold to the theory that Exodus is actually a folk memory of the Bronze Age era Egyptian imperial hegemony over the southern Levant. The people archaeologists can identify as being distinctively different from other Canaanite groups began to emerge in the central Judean hill country around 1200 BCE, and their settlements and inscriptions can be traced as distinctively “Israelite.” This is called the “Israelites as Canaanites” theory.

Exodus came into the form it’s in because the Biblical authors needed it for the cosmology they were constructing, and they borrowed extensively from Near Eastern literary tropes (the Baby With a Destiny Found in a Basket in a River, for instance) and Israelite folk memory in constructing it.

If you put the Books of Exodus/Joshua and Judges side by side and really read the texts, you’ll see that they tell the same story. One tells the story of an exiled people making their way home after so many years and violently reclaiming the land via military campaigns which left dubious archaeological imprints, and one tells the story of a loosely organized Iron Age tribal society sharing the same general folk religion and language gradually emerging and gaining power over other Canaanite groups, including the ones which were theoretically wiped out in Joshua.

….Biblical Studies was my jam in undergrad.

since your expertise lies more in jewry, could you possibly give an (albeit stunted and too short for the subject matter) analysis on why judaism developed monotheism and other cultures did not?

The people known as the Israelites weren’t special or exceptional; they were just another group of semi-nomadic Iron Age Canaanites (for more on this refer to the series of “Passover” posts from April 2011, or to the works of William Dever on my Further Reading page as linked above). They were arranged in a loose confederation of tribes and often had wars and alliances with other Canaanite groups.

They reached a point at around the eleventh century at which the tribal leadership was no longer effective, so they agreed to put themselves under the rule of a king chosen by the tribal leaders. The first king was Saul, and then came David, who usurped Saul’s line. After the death of David’s son Solomon, the northern tribes rebelled against the Davidic line, leading to the formation of two polities: The Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah.

So there’s a historical backdrop for you.

As Canaanites, the Israelites were polytheists. They primarily worshiped Ba’al, Astarte, El, Yahweh, and Asherah. There were more, but those are the most important ones. If you pick up the Bible and look at the books of Judges-II Kings, you’ll see that the author of these books worked very hard to convey the idea of Israelite society as a strictly polytheistic one. However, what can actually be seen in those books is a picture of a society with two distinct forms of worship: there was the Israelite folk religion—in which Ba’al and Asherah etc were worshiped alongside Yahweh—and then there was the religion of the Jerusalem elites who worshiped only Yahweh. In some cases isn’t wasn’t just folk religion: as you’ve seen in the post linked above, worship of Asherah was so widespread that her symbology was present in the Temple.

All of this changed around the eighth century BCE after the 722 fall of the Northern Kingdom to the Assyrian Empire. There came into power within the priesthood a group referred to by scholars as the Yahweh Alone Party. This group was comprised of religious radicals who wanted to institute two things throughout Israelite society 1) worship of Yahweh as the sole deity, and 2) the idea that Yahweh could only be worshiped in Temple in Jerusalem; the writer of Deuteronomy-most of II Kings was a member of this group.

This group instituted a series of reforms which included the destruction of unsanctioned places of worship, the removal of Asherah’s presence from the Temple, the destruction of Asherah poles and alters to Ba’al, and the fusion of El and Yahweh into a singular deity.

However, these reforms were hardly effective. The people continued to worship as they pleased (albeit in a quiet manner) while the King of Judah and the Jerusalem priesthood went about their business, worshiping only Yahweh and pretending that the people did as well.

As you can see, that still wasn’t close to monotheism as we currently understand the term. The event which dramatically changed Israelite/Judahite religion from a form of varied polytheism into strict monotheism came in 586 BCE: the Babylonian Exile. In this year, the Babylonian Empire conquered Judah, destroyed the Temple, and shipped off the majority of the population to Babylon. There, the Judahites were a minority. As a minority they were faced with a question: do they assimilate and cease to be Judahites, or do they forge an enduring identity to ensure the continuation of their existence in exile?

They chose the latter. A big part of the formation of this identity was final abandonment of the worship of the old gods, and the full acceptance of monotheism with Yahweh at the center of their worship. Another aspect of this identity formulation included the determination of how Yahweh could be worshiped without the Temple; the solution to this was the writing of the Bablyonian Talmud.

When Persia conquered Babylon less than 100 years after Babylon’s conquest of Judah, the Persian emperor allowed the “Yehudites” to return under limited self-rule to the Province of Yehuda. Some returned and some stayed; what these two communities now had in common was that they worshiped Yahweh. As history went on and Exile turned to Diaspora, this monotheism and the forms of worship contained in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds became the factor which continued to distinguish Jews, far flung as they came to be.

So there’s your answer: the Babylonian Exile created a situation in which proto-Jews realized that they had to unify lest they be destroyed. They chose to unify, and with this unification came the full acceptance of monotheism. This monotheism was still a very ancient form of what we now call “Judaism,” but that’s how Jewish monotheism came to be. At least, that’s the short version of how that form of monotheism came to be.

Chanukah and Historiography, or, the Hasmoneans are Rly Embarrassing

You know, I was going to try to be unpredictable and not make a Chanukah post, but lol @ that tbh.

Today, Chanukah is kind of a cute holiday about god saving the Jewish people from cultural genocide with lots of songs about candles and spinning tops. With presents. But at its barest of bones, Chanukah is a celebration of the fact that a bunch of guerilla fighters beat the Greek establishment out of Judea while using spinning tops as an instrument of subversion. Which begs the question: how did candles and spinning tops come to dominate this holiday which arose from the ousting of an empire of the hands of a few Jews?

First we have to ask what actually happened. Modern scholars fall into two main camps on this issue. One camp views the uprising told of in 1 and 2 Maccabees not as a revolt against the Greeks, but as the result of a civil war between orthodox and reformist Jews. Meaning, there was a civil war between Jews who did not wish to assimilate to the Hellenistic way of life, and Jews who did. The Greek leadership responded to this war by punishing the Orthodox camp (by doing stuff like letting their pigs defecate in the temple). The Maccabean uprising, according to this theory, was the result of Greek intercession in the civil war.

The other camp argues that the revolt began as a religious one, and simply grew into a nationalistic one. Now, because this isn’t my field of study within Jewish history I cannot argue in favor of either camp. I will, however say that, in light of subsequent inter-Jewish conflicts, and in light of conflicts within the present day global Jewish community, the first theory—the one which states that the revolt began with a war between orthodox and modernized Jewry—rings true to me.

The Maccabees, who founded the ruling Hasmonean dynasty, ruled the land independently from 140 BCE to 37 BCE, at which point it was completely dominated by Roman power.*

It would seem that an event of this magnitude would have been deemed worthy enough to merit inclusion in the Biblical canon, but instead, 1 and 2 Maccabees were banished to the Apocrypha.** For, the Hasmoneans were actually pretty corrupt leaders whose policy led directly to the Roman conquest of Judea, and thus the destruction of the Second Temple.

For this reason, later rabbinical scholars, not wanting to glorify the Hasmoneans, relegated 1 and 2 Maccabees to the Apocrypha and emphasized the role of god and miracles in the uprising over the Maccabees themselves. That is why, today, we have a holiday about latkes, dreidels, and candle lighting.

*Rome conquered and divided the land in 63 BCE, but the Hasmoneans retained a semblance of independence until Herod the Great strengthened his rule in 37 BCE.

**These books are apocryphal in the Hebrew Bible, and in the Protestant scriptures; they are canonical within the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox texts.

Enuma Elish: the Babylonian Epic of Creation

Enuma Elish is a straight-up cosmology, or creation story. It is also known as the Babylonian Epic of Creation, the Babylonian Genesis, and the Seven Tablets of Creation. It was composed in the early second millennium BCE, either under the rule of Sumula-el (reigned 1936 -1901 BCE), or of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE).

It opens with the line, “When skies above were not yet named nor earth below pronounced by name, Apsu, the first one, their begetter and maker Tiamat, who bore them all and mixed their waters together, but had not formed pastures, nor discovered reed-beds.” First there is nothing, but then land and sea are created by Apsu and Tiamat.

This initial creation is directly followed by the breakout of war amongst the gods; the outbreak of divine warfare on the outset of creation is highly prevalent within the corpus of Near Eastern cosmologies. The battle eventually comes down to a showdown between Tiamat and Marduk, the king of the gods and patron of Babylon.

This divine warfare is absent from Genesis 1, and for good reason as the Hebrew Bible was trying to at least keep up a pretense of monotheism. However, hints of this warfare are scattered throughout other sections of the Hebrew Bible. For example, Psalms 74:13-14 reads “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.”

Cylinder seal depicting the battle with Tiamat

Marduk wins the battle with Tiamat—who would take a serpentine form in myth and artistic depiction—and from her corpse, or “her waters,” he creates the land and the earth and the sky. The Psalms passage and the pertinent segment of Enuma Elish are hardly identical, but they both refer to the killing of a serpentine monster, and the splitting of waters in relations to that killing. I don’t think that it is a coincidence.

Another interesting parallel can be found in the original Hebrew. In both Enuma Elish and Genesis 1, the fact that a primeval watery chaos existed before all else is emphasized. In Enuma Elish, this watery chaos is personified, or perhaps deified, in Tiamat. In Genesis 1, that chaos is described with the word te-hom. The clear relation between the name “Tiamat” and the word te-hom, the influence of Babylonian language and culture on the rest of the ancient Near East, and the fact that they both refer to the same pre-creation chaos indicates a connection between these two stories which extends far beyond parallel content and narrative structure.

As for the rest of the Epic and its parallel content, Marduk creates land, then sea, then sky, then heavens, day, night, the sun and the moon, agriculture, and finally, man (who, like Atrahasis) was created from the blood of a god. In Genesis 1, God creates first water, and then the sky and heaven and days and nights, and then land, sea, agriculture, the sun, the moon, life, and finally, man. Creation in Enuma Elish spans over seven tablets, while the creation in Genesis spans over seven days.

You can find a full translation of Enuma Elish here. A link to the next tablet can be found at the bottom of the page.

Adam and Atrahasis

Adam’s divine origins, like those of Eve, are hinted at in his name; where the name “Eve” indicates divinity and life giving, the name “Adam” is derived from the word adama, or “from the ground.”

There is an 18th century BCE Babylonian epic you may have heard of called the Epic of Atrahasis. It begins with creation, and ends with a flood. In the beginning, Enlil, the head god in charge, makes all the other, lesser gods do intensely laborious agricultural work for thousands of years. Eventually they get sick of it and form a lynch mob to take out Enlil. However, Ea (Enki’s Babylonian counterpart) intervenes and suggests that they create humans to do the chores instead.

To create the humans, the gods decide to slaughter a god and mix the flesh and blood of that god together with clay from the ground. Ea enlists the help of the womb-goddess Belet-ili (another name of Ninhursag; she has many) in this procedure. It is proclaimed that “a god and man will be mixed together in clay…let a ghost come into existence from the god‘s flesh, and let her (Belet-ili) proclaim it as his sign.” All went according to plan, and man was created and the gods no longer had to do their chores.

So, Ea and Belet-ili create the first man from the blood of a god and clay from the ground in order for the man to tend to the earth. Genesis 2:5-7 reads “No shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up…and there was not a man to till the ground…Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Both Adam and Atrahasis are created through the union of god and earth for the purpose of carrying out agricultural labor.

I will address the fact that Genesis 1-3 contains two distinct accounts of Creation in a later post.

Enki, Ninhursag, and Eve

I wrote my undergrad thesis in part about the historical context of Genesis 1-3, and part of that included examining the parallels between those chapters of Genesis and much earlier Near Eastern stories.

There is a Sumerian paradise myth known as Enki and Ninhursag; Enki is the Sumerian water god, Ninhursag is the Lady of Life, and it takes place in the paradise of Dilmun. The main action begins when Enki impregnates Ninhursag. Ninhursag has a daughter called Nimmu, who Enki then impregnates, who has a daughter called Ninkurra, who Enki impregnates, who has a daughter called Uttu.

At this point, Ninhursag realizes what Enki is doing, and tells Uttu what Enki is up to and tells Uttu to blow him off unless he offers her a gift of cucumbers, apples, and grapes. Of course, Enki finds out about this, brings Uttu the fruit, and sleeps with her. Ninhursag then gets super-pissed off, takes Enki’s semen from Uttu’s womb before she can conceive, and uses it to grow eight plants which she forbids Enki to eat.

Enki, being Enki, decides to eat the plants (grown from the semen with which he impregnated his great-granddaughter), causing Ninhursag to pretty much lose her shit at him. She curses him, saying that, “Until his dying day, I will never look upon him with life-giving eye,” and promptly disappears.

Enki starts to die which upsets the other gods, so they send a messenger to find Ninhursag and convince her to restore Enki to life; she returns in time to save him. To heal him, she orders him to lie with his head against her vulva, and tells him to name each body part which is causing him pain. For each part he names, she causes a deity to be born in order to heal it. The second to last part named by Enki is his rib, or ti in the original Sumerian. To heal his rib Ninhursag creates the goddess Ninti, or Lady of the Rib. When Ninhursag is finished, Enki is cured.

The original cuneiform tablet on which this story was found.

Though the plot of this story is very different from that of the story found in the first three chapters of Genesis, I am sure there are parts of it which made you go OH. ORLY. I

There are quite a few significant parallels between this story, and the one found on Genesis. The first is that both stories involve a woman created by or for the rib of a man. Genesis 2:21-23 reads “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man…He took one of his ribs…And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from the man, made He a woman…And the man said: ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’” In the Enki and Ninhursag story, the pertinent passage reads “‘My brother, what part of you hurts you?’ ‘My ribs (ti) hurt me.’ She gave birth to Ninti out of it.” In Genesis a woman is created from the rib of Man for Man by God; in Enki and Ninhursag, a female deity is created by another female deity to save the life of a male deity via his rib.

However, what really connects the two stories in question is Ninhursag’s alternate title (she has many) of Nintu, or Lady of Life. Genesis 3:20 reads “And the man called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.” The name Eve, hawwa, is derived from the roots hwy and hyy, both of which were used in northwestern Semitic languages as roots for words pertaining to life. Said roots may be found in the Amorite, Ugaritic, Phoenician-Punic, and Hebrew languages. This signals that the name of Eve is symbolic to her status as a life giver.

With the parallels from the Enki and Ninhursag story and the linguistic evidence in mind, it appears that Eve is the successor of many Sumerian goddesses who functioned as givers of life. This is especially interesting because the rib section of Genesis has been used for millennia as a theological defense for treating women as property.

If you want to read a translation of this story, you may do so here.

The Historicity of Exodus and Joshua

January 11, 2019: This post needs some serious tightening, updates, and transitions.

As some of you may know, Passover begins soon. So, I wrote up a huge-ass post about the historical and archaeological issues surrounding the books of Exodus and Joshua because I’m that kind of dick at the seder (jk only to my mom on the way home when i’m wine drunk). But I digress.

This is an excerpt from the story of the late 23rd, early 22nd BCE ruler, Sargon the Akkad (also known as Sargon the Great):

My mother gave birth to me in secret at Asupiranu, the city of Saffron. She hid me in a basket woven from rushes and sealed with tar. My mother abandoned me on the bank of the Euphrates, the Euphrates carried my basket away. Akki, the royal gardener, lifted me out of the water; Akki reared me as his own. Akki trained me to care for the gardens of the Great King. Ishtar, my divine patron, cared for me. Then I became a Great King. I ruled the Sumerian peoples for fifty-five years.

Sargon was one of the greatest rulers of the Akkadian people, and it has been theorized that this story was written as a justification for his rule.

The similarities between Sargon’s story and the story in Exodus 2:1-2:10 are pretty glaring, so glaring, in fact, that it would be correct to assume they are not a coincidence,  but a result of literary use of common Ancient Near Eastern literary conventions.

Anyway, Moses is in the basket, Pharaoh’s daughter finds him, etc. The rest of Exodus tells the story of the enslavement of the Israelites, and of their eventual escape. Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy tell of their wanderings in the desert, Joshua details their return to the Promised Land, and Judges tells of the beginning years of their society.

Joshua is an odd book. It reads like the dramatic conclusion to the cosmology begun in Genesis,complete with a glorious return, and a successful military campaign. But that’s not the odd part. What’s odd is that it lowkey tells the same story as Judges. They both purport to document the beginning of Israelite civilization in Canaan. In Joshua, it describes them finally returning from their long wanderings in the desert and promptly destroying all the Canaanite cities and everyone in them before starting their civilization.

Judges, however, describes a loose, tribal society developing in the central hill country of Canaan. It describes that society engaging in warfare with surrounding Canaanite groups, and sometimes with each other. On multiple occasions, the Canaanite peoples at war with the Israelites are the same ones identified as having been destroyed in Joshua.

In addition, the archaeological evidence doesn’t quite add up. Though archaeologists have found Iron Age destruction levels at some of the sites identified in Joshua, most of the sites identified in that book show no signs of having been destroyed at that time (~13th century BCE). Many of those cities have much later destruction levels, or show clear signs of having been re-built soon after the destruction.

So what actually maybe might have happened? If Exodus is a story, and Joshua grandiose fiction, then where did the Ancient Israelites come from?

The answer is that they came from within Canaanite society. Nothing grand, nothing fancy; they were merely a loosely connected group of tribes that broke away from the rest of Canaanite society around 1200 BCE and began their own culture in the central Judean hill country.

The beginnings of this society are documented in the Book of Judges. If you read Judges, what you’ll see is a patchwork of stories relating to a variety of tribal rulers and their deeds. Some, like Sampson, are likely folkloric figures who were shoehorned into the Judges framework because their stories were considered important, or too popular to exclude. Some only have one line dedicated to them, indicating that they probably existed, but weren’t important enough to have anything else said about them other than that they killed someone with an oxgoad. Some, like Deborah have multiple versions of their story included in two separate literary forms.

Judges is written in such a way as make the reader believe that the stories of twelve consecutive leaders are being told, when in reality, it tells of the overlapping rules of tribal leaders and of their conflicts with surrounding Canaanite factions, and with each other.

There is no archaeological evidence that says “Yael was a bamf and staked Sisera through the head on this spot.” There is no archaeological evidence of Abimelech’s brief kingship, or of Samuel’s proto-Marxist anti-monarchic diatribe (technically Samuel was not in the book of Judges, but he was still regarded as a Judge).

What there is, however, is archaeological evidence of a new society formed in the central hill country around 1200 BCE. Without any knowledge of the Hebrew Bible or of the Israelites, archaeologists could look at sites and definitively conclude that a new culture, a new kind of society, was developing in that area at that time.

The location of those sites matches many of the locations named in Judges, and the dating of those sites matches the general time-frame which generations of Biblical scholars–both religious and secular–have set and agreed upon for Judges.

I can assume that eventually, as the years went on and as the Davidic dynasty consolidated its power, the other Canaanite groups became consolidated into Israelite culture. And then, when Israel fell and Josiah was making his reforms, the priesthood decided to connect their cosmology to their history.

The Documentary Hypothesis

The Hebrew Bible and the historical issues surrounding it is one of my major areas of study/geeking. Frankly, I am surprised that I have gone this long without talking about it in here.

The Documentary Hypothesis was founded in the nineteenth century by Julius Wellhausen. It is also known as Biblical Source Theory. This theory states that there are four main sources making up the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, ISamuel, IISamuel, IKings, and IIKings.

The four sources are as follows:

J = Yahwistic

E = Elohist

P = Priestly

D = Deuteronomistic

The J source originated in the southern kingdom of Judah. It is called J, or Yahwistic, because the J texts use “Yahweh,” or the Hebrew letters “yod hay vav hay” to refer to god. The E source originated in the northern kingdom of Israel and is called E, or Elohist because those texts referred to god as either El–the chief god of the Phoenician pantheon and the father of Ba’al–or Elohim, meaning “gods.” The implications of this will be discussed in a separate post.

When the kingdom of Israel was sacked by Assyria in 722 BCE, many of its citizens fled south into Judah, bringing their holy texts, the E source, with them. Because Israel and Judah shared the same general religious beliefs and oral traditions, J and E were easily combined into one text, which I will refer to from this point on as JE.

JE can be found in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. The Priestly source was written much later than JE as a theological response to said text; P objected theologically to several issues within the JE text, but mainly to the manner in which it depicted human communication and interaction with god. It was likely written in the late eighth century, and it is very possible that P intended his text to function as an alternate Torah. If this is the case, it is rather ironic; P was combined almost seamlessly with JE in the sixth century by an editor known as the Redactor. Like JE, P can be found throughout the books of Genesis through Numbers.

D is responsible for the writing of Deuteronomy through IIKings. The D source was written during the seventh century reign of King Josiah when D was charged with writing a history of the Israelite people up to that point in time. It is very likely that the Deuteronomist was drawing from much earlier historical material in his writing, but those documents are long gone. King Josiah was carrying out many religious and political reforms during his reign, and the politics embedded within the D books of the Bible reflect this.

While I feel safe saying that the books of Genesis through Joshua have no basis in historical fact, Judges through IIKings contain varying amounts of legitimate history. A good deal of the material in Judges-IIKings has been corroborated by archaeological finds, and by texts left behind by contemporary polities. There is a lot of debate about this within the scholarly community, but I attribute this more to the fact that historians, archaeologists, literary critics, and linguists have trouble working cooperatively and embracing interdisciplinary scholarship than to any other reason.

IIKings ends with the 586 BCE Babylonian conquest of Judah. A second source known as D2 wrote the last chapters of IIKings, which give the history of Judah through the death of Josiah to the fall of Judah.