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Riddles and Secrets of the Bible - Joshua

Updated on April 20, 2011

As I listen to and read the words of critics of the Bible, I wonder if they have ever read what they are criticising. Considering that many of the Christians I know haven’t read the entire Bible I suppose that I need to cut them some slack, but not a lot. While watching NOVA’s The Bible’s Buried Secrets I was left wondering. The show was questioning the historicity of the Biblical account from the conquest through the reign of Solomon. The reason for the question was that there exists very little archaeological evidence for what the Bible records in this time period, at least according to the experts featured by the show.

The problem lies with synchronicity, or synchronism if you prefer, an historical event or place from another source or area that allows a separate and confirming date or time. The place is Ramses, a city in Egypt, which according to Exodus 1:11 was one of two cities the children of Israel as slaves built in Egypt. This places Israel in Egypt during the reign of Ramses II, also known as the Great, some time between 1279 and 1213 B.C. This places the date of the Exodus about 1213 B.C. and the conquest, therefore, about 1173 B.C. When sifting through the archaeological remains in Israel and Palestine no evidence is found for such a conquest and no remains of Israel are to be found in Egypt of the time.

Biblical literalists using the chronology given in the Bible place the Exodus in 1446 B.C., at this time there is considerable evidence to support the account given in the Bible. The discrepancy occurs because using the name Ramses for the city that the Israelites built is an anachronism. As Egyptologist David Rohl points out, it would be like saying that William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel to fight the Battle of Hastings. The English Channel was not called such until at least 1450, and the name did not come into common use until the 18th Century. That would mean that the Battle of Hastings could not have taken place earlier than 1450 (it actually took place in 1066, just in case you were wondering) and 400 years of English history would have now become anomalous. That William the Conqueror crossed the body of water we now call the English Channel is undisputed, he just knew it by a different name.

The anachronism that occurs with Ramses is that the city was called Avaris in the time of the Exodus, and it was in existence for a long time before Pharaoh Ramses II. While excavations have been going on there for some time we don’t hear much about them. What has been found points to a Semitic occupation and the name of Jacob (not believed to be the patriarch) has been found on artifacts there. Such anachronisms are known in the Bible. In Genesis 13:18 we learn of Hebron, in Genesis 23:2 we learn that Hebron was called Kiriath Arba in the time of Abraham. If we go through the cities mentioned in Joshua 15 we find a number of cities and villages which had their names changed. If we are more careful of our choice of synchronisms we find that the archaeology is more supportive than otherwise portrayed.

Jericho is the first city that Joshua and the Israelites conquered on entering the Promised Land. Jericho is also at the center of much of the dispute over Biblical historicity. The early days of Jericho’s excavation were exciting for Biblical literalists. It was discovered that the walls of the city had fallen outward, just as in the Bible. The storehouses were full of grain, as would be expected if the city had been destroyed just after the harvest as described in the Bible. The city had been burnt with fire, just as described in the Bible. Then a new excavator entered the scene. Using carbon dating the destruction of the city was set at 1550 B.C. give or take some years. This is much too early for the Exodus, both for the early (1446) and late (1213) dates.

The trouble with carbon dating is the evidence. Found in the ruins of Jericho are scarabs bearing the names of Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, and Amenhotep III. These were Pharaohs from around the time of the Exodus (1446). If the city were really destroyed in 1550 B.C. either these Pharaohs need to be dated earlier (most revisionist archaeologists place them later rather than earlier) or the carbon dating is off.

 Another city destroyed by Joshua and the Israelites was Hazor. In the TV program it is carefully explained that carbon dating has dated the destruction of the city to a time when Joshua wasn’t there. Carbon dating is explained, the scientist doing the dating is introduced and shown in her lab, her results are given, then a brief shot of other archaeologists is shown and we are told that they have obtained carbon dating that supports Joshua’s story. The technique is a fairly common one. To convince someone that you are being fair you first explain your side of the story making it fairly elaborate to show how thorough you’ve been, then you make a brief explanation that someone has a different viewpoint. The majority of people will accept the first and more elaborate explanation as being the true one. In this case the interpretation of results that shows the Bible as false are highlighted. But Carbon-14 dating has long been a problem in archaeology and often gives troubling results.

The evidence that the archaeologists find very often matches the description given in the Bible. It is the dating of that evidence that provides the problems. Much of the dating is done using pottery. Pottery tends to occur regularly in the same strata (level of earth). This provides a relative date, that strata is then dated using the Carbon-14 method. Carbon-14 is a radioactive element formed when Nitrogen in the atmosphere is struck by cosmic rays. Living things absorb this Carbon-14, when they die no more Carbon-14 is absorbed and what is in their bodies decays over time into Carbon-12. By measuring the ratio of Carbon-12 to Carbon-14 physicists can determine how much decay has taken place, and from that an estimate of the age of the object they are dating.

This is the difficulty with the Conquest, there are lots of cities and villages which show signs of destruction, just not within the dates that are expected. So where does reading the Bible come in? Well in Joshua 10 we read how Adoni-zedek, King of Jerusalem, was defeated. But Jerusalem would not be captured for almost 400 years in the time of David. In Joshua 11 Jabin, the King of Hazor, is defeated, his army is defeated in the field and only afterwards is the city captured. Verse 13 of that chapter states “Yet Israel did not burn any of the cities built on their mounds - except Hazor,…”. In Joshua 13 we find “But the Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maacah, so they continue to live among the Israelites to this day.” In Joshua 16 we have “They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labour.”

The Israelite conquest of Canaan was not a single event, it took place over time and in some places was unsuccessful. Some of the cities were burnt and others were not. Sometimes when the king was defeated his city was captured and other times it was not. So far I don’t have a problem with the archaeological record.

Then we get to the United Kingdom, which lasted for only four kings, Saul, Ishbaal, David, and Solomon. Until recently it was thought that from the lack of evidence that David and Solomon were fictitious kings (at least by the majority opinion non-literalists). Then in 1993 a small victory stele was discovered which mentioned the House of David. Finally there existed archaeological evidence for King David.

When archaeology began as a science in the 19th Century there was little evidence supporting the Bible. Darwinism had already taken root and scepticism about the Bible was in vogue. Since then the evidence in favour of the Bible has been slowly mounting but the scepticism remains unchanged. The Secrets of the Bible are only secrets to those who haven’t really read the Bible. As time passes and more archaeological discoveries are made more evidence is gathered in support of the historicity of the Bible. The growing trend these days is not scepticism but secular Biblical literalism, that is, the Bible is true in its history but not its supernaturalism.

For those of us who are Christians, sceptical TV programs about Biblical archaeology are interesting for the facts they reveal, but the attitude is still somewhat puzzling. The facts are the same for everybody but the interpretations differ.


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    • barrydan profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

      Thanks for the comment North Wind. Most will never understand, but we can still pray for them.

    • North Wind profile image

      North Wind 

      7 years ago from The World (for now)

      Thanks for this thorough explanation. I always say that man is a few steps behind and playing "Catch-up" with God. It is puzzling that people won't see what is right before their eyes. I do interpret the findings differently and to some, if not most, they perceive my Biblical interpretation as wrong. Oh well!


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