Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Perspective on an historian/archeologist

  1. Nov 23, 2014 #1

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    I recently became aware of the work of an Israeli historian and archeologist by the name of Israel Finkelstein who I gather is the director of the Institute of Archeology of the University of Tel Aviv.
    He is also co-director of the Megiddo archeological works (or "digs") and co-author with Neil Silberman of the 2001 book The Bible Unearthed: Archeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel

    HERE IS A 2007 INTERVIEW:
    http://www.raco.cat/index.php/EstratCritic/article/viewFile/250119/334688

    I was interested by what I interpreted as his careful scholarly objectivity and his insistence on separating his science from political and religious/cultural considerations. He points out that he celebrates Jewish traditions like Passover with his family and this does not contradict the fact that there is no archeological evidence that the Exodus from Egyptian captivity actually happened. He is a self-designated patriotic Israeli nationalist. A "Zionist" politically, even though the archeological evidence he finds does not support the entire biblical account of who occupied what land in ancient times. As he says, the modern state of Israel is a reality. One's political behavior should not be influenced by traditions which may be partly myth.

    So I found myself respecting this person who seems to have analytical intelligence, combined with integrity and objectivity. He claims to keep his politics separate from his archeology. Other people may know more than I do about Finkelstein and may show me that I am wrong. This is just my first impression.

    Personally I find it very interesting to see people evaluate our ideas of the past and try to find out what part of our concepts are mythical. And the myths, when they are discovered to be so, are interesting because one can try to understand why they were made up. For what political purpose, if there was one? What was really happening and why was a particular spin put on it?

    So I am thinking that maybe Israel Finkelstein is an example of a reputable academic who does this kind of thing and unless I hear otherwise I would be very interested to read about his and his colleagues' archeological findings
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 23, 2014 #2

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Can you post his findings so that we have something to discuss?
     
  4. Nov 23, 2014 #3

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Evo! thanks. Kind of you to ask! BTW Israel Finkelstein should not be confused with Norman Finkelstein who has made some highly inflammatory political statements. Izzy F. is a cooler kettle of fish. This Wikipedium gives an interesting condensed account of many points in the 2001 book where the authors carefully compared the archeological evidence with Biblical accounts. There were matches mismatches and blanks.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bible_Unearthed

    I can dig up more stuff, but this is a concentrated sample, for starters.
     
  5. Nov 23, 2014 #4

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Hey Marcus, you know I love archaeology and would love to read about this. Thank you!
     
  6. Nov 24, 2014 #5

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Unfortunately I'm an abysmally poor tour guide here. When we were discussing Norse and Greek literature and history, those were things I've read and loved since I was a teenager. But this is something I've hardly scratched the surface of. My wife and I did read most of the Old Testament once as literature, but without ever wondering how much was historically accurate and what social/political circumstances motivated any possible fabrications.
    It's a great story book. These guys go into it seriously. Apparently the "Bible Unearthed" book is very well known and even got made into a HISTORY CHANNEL series.
    Which I didn't know (and I don't watch). there may be other people here at PF for whom this is old news.

    Anyway here's some of what Pikiweedia says about the book's reception:
    ==quote http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bible_Unearthed ==
    The Bible Unearthed was well received by biblical scholars and archaeologists. Baruch Halpern, professor of Jewish Studies at Pennsylvania State Universityand leader of the archaeological digs at Megiddo for many years, praised it as "the boldest and most exhilarating synthesis of Bible and archaeology in fifty years",[71] and biblical scholar Jonathan Kirsch, writing in the Los Angeles Times, called it "a brutally honest assessment of what archeology can and cannot tell us about the historical accuracy of the Bible", which embraces the spirit of modern archaeology by approaching the Bible "as an artifact to be studied and evaluated rather than a work of divine inspiration that must be embraced as a matter of true belief".[72] Phyllis Trible, professor of biblical studies at Wake Forest University, concluded her review in The New York Times by pointing out the importance of understanding the truth about the biblical past...
    ....The book became and remains a major bestseller. In February 2009, Amazon.com ranked it as the 8th most popular in the fields of Old Testament Christian Theology, and the Archaeology of Christianity, as well as being the 22nd most popular book on the history of Israel.[74] In 2006, the popularity of the text led to a four-part documentary series upon it, which was subsequently broadcast on The History Channel.[75]
    ==endquote==
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2014
  7. Nov 24, 2014 #6

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Just for context I'll collect the Amazon links to the guy's books:

    2001: https://www.amazon.com/The-Bible-Unearthed-Archaeologys-Ancient/dp/0684869136/
    2006: https://www.amazon.com/David-Solomon-Search-Western-Tradition/dp/0743243633/
    2007: https://www.amazon.com/The-Quest-Historical-Israel-Archaeology/dp/1589832779/
    2013: https://www.amazon.com/The-Forgotten-Kingdom-Archaeology-Monographs/dp/1589839102/

    They all provide for some "Look inside" browsing. So you can see the table of contents and index and sample parts of the book to get an idea of what it's about.

    We should keep in mind that any mismatch between archeological findings and accepted Biblical history is apt to ignite controversy. This may have died down since the first of these books came out but I should include a sample from a 2001 Salon.com article that suggests the possible storm, hair-tearing, recrimination that at one time surrounded this kind of thing:
    ==quote http://www.salon.com/2001/02/07/solomon/ ==
    ...
    ...The debate reached the general population of Israel, sending what one journalist called a “shiver” down the nation’s “collective spine,” in late 1999, when another archaeologist from Tel Aviv University, Ze’ev Herzog, wrote a cover story for the weekend magazine of the national daily newspaper, Ha’aretz. In the essay, Herzog laid out many of the theories Finkelstein and Silberman present in their book: “the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land [of Canaan] in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the twelve tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is the fact that the united kingdom of David and Solomon, described in the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom.” The new theories envision this modest chiefdom as based in a Jerusalem that was essentially a cow town, not the glorious capital of an empire.
    Although, as Herzog notes, some of these findings have been accepted by the majority of biblical scholars and archaeologists for years and even decades, they are just now making a dent in the awareness of the Israeli public — a very painful dent. They challenge many of the Old Testament stories central to Israeli beliefs about their own national character and destiny, stories that have influenced much of Western culture as well. The tales of the patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Joseph among others — were the first to go when biblical scholars found those passages rife with anachronisms and other inconsistencies. The story of Exodus, one of the most powerful epics of enslavement, courage and liberation in human history, also slipped from history to legend when archaeologists could no longer ignore the lack of corroborating contemporary Egyptian accounts and the absence of evidence of large encampments in the Sinai Peninsula (“the wilderness” where Moses brought the Israelites after leading them through the parted Red Sea).

    Herzog’s article led to a nationwide bout of soul-searching. After it appeared, universities organized conferences where distressed citizens could quiz experts on the details and meanings of this new and not-so-new research; Israeli newspaper journalists wrote stories casting the theories as blows against the cultural identity and even the political legitimacy of Israel; ...
    ==endquote==
    I can only hope that the Salon.com article was over-dramatizing. I have no way of knowing, not having been aware of this alleged uproar at the time.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  8. Nov 24, 2014 #7

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    I came across a listing of I.F.'s archeology papers with links to download them. But these links require one to belong either to Facebook or Google+. Or register with "telaviv.academia". Unless they've canceled me for inactivity, I think I may belong to Google+ ... have never used it though. Can't remember passwords and shy away from these complicated "community" machines. I suspect the papers are probably free online if you just google the titles, or many of them.
    http://telaviv.academia.edu/IsraelFinkelstein
    First comes a list of a twenty or so books, mostly without links to download. Then if you scroll down there is a list of FIFTY papers (with abstracts and links) followed at the end by a link saying " 27 more". Of the first 50, the most frequently downloaded are two of the most recent---one on Climate and one on Pig Husbandry. (which should be of interest to wives with slovenly spouses : ^)
    Here's how the list starts off:
    PAPERS

    1,119 views
    Climate and the Late Bronze Collapse: New Evidence from the Southern Levant
    more...
    Download

    125 views
    Iron IIA Pottery from the Negev Highlands: Petrographic Investigation and Historical Implications
    more...

    1,082 views
    Pig Husbandry in Iron Age Israel and Judah
    more...
    http://www.academia.edu/attachments/31593918/download_file?st=MTQxNjg1MTYwMSw1MC4wLjE0Mi4xMDc%3D&s=work_strip [Broken]

    154 views
    Tell er-Rumeith in Northern Jordan: Some Archaeological and Historical Observations
    more...
    Download

    186 views
    The Historical Reality behind the Genealogical Lists in 1 Chronicles
    more...
    http://www.academia.edu/attachments/31593843/download_file?st=MTQxNjg1MTYwMSw1MC4wLjE0Mi4xMDc%3D&s=work_strip [Broken]

    164 views
    Tell el-Far'ah (Tirzah) and the Early Days of the Northern Kingdom
    more
    Download
    ...
    ...
    I checked to see if the two most often downloaded from telaviv.academia were available free online just by googling the first few words of their titles:
    "climate and late bronze collapse"
    "pig husbandry in iron age"
    and got:
    http://www.academia.edu/5273040/Cli...from_the_Southern_Levant._Langgut_et_al._2013
    http://www.academia.edu/4062281/Pig_Husbandry_in_Iron_Age_Israel_and_Judah
    It turns out you don't have to register, just click on the text.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  9. Nov 24, 2014 #8

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Thanks marcus, although you have to be a member to download the articles, I can read them online.
     
  10. Nov 24, 2014 #9

    Astronuc

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I read the book several years ago. It is a compelling narrative, and a remarkable piece of scholarship. Very interesting discussion about the motives/intentions of Josiah.

    I would like to see such work on this history of Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
     
  11. Nov 28, 2014 #10

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    You read Israel Finkelstein's book "The Bible Unearthed"! That puts you in a different league. I know almost nothing of the background (although my wife and I did read much of the Old Testament out loud one year as late evening or bedtime reading) at other times it's been Jane Austen, Gabriel Marquez...
    and I've read almost nothing of the scholarly literature on the OT. So I can't really have much to say.

    BTW is the "pork taboo" at all interesting to anybody? I wonder if Finkelstein and his co-author mentioned it in the book. Apparently in the period 780-680 BCE there was a dichotomy between the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the south (Judah, which is where Jerusalem is).
    If I understand Finkelstein's paper http://www.academia.edu/4062281/Pig_Husbandry_in_Iron_Age_Israel_and_Judah
    correctly, the Judah economy was more highland grazing of flocks and they did not raise pigs. The North was more agricultural and raised pigs.
    The Assyrians over-ran the North and part of the population took refuge in Judah and came under the authority of the southern leaders. Even after the Assyrians withdrew, the former Northern Kingdom (the authors say "ex-Northern Kingdom") did not recover its earlier cohesion and influence. It was sort of "taken over" by Judah. So the paper, Finkelstein et al, conjectures that the pork prohibition was one of several material ways that influence was imposed, and helped to unify the people by creating a "we-they" distinction.
    Another material/behavioral rule was that everybody was supposed to come to worship at Jerusalem, which was located in Judah, in the south.
    Apparently this period after 780 BC was when much of the Old Testament was being written.

    I forget how the Babylonian Exile works in here. It was after 600 BCE, but probably plays a part. I think there was a remarkable drive to *create identity* in the face of traumas which threaten to disrupt and erode people's sense of national identity. This can have stimulated an amazing "mythopoeia" if that is the right word---a creative surge of making up legends and inventing historical events and heroes. Like Tolstoy only more so. Like George Washington and the Cherry Tree, except a lot better from a literary standpoint. The whole Moses and Exodus story has to be one of greatest inventions of all time---the babe in the bulrushes and the bush and the plagues and the waters parting and the trip up the mountain. The "pig husbandry" paper seems to be mapping out how some dietary restrictions can have followed political circumstances and been a part of this intense identity formation drive.

    Astronuc, I don't happen to know what you mean by the intentions of Josiah, discussed in "The Bible Unearthed". I will look up Josiah in Wikipedia and try to guess. Your comment makes me curious. Maybe we will put a hold on the book at the library.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2014
  12. Nov 28, 2014 #11

    Astronuc

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The matter is mentioned in "The Bible Unearthed".

    The OT/NT are examples of hagiography - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hagiography

    Bart Ehrman's books, e.g., Jesus Interrupted, are also interesting reads.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook