Archaeology and the early Old Testament

writings of and commentary inspired by Charles Pellegrino

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Part VI : Thoughts and Second Thoughts

Part V brought to an end the summary and commentary on the book. This section contains further thoughts I have had on the contents of the book.

As I have pondered the deeper implications of the book, especially WRT the OT covenants and the like (and Jesus was quite firm in his "apparent" belief in their existence), the immediate conclusion was that the pre-David OT was all but a mishmash of semi remembered oral legends mixed with travellers tales and bits of mythology and religion stolen from other cultures. No matter how one views the NT, such a view would seriously dent any claim to "genuineness" of the bible. I mean, much of the NT is based upon the OT so if you discredit the OT, then the NT is left with a very shaky foundation and perhaps those who claim that Jesus was only a "good man" and the bible a moral code are right after all.

But then I got to thinking, just how far does this book and its ideas invalidate the OT? Sure, some of the events recorded in the bible are archaeologically verifiable, abiet archaeology gives a somewhat different slant on things, but archaeology cant shed light on the finer details and the "religious stuff". What would one get if one mixed, on one hand, a pure literalist view of the early OT and on the other a purely archaeologically and historically verifable view? Getting a mix of science and religion/faith that preserved the essential elements of the two. Archaeological facts are facts, they must be included, but on the other hand, they should be built into the framework of the OT religion, messages and so forth, or that framework constructed around the facts - and while that may sound a dodgy thing to do, that's wot the archaeologists do when they build up a dead culture from the facts. [I should add here that unlike Pellegrino I am a christian, thus I have an ulteriour motive in preserving the essential elements and messages of the bible].

Sure, the evidence does imply that the biblical stories of Noah, Abraham and Moses (for example) did not happen exactly as the OT records, but then the archaeological facts are "merely" that there was a localised and severe flood in Iraq in 2800 BC, there was a Semite exodus to Canaan in the 1000 years afterwards and that in the mid 2nd millenium BC there was a series of "catastrophic" events that struck Egypt around the time the last of the Semites living in Egypt left.

The people of "Iraq" did leave records of a guy who built an ark and all that (thought the event is archaeologically unverifable), but which is the truer legend? The two are the same legend, after all. "Noah" was a Sumerian and lived in there, not in Canaan! Was the Sumerian version the real one and the biblical just changed the names and replaced the multitude of gods with the one? Or is the biblical version more accurate, that the Sumerian version changed the names and included "other gods" to satisfy the polytheistic people of the area? And even that's not necessarily the case - before Abraham there's no clear cut religion, nothing that would be inconsistent with a polytheistic culture (in the bible). Certainly the Sumerian version of Noah has one important fact left out of the OT one, namely the extent of the flood. The evidence, archaeologically, historical (ie: records) and biblical combined is consistent with God making Himself known to a particular man, telling him to build a big boat and fill it with farm animals and maybe even a few wild ones and, after the floods receded, making a covenant with him. His name, where he finally beached and the like are probably lost to time. He may have been Noah, or the other guy .. or his name may even have been Chuck.

Abraham. He may have been real, he may have done "some" of what the OT says he did, perhaps even witnessed the flaming death of a "city on the plains", though which plains is unsure. Mayhaps he even ended up in Egypt. And there's no evidence to suggest God did not make a covenant with him either. There were Abraham's back then, so the name is ok. Pellegrino does make a thing about the things Abraham supposedly did being temporally inconsistent, viz. the camels and using the slave girl to get a child ... but "earliest dates" are notoriously unreliable - they are constantly being pushed back with more recent discoveries. Who is to say the camels were actually domesticated during the life of the biblical Abraham? I saw recently saw something on TV (an archaeological programme) that suggests camels may have been domesticated as far back as 2500BC in the Sahel/Sahara. Mind you, that's in west Africa, but why not also in the east? His Sodom may have been a "real" city, just not yet discovered. The fire-destroyed city I mentioned before was only discovered by chance and even though it fits very well, I daresay it wasn't the only god of death worshipping city in ancient "Iraq" that went up in flames (or modern Iraq for that matter).

Moses. Well he may not have not done everything exactly as the OT records, but he may have been real. The Greek translation of the Phonecian records called him Danos, but the Greeks loved changing the names in such translations, and the Phonecian record was no doubt an inaccurate record of an Egyptian one, or the recording of an interesting but probably distorted travellers tale brought to Phonecia. As for pinching the 10 commandents etc from the Sumerians (et al) ... So wot? Wouldn't be the first time God used another culture for his own purposes. And, since Hammurai was a Sumerian, there's no reason not to believe that "Moses' Laws" were a mixture of God- inspired relevations and tribal laws that had remained with them from the days of Hammurai, who lived around the time of Abram, give or take a few centuries. In addition to the Sumerian creation myths and tales (history? legends?) about "Noah", it seems reasonable that Abram would have also taken the laws as well, since even then people needed laws to live by, especially if one was an elder/patriach of a tribe.

So where does that leave us? As far back as Noah things may have happened more or less as they are recorded in the OT. Some of the details may have gotten mixed up, the names may have changed in a few cases and a few "spicier" bits added to make it more impressive ... but post-Noah, the OT is more or less consistent with wot is known from records and archaeology on the wide scale. So the OT covenants may have been made, or they may not. All the evidence is a oral-made- into-a-written record of unknown accuracy. But so wot? The whole basis of the NT is not one of belief after the facts but of belief after faith. One has to accept there are parts of the OT where archaeology shows it's not entirely correct, but as for the religion, the covenants and the like, acceptance is purely a matter of faith. And w/o the OT covenants, the NT ones are on very shaky ground because they are fulfilments of the OT ones and don't exist independently.

As for the pre-Noah record, so wot if the creation account was the same as the Sumerians? The people in the OT who were before Noah were Sumerians. So of course the OT creation account is going to mirror that of the Sumerians. If it didn't then that'd be surprising. And the fact that it mirrors it so well, after having been carried as an oral record for 1000's of year before being finally written down - long after all other trace of the Sumerian legend had been buried by the sands. When the jews went into captivity to the Babylonians, they (the Babylonians) did not have the Sumerian creation myths, they had their own, based on vague distaster distored memories. If the OT was able to preserve the Sumerian creation myths so well (in the coarse detail, if not the finer details and the names), then that's support for the other stuff it contains which is not otherwise verifable. Abiet, a lot of the stuff between creation and Noah is demonstratably "fake" .. some of the names are wrong, belonging to later millenia. Nimrod, a "great hunter" who is mentioned in the OT is in fact the name of an Assyrian king (around 700BC, who was famed for being a great hunter). So too other names. Some of the people may have been real, others definitely were not. But it doesn't matter - the history in the OT begins with Noah, with him God made his first covenant (as far as I recall, there was no covenant made with Adam). Before "Noah" it's apparently no more than legend, myth and fiction with perhaps a few real people/names thrown in.

The one thing I cannot accept is the ages of the people. Sure, there are all kinds of theological rationalisations for why people could live to 900+ back then but not now (the slowly dissipating effect of a perfect Adam and Eve and their descendents living in an evil world, corrupting their purity and so their lifespan - that's one example), but once again .. when facts are in conflict with what's in the bible, then one has to accept that the bible is inaccurate (unless one wants to stick one's head in the sand and pretend the facts dont exist). There are three reasons I don't accept it, historical, genetic and physiological. Historically, such life spans are not uncommon and can be explained by telescoping effects and several people becoming one and so forth. There is also no archaeological evidence for very long lived people back then in that area. Abraham, Methusela, Noah and so forth were all Sumerians, but excavations of Sumerian graves and the records they left behind indicate they only lived normal life spans, so Noah et al also lived normal life spans. Genetics. The human gene has a "preprogrammed" obsolesence date. People grow until they reach about 20 or so, then they stop growing and begin dying - that can take another 100 years, so don't worry. *grin* Short of medical advances, the human body cannot, except in rare cases, survive beyond 100, that's genetically predetermined. If Methusela at al lived to 900+ then they must have had different genes - and those genes would have survived in their descendents. Genes don't dissapear, they just mutate or become inactive. But, genetically, the Jews are no different from any other race so they could not have lived that long anyway. Finally physiology. Specifically that of the brain. Apart from the brain the body is in a continual state of self-repair (within limits). Death comes when this self-repair is either overloaded (accident) or cuz it fails or wears down (old age) .. concieveably with medical advances one could prolong this self-repair. But for the brain. Once the brain stops growing, that's it. Brain cells are very long lived, but they are not immortal. Assuming a body of perfect health, the brain will last at most 500 years (I remember reading somewhere) and usually a lot less that that. Incidently, at 500 the brain is so far decayed as to be a mental vegetable. So, again no 900+ year old people.

Where archaeology leaves off, it becomes a matter of faith. And faith is wot the bible is all about. Faith = belief in something without justification.

One final point before I finish this off - all that I have said and all that Pellegrino (and the others) have said is basically just interpretation of the facts, and the facts are few. Interpretation is a tricky beast, everyone interprets things differently. I am not claiming that the ideas here are right, or even the most likely ones. Merely that they are valid interpretations. That's where the scientific method comes in, given the facts you make hypotheses and, if possible, you test them. But eventually you may reach a point where you are faced with several, different, theories which "explain" the facts and there things stop. The acceptance of one theory over another is a matter of personal choice, a matter of faith if you like. Some will interpret all this as meaning there is no God and the bible and christianity is just a pack of lies - but that is a belief made in faith (the athiest has faith there is no God). Others will take a literal view of the Bible. Yet others will take a middle path. Who is to say which is right, which is wrong, it comes down to what you chose to believe. What you have faith in (assuming you don't stick your head in the sand and pretend the whole thing doesn't exist). Facts are the precious gems in contemplating history, interpretations and opinions are a dime a dozen.

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