Certainly edited. But there is no evidence of the historical existence of either Moses or Abraham. Until evidence is provided, Adam, Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses are just fictional characters in ancient myths and legends.
There most certainly is evidence to consider:
Actually, no - they are named individuals in historical records of great antiquity. Whether those historical records are reliable is a question for historians, given lack of contemporary corroborative testimony of their existence (but not of their historical verisimilitude, which for Abraham and Moses has become more solid the more archaeology has discovered). But the biblical texts are evidence, and evidence of just as much historical weight as any other ancient text.
But the problem of single sources affects all ancient history - a majority of the characters in ancient histories are not corroborated by any other sources. A majority of ANE kings mentioned in non-Biblical sources have no archaeological corroboration. Ergo, until further evidence refutes them, sources are generally cautiously assumed to be reliable by historians, or there wouldn’t be any history of those times.
For example, nearly everything we know about the existence of the father of written history as we know it, Herodotus, comes from a 10th century CE Byzantine source - 14 centuries after his death. We do, of course, have his works (also from a 10th century manuscript, and from only 15 small fragments and fragments of quotations back from the 1st-4th centuries CE).
But of course we have writings attributed to Moses, too - 103 manuscript fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls alone, which of course date from roughly the same time after his death as the main manuscript of Herodotus after his. If Moses is fictional until proved otherwise, so is Herodotus.
And a mere bit part player in Moses’s story - Balaam son of Balak in the Book of Numbers - has turned up as a genuine non-Israelite prophet in an inscription at his cult centre, in a Canaanite dialect.
Yes, I agree, but their names are not Adam, Noah, Moses … There is a limited number of real historical figures in the Bible. Mostly names of Kings and Pharaohs. Can you give me a list of names of those proved to be real historical people?
No, fictional texts are not evidence. Sorry.
Categoricalism masking itself as scholarship doesn’t look good on anyone. How do you know they’re fiction?
You might take a look at Kenneth Kitchen’s book “On the Reliability of the Old Testament.”
Heres his academic webpage:
“Texts” are evidence. “Fictional” is a conclusion requiring evidence.
I refer you back to the answer I gave before - history weighs evidence, much as science does. “Proof” is either relative or meaningless in both disciplines.
Here’s a list of the major charcters and places in the only historical source for the first Roman invasion of Britain. How many of them have been proven to be real historical people, on your own criteria (it would be helpful to define the criteria)? And what difference does it make to history that all of them, as far as I can tell, are only mentioned in Gallic Wars (earliest manuscript 9th century)?
OK, here’s some positive input.
How do you judge that a text is fictional? Firstly, from genre: for example if a particular culture has, say, a genre of magical adventure novels, and your text matches it, that’s likely fiction.
No such luck for the patriarchal narratives, because their genre, a kind of family history of a rich but non-royal family, is unique in the whole ANE. It’s not royal propaganada, it’s not myth - it’s not even hagiography, because the overarching theme is a covenant with their God that the “heroes” do their best to scupper by bad decisions. There’s remarkably little that’s supernatural in them - prayers, a few divine encounters, but few signs and wonders to impress the gullible.
OK, a second test is historical detail, because that at least dates the texts - historical verisimilitude (researching authentic old customs as if the story was authentic) is a very recent innovation. Details show the date of composition. Yet the cultural setting and customs of the patriarchal narratives are firmly early 2nd millennium, as archaeology has shown (agree with Guy that Kitchen is excellent - nobody knows the archaeological material better). The existence of wealthy nomadic pastoral clans in Palestine, the openness of Mesopotamian links, the weakness of the Canaanite city-states, the positive dealing of Egypt with foreigners, the recent influx of sea-peoples from Caphtor, marriage customs… all entirely anachronistic for a late date, because that particular balance never existed again.
But who at the time of their origin would be interested in the tales of a wandering Yahwist, apart from the family itself? They had no subjects to impress, or cult to maintain, or books ro sell. And the family would want to know about what united the clan, not tell a fairly pedestrian fictional account. The only really remarkable achievement is the career of Joseph in Egypt - which again fits a brief window in which semitic wanderers might achieve high government positions.
So, because they are mainly private citizens, and because Egyptian (and other) records for the time are far from complete, there is no surviving outside record of their existence - or of any other named, non-royal individuals from that time and era. They might in theory have existed but made their stories up, I suppose. But there are so particular signs actually indicating a fictional account - in history and archaeology, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Moses is another matter - Israel as a nation is now pretty well shown by archaeology to begin at around the right time, first as a small population in the hill country, matching the biblical text when carefully read, having characteristic 4-room houses, and a distinct and unusual lack of pork bones, and then a few centuries later as a kingdom, which the Tel Dan stela calls “the House of David”.
One could add the characteristic Y chromosome of current Jewish descendants of priests, apparently derived from a single male in the late 2nd millennium BCE - that titbit comes from the same book that led to the study on which Genealogical Adam was based. The Bible says only descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron could be priests, of course - if no Moses, then no Aaron - but some other guy with enough cachet to keep the line going for 3,000 years.
If Moses didn’t exist as the charismatic founder of that nation, then they unaccountably forgot someone who was just as strong a leader.
I doubt you will find much to like about the theory proposed below… but it is based on the only historical record of Semites driven out of Egypt (other than the Hyksos):
The private record of one house - - House of Pharaoh - - was seen as having primary record credibility for what could very well have been the only Exodus we can count on:
HARRIS PAPYRUS and IRSU (Not Bay, but perhaps OSAR-SEPH!) Osarseph - Wikipedia
This question was asked:
“Given that there’s no direct evidence of a smaller Exodus, is the evidence Friedman presents any less consistent with the Levites being some kind of priestly remnant of the Egyptian occupation of Canaan?”
Back in 1908, in an issue of THE EXPOSITOR (p. 193), Rev. B.D. Eerdmans, DD, wrote a chapter called THE HEBREWS IN EGYPT.
And in it, he describes a small Exodus, at exactly the time I said would be the soonest that such a one could occur! It concerns the notorious personality of IRSU (Chancellor Bay [or Bey] is no longer believed to be the same man, having been put to death years before Irsu’s demise.
I’ll put together an abstract of the details, but in the meantime, let me provide a relatively recent (1979) translation from the Harris Papyrus, which is many times referenced, but most often discredited in its possible connection to the events that appear to have inspired Exodus:
1906 Translation by James Henry Breasted
Modern understanding of the events occurring at the time is heavily dependent on the translation of Papyrus Harris I, a task which has proven difficult. In his 1906 translation of the document James Henry Breasted writes
“Hear ye that I may inform you of my benefactions which I did while I was king of the people. The land of Egypt was overthrown from without, and every man was (thrown out) of his right; they had no chief mouth for many years formerly until other times. The land of Egypt was in the hands of chiefs and of rulers of towns; one slew his neighbor, great and small. Other times having come after it, with empty years, Yarsu, a certain Syrian was with them as chief. He set the whole land tributary before him together; he united his companions and plundered their possessions. They made the gods like men, and no offerings were presented in the temples…”
This translation leaves open the possibility that Irsu acted in Egypt proper and consequently Chancellor Bay was considered a plausible candidate for this Irsu until 2000. However, an IFAO Ostracon no. 1864 found at Deir el-Medina and dated Siptah’s fifth regnal year records that “Pharaoh, life health prosperity, has killed the great enemy, Bay”. Because chancellor Bay died years before Irsu, he is no longer considered a plausible candidate for this historical figure.
IMPROVED 1979 TRANSLATION BY Hans Goedicke
In 1979 the Egyptologist Hans Goedicke produced a second translation based on a detailed grammatical analysis of the document:
“The land belonging to Egypt was abandoned abroad and every man in his loyalty, he did not have a chief-spokesman [i.e. a pharaoh] for many years first until the times of others when the land belonging to Egypt was among chiefs and city-rulers — one was killed [the pharaoh], his replacement was a dignitary of wretches [a second pharaoh]. Another of the family happened after him in the empty years [a third pharaoh], when Su [aka Irsu], a Kharu with them, acted as chief and he made the entire land serviceable to him alone. He joined his dependant in seizing their property, when the gods were treated just like men, as one did not perform offerings inside the temples.”
Goedicke suggests that Irsu rose to power in Egypt’s territories abroad, in Canaan, following years of neglect on behalf of the last three pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty, Seti II, Siptah and Twosret. According to this translation of the document, the earliest of these pharaohs, Seti II, is responsible for not asserting his power and control over the region; the second was held in low regard; while the last, Twosret, is said to have made an alliance with Irsu who had de facto authority over the territories.
Footnote: Hans Goedicke, “Irsu the Khasu in Papyrus Harris”, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, Vol. 71 (1979), pp. 1-17
o Erichsen, Wolja. 1933. Papyrus Harris I: hieroglyphische Transkription. Bibliotheca aegyptiaca 5. Brussel: Fondation égyptologique reine Élisabeth
o Grandet, Pierre. 1994. Le papyrus Harris I (BM 9999). 2 vols. Bibliothèque d’Étude 109/1–2. Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire
o Grandet, Pierre. 1999. Le papyrus Harris I: Glossaire. Bibliothèque d’Étude 129. Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire
REFUGEES OCCUPY PETRA and EDOM?
So where did this armed band end up? I think the best answer is that they took over Edom (which
is most likely the Semitic form of Atum)… along with Petra. The O.T. mentions Yahweh eventually marching out of Seir… and the rest is history!
Setnakhte had a short reign. But lived long enough that he was able to put his son, Rameses III on the throne.
About 50 years later, the Philistines would wipe out the last Egyptian garrisons in the Levant, bottling up Egypt in the Nile Valley until, according to the Bible, a Pharaoh captures Gezer and gives it as a wedding present to his daughter who is marrying Solomon.
Seems to me that any link to the Israelite exodus was the reult of that Victorian Biblical Archaeology tendency to see biblical narratives in whatever they found.
Disregarding the minimalists, the scholars divide between those favouring c1450BC, and those c1250BC, based on a number of historical factors. The chaos of Harris 1, at 1150, is just too late - and in the light of more recent discoveries based on the hill country survey material, specific archaeological sites, indications supporting a monarchy developing when the Bible says it does, etc, it seems even less plausible.
Added to that, if you postulate the site of Irsu’s expulsion as Edom, you have the problem of explaining the crucial foundation story of a nation as being, in fact, the foundation story of their enemy next door. Kind of like England rejoicing in liberté, égalite, fraternité instead of 1066 or King Alfred.
Kenneth Kitchen’s book is pretty comprehensive on the positive case to be made. The tendency to cry “fiction” over ancient literature usually arises from not understanding the formative and etiological role such stories played. The whole enterprise of producing written literature prior to Gutenberg was so formidable as to put the shoe on the other foot; why would anyone bother to write down a story that wasn’t “true?” Oral culture was, instead, the medium of “merely” fictional stories. Obviously, this is a highly generalized statement, but closer to the case than the exceptions which can be cited.
Your analysis is the very approach that has been consistently applied for more than 100 years… to keep the timeline of the Bible “intact and sacrosanct”, and unavoidably from whatever historical material that relates to an actual Exodus.
Exodus 13:17 says “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:” < !!! this would be around 1200 BCE to 1130 BCE.
But don’t worry, Jon, it is not my intention to try to introduce the Harris text into the models Joshua is working on. But the Harris text just reinforces in my mind why I can only be a Unitarian Universalist in this world of ours:
If the Bible is portraying a Hyksos expulsion, or some event in the Amarna period, as Exodus, then its historicity is out of whack.
If the Bible is portraying an Exodus event at c. 1250 BCE, that’s still too early. Why? Because the Exodus cannot avoid the Phillistine highway if the Philistines are not yet installed in the Levant yet! But even if I accepted your 1250 BCE timeline, I think you will find it compresses the O.T. narrative to a painful degree:
1250 BCE - 40 yrs = 1210 BCE
Just 10 years later, c. 1200 BCE, we read about these events:
"On the right hand side of the Pylon is the “Great Inscription on the Second Pylon”, which includes the following text: The foreign countries made a conspiracy in their islands, All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could stand before their arms: from
Qode, [< aka Kode, aka Kizzuwadna]
Alashiya on, [< island of Cyprus, aka Alasiya, aka Elishah (Ezekiel 27:7)]
being cut off [ie. destroyed] at one time.
A camp was set up in Amurru. [< the pro-Hittite region around Kadesh.]
They desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into being.
[^The Sea People paused north of the Egyptian frontier to remove any threat from
They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh, lands united. They laid their hands upon the land as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting: “Our plans will succeed!”
[65: Translation by John A. Wilson in Pritchard, J.B. (ed.) Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament, 3rd edition, Princeton 1969., p.262. Also found in Breasted, 1906, volume 4, p.37, §64.]
In reliefs on the Second Pylon at Medinet Habu documenting Year 8 of Ramesses III, whatever year that might be, there is a climactic battle, perhaps just as crucial as the one at Marathon some 8 centuries later!
[7: Silberman, Neil A. (1998), Seymour Gitin, Amichai Mazar, and Ephraim Stern, eds., “The Sea Peoples, the Victorians, and Us”, Mediterranean Peoples in Transition: Essays in Honor of Trude Dothan, Israel Exploration Society, (pp. 268–275); p. 269.]
Sea Peoples - Wikipedia.Tempel_Erster_Hof(Lepsius)_01.jpg
This battle is almost always confused with the final battle at the Egyptian delta! The historic battle, known as the “Battle of Djahy” [also spelled Zahi], was fought in the future territory of Lebanon!
As Ramesses III notes in an inscription from his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu: “I equipped my frontier in Zahi (Djahy) prepared before them.”[3: Extracts from Medinet Habu inscription, trans. James H. Breasted 1906, iv.§§ 65-66.] Let’s estimate this time to be around 1178 BCE (according to a couple of different sources.
This is followed up by the Sea People fleet attacking the Delta region, presumably in the same year (1178 BCE).
Conclusion?: I’m not so sure I have any dramatic conclusion, other than this: If the Sea People had marched a significant land force (with family wagons) from Ugarit to northern Lebanon, and then engaged in a tremendous conflict against Egypt somewhere to the East of Tyre or Sidon … around 1078 BCE … what part of the O.T. would have been around that time?
Joshua? < Mentions Philistines - Lots!
Judges? < Estimated to cover 100 to 125 years?
Samuel? < Mentions Philistines too.
Just something to consider… the timeline below:
I know this will get a lot of pushback from some, and this has a lot less research involved than the other posts, but…
It seems to me that Genesis 1-11 has a “conversant” quality to it, whereby although it is distinctly and beautifully Israelite in its theology, the stories bear too much in common with other myths of the time for me to think they are about concretely historical individuals.
The rest of Genesis seems much more specific to Israelite origins. I don’t think everything described in the following chapters literally “happened,” but neither do I think Abraham is a made-up figure. Certainly the text itself has SOME bearing on historicity. It IS some evidence, and denying that seems silly to me. The joseph story is interesting because some of its details are confirmed as accurate but the overall plot bears similarities with other stories of its time.
I’m sure there was SOME type of exodus from Egypt. Certainly what we now have is a theological INTERPRETETION of its significance and not a wholly accurate (and never intended to be) description of what took place. I like the idea I’ve seen from some scholars of multiple exoduses from Egypt being combined into one grand narrative. Moses is an Egyptian name, so I see no reason to doubt his existence. Moreover, some of the experiences described in Exodus are so strange (“I am” for instance) that they don’t seem like they could be wholly made-up stories.
I see no problem with seeing the books of Job, Daniel, Jonah and Esther as mostly fictional/quasi historical fictional stories, though I’m sure Daniel and Jonah were real people as well.
I feel like John Goldingay, Christopher M. Hays, Tremper Longman, and perhaps Lawrence Boadt are good people to turn to on these issues.
As good as J.J. Collins is as a scholar, he offers NO faith perspective at all and seems to get very excited at the thought of rehabilitating Albert Schweitzer’s failed apocalyptic prophet Jesus. Haha
I think you discount the text itself as evidence too much. Why does the biblical text, from a secular historical perspective, have NO value? Certainly, it has SOME. I think you paint with too broad a brush.
I would say that the OT has some value - mostly on what not to do. The ethics, morals, and values for a modern secular, evidenced based society can use the Old Testament stories to realize how far humanity has come by throwing away old tyrant Gods, and unjust laws created to appease those Gods while humanity learned to more cooperative, tolerant, and just ways.
Are you referring to the ethics of Jesus?
You should read David Bentley Hart’s “Atheist Delusions.” He dispells a lot of the myths that the values that you love could exist apart from Christianity. The first abolitionist was the fifth century bishop Gregory of Nyssa after all, and he grounded his theory of rights exclusively in Christianity.
Also, the notion of progress is meaningless unless you presuppose an objective good we are progressing towards. That means either platonism or theism, or a combination thereof.
My first thought is that DeuteroKJ is much more qualified to address your questions. And some others on this forum are probably more qualified as well, especially in OT topics. (My focus was largely New Testament, although I have a very strong interest in Genesis because of my extensive engagement with origins issues over the years.)
That said, Mark, I have an appointment in a few minutes but didn’t want to forget to reply to your post. So this will be a quick summary for now:
Yes, whatever one’s positions on the literary genre of these Genesis pericopes, comparisons with the contemporary stories from the surrounding cultures simply can’t be ignored. They matter.
Yes. And the entire book of Genesis must always (obviously) be regarded as the introduction to the Torah, the five books (the Pentateuch), and always regardsed as the early history of how Israel came to be YHWH’s covenant nation. And as John Sailhamer emphasized, even Genesis 1 and 2 is about the ERETZ, the land, long before it became the land of Abraham’s descendants and the Promised Land following the exodus from Egypt.
Our cultural predispositions naturally encourage us to assume that a text must be historical, chronological, and “literal” to have value. Yet that is a modern and western bias, one not necessarily shared by the original audience, the Semitic culture for which these texts were intended. Indeed, this is an incendiary concept for so many of my evangelical friends but it is hard to ignore. Even comparisons of the English language versus the Hebrew language remind us that chronology matters much more to us than to them. (e.g., The Hebrew language of the Old Testament differs in so many ways, such as Hebrew verbs having no tense inflections.)
Where do we draw the line between the historical aspects and the truth-telling literary genre which is not obsessed with objective historical details? That’s a huge topic I will not even attempt to dissect in a brief post. Suffice it to say, many react in total fear at anything but a total “literalism” in our interpretations—largely because the false dichotomies and the Logical Fallacy of the Slippery Slope has tightened its death grip on so many of my evangelical brethren. (Ken Ham et al constantly warn that if one questions whether Methuselah lived 969 years or whether the Noahic Flood was global, “then why can’t the resurrection of Jesus Christ be merely a parable?” I would ask Ham if my insistence that Jesus was not a literal “door” negates Jesus’ claim of being the way to salvation.)
I should add that the enormous numbers in the Hebrew text which quantify the Exodus—much like many other numbers in the Tanakh—have textual issues. Many evangelicals fear that giving any ground on the accuracy of numbers in the Bible would be a fatal blow to the modern day notions of inerrancy. Yet if they would only carefully read their own doctrinal statements of faith, they would notice that that strict inerrancy applies only to the original autographs, none of which exist. So doesn’t that allow that imperfect humans may indeed have introduced small scribal errors into the recording of those numbers? Accordingly, if the Exodus led by Moses involved far fewer people than most evangelicals assume, isn’t it possible that archaeological evidence would be much less likely to be found? (Meanwhile, I’m not smugly and casually dismissing any discussion of other, much deeper questioning of the book of Exodus, but this seems to be a good place to start. I’m not afraid to engage the hard questions. Why should any Christ-follower be afraid of asking hard questions? Isn’t our faith stronger than that?)
That brings to mind two of my biggest beefs with the amateurish complaints against the Bible constantly promoted by various popular anti-theists and anti-Bible websites:
(1) “The Bible must be ignored as an historical document because it is obviously biased.” I chuckle at that one because I’d like to know what percentage of all documentation from the ancient world would have to be thrown out if fear of bias was the key consideration! (Seriously?)
(2) “Jesus most likely never existed because there is not significant contemporaneous witness from unbiased sources.” LOL again. Consider:
(a) If historians had to depend on contemporaneous witnesses recording historical persons and events, we would lose a massive volume of knowledge about the ancient world. How many ancient figures—which those same anti-Bible anti-theists take for granted without a peep of questioning—aren’t mentioned by any ancient historian until centuries later? And how many of those ancient historians were truly “neutral” (i.e., unbiased) concerning those persons?
(b) To state the obvious: Not all ancient texts have survived to our day. Obviously! Only a tiny percentage had any chance of preservation, especially outside of arid Egypt, where only many cycles of recopying the perishable organic materials had any chance of perpetuating their written content. (How the relatively few texts survived is a fascinating study in itself. Many of my students have been shocked to learn that the biggest preserved corpus of texts from the ancient world came from the Roman physician, Gallen. Medical knowledge was valued, so many copyists were willing to labor over them.) So when I hear Bible critics complain that “Roman historians and government records make no mention of Jesus performing miracles, being crucified, and rising from the dead.”, I marvel at the naivete of such arguments and the gullibility of those who fall for such handwaving. Why would two millennia of scribes have any incentive to preserve mountains of Roman bureaucratic records, even if they had access to any surviving documents? (Organic materials don’t store well in the long term!) The ignorance and naivete of such critics is incredible.
Those critics really ought to check with some trained and respected historians once in a while. (Perhaps @Patrick could pass along that advice for me!)
Speaking of the Patriarchs, here are a couple of brief excerpts from the Wikipedia article on Abraham:
In the early and middle 20th century, leading archaeologists such as William F. Albright and biblical scholars such as Albrecht Alt believed that the patriarchs and matriarchs were either real individuals or believable composites of people who lived in the “patriarchal age”, the 2nd millennium BCE. But, in the 1970s, new arguments concerning Israel’s past and the biblical texts challenged these views; these arguments can be found in Thomas L. Thompson’s The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (1974), and John Van Seters’ Abraham in History and Tradition (1975). Thompson, a literary scholar, based his argument on archaeology and ancient texts. His thesis centered on the lack of compelling evidence that the patriarchs lived in the 2nd millennium BCE, and noted how certain biblical texts reflected first millennium conditions and concerns. Van Seters examined the patriarchal stories and argued that their names, social milieu, and messages strongly suggested that they were Iron Age creations. By the beginning of the 21st century, archaeologists had given up hope of recovering any context that would make Abraham, Isaac or Jacob credible historical figures.
The Abraham story cannot be definitively related to any specific time, and it is widely agreed that the patriarchal age, along with the exodus and the period of the judges, is a late literary construct that does not relate to any period in actual history. A common hypothesis among scholars is that it was composed in the early Persian period (late 6th century BCE) as a result of tensions between Jewish landowners who had stayed in Judah during the Babylonian captivity and traced their right to the land through their “father Abraham”, and the returning exiles who based their counter-claim on Moses and the Exodus tradition.
Regarding the Exodus, I’ve been discussing the arguments for and against its historicity, over on my thread on Jesus, Moses and Elijah, so let me just say this. If you’re going to accept an historical Exodus, then the version propounded by Richard Elliott Friedman is your best bet. For a good summary of his argument, see this review here. Friedman thinks only ONE tribe came from Egypt: the Levites. The other tribes already lived in Israel, and were well-established there: as Friedman points out in his book, the archaeological evidence for their continuous presence there is overwhelming. Friedman “agrees with the scholarly consensus that the biblical story as we have it was composed in the first millennium, but he argues persuasively that this story contains historical memories that go back much further.” Thoughts?
1975 was a long time ago. 40 yrs ago. I think most scholars today would simply say there’s no positive evidence for the existence of the patriarchs other than scripture itself, and some elements of the Joseph story. Guys?