The Fallacy of Historical Reconstructionism: ‘Blind Faith’ Actually Belongs to the Atheists

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Excerpt We recently received a note from "Cathy", a self-proclaimed atheist. Continue reading

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Responding to our article, Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus Pharoah, she wrote:

I just wanted to comment that I quoted part of your article on a post i did on the Exodus where I argue that the Exodus did not happen according the the bible.  I use  historical/materialist evidence to show it most likely was composed in the 7th century BCE as an ideological story written to elevate the status of the Jewish kings, and to serve their political, economic, and social interests.

ABR Associate, Doug Petrovich, responds.

Dear Cathy,

Thanks for letting me know that you've interacted with my article, and for posting a link to it on the webpage where you did so (which I found through a Google search). Certainly the view you advocate as a self-proclaimed atheist is one that is popular among scholars who are committed to a position that does not see the Bible as being historically accurate (whether in part or in whole). The one variable is the century chosen for this alleged falsified composition.

What I always have found amazing is how much faith is required to hold such a view that suggests a mass-conspiracy that transpired for almost 1000 years, which had at its roots the conscious, evil decision to falsify the entire historical record for a single ethnic people. Yes, this is truly a "faith-position" of the highest degree, since it requires that 100% of the "evidence" to uphold the view is found in modern conjuring of ancient, recorded events. In other words, there is no evidence whatsoever from antiquity that would verify or support such a radical view, at least among the Israelites themselves, if not across the ANE as a whole: no record of its falsification, nobody speaking to its non-truthfulness, no known dissenters, and nothing whatsoever in the epigraphical or archaeological record.

The other mind-boggling assumption that one has to make to hold your view is that this alleged falsification of historical events, clearly written in the form of factual history (rather than mythical or legendary), is that the entire nation of ancient Israelite people--and a whole scribal class from the 7th century BC (in the case of your version) through at least the 10th century AD (when the Leningrad Codex was copied)--uniformly supported the perpetuation of this history of lies. More than this, they showed an unparalleled rigor and commitment to its preservation in the form of textual transmission not found with any other nation or by any other people of antiquity. How could so many people over so many centuries commit so much time, energy, financial backing, and zeal to the careful and meticulous preservation of abject lies?

How one is able to hold to such a position as this, quite frankly, is beyond me. All of the evidence, as well as reason alone, grates against the integrity of a view like yours. In summary, a view that reinterprets clearly stated facts in the Bible and assigns a national conspiracy over the period of a millennium to support the propagandistic lying about their national history requires far more faith than I am willing to muster. To use a phrase dear to many of your fellow atheists, this requires "blind faith". Moreover, this practice certainly grates against good scientific principle (which necessitates empirical or circumstantial evidence to back the view), which normally is what atheists are supposed to champion as their rallying cry. But if you have enough faith to hold to your view with honest conviction, more power to you. As for me, I would rather stick with the position supported by well reasoned faith. Both views do require faith, but the basis for this faith in these diametrically opposed views is at opposite ends of the spectrum of reason.

Sincerely,

Douglas Petrovich

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8/10/2012 11:32 AM #

Dear ABR Supporters,

A new online article by Dr. Eugene Merrill, Distinguished Professor of OT at Dallas Seminary, concerning the Documentary Hypothesis was recently published. Entitled: "Deuteronomy and de Wette: A Fresh Look at a Fallacious Premise", this article deals with several glaring deficiencies concerning the DH and Deuteronomy. Here is an excerpt:

"The premise to be re-evaluated here is that Deuteronomy, in part or in its entirety, was the product of pious scribes of the Divided Monarchy period, who, recipients of certain oral and perhaps fragmentary written traditions, were intent on delivering Israel from political, social, and religious disintegration. They therefore integrated their sources and composed the book, attributing it to Moses and thus investing it with authority necessary to address in most specific terms the circumstances that threatened the existence of the covenant community...The purpose of this essay is once more to raise objections to these tenets on historical, geographical, cultural/sociological, and theological grounds and to place back into the hands of Moses the text which itself testifies to his authorship."

It is available off-site at:

jesot.org/.../JESOT-1.1-Merrill.pdf

Blessings,
ABR Staff

ABR - 8/10/2012 11:32:46 AM

2/23/2013 1:50 AM #

"no known dissenters, and nothing whatsoever in the epigraphical or archaeological record."

thats not true Non‐existent cities

Many of the places mentioned in the Exodus did not exist within the same chronological period as one another. Pithom (Per‐Atum/Tckenu) and Raamses (Per‐Ramesses), the two "treasure cities" claimed to have been built by the Hebrews, never existed at the same time. Pithom did not exist as a significant settlement before the 26th Dynasty. Prior to this, the settlment was known as Tckenu, and was still referred to as such in the Ptolemaic period, and was an obscure garrison‐town which mainly, if not exclusively, served as a waystation for Egyptian expeditions. Even in its enlarged Roman state, the town barely registered on either Egyptian or Greco–Roman accounts. Per‐Ramesses, the Royal Residence of the Ramessides was abandoned at the end of the New Kingdom, centuries earlier Edom was not yet a nation. In fact, the region wasn't even inhabited yet. The place the Hebrews stop at wasn't even built until 800 BCE. However, the latest the Exodus could have occurred and still be biblically accurate is in the 13th century BCE. The Book of Numbers gives a list of sites at which the Hebrews settled in Sinai and the immediate surroundings during the Exodus. Of these, some can pinpointed relatively well by description and deduction. Two such sites are the Biblical Kadesh Barnea, modern Ein Qadis, and Ezion Geber, on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and Jordan, just outside Eilat. Both sites have been investigated archaeologically, and found to have been founded during the Ancient Near Eastern Late Iron Age — no earlier than 700/800 BCE The archaeological evidence of local Canaan, rather than Egyptian, origins of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel is "overwhelming," and leaves "no room for an Exodus from Egypt or a 40‐year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness." The culture of the earliest Israelite settlements is Canaanite, their cult objects are of the Canaanite god El, the pottery is in the local Canaanite tradition, and the alphabet (and written language) is early Canaanite. Almost the sole marker distinguishing Israelite villages from Canaanite sites is an absence of pig bones.
"no known dissenters," One rabbi quoted to me the mystical tradition that one tribe was deputized to clean up every trace, which at least shows the Jewish tradition's unease with Sinai's preternaturally clean slate.  Surveys of ancient settlements--pottery remains and so forth--make it clear that there simply was no great influx of people around the time of the Exodus (given variously as between 1500-1200 BCE).
  But why do you want to prove the exodus so badly anyways I thought that you had to accept those ideas on faith? Doesnt it say so in the bible?

hachitori - 2/23/2013 1:50:16 AM

2/23/2013 11:27 AM #

Dear Hachitori, (Re: 2/23/2013 1:50 AM post)

The major problem that I see here is that you are out to prove inconsistency in the biblical account of the exodus-era whether it exists or not. This is the heart of the issue. Therefore, if this assessment of mine is accurate, any logical response is going to be met with resistance and rationalization. However, I will give it a go anyway. But just realize the fundamental question that must be asked: “What is true?”

When you make claims that we have identified biblical sites, and you review what archaeology shows about these sites, you are primarily looking at sites that automatically do not fit the biblical mandate for the time period required. Thus you are creating straw men, then stabbing them to death with a pitch fork. That’s all well and good, in the land of straw men, but unfortunately for this modus operandi, we live in the real world of flesh and blood, a world governed by the continual flow of history that can be plotted on timelines.

Kenneth Kitchen and other late-exodus proponents (i.e. 13th century advocates) who followed the lead of Albright and bought into the association of biblical Raamses = Per-Ramesses = Qantir of the 19th Egyptian Dynasty spared no expense by turning over every stone at Qantir in search of evidence of the exodus. The only problem is, if you are locked into the wrong timeframe, and you thus are looking within the wrong sites, there is no way in the world that you are going to find any confirmation—or genuine material for the disputation—of biblical claims.

As Thiele has demonstrated, and Rodger Young’s advancements have refined, the exodus only could have occurred in 1446 BC (18th Dynasty, the reign of Amenhotep II), if the biblical chronology is taken literally and interpreted correctly. There simply is no way around this. So without intending to do so, Kitchen and company erected an atheist’s straw man by turning Qantir upside down and finding absolutely no evidence for the exodus. Who in the world would have expected them to find anything there? Surely not I!

You have done the same thing, though with much different motives, when you “identify” Pithom as Per-Atum/Tjeku [which I corrected from your Tckenu, which your RationalWikipedia got wrong; thus my recommendation is to get your information from Egyptology, not RationalWikipedia]. First of all, this site (Per-Atum/Tjeku) usually is identified with Retabeh, a site that—incidentally—DOES have remains from the 18th Dynasty prior to the exodus, though possibly not as far back as the beginning of the 18th Dynasty, which is when these “store cities” were built. For a site to qualify, it would have needed to be occupied during the reigns of Ahmose and/or Amenhotep I. (unless we are still going to play the straw man games).

Even Hoffmeier, a late-exodus proponent, admits that there are problems with associating Pithom with Retabeh, however (Israel in Egypt, 119-120). So, when it comes down to it, Hoffmeier is correct when he says that Pithom has been identified with DIFFERENT SITES around the Delta and Wadi Tumilat, and when he says that there is nothing in the Bible suggesting that Raamses and Pithom were closely situated in proximity. Translation: we do not know where in tarnation Pithom is. We do know where Raamses is, though, and this will be published (in great length) in my upcoming book, Evidence of Israelites in Egypt from Joseph’s Time until the Exodus. This will be announced here on the ABR website.

When you say, “The place the Hebrews stop[ped] at wasn't even built until 800 BCE,” you do not even name a specific site, so I have no way of responding to this, other than that it’s another straw man, . . . just an invisible straw man.

You claim that Kadesh Barnea is modern Ain Qadeis [corrected from Ein Qadis]. Three important springs have been associated with the location of biblical Kadesh-barnea: Ain Qadeis, Ain Qudeirat (9.7 km [6 mi], to the northwest of Ain Qadeis), and Ain Quseima (another 6.4 km [4 mi], to the northwest of Ain Qudeirat). Many consider Ain Qadeis may be the best option, for three reasons: 1) It has retained the biblical namesake; 2) it is situated on the edge of a large open plain capable of accommodating Israel’s encampment; and 3) the border descriptions in Numbers 34 and Joshua 15 list Kadesh-barnea before (i.e. to the east of) Hezron, Addar, and Azmon. Yet others consider that a more likely site is in the watershed of Nakhal Zin or Wadi Fikreh. Thus, there is no certain association of a site with Kadesh Barnea. So are we to make straw men here, too?

You claim that no room is left for an exodus or a 40-year pilgrimage through the desert. You have done nothing whatsoever to prove that there is no room for the exodus. You have only erected straw men and bludgeoned them with pitch forks. Moreover, until my book is published, and you deal with not only the archaeological evidence, but the epigraphical evidence and the evidence from tomb paintings, you are flailing at the wind.

As for your claims that there are no signs of the Israelite trek through the desert and the claim that there is no sign of an influx of people in Canaan from 1500-1200, what are you expecting to find? And where did you look? Did anyone comprehensively excavate the entire Negev or the Judean hill country? These were semi-nomadic people dwelling in tents. How easy are you expecting it to be to find signs of their wanderings going back 3200-3445 years? Come on, are we really being serious here?

You are reminding me of the story from when I finished my first year of Greek. I had dinner with a former prof of mine and joyously told him I passed first-year Greek. He didn’t smile. He didn’t congratulate me. Instead, he paused, shook his head back and forth, then deadpanned, “There’s nothing more dangerous than a guy with one year of Greek under his belt.” The same can be true of those who merely dabble in archaeology and Egyptology. It’s better to consult those who know these fields than be a blind man attempting to lead others.

Sincerely,
Douglas Petrovich

ABR Editorial note: This typical type of straw man argument has been dealt with at a variety of levels by archaeological and biblical research published here on the ABR website. A cursory review of materials on the Conquest and Exodus, for example, show such arguments are null and void. We encourage anyone reading this who is genuinely interested in the truth about the Bible and the archaeological record to peruse through our archive.
See: www.biblearchaeology.org/.../Exodus-Conquest.aspx

ABR - 2/23/2013 11:27:12 AM

2/23/2013 1:22 PM #

"Moreover, until my book is published, and you deal with not only the archaeological evidence, but the epigraphical evidence and the evidence from tomb paintings, you are flailing at the wind."

yes... thats why most archeologists don't believe in the exodus ever happened with all that evidence, but if you really do have that evidence than i am sure you win a nobel prize! (no i am serious about that comment)
"The major problem that I see here is that you are out to prove inconsistency in the biblical account of the exodus-era whether it exists or no"
no i started with the idea that the exodus was fairly accurate historically
"It’s better to consult those who know these fields than be a blind man attempting to lead others." Thats why i consulted the works of William Dever, Israel Finkelstien, Ze'ev Herzog, and my university profs even this website to compare the findings
"These were semi-nomadic people dwelling in tents. How easy are you expecting it to be to find signs of their wanderings going back 3200-3445 years?"
There where 2 million jews (at least) you say wandering right?if that was true we wouldn't be looking for artifacts in the desert, we'd be looking for the desert under all of the artifacts. Also there would be signs in canaan of an increase of popluation if there where that many people who came from egypt
also what did you find in Qantir that would fit the exodus?

hachitori - 2/23/2013 1:22:57 PM

2/23/2013 7:48 PM #

" Moreover, until my book is published, and you deal with not only the archaeological evidence, but the epigraphical evidence and the evidence from tomb paintings, you are flailing at the wind."

if you have so much evidence than why do most archelogists not believe the exodus happened? Why are you showing them this evidence? And where did you find it? When basically every other archeologist Christian or not didnt?

ware ware - 2/23/2013 7:48:14 PM

2/23/2013 9:17 PM #

Dear Hachitori,

Thanks for your reply, which offered excellent questions and thoughts for interaction. You are correct: the lack of evidence presented by those who believe in a literal exodus is one reason why so many archaeologists and people on the street do not buy into the notion of the exodus. Another reason is that many DO NOT want biblical historicity to be championed under any circumstances. This is a major reason, even among my fellow archaeologists and Egyptologists who are supposedly objective scholars. (By the way, I am completing a PhD in Syro-Palestinian archaeology at Canada’s flagship university, with a 1st minor in Egyptology; I previously taught in a seminary in Russia.)

Thanks for your kind words about the Nobel Peace Prize. I understand what you are saying, but ultimately, this discovery/publication is not going to make me beloved by the world, but hated by the world. In addition, I will be ostracized (and challenged!) by most academics in my field, with whom I currently have good relationships. The scholarly world does not want such a well-argued defense of the biblical tradition and a demonstration of evidence that verifies the exodus or the presence of Israelites in Egypt. I already was rejected by at least two secular publishers (for the proposed book, which is a recent idea, and will include more than just the exodus material) and one secular journal (for the paper I wrote just on the evidence for the exodus). Yet, none of their rejections was because my work reflected poor or faulty scholarship, or because the assertions were implausible. It was rejected because I attempted to use the Bible as a historical source that can interact dynamically with archaeological evidence.

“no i started with the idea that the exodus was fairly accurate historically.”

Then I apologize for assuming incorrectly. I can assure you that in the course of time, you will be rewarded for your original position. If you go to my academia.edu (under my name), there you will find my e-mail address. If you e-mail me, I will talk to you about the possibility of your seeing some of this sooner, rather than later.

“Thats why i consulted the works of William Dever, Israel Finkelstien, Ze'ev Herzog, and my university profs even this website to compare the findings.”

Well, then I declare to you this day that your persistence has paid off. As for Finkelstein, he has an agenda, and it includes the eradication of the biblical idea of a Davidic/Solomonic kingdom, and a discrediting of biblical historicity. The same can be said for Dever to a lesser extent, but he has hardened over the years. I met him on a dig in Hazor, and he’s a cordial man one-on-one, but if he disagrees with you, he will spare no expense not only to prove you wrong, but to belittle you in the process. I spoke with Finkelstein, too, but he is a bit aloof.

“There where 2 million jews (at least) you say wandering right? if that was true we wouldn't be looking for artifacts in the desert, we'd be looking for the desert under all of the artifacts.”

I have left the ABR staff to address the issue of whether the “2 million” figure is precise with the Hebrew text, though I am not a staunch advocate of either view as of yet. But either way, 2 million or many 1000’s, we are talking about 3,000+ years ago in a land with shifting sands, erosion from high watersheds, and tells and occupational sites with inhabited strata from ancient times literally buried multiple meters under the ground/dirt/sand. So no, there will not be sand and dirt under all of the artifacts. That’s not how sedimentation works, over years, let alone millennia. But what were they leaving behind in great number? Not much. I could turn water to wine before I would find random artifacts from semi-nomads of 1400 BC. And let me add this: in many of the Egyptian texts I’ve translated, the Egyptians continually spoke of Bedouin from specific places in the Sinai, Canaan, the Jordan Rift Valley, etc.; yet, archaeologists never have found any attestation for these Bedouin. None. No inscriptions, no pottery, no weapons, no iPhones, no used TP. Nothing. Does this mean that the Egyptians were lying between their teeth about the reality of these Bedouin?

“Also there would be signs in canaan of an increase of population if there where that many people who came from egypt”

This would be true if and only if this population came directly to the cities of Canaan, many of which have been excavated in part (Note: according to Ben-Tor, under whom I dug at Hazor, we would need full crews working for 600 years before we would finish the job at Hazor alone.). If they continued to live semi-nomadically, there would be no observable archaeological footprint.

“also what did you find in Qantir that would fit the exodus?”

There is nothing at Qantir that would fit the exodus. This is what broke Kenneth Kitchen’s heart. The reason: this is NOT the site of the Israelites’ habitation, or the site from where they left Egypt.

Sincerely,

DP

Douglas Petrovich - 2/23/2013 9:17:29 PM

2/23/2013 9:49 PM #

Dear ware ware,

“if you have so much evidence than why do most archaeologists not believe the exodus happened?”

The evidence is not yet published. But as I said to Hachitori, no matter how thoroughly I present the information, most will not believe or be persuaded. I have seen this in the rejection of my article/book-proposal. The editor of the recent journal-article-refusal said this: “I am sure that there are other, less strictly archaeological journals that may well be interested in receiving your article.” This statement is in lieu of his earlier pronouncement: “I simply don’t see why anyone would expect OT sources, which have been heavily edited and committed to writing many centuries later and reflect the priorities of a very different political environment, to provide accurate evidence upon which to date events in the 15th century BC.”

So you see, he is incapable of giving credence to the exodus, simply because of his presupposition that the OT was written many centuries later, and edited profusely. However, ALL of this is pure belief (on his part). It is by faith that he has this conviction. He is not being the scientist he claims he is (am I am not), because he has no evidence whatsoever to declare that the Bible’s composition was centuries later, or that it was subject to heavy editing. There is no evidence whatsoever for either phenomenon. Yet this preconceived “reality” will prevent him ever from coming to terms with the evidence. For him, the Bible cannot speak to anything accurately that happened in the 2nd millennium BC.

“Why are you showing them this evidence? And where did you find it? When basically every other archaeologist Christian didn’t?”

ware ware, I can promise you that I am slaving away to try to get all of this written up and codified in publishable form. I am prioritizing it over the writing of my dissertation, and I am risking my family’s livelihood to do so. The book is over ½ done, and Dr. Bryant Wood is co-authoring the current chapter with me now. The topic is the presence of the Hebrews in Egypt from Jacob’s day until Moses’ day. This is by far the most taxing chapter, and either it will cause the end of me, or I will slay the dragon . . . with the help of the Lord.

Where I found it was here at my desk, in January of 2012. I was researching online for my dissertation, and I stumbled on the motherload of evidence from a dig that has been ongoing. As to why every other Christian archaeologist didn’t find it, there are several reasons: 1) you must have a strong background in Egyptology to piece all of this together; precious few Christian archaeologists are competent in Egyptology; 2) the timing of it all, as this evidence mostly comes from a VERY recent dig, which is still being excavated and published as we speak; 3) God’s inexplicable choice of me to stumble on it, the least of all the saints. What I can tell you is that on the day that I came upon it, and for a number of days after that, I wept in my office for hours on end. To this day, I often stop and weep as I reflect on this enormity of it all. Soon the world will see this all for themselves, as God has decided to make it known to his people Israel, to the Church, and to all the world. He is doing this after letting the secret remain buried for over 3,400 years. What are His purposes in all of this? I scarcely can fathom the depth of them.

Sincerely yours,

Doug Petrovich

Douglas Petrovich - 2/23/2013 9:49:22 PM

2/24/2013 3:09 PM #

Concerning the meaning of the Hebrew term eleph:

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...in-the-Exodus.aspx

At the heart of the issue is the meaning of the Hebrew word eleph.  It is usually translated “thousand,” but has a complex semantic history.  The word is etymologically connected with “head of cattle,” like the letter aleph, implying that the term was originally applied to the village or population unit in a pastoral-agricultural society.  From that it came to mean the quota supplied by one village or “clan” (Hebrew Mišpasha) for the military muster (Malamat 1967: 135).  Originally the contingent was quite small, five to fourteen men in the quota lists of Numbers 1 and 26, as shown by Mendenhall (1958).  Finally the word became a technical term for a military unit of considerable size, which together with the use of the same word for the number 1,000 has tended to obscure its broader semantic range.  See also Humphreys 1998 and 2000.

Humphreys, Colin J.
1998  The Number of People in the Exodus from Egypt: Decoding the Very Large Numbers in Numbers I and XXVI.  Vetus Testamentum 48: 196–213.
2000  The Numbers in the Exodus from Egypt: A Further Appraisal. Vetus Testamentum 50: 323–28.

Mendenhall, George E.
1958 The Census Lists of Numbers 1 and 26.  Journal of Biblical Literature 77: 52–66.

ABR - 2/24/2013 3:09:17 PM

2/24/2013 3:33 PM #

I would add to Doug's very important point about the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan and leaving behind an archaeological footprint, as it were. The Israelites were almost certainly a subset of the 'apiru of the Amarna Letters, and the picture which we have of them is a group of folks running around the land causing all kinds of problems for the indigenous Kings of Canaan. These letters strongly indicate that the 'apiru were a large enough group to be of significance, but not broadly connected materially to cities in Canaan where their presence would show up in the archaeological record and give us concrete data for population estimations. Doug discusses this in section VIII of this article:

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...xodus-Pharaoh.aspx

In addition, Dr. Wood discusses the 'apiru, and quotes some non-Christians scholars who describe the 'apiru as follows:

"The diplomatic correspondence of the Amarna archive spanned ca. twenty years in the mid-fourteenth century B.C. 106 of the recovered 382 clay tablets are from vassals in Canaan. These 106 documents provide unique insight into conditions in Canaan just a few decades after the Conquest. According to the biblical timeline, mid-fourteenth century B.C. was a time early in the Judges period when the tribes were engaged in consolidating their hold on their assigned allotments (Judg. 1). That is precisely He situation reflected in the Amarna tablets.

Native rulers complained bitterly to Pharaoh of incursions by a people called 'apiru. The term 'apiru is known not only from the Amarna Letters, but also from other ancient Near Eastern texts spanning the period 1750 to 1150 b.c. A detailed study of the texts reveals that the term 'apiru refers to nomadic peoples. Astour sums up the findings as follows:

'[T]hey were...semi-nomads in the process of sedentarization, who came from the semi-desert zone and entered civilized regions as strangers... they were members of tightly knit tribal units whose allegiance was determined by kinship and who had their own system of law.'

One could not ask for a more accurate description of the Israelites shortly after entering the land of Canaan. At this juncture they were tribal entities that had not yet come together as a unified political body. The scribes employed by the highland rulers certainly would have referred to the Israelites as 'apiru.

The capiru described in the Amarna Letters, "acted in large armed units which were not only engaged in plundering raids but were also seizing for themselves towns and parts of the lands under Egyptian rule." "

See: www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...Judges-Period.aspx

The notion that the Israelites settled down into the land immediately and ubiquitously seems to be the assumption made by most folks who reject the historicity of the Conquest. This is a pervasive problem as exemplified by this article: www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...usion-at-Yale.aspx

Sincerely,

Henry B. Smith Jr.

ABR - 2/24/2013 3:33:08 PM

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