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Minimalists Declare Victory: Not So Fast

The current issue of Biblische Notizen (193, 2022) contains a series of articles about the confrontation in biblical scholarship between the biblical “minimalists” and the “maximalists.” The opening article by Lester Grabbe is entitled “How the Minimalists Won! A Discussion of Historical Method in Biblical Studies.” In it he claims not be a minimalist himself but declares in the opening paragraph:

Some will be surprised to hear that the Minimalists have won the battle in the struggle over history and the Bible….This paper discusses how, and especially why we are presently (almost) all minimalist, and why they should now cease to fight that battle.

In this article, Grabbe mentions two historical events to illustrate his points: the Mesha Stele and Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 BCE.

In his own work, the Exodus that has been a topic of great interest to him. A partial list includes:

2000 “Adde Praeputium Praeputio Magnes Acervus Erit: If the Exodus and Conquest Had Really Happened…” in Virtual History and the Bible, ed. J. Cheryl Exum
2010 “From Merneptah to Shosheng: If We Had Only the Bible…” in Israel in transition: From Late Bronze II to Iron IIA (C. 1250-850 BCE) Volume 2 The Text which he edited along with Volume 1 The Archaeology (2008)
2014 “The Exodus and Historicity” in The Book of Exodus: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation, eds. Thomas Dozeman, Craig Evans, and Joel Lohr
2016 “Late Bronze Age Palestine: If we had only the Bible…” and “Canaan under the Rule of the Egyptian New Kingdom: From the Hyksos to the Sea Peoples” in The Land of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age ed. Lester Grabbe

In the first publication, Grabbe (2000) has a great deal of fun imagining what would have happened if an Exodus of 600,000 men had occurred. He continually mocks the biblical story by presenting the absurdities which would have resulted in an Exodus of millions of people, their animals, and the loot from despoiling the Egyptians. How could tiny Edom think of refusing such an enormous force passage through the land? How could the Canaanites have resisted such an occupying army? Think of the mighty empire, Israel could have created long before Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Alexander, and Rome with a population of that size!

What if Grabbe had decided to be a scholar instead of being content to ridicule the physically-literal interpretation of the biblical text? For example, Grabbe writes about the reputation this massive force of 600,000 would have had. It would have overwhelmed any who dared to stand it its way.  Suppose instead, he had mentioned:

And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of Yahweh had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid; for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and acquit yourselves like men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; acquit yourselves like men and fight” (I Sam. 4:6-9).

Then he might have pursued the issue of how did this reputation arise and what is the (military) meaning of the word Hebrew in this context.

He might have explored the violence of Levi and Simeon and inquired as to the origin of that tradition.

He might have explored the more reasonably-sized military forces of Gideon and David.

He might have explored the use of numbers and what the “thousands” mean in non-Exodus stories.

But Grabbe does not pursue these avenues of scholarship. Instead he just had fun at the expense of the physically-literal interpretation of the biblical text.

Even when the opportunity to investigate the Exodus is staring him right in the face, he is Balaam and cannot see it. Grabbe writes that if Israel had been as strong as implied by the numbers of fighting men, it could have taken control of at least Lower Egypt? Isn’t that what the Hyksos did? Grabbe’s comment that nothing in the Hyksos account by Josephus evokes Israel omits an analysis of the Hyksos in the 19th Dynasty (2014:81). If Grabbe had realized that there was a connection between the Hyksos and the Exodus, he also would have realized that there were references in the Egyptian records from the time of Ramses and Merneptah that should be explored in an historical reconstruction of the Exodus.

Grabbe (2014) subsequently states that there is nothing in the Egyptian texts that could be related to the story of the Exodus. Nothing in the second millennium BCE suggests a series of plagues, death of children, physical disruption of the country, and loss of huge numbers of its inhabitants. He neglects to mention that it is unlikely that a bellowing hippopotamus in Thebes disturbed the sleep of Apophis in Avaris hundreds of miles away and that therefore the story of it happening also is of zero historical value. Disproving the physically-literal interpretation of biblical texts is irrelevant to determining if Moses led people out of Egypt against the will of Ramses and constituted them in the wilderness as Israel or not. Grabbe knows that the search for naturalistic explanations for the plagues misses the point because he says so himself (2010:67). He knows the plague stories are to deliver a message. So why raise that point that plagues can’t be found in Egypt as part of a proof that the Exodus could not have occurred?

Grabbe considers it strange that there is not even a hint in Egyptian literature, iconography or legend of the Egypt stories in the Books of Genesis and Exodus. This is the precise dilemma I avoided in my book The Exodus: An Egyptian Story. Any attempt to create a historical reconstruction of the Exodus as an event of people leaving Egypt in open defiance of Ramses or any other Pharaoh inevitably leads to issues of biblical exegesis – when were texts written? By whom? For what purpose? Grabbe brings his biblical preconceptions to his analysis that undermines his effort to reconstruct the historical Exodus without his being aware of it. For example, to continue with his plague example, what are the cosmological plague traditions in Egypt, meaning what message did the Egyptians deliver through their plague myths? Based on that analysis one would then try to understand what message Israel sought to deliver through its version of the plague myths in rebuttal to the Egyptian cultural construct. The physical historicity of the ten plagues (except the last one) is not the issue. Grabbe’s search for the physical plagues in the Egypt record is comparable to the search for them by evangelicals. He is as much a literalist in disproving the Exodus as they are in proving it.

Grabbe (2016) here spends 46 pages on an analysis of the Exodus as an event in history. He covers a great deal of ground both physically and topically. Many peoples, places, (time)periods, scholars, and definition of terms like nomads and tribes are included. His effort suggests a person who is trying to be fair, comprehensive, and thorough into his investigation into whether or not an historical Exodus occurred. Still one does wonder how many people would have to have left Egypt in open defiance of Ramses or any other Pharaoh to constitute an Exodus. More than two? Less than 600,000?

Grabbe opines that no event of the size and extent to the Exodus could have failed to leave significant archaeological remains. One might also ask what are the archaeological remains in Canaan and Syria of Ramses’s army of 20,000? What is the archaeological evidence of the Shasu in the wilderness for centuries beyond Egyptian Pharaoh’s mentioning their existence? Without the texts, how would know that the Shasu existed or the large-scale Battle of Kadesh had been fought?

He concludes his analysis by organizing the data into the following sections:

Biblical data confirmed
Biblical data not confirmed though they may be correct
Biblical picture incorrect
Biblical picture omits/has gaps.

Grabbe employs a similar schematic in other publications as well as an illustration of his thoroughness and fairness in dealing with the question of the Exodus and biblical texts. His analyses always led him to believe based on the evidence that an historical Exodus did not occur: people did not leave Egypt in defiance of Pharaoh.

One critical question is given the assumption of no historical Exodus, how did it come to be that there is such an extensive story of the Exodus in the biblical narrative? How come it shows signs of being revised on multiple occasions delivering multiple messages?

Grabbe is enamored of the speculative hypothesis that Merneptah took Israelites captives in his 1207 BCE campaign. These slaves in Egypt were the source of the Exodus story whenever they returned to Canaan after Egyptian imperial rule collapsed or in the Iron Age. This speculative historical reconstruction is based on the premise that the Exodus did not occur, the biblical story does, therefore there has to be an explanation for how that happened.

A more popular explanation is a speculative historical reconstruction by Nadav Na’aman, “The Exodus Story: Between Historical Memory and Historiographical Composition” (JANER 11 2011:39-69). His theory, later supported by Ron Hendel, posits a reverse exodus. Instead of Israel going forth from Egypt, Egypt left Canaan. Na’aman is referring to the departure of Egypt after centuries of rule in the New Kingdom generally ending somewhere around 1139 BCE in the reign of Ramses VI. During that time people in the land of Canaan thought of themselves as slaves of Egypt and not slaves in Egypt. After Egypt withdrew, the people left in the land transformed the memory of that occurrence into the story of the Exodus from Egypt we know today.

Here is an example of another speculative historical reconstruction from a different perspective: the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15) was not composed as a single song. Instead it grew by stanza in response to different encounters between Israel and Egypt

Stanza 1 the Exodus showdown in the time of Moses and Ramses also known as the Song of Miriam
Stanza 2 Merneptah’s failure to destroy the seed of Israel in the time of Joshua and added at Mt. Ebal
Stanza 3 the defeat of the forces of Ramses III (Se-sera, Sisera) in the time of Deborah probably added at Mt. Ebal
Stanza 4 celebrating the withdrawal of Egypt by Ramses VI added at Shiloh.

This composite song was part of the Book/Scroll of the Wars of Yahweh (against Egypt) which served as a source document when the alphabet narrative prose account was written.

I submit that this speculative historical reconstruction is more plausible, more reasonable, more comprehensive, and more coherent than the reverse exodus hypothesis of Na’aman. It also addresses some on the concerns raised by Grabbe about the maintenance of the memory of the Exodus and the continuity of the Israel/Egypt relationship from the end of the Late Bronze Age into the Iron I period before becoming part of a prose narrative in Iron II.

Speaking of the Song of the Sea, now consider Joshua Berman’s scholarship on it in relation to Ramses II at Kadesh. Berman has carved out a niche for himself over the years in asserting the interrelationship between Ramses and the Song of the Sea.

2014 SBL Conference “The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II and the Song of the Sea”
2015 SBL Conference “Juxtaposed Conflicting Compositions: A New Kingdom Egyptian Parallel”
2015 Mosaic article “Was there an Exodus?”
2016 JNSL article “Juxtapose Conflicting Compositions: A New Kingdom Egyptian Parallel”
2016 Book chapter “The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II and the Song of the Sea Account (Exodus 13:17-15:19) in “Did I Not Bring Israel Out of Egypt?”: Biblical, Archaeological, and Egyptological Perspectives on the Exodus Narratives  (James K. Hoffmeier, Alan R. Millard, and Gary A. Rendsburg, ed.)
2017 Book chapter “The Exodus Sea Account (Exod 13:17-15:19) in Light of the Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II” in his book Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism
2017 Book chapter “Diverging Accounts within the Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II” in his book Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism.

The details of this proposed relationship between the Song of the Sea and the Kadesh Inscriptions are not the issue here. The relevance is in the use of the Egyptian literary texts and reliefs as part of the discussion about the historicity of the Exodus which Grabbe does not do. The typical approach to examining the archaeology omits this area of study. If minimalists wish to deny a connection by postulating a late date for the composition of the Song of Sea that somehow by chance is consistent with imagery and motifs used by Ramses II, they are, of course, free to do so. They also can reject the alleged parallelisms proposed by Berman.

Suppose now one were to take Berman’s analysis one step further. Suppose instead of simply postulating a borrowing from Ramses by Israel, consider applying a “Na’aman” reversal to the process: did Ramses borrow from or respond to the Exodus in his portrayal of the Battle of Kadesh?

I submit the following portions of Ramses’s song of victory at the waters of Kadesh derive from his recent failure in the Exodus following shortly after his failure at Kadesh.

1. he was led astray by the Yahweh-worshipping Shasu – Thutmose III made a bold decision at Megiddo and was successful. He was a great leader. By contrast, Ramses’s bold decision at Kadesh did not work out so well. But he was not responsible for the failure. How better to explain his failure than to blame a wilderness people of chaos? Why should scholars assume this event occurred?

2. he was deserted by his troops – Seriously!!!! People who had fought under the command of Seti and in his own earlier campaigns, now deserted Ramses after marching with him for hundreds of miles away from home! Why take this claim seriously? This charge raises a topic typically ignored by biblical scholars: the role of the military in Egypt during the 19th Dynasty particularly in the time of Ramses.

His capital city was a military one. Power had shifted from the priests in Thebes to the generals in Avaris. The military was in ascendancy. The 19th Dynasty royal family was from the northeast Delta; its precise connection to the Hyksos whom Seti honored at an event and Ramses later commemorated remains unknown. The armed forces were multi-racial and multi-ethnic. The young king needed to earn their loyalty especially if there was an alternative to his leadership. The military knew it had not deserted the king in battle, yet he publicly claimed they had. Ramses’s accusation of a great crime by the military was a post-Kadesh effort to install loyalty as was his 400 Year Stela. He was not deserted at Kadesh, he was deserted at Goshen when the charismatic, popular, and superior military-leader Moses led people out of Egypt and the army stood down and did not interfere.

3. he prayed to Amun – his lengthy well-crafted prayer to his father deity did not occur on the field of battle; this expression personal piety would have been well-known to the audience he was trying to con. Ramses stood alone, triumphing over the enemy while his supposed supporters watched. One can almost hear him saying:

Stand still, and see the salvation of the Amun, which he will shew to you to day: for the Hittites whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever (based on Ex. 14:13).

4. how did the naar feel after rescuing their king and not getting the recognition they deserved since Ramses triumphed on the battle field all by himself?

Muwatillis knew where the battle would be fought. He arrived there first.
Muwatillis knew where the waters were.
Muwatillis knew the route Ramses would take.
Muwatillis baited Ramses to charge into a trap.

The same strategy would work when leaving Egypt in defiance of the king.

Ramses’s versions of the Battle of Kadesh is a prime example where an ancient source should not be taken as gospel. I submit, it is possible not only to examine the Song of the Sea based on the Battle of Kadesh poems, bulletins, and reliefs, but possible to examine them as part Ramses’s response to a second failure following shortly after his first failure. In fact that is the speculative historical reconstruction I propose in my book The Exodus: An Egyptian Story.

Grabbe is dismissive of an historical Exodus in the time of Ramses. His analysis of the reign of Ramses itself is his comment that identifying him as the Pharaoh of the exodus “is rather strange considering that far from being destroyed, Egypt was at its height under his reign!” (2016:55; also used in Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? 2007:59). In a table of Egyptian kings at the end of his chapter “Canaan under the Rule of the Egyptian New Kingdom,” Grabbe lists Ramses with the description “one of the greatest Pharaohs; an unlikely ruler for the exodus! (2016:101)” But does that perception accurately reflect the conditions which existed after the young ruler failed at Kadesh?

Strangely, Grabbe himself provides the information for an Exodus in the time of Ramses without realizing it. He writes that there were very few periods in during the Late Bronze Age when Palestine (meaning Canaan) was not firmly under Egyptian control (2016:99). He claims his survey indicates one of the main difficulties with the concept of an historical Exodus: “THERE IS NO ROOM FOR SUCH AN EVENT DURING THIS TIME” (2016:99; capitalization added). Furthermore, as he stated the page before:

Strangely, though, it is often proposed that the exodus and/or conquest of Canaan by the Israelites took place under his reign – apparently overlooking that he was one of the strongest of the Pharaohs who had firm hold of the whole region well into the Syria and reigned for so much of the thirteenth century (2016:98).   

Yet a few sentences earlier he had written that following the failure of the strong Pharaoh, the “result was that Palestine (meaning Canaan) rebelled against Egyptian rule” (2016:98).

Why didn’t red lights blare, sirens shriek, and bells ring when he wrote that? Canaanites in the land of Canaan saw the weakness of “strong” Pharaoh and rebelled while Canaanites in the land of Goshen remained silent! Egyptologists recognize that the very people who fought at Kadesh knew the truth of the battle. Ramses could not deceive them with his account. Canaanites in the military including Hyksos knew what Canaanites in the land of Canaan knew. This was the moment to rebel. This was the moment for a charismatic military leader popular with the troops to seize the opportunity to confront Ramses the failure and lead the Exodus.

Ramses after the Battle of Kadesh was not yet the ultimate Pharaoh, to borrow the title of Egyptologist Peter Brand’s forthcoming book. The time between his failure at Kadesh in year 5 and his royal proclamations of Kadesh glory and his crackdown in Canaan beginning in year 8 provided a window of opportunity for a military figure to challenge the vulnerable and exposed king.

Here are some questions Grabbe might have asked if he was seriously interested in pursuing the possibility of an historical Exodus in the time of Ramses.

Why did the adult Ramses insert himself as child accompanying his father on his campaigns? Why did he erase or “cancel” the person who actually had? This action was not standard operating procedure. It was personal.

What happened to the person Ramses erased? Did he disappear from history or discover a God in history?

Why did Ramses need to create so many portrayals of his battle at Kadesh? How many duplicate copies did Thutmose III, Seti, and Ramses III make of their battles? Is there anyone in the ancient world who made a greater effort to make his name great than did Ramses II at the Battle of Kadesh? Archaeologists love it when kings make their names great, but that was not the religion Moses created as part of his rejection of the Egyptian cultural construct.

Why did Ramses add the non-historical elements to his Battle of Kadesh reports noted above?

Why did Ramses need to gain the loyalty of the Hyksos who remained in the land of Goshen with the 400 Year Stele?

Grabbe should follow his own advice here.

The biblical text is indeed often unreliable, but so are primary sources in many cases.

Egyptologist Kara Cooney in The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World (2021), takes Egyptologists to task for succumbing to the hype, spin, and propaganda of Egyptian rulers. In her opening chapter entitled “We Are all Pharaoh’s Groupies.” She states:

I work in a field of apologists who believe in an Egypt of truth, beauty, and power—and in many ways, I am still an adherent to my chosen faith…. I, myself, have been co-opted, unable to recognize the propaganda that the ancient Egyptians were creating.

She asserts that Ramses tried to convince the populace that he was truly what he said he was. Ramses appears to have successful not only with Egyptologists but with biblical scholars.

Cooney’s chapter about Ramses is subtitled “The Grand Illusion.” A subsection is entitled “Ramses the Gaslighter.” She describes him as a figure of optics not substance, of spin not achievement, of hyperbole and not accomplishment except to gaslight Egyptologists and biblical scholars. She asks: “What kinds of insecurities was this king hiding?” The answer is the Sun King lived in the shadow of the man Moses all his life.

Grabbe writes, “Historicity can be determined only when all possibilities have been considered” (2014). I submit that he has not considered them all. To answer the question of whether or not an historical Exodus occurred, one needs to engage the reign of Ramses II especially following his failure at Kadesh.

Grabbe writes “The Moses story shows ‘growth rings’ which indicate a development that drew on the Jeroboam tradition in order to develop the biblical like of Moses (2010:228). The truth is the other way of around. The tree of the Exodus story began in the Exodus and it is the attempt to portray Jeroboam as a new Moses that drew on it.

The histories of Israel need to be rewritten.

The commentaries on the origin of the Hebrew Bible need to be rewritten.

That is the minimum of what needs to be done.

See previous blogs:

Passover and Pharaoh Smites the Enemy February 19, 2022

Egyptologists, Biblical Scholars, and The Exodus March 10, 2022

Nadav Na’aman and Israel Finkelstein at the SBL Conference (2018)

https://bibleatlas.org/gezer.htm

What would an SBL conference be without Nadav Na’aman and Israel Finkelstein? This year there was a special session dedicated to Na’aman:

S18-324

Historiography and the Hebrew Bible
Theme: Between Biblical Research, Archaeology, and History: A Session in Honour of Nadav Na’aman for his Eightieth Birthday

Before turning to the presentations, it is necessary to include the presentation of one other person who bears directly on this session: Bill Dever. A session immediately preceding this one was:

S18-204

Archaeology of the Biblical World
Theme: Biblical Gezer: A Decade of Research by the Tandy Institute for Archaeology

As you read the abstracts from this session, note the implications for the United Monarchy and the tenth century BCE, the subjects of the previous blogs. I mention this because these considerations directly relate to the presentations by Finkelstein and Na’aman in the next session.

Gary P. Arbino, Gateway Seminary (Fremont)
Continuity and Change at Gezer: Ancient City Walls and Modern Excavations (15 min)

Each of the three cities noted in 1 Kings 9 as having received special attention in the Solomonic building program – Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer – occupied strategic locations in the region. Gezer’s position as guardian of a main route from the coast into the southern hill country required defensive architecture and planning that both enabled exchange and protected the interests of the Bronze Age city-state and the Iron Age regional polities. Thus it is important to consider the design, engineering, and construction of the various iterations of the city wall systems as they evolved throughout the second and first millennia, and the role they played in the occupational development of the site. With an eye to both the geo-political issues that necessitated their construction and the topographical situation which influenced their design, this paper provides an overview of these changing fortification systems. The research examines materials from the Macalister and the Hebrew Union College excavations in the light of the Middle Bronze and Iron Age structures recently unearthed by the Tandy.

Charissa Wilson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Gezer in the Iron IIA: Solomonic and Ninth Century Remains (30 min)

The recent completion of fieldwork for the Tandy Institute of Archaeology’s excavations at Tel Gezer marks the end of the third major project to work at the site. Field E of the Tandy’s excavations ended the final season with a wide exposure of architecture belonging to Stratum 8, the Solomonic phase of the city, located adjacent to the site’s well-known six-chambered gate. The first part of this paper will present an overview of this phase, informed by the findings of previous excavations, but focusing primarily on the newly revealed data. The Tandy project has uncovered in its entirety the large administrative building partially excavated previously by the Hebrew Union College excavations and labeled “Palace 10,000” by that project. This structure is significantly larger than previously known, and can now be recognized as a bit hilani-type structure, although that descriptor has been reevaluated recently. The administrative structure was connected to the city gate by a large stone-paved plaza that extended to approximately twenty meters west of the gate entrance. These newly revealed features combine with the city gate, casemate wall, and other previously known Stratum 8 features to provide a more thorough understanding of the character of Solomonic Gezer. The second part of the paper will report on the Gezer Stratum 7 city plan with a focus on a complete domestic structure. Stratum 7 is tentatively dated to the 9th century and has a destruction contemporary with other nearby destructions (e.g. Tel Gath) which has also been associated with Hazael. The Tandy excavations have defined 5 units built directly on top of the 10th century administrative building of Stratum 8 which is west of the Iron Age gate complex. Included in this paper will be a discussion of the change in city plan between Stratum 8 and Stratum 7, a proposal of the origin of the Stratum 7 complete domestic structure, an overview of the distribution of the finds in relation to the domestic structure, and a brief summary of the 9th century ceramics by Sam Wolff.

As with the Tel Hesi presentations at the ASOR conference, there werre specific references to pre-Sheshonq destruction structures reflecting an Israelite dominance over the region with Solomonic gates.

Lyndelle Webster, Institut für Orientalische und Europäische Archäologie (OREA)
Developing a Radiocarbon-Based Chronology at Tel Gezer (15 min)

Gezer is one of the major tell sites in the southern Levant for the Bronze and Iron Ages. The ancient city is well attested in Egyptian and biblical texts, and archaeological work has shown it to have a long occupation history, punctuated by destructions but with few substantial gaps. Thus the development of a radiocarbon-based chronology for Tel Gezer has great potential to contribute to our reconstructions of the region’s history, and the synchronization of southern Levantine strata with Egypt. Until now almost no radiocarbon data has been available from Tel Gezer. In 2016 the Tandy Tel Gezer excavation team radiocarbon-dated an initial set of short-lived material, representing many of the Iron Age strata they have targeted over the past decade of fieldwork. Shortly after this, a collaboration was formed with Lyndelle Webster, whose radiocarbon research focuses on southern Levantine Late Bronze Age chronology. We then proceeded to date the recently excavated strata in Field West spanning the Late Bronze to Iron Age transition. This sequence includes strata characterized by Philistine pottery, and a final Late Bronze Age destruction that the excavators attribute to Pharaoh Merneptah. The Tandy radiocarbon sequence is complemented by new material sampled from the exposed baulks of the earlier Hebrew Union College (HUC) excavations. This material primarily concerns the Late Bronze to early Iron Ages, but includes some data from Middle Bronze strata. This paper will present the first substantial radiocarbon dataset from the occupation levels of Tel Gezer, including the material from the Tandy excavation and newly sampled short-lived material from the HUC baulks. An evaluation of the data will be given, including Bayesian chronological models. Discussion of the results will focus on points where the data is sufficiently robust to help clarify key chronological issues pertaining to the history of the site and the wider region.

In her talk, Webster referred to her ASOR paper. I did not attend that presentation. The abstract refers to “new data” without providing any details so I cannot comment about it. In this paper, she concluded with a summary of the Gezer chronology based on the radiocarbon testing she had done:

Strata 12          Merneptah destruction
Strata 10          11th-10th destruction and not Siamun
Strata 8            10th or 9th destruction date level cause debated
Strata 7            destruction makes strata 8 in 9th century unlikely and Hazael problematic.

According to Webster, strata 8 should be dated earlier to the late 10th or early 9th BCE. This dating would make Sheshonq the likely though not definite candidate for the destruction since how many choices are there?

Due to time constraints from the previous papers, the closing section was shortened to solely Dever’s paper. However, he was not present due to personal reasons so Eric Welch read his 16 page handwritten paper. After the opening acknowledgments and congratulations, Welch summarized each of the remaining pages one by one by saying “Finkelstein is wrong, Finkelstein is wrong, Finkelstein is wrong” until he had gone through all the pages from Dever.

With this background in mind, one can turn to the Finkelstein presentation, a two part paper in partnership with Thomas Römer.

Israel Finkelstein, Tel Aviv University
An Eighth Century BCE Monumental Podium at Kiriath-jearim in Historical Context: Who Built It and for What Purpose? (20 min)

Recent excavations by a Tel Aviv University—College de France team at the site of Kiriath-jearim west of Jerusalem uncovered evidence for the construction of a monumental elevated podium in the Iron Age. Combining an exact-science method of dating with archaeological considerations, the podium seems to date to the first half of the 8th century BCE. The questions which will be dealt are: who built the podium, when and why. The answers may shed light on the history of the region, the relationship between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and biblical references to Kiriath-jearim.

Finkelstein identified the site as a prosperous 8th-7th century BCE site also named “Gibeah.” It contained a massive wall and platform long before Herod did the same in Jerusalem. Based on the dating, Finkelstein claimed the wall and platform were beyond the capabilities of Judah and could not have been done by Assyria since the construction was prior to the Assyrian conquest. He therefore attributed it to Jeroboam II. He compared it to a similar platform in Samaria also attributed to Jeroboam II. This southern construction was a physical expression of the northern kingdom’s interest in the southern kingdom.

This fascination with Jeroboam II intrigues me. Obviously Roman numerals were not used in the biblical account. What is worth pondering is why did this Israelite king share the name of a predecessor? How often did that happen in either Israel or Judah anyway? I mention that because of Sargon II and Nebuchadnezzar II in Assyria and Babylonia respectively in the late 8th and 7th centuries BCE (besides Ashurnasirpal II and Tiglath-pileser III among others). It is taken for granted that there were a Sargon I and Nebuchadnezzar I and that the names of the second kings were meant in part in honor of the first ones. In fact one of the new books for sale at the conference was on Nebuchadnezzar I: The Reign of Nebuchadnezzar I in History and Historical Memory by John Nielsen (2018).  I have scanned the book and will read it soon. I used Nielsen’s earlier writings on Nebuchadnezzar I in my own book Jerusalem Throne Games and consider him an underappreciated figure who influenced Israelite’s perceptions of a king. Be that as it may, Jeroboam II suggests an historical memory of Jeroboam I, a positive memory of him, and a royal memory that probably was at variance with the memory of him by the prophets, the Davidic dynasty, and the Jerusalem Temple priests. I realize there are limits as to what can be accomplished in an oral presentation of 20 minutes and that I am only reporting on what was presented at the conference and not the full scholarship of the presenter. Still in that presentation there was no sense that Jeroboam II here was a figure from the middle of the history of Israelite monarchy dating back to the 10th century rather than someone initiating traditions. This feeling increased with the presentation by Römer.

Thomas Römer, Collège de France – University of Lausanne
The Origin and Development of the So-Called Ark Narrative (20 min)

This paper will argue that the original Ark narrative ended in 1 Sam 7:1 with the transfer of the Ark to Kiriath Jearim. This narrative was apparently a Northern work, composed possibly under Jeroboam II, who wanted to legitimate the site of Kiriath Jearim as one of his “border sanctuaries”. 2 Sam 6 was composed much later when Josiah took over the territory of Benjamin and transferred the Ark to his capital.

The presentation reiterated the themes raised by Finkelstein regarding a northern intrusion into Benjamin complete with an ark narrative to legitimate it. One wonders why it even occurred to Jeroboam II to deploy the ark motif and why he thought it would be successful.

Somehow there seem to have been no presentations at the SBL or ASOR conferences about the stories that would have been generated about from the pre-Sheshonq sites excavations presented at the conferences. Apparently new traditions can be created from scratch using the names of people from the tenth century BCE without attributing any actual actions, constructions or stories to them.

This shortcoming provided a segue into Na’aman’s paper which did not have an abstract. His subject was the writing of the Book of the Acts of Solomon. He made clear several times during his presentation that the historicity of Solomon was not his topic; the composition of specific verses identified with the Book of the Acts of Solomon was. He examined these passages one by one from I Kings and in each instance determined that the appropriate time for their composition was Neo-Assyrian. Specifically, the late years of Sargon II or the early years of Sennacherib were the most suitable for the writing of this “Book.” The Assyrian empire itself became a model for the golden age attributed to Solomon.

In other words, Na’aman did with Solomon precisely what Finkelstein and Römer did not do with Jeroboam I. Although Na’aman did not address the issue of the historicity of Solomon the implications of his presentation are that there was an historical Solomon, he did things worth remembering, and that the stories about him were updated/revised/created in Assyrian times based on the current circumstances. His presentation also left open the other biblical passages involving Solomon that are not specifically attributed to the Book of the Acts of Solomon. Again, obviously not all Solomon-related passages could be discussed on one paper.

In general terms these three blogs about the tenth century BCE, Na’aman, and Finkelstein at the ASOR and SBL conferences indicate that:

1. presentations on the archaeology of pre-Sheshonq sites were not accompanied by any stories from that time period
2. presentations about tenth century BCE figures were not linked to the pre-Sheshonq archaeology or the historical context in a world of Ham (Egypt), Canaan, Shem (Israel), and Japheth (Philistines)
3. presentations on names and objects from the tenth century BCE, Solomon, Jeroboam I, and the ark, do not indicate why or the process by which they were remembered centuries later.

Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the swirl and hustle of the individual sessions over the five-day period without noticing any patterns.