manicstreetpreacher enquires of a former recent debating opponent on a few points. Such as whether there is any evidence outside the texts themselves for a group of half a million people being dragged around the desert for decades to the only place in the Middle East that has no oil. And how could the scribes of the King James Version have botched up so badly that Yahweh has been transformed into a moral abomination…
Dear Rabbi Rubinstein
Follow My Way – 12 March 2009, Liverpool University
I very much enjoyed debating you at Liverpool University’s Follow My Way event on 12 March 2009. It was a shame you had to leave early. I have a few clean-up points which we didn’t have chance to address.
Archaeology and the Old Testament
As I was attempting to say in the debate before you questioned my bibliography, the stories of the Exodus, the wandering and the conquest of Canaan have long been dismissed by the “serious” school of Jewish archaeology as myths with no more basis in historical fact than King Arthur plucking Excalibur from the grasp of The Lady of The Lake.
I suggest you read The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman upon which I have based some of my arguments in this area. Finkelstein and Silberman are biblical “minimalists” in that they view the events portrayed in the Old Testament as having little basis in reality, as opposed to “maximalists” who see the OT as an accurate historical record.
In respect of the Exodus, there is no way that a mass of half a million plus Jews escaping from Egypt would have passed Egyptian military outposts without being stopped in their tracks. There is no mention of Moses outside the Bible and the episode is not mentioned at all in contemporary Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts. Not a single campsite or sign of occupation from the time of Ramesses II and his immediate predecessors has ever been identified in Sinai. And it has not been from lack of trying. We are talking about one of the most heavily excavated areas in the World.
It gets better. Archaeological excavations show that Jericho was a tiny hillside settlement c. 1,300BC and therefore had no walls to bring down whether by the sound of Joshua’s horns or more conventional military methods.
Maximalists such as Kenneth Kitchen clutch at straws, in particular the Tel Dan seal which alludes to “The House of David”. Whilst Finkelstein and Silberman concede that David and Solomon probably did exist, population levels at that time could only have rendered them as minor tribal chieftains. Again, there is no mention of either king in contemporary Mesopotamia texts even though we have good records of other Middle Eastern rulers from the same period.
Kitchen and Tudor Parfitt, with the latter’s ludicrous confection of fabrication and assertion, The Lost Ark of the Covenant, desperately spin the archaeological evidence further than it could ever reasonably be expected to go in non-religious history.
One highly respected scholar, William Dever, has tried to straddle both minimalist and maximalist positions in his book, Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research (1993). However, even Dever concedes:
Absolutely no trace of Moses, or indeed any Israelite presence in Egypt, has ever turned up. Of the Exodus, and the wandering in the wilderness – events so crucial in the Biblical recitation of the “mighty acts of God” – we have no evidence whatsoever… Recent Israeli excavations at Kadesh-Barnea, the Sinai oasis where the Israelites are said to have encamped for forty years, have revealed an extensive settlement, but not so much as a potsherd earlier than tenth century BC.
Even the location of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem remains a mystery, despite impressive finds having been made which pre-date the period.
As for Mount Sinai, the geographical location is entirely separate from biblical one and so far, has proved surprisingly illusive for what one would think would surely be a vast feature on any landscape.
As I contended in the debate, our earliest written sources for the likes of Alexander The Great and Ramesses II may be dated hundreds of years after their deaths, but we at least know they existed and can be sure of many of the details of their lives because we have their tombs, coins with their faces on and have unearthed the sites of their battles.
I think this admission by the entire “serious” school of Jewish archaeology, who had every motive to go into the desert and dig up what David Ben-Gorian called “the title deeds” to prove the Israelis’ claim to the Holy Land, is a shining example of what Bertrand Russell termed “evidence over interest” and is far more noble, far more admirable and far more Socratic than any of the nonsense that clergymen attempt to foist upon their flocks.
Nevertheless, you could prove your case very easily by pointing out where Moses and Solomon are buried.
But, we could argue all day about scant archaeological which could imply the historicity of the narrative. If we just take a step back, the story is falsified by looking at matters more philosophically:
Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!
- Golda Meir, Israeli Prime Minister 1969 – 1974
My mother’s Jewish ancestors are told that until they got to Sinai, they’d been dragging themselves around the desert under the impression that adultery, murder, theft and perjury were all fine, and got to Mount Sinai only to be told it’s not kosher after all.
- Christopher Hitchens
Even taken as a metaphor, the story is an insult; not only to humanity’s moral sense, but also its intelligence. What society would have even got that far thinking that the above acts were permissible? And why would the creator of the universe reward his chosen with the right to ethically cleanse their way to gaining such a worthless piece of land?
The Torah as a moral guide
Having debated seasoned apologists for a while now, I know that terms such as “translation” and “context” seem to cover a multitude of sins. Since I’m feeling charitable, I’ll let go the repeated endorsements of slavery that litter the Jewish Bible (even rather bizarre pronouncements such as not beating your slaves so hard that they die on the spot, but if they live for one or two days afterwards, that’s all fine and dandy – Exodus 21: 20-21), as mistranslations, distortions and misinterpretations by those hacks who penned the King James Version.
However, I don’t think following pronouncements survived the journey into Hebrew:
Thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them, thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them. And thou shalt consume all the people which the LORD thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them… For they will turn away thy son from following me… so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly… the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are on the face of the earth.
- Deuteronomy 7
And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
- Numbers 31: 15 – 18
Are these ethical preachments? Is Moses a man we should look up to as a great moral teacher? Can you with a straight face explain away as a mistranslation the fact that rabbis in the Israeli army to this very day solemnly debate whether the Palestinians are the Amalekites and therefore the biblical warrant to exterminate them still remains?
I have to put it in these terms because I can scarcely believe that an otherwise noble and intelligent people can be guilty of such bovine stupidity and flat-out racism.
And don’t even get me started on the millennia-long, fine Jewish tradition of mutilating the genitalia of infant boys without their consent… (Genesis 17, Leviticus 12: 3).
Atheism and the greatest crimes of the twentieth century
Before you trot out this well-worn, bogus argument again, can you at least reveal what the secular roots of fascism and anti-Semitism actually were in Europe in the 1930s?
The links below are some excellent articles first published in Free Inquiry magazine which give a more definite answer to Hitler’s religious views and set out the Church’s complicity in the rise of European totalitarianism:
I managed to track down Part II of Gregory Paul’s article in an online database, which I can forward to you if you wish. The articles also refer to excellent works for further reading if you want to find out what really motivated this man as opposed to his alleged non-belief in Yahweh/ Jesus/ Zeus. I would particularly recommend Ian Kershaw’s work. His two-volume biography was condensed only last year into a more manageable thousand-page volume, which I’m sure my father would be happy to lend to you.
I won’t go into Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Kim Jung Il any further now, but just because I don’t believe in your god does not make a supporter of their regimes, any more than someone with a moustache ought to be likened to Saddam Hussein.
And finally… the last word on miracles
Below is a link to the website that I alluded to in my opening address, the title, if not the contents of which you ought to ponder before giving that lecture on miracles with guaranteed results: