Pillars of Faith

Pillars of Faith

The Scripture uses various words to speak of the commandments of the Torah. One of the terms that is used to refer to the commandments is the word: “edut” = testimony. In a certain sense all of the commandments can be referred to as “edut” because they all testify to the basic truth that God is our Father and King and that we are His children and servants who received His Law through Moses. But certain specific commandments stand out in that they are witnesses to specific truths that serve as the bedrock of our faith.

The concept of an observance serving as a witness goes to the heart of the commandments. One of the underlying themes of the commandments is the sanctity that they infuse into our lives, and through us, into the world around us. Thinking of the concept that the commandment represents, or even speaking about the concept that the commandment represents does not have the same impact as the practical observance of the commandment. Take the Sabbath as an example. Thinking of the truth that God created the world in six days and rested on the Sabbath or speaking and studying about this concept can never touch the actual observance of the Sabbath.
If you think about it or talk about it, the concept may penetrate to your head and perhaps even to your heart, but you will not have lived it. Practical observance of the Sabbath makes this truth a living reality that becomes intertwined into the very fabric of your being.

The Three Festivals; Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Feast of Weeks), and Sukkot (Tabernacles) testify to the three pillars of the Jewish faith. These are; the truth that God is Master of all (Pesach), the truth that Moses is His prophet (Shavuot) and the truth that we are His witnesses to carry the first two truths through the corridors of time (Sukkot). On Pesach we focus on the complete Mastery of nature that was displayed through the miracles of the exodus, on Shavuot we emphasize the Torah that we received through Moses and on Sukkot we relive God’s unique embrace that our nation experienced in the journey through the wilderness.

These truths were established in our midst by God Himself (Psalm 78:5). It was He who showed us that there is no power beside Him (Deuteronomy 4:35), it was He who demonstrated that Moses is for real (Exodus 19:9), and it was His embrace that set us apart from the nations of the world, confirming our appointment as His witnesses (Isaiah 43:12).

The ramification of these truths is that Israel’s testimony is true; the God who we serve is the true God and the Torah of Moses that we follow is God’s will. There are those who claim to believe in the exodus from Egypt, they claim to believe in the prophecy of Moses and they even claim to believe in Isaiah, who identifies Israel as God’s witness, yet they reject the obvious ramification of these truths and they claim that a god who Israel never
knew is a real god and they claim that it is they, and not Israel, who possess the
exclusive knowledge of God’s will.

These people, while claiming to believe in the foundational truths, never encountered these truths in the setting that God intended that they be learned. These people did not observe the festivals of God that are designed by God to teach these truths to the future generations. The truths of the exodus, Sinai and our journey in the wilderness are to them theoretical abstracts. Since they did not encounter these truths in the context that God designed to preserve these truths, they never lived these truths.

It is our responsibility as God’s witnesses to immerse ourselves into the observance of the festivals of our God in a way that that the spirit of each of these festivals penetrates into the very core of our beings. We can then hope to merit the day when the light of God will illuminate the universe – as it shines through us (Isaiah 60:3).

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Holy Times

Holy Times

The Biblical holidays seem to be divided into two separate cycles; we have the “Three Festivals” (Pesach-Passover, Shavuot-Festival of Weeks and Sukkot-Tabernacles – Exodus 23:14), and we have the “High Holy Days” (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot). Aside from the fact that these two cycles both culminate in Sukkot, they seem to be unrelated. But upon closer examination we will see that these two cycles are actually one and the same.

On a superficial level we can immediately see that Pesach and Rosh Hashana are associated with each other; on Pesach we were redeemed from Egypt, and the tradition teaches that our ancestors stopped working for the Egyptians on Rosh Hashana. Shavuot and Yom Kippur are even more closely associated; on Shavuot we heard the Ten Commandments and on Yom Kippur we received the second tablets.

But the connection runs much deeper. The set of Pesach and Shavuot directly parallels the set of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. On Pesach God took us out of Egypt and acquired us as His servants (Leviticus 25:55). On Shavuot, when we received the Torah, God gave us the details, He taught us how we are to live our lives as His servants. Likewise, on Rosh Hashana we proclaim God as our King, and on Yom Kippur we get to the details. Through the repentance on Yom Kippur we bring every detail of our lives back in line with
the general truth of God’s absolute sovereignty that we acknowledged on Rosh

So Pesach and Rosh Hashana emphasize the general concept; that God is our King and we are His servants, while Shavuot and Yom Kippur emphasize the details that follow the general concept; how every aspect of our lives should line up with the truth that God is our King. The difference between these two sets is that Pesach and Shavuot have God moving towards us; He took us out of Egypt to make us His servants, and He gave us the Torah to teach us how to live as His servants – while Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have us moving towards God; we acknowledge God’s sovereignty and we attempt to bring our lives to conform with that basic truth.

Sukkot is the culmination of both cycles. Sukkot commemorates Israel’s journey in the desert. Israel’s journey in the desert represents both God’s protection of Israel and Israel’s trust in God (Leviticus 23:43, Jeremiah 2:2). The clouds of glory that surrounded us were an embrace from God that impacted our nation to the core. It was in that setting that we absorbed the teachings of God (Deuteronomy 32:10) which enable us to fulfill our mission as God’s servant throughout history. It was there that we became who we are.

On Pesach and Shavuot God moves towards us, providing us with the materials that we need to become God’s servants. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we move towards God to accept those elements that are foundational to our status as God’s servants. On Sukkot God’s motion towards us and our motion towards God meet under the canopy of the tabernacle. In the shade of the tabernacle we experience God’s embrace all over again, and the truths of Pesach-Rosh Hashana and Shavuot-Yom Kippur are infused into the core of our beings. When we emerge from the tabernacle we come forth as a nation that is formed anew by God with the praise of God in our hearts and on our lips (Isaiah 43:21, Psalm
102:19). We are then ready to step forth into the world to fulfill our duty as God’s servant.

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Merneptah Stela – Excerpt from the forthcoming “The Bible Trial”

Rabbi Joseph Reinman has been kind enough to allow us to post selections from his forthcoming book – The Bible Trial. The following is the sixth and final in a series of excerpts that we have posted.

On Monday morning, Calabrese called his next witness to the stand. He was a tall, rail-thin man with a deeply sunburned face.

Calabrese greeted him with his customary smile.

“Can you give us your name and occupation, sir?”

“Dr. Jamison Potemkin,” said the witness in a surprisingly deep voice. “I’m professor of biblical archaeology at the University of Rhode Island.”

“Dr. Potemkin,” said Calabrese, “I understand that archaeology can be a technical and arcane field. Is that not so?”

“It can be for amateurs. For the true archaeologist, all the minutiae are exceedingly interesting.”

“No doubt,” said Calabrese. “Most of us here in this courtroom are just amateurs, so I’ll ask you to couch your answers in layman’s terms.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Very well. Based on your knowledge of biblical archaeology, would you say the Bible is a reliable historical source?”

“When you say the Bible, you’re covering a very long period, from the creation story until the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 b.c.e. and beyond. Your question has to be more specific.”

“That’s fine. I’ll ask specific questions. Dr. Potemkin, before we go on to talk about archaeology, two quick points about chronology. First, the Bible states that Pharaoh Shishak went up against Jerusalem in the fifth year of the reign of King Rehoboam, son of King Solomon. In what year did Shishak conduct his campaign against the Kingdom of Judah?

“It was 925 b.c.e.”

“That means that Solomon died in 930 b.c.e. Is that consistent with the conventional chronology?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Does anyone in the academic community question the conventional chronology as you’ve explained it to this court?”

“No, sir. It’s universally accepted.”

“Thank you. Now let’s go on to more serious issues –”

Dexter was on his feet. “Your honor, Counsel has introduced new testimony,” said Dexter. “I’d like to cross-examine.”

“Go ahead, counselor,” said the judge.

Dexter bowed his head slightly and turned to the witness. “Dr. Potemkin, how do we know that Shishak invaded Judah in 925 b.c.e.?”

The witness bit his lip and remained silent.

“Isn’t it true, Dr. Potemkin,” said Dexter, “that this is one of the points of synchronicity by which Egyptian chronology is established? Isn’t the date for Shishak’s campaign derived from the conventional chronology of Israel and Judah rather than the other way around?”

The witness nodded. “Yes.”

“So all of ancient chronology is a muddle, isn’t it?” said Dexter.

Calabrese stood up. “Objection, your honor!”

“I withdraw the question,” said Dexter and went back to his seat. “You can continue.”

Calabrese took a deep breath. He riffled through some papers on his table and scribbled some notes. Finally, he put down his pen and returned to the witness.

“Dr. Potemkin,” he said, “you were making a distinction between different parts of the Bible when we were … uh … interrupted before. Please continue with the point you were making.”

“I was saying that … Look, if we limit ourselves to Israelite history and start with the Patriarchs, the Bible covers a period of well over a thousand years. Some radical minimalists deny all Israelite history, saying it was all invented during the Hellenistic period under the Greeks. I do not subscribe to that school of thought. Nor do most moderate professional archaeologists.”

“All right.”

“As we come closer to the modern era, we find corroboration of the biblical account from extra-biblical sources. Aramean, Moabite and Assyrian inscriptions mention Israelite kings. We have coins, seals and other remnants of what we call the material culture.”

“From excavations?”

“Yes, of course. But as you go back further, there is practically no outside corroboration of the Biblical account. There was a time when archaeologists believed archaeology would confirm the biblical story, but in recent generations, we’ve come to the conclusion that archaeology supports the view that the early accounts of the Bible are pure fiction.”

“You mean there was no Israel in ancient times?”

“We know there was an Israel in 1207 b.c.e.,” said the witness. “The famous Merneptah Stela mentioned an Israel in the Judean hills.”

“And what is the Merneptah Stela?”

“It’s a large stone monument commissioned by Pharaoh Merneptah. The monument is densely inscribed with Merneptah’s glorious military victories. On the stela, Israel is identified as a people rather than a state, so this was probably at the very beginning of its development as a nation. Other than that, we hear nothing about Israel in the Egyptian record. There is no mention of the settlement of a patriarchal Israelite family in Egypt.”

“I see.”

“It’s also preposterous that an Israelite named Joseph would become the second most powerful person in Egypt. There is absolutely no mention of the bondage of Israelites in Egypt. There’s no record of an Exodus. There’s no record of many travels and encampments in the desert for forty years.”

“How about the War of Conquest under Joshua?”

“There’s no record of a military conquest of Canaan. No record of a wide-scale destruction of Canaanite cities. No Israelite inscriptions from this period confirming any of the Bible’s claims. In fact, we’ve never found any Israelite inscriptions, although we’ve found inscriptions from just about every nation in the area; it certainly shows the lack of sophistication of any Israelite kingdoms that may have existed in ancient times.”

“It does make you think, doesn’t it?” said Calabrese. “Go on.”

“Yes, where was I? Ah, yes. The Bible reports that the Israelites besieged and destroyed the city of Jericho, but the archaeological record, according to the prestigious archaeologist Dame Kathleen Kenyon, shows that Jericho was not even inhabited at that time. That last discovery was the last nail in the coffin of the maximalists such as William Albright and his school.”

“You’ve made many provocative points, Dr. Potemkin. I’d like to review them one by one, if you please. You say it is unlikely that an Israelite such as Joseph would rise to a position of supreme power in Egypt.”

“Pure fantasy. Romantic fiction.”

“And you say that there’s no record of Israelites enslaved in Egypt?”

“According to the Bible, Israelites in large numbers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, were enslaved in Egypt. Now, the Egyptians kept meticulous records. They left huge archives that include records of government affairs, military records and business. One would expect that the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of people would be recorded. But it isn’t. Not a trace of their having been there, not a trace of their having escaped into the desert.”

“And you said something about no records of their encampments.”

“That’s right,” said the witness. “According to the Bible, the Israelites camped at forty-two places in the desert before entering Canaan. We found no trace of such an encampment anywhere. You might say that we cannot be sure of the exact locations of these places. Two of the places, however, can be identified with reasonable assurance – Kadesh Barne’a and Etzion Geber. Yet in neither of these has a single thirteenth century pottery sherd been found.”

“And the Biblical story of the conquest of Canaan?”

“The archaeological record shows that there was no violent conquest. It is true that the Canaanite city of Hazor was destroyed. But there’s no record of thirteenth century destruction for the other cities recorded as conquered in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Joshua. As for the famous story of the siege of Jericho and the sounding of the ram’s horn that brought its walls tumbling down, there’s no archaeological record of habitation in Jericho at that time.”

Calabrese stroked his chin. “Tell me, Dr. Potemkin, is there a record of an increase of population in the thirteenth century?”

“Yes, there was apparently a significant increase in population, mostly in the Judean hill country. But even so, the population came nowhere close to the hundreds of thousands reported by the Bible. According to archaeological data, the population in the thirteenth century b.c.e. was approximately 45,000 in 250 sites. By the eight century b.c.e. the total population of Judah and Israel was about 160,000 in 500 sites.”

“Not very great numbers indeed, Dr. Potemkin. Obviously, the Bible’s figures cannot be taken seriously. But nonetheless, as you have said, there was undeniably a significant population increase in these lands in the thirteenth century. How do you account for that increase?”

“There are different opinions among archaeologists. All agree there was an influx of a different population group, because the luxury implements and fine ceramic pottery of the sophisticated Canaanite cities were replaced by rough and primitive implements and ceramics.

“Who were these new people?”

“The German scholar Albrecht Alt suggests that the new arrivals were the result of peaceful infiltration of peoples from surrounding areas. George Mendenhall suggests there was a peasant revolt in the Canaanite cities. This theory was dismissed, because no archaeological evidence supports it. Israel Finkelstein suggests they are the result of the resedentarization of nomads.”

“The what? Can you explain that, Dr. Potemkin?”

“Of course. Dr. Finkelstein suggested that, because of difficult times, many city people abandoned urban life and became nomadic shepherds. Then, in the thirteenth century, they decided to settle down again to a sedentary life. Therefore, we find a sudden increase in the population. Nomads do not register in the archaeological record, but cities, towns and villages do. I subscribe to this point of view. The Israelites were originally Canaanites.”

“Hmm. Interesting. One more question, Dr. Potemkin. The Bible reports that King David and King Solomon ruled over a large and glorious kingdom. Does archaeology support or contradict this view?”

“The Bible reports that King Solomon rebuilt the northern cities of Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer. In all these places, archaeologists uncovered monumental palace remains. They also had characteristic city gates that had three chambers on each side. These came to be identified as the Solomonic architectural style.”

“So was that corroboration?”

“No. At first, there was some excitement, as many thought they’d found corroboration for the Bible. But it was a false alarm. The sites were tested with carbon-14 dating, and it was discovered that the ruins were over a century younger, well after the time of David and Solomon. It appears that Israel under David and Solomon was at best a backward mountain kingdom.”

“So to sum up, Dr. Potemkin?”

“Archaeology has demonstrated that Israel began very modestly in the hill country of Judah and did not reach the level of a respectable regional kingdom until late in its history. The Bible is a fantasy.”

“Thank you, Dr. Potemkin. No more questions.”

Dexter stood up and walked slowly toward the witness.

“Dr. Potemkin, you have made a blanket statement,” said Dexter, “that there was no significant Israelite presence in Egypt. Your basis for this sweeping generalization is that there’s no record of it. Would you consider this negative evidence?”

“I suppose.”

“Isn’t it a rule in archaeology and in general that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence? Isn’t it generally assumed that negative evidence only proves that you have not yet found anything but that you very well may?”

“This is true. Nonetheless, you would expect to see some record.”

“Where would you expect to find such records?”

“On papyrus rolls from Egyptian archives.”

“And since the Israelites were in the Nile Delta, isn’t that where you would expect to find such records? Like in Heliopolis or Pi-Ramesse?”

“Yes,” said the witness.

“Now we know that such archives existed,” said Dexter, “from tomb records in the dry sands of Saqqara, isn’t that so?”


“So what happened to those archives?” asked Dexter innocently.

“They have not survived.”

“Why not?” said Dexter.

“Because the climate is wet and the ground is muddy.”

“I see. So how many papyri from these archives have survived?”


“Nothing? Not even a scrap?”

“Not even a scrap.”

“So there could have been volumes of records of Israelites, but nothing has remained, isn’t that so?”

The witness refused to concede the point. “You would still expect to see some record somewhere. Just something.”

“Are there records for Semites infiltrating Egypt in times of drought and famine?”


“Do Egyptian inscriptions identify different Semitic groups?”

“No, they’re all called Semites.”

“And there are inscriptions in the tomb of the vizier of Thutmose III of Semites making bricks, aren’t there?”

“Yes,” said the witness. “But they’re described as prisoners of war.”

“But don’t we have a basis for Egyptians using captive Semites for forced labor? Doesn’t the Bible speak of an erub rab, a mixed multitude, joining the Israelites in the Exodus? Couldn’t these have been other captive Semitic peoples as well as disgruntled Egyptians?”

The witness shrugged. “Anything could be. We don’t believe it.”

“Dr. Potemkin, this court is not interested in your beliefs,” said Dexter sternly. “We are looking for facts. And so far you have given us hardly any facts. You say the Joseph story is romantic fiction, that it would have been impossible for a Semite to rise to such power in Egypt. Is that correct?”

“Yes, that is correct.”

“How about Aper-El, vizier to Amenhotep III and Akhenaten? Wasn’t he a Semite?”

“Maybe. His name would indicate he was.”

“So if Aper-El could be vizier, why couldn’t Joseph? In fact, didn’t Jaroslav Cerny observe that during the Ramesside era it became quite common for men of foreign origin to serve in high office at court?”

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Dexter’s Closing Arguments – Excerpt from the forthcoming “The Bible Trial”

Rabbi Joseph Reinman has been kind enough to allow us to post selections from his forthcoming book – The Bible Trial. The following is the fifth in a series of excerpts that we will be posting. Stay posted!

Dexter walked slowly toward the jury box, his face grave. He stopped about ten feet away from the jury box and bowed slightly.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he began. “I have a confession to make. I didn’t want this case. An associate of mine persuaded me to take it, and I agreed against my better judgment. Those of you who’ve heard my name before this case know me as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal.

“As part of the package of being a liberal, I accepted without thinking the teachings of my professors that the Bible was a package of myths concocted much later than when it claims to have been written. I accepted without thinking that the Bible was a collection of tales rather than history.

“I’ll also confess to you – although I’m a little embarrassed to say this – that I had never really read the Bible cover to cover, which I think is a serious omission for anyone that considers himself a well-read person.

“The first thing I did when I took this case was read the Five Books of Moses carefully. I skimmed the technical parts, as I’m sure you also did. I also read the first books of the Prophets. It was an illuminating experience. The more I read, the more I questioned my preconceptions of the Bible. This book did not read like fiction.

“Could it be a deliberate hoax, as you’ve heard some people claim during this trial? I couldn’t swallow that. How was it possible to pull the wool over the eyes of an entire people? How was it possible to feed them a fiction and convince them that this was their own national history? It could only happen if the people at that time were illiterate dimwits, and I found it hard to believe that this was an accurate description of the ancient Israelites. Such a society could not have produced the brilliant writers and editors who supposedly cooked up the Bible.

“So what was going on? How could such a theory be accepted by so many people in academia? Academic fundamentalism provided a partial explanation. Certain ideas had been advanced by nineteenth century German scholars, and although they had been largely discredited over the years, the academic community held on to them with a narrow-minded tenacity.”

Dexter went back to the plaintiff’s table and took a sip of water.

“My friends,” he continued, “when I was reading the Bible I came across a very interesting story. Perhaps you’ve noticed it in your beautiful new Bibles. It is the story of the Tower of Babel early in the Book of Genesis. In Chapter 11, to be exact. The Bible tells of a group of people in Mesopotamia – modern-day Iraq – that wanted to do battle with God, so they built a tall tower … and then what? I was baffled. What were these people thinking? How did they expect to fight God from a tower in Iraq?

“I’m sorry to tell you that I haven’t really figured out what their plan was. But I will tell you that I’ve seen another Tower of Babel. Yes, I’ve seen an enormous Tower of Babel that casts its shadow over the entire world. I’ve seen a Tower of Babel constructed not from bricks and mortar but from ideas and arguments. I’ve seen a Tower of Babel from which a host of people are doing battle with God. This Tower of Babel, my friends, is not in Iraq. It is in Europe and in the United States and in every country of the world that considers itself enlightened.

“Where is this Tower of Babel? It is in the halls of academia. It is in the universities and the colleges. It is in this very courtroom.

“For more than a century, the academic community has waged war against God. They attacked the Bible with every weapon at their disposal. They brought all their academic talents to bear on the problem and created a school of thought that the Bible was written much later than it claimed to have been written; that it was a composite of different documents, a preposterous idea that was enthusiastically embraced; that it was composed for political purposes to promote the interests of one part of the Israelite kingdom over another. They insisted that it was written over six hundred years after the fact and that it had no historical value.

“But as time went on, new archaeological information emerged that indicated a much earlier time of authorship. As I’ve demonstrated for you during the course of this trial, the Bible contains a wealth of information – such as the average price of a slave at the time of the Joseph story – that could not have been known to later writers.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this trial is not about the separation between church and state. Lavender was not teaching the children in her classroom about religion. Our society permits people to believe whatever they wish to believe about God, even nothing at all. No, Lavender was teaching the children the history of the ancient Near East, which is wonderfully preserved in the Bible. She conveyed to them just the historical information that appears in the Bible. She told them about the different peoples and their lifestyles. She told them about the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt and their subsequent Exodus. She told them about the War of Conquest and the settlement of the land. She taught them about the realms of King David and King Solomon. And for this she was fired.

“The witnesses for the defense have told you again and again about the accepted view in the halls of academia. They point to the libraries full of books that support their views. They want you to abdicate your own judgment and accept the judgment of the people who constructed the academic Tower of Babel that darkens our world today.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my advice to you is the exact opposite. You’ve heard from the expert witnesses for the plaintiff and the expert witnesses for the defense. Don’t let anyone make the judgment for you. Make the judgment yourselves. We bring murder cases to juries even though the jurors didn’t spend years studying forensic science or criminal psychology. We bring fraud cases to juries even though the jurors are not certified experts in economics.

“Our system relies on the native intelligence and good common sense of the average American citizen. It is the job of the plaintiff and the defense to make their arguments to you in as clear a fashion as possible and rely on your good sense to make the right decision. I am comfortable with that. You have a full transcript of the testimony. Read it carefully and decide for yourselves if the intellectual house of cards constructed by the academic fundamentalists does anything to disprove the historical accuracy of the Bible or if it is a desperate attempt to shore up a crumbling theory.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, counsel for the defense has paraded witnesses before you, and he has pointed ponderously to the large libraries of books that supposedly prove that the Bible is a fraud. And I have shown you that the whole construct is a flimsy house of cards that can be blown down with one good puff of fresh air.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, do not let the halls of academia demean the stature of the greatest masterpiece in the history of the world. Let them not trivialize its majesty with preposterous assertions of sinister nocturnal snipping and splicing of different documents. Let them not make unfounded accusations of anachronisms based on an extremely limited and incomplete knowledge of the history and customs of the ancient world. Let them not jump to irrational conclusions based on archaeological evidence that has not been properly understood and evaluated.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the eyes of the world are upon you. You can strike a blow for truth. You can bring down this insidious Tower of Babel. Billions of people all over the world believe in the truth of the Bible, as did countless generations before them. The Bible is the sacred and hallowed treasure of all the great monotheistic religions of the Western world. If its authenticity is brought into question, the burden of proof is on its accusers. The question before you is, have they proven that the Bible is not what it claims to be? Remember, the judge ruled that the principle of equipoise applies here. The burden of proof is on the defense. If they do not present evidence that conclusively discredits the Bible, the jury must find for the plaintiff. If you are not convinced that they have done so, if you recognize the flaws and holes in their arguments and are impressed by the evidence in favor of the Bible, bring in a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, twenty years ago, President Reagan changed the world when he stood at the Brandenburg Gate by the Berlin Wall and said, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’ I stand before you today and say, ‘My friends, tear down this Tower of Babel! If you do so, you will change the world.’

“Thank you, and God bless you.”

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Ancient Near East in the Bible – Excerpt from the forthcoming “The Bible Trial”

Rabbi Joseph Reinman has been kind enough to allow us to post selections from his forthcoming book – The Bible Trial. The following is the fourth in a series of excerpts that we will be posting. Stay posted!


The judge looked to the plaintiff’s table. “Mr. Marsh, earlier you reserved the right to call more witnesses. Do you wish to exercise that right?”

Dexter stood. “Your honor, we wish to call another rebuttal witness.”

“Go right ahead, counselor. Call your witness.”

“Your honor, the plaintiff calls Dr. Allen Graves.”

An old man with sparse white hair and sparkling blue eyes that were anything but grave ambled to the witness stand and smiled at the jury.

“Can we have your full name and occupation, sir?” said Dexter.

“Allen Pinkerton Graves. I am Professor of Ancient Oriental Studies at McMaster University in Toronto, Ontario. That’s in Canada.”

“Dr. Graves, how old is the field of ancient Oriental studies?”

“Oh, I’d say about a hundred years old.”

“Is the field of biblical studies older?” asked Dexter.

“Yes, quite a bit. The hypotheses of the Bible critics were fairly full-blown when ancient Oriental studies were still in their infancy. They knew very little about the life and customs of the ancient world.”

“Did this lack of knowledge influence their perception of the Bible?”

“Without a doubt,” said the witness. “You see, the more we learn about the ancient world in the second millennium b.c.e. the more we realize we ‘e looking at the world of the Old Testament. The spirit, the customs, the way of life, the feel of the times point straight at the Old Testament. I’d venture to say that much of the dry information we have derived from other sources comes to vivid life in the Old Testament. Yes, without a doubt the Old Testament has the resounding ring of truth.”

“I would like you to explain to the jury how this lack of knowledge of the ancient world affected the development of biblical studies.”

“Of course,” said the witness. “You see, the early biblical scholars were working in a vacuum, so to speak. They found anomalies in the Bible, and according to their nineteenth-century German perception of literature, they came to the conclusion that they were looking at an anachronistic amalgam of different source documents put together centuries after the fact. Wherever they found inconsistencies with their theories or text that didn’t seem to make sense, they felt free to make emendations. They deleted text. They changed words. They saw scribal errors. They took liberties with the text, because they didn’t know any better. They didn’t recognize the literary style and standards of the Patriarchal era. They didn’t understand the language in the context of the other languages of the time, because they knew nothing about them.”

“And this is all wrong?” said Dexter.

“It’s not just wrong,” said the witness. “It’s scandalous. They showed no respect for the ancient texts.” He pulled an index card from his pocket. “Look, an Egyptian funeral papyrus from about 1400 b.c.e., quoted in Cerny’s Paper and Books in Ancient Egypt, bears the following certification at the end of the document: ‘[The book] is completed from its beginning to its end, having been copied, revised, compared and verified sign by sign.’ Look at the meticulous care with which Egyptian scribes prepared a simple funerary papyrus. Do you think Hebrew scribes were less careful with the preparation of their sacred literature? Is it conceivable that they put together the Bible without copying, revising and comparing it letter by letter? Horsefeathers!”

“So let me ask you a question, Dr. Graves. When the flow of information from ancient Oriental studies increased, why didn’t these biblical scholars abandon their earlier theories?”

“Because they were accustomed to their ingenious reconstructions. They were mentally conditioned in one direction. As you phrased it during your cross-examination of Dr. Winemaker, many of them became academic fundamentalists. They saw only one pathway, and they followed it blindly. But you’ll be happy to hear that in recent years the old discredited preconceptions are slowly crumbling into the ash heap, where they belong.”

“So you think, Dr. Graves, that the study of the ancient Near East corroborates the historicity of the Bible?”

“I do. William Albright wrote in Archaeology and the Religion of Israel that ‘the Mosaic tradition is so consistent … so congruent with our independent knowledge of the religious development of the Near East in the late second millennium B.C. that only hypercritical pseudo-rationalism can reject its essential historicity.’”

“Those are strong words.”

“And more recently, Dr. Henri Blocher wrote in Révélation des Origines: Le Début de la Genése that ‘the critics, when they judge the internal phenomena [of the Bible], project into it their customs as modern Western readers and neglect all we know today of the writing customs of biblical times. The taste for repetition, the structure of a global statement, repeated with development, the replacement of a word by its synonyms, especially the change of a divine name in a text (e.g., the names of Osiris on the Ikhernofret stele), are well attested characteristics of ancient Middle Eastern texts … The Biblical text, as it is, agrees with the literary canons of its time.’”

“Can you give us a few examples?”

“Glad to. I’m going to give you examples of obscure features of the ancient world during the early parts of the second millennium b.c.e., features that would not be known to people living hundreds of years later unless they were archaeologists.” The witness winked. “And there were no archaeologists in the ancient world.”

Dexter smiled. “Go ahead.”

“Take the customs of inheritance, for instance. In the Book of Genesis, we find a number of curious customs that are unfamiliar to modern readers and must have been equally unfamiliar to readers of the Bible in the middle of the first millennium b.c.e, the time the Bible was allegedly produced. First, we read in Genesis how the childless Abraham laments that his servant Eliezer will inherit his wealth if he has no sons. Strange. Why should his servant inherit rather than nephews? Well, behold, we find on cuneiform tablets unearthed in Mesopotamia at Ur and especially at Nuzi – discovered in 1935, by the way – that it was the custom during the Patriarchal age for childless couples to designate their servants as their heirs.”

“Remarkable. What else?”

“We find among the customs of that period that a childless wife could produce an heir by proxy, so to speak, by giving her handmaiden to her husband. Indeed, that is what Sarah did. She gave Hagar to Abraham, and the son born, Ishmael, became Abraham’s heir. But when Isaac was born to Sarah, he immediately replaced the servant and the handmaiden’s son as Abraham’s heir. This again was the ancient custom of those times. The customs further dictated that when a principal son was born the handmaiden and her son should be allowed to remain in the household and not driven away. Understandably, we find Abraham distressed that Sarah wanted to drive Hagar and Ishmael out of his home; only a divine command makes him accept the expulsion.”

“Go on.”

“Then we have Esau, Jacob’s older brother, who sells his birthright for a bowl of soup. Selling a birthright? Who ever heard of such a thing? Yet this is exactly what Tupkitilla of Nuzi did. He sold his birthright for three sheep. A bit of a better deal than Esau got, wouldn’t you say? But other than at that time, we find no record, not in the legal codes and not in the chronicles, of anyone selling a birthright. You can’t make up stuff like this.”

“Makes you think, doesn’t it?” said Dexter.

“The realism of the Patriarchal narratives is extraordinary. Let’s move on to property taxes. After Sarah dies, Abraham attempts to buy the Cave of the Machpelah in Hebron for an ancestral burial ground. The owner is a Hittite named Ephron. All Abraham needs is the cave, but in the end, we find that he buys the entire field in which the cave is located. Why should he buy the whole field if he has no need for it?”

Dexter pretended to consider the puzzle. “All right,” he said at last. “I give up. Why?”

“Because there is a Hittite law that if the owner of a property sells only part of his field, he remains liable for the taxes on the entire field, even the part that no longer belongs to him. But if he sells the whole property, the new owner pays the taxes. Ephron didn’t want to sell off only the cave, because he would have to continue to pay taxes on it. He knew he had Abraham over the barrel. Abraham’s dead wife was lying there, waiting to be buried. Abraham was under pressure, so Ephron forced him to buy the whole field. It makes perfect sense once you know Hittite law, but those nineteenth-century German scholars didn’t even believe there had ever been a Hittite people. They had no idea that in the next century a vast Hittite Empire would be discovered.”

“Really interesting,” said Dexter. “What else do you have for us?”

“The lex talionis.”

“The lex talionis?” said Dexter. “What is that?”

“It’s Latin for the law of retaliation. Let me backtrack a little bit. In the Book of Exodus, we are told that if an ox gores and kills someone the ox’s owner must pay a stiff fine. Then we are told that ‘if it should gore a son or gore a daughter, the same rules apply.’ What’s the point? What’s the difference if the ox gores a boy or a girl?”

“All right, tell us.”

“It is a clear challenge,” said the witness, “to the Code of Hammurabi.”

“Who was Hammurabi?”

“He was a great Babylonian king who lived about 1750 b.c.e. He formulated a code of laws that was not discovered until the twentieth century. The code consisted of two hundred and eighty-two laws, most of which survive on cuneiform tablets. Listen to these. Laws 209-210. If a man strikes a free-born woman so that she loses her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss. If the woman dies, his daughter shall be put to death. Laws 229-230. If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death. If it kills the son of the owner, the son of that builder shall be put to death. There’s your lex talionis, your law of retaliation. You kill a woman, your daughter is put to death. You kill someone’s son, your son is put to death. So the Bible says, No way. No matter if the ox gores a son or a daughter, the owner is assessed a fine. His son or daughter is not put to death.”

“This is very interesting,” said Dexter. “So you are saying that the Bible must have been aware of the Code of Hammurabi?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. The Code of Hammurabi was in effect during the second millennium b.c.e., and the Bible goes out of its way to contradict it. But by the first millennium the Code was no longer in effect in Mesopotamia. By the middle of the first millennium b.c.e., most people had never even heard of the Code of Hammurabi, and surely, no one at all was familiar with its laws. So how could these alleged late composers of the Bible write about an ox goring a son or a daughter when they probably never even heard of the Code of Hammurabi? And even if by some miracle they had knowledge of Hammurabi’s laws, why would these alleged late writers compose laws to contradict obsolete and forgotten laws?”

“Why, indeed,” said Dexter.

For the next hour, Dexter led Dr. Graves through a number of other striking reflections in the Bible of ancient cultural mores long forgotten by the middle of the first millennium b.c.e.

“So can you sum up for us, Dr. Graves?” said Dexter.

“Of course, the more we learn about the ancient Near East, the more we see how perfectly the Bible fits into that setting – in the customs, the laws, the lifestyles, the treaties and covenants, the language, the historical picture. When we read the Old Testament, we are transported back to the second millennium b.c.e., and the times and societies come alive before our eyes. For scholars in my field and even for ordinary laypeople, it is an incredibly exciting journey of discovery. In my opinion, the Bible is one the most priceless historical treasures in existence.”

“Thank you, Dr. Graves. No more questions.”

The judge wrote something down and then looked up at Calabrese.

“Do you wish to cross-examine?” she said.

“Yes, your honor,” said Calabrese.

He clasped his hands behind his back and approached the witness.

“Dr. Graves, just a quick point. You quoted Dr. Henri Blocher that the Bible conforms to the literary canons of its time. Does Dr. Blocher teach in a university?”

“He is a professor in Wheaton College in the Boston area.”

“Is he a professor of biblical studies or archaeology or ancient Oriental studies?”

“No. He is a professor of theology.”

Calabrese’s eyes opened wide. “Theology? Is Wheaton a Christian college?”

“Yes, it is.”

Rabbi Joseph Reinman has been kind enough to allow us to post selections from his forthcoming book – The Bible Trial. The following is the third in a series of excerpts that we will be posting. Stay posted!

“And you accept his opinion as objective and unbiased?”

Dr. Graves seemed surprised. “Of course I do. I don’t discriminate against religious scholars. I evaluate their work on its own merits, and Dr. Blocher’s work is excellent.”

“No doubt,” sniffed Calabrese. “I have no more questions for this witness.”

“The witness may step down,” said the judge. “Do you wish to present a rebuttal witness on these issues, counselor?”

“A rebuttal witness?” Calabrese arched his eyebrows. “For what? No, I’m finished here.”

“Very well,” said the judge. “Mr. Marsh?”

Dexter looked at the jury and then back to the judge.

“Your honor,” he said, “the plaintiff rests.”

The judge banged her gavel. “Court is adjourned until Monday morning, when we will begin hearing closing statements from the plaintiff and the defense.”

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Ancient Egypt in the Bible – from the forthcoming “The Bible Trial”

Rabbi Joseph Reinman has been kind enough to allow us to post selections from his forthcoming book – The Bible Trial. The following is the third in a series of excerpts that we will be posting. Stay posted!

The rebuttal witness for the plaintiff on the issues of archaeology was a rotund little man with round rimless glasses and darting eyes. He wore a gray jacket and a black turtleneck sweater.

“Can you give us your name and occupation, sir?” said Dexter.

“My name is Dr. Kyle Webster. I am professor of archaeology and ancient Near Eastern history at the University of Pennsylvania.”

“Dr. Webster,” said Dexter, “let us start with the Joseph story. Do you consider it plausible?”

“Oh, yes. Very plausible. There are numerous indications of its authenticity. Scholars with specialized training in Egyptology have long recognized the powerful Egyptian elements of the story. I refer you to Dr. Kenneth Kitchen, one of the greatest scholars in the world, head and shoulders above everyone else in Egyptology and comparative Near Eastern studies. Specifically, I recommend his latest book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament. It is totally authoritative.”

“Any others?”

“Many. I would also recommend Dr. James K. Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt, an excellent piece of scholarship. Dr. Alan R. Schulman, quoted by Hoffmeier, claims that the writer of the Joseph story must have had an exceedingly intimate knowledge of Egyptian life, literature and culture.”

“Can you give us details of this intimate knowledge?”

“Oh, there are many. I’ll try not to overload you. First, there is the average price of slaves. At the time of the Joseph story it was indeed twenty shekels, as the Bible reports, but it rose sharply after that. It’s unlikely that a later writer could guess the correct price of a slave hundreds of years before.”

Dexter looked at the jury and saw that the point had struck home.

“When Joseph is purchased by Potiphar,” the witness continued, “the Bible states that he is appointed ‘over the house.’ This expression – ‘over the house’ – is found on ancient papyri as a phrase referring to domestic servants. Then it supplies names – Potiphar, Potiphera, Asnath, Tzafnath-paane’ah –all genuine Egyptian names. Potiphera, whose name incorporates the name of the Egyptian sun god, is described as the priest of On, which was the cult center of the sun god at exactly the time the Joseph story purportedly took place. The word hartumim, meaning dream interpreters or magicians, is an ancient Egyptian word. There are also many other linguistic connections. And of course, there is the use of the name Pharaoh.”

“What about the name Pharaoh?”

“Scholars are frustrated that the Bible does not mention the name of the Pharaoh of the enslavement or the exodus, as the Bible does during the later periods when we read about Pharaoh Necho or Hofra or Shishak. But not in the Books of Genesis and Exodus. Why the omission?”

“Why indeed?”

“There’s a good reason. Pharaoh means ‘the great house’ in Egyptian. It was not used as a title for the king until the middle of the second millennium b.c.e., about 1450 b.c.e. For the next five hundred years or so, the king was known just by the name Pharaoh without the addition of a personal name. Afterward, the personal name began to be added. If the Books of Genesis and Exodus were written during these five hundred years, they would not have identified an Egyptian king by any name other than Pharaoh, which was the accepted Egyptian custom.”

“Very interesting. Anything else?”

“There is the investiture ceremony when Joseph is appointed to high office. The Bible states that Joseph was arrayed in fine linen, a golden chain was placed on his neck, and he was transported in the royal chariot. Once again, we know from ancient inscriptions that this is an accurate description of the ceremony. A writer composing a story hundreds of years later could not have known any of this.”

“I see.”

“And listen to this detail! Joseph was also given the royal signet ring during this ceremony. You would expect the ring to be placed al yado, on his hand, or his finger to be more specific. But the Bible says it was placed biyado, in his hand. Since when do you place a ring in someone’s hand? Strange, isn’t it? But lo and behold, if you look at Plate XXXVIII, Figure 45, in Kitchen’s book, that is exactly what you see! They are placing the ring into the hand of the person being invested with high office.”

“Fascinating,” said Dexter.

The witness smiled with pleasure. “You already mentioned during your cross-examination that Semites did reach high office in Egypt. That’s an important piece of evidence, because how would a later writer have known such a thing? There is much more evidence, if you would like me to go on.”

“I think you have made a powerful case for the authenticity of the Joseph story, Dr. Webster. Let’s move on to the exodus.”

“As you pointed out during cross-examination, the archives in the Nile Delta have not survived, but we do have a lot of indirect evidence for the presence of the Israelites in Egypt and the Exodus, some of which you have already covered yesterday during cross-examination. Take for instance the Bible’s statement that the Israelites asked for permission to go into the desert to worship their God. Strange request, wouldn’t you say? Yet there is plenty of evidence that it was customary for laborers in Egypt to be given time off for religious observances. How would someone writing centuries later know this?”

“How, indeed.”

“I would also like to point out a very interesting piece of information. The Bible says that the Israelites turned back to Pi-ha-hiroth and encamped before Migdol. Scholars always wondered about the etymology of Pi-ha-hiroth, which they thought was an Egyptian term, like Pithom or Pi-Ramesse. But it turns out it isn’t. There have long been hints that Egypt was protected by a frontier canal, which ran north to south. Satellite imaging has confirmed the existence of this ancient canal. Pi-ha-hiroth is a Semitic term for the mouth of the canal. The Israelites had to turn back and go around the canal!”

“Fascinating. All right, let’s talk about the desert travels of the Israelites. Dr. Potemkin seemed to feel that there should have been some remnant left over, at least a few broken pieces of pottery. How come there is no trace of any habitation at any of those places at that time?”

Dr. Webster bristled at the mention of Potemkin. “Well, much as I would like to make Dr. Potemkin happy, he really should not have been expecting to find traces of pottery. People on the move, even if they are traveling at a very leisurely pace, are not likely to bring along heavy ceramic pottery. You only go shopping for ceramics after you settle down. As long as you are on the road, you make do with leatherwork or skins. You see?”

“I do.”

“Kitchen points out that there was a major Egyptian mining site at Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai at about that time, and there must have been a lot of traffic back and forth with periodic stopping places, yet no trace has ever been found. You wouldn’t expect to find traces of desert travelers after three thousand years. From recent experience, we know that all traces of nomadic encampments usually disappear after about fifty years.”

“So you’re not disturbed by the absence of evidence of habitation at these sites?”

“Not at all. On the contrary, I believe the absence of habitation is actually strong proof of the authenticity of the desert itinerary.”

“Really?” said Dexter. “How is that?”

“Look, it’s just common sense. The Israelites traveling through the desert would not have encamped at a spot that was already occupied by other people. They needed empty, uninhabited spots. That’s obvious. Now if archaeologists had found that some of these purported sites of encampment had houses and pottery at the time, it would really raise questions about the itinerary. But as it is, everything works out perfectly. All these forty-two places were uninhabited at the time, so the Israelites had plenty of room to encamp. Now, could a writer living hundreds of years later have guessed that every single one of the forty-two places he picked out of a hat would be uninhabited back then, especially since some of them were inhabited during his own time?”

“So you’re saying that the mention of forty-two uninhabited places is actually proof of the antiquity of the Bible?”

“Exactly,” said the witness.

“How about the lack of destruction of the Canaanite cities mentioned in the conquest list of the Book of Joshua?”

“The Bible does not say they were destroyed but that they were smitten. Smitten, does not mean destroyed. Why would they destroy the Canaanite cities? They weren’t some foreign invaders who would burn, pillage and go back home. They were invaders, immigrants. They intended to live in this land. Moses had promised them they would live in houses other people had built. So they weren’t about to destroy their future homes. That’s why the conquest took so long. They couldn’t just attack and destroy. They had to fight house to house, door to door, so that they wouldn’t destroy the valuable property. Only a couple of cities, such as Hazor, had to be destroyed to break the resistance.”

“How about there being no signs of habitation in Jericho at that time?”

“According to archaeological evidence, Jericho was destroyed by fire about 1550 b.c.e. and then was uninhabited for two hundred years. As Kitchen explains, when a new city is built on the ruins of the old, the ruins are preserved. But when the site is left uninhabited, the remains are destroyed by erosion. During these two hundred years, erosion wiped out almost all traces of the old Jericho. What we know of the old settlement is based on a few fragments. Then the city was resettled in 1350 b.c.e. When the Israelites destroyed the city again about a hundred years later, they made a taboo against rebuilding the city. As a result, it was uninhabited for another four hundred years. During that time, erosion wiped out every trace of the city, as expected.”

“Let’s talk about the increase in population in Canaan during the thirteenth century b.c.e. What do you think of Dr. Potemkin’s theories?”

The witness’s nostrils quivered with indignation. “Plain unadulterated poppycock,” he said. “The archaeological evidence is very clear that this is when the Israelites arrived on the scene. The archeological evidence also shows that they were different from the indigenous population. They had different implements and ceramics, different architectural styles and different dietary customs. Twist it as hard as you may, you cannot make a reasonable case for them coming out of the local woodwork.”

“What do you mean by architectural styles?”

“Their villages were oval, patterned after desert encampments.”

“What does this prove?” said Dexter. “Why couldn’t they have been nomads who were settling down, as Finkelstein claims?”

“Because this theory is ridiculous. Dr. William Dever takes him to pieces in Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come from? He points out that Finkelstein himself admits that nomads in Palestine in all periods up until the present comprise no more than ten to fifteen percent of the population. Yet during the thirteenth century b.c.e., the population of the hill country of Judah tripled. If all the nomads settled down and became farmers and villages, you still wouldn’t come close to accounting for the tremendous increase in population. If you don’t accept the historical authenticity of the Bible, it’s an insoluble mystery.”

The witness was on a roll, and Dexter wanted him to keep firing. “Dr. Webster, I would like to talk to you about population,” he said. “Yesterday, Dr. Potemkin testified, based once again on Finkelstein, that the population of the hill country of Judah in the thirteenth century was about 45,000 and that there were about 160,000 people in Judah in the eighth century. Do you agree?”

“No, I most emphatically do not. Let’s just look at extra-biblical sources. According to the Sennaherib Stela, King Sennaherib of Assyria claimed to have exiled over two hundred thousand people from Judah to Assyria. According to Finkelstein, that’s more than the total number of people who lived in Judah during that time. So not only does he disregard the information in the Bible, he also disregards the ancient inscription record.”

“Well, Finkelstein didn’t just make up those figures, did he?” said Dexter. “How did he arrive at those figures, and where did he go wrong?”

“Finkelstein arrives at his figures,” the witness snapped, “by using something called the Population Density Coefficient. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. They measure the population density in modern-day settlements that live in primitive conditions without the benefits of modern technology. Life hasn’t changed so much for these people in the last few thousand years. The population density in Jerusalem in 1918, as in Aleppo and Tripoli, was 51 people per dunam, which is about a quarter of an acre. But Finkelstein uses the figure of 25 people per dunam. Dr. Isaac Maitlis, an Israeli archaeologist, disputes these figures on the basis of population density figures for the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem in 1870, which was 157 people per dunam, six times Finkelstein’s number.”

“Do you have any population density data a little further back in time than the last couple of centuries?”

“Oh yes, we most definitely have. The Book of Nehemiah lists 2,872 heads of households returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. If we use the very conservative figure of four people per family, that means about 12,000 people. The archaeological data shows that Jerusalem at the time measured about 120 dunams, which give us a density of about 100 people per dunam. So let’s work with the conservative figure of 100 people per dunam for ancient Israel and Judah.”

“So can we use this to get an idea of the total population?”

“Yes, we can,” said the witness. “I’ll make a long story short. Archaeological studies have shown that in ancient times between three and seven percent of a country’s population lived in cities, settlements that measure fifty dunams or more. This means that about ninety-five percent of the population lived in small villages in the countryside. So let’s say it’s only ninety percent, just to be on the safe side. According to Dr. Yigal Shilo, there were sixty settlements of fifty dunams or more west of the Jordan River during the time of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. At the density coefficient of one hundred per dunam, that means that each of these settlements had at least five thousand, for a total city population of at least three hundred thousand people. Since cities held only ten percent of the population, that means a total population of at least three million people and probably more, not even counting the settlements east of the Jordan River.”

“And this is in keeping with the figures in the Bible?”

“Very much so. It also fits perfectly with the information on the inscriptions of the Sennaherib Stela in Assyria.”

“This is very illuminating, Dr. Webster. Perhaps you can help us clear up another matter as well. Yesterday, Dr. Potemkin testified that there are no inscriptions on stelae and monuments in Israel and Judah such as are found in all the neighboring countries. He said that this raised questions about the sophistication of these kingdoms. Can you enlighten us about this matter?”

“My pleasure, sir. You know, archaeologists love inscriptions. As much as you can potter about in the pottery, you’re really just groping in the dark. But inscriptions! Ah, what a pleasure. Names and places! Stories! The ancient world opens up. But in Israel … no inscriptions. The problem is not that we haven’t found any yet. Apparently, no Jewish kings, not even Herod the Great, who lived in 30 b.c.e., left inscriptions. If it wasn’t for Josephus, we wouldn’t know who built Caesarea.”

“Why didn’t they leave inscriptions?”

“The Bible mentions two individuals,” said the witness, “who erected monuments in their own honor – Saul and Absalom. The Bible looks askance at both of these. You have to understand the Biblical culture of ancient Israel, their world view. The ancient Israelite kings ascribed their successes to God and would have considered raising monuments to their own glorification presumptuous. This attitude of royal humility became so ingrained in the Israelite culture that no kings, not even the idolatrous ones, dared raise monuments to their own glorification.”

“Extraordinary,” said Dexter. “The Bible actually demands humility of the king, doesn’t it?”

“It certainly does,” said the witness. “The Bible forbids the king to take too many wives, accumulate too much money or have too many horses. And it commands him to carry a scroll of the Law with him at all times.”

“Very interesting, Dr. Webster,” said Dexter. “Thank you. No more questions.”

Calabrese got up and approached the witness slowly.

“Dr. Webster, have you really explained why there is no trace of Jericho?” he said. “Do you really expect us to believe that a whole city with massive walls would vanish without a trace through natural erosion?”

The witness was unruffled. “You can believe what you choose, sir. Four hundred years is a long time. It is perfectly reasonable to believe that erosion removed all traces. You have to understand that people must have scavenged the stones and the bricks for use in their own homes and buildings. They were right there for the taking. Over hundreds of years of exposure every stone and brick would have been removed by people in the area. As for the scraps left over, erosion would easily take care of it.”

“I will not debate the point with you. But it must certainly seem a far-fetched scenario to any reasonable person. Let’s talk about population.”

“By all means.”

“You manipulate the figures –”

“Your honor,” Dexter called out, “I object. Counsel is frustrated by the obvious expertise of the witness so he keeps making nasty remarks. How about a little common decency?”

“Objection overruled,” said the judge, “but the court does request that counsel for the defense maintain better decorum.”

“Of course, your honor,” said Calabrese. “My apologies to the witness if he was offended. Dr. Webster, according to your … ah … calculations, you arrive at a population in the millions in ancient Israel. How could the land support so many people?”

“Where’s the problem?” said the witness. “According to a census taken by the Roman Empire, eight million people lived in ancient Israel in the first century b.c.e. They were eating and living a fairly decent life.”

“But seven or eight centuries earlier?”

“Customs didn’t change so fast in agriculture in the ancient world.”

Calabrese was making no headway with the witness, and he finally gave up. “I have no more questions for this witness, your honor.”

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Eating Habits – excerpt from the forthcoming “The Bible Trial”

Rabbi Joseph Reinman has been kind enough to allow us to post selections from his forthcoming book – The Bible Trial. The following is the second in a series of excerpts that we will be posting. Stay posted!

Dexter switched gears. “Let’s move on to Solomon’s construction projects in Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer. You say these projects are dated more than a century after King Solomon. When did King Solomon live?”

“In the late tenth century b.c.e. That is almost 1000 b.c.e.”

“How do you know that?”

“We can date it back from the destruction of the Temple he built. According to the Book of Kings, the Temple stood for four hundred years. Since it was destroyed in 586 b.c.e., it must have been built around 990 b.c.e. Those palaces in Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer were built in the mid-800s b.c.e.”

“I see,” said Dexter. “You are going according to the conventional chronology. But if you follow the Talmudic chronology – that the Temple was destroyed in 420 b.c.e. – everything falls into place neatly, doesn’t it? The exodus and conquest take place exactly when the Bible claims they took place, and Solomon’s construction projects take place exactly when the Bible says they took place. Isn’t that so?”

“What do you want me to say?” said the witness. “I think that chronology is wrong.”

Dexter glanced at the jury and saw he had made his point.

“All right,” he said, “let’s talk about the significant increase in population in Canaan in the thirteenth century. If the Bible is fiction, how did the Bible writers, supposedly writing seven hundred years later, know exactly when to place the Israelite influx into Canaan so that it would coincide with a sudden and rapid growth in population? Were they archaeologists?”

“I have no answer to that question. Perhaps they had a tradition.”

“A tradition,” said Dexter, mimicking the witness. “They remembered nothing factual about their own history, but they knew exactly when they arrived. Tell me, Dr. Potemkin, was there anything unusual about the remains from these thirteenth century Israelite habitations?”

“What do you mean? Their pottery and implements were relatively primitive, as I mentioned before.”

“Was there anything unusual about their eating habits?” Dexter prompted the witness. “You know … about the kind of meat they ate?”

“Oh, yes, of course. No pig bones were found in these settlements.”

“Were pig bones found in the habitations of the Canaanites, the Philistines and the other peoples of the area?”

“Yes, many pig bones.”

“But no pig bones in the Israelite habitations?”


“How do you explain that?” asked Dexter.

“We have no explanation for it,” said the witness. “It’s a mystery.”

“Isn’t it a strange coincidence that the Bible forbids pig meat? Could that have been the reason for the absence of pig bones?”

“It couldn’t have been, because the Bible had not yet been written at the time. Probably, the Israelites decided not to eat pigs, and then they wrote it into the Bible.”

“Indeed? And why would they do such a thing? Pigs are a good source of meat, and they’re easy to maintain, because they’ll eat anything. Why would a people struggling to eke out a livelihood deprive themselves of pig meat? Is there any other instance of a people deciding not to eat pig meat?”

“I know of no other instance,” said the witness, “and I cannot speak for the motivation of the early Israelites. They may have felt that abstaining from pig meat would make them stand out among their neighbors. Who knows? They may have considered abstinence from pig meat a sign of distinction.”

Dexter turned to the judge. “Your honor, I have no patience for all this wiggling and waggling, and I’m sure the jury doesn’t either. I have no more questions for this witness. Instead, I’ll call my rebuttal witness right now.”

Calabrese was on his feet. “Objection, your honor.”

“To what do you object?” said Dexter. “My remarks about your witness? I withdraw them. Enough time has been wasted. Let’s get on to some serious business.”

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