Tel Dan Stele

The Historical Writings

“It sets the standard for a new generation of introductions to the Bible.”

This endorsement comes from Mark Boda (McMaster Divinity College) about The Historical Writings: Introducing Israel’s Historical Literature, which has just been released by Fortress Press, co-written by Mark Leuchter and myself.

My fourth book, not as academic as my dissertation, but more academic than God Behaving Badly, or Prostitutes and Polygamists.

Here is how it begins,

“The historical books of the Bible contain some of the best known stories of Scripture. Rahab the prostitute from Jericho helped the Israelite spies, providing vital insider information on the state of the nation (Joshua 2, 6).  Gideon the judge from Manasseh defeated the massive army of Midian with only three hundred men armed with trumpets, jars, and torches (Judges 7).  David the shepherd from Bethlehem nailed the Philistine giant Goliath in the noggin with his slingshot and chopped off his head with the giant’s own sword (1 Samuel 16).  Elijah the prophet from Gilead talked trash with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel before his drenched altar was scorched by a flame sent by YHWH (1 Kings 18).  Nehemiah the cupbearer from Susa was granted leave by King Artaxerxes of Persia to return and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2). Manasseh the king from Judah, whose idolatry was legendary, prayed and repented from his Babylonian prison and was restored to his throne in Jerusalem.”

Then we give an overview of the less familiar and more disturbing stories, the conquest/genocide of Canaan (Joshua 6-12), the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19), the cursing and hair-pulling of his country-men by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13).  How is one to understand these stories?  There there are many ways, but we’d recommend reading, The Historical Writings.

Mark and I wrote the introduction together.  I wrote the chapters on Joshua, Judges and 1, 2 Kings. Mark wrote the chapters on 1, 2 Samuel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1, 2 Chronicles.  It was a new experience to co-write a book, but Mark’s a good friend and we complement each other well.

Since it is a textbook, we were able to include a lot of extra stuff (which also makes it a bit more expensive that my last two books, $49 currently on Amazon).

There are 81 maps and images.   Art by Tissot, Poussin, Rembrandt, and many others. Images of the Merneptah stele, the Amarna letters, the Cyrus Cylinder, and many others.

There are 85 sidebars, including “The Sacrifice of Jephthah’s Daughter” and “‘Satan’ as a Cosmic Figure.”

There are 30 tables.  My two favorites are “External References to Rulers of Israel and Judah” (19 extra-biblical sources including the Kurkh Monolith, the Mesha Stele, the Black Obelisk–on the cover of Righteous Jehu) and “Seals Mentioning Names of Biblical Characters” (29 names including Jezebel, Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Jehoahaz).

The cover image is of the Tel Dan Stele which contains what most scholars consider to be the oldest reference to King David.  The letters highlighted in white on the lower right (see image here for more details) read “house of David.”  Reading from the right of the white letters, the fourth and sixth characters look like the Greek delta (triangle-shaped), that’s how the Hebrew/Aramaic letter dalet–the first and last letters of David’s name–were written at that point in time.

So, technically, there are two Davids mentioned on the cover, an author, and a king.

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Is Moses a Myth? Part 2

An article appeared in the Guardian last week asking if Moses was just a myth.  I got into an interesting online discussion with a few InterVarsity friends (Jon, Jesse, Tim and Dan), which led to my last blog where I discussed one problem related to this issue (no mention of the Exodus outside the Bible).  The topic of Moses is current since Exodus: Gods and Kings comes out December 12 (see trailer and my initial comments on the film here).  In this post I’ll look at a related problem.

Problem #2 Moses isn’t mentioned anywhere outside of the Bible. 

The only place we find Moses mentioned is in the Bible.  Why isn’t someone as significant as Moses mentioned in other sources, particularly Egyptian ones?

The lack of external validation for Moses is a problem, but not an insurmountable one.  Twenty years ago, we said something similar about David.  We had no external references to King David.  But then the Tel Dan Stele was discovered (1993, 1994), and it mentions “the house of David” only about 100 years after David’s death.  This inscription includes the oldest reference to Israel April 2014 1892David. (Yes, that’s me and Tel Dan Inscription from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. “House of David” is in white, on the right.)

The biggest problem, however, with this problem is that it is an argument from silence, a type of argument which you probably already know is notoriously weak.  We may never find external validation for Moses outside of the Bible like we did for David, but that doesn’t prove anything.

Mark Chavalas in his article on “Moses” in IVP’s Dictionary of the OT Pentateuch makes many good points about the historical plausibility of Moses.  These aren’t proofs, just points that show the historicity of Moses is plausible.  I’ll mention three.

First, we know from Egyptian sources that many Semites lived in Egypt during this period of time (Israelites were Semites), and some of them were prisoners of war.  On the tomb of Rekhmire we even see laborers making bricks (Exo. 5).  There appeared to be thousands of Asiatics in the Delta region (where Goshen was), very possibly working on nearby construction projects.

Second, there are numerous Egyptian papyri and other sources that mention people named Mose during the period of Ramesses.  Now, don’t get too excited about this.  These almost certainly aren’t references to the biblical Moses, just to the fact that Moses was a name that people used during this period.  Probably not as common as Dave is today, but you get the idea.

Three, we find evidence for Egyptian monarchs importing princes from other lands to be trained, a bit like Moses (or Daniel).  The Amarna Letters describe this practice.  Moses could have been raised in a household that included other non-Egyptians like himself.  While the films The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt make it appear that Pharaoh only had two sons (Ramesses and Moses), most ancient royal households had at least dozens—lots of wives, lots of sons.

We do have one ancient source that mentions Moses a lot.  The Bible.

Now, some scholars say we should ignore the biblical record because they claim it’s biased.  Yes, it is biased, but so is everything else, including the scholars and the archaeologists.  Just because something has a bias doesn’t mean it can be used on some level to substantiate history.  Despite the claims of scholars like Davies who I mentioned in Part 1, a lot of biblical scholars (not just evangelicals) think Moses could have been real.  But those scholars don’t make headlines with their quotes (“Moses Was Real!”—doesn’t seem newsworthy), and they don’t make it onto the Discovery Channel.

I think Moses was real.  That’s my bias.

Wearing Jesus’ shoes: Israel (Mar 23-April 6)

jerusalem_israelI head to Israel tomorrow (March 23) with folk from Biblical Seminary. There will be 15 of us: students, alumni and Derek Cooper, another professor.

We’ll spend 7 days in Jerusalem, 3 days in Galilee, travel back to Istanbul, where the rest of group will head back to JFK, while Derek and I will spend a 2 days in Istanbul, and 2 days in Athens (making a side trip to Corinth), returning home on April 6. In Istanbul and Turkey, Derek and I will be looking at possible sites for future Biblical trips.

I’ve never been to the Holy Land, so I’m really looking forward to the trip. Next fall when I teach about Jerusalem, Bethlehem or Hebron and I say, “When I visited there in the Spring of 2014…” perhaps students will finally respect me.

In addition to visiting the Israel Museum to see the Tel Dan Stele (aka, “The House of David” inscription–the oldest reference to King David), I’m looking forward to hearing about the story of the land from both a Jewish and a Palestinian perspective.

I’m going to try to post pictures and blogs while I’m there.  We’ll see…

I bought a new pair of sandals to wear on my trip (it should be a little warmer in Israel than in southeastern PA, which is expecting snow on Tues). Shannon said, “You’ll be wearing the same shoes as Jesus as you walk in his footsteps.”  WWJD? He’d wear sandals.

Have you been there? What was the highlight?