Revision of Biblical History: Genesis and Exodus
Since Albright's time, archaeological and biblical scholarship has seriously revised the previously accepted picture of biblical history. Attempts to identify Abraham's family migration with a supposed westward Amorite migration at the collapse of the Early Bronze Age c.2100–1800 BCE, or to explain personal names, marriage customs, or laws of property by reference to fifteenth century Nuzi or Mari documents have failed to convince. Abraham's life-style is no longer seen as reflecting Intermediate Early Bronze/Middle Bronze bedouin, or donkey caravaneers trading between Mesopotamia and Egypt, or tent-dwellers living alongside Middle Bronze Age cities in Canaan; rather, with its references to Philistines and Aramaeans, Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites, Ishmael and his descendants Kedar, Nebaioth, and Tema, Assyria and its cities of Nineveh and Calah, camel caravans and spices, Genesis reflects the first millennium world of the Assyrian empire. With its emphasis on the southern centres of Hebron and (Jeru) salem (Gen. 14:18) and the northern centres of Bethel and Shechem, the Abraham story reveals knowledge of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (cf. Gen. 49: 8–12, 22–6), in its present form probably deriving from Judah's floruit in the seventh century BCE. The exodus story also suffers from a lack of firm archaeological support. While the biblical Pithom, Raamses (Exod. 1: 11), and Succoth (Exod. 12: 37; Num. 33: 5), can be associated with names from the thirteenth century or the New Kingdom (Migdol, ‘fortress’, Exod. 14: 1, is a name which might belong to any period), and though a thirteenth-century Egyptian text mentions the entry of shasu tribes from Edom to Egypt, via Tjkw (= Succoth?) to Pr-Itm (Pithom), there is no mention in Egyptian records, archives, or inscriptions, of any Israelite presence in Egypt or of irregular Israelite departure from it; nor is there archaeological evidence of an Israelite sojourn in Sinai. The 'Apiru (‘fugitives’, ‘refugees’) of the fourteenth-century BCE Amarna Letters and elsewhere cannot easily be identified with the later biblical Hebrews (Na'aman 1992). The earliest Egyptian reference to Israel, from the late thirteenth-century Merneptah stele, mentions the destruction of a group of people called Israel apparently already existing in the land of Canaan. Finkelstein and Silberman (2001: 68–71; cf. Dever 2003: 18–19) therefore date the exodus story in its present form to seventh-century Judah, when places like Kadesh-barnea and Ezion-geber were active (as they were not in the thirteenth century), and sees it as reflecting late seventh- or early sixth-century conflict between Judah and Egypt (cf. 2 Kgs. 23: 29).