The debate between those who advocate the basic historicity of the biblical narrative and those who affirm that the biblical text is the creation of the post-exilic community of Israel, the so-called “minimalists,” continues unabatedly.
Recently, two archeologists, Thomas Levy, an archaeologist at the University of California, San Diego and Mohammad Najjar, director of excavations and surveys at the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, submitted a report on their findings of the ruins of a large copper-processing center and fortress at Khirbat en-Nahas, in the lowlands of the ancient kingdom of Edom, present day Jordan.
The result of their findings is reported in an article written by John Noble Wilford and published in The New York Times on June 14, 2006. The focus of the debate is the question of when Edom became an organized society and the relationship between Edom and the kingdoms of David and Solomon.
Below are excerpts of Wilford’s article:
In biblical lore, Edom was the implacable adversary and menacing neighbor of the Israelites. The Edomites lived south of the Dead Sea and east of the desolate rift valley known as Wadi Arabah, and from time to time they had to be dealt with by force, notably by the likes of Kings David and Solomon.
Today, the Edomites are again in the thick of combat - of the scholarly kind. The conflict is heated and protracted, as is often the case with issues related to the reliability of the Bible as history.
Chronology is at the crux of the debate. Exactly when did the nomadic tribes of Edom become an organized society with the might to threaten Israel? Were David and Solomon really kings of a state with growing power in the 10th century B.C.? Had writers of the Bible magnified the stature of the two societies at such an early time in history?
An international team of archaeologists has recorded radiocarbon dates that they say show the tribes of Edom may have indeed come together in a cohesive society at early as the 12th century B.C., certainly by the 10th. The evidence was found in the ruins of a large copper-processing center and fortress at Khirbat en-Nahas, in the lowlands of what was Edom and is now part of Jordan.
The findings, Levy and Najjar added, lend credence to biblical accounts of the rivalry between Edom and the Israelites in what was then known as Judah. By extension, they said, this supported the tradition that Judah itself had by the time of David and Solomon, in the early 10th century, emerged as a kingdom with ambition and the means of fighting off the Edomites.
The Hebrew Bible mentioned the Edomites no fewer than 99 times. In Genesis, Esau, Jacob's twin brother, is described as the ancestor of the Edomites, and a reference is made to “the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites.” Levy said this statement showed that the Israelites acknowledged Edom's early political development.
Most criticism has come from advocates of a “low chronology” or “minimalist” school of early biblical history. They contend that in David's time Edom was a pastoral society, and Judah not much more advanced. In this view, ancient Israel did not develop into a true state until the eighth century B.C., a century and a half after David.
More widely held in recent years is the estimate that Edom did not become a complex society and kingdom until the eighth or seventh centuries, presumably as a consequence of rule by the Assyrian empire.
Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University and a leading proponent of the low-chronology model, has said the new research does “not shed new light on the question of state formation in Edom.” He argues that perhaps the copper operations were controlled by chieftains in Beersheba, to the west, and supplied material for urban centers west and north of Edom.
Read the complete article by John Noble Wilford by clicking here.
The issue of the historicity of the biblical narrative will not go away. Archaeologists look at the same evidence and come up with different conclusions, creating problems for those who desire to understand the biblical text.
Personally, I believe that in the end, the minimalists lose. Here and there archaeologists are discovering evidence that the basic historical narratives of the biblical text are reliable.
It is true that “One ‘fortress’ does not make a kingdom,” as one archaeologist wrote. However, the accumulation of evidence becomes so heavy on the side of authenticity that the only resource the minimalists have is to discredit the evidence.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Edom, Minimalist, Archaeology, Biblical Archaeology