Wednesday, March 5, 2014

More Archaeological Evidence Regarding The Date The Torah Was Written

A recent article provides a list of 50 people mentioned in the Bible who are actual historical figures and whose existence is supported by independent archaeological evidence.  (The article is from Bible History Daily, linked to by Mosaic Magazine, based on an article in Biblical Archeology Review.)  These people include rulers or officials from Egypt, Moab, Aram-Damascus, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and of course rulers and other officials from both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  What is striking about this table is the date range that these people lived.

The earliest is King David who reigned from 1010-970 BCE and the latest was Darius II who reigned from 425-404 BCE more or less.  I charted the distribution of dates that these 50 people started their reign or other activity:

(I set "mid-century" years at year 50, "early" century years at year 75, and "late" century years at 25; the difference of a few years one way or another does not matter for these purpose.)

This distribution shows that almost all the people mentioned in the Bible for whom there is independent historical or archaeological data confirming their existence lived between 900 and 500 BCE, with only two people living slightly before this period.  This is exactly the time modern scholars believe the almost all of the Bible was actually written, including the Torah.  (Some parts were written later.)

Interestingly, the one person mentioned in the Torah for whom there is some independent historical or archaeological evidence is "Balaam son of Be'or."  (See Numbers 22.)  In the story, King Balak hires Balaam to curse the Israelites, but Balaam blesses them instead.  This happened towards the end of their 40 year journey in the wilderness, or sometime between 1200 and 1500 BCE, depending on how one dates the Exodus.

But the archaeological reference to Balaam is much later.  In the Deir Alla inscription (found in Jordan in 1967), "Balaam the son of Be'or" is mentioned in a story written on a wall in an ancient building.  The story is dated to about 840-760 BCE, right in the middle of the same time period that all other historical Biblical people were mentioned.  The story of Balaam is different than the one in the Book of Numbers, and of course this might be a reference to a different person.  But the point remains that all the archaeological evidence, albeit imprecise and uncertain, keeps pointing toward this same time period.

What do we make of this?  The statistical argument is pretty compelling.  There are numerous historical figures mentioned in the Bible who lived between 1000 and 500 BCE, and no historical figures mentioned who lived before that.  To be fair, we may find archaeological evidence one day that does verify the existence of some earlier people mentioned in the Bible.  But the huge number of later historical figures, and the small number of earlier historical figures (currently 0) strongly support the claim that the Torah was written in the later date range. 

This is not overwhelming by itself, but when coupled with all sorts of other internal and external evidence indicating a later authorship date, it all becomes very compelling.

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