Posts Tagged ‘accuracy’

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Living On The Edge: challenges to faith

September 1, 2013

Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life.

The book ‘Living On The Edge: challenges to faith‘ (due to be printed in November 2013), addresses those concerns. For an overview of the book, click here.

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Is the Bible’s chronology of the kings of Israel accurate?

July 30, 2011

The Challenge

In the late 19th century, critical scholar Julius Wellhausen claimed the Biblical chronology of the kings of Israel was a literary invention for religious purposes, which had been edited and revised several times from a variety of different sources, rather than a genuine historical record.[1]

For the next 70 years, critical scholars continued to treat the chronology as historically worthless and irreconcilable.[2]

The Facts

In 1951, Biblical scholar Edwin Thiele published ‘The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings’, a harmonization of the Biblical record of the kings of Israel (originally as a doctoral dissertation). By the time of the second edition (slightly revised), it was recognized that Thiele’s work was a significant breakthrough in establishing the historical validity of the Biblical chronology.[3]

Reception

Though criticisms have been made of Thiele’s chronology,[4] [5] [6] [7] its value and general validity have been acknowledged widely.[8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

It remains the typical starting point for study of the chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah[13] [14] with few modifications,[15] [16]   and has been applied successfully in other fields of Ancient Near East study, such as the chronologies of Assyria and Babylon.[17]

The reliability of the chronologies in 1-2 Kings has been supported by archaeological evidence; Grabbe notes that the chronology in these books ‘agrees with what can be gleaned from extra-biblical sources’, and that ‘even if we had no external sources we could have reasonable confidence in the biblical sequence’.[18]


[1] ‘That a process of alteration and improvement of the chronology was busily carried on in later times, we see from the added synchronisms of the kings of Israel and Judah,’, Wellhausen, ‘Prolegomena to the History of Israel’, p. 278 (1885).

[2] ‘Driver remarked that, “the length of the reigns of the various kings is not the same according to the traditional and the synchronistic figures. Since, however, it is clear on various grounds that these synchronisms are not original, any attempt to base a chronological scheme on them may be disregarded.” Kittel stated his view that, “Wellhausen has shown, by convincing reasons, that the synchronisms within the Book of Kings cannot possibly rest on ancient tradition, but are on the contrary simply the products of artificial reckoning. . . The Israelitish numbers and the parallel numbers referring to Judah do not agree at the points at which we are able to compare them.” Robinson also was impressed by Wellhausen’s evaluation: “Wellhausen is surely right in believing that the synchronisms in Kings are worthless, being merely a late compilation from the actual figures given.” * R. H. Pfeiffer’s opinion was that, “The chronology based on the synchronisms is of course less reliable than the one based on the regnal periods, since the synchronisms were figured from the regnal periods. Neither chronology is wholly accurate . . . In spite of these discrepancies, inaccuracies, and errors, the chronology of Kings is not fantastic.” 5 J. F. McCurdy expressed himself to the effect that, “Many of the numbers given, especially the synchronisms, are erroneous, as is proved by the fact that no attempt to harmonize the two series has been successful . . . Startling inconsistencies are also found where the several synchronisms for the same king are worked out.” K. Marti gave his observation: “The synchronistic notes betray their character as ‘subjective additions of the Epitomator.’ It is clear, to begin with, that this noting of synchronisms was not in actual use during the existence of the two kingdoms. . . Almost along the whole line, the discrepancy between synchronisms and years of reign is incurable.” C. H. Gordon observed: “The numerical errors in the Books of Kings have defied every attempt to ungarble them. Those errors are largely the creation of the editors who set out to write a synchronistic history of Judah and Israel, using as sources two sets of unrelated court chronicles. Combining two elaborate sets of figures was not an easy task. But even with due regard for the difficulties involved, the editors did not execute the synchronisms skillfully.”’, Thiele, ‘Synchronisms of the Hebrew Kings – A Re-evaluation: I’, Andrews University Seminary Studies, pp. 14-125 (1), 1963.

[3]A marked advance in biblical scholarship was made in the publication of The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, U. of Chicago Press, 1951, by Dr. E. R. Thiele. In his revised edition in 1965 (Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.), Dr. Thiele asserts the soundness of his basic thesis and conclusions as confirmed by scholars since his first edition.’, editorial, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (9.1.60), 1966.

[4] ‘Thiele’s view contains positive elements, but it also poses numerous difficulties. He incorrectly understood the annals of Tiglath-pileser III, and his determination that Menahem died in 742 contradicts the testimonies of the contemporaneous Assyrian inscriptions.10 In his desire to resolve the discrepancies between the data in the Book of Kings, Thiele was forced to make improbable suppositions. He assumed that the system of counting the years of reign changed every few generations, or even after a few decades. This is improbable, and cannot be proved. Similarly, he presumes that the Northern and Southern Kingdoms numbered their years both by the local count and by that practiced by the other kingdom, also for short periods, while this practice ceased in other periods. Thiele even went so far as to assume that while this practice had fallen into disuse, there were scribes who continued to calculate the years in accordance with it. There is no basis for Thiele’s statement that his conjectures are correct because he succeeded in reconciling most of the data in the Book of Kings, since his assumptions regarding Biblical chronological principles are derived from the chronological data themselves, whose reliability is unclear.’, Galil, ‘The Chronology of the Kings of Israel and Judah’, p. 4 (1996).

[5]but his harmonizing approach has not gone unchallenged, especially because of the many shifts in the basis of reckoning dates that it requires (e.g., Jepsen 1968: 34–35)—shifts which were unlikely in actual practice. The numerous extrabiblical synchronisms he invokes do not always reflect the latest refinements in Assyriological research (cf. E.2.f below). In many cases, he posits an undocumented event in order to save a biblical datum (e.g., the circumstances surrounding the appointment of Jeroboam II as coregent; Thiele 1983: 109)’, Cogan, ‘Chronology (Hebrew Bible)’, in Freedman, (ed.), ’The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary’, volume 1, p. 1006 (1996)’, Freedman, DN (1996).

[6]  ‘Despite that fact of scholarly dedication, neither Thiele’s carefully argued University of Chicago dissertation, nor anyone else’s, has achieved as yet universal acceptance.’, Kaiser, ‘A History of Israel: From the bronze age through the Jewish Wars’, p. 293 (1998).

[7]Not all scholars are convinced by this solution, and commentators on the prophetic books often accept that dates can only be approximate.’, McConville, ‘Exploring the Old Testament, Volume 4: The Prophets’, p. viii (2002).

[8] ‘The chronology most widely accepted today is one based on the meticulous study by Thiele. Wiseman, ‘1 and 2 Kings’, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, p. 27 (1993).

[9]Increasingly his chronological scheme has come to dominate the majority of scholarly works and it is unlikely that his system can ever be overthrown without altering some well-established dates in Near Eastern history, for Thiele’s chronology is now inextricably locked into the chronology of the Near East.’, McFall, ‘A Translation Guide to the Chronological Data in Kings and Chronicles’, Bibliotheca Sacra (148.589.42-43), 1996.

[10] ‘Thiele’s system of chronology has been well received over the past 40 years and is now accepted as the basis for Israel’s chronology in a growing number of standard scholarly works.’, ibid., p. 42; see for example: Mitchell, ‘Israel and Judah until the Revolt of Jehu (931-841 B.C.)’, Cambridge Ancient History, volume 3, part 1, p. 445 (1982); Finegan, ‘Handbook of Biblical Chronology’, p. 249 (rev. ed.1998); Hess, ‘Chronology (Old Testament)’, in Porter (ed.), ‘Dictionary of Biblical Criticism and Interpretation’, p. 55 (2007).

[11]Thiele’s chronology is fast becoming the consensus view among Old Testament scholars, if it has not already reached that point.’, McFall, ‘The Chronology of Saul and David’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (53.101.215), 2010.

[12]Thiele’s chronology (which differs from that of the present paper in only a few places) won the respect of historians because its dates agree with the following dates in Assyrian and Babylonian history: the Battle of Qarqar in 853 bc; the tribute of Jehu to Shalmaneser III in 841 bc; the capture of Samaria by Shalmaneser V in 723 bc; the invasion of Sennacherib in 701 bc; the Battle of Carchemish in 605 bc; and the first capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 bc.’, Young, ‘Tables of Reign Lengths From the Hebrew Court Recorders’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (48.2.232), 2005.

[13] ‘Thiele’s work has become a cornerstone of much recent chronological discussion (cf. De Vries IDB 1: 580–99; IDBSup: 161–66);’, Cogan, ‘Chronology (Hebrew Bible)’, in Freedman, (ed.), ’The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary’, volume 1, p. 1006 (1996)’, Freedman, DN (1996).

[14] ‘Although some would prefer to see transmission errors where Thiele invokes the above principles, his chronology remains the starting point for all discussions of the debate.’, Hess, ‘Chronology (Old Testament)’, in Porter (ed.), ‘Dictionary of Biblical Criticism and Interpretation’, p. 55 (2007).

[15] ‘After 40 years Thiele’s chronology has not been significantly altered or proved to be false in any major area except in the matter of Hezekiah’s coregency.’, McFall, ‘A Translation Guide to the Chronological Data in Kings and Chronicles’, Bibliotheca Sacra (148.589.42), 1996.

[16]It remained then for others to complete the application of principles that Thiele used elsewhere, thereby providing a chronology for the eighth-century kings of Judah that is in complete harmony with the reign lengths and synchronisms given in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. The most thorough work in this regard was Leslie McFall’s 1991 article in Bibliotheca Sacra.22 McFall made his way through the reign lengths and synchronisms of Kings and Chronicles, and using an exact notation that indicated whether the years were being measured according to Judah’s Tishri years or Israel’s Nisan years, he was able to produce a chronology for the divided monarchies that was consistent with all the scriptural texts chosen.’, ibid., pp. 105-106.

[17] ‘In a 1996 article, Kenneth Strand wrote, “What has generally not been given due notice is the effect that Thiele’s clarification of the Hebrew chronology of this period of history has had in furnishing a corrective for various dates in ancient Assyrian and Babylonian history.”28 The purpose of Strand’s article was to show that Thiele’s methodology accomplished more than just producing a coherent chronology from scriptural data. His chronology, once produced, proved useful in settling some troublesome problems in Assyrian and Babylonian history.’, Young, ‘Inductive And Deductive Methods As Applied To OT Chronology’, Master’s Seminary Journal (18.1.112-113), 2007.

[18] ‘Grabbe suggests that the names and sequence of kings in Israel and Judah, and their approximate chronological placement, agrees with what can be gleaned from extra-biblical sources. To this extent the biblical framework (meaning primarily 1 and 2 Kings) is reliable: even if we had no external sources we could have reasonable confidence in the biblical sequence of Jeroboam I, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Omri, Ahab, Jehu, etc. in Samaria, and David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa, Jehoshaphat, etc. in Jerusalem, along with their interrelationships. Beyond that it starts to get more and more tricky, with decreasing reliability in the biblical narrative as the detail increases (this is a general statement, and there are sometimes exceptions in specific instances).’, Grabbe, ‘Reflections on the Discussion’, Grabbe (ed.), ‘Ahab Agonistes: The Rise and Fall of the Omri Dynasty’, p. 337 (2007).

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What is archaeological ‘minimalism’?

April 26, 2011

Definition

The ‘minimalist’ view is that archaeology provides little or no support for the Biblical history.[1] [2] The best known adherents are Philip Davies,[3]  Lester Grabbe,[4] Niels Lemche,[5] Thomas Thompson,[6] and Keith Whitelam.[7] However, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman are the only two prominent archaeologists associated with minimalist views.

Kenneth Kitchen

Kitchen[8] has raised numerous objections to minimalist claims, rejecting Thompson’s assertion that the Hebrew Tabernacle is a literary fiction,[9] that the Merneptah Stele is not reliable evidence for a people named ‘Israel’ in early 13th century Canaan,[10] that the Tel Dan Stele does not refer to a Hebrew ‘House of David’,[11] that the description of Solomon’s wealth is legendary,[12] and that the use of the first person perspective in the Mesha Stele indicates a post-mortem or legendary account.[13] [14] [15] Kitchen has also criticized Finkelstein and Silberman.[16] [17]

William Dever

Though far more sceptical than Kitchen, Dever[18] has nevertheless opposed minimalism vigorously. [19] [20] [21] [22]

Israel Finkelstein

Despite sympathies with some minimalist views, Finkelstein has rejected strongly the minimalist claims concerning Persian era Hebrew scribes,[23] that the ‘lists and details of royal administrative organization in the kingdom of Judah’ are fictional,[24] and that the Hebrew King David never existed.[25] [26] He has also acknowledged strong archaeological support for certain parts of the Biblical record.[27]

Amihai Mazar

With more in common with Finkelstein than the minimalists,[28] Mazar[29]  takes a moderate though critical view of the Biblical history.[30] [31]


[1] The ‘maximalist’ view is that archaeology overwhelmingly supports the Biblical history, and the moderate view is that archaeology substantially supports the Biblical history but that not all of the history can be supported directly from archaeology.

[2] ‘A recent trend in Syro-Palestinian archaeological study known as minimalism or revisionism suggests that Israel was created in the Hellenistic period.’, McCarty & Merrill, ‘Review: What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? By William G. Dever.’, Bibliotheca Sacra (161.641.115), 2004.

[3] Biblical scholar.

[4] Historian.

[5] Biblical scholar.

[6] Biblical scholar.

[7] Biblical scholar.

[8] Egyptologist, Assyriologist, and archaeologist.

[9] ‘In so doing he ignores the whole of the comparative data that show clearly that the tabernacle was a product of Egyptian technology from the overall period 3000 to 1000 D.C. (plus Se-mitic analogues, 1900-1100), and would be unable to account for such facts.’, Kitchen, ‘On the Reliability of the Old Testament’, pp. 450-451 (2005).

[10] ‘The Israel of Merenptah’s stela was, by its perfectly dear determinative, a people (= tribal) grouping, not a territory or city-state; rare statements to the contrary are perverse nonsense, especially given the very high level of scribal accuracy shown by this particular monument.’, ibid., p. 451.

[11] ‘(i) The name “David” may be unusual, but is not unparalleled. Long centuries before, it was borne by a West Semitic chief carpenter in about 1730 B.C. on an Egyptian stela formerly in the collection at Rio de Janeiro. (ii) Dwd is neither the name (which Thompson admits) nor an epithet of a deity. Others are beloved of deities (for which references are legion!), but male deities are not beloved of others, human or divine (only goddesses are beloved of their divine husbands in Egypt). (iii) Mesha’s stela is ninth, not eighth, century. (iv) On Mesha’s stela dwd(h) is not a divine epithet of YHWH or anyone else. (v) Contrary to TLT, “House of X” does  mean a dynastic founder, all over the Near East, in the first half of the first millennium B.C.; it was an Aramean usage that passed into Assyrian nomenclature, and examples are common. (vi) Again, the expression, in part of its usage, is like the British “House of Windsor”, etc. Such usages were not peculiar to Aram, Assyria, and Judah either: in Egypt, the official title given to the Twelfth Dynasty (Turin Canon) was “Kings of the House (lit. ‘Residence’) of Ithet-Tawy” = ‘the Dynasty of Ithet-Tawy”. And the Thirteenth Dynasty was duly entitled “Kings who came after the [House of] King Sehetepibre” (founder of the Twelfth Dynasty). (vii) The charge of forgery is a baseless slur against the Dan expedition, without a particle of foundation in fact.’, ibid., pp. 452-453.

[12] ‘The point of the comparisons drawn with external (and firsthand!) sources was precisely that Solomon’s wealth (even as stated in Kings) was not exceptional or “fabulous/legendary” in its wider context. He was a pauper compared with (e.g.) Osorkon I, who, less than a decade after Solomon’s death, spent sums that massively outstrip Solomon’s stated income, and gave detailed accounts. The layering that TLT objects to was customary. At Karnak in Egypt, some temple columns were grooved to fit sheet gold from top to bottom, not mere “plastering.” As a touch of throwaway wealth, one need look no further than the recently discovered burials of two Assyrian queens. Solomon had just one golden throne? One pharaoh was sent ten at a time!’, ibid., p. 454.

[13] ‘Use of the first person by a monarch does not belong exclusively to either postmortem memorial texts or to later legends about such kings. A huge army of texts shows up the falsity of his presumption.’, ibid., p. 456.

[14]For first person, not postmortem, see (e.g.) Lipit-Ishtar (247), Warad-Sin/Kudur-mabuk (251-52), Rim-Sin I (253, his third text), Hammurabi (256-57), Ammi-ditana (258-59), and Shamshi-Adad I (259), all early second millennium. In the first millennium every major Assyrian king did exactly likewise, in various editions of their annals that were anything but postmortem, from Tiglath-pileser I to Assurbanipal (cf. ANET, 274-301; CoS II,261-306; RIMA, 1-3 passim).’, ibid., p. 456.

[15]Mesha’s stela is a contemporary building plus victory text, exactly like so many other inscriptions in the ancient Near East in all places and periods; the first-person formulation is irrelevant to its status, as the foregoing examples (far from exhaustive!) show.’, ibid., p. 457.

[16] ‘His reevaluation of the realm of Omri and Ahab is refreshing but wildly exaggerated, especially in archaeological terms. As others have shown amply, the redating will not work (cf. chap. 4, sec. 3 above).’, ibid., p. 464.

[17]The Philistines of Gerar (not those of the Pentapolis!) are a very different lot from the Iron Age group of that name. The term is a probably twelfth-century one substituted for Caphtorim or the like, precisely as Dan was substituted for Laish in Gen. 14:]4.’, ibid., p. 465.

[18] Archaeologist.

[19] ‘There are some who claim that the Bible contains little or no historical information about ancient Israel. I want to combat these “minimalist” or “revisionist” views of the history of ancient Israel by showing how archaeology can and does illuminate a historical Israel in the Iron Age of ancient Palestine (roughly 1200–600 B.C.E.)’, Dever, ‘Save Us from Postmodern Malarkey’, Biblical Archaeology Review (26.02), March/April 2000.

[20]Davies does not even cite the standard handbook, Mazar’s Archaeology of the Land of the Bible,’, Dever, ‘Who Were the Early Israelites? And Where Did they Come From?’, p. 138 (2003).

[21] ‘That same year Whitelam wrote an article for the Sheffield Journal for the Study of the Old Testament on “the realignment and transformation of Late-Bronze-Iron Age Palestine.” It was so full of caricatures of modern archaeological theory and results that I felt compelled to answer it in the same journal.’, ibid., p 139.

[22] ‘Thus he [Thompson] published two years later his revisionist treatment of ancient Israel: The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel. Despite its subtitle, this work has next to nothing to do with real archaeology.’, ibid., p. 141.

[23] ‘First of all, as the biblical scholar William Schniedewind has indicated, literacy and extensive scribal activity in Jerusalem in the Persian and early-Hellenistic periods were much less influential than in the seventh century b.c.e. The assumption is inconceivable that in the fifth, or fourth, or even second centuries b.c.e., the scribes of a small, out-of-the-way temple town in the Judean mountains authored an extraordinarily long and detailed composition about the history, personalities, and events of an imaginary Iron Age “Israel” without using ancient sources.’, Finkelstein, ‘Digging for the Truth: Archaeology and the Bible’, in Schmidt (ed.), ‘The Quest for the Historical Israel’, Archaeology and Biblical Studies, number 17, p. 13 (2007).

[24] ‘The sheer number of name lists and details of royal administrative organization in the kingdom of Judah that are included in the Deuteronomistic History seems unnecessary for a purely mythic history. In any event, if they are all contrived or artificial, their coincidence with earlier realities is amazing.’, ibid., p. 13.

[25] ‘This argument suffered a major blow when the Tel Dan basalt stele was discovered in the mid-1990s.’, ibid., p. 14.

[26] ‘This was the first time that the name “David” was found in any contemporary source outside the Bible, in this case only about a century after his own supposed lifetime.’, ibid., p. 14.

[27] ‘Archaeological excavations and surveys have confirmed that many of the Bible’s geographical listings—for example, of the boundaries of the tribes and the districts of the kingdom—closely match settlement patterns and historical realities in the eighth and seventh centuries b.c.e. Equally important, the biblical scholar Baruch Halpern showed that a relatively large number of extra-biblical historical records—mainly Assyrian—verify ninth- to seventh-century b.c.e. events described in the Bible: the mention of Omri in the Mesha stele, those of Ahab and Jehu in the Shalmaneser III inscriptions, Hezekiah in the inscriptions of Sennacherib, Manasseh in the records of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, and so on. No less significant is the fact, as indicated by the linguist, Avi Hurwitz, that much of the Deuteronomistic History is written in late-monarchic Hebrew, which is different from the Hebrew of post-exilic times.’, ibid., pp. 13-14.

[28]‘ Our views differ on certain important issues, but we share more in common than we do with either of the two extreme groups described above.’, Mazar, ‘On Archaeology, Biblical History, and Biblical Archaeology’, in Schmidt (ed.), ‘The Quest for the Historical Israel’, Archaeology and Biblical Studies, number 17, p. 29 (2007).

[29] Archaeologist.

[30] ‘My own choice is to follow those who claim that the initial writing of the Torah (the Pentateuch or Tetrateuch), of the Deuteronomistic History and large parts of the prophetic and wisdom literature took place during the late monarchy (eighth to early-sixth centuries b.c.e.), while during the exilic and post-exilic periods they underwent further stages of editing, expansion, and change. Yet, I also accept the

view of many scholars that the late-monarchic authors utilized earlier materials and sources.’, ibid., p. 29.

[31] ‘Both Assyrian inscriptions and local inscriptions like the stelae of Mesha, king of Moab, and of Hazael, king of Damascus (better known as the Tel Dan inscription), confirm that the general historical framework of the Deuteronomistic narrative relating to the ninth century was based on reliable knowledge of the historical outline of that century. Our understanding of the periods preceding the ninth century is of course foggier.’, ibid., p. 30.

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Were camels domesticated in the time of Abraham?

April 24, 2011

The Challenge

WF Albright, one of the most famous 20th century archaeologists, argued that the camel was not domesticated until around the 1st millennium, well after the time of Abraham.[1] This was considered persuasive by many Biblical scholars, who were convinced that references in Genesis to camels in Egypt during the time of Abraham[2] are anachronistic. [3] [4] [5]

The Evidence

Some evidence alleged for very early camel use in Mesopotamia has proved dubious,[6] [7] but Albright overlooked evidence for camel domestication reported by the French archaeologist Petrie in 1907.[8]

However, Petrie’s evidence for camel domestication during the Ramesside era in Egypt (1292-1069 BCE), was still too late for Abraham (from around 1900 BCE), though significantly earlier than Albright’s date.

Evidence for early camel domestication elsewhere in the Ancient Near East and North Africa is well documented, [9] [10] [11] [12] and has been used to argue defend the Genesis account. [13] [14] [15] [16]

It is recognized domesticated camel caravans must have passed through Egypt at an early date, even though the Egyptians made no reference to them at this time. [17] [18]  Bulliet observes that evidence for the early domestication of the camel in Mesopotamia cannot be ignored on the basis of their absence in Egyptian evidence.[19]

He agrees with Albright that evidence for Syrian domestic camel use during the 3rd to 2nd millennium is absent,[20] and argues the undisputed evidence of their use elsewhere in Mesoptamia indicates they entered the area on a very small scale as pack animals by rich traders, rather than being herded in large numbers.[21] [22]

Firm evidence for very early camel domestication in Egypt has caused some scholars to reconsider the Biblical narrative.[23] [24] [25]


[1]According to Albright, any mention of camels in the period of Abraham is a blatant anachronism, the product of later priestly tampering with the earlier texts in order to bring more in line with altered social conditions. The Semites of the time of Abraham, he maintains, herded sheep, goats, and donkeys but not camels, for the latter had not yet been domesticated and did not really enter the orbit of Biblical history until about 1100-1000 BC with the coming of the Midianites, the camel riding foes of Gideon.’, Bulliet, ‘The Camel and the Wheel’, p. 36 (1990 ed., originally published 1975).

[2] Genesis 12: 15 When Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, 16 and he did treat Abram well on account of her. Abram received sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

[3] ‘Some scholars have suggested that only with the 1st millennium B.C. was the camel fully domesticated’, Pratico, ‘Nomadism’, in Bromiley (ed.), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume 3, p. 547 (rev. ed. 1988).

[4]The almost unanimous opinion of Biblical scholars is that mention of domesticated camels in the Patriarchal narratives (Gn 12:16; 24:10; 30:43) constitutes an anachronism. Camels, they say, were not domesticated until late in the second millennium BC, centuries after the Patriarchs were supposed to have lived.’, Caesar, ‘Bible and Spade (13.77), 2000.

[5] ‘There continue to be some scholars who follow Albright’s skepticism (1942; 1945; 1949: 207) that references to camels in the patriarchal narratives are anachronistic (e.g. Koehler-Rollefson 1993: 183).’,  Younker, ‘Bronze Age Camel Petroglyphs In The Wadi Nasib, Sinai’, Bible and Spade (13.75), 2000.

[6] ‘To be sure, one or two representations of camels from early Mesopotamia have been alleged, but they are all either doubtfully camelline, as the horsy looking clay plaque from the third dynasty of ur (2345-2308 B.C.), or else not obviously domestic and hence possibly depictions of wild animals,’, Bulliet, ‘The Camel and the Wheel’, p. 46 (1990 ed., originally published 1975).

[7] ‘These five pieces of evidence, needless to say, may not convince everyone that the domestic camel was known in Egypt and the Middle East on an occasional basis between 2500 and 1400 B.C. Other early depictions, alleged to be of camels, which look to my eyes like dogs, donkeys, horses, dragons or even pelicans, might be more convincing to some than the examples described above.’, ibid., p. 64.

[8]The pottery figure of a camel laden with water-jars was found in a tomb of the XIXth dynasty in the northern cemetery. There were no traces of a later re-use of the tomb; the style of the figure is of the rough fingered pottery of the XIXth dynasty, and quite unlike any of the moulded Roman figures; and the water-jar, is of the XIVIIIth-XIXth dynasty type and not of a form used in Greek or Roman times. Hence it is impossible to assign this to the age when the camel is familiar in Egypt, and it shows that as early as Ramesside times it was sufficiently common to be used as a best of burden.’, Petrie, ‘Gizeh and Rifeh’, in ‘Publications of the Egyptian Research Account and British School of Archaeology in Egypt’ (13.23), 1907.

[9] ‘Camels are not anachronistic in the early second millennium BC, but find only sparing attestation and use both in Genesis and external sources then and until the twelfth century BC.’, Kitchen, ‘Historical Method and Hebrew Tradition’, Tyndale Bulletin (17.1.83), 1966.

[10] ‘Both the dromedary (the one-humped camel of Arabia) and the Bactrian camel (the two-humped camel of Central Asia) had been domesticated since before 2000 BC.’, Scarre, ‘Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient World’, p. 176 (1993).

[11] ‘As far as hard dates go, the 2500-1500 B.C. suggested earlier for the introduction of the camel into Somalia is the best that can be done from available data. Given the stage domestication had reached by the time the camels and their owners crossed the sea, some additional time must be allowed for earlier stages. Taking this into consideration, it is easily conceivable that the domestication process first got underway between 3000 and 2500 B.C.’, Bulliet, ‘The Camel and the Wheel’, p. 56 (1990 ed., originally published 1975).

[12]Found in a context datable to 2700 B.C., the remains led the excavators to argue that camel domestication began in Turkmenia and spread south (Compagnoni and Tosi 1978: 95–99). The domestic camel was apparently known to the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilization by 2300 B.C., although the species utilized remains open to question (Meadow 1984: 134 and references).’,  Zarins, ‘Camel’, in Freedman (ed.), Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (electronic ed. 1996).

[13]Archeological discoveries have now shown clearly that references to domesticated camels in Genesis are by no means anachronistic, as some earlier scholars supposed. While camel caravans seem to have been used regularly only from the Late Bronze Age onward, archeologists have found numerous bones of domesticated camels. Thus when Parrot was excavating Mari, he found camel bones in the ruins of a house dated in the pre-Sargonic period (ca 2400 B.C.). An eighteenth-century-B.C. relief from Byblos pictured a camel in a kneeling position, and a socket on the back showed that the animal’s hump and its load had been attached separately. In accord with patriarchal traditions, cylinder seals from Middle Bronze Age Mesopotamia showed riders seated upon camels.’, Harrison, ‘Genesis’, in Bromiley (ed.), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume 3, p. 547 (rev. ed. 1988).

[14] ‘Excavations in eastern Arabia, an area once believed to be a cultural backwater unworthy of archaeological investigation, have turned up evidence that camels were first domesticated by Semites before the time of Abraham. Much of this evidence has been examined by M. C. A. MacDonald of the Oriental Faculty at the University of Oxford’, Caesar, ‘Bible and Spade (13.77), 2000.

[15] ‘the principle area of extensive early camel domestication was the Syro-Arabian desert, due west of Ur, Abraham’s birthplace (1995: 1356).’, ibid., p. 77.

[16] ‘possession of camels by Semitic travelers endowed them with a special advantage over those who did not, particularly in economic and political terms. This conforms to the Genesis image of the Patriarchs as wealthy, respected individuals who could hold their own against monarchs and chieftains.’, ibid., p. 78.

[17]Horses and camels were not represented in Old Kingdom Egypt and camels are said to have been introduced into Egypt much later than horses.’, Daly, ‘Egyptology: the missing millennium: ancient Egypt in medieval Arabic writings’, p. 102 (2005).

[18] ‘In view of the very early caravan links between Arabia and the Nile Valley, it would be very surprising if the camel had not reached Egypt before the first millennium BC; doubtless there were religious reasons for the lack of representations of this animal earlier than this. Camels could have been first introduced to Egypt from 1680 BC by the invading Hyksos, but it is not until the end of the second millennium that references to them begin to be found;’, Fage, ‘The Cambridge history of Africa: From the earliest times to c. 500 BC’, volume 1, pp. 288-289 (1982).

[19]Yet it is very difficult to explain away all of the evidence pointing to the camel’s presence outside the Arabian peninsula prior to the year 1400B.C. The effort is better spent looking into the reasons why the evidence from this early period is so very scarce.’, Bulliet, ‘The Camel and the Wheel’, p. 36 (1990 ed., originally published 1975).

[20] ‘The archaeological record, as Albright affirms, shows no indication of camel use in the Syrian area during the period in question, 2500-1400B.C.,’, ibid., p. 64.

[21] ‘Indeed, they must have played little or no part in the ordinary herding economy of the time. The most satisfactory explanation of this circumstance is that the camel was known because it was brought into the area by traders carrying goods from southern Arabia but that it was not bred or herded in the area. It is worthy of note that whereas the citations from the Bible associating camels with Abraham and his immediate descendants seem to fit the generalized pattern of later camel use in the area, they could also fit a pattern in which camels were very uncommon. The largest number of animals mentioned in those episodes is ten, and those ten are probably most of what Abraham had’, ibid., pp. 64-54.

[22]But it has been demonstrated that the camel was already in use during the period in question and that its probable homeland was southern Arabia. It is much more reasonable, therefore, to assume that the camel was the main carrier on the incense route from the very beginning, or nearly so, and that the Semitic tribes of the north came to know the camel in this way in very small numbers. In other words, the presence of camels in the Abraham story can be defended and the story treated as primary evidence of camel use without disputing Albright’s contention that camel-breeding nomads did not exist in Syria and northern Arabia at that time.’, ibid., pp. 66-67.

[23] ‘However, in various parts of the country some evidence for the presence of camels has been uncovered, associated with dates as far back as the predynastic period (Free 1944:191).’, Daly, ‘Egyptology: the missing millennium : ancient Egypt in medieval Arabic writings’, p. 102 (2005).

[24] ‘In the Egyptian Fayum province was found a camel-skull dated to the ‘Pottery A’ stage, i.e. within the period c. 2000–1400 BC, the period from the Patriarchs practically to Moses; see O. H. Little, Bulletin de l’Institut d’Égypte 18, 1935–6, p. 215.’, Kitchen, ‘Camel’, in Wood & Marshall (eds.), ‘New Bible Dictionary’, p. 160 (3rd ed. 1996).

[25] ‘However, there is now a growing body of scholars who believe that camel domestication must have occurred earlier than previously thought (prior to the 12th century BC) and that the patriarchal narratives accurately reflect this (e.g., Ripinsky 1984; Coote and Whitelam 1987: 102; Zarins 1992: 826; Borowski 1998: 112–18).’, Younker, ‘Bronze Age Camel Petroglyphs In The Wadi Nasib, Sinai’, Bible and Spade (13.75), 2000.

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Did Luke use Josephus when writing Acts?

April 23, 2011

The Claim

It has been claimed that Luke used the writings of Josephus (specifically ‘Antiquities of the Jews’).[1] [2] Since Josephus wrote in 93 CE, this would date Acts no earlier than this time.[3] The following passages are claimed as examples of Luke’s dependence on Josephus.

*  Luke 3:1: Josephus and Luke record the census of Quirinius, but Luke’s differs from that of Josephus and cannot be verified independently; both Luke and Josephus refer to Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene

*  Luke 13:1: Luke’s description of the murder of the Galileans is similar to Josephus’ description of an assault on Samaritans[4]

*  Acts 5:36-37: Luke mentions Theudas and Judas the Galilean, but reverses the order in which Josephus listed them, dates Theudas 15 years before the date Josephus gives[5]

*  Acts 11:28-9: Luke and Josephus both record famine during Claudius’ reign[6]

*  Acts 12:21-3: Luke describes Agrippa I’s death in a manner similar to Josephus, but with certain differences[7]

*  Acts 21:38: Luke describes ‘the Egyptian’ rebel leading sicarii into the wilderness but Josephus’s reference to sicarii in the wilderness is separate from his reference to ‘the Egyptian’[8]

*  Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30: Like Josephus, Luke implies that Agrippa II and Berenice are married, or consorts[9]

*  Acts 24:24-6: Like Josephus, Luke shows he is aware Drusilla (the wife of Felix), is a Jew

Scholarly Commentary

The claim is so insubstantial that most scholars consider it highly debatable at best,[10] rejecting it on a range of grounds and arguing Luke and Josephus used common traditions and historical sources. [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23]

This consensus is even acknowledged by those who argue for Luke’s dependence on Josephus, or the other way around.[24]


[1] ‘This theory was maintained by F. C. Burkitt (The Gospel History and its Transmission, 1911, pp. 105–110), following the arguments of Krenkel’s Josephus und Lucas (1894).’, Guthrie, ‘New Testament Introduction’, p. 363 (4th rev. ed. 1996).

[2] Two recent examples are Richard Pervo’s ‘Dating Acts’ (2006), and ‘Acts: A Commentary’ in the series ‘Hermeneia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible’ (2008), and Steve Mason’s ‘Josephus and the New Testament’ (1992); Pervo’s is considered an academic argument worthy of response (though it has failed to convince most scholars), whereas Mason’s is rarely referred to in the relevant scholarly literature.

[3] ‘If Acts is dependent on Josephus for information, it cannot be earlier than 93. But such dependence is not proved and is highly unlikely.’, in Douglas & Tenney, ’New International Bible Dictionary’, p, 13 (1987).

[4] ‘A number of events to which allusion is possibly being made are discussed by J. Blinzler*, 32–37. These include: 1. the affair of the ensigns in Jos. Bel. 2:169–174; Ant. 18:55–59, but this took place in Caesarea in AD 26; 2. the tumults associated with the building of an aqueduct (Jos. Bel. 2:175–177; Ant. 18:60–62), but this incident involved the murder of Judaeans with cudgels outside the temple; 3. an attack on some Samaritans (Jos. Ant. 18:85–87), but this took place in AD 36; 4. the slaughter of about 3,000 Jews offering Passover sacrifices by Archelaus in 4 BC (Jos. Bel. 2:8–13; Ant. 17:213–218). This incident, however, took place some thirty years earlier and was committed by a different ruler; moreover, the murder of 3,000 men would not bear comparison with an accident to 18. It is wisest to conclude that the event is not attested from secular sources. This, however, is no argument against its historicity, since Josephus’ account of Pilate’s career is very incomplete (cf. Philo, Leg. 299-305). Pilate would have been in Jerusalem at Passover time, and the Galileans had a reputation for rebelliousness. The suggestion that Zealots were involved (O. Cullmann, The State in the NT, London, 1957, 14) lacks proof.’, Marshall, ‘The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 553 (1978).

[5] ‘There are two problems: (1) Since Gamaliel was speaking well before AD 44 (the year in which Herod Agrippa I died, 12:20-23), a reference to the Theudas mentioned in Josephus would be anachronistic on his lips. (2). Gamaliel goes on to describe the rising of Judas after this; but the rising of Judas took place in AD 6 before the Theudas incident in Josephus. So, it is argued, Luke makes Gamaliel commit an anachronism and put the two stories in reverse chronological order. It has been argued that Luke was led to this error by misreading Josephus who goes on after the Theudas story to mention the sons of Judas and then to explain parenthetically who this Judas was and how he had led a revolt against Rome. But this supposition is highly unlikely, since Josephus’ works were not published till c. AD 93, and since Luke cannot possibly have got the details of his story (the 400 men) from him. No plausible explanation of Luke’s alleged error has been offered. There is, therefore, much to be said for the suggestions either that Josephus got his dating wrong or (more probably) that Gamaliel is referring to another, otherwise unknown Theudas. Since there were innumerable uprisings when Herod the Great died, and since ‘Josephus describes four men bearing the name of Simon within forty years and three that of Judas within ten years, all of whom were instigators of rebellion’ (cited by Knowling, p. 158), this suggestion should not be rejected out of hand.’, Marshall, ‘Acts: An Introduction And Commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, pp. 122-123 (1980).

[6] ‘Famines are mentioned in various parts of the empire during the time of Claudius. Josephus tells of a famine in Palestine during the governorship of Tiberius Alexander (46/48 C.E.):’, Conzelmann, Epp, & Matthews, ‘Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles’, Hermeneia, p. 90 (1987).

[7]The details of Herod’s death are recorded slightly differently by Josephus, but the accounts are complementary. …Luke’s description of Herod as being eaten by worms is probably directly related to the abdominal pains referred to in Josephus’ account.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition’ (4th ed. 1994).

[8]According to Josephus (Bel. 2:261–263) there had been an Egyptian false prophet who had led 30,000 men to the Mount of Olives in order to take Jerusalem; he promised that they would see the walls of the city fall down. The governor, Felix, killed or captured his followers, while the prophet himself managed to escape. Clearly the tribune thought that this person had reappeared; the discrepancy between the number of his followers in Acts and in Josephus reflects the latter’s well-known tendency to exaggeration, and the tribune’s estimate will have been nearer the mark.’, Marshall, ‘Acts: An Introduction And Commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, p. 371 (1980).

[9] ‘There was gossip about the relationship between the brother and sister (Josephus Ant. 20.145; Juvenal Sat. 6.156–60). ‘,Conzelmann, Epp, & Matthews, ‘Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles’, Hermeneia, p. 206 (1987).

[10] ‘The use of the LXX is not debatable, but the influence of Josephus and Paul has been and is subjected to considerable debate.’, Tyson, ‘Marcion and Luke-Acts: a defining struggle’, p. 14 (2006).

[11] ‘Arguments for the dependence of passages in Acts on Josephus (especially the reference to Theudas in Acts v. 37) are equally unconvincing. The fact is, as Schurer has said: “Either Luke had not read Josephus, or he had forgotten all about what he had read”‘, Geldenhuys, ‘Commentary on the Gospel of Luke’, p. 31 (1950).

[12] ‘But it is hardly logical to hold that Luke depends on Josephus and yet be obliged to admit that Luke shows wide divergence from him in relating events that are supposedly the same.’, Harrison, ‘Introduction to the New Testament’, p. 240 (1971).

[13] ‘The argument that Luke used the historian, Josephus (ad 93), was never fully convincing (HJ Cadbury, BC 11, 357). Today it is seldom pressed.’, Ellis, ‘The Gospel of Luke’, p. 55 (1977).

[14] ‘Sterling concludes that, while it is impossible to establish a literary dependence of Luke-Acts on the writings of Josephus, it is reasonable to affirm that both authors not only had access to similar historical traditions but also shared the same historiographical techniques and perspectives.’, Verheyden, ‘The Unity of Luke-Acts’, p. 678 (1990).

[15] ‘After examining the texts myself, I must conclude with the majority of scholars that it is impossible to establish the dependence of Luke-Acts on the Antiquitates. What is clear is that Luke-Acts and Josephos shared some common traditions about the recent history of Palestine.’, Sterling, ‘Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke-Acts, and Apologetic Historiography’, Supplements to Novum Testamentum, pp. 365-366 (1992).

[16]It seems probable that Luke and Josephus wrote independently of one another; for each could certainly have had access to sources and information, which he then employed according to his own perspectives. A characteristic conglomerate of details, which in part agree, in part reflect great similarity, but also in part, appear dissimilar and to stem from different provenances, accords with this analysis.’, Schreckenberg & Schubert, ‘Jewish Historiography and Iconography in Early and Medieval Christian Literature’, Compendia Rerum Iudicarum Ad Novum Testamentum, volume 2, p. 51 (1992).

[17] ‘A. T. Robinson, Redating, p. 88, regards the Josephus line of approach as almost totally abandoned.’, Guthrie, ‘New Testament Introduction’, p. 364 (4th rev. ed. 1996).

[18] ‘From Krenkel’s remarks it can be seen that this proof can be offered only with very powerful mental contortions. See Hemer, Acts (n.37), 95: ‘the theory of Lukan dependence on Josephus has had in its day a certain vogue, and has been used as a major argument for the late dating of Luke-Acts’; cf. also Sterling, Historiography (n.37),365f. n.281.’, Hengel & Schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch: the unknown years’, p. 325 (1997).

[19] ‘Nevertheless, direct literary dependence on Josephus by Luke is consistently dismissed for various reasons.’, Denova, ‘The Things Accomplished Among Us: prophetic tradition in the structural pattern of Luke-Acts’, p. 207 (1997).

[20] ‘The relationship between Luke and Josephus has produced an abundant literature, which has attempted to show the literary dependence of one on the other. I do not believe that any such dependence can be proved.’, Marguerat, ‘The First Christian Historian: writing the “Acts of the Apostles”‘, p. 79 (2002).

[21]Most scholars today deny any dependence one way or the other, and we think this judgment is correct.’, Heyler, ‘Exploring Jewish literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students’, p. 362  (2002).

[22] ‘When we consider both the differences and the agreement in many details of the information in the two accounts, [of the death of Herod Agrippa I] it is surely better to suppose the existence of a common source on which Luke and Josephus independently drew.’, Klauck & McNeil, ‘Magic and Paganism in Early Christianity: the world of the Acts of the Apostles’, p. 43 (2003).

[23] ‘Some attempt to argue a literary dependence on Josephus, and date Luke-Acts after 93CE. But, without a doubt, Luke’s theology is of an earlier type than Justin.’, Hear, ‘Simon Magus: the first gnostic?’, p. 71 (2003).

[24]Neither position has much of a following today, because of the significant differences between the two works in their accounts of the same events.’, Mason, ‘Josephus and the New Testament’, p. 185 (1992).

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Does the archaeological ‘Low Chronology’ disprove the Biblical narrative?

April 23, 2011

The Challenge

The ‘Low Chronology’ is a proposed redating of the Iron Age,[1] dating the reigns of David and Solomon to a time during which there is no archaeological evidence supporting them.[2]

The Objections

Proposed at least as early as the 1980s,[3]  the redating received almost no support,[4] and was resisted strongly by the archaeological consensus.[5]

Objections were raised by archaeologists including Dever (1997),[6] Mazar (1997, 1999),[7] Zarzeki-Peleg (1997),[8] Ben-Tor (1998), and Ben Ami (1998).[9]

Finkelstein responded, but criticism was renewed in 2000 by Na’aman[10] and Ben-Tor.[11] Over the next five years Finkelstein was virtually the only promoter of the theory. [12] [13] [14]  [15] [16] [17] [18]

The Evidence

Mazar and Dever note evidence agreeing with the Bible’s description of Jerusalem under David and Solomon.[19]  [20] Garfinkel likewise says evidence supports the description of the Israelite battles with the Philistines.[21]

Architecture at Khirbet Qeiyafa indicates David ruled an established state, as in the Biblical narrative.[22] Carbon 14 dated olive pits at the site have an age within the traditional date for the reign of David.[23]

Dead and Buried

Garfinkel believes the evidence from Khirbet Qeiyafa to be conclusive, [24] [25] and has declared ‘Low chronology is now officially dead and buried’.[26]


[1] ‘Proponents of the low chronology suggest that the end of the Iron Age I and the Iron Age IIA should be dated some eighty to one hundred years lower than the traditional chronology.’, Lehman, ‘The United Monarchy in the Countryside: Jerusalem, Judah and the Shephelah during the Tenth Century B.C.E’, in Vaughn & Killebrew (eds.), ‘Jerusalem in Bible and archaeology: The First Temple Period’, pp. 119-120 (2003; Iron Age I and Iron Age IIA are specific eras within the Iron Age.

[2]This suggested “Low Chronology” supposedly supports the replacement of this paradigm by a new one (in fact, similar to one presented earlier by David Jamieson Drake and others), according to which the kingdom of David and Solomon either did not exist or comprised at best a small local entity.’, Mazar, ‘The Search for David and Solomon: An Archaeological Perspective’, in Schmidt (ed.), ‘The Quest For the Historical Israel: debating archaeology and the history of Early Israel’, p. 119 (2007).

[3]“Revisionism” began on the archaeological front in the early 1980s, when several archaeologists o the Tel Aviv University set out to lower the conventional 10th century date of the distinctive four-entryway city gates and casement (or double) walls at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer to the early-mid-9th century BCE.’, Dever, ‘Biblical and Syro-Palestinian Archaeology’, in Perdue (ed.), ‘The Blackwell companion to the Hebrew Bible’, p. 137 (2001).

[4] ‘The Tel Aviv group’s idiosyncratic “low chronology,” however, was not accepted by the Jerusalem school, or by any European or American archaeologist (it still is not widely accepted, even by all Tel Aviv archaeologists).’, ibid., pp. 137-138.

[5] ‘The underlying premises of the Low Chronology were quickly challenged.’, Ortiz, ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing the United Monarch’ , in Hoffmeier & Millard (eds.), ‘The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions’, p. 128 (2004).

[6] ‘And I can tell you that not a single one of the other Israeli archaeologists agrees with this low chronology, except Israel Finkelstein.’ Dever, quoted in Shanks, ‘Face to Face: Biblical Minimalists Meet Their Challengers’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.04), July/August 1997.

[7] ‘Mazar concluded that Finkelstein’s suggestion to push the date of the Philistine Monochrome pottery beyond the end of the Egyptian presence in Canaan is based on a debatable assumption (Tenet #2).’, ibid., p. 128.

[8] ‘A second article criticizing the Low Chronology was published by Anabel Zarzeki-Peleg.17 She also focused on the Iron Age stratigraphy of northern assemblages. Zarzeki-Peleg presented a ceramic typological study of three important northern sites (Megiddo, Jokneam, and Hazor) and concluded that the stratigraphical redating of the Low Chronology is not possible.’, ibid., p. 128.

[9] ‘The most significant studies, all opposed to Finkelstein’s “low chronology,” are those of Zarzeki-Peleg, 1997; Ben-Tor and Ben-Ami, 1998; and Mazar, 19991.’, Dever, ‘Biblical and Syro-Palestinian Archaeology’, in Perdue (ed.), ‘The Blackwell companion to the Hebrew Bible’, p. 202 (2001).

[10] ‘A second set of responses to Finkelstein’s Low Chronology came in a 2000 issue of BASOR.22 First, Nadav Na’aman challenged Finkelstein’s redating of the Philistine Monochrome pottery using Trojan Grey Ware from Lachish and Tel Miqne-Ekron.’, ibid, p. 129.

[11]‘A second article by Ben-Tor addressed Finkelstein’s redating of the northern sites, particularly Hazor.’, ibid., p. 129.

[12]‘In the meantime, his views are opposed by such leading archaeologists as Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University, excavator of Tel Rehov;* Amnon Ben-Tor of Hebrew University, excavator of Hazor;* Lawrence Stager of Harvard University, excavator of Ashkelon; and William Dever of the University of Arizona, excavator of Gezer. More to the point, Finkelstein’s low chronology has not been accepted even by his codirector at Megiddo, David Ussishkin. Ussishkin tells us that “on archaeological grounds it is quite possible (though not necessary) that some or all of [the structures in Stratum VA-IVB] originate in the 10th century B.C.E., during Solomon’s reign,” which is what the traditional chronology holds.’, Shanks, ‘Reviews:  Megiddo III—The 1992–1996 Seasons, Israel Finkelstein, David Ussishkin and Baruch Halpern, Editors’, Biblical Archaeology Review (6.06), November/December 2000.

[13] ‘What they do not tell the reader is that Finkelstein does not deny an Israelite state, but only down-dates its origins somewhat; and that his idiosyncratic “low chronology” is scarcely accepted by any other archaeologist.’, Dever, ‘What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know it?’, p. 43 (2002).

[14] ‘It should not go unnoticed that not a single other ranking Syro-Palestinian archaeologist in the world has come out in print in support of Finkelstein’s ‘low chronology’.’, Dever, ‘Histories and Non-Histories of Ancient Israel: The Question of the United Monarchy’, in Day (ed.), ‘In Search of Pre-exilic Israel: proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar’, p. 73 (2003).

[15]‘The overwhelming consensus is, now more than ever, against Finkelstein’s low chronology, and therefore against his ‘new vision’ of ancient Israel.’, Dever, in Tel Aviv, volumes 30-31, p. 278 (2003).

[16]‘Demolishing Finkelstein’s supposed late date for the appearance of Philistine Bichrome pottery, based on an argument entirely from silence, leaves him without a leg to stand on for the remainder of his Iron I ‘low chronology’. While he continues to present it as fact, even claiming a growing consensus, there is not a shred of empirical (that is, stratigraphic) evidence to support this chronology.’, Dever, ‘Histories and Non-Histories of Ancient Israel: The Question of the United Monarchy’, in Day (ed.), ‘In Search of Pre-exilic Israel: proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar’, p. 73 (2003).

[17]‘Most senior archaeologists reject Finkelstein’s low chronology.’, Shanks, ‘Radiocarbon Dating: How to Find Your True Love’, Biblical Archaeology Review (31.01), January/February 2005; he cites ‘Amihai Mazar, Ephraim Stern, Amnon Ben-Tor, all of Hebrew University; Lawrence Stager of Harvard; William Dever and Seymour Gitin, the former and present directors of the Albright Institute in Jerusalem; and even Baruch Halpern, co-director with Finkelstein and David Ussishkin of the current excavation of Megiddo.’, but adds ‘But at this level of scholarship, you don’t simply count noses; you reason and argue! Recently, two brilliant younger archaeologists working at what is becoming a key site in the debate (Tel Dor on the Mediterranean coast) have parted company on this issue from their mentor, Hebrew University archaeologist Ephraim Stern, and now support Finkelstein’s low chronology.† Are the sands shifting?’.

[18] ‘Currently, Finkelstein is the only outspoken proponent of the Low Chronology.’, Ortiz, ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing the United Monarch’ , in Hoffmeier & Millard (eds.), ‘The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions’, p. 128 (2004).

[19] ‘Jerusalem of the tenth century B.C.E. is described by Finkelstein as a small and unimportant village. However, the “Stepped Stone Structure” in Area G in the City of David is a huge retaining wall that must have supported one of the largest buildings (perhaps the largest) of the 12th-10th centuries B.C.E. in the entire land of Israel. The pottery evidence indicates that it was founded during the Iron Age I (12th-11th centuries B.C.E.) and went out of use at some time after the tenth century. This fits the Biblical description of “The Citadel of Zion” (Metsudat Zion) as a Jebusite citadel captured by David and used as his stronghold (2 Samuel 5:7). In addition, Iron IIA pottery was found in almost every excavation area in the City of David. Jerusalem may not have been an enormous city during that time, but it definitely was much more than merely a small village, as Finkelstein contends. Outside of Jerusalem, monumental structures at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer can, in my opinion, be dated to the tenth century B.C.E. Thus Yigael Yadin was probably correct in suggesting that these should be associated with Solomon’s building projects mentioned in 1 Kings 9:15.’, Mazar, ‘Does Amihai Mazar Agree with Finkelstein’s “Low Chronology”?’, Biblical Archaeology Review (29.02), March/April 2003.

[20] ‘If the biblical Solomon had not constructed the Gezer gate and city walls, then we would have to invent a similar king by another name.’, Dever, ‘What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know it?’, p. 133 (2002).

[21]The geopolitical circumstances in the Elah Valley during the late 11th–early 10th centuries are quite clear. The mighty Philistine city state of Gath, ca. 30 hectares in area, was located only 12 km downstream from Khirbet Qeiyafa. This was a hostile border area, where the Kingdoms of Gath and Jerusalem had constant millenary conflicts. The story of David and Goliath is just one of many such “warrior tales” listed in 2 Sam 21:15–22 and 1 Ch 11:11–27. Even if many of these traditions are folkloristic in character, their chronology and geography bear historical memories. As by the end of the 9th century BCE Gath disappeared as a political power, these traditions must have been created at an earlier time.’, Garfinkel, ‘Khirbet Qeiyafa: Sha’arayim’, Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (8.22.6). 2008.

[22]Khirbet Qeiyafa is surrounded by a massive casemate city wall, 700 m long and 4 m wide. It is constructed of megalithic stones, quite often reaching a weight of 4–5 tons apiece, and in the eastern gate, even ca. 10 tons each. Our calculation suggests that 200,000 tons of stone were required for the construction of these fortifications. A four-chambered gate, its upper part constructed of ashlars, was located and excavated in the western part of the city. It is clearly a fortified town rather than a rural settlement.’, Garfinkel, ‘Khirbet Qeiyafa: Sha’arayim’, Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (8.22.5). 2008.

[23] ‘As Khirbet Qeiyafa is an Iron Age IIA site, we are left with a dating post-1000 BCE, that is, 1000–975 BCE (59.6%) or 1000–969 BCE (77.8%). These dates fit the time of King David (ca. 1000–965 BCE) and are too early for King Solomon (ca. 965–930 BCE).’, ibid., p. 3.

[24] ‘The four new C14 results from Khirbet Qeiyafa clearly indicate that the “low chronology” and the “ultra-low chronology” are unacceptable.’, ibid., p. 4-5.

[25] ‘The biblical text, the single-phase city at Khirbet Qeiyafa, and the radiometric dates each stands alone as significant evidence clearly indicating that the biblical tradition does bear authentic geographical memories from the 10th century BCE Elah Valley. There is no ground for the assumption that these traditions were fabricated in the late 7th century BCE or in the Hellenistic period.’, ibid., pp. 5-6.

[26] Garfinkel & Ganor, ‘Khirbet Qeiyafa: An Early Iron IIa Fortified City in Judah’, presentation to the American Schools of Oriental Research, slide 24 (2010).

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The Historicity of the book of Acts (5)

April 22, 2011

Paul’s Commission: Acts 9:1-2

It has been claimed there is no historical basis for Paul’s commission from the High Priest to extradite from Damascus to Jerusalem any Jews who had become Christians,[1] and that neither the High Priest nor the Sanhedrin had any jurisdiction in Damascus.[2] [3] [4]

Evidence & Commentary

Peerbolte raises a parallel in the history of the Maccabees, in which a Roman consul ordered Jewish rebels in Egypt to be extradited to the High Priest for punishment according to Jewish law[5] (qualifying this with care[6]); noting support for the record,[7] he still urges caution.[8]

The Maccabean parallel is dismissed as historically inadequate by Légasse[9] and Marshall,[10] but Bruce defends it with reference to a decree by Julius Caesar re-affirming all the previously held rights of the High Priest.[11] Kistemaker and Hendriksen likewise believe the High Priest actually had extradition authority.[12]

Dunn disputes the idea of formal jurisdiction,[13]  but notes the informal influence of the high priest and Sanhedrin over provincial synagogues was far higher.[14]

Bond[15] and Williams[16] note similarly that the letters would have carried influence despite their lack of formal weight.

Wallace and Williams approach the legal-historical background with care.[17] Observing the letters were addressed to the synagogues not local officials, they argue the matter was internal Jewish business in which Roman officials would not become involved.[18] Noting the apparent absence of Roman forces in Damascus at the time, they suggest this would have reduced the probability of Roman interference. [19]

Klauck and Bailey also view the letters as simply letters of introduction rather than legal documents with which to exercise authority over local officials,[20] and note no difficulty with the record. Oepke,[21]  Bond,[22] and Gaertner[23]  take a similar view.


[1] Acts 9: 1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

[2] ‘Neither the high priest nor the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem ever had such powers of jurisdiction. The persecution would have taken the regular process in the local synagogue:’, Köster, ‘Introduction to the New Testament’, volume 2, p. 107 (2006).

[3]neither the high priest nor the Sanhedrin had judicial authority outside the eleven toparchies of Judaea proper. Their moral authority might be persuasive, but they could not empower Paul to make arrests, particularly on the territory of a Roman province.’, Murphy-O’Connor, ‘Paul: a critical life’, p. 66 (1998).

[4] ‘The jurisdiction of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin would in fact have been limited to the eleven toparchies of Judaea.’, Légasse, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian Career according to Acts’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting’, p. 389 (1995).

[5] ‘The Roman legal system was not built on the territorial principle of law, but on the personal.64 This meant that a Roman citizen fell under Roman law wherever he was. In consequence, it may have been that the High Priest in Jerusalem could extend his jurisdiction to Jews in Damascus.65 That this practice was indeed prevalent is often argued on the basis of a passage from 1 Maccabees: 1 Macc 15, 16-21. Here, the Roman Consul Lucius writes to the Egyptian king Ptolemy (probably VIII) on the subject of the Jews: ‘if any scoundrels have fled to you from their country, hand them over to the High Priest Simon, so that he may punish them according to their law’ Peerbolte, ‘Paul the Missionary’, p. 154 (2003).

[6] ‘However, although the assumption is that this custom was still in use in Paul’s day, it is unclear whether this was correct’, ibid., p. 154.

[7] ‘Many students of the book of Acts nevertheless consider 9, 1-2 as evidence that Paul was sent as a shaliach by the Sanhedrin’, ibid., p. 154.

[8] ‘Still, a more cautious approach is to be preferred: we simply cannot decide with certainty on the historicity of Paul’s commissioning by the High Priest. It is a possibility, but remains far from certain.’, ibid., p. 154.

[9] ‘But, even supposing this letter is authentic,85 it is not addressed, like the letter of which Acts speaks, to the ‘synagogues’ but to a local ruler by the Roman authority. The case is therefore wholly different, as are the period (the events mentioned are supposed to have occurred in 139 BC) and the political situation: whereas at the time of Paul Judaea was a Roman province administered by a Roman governor, Simon, the brother of Judas Maccabeus, was a sovereign, autochthonous vassal of the Seleucids of Antioch.’, Légasse, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian Career according to Acts’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting’, p. 389 (1995).

[10] ‘Haenchen (p. 320 n.2) argues rightly that previous scholars have drawn unwarranted deductions from such passages as 1 Maccabees 15:15–21, which deals with a different and much earlier situation;’, Marshall, (1980). Vol. 5: ‘Acts: An introduction and commentary’ Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, p. 178 (1980).

[11]Julius Caesar confirmed those rights and privileges anew to the Jewish nation (although Judaea was no longer a sovereign state), and more particularly to the high-priesthood.5 Luke’s narrative implies that the right of extradition continued to be enjoyed by the high priest under the provincial administration set up in A.D. 6. The followers of The Way whom Saul was authorized to bring back from Damascus were refugees from Jerusalem, not native Damascene disciples.’, Bruce, ‘The Book of the Acts’, New International Commentary on the New Testament, pp. 180-181 (1988); his source for the decree of Caesar is a passage by Josephus, ‘I also ordain, that he and his children retain whatsoever privileges belong to the office of high priest, or whatsoever favors have been hitherto granted them;’, Antiquities 14.195, in Whiston, ‘The Works of Josephus: Complete and unabridged’ (electronic ed. 1996).

[12] ‘The high priest served as head of the Sanhedrin, which as a legislative body had jurisdiction over the Jews living in Jerusalem, Palestine, and the dispersion. Thus the high priest had power to issue warrants to the synagogues in Damascus for the arrests of Christian Jews residing there (see 9:2; 22:5; 26:12).’, Kistemaker & Hendriksen, ‘Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles’, Baker New Testament Commentary, volume 17, p. 329 (1953-2001); as evidence they cite ‘Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.–A.D. 135), rev. and ed. Geza Vermes and Fergus Millar, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1973–87), vol. 2, p. 218.’, p. 329.

[13] ‘the high priest had no formal jurisdiction over synagogues, least of all in other countries.’, Dunn, ‘Beginning from Jerusalem’, p. 337 (2009).

[14]But he had at least two considerable constraints which he could bring to bear on archisynagōgoi and synagogue elders. One was that he was responsible for much of the content and timing of lived-out Judaism; he and his councillors were the ultimate authority in matters of dispute, and it is not at all unlikely that Jerusalem authorities occasionally wrote to disapora synagogues to encourage them to maintain the traditions and possibly to take sides in some dispute on timing of festivals and the like.86 The high priest might even have been willing to claim jurisdiction over a ‘greater Judea’ which included Damascus. In any case, the high priest was not a person whose envoy could be lightly disregarded or dismissed with his mission unfulfilled. The other is that the Temple in Jerusalem held an amazing range of financial deposits for Jews at home and abroad; it was Judaism’s ‘central bank’. It is quite conceivable, therefore, that any requests were backed, explicitly or implicitly, with threat of financial sanctions.’, ibid., p. 337.

[15] ‘Writing letters to Diaspora communities was one of the high priest’s duties (see above, p. 47). Such letters would have had no formal weight (the high priest had no legal jurisdiction in Damascus, situated as it was in the Roman province of Syria), but his position as high priest would have conferred authority on his requests.’, Bond, ‘Caiphas: friend of Rome and judge of Jesus?’, p. 81 (2004); she also suggests ‘Second, and more probably, the rather vague reference to “the high priest” in 9:1-2 and in the flashbacks of 22:5 and 26:12 may be simply another example of Luke’s attempt to give opposition to Christians official backing.’, p. 81.

[16] ‘The letters to the synagogues (v. 2) would be a help, for though the Sanhedrin had no legal authority outside Judea, its reputation did give it some moral authority over the Jews of the Diaspora (see Sherwin-White, p. 100). Paul would also have had to seek the cooperation of the local magistrates, but the name of the Jewish Sanhedrin may have carried sufficient weight even with them for him to be confident of their acquiescence, if not their active assistance.’, Williams, ‘Acts’, New International Biblical Commentary, pp. 167-168 (1990).

[17]Unfortunately, we know very little about the internal affairs of Damascus  in Paul’s day. It is therefore difficult to know how to make sense of Paul’s commission from the High Priest to seize and carry to Jerusalem ‘any belonging to the Way’ (Acts 9, 2).’, Wallace & Williams, ‘The Three Worlds of Paul of Tarsus’, p. 163 (1998).

[18] ‘Since Acts says quite clearly that the letters Paul was carrying were to the synagogues at Damascus (9, 2) and not to the Gentile authorities, whatever he was doing must have been an entirely internal Jewish affair.‘, ibid., p. 163.

[19] ‘Since it is unlikely that the arrest and extradition to Judaea of dissenters was one of the privileges enjoyed by diaspora communities (for discussion see Wallace and Williams 1995:51-2), what Paul was engaged in must have been unauthorised; that is to say, kidnapping. So why was he not stopped? Such evidence as there is suggests that no Roman forces were stationed in Damascus (Millar 1993:37), so that unless an appeal was made to the governor, or serious disorder broke out, the Roman authorities would not have become involved. As for the city authorities, if the business was done discreetly without causing public disturbances they might well have taken the view that what went on in the Jewish community was none of their concern, especially if those involved were not citizens of Damascus, but incomers.‘, ibid., pp. 163-164.

[20] ‘As a persecutor of Christians Paul carried letters with him to gain admittance into the synagogues in Damascus as an otherwise unknown representative of the high priest and the Jewish elders (Acts 9:1-2; 22:5).’, Klauck & Bailey, ‘Ancient Letters and the New Testament: a guide to context and exegesis’, p. 76 (2006).

[21] ‘Oepke, ‘Probleme’, 403/426, who does not exclude a request from Paul to the High Priest, sees it, not as a mandate to arrest officially entrusted to Paul, but a letter like the sustati kai epoistolai to which 2 Cor. 3:1 refers.’, Légasse, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian Career according to Acts’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting’, p. 389 (1995).

[22] ‘The question is whether any evidence supports a situation in which the Sanhedrin had authority over synagogues so far from home.4 The point may be moot, however, in view of the fact that Luke does not say that the letters were papers of extradition. The letters may simply have been letters introducing Paul and his mission, as well as recommendations that such Jews be handed over to him. Such letters would carry no official authority to enforce the arrests.’, Gaertner, ‘Acts’, The College Press NIV Commentary (electronic ed. 1993).

[23] ‘It is possible that Caiphas supplied Saul with letters of recommendation to Diaspora synagogues (rather like those of 2 Cor 3:1), introducing him to their leaders, asking for help to root out troublemakers’, Bond, ‘Caiphas: friend of Rome and judge of Jesus?’, p. 81 (2004).