Bible's Buried Secrets (1/2)

(An 11th century Bible)

There is no evidence for Exodus as suggested by the Bible. That is one of the conclusions of the two hour NOVA documentary, Bible’s Buried Secrets, which aired on PBS on Nov 18th. This conclusion is not revolutionary; it has been suggested before, most recently by Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s chief archaeologist.

The Exodus, the most repeated story in the Hebrew Bible immortalized by Charlton Heston, suggests that about six hundred thousand men and their families escaped Egypt and reached the promised land. A century of archaeological work has found no such evidence but has found that during the time of the Exodus, dated between the Merneptah Stele (1275 B.C.E) and the Zayit Stone (1208 B.C.E), the promised land, Canaan, had just 25 settlements with 3000 – 5000 inhabitants.

Does this mean that the story of Exodus is pure mythology.? The documentary says it is possible that a few people escaped from Egypt, but they were not Israelites, but Canaanite slaves whose story survived as poetry and was transcribed after 1000 B.C.E.

This deconstruction of the Exodus was not the primary goal of the documentary, but just a causality while finding the origins of the Israelites and their concept of one God in a polytheistic world. In this journey which combines Bible and archaeology, many such articles of faith were demolished much to the angst of certain believers who called for withdrawing government funding for PBS.

Many Biblical scholars commented that there was nothing new in the program and it just summarized a century of scholarship, but for the lay person who is interested in the confluence of history, archaeology and religion, there was much to learn.

1. Who were the Israelites?

The Israelites were not migrants from outside, but natives of Canaan. The original state of Canaan had a social collapse, not by Joshua’s invasion, but following a conflict between the elite and the commoners. Around this time there was the collapse of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian empire as well. The Israelites rise after this and they are made up of Canaan commoners, the few escaped slaves from Egypt, and dispersed people and there is a rapid rise in population from five thousand to 45 thousand in 200 years by 1000 B.C.E.

Looking for a new identity, radically different from the oppressive ancient Canaan society, these new Canaanites adopted stories of Moses, Abraham and Joshua to symbolize freedom, deliverance and conquest. To distinguish themselves from their polytheistic past, they came up with a monotheistic God, adopted from a desert people called Shashu.

2. The Bible was written by humans.

Noah’s flood, in one page lasts 40 days and 40 nights and 150 days in another. Sometimes Abraham calls God, Yahweh, elsewhere Elohim. All these suggest that there were multiple authors for the Bible which challenges the view that Moses wrote the first five books.

Mahabharata by tradition acknowledges this type of revision.

The epic itself claims to have been originally just 8,800 verses composed by Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa and called the Jaya. Later, it became 24,000 verses, called the Bharata, when it was recited by Vaishampayana. Finally, it was recited as the 100,000-versed epic (the Mahabharata) by Ugrashravas, the son of Lomaharshana. Thus, the tradition acknowledges that the Mahabharata grew in stages. [The Date Of The Mahabharata War]

In Biblical Studies, the Documentary Hypothesis states that the Bible was edited by scribes over a period of time. Based on language, the oldest one was found to be the book of Exodus, similar to how mandalas 2-7 are considered the oldest in Rig Veda and 1 and 10 the youngest.

3. Monotheism did not happen instantly.

While the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Babylonians and far away Indians worshipped many gods Israelites discovered the concept of one God. Where did they come up with this idea which survives to this day?

The answer lies in the journey of a small number of Caananite slaves from Egypt. They passed through a place called Midian (Jordan & Saudi Arabia), where a group of people known as the Shasu lived. According to the Egyptian texts, the Shasu lived in a place which was pronounced Yahu, which is similar to Yahweh, the patron god of Israel.

It is in Midian, according to the Bible that Moses first meets Yahweh in the form of a burning bush. When the Egyptian Caananites met the native Caananites, they told this story and since it was a powerful metaphor for freedom, it was adopted into the canon. The slaves attributed their freedom to the Midian God.

(to be continued..)

6 responses

  1. Sreemad Bhagavata, Book 8, Chapter 24, Verses 32 – 36

    Only the English translation (meaning) is given here:

    The Lord said: ” On the seventh day following this day, O subduer of foes (all), these three worlds – Bhuloka (the terrestrial region) the Bhuvarloka (the ariel region) and heave will be submerged in the ocean rising for the dissolution of the universe. When the three worLds are actually going to be submerged in the deluge water, A MYSTERIOUS SPACIOUS BOAT, SENT BY ME WILL APPROACH YOU. TAKE (WITH YOU) IN THE MEANWHILE ALL THE HERBS AND ANNUAL PLANTS AS WELL AS SEEDS OF AL TYPES (BOTH GREAT AND SMALL) AND, SURROUNDED BY THE SEVEN SEERS, AND ACCOMPANIED BY ALL (VARIETIES OF) ANIMALS, YOU SHALL BOARD THAT COMMODIOUS VESSEL AND SAID ABOUT UNDAUNTED IN THAT UNDIVIDED EXPANSE OF WATER DEVOID OF LIGHT, GUIDED BY THE EFFULGENCE OF THE RSIS ALONE. ATTACH THAT VESSEL – TOSSED ABOUT BY A MIGHTY GALE – BY MEANS OF THE SERPENT (VASUKI) TO MY HORN AS I SHALL BE PRESENT BY YOUR SIDE (AT THAT TIME)…….

  2. @Kesh nair

    Interesting observation. There is also another similarity that parting of a water body. Moses parted the sea, and in our case vasudeva parted Yamuna river while taking Krishna to Bridavan.

    TO the author:

    Are you aware of any such archeological/historical studies being done in India to find out the remnants of Indraprasta or any of the other places mentioned in Mahabharatha?

    We get to see a lot of wonderful TV programs on Egyptian archeology and the vase ocean of work done by various archeologists. While our civilization is as old as the Egyptian civilization, how come we dont see Nat Geo doing any such serious programs that are based on Archeological studies in India?

    I am aware of some little work done by Dr. Lal (i hope I got his name right) in Dwarka but am not aware of any other such serious work. If the author is aware of any such work, it would be great if you could share it with your readers.
    Regards

  3. jk:

    great set of posts as usual. i would recommend also watching the pbs series, empire: the saga of the israelites. if you have a netflix account, you can watch it online. i’m in the middle of watching it, myself. highly recommended.

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