Book and film reviews

No trumpets before Jericho

from Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman,
CH Beck Verlag, Munich, 2003.

Published in GralsWelt 52/2009

In the Grail World we have repeatedly dealt with the Bible, the most influential book, not only of Western history, but of world history. In doing so, we had to familiarize ourselves with the fact that historically tenable evidence for the biblical narratives is few and far between. One should therefore not expect correct historiography in the Bible, but must understand it as a spiritual book that uses examples from the past to clarify religious teachings, which are sometimes more or less fabulous.

In "No Trumpets Before Jericho" it is examined from an archaeological point of view to what extent the biblical narratives are historically correct. Since biblical archeology has made great progress in the last few decades, the two authors see themselves in a position to either prove the most important stages of Old Testament history by means of finds or to show that the events described are more in the imagination of the biblical authors than in reality.
Finkelstein's and Silberman's assessment of the Bible from an archaeological point of view will surprise some Bible readers:

“The story that is in the Bible - from Abraham's encounter with God and his wandering to Canaan, through Moses' liberation of the Israelites from slavery to the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah - is not a wonderful revelation, but an outstanding result of the human imagination. As the most recent archaeological finds suggest, it was designed in a period of two or three generations almost 2,600 years ago. The place of origin was the Kingdom of Judah, an area sparsely populated mainly by shepherds and peasants, ruled from a remote royal city that perched on a narrow ridge amidst steep, rocky abysses in the middle of the mountainous country. (Page 12).

Despite all the uncertainty about the historical reliability of the Bible, it remains the expression of a timeless, inner experience. With touching human passion and deep religiosity, the patriotic Bible authors, who had to fear for the survival of their community in a difficult era, created lasting images of human endeavors that are still fascinating today:

“But the integrity of the Bible, yes, even its historicity, does not depend on historical 'evidence' for individual events or figures, be it the partition of the Red Sea, be it the trumpets that brought down the walls of Jericho, or be it David's victory over Goliath with a single stone from his sling. The biblical saga draws its strength from the fact that it captivates and coherently tells of timeless topics such as the liberation of a people, their ongoing resistance to oppression and their search for social equality. It eloquently expresses the deeply rooted sense of common origins, collective experiences, and shared fate that every human community needs to survive.
In historical terms, it is now known that the epic saga in the Bible arose as an answer to the hardships, difficulties, challenges and hopes faced by the people of the tiny Kingdom of Judah in the decades before its destruction, as well as the even smaller temple fellowship in Jerusalem faced in the post-exilic period. The greatest contribution of archeology could be that it makes it understandable how precisely such a small, relatively poor and remote society like Judas in the later royal period and that of the post-exilic Yehud was able to produce this lasting epic in its main outlines within such a short period of time . Such an understanding is crucial, because only when one realizes when and why the ideas, images and events described in the Bible have been so cleverly put together will one begin the true genius and enduring power of this unique, most influential literary and spiritual creation in human history to be measured ”. (Page 339)

If one follows the results of scientific research, one has to say goodbye to the belief that is widespread in Christian communities that the Bible is “God's Word”, that it is inspired from A to Z by the “Holy Spirit” and is therefore inviolable.

This separation from the "literal truth of the Bible" has a liberating effect on me:
Nobody has to believe in the cruel god of vengeance in the Hebrew Bible, who so often in history had to serve to justify crimes. The Old Testament horror of the jealous God can at best be understood from the archaic thinking of the time. It has little in common with the “Father in Heaven” proclaimed by Jesus, from whom only good proceeds and who forgives.
Fortunately, most of the brutalities and atrocities glorified in the Old Testament against those who think differently or members of foreign ethnic groups, allegedly committed in the name of Yahweh (Jehovah) or even ordered by him, did not take place in this way. The authors of these horror tales were either political propagandists or they were infested with religious hubris.