Materials for Old Testament Survey
Did the kingdoms really divide, or were they already separate?
Comparing the two kingdoms
Expanses of fertile agricultural valleys and lowlands.
Densely settled, Economic and military power. Evidence that Aram conquered part of their territory- 2 Kings 10:32ff
Mostly highlands, less arable land. Grazing and some olive oil production
1 Tribe plus Simeon (assimilated) and Benjamin, some Levites
Sparsely settled, not as influential in the region
“Bad” and “Good” Kings? The Score
Remember, history is written by the winners who still had to explain the Exile)
Israel: ____18_____ Bad kings ___0___ Good Kings ___1____ Meh
Judah: ___12____ Bad Kings ___4_____Good Kings ____4____ Meh
Iron Age I sites in the central highlands 1150-900 BCE
Figure 15: Iron Age I sites in the central highlands Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts (p. 116). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
Who Wrote the Pentateuch, and When?
Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts (pp. 10-13). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
For centuries, Bible readers took it for granted that the scriptures were both divine revelation and accurate history, conveyed directly from God to a wide variety of Israelite sages, prophets, and priests. Established religious authorities, both Jewish and Christian, naturally assumed that the Five Books of Moses were set down in writing by Moses himself—just before his death on Mount Nebo as narrated in the book of Deuteronomy. The books of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel were all regarded as sacred records preserved by the venerable prophet Samuel at Shiloh, and the books of Kings were seen as the product of the prophet Jeremiah’s pen. Likewise, King David was believed to be the author of the Psalms, and King Solomon, of Proverbs and the Song of Solomon. Yet by the dawn of the modern era, in the seventeenth century, scholars who devoted themselves to the detailed literary and linguistic study of the Bible found that it was not quite so simple. The power of logic and reason applied to the text of the holy scriptures gave rise to some very troubling questions about the Bible’s historical reliability.
The first question was whether Moses could really have been the author of the Five Books of Moses, since the last book, Deuteronomy, described in great detail the precise time and circumstances of Moses’ own death. Other incongruities soon became apparent: the biblical text was filled with literary asides, explaining the ancient names of certain places and frequently noting that the evidences of famous biblical events were still visible “to this day.” These factors convinced some seventeenth century scholars that the Bible’s first five books, at least, had been shaped, expanded, and embellished by later, anonymous editors and revisers over the centuries.
By the late eighteenth century and even more so in the nineteenth, many critical biblical scholars had begun to doubt that Moses had any hand in the writing of the Bible whatsoever; they had come to believe that the Bible was the work of later writers exclusively. These scholars pointed to what appeared to be different versions of the same stories within the books of the Pentateuch, suggesting that the biblical text was the product of several recognizable hands. A careful reading of the book of Genesis, for example, revealed two conflicting versions of the creation (1:1–2:3 and 2:4–25), two quite different genealogies of Adam’s offspring (4:17–26 and 5:1–28), and two spliced and rearranged flood stories (6:5–9:17). In addition, there were dozens more doublets and sometimes even triplets of the same events in the narratives of the wanderings of the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt, and the giving of the Law.
Yet there was a clear order in this seemingly chaotic repetition. As observed as early as the nineteenth century (and clearly explained by the American biblical scholar Richard Elliott Friedman in his book Who Wrote the Bible?), the doublets occurring primarily in Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers were not arbitrary variations or duplications of the same stories. They maintained certain readily identifiable characteristics of terminology and geographical focus, and—most conspicuously—used different names in narration to describe the God of Israel. Thus one set of stories consistently used the tetragrammaton—the four-letter name YHWH (assumed by most scholars to have been pronounced Yahweh)—in the course of its historical narration and seemed to be most interested in the tribe and territory of Judah in its various accounts. The other set of stories used the names Elohim or El for God and seemed particularly concerned with the tribes and territories in the north of the country—mainly Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. In time, it became clear that the doublets derived from two distinct sources, written in different times and different places. Scholars gave the name “J” to the Yahwist source (spelled Jahvist in German) and “E” to the Elohist source.
The distinctive uses of geographical terminology and religious symbols and the roles played by the various tribes in the two sources convinced scholars that the J text was written in Jerusalem and represented the perspective of the united monarchy or the kingdom of Judah, presumably at or soon after the time of King Solomon (c. 970–930 BCE). Likewise, the E text seemed to have been written in the north and represented the perspective of the kingdom of Israel, and would have been composed during the independent life of that kingdom (c. 930–720 BCE). The book of Deuteronomy, in its distinctive message and style, seemed to be an independent document, “D.” And among the sections of the Pentateuch that could not be ascribed to J, E, or D were a large number of passages dealing with ritual matters. In time, these came to be considered part of a long treatise called “P,” or the Priestly source, which displayed a special interest in purity, cult, and the laws of sacrifice. In other words, scholars gradually came to the conclusion that the first five books of the Bible as we now know them were the result of a complex editorial process in which the four main source documents—J, E, P, and D—were skillfully combined and linked by scribal compilers or “redactors,” whose literary traces (called by some scholars “R” passages) consisted of transitional sentences and editorial asides. The latest of these redactions took place in the post-exilic period.
In the last few decades scholarly opinions about the dates and authorship of these individual sources have varied wildly. While some scholars argue that the texts were composed and edited during the existence of the united monarchy and the kingdoms of Judah and Israel (c. 1000–586 BCE), others insist that they were late compositions, collected and edited by priests and scribes during the Babylonian exile and the restoration (in the sixth and fifth centuries), or even as late as the Hellenistic period (fourth–second centuries BCE). Yet all agree that the Pentateuch is not a single, seamless composition but a patchwork of different sources, each written under different historical circumstances to express different religious or political viewpoints.
Babylon and the Bible
Adapted from the History Hit: The Ancients Podcast
Tristan Hughes and Dr. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Professor of Ancient History, Cardiff University
I think it's fair to say without the experience of being in Babylon, the Jews would never have created the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament as we know it. It was a definitive moment in the creation of Holy Scripture. But more importantly, it was the definitive moment in which Judaism came into being Judaism proper as a kind of a faith as an identity of a people as well. It comes out of the trauma of being dragged away from your homeland, into an alien environment and trying to keep some kind of identity going during these years of wilderness.
We're going back to the sixth century BCE, but I'm going to take you back a little bit further, actually, to the end of the seventh century BCE, when we see the rise of what we call the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Babylon, of course, had been a major political player in the ancient Near East since 3000 BCE, and certainly in the second millennium we have the famous Code of Hammurabi (a Babylonian legal text from the 1700's BCE). But what we're seeing in this late seventh century is the rise of an imperial sort of ideology of Babylon, drawing extensively on what the Assyrians had created.
So this new Babylon is essentially taking over the previous colonial territories of the Assyrian Empire, and under kings like Nebuchadnezzar II we see the beautification of the city. The well-known Ishtar Gate was made at this time. This is when Babylon is enjoying its heyday, having developed quite an aggressive foreign policy. This is what empires are all about, of course, it's land- and people-grabbing. That's what it's about. Often the kings of the Neo Babylonian dynasties look at the Assyrian foreigners and they say, "We will have a bit of that," and they undertake the same kind of expansionist policies.
The Assyrians were absolutely obsessed with the idea of tribute kings. Tributary vassals are what Assyria was demanding of conquered peoples, the wealth and produce of these lands of conquest. But they mostly left people alone, as long as they paid up their taxes. The Babylonians follow that lead. And one area that they really try to extract as much wealth as possible, is the area that we call the Levant. That is modern day southern Syria throughout the whole of Lebanon into Israel, Palestine, and then down towards the coast of Egypt. This was a very lucrative area with a number of wealthy city states governed by kings and princelings and the Neo Babylonian King saw that there are rich pickings to be had from this.
The first incursion into the territories that we call Israel and Palestine today- known as Judah in the end of the seventh century- occurred in 604 BCE. So right at the end of the century was when the Babylonians went and terrorized this small kingdom of Judah, now the Judahites, operating from their capital city, Jerusalem already knew something of this history. They could remember just 100 or so years before when the Assyrians had swept down into the fertile crescent and into the Levant, and completely destroyed her sister kingdom of Israel in the north, and they had taken captives away to Assyria.
These deportations had a major impact on the region. People are displaced, and therefore have no kind of loyalty to the lands that they're going to live in. [National gods were also supposedly angered by this as well, since their worshippers were no longer able to express their loyalty in the proper places] This was part of an Assyrian policy which the Babylonians willingly picked up on. So the North had seen this terrible disruption of its culture. many Northerners had fled south into Judah resulting in lots of migrants in Judah for this whole century, and it appears that they became more acculturated to Judean ways.
Certainly the memory of this Assyrian onslaught loomed large in the minds of the Judeans, so when they see the Babylonians taking over the same sort of policy, they began to sort of gird their loins and think, "Okay, how do we best deal with this?"
Well, they didn't deal with it very well, because in 604 BCE, the Babylonians do invade Judah and they capture Jerusalem. They take away the King of Jerusalem, as hostages together with members of his court, his wives, his daughters, his singing women, and also the chief kinds of movers and shakers of the land, the aristocracy, the priests, as well as of course of goods from the temple and the palaces, these are all shipped back to Babylon, where actually we have evidence that they're kind of well looked after in a kind of gilded cage.
The Babylonians replace the king of Judah with another Judahite from the same family- Zedekiah- as a puppet King or a place keeper. Now, that doesn't work out very well at all, because this replacement King Zedekiah starts doing things that the Babylonians don't want to do. Hoping for military backing from Egypt, he stops paying the tribute to Babylon, which turned out to be quite stupid on his part. Egypt had helped in the past, but not this time. And so in 587 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar at the head of his army, launches a huge military operation against Judah. And the focus of his anger is the city of Jerusalem itself. Jerusalem is besieged for something like a year and a half, trying to hold out. Centuries before, previous kings of Jerusalem, thinking that the Assyrians were going to invade, had tried to reinforce the city walls and more recently under Hezekiah, they gained access to water by digging deep tunnels underneath the city so fresh water could flow right in.
Inevitably the city did fall. And this time, Nebuchadnezzar had far less tolerance in the way he treated this turncoat Judean king. Zedekiah is blinded after his sons are executed in front of him. All the valuables from the palace and from the temple are taken back to Jerusalem, and the temple itself is destroyed. It is absolutely pulled down brick by brick, this great temple that allegedly was built by Solomon and has been in operation for some 400 years. It was the only center of the worship of Yahweh in ancient Judah.
We need to remember here that the temple was seen as the actual dwelling place of God. As in all Near Eastern temples, this is where the great God Yahweh had his home and suddenly with this displacement, Yahweh had nowhere to go. The temple is dead and gone and Yahweh is no longer present with them. They are a people without a God which is a trauma in itself. In addition, when you see that your royal family has been executed; all the great and the good people at the top of the God-given hierarchy have been carted off to Babylonia, and only a remnant remains- the peasant farm workers and the tradesmen. Gone are the elite, the intellectual life of Judah. The theocratic core of Judah has been decimated entirely.
We're left with a scene of desolation. Out of this are born some of the most remarkable of what we call city laments, in the ancient Near Eastern catalog of literature, city laments were a genre of poetry that we find from Samaria, Babylonia, and Assyria, where the city itself grieves after terrible things have happened. And this city lament, of course, is found in the Hebrew Bible in the book of Lamentations. It's heartbreaking because here there are scenes of complete desolation and disorder of women trying to nurse dead babies, of having to resort to cannibalism to survive because the land has been salted, and cannot grow anything at all.
So we have this terrible picture of what happened in Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside of Judah, where there is a nothingness, an emptiness. It used to be thought that this meant it was an empty land. Now we know a lot more from the archeology that they were settlements- nothing on the scale of the previous 200 years- but not everybody was taken into exile, and those left behind tried to make the best of things with neither the support of a functioning civilized society, nor the vital offices of the priests who provided a way to be right with God.
This is a huge disruption for the people who stayed behind in the land of Judah. Meanwhile, if we turn our attention to what's happening then in Mesopotamia, we've now got two generations of Judahites who are settled in this area. Some are from the first exile that took place after the first Babylonian invasion at the end of the seventh century, people who have been there for some 20 or 30 years, and now this new group of forced immigrants as well. We don't know much about what happens to these people. How do they survive? Are they treated as slaves? Evidence is now coming to light suggesting that there was a process of assimilation going on in Babylonia at this period. Not only were the Jews there, but there were displaced people from all over the Empire. It was a very multicultural kind of society. The Babylonians didn't persecute these groups, and they didn't force them into a slavery either. Instead, they wanted them to settle down, farm the land, engage in commerce and continue to populate Babylonia.
Archaeologists have found a myriad of incredible cuneiform documents giving some evidence for Jewish Life in Babylon in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. So much so that we can now identify that there was actually what we might think of as a Jewish ghetto in Babylon. It was called Yehuda, which means Jew town or Jewish suburb. And we have lots and lots of evidence for the use of Theophoric names (carries part or all of the name of a deity). These are Jewish names containing "Yahu" or "Yah." at the end or beginning, like "Ne-he-mi-yah." We also find that they are intermarrying with Babylonian women. They are working alongside Babylonians, they're farming, metalworking, you name it.
What we interpret from these writings is the idea that people are settling down. They're assimilating easily into Babylonian life while retaining this sort of Jewish identity. And it's interesting to see how this actually coincides with the writings we have from the exilic prophet Ezekiel. His main message is that God says, settle down here and do your best. You might almost call it propaganda in that God's Messenger, God's voice is saying, "Let's make the best out of this land, it's a good land." So the idea of the abandoned Judean homeland is almost entirely ignored by Ezekiel. It does seem that for many thousands of Jews, life in Babylon was good enough.
In contrast to that, possibly among the elites, the priests, the royal officials, there remained an agenda or remembrance- to not forget what they were really about. When your culture is so amalgamated into another, there is a danger that you're going to forget what you're all about. And so what we find in this period is the origins of what we now think of as the Old Testament.
The Old Testament as we know it, is a product of the fourth and fifth centuries, BCE. There was no Bible before or during the Babylonian exile. There were stories. And there were elements of written texts. There were hymns, there were songs and laments. But none of these had been codified into something that we could recognize as a Bible.
Biblical scholars, knowing the development of the Hebrew language, for instance, can identify some of the earliest parts of the Bible. The very earliest bit we have is a section from the book of Judges: The song of Deborah. She's a warrior queen, a wild warrior princess in a story that has probably been preserved from the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BCE), because it's in song form. Songs and poems are easier to recall; this is how Homer was performed and passed down in Greek culture. Now we can see that there are bits of literature like the song of Deborah and the song of Miriam- these kinds of things usually have deep antiquity.
Probably both the Israelites in the north and the Judeans in the south had their own oral or written histories and official annals which were either written down in chronicle form like the Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. There is evidence for this in the Bible itself in references to books and records that have been lost.
Post-exile, there arose a firmly developed sense of who they were as Jews and what their legacy was. But none of this really gets formed until this moment of terrible trauma in the Babylonian exile when people were starting to lose touch with their unique identity as a nation under Yahweh. To solve that problem, Jewish thinkers and scribes compiled, created and edited what we now understand as biblical books.
One of the earliest was probably the book of Deuteronomy, the great law book. This is the book that provides the Jews with the classification of who they are by what they're not allowed to do. We're not allowed to wear certain fibers, we abide by strict dietary laws that prohibit eating certain animals or seafood. You can see the practicality of that, in the context of the Jewish communities in Babylon who are trying to say, "look, we need to do these kinds of things to set us apart from the Babylonians who are all around us, so we'll know who we are." How successful this was is open to debate. These are laws to provide a fence around the Jewish community. What's really fascinating is that when you compare the laws of Deuteronomy with Babylonian and the Assyrian laws, you can see that they come from the same world. Even the early books of the Bible like Genesis is being written at this period, which explains why they have similar themes and details as other Mesopotamian texts.
The idea of "covenant" in Hebrew, which is so important in describing their relationship with Yahweh, is identical to the royal covenants that a vassal king has to the great king of Babylon. And it's even been proposed that the laws of Deuteronomy and some of the covenant literature was actually founded on an actual treaty with King Esarhaddon of Assyria that was located in the Jerusalem temple. Babylonian influences on the stories of the flood and the Garden of Eden has been recognized since the 19th century.
All of this is happening during the exile. Two of the most fascinating works that are created at this period are the historical books of Samuel and the books of Kings. This is the history of Israel and Judah, but written well after the events that they purport to tell. Kings are judged as good or bad by how loyally they worship God according to the rules in Deuteronomy. They're judged on that alone and it's almost as if the Jewish refugees are trying to figure out what exactly has brought them into exile. They might think, "Well, there were some good kings, and if only we would have followed them, it would have been good. But there were so many bad kings that got us into this terrible position..." Like these treaty covenants, if you turn your back on what the king wants, then you will be punished. So this goes deep into the psyche of the Jews in Babylonia at this time.
Also at this time they're pouring out some of their most beautiful poetry. Psalms, of course, is the most important part of the collection. We can identify 150 Psalms- some are from older Bronze Age sources- that were written down or codified in the exilic period. The exilic Psalms are very clear to see because they have a different quality to them. The most famous is Psalm 137 which describes a lament by the rivers of Babylon by which they sat down and wept… "how can we possibly sing the songs of our God in this foreign land, when all they want to do is mock us?" The lament of Psalm 137 stands in sharp contrast to what we find in the archaeological discoveries in Babylon for this kind of settlement. The vision that we get in Ezekiel set up the same contrast. There's not one narrative here at all. There are some people who are happy to be in Babylon and making the best of it; the Jewish community in Babylon (Iraq) thrived for centuries afterward. And yet there are others like the elites and the priests in particular, who are longing to go back because that's all they can do is think about going back.
Furthermore, when this psalm is used in synagogue or in churches, we tend to leave out the bits that we don't like. Here's the ending of Psalm 137:
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
There's this anger, this bitterness along with the sadness as well- a multifaceted vision of what it means to be away from the Holy Land. What's incredible about this is the way in which the life or history and understanding of what it means to be Jewish is clearly fermenting here. Another remarkable set of texts that come out of this fermentation are the stories that make up the Pentateuch, The Five Books of Moses. Exiles and returns are endemic to the old stories, like Abraham who fled his home in Babylonia then goes over to the promised land, and the story of Moses escaping exile in Egypt.
There's very little, if any, evidence historically for an Egyptian sojourn by the Jews It's an exile story. It's probably crafted from memories of past occupations in Canaan by the Egyptians. Certainly in the Bronze Age the Egyptians were problematic for the peoples of the Levant. Here it's given an operatic flavor. The priests and scribes writing in this period really are in exile. And they write about an imagined and amplified exile once before when God liberated them and decimated the populations of Egypt. Will this happen again here and now?
History is being practiced on a kind of mythical and political level. The Jews are writing a new history of what they are. It also comes down to the stories of kings like David and Solomon. It's likely that there were tribal leaders called David and Solomon but they were certainly not kings of international importance in the way that they are imagined by the scribes in the Babylonian exile. What the Jews were doing in this period was thinking about who might have been their exemplary kings, drawing on stories about the wisdom of Solomon or David and his exploits against the Philistines. In their hands, these tribal leaders become national heroes. Solomon in particular, who had an army of horses, hundreds of foreign wives and concubines. This is based on Babylonian representations of monarchy. Solomon is essentially a Babylonian or a Mesopotamian style King in a kind of Jewish milieu.
When we read the Hebrew Bible, we should think constantly about the circumstances that caused the writing of these parts of the books, and set them in a world of Babylonian hegemony. What are the Jewish priests and the scribes trying to do with all of this?
Did the essential characteristics of God need a revision? In Genesis chapter one and two, we actually have two creation myths, people tend not to realize that in Genesis one we find this invisible cosmic God who says, Let there be light. Genesis two starts with a human-sized God walking in the garden, and he creates from there. We have an anthropomorphic God in chapter two, and an invisible God in chapter one. The story of the anthropomorphic God walking in the garden and creating Adam and Eve comes from ancient, early Bronze Age mythology and the Jews couldn't just delete that from their story. It was too important and widely known. But now in Babylon, they needed to add another dimension to that story, because their God was not visible to them any longer. They couldn't go into the sanctuary of the Temple of Jerusalem, and see a statue of Yahweh in bull form or experience his presence in a standing stone. In exile, they have to think about how can we believe in a God that we can't see and has no location? All around them, the Babylonians are worshiping idols of their gods rendered in physical things they can touch, and look at. The Jewish priests came up with this incredibly novel, theological way out. God is omnipresent and omnipotent. We don't need the one temple in Jerusalem because God can be with us here in exile. So we see the idea slowly growing and continuing to develop into the post-exilic Persian period. We see the development of monotheism, in which God can occupy all time and space.
We know that after the first attack on Jerusalem, the King, carted off to Babylon with his family, was certainly treated very well and released after 16 years imprisonment. The Jewish royal court must have had some kind of clout- a royal family in exile; the nobility, the army officers, the scribes, the priests, they were all there. Was there this little cadre of leaders who are aware of their heritage and aware of their status, and perhaps they're not so easy to assimilate as the people who are deported in the second wave. It's possible that its the second wave exiles that really assimilate. What we get in the cuneiform documents are not images of high ranking individuals. We can trace some family lines and occupations of several generations of exiled Jews living in Babylon and its vicinity, doing very well for themselves, employing Babylonians in their jobs, marrying Babylonians, and doing things that regular people do. These are well-to-do merchants, bankers, farmers, metal workers, and artisans. What we don't see is material concerning high status individuals like royalty and priests.
The Jewish faith is founded in Babylon, of all places, and it's strange that we don't think about that. Out of that comes Christianity. Babylon is never forgotten in both cultures in later periods as well. For example, the story of the Tower of Babel in the Hebrew Bible. Babel, of course, is Babylon. And then we've got in the book of Revelation, probably written towards the beginning or middle of the second century CE, we get Babylon representing the most wicked place on earth, worse even than Rome. The horror of Babylon and all these kinds of motifs echo in the New Testament. The idea of the destruction of Babylon has a great resonance amongst early Christian writers, that sinful areas of the world will be judged and will fall, eventually. One could conclude that its a prejudiced and not particularly accurate view of what Babylon was all about, even to the Jews in exile there. But the city in memory becomes a foil for the good kingdom of God.
Where Did The Ancient Israelites Come From?
Excerpts from Shanks, Hershel. “Defining the Problems: Where We Are in the Debate.” The Rise of Ancient Israel. Ed. Hershel Shanks. Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1991. 1–25.
It is in Egypt that Israel becomes a people—or at least numerous enough to be a people. There they multiply and in the end are enslaved by a pharaoh who “knew not Joseph.” Finally, they escape under the leadership of a man named Moses. They then begin their 40-year trek to the Promised Land. On the way, they experience a theophany at a place called Sinai—or sometimes Horeb. There God gives them a set of laws by which to live. The people enter into a covenant with God in which they agree to obey his laws and in return they become his people, the recipient of his benefices. After their 40-year sojourn in the desert, they arrive, finally, at the Promised Land.
Now at this point the Bible gives us two somewhat different accounts of how they took possession of the Promised Land. The first is in the last part of the Book of Numbers and the Book of Joshua. The second and somewhat different account is in the Book of Judges.
The account in Joshua portrays a lightning military campaign—lasting less than five years. In this campaign, the various peoples of Canaan are defeated; “Joshua defeated the whole land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings” (Joshua 10:40).
After these victories, the land west of the Jordan is allotted among the Israelite tribes.
The account in Judges is quite different. First of all, the order is reversed. In Judges, the allotment comes first, and after the allotment they attempt to take possession of the land by conquest. In Judges there is no unified effort by “all Israel” to conquer the land, as seems to be the case in Joshua. In Judges the effort to possess the land seems to be the work of individual tribes or groups of related tribes.
And most important, Judges makes it clear that by no means was the entire land subdued. In Judges 1 as a matter of fact is a list of 20 cities whose people were not driven out by the newcomers. These cities included Jerusalem, Gezer, Megiddo, Taanach, Beth-Shean and Beth Shemesh (Judges 1:21, 27–33). These are some of the most important cities in the country. So we have quite a difference here between the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges.
During this period [Judges], the Israelites are threatened by various Canaanite peoples, but charismatic military leaders called Judges always arise and save them. Eventually, however, this loose Israelite tribal confederacy proves inadequate to defend itself against the Philistine threat. Some more organized structure is needed, so the people ask for a king. And they get a king. Saul is appointed, but his reign is ultimately a failure. He is replaced by Israel’s most glorious king, David, and with his reign, Israel truly becomes a nation.
…archaeology [no longer supports] the conquest model. We simply can no longer posit a series of destructions in Canaan that can rationally be identified as the result of the Israelite conquest. Recently, our archaeological methodology has improved, we can date levels much more securely and more sites have now been excavated. As a result, we can no longer say that archaeology supports what we may call the conquest model of Israel’s emergence in Canaan.
Some sites like Jericho and Ai appear to have been uninhabited at the time Joshua was supposed to have conquered them. Other sites, like Gibeon, that the Bible says the Israelites conquered, do not have appropriate destruction levels. But most important is that if you start jiggling around dates of the various sites where there are destruction levels, you can’t fit them together. The time and space paths of destruction levels don’t fit. The fact is that destructions occur not only because Israelites were there, but for various other reasons as well. As a result of all this, the conquest model has fallen into disfavor.
Many modern scholars, wanting to be in the forefront of things, have simply written off the idea of an Israelite conquest. But my advice is don’t be so quick to write it off completely. I’ll come back to this later.
Peaceful Infiltration Model
When the failings of the conquest model were exposed, it was replaced in the minds of many scholars by the second model, the so-called peaceful infiltration model. This model is often associated with the name of the great German biblical scholar Albrecht Alt. According to this theory, the central hill country of Canaan, where the Bible says the Israelites settled, was almost empty at the time the Israelites entered Canaan. So the Israelites could readily infiltrate quite peaceably—and this, in the view of those who support this theory, was precisely what they did.
The scholars who rely on this theory naturally looked for support in the Book of Judges, although part of this theory was that as the Israelites extended farther into the land of Canaan, they bumped up against the Canaanites. That is, the better locations of the fertile valleys and in the plains were already occupied by the Canaanites. Then there were some military clashes. But basically that was later and the initial settlement was a peaceful one.
Archaeology has provided considerable support for this view—most importantly in the settlement pattern in the central hill country.
One of the more recent developments in archaeological methodology is the archaeological survey. You all know what a tell is—the remains of a buried city on different levels, called strata. In an archaeological survey, instead of excavating the tell of a buried city, the archaeologists survey a wide area, looking on the surface for every bit of evidence they can find of ancient occupation, occasionally excavating a small site, but usually it does not include the excavation of major tells. The results of these archaeological surveys have often been quite remarkable.
What these surveys have shown is that the central hill country of Canaan was very sparsely settled in the Late Bronze Age, which would have provided the open area for Alt’s peaceful Israelite infiltration. And in fact in Iron I over 200 new sites sprang up in this previously relatively empty central hill country. Obviously, there was a new population here. I’m going to illustrate this in the territory of Manasseh, which was surveyed by an Israeli archaeologist, Adam Zertal, the central hill country. The Late Bronze settlements are few and primarily in the valleys and the better locations. The Iron I settlements are very numerous. There is the presence of an entirely new population in the central hill country.
Moreover, the new settlers brought with them a new style of architecture and a peculiarly decorated storage jar. The new architecture is called the four-room house. The settlers in the hill country also had a new kind of storage jar that is called a collared-rim jar. The collar is right around the shoulder, just below the neck of the vessel. It’s a little decorative element. It doesn’t have a function.
But is this enough to call these people Israelites? Many scholars don’t think it is. For example, some of these four-room houses have been found outside the areas supposedly settled by the Israelites, including sites east of the Jordan. Moreover, antecedents of this architecture can be found among the earlier Canaanites.
As for the collared-rim jars, the use of these particular vessels may simply reflect the needs of anyone living in the hill country to transport water. The collared-rim jar does not necessarily reflect ethnicity. It may simply reflect the peculiar needs of anyone—Israelite or Canaanite—living in the hill country.
Peasant Revolt Model
…doubts about the peaceful infiltration model of Israelite settlement led to the development of a third model, generally known as the peasant revolt model—again not a very happy moniker, for reasons we will soon see. This third—and last—model was pioneered by a University of Michigan scholar named George Mendenhall in the mid-1960s. According to this model, the Israelites emerged not from outside Canaan, but from inside. In short, the Exodus from Egypt, if there was one, was minuscule. According to this theory, the people who became known as Israelites were really peasants who revolted against their urban overlords in the Late Bronze Age cities of Canaan. These peasants then fled to the hills, where under the ideological guidance of a deity called Yahweh they developed and expanded into a people called Israel.
The peasant revolt model has proved to be a very pregnant one for many scholars. For one thing, it is based on anthropological and sociological analogies from other societies in which new cultures have emerged.
It also appeals to some scholars who find the biblical account of Israel’s emergence in Canaan historically worthless. According to these scholars, there is simply no history to be gleaned from the biblical accounts which purport to relate what happened regarding Israel before the monarchy. At best, these scholars say, this is simply a national history created to give Israel a pedigreed past. Some scholars go further and contend that there is no reliable history in the Bible until the Exile to Babylon.
Scholars who accept the peasant revolt model also rely on archaeological evidence. For example, they point to Canaanite antecedents of the four-room house and the collared-rim jar. And it is undoubtedly true that there are cultural continuities between Late Bronze and Iron I Canaan, although there are often differences too.
Whatever the validity of the peasant revolt model, it has starkly raised the issue—much debated among scholars—as to whether the emergence of Israel was an inside or an outside job, whether Israel came from outside Canaan or from inside Canaan. It used to be that scholars almost always accounted for major cultural changes by the introduction of a new ethnic element coming in from the outside. No longer is this the fad. So the scholars of Israelite history are asking themselves, did Israel emerge from within Canaanite society or did Israel come into the land from outside?
These then are the three models of Israel’s emergence in Canaan—the conquest model, the peaceful infiltration model and the peasant revolt model (or perhaps, more accurately, the social revolution model). But in the last few years scholars have moved beyond these models. It is no longer a matter of plumping for one or the other model. We have entered a period of synthesis and variation.
On the one hand, there are those scholars who say that the Bible is absolutely worthless as a source for the history of pre-monarchical Israel. They look to sociology and anthropology and, to some extent, archaeology, to develop an accurate historical scenario. They often begin with the undoubted archaeological fact that almost the entire then-known world was in turmoil and upheaval at the end of the Late Bronze Age.
What caused all this turmoil? Climatic changes? Drought? War? Economic dislocations? The Dorian invasion of Greece? No one seems to know, for sure. But according to the peasant revolt, or social revolution theory, the coastal cities of Canaan also suffered and declined, their feudal social structures collapsed and the urban underclass took to the hills where they eventually emerged as Israel.
At the other end of the scholarly spectrum are those who contend that there were surely military aspects to Israel’s emergence in Canaan and that this must be part of any synthesis. Among those who take this position is eminent biblical scholar Frank Cross of Harvard. Abraham Malamat of Hebrew University has emphasized the extraordinarily realistic and clever military strategies that the Bible says the Israelites employed in their successful defeat of major walled Canaanite cities.
As we have seen, the Bible often preserves more than one tradition of an event, as in the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges with respect to Israel’s subjugation of the Promised Land. But, as Yigael Yadin has pointed out, only a single tradition of Israel’s origin has been preserved—that they came from outside Canaan, from Egypt, where they were slaves. Who would invent such an ignominious past?
There was a destruction at Jericho. All archaeologists agree on this. But when did it occur? The most recent and most famous excavator of Jericho, the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, dated this destruction to the Middle Bronze Age—after which the site was abandoned. Thus, she said, there was no city here for Joshua to conquer at the end of the Late Bronze Age. This view has been widely accepted and has posed a major problem for the conquest model. In his careful reexamination of the archaeological data, not only from Kenyon’s excavations but also from earlier excavations, [archaeologist Bryant] Wood has shown that this destruction at Jericho occurred in uncanny detail just as the Bible describes it.
Kenyon found piles of red mudbricks that had fallen from the city wall at the top of the tell and then tumbled down the slope, piling up at the base of the revetment wall. (Or the bricks could have been on top of the revetment wall and tumbled down from there; the difference is insignificant. The fact is they came together in a heap outside the revetment wall). The amount of bricks piled up there was enough for a wall 6.5 feet wide and 12 feet high.
These collapsed bricks then formed a kind of ramp that an invading army could have used to go up into the city. And sure enough, the Bible tells us that the Israelites who encircled the city “went up into the city, every man straight before him” (Joshua 6:20).
Moreover, the wall could have tumbled as a result of an earthquake. Earthquake activity is well known in this area: Jericho sits right in the Great Rift on the edge of a tectonic plate.
Kenyon found that the city was destroyed in a fiery conflagration: the walls and floors were blackened or reddened by fire. But, she adds, “the collapse of the walls of the eastern rooms seems to have taken place before they were affected by the fire.” This was the sequence of events in the biblical account of Jericho’s conquest: The walls fell down and then the Israelites put the city to the torch.
The archaeologists also found heaps of burnt grain in the houses—more grain than has ever been found in any excavation in what was ancient Israel. This indicates two things: First, the victory of the invaders must have been a swift one, rather than the customary siege that would attempt to starve out the inhabitants (the biblical victory was of course swift). Second, the presence of so much grain indicates that the city must have been destroyed in the spring, shortly after the harvest… when the Bible says the attack occurred. There is another strange thing about the presence of so much grain. A successful invading army could be expected to plunder the grain before setting the city on fire. But the army that conquered Jericho inexplicably did not do this. The Bible tells us that the Lord commanded that everything from Jericho was to be destroyed; they were to take no plunder.
One last item, the Bible tells us that the attacking Israelites were able to ford the Jordan easily because the river stopped flowing for them; the water above Jericho stood up in a heap (Joshua 3:16). This has actually happened on several occasions in modern times. At this point the Jordan is not a mighty stream. It has been stopped up by mudslides and by material that fell into it in connection with earthquakes. The water actually ceased flowing for between 16 hours and two days, as recorded in 1927, 1906, 1834 and on three even earlier occasions.
One way to deal with it is to say that the Israelites somehow had a memory of this early destruction of Jericho and incorporated it into their own theologically oriented history, even though it was not actually the Israelites that did the conquering.
Another way is to attribute the destruction of Jericho to the Israelites. This requires either that you move the Israelite conquest back to the Middle Bronze Age or that you reinterpret the archaeological evidence so that you attribute the destruction to the Late Bronze Age instead of to the Middle Bronze Age. Both of these things have been attempted, although most scholars reject these efforts to attribute Jericho’s destruction to the Israelites.
This brings me to the question of dating, about which I will say only a few words. Most archaeologists are agreed that if there is archaeological evidence for the emergence of Israel in Canaan, it must be at the beginning of the Iron Age, about 1200 B.C.E.
Israelites in the Land in the 1200’s BCE?
…there is also evidence that there was an important people called Israel living in Canaan as early as the late 13th century B.C.E. I’m referring to the famous Merneptah Stele found in Thebes [Egypt] at the end of the last century. The Merneptah Stele is a black granite slab over 7.5 feet high, covered with hieroglyphic writing. Mainly it recounts the exploits of Pharaoh Merneptah during his Libyan campaign, but at the end he also recalls his earlier victories in a military campaign in Canaan.
[The Merneptah Stele] dates to 1207 B.C.E. …and it mentions Israel in connection with this earlier campaign in Canaan. There in hieroglyphic writing is the earliest extra-biblical mention of Israel. This is what it says:
“Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe;
Ashkelon has been overcome;
Gezer has been captured.
Yanoam was made nonexistent;
Israel is laid waste, his seed is not.”
This reference to Israel shows that the most powerful man in the world, the pharaoh of Egypt, was aware of Israel. Not only was he aware of Israel—he boasts that one of the most important achievements of his reign was to defeat Israel.
[In the] Merneptah Stele, where the pharaoh was victorious over four entities in Canaan, each entity, in addition to the signs indicating how the word is pronounced, also has attached to it a determinative that tells us what kind of word it is. Attached to three of the four entities —Ashkelon, Gezer and Yanoam— is a determinative that tells us that they are cities. The determinative attached to Canaan, which introduces the set of four, is the determinative for a foreign land. The determinative attached to Israel, however, is for a people. In other words, in 1207 B.C.E. Israel was a people in Canaan important enough not only to be known to Pharaoh, but important enough for him to boast that he defeated them militarily.
If Israel was already such a force in Canaan in 1212 B.C.E., then Israel must have been established there for some time.
If they did come from outside the land, then this raises the question of where they came from. In short, was there really an Exodus? For the Exodus, we don’t have a Merneptah Stele; we don’t have any evidence that the Israelites as such were in Egypt.
What we do have is evidence of Canaanite pottery in Egypt, and we also have evidence that Canaanite traders would come down to Egypt just like Jacob and his sons. A very famous picture from a tomb at Beni Hasan in Egypt pictures some merchants from Asia coming down to Egypt to do business.
The purpose of the biblical account is not what we regard as history. The purpose of the biblical account is to explain God’s acts in relation to man on this earth. It really isn’t concerned about detailed accuracy; that’s not its purpose.
Now, there is a certain divide among people who, on the one hand, regard the Bible as literally true and, on the other, there are those who look at it as a document like any other ancient document: It has to be analyzed and compared and looked at for its tendenz [a dominant theme or agenda], for its biases. My friend Bill Dever, has called the Bible “a curated artifact.”
There is a difference among people concerning how they approach the Bible. Those who accept the Bible as literally true are people who accept this on faith. I don’t think we can argue on that ground. Other people say that, unlike those who accept the Bible as literally true, they will argue with you on archaeological or historical grounds. And it is in this area that you can have a debate. Most modern biblical scholars do not accept the Bible as literally true. So what you have to do is to treat it almost like an archaeological tell, and excavate it, as it were, and analyze it to see whether what it says is historically true in the details, whether we would accept it as historically accurate by modern historians’ standards, by modern historiography.
That is not to denigrate the richness of the biblical text. I think many people who do not accept the literal reading of the Bible find it a very enriching and inspiring and even Godly document, without the necessity of it being literally true in every detail. This whole discussion proceeds on the basis that we will examine the Bible in this way. What I have tried to do is to summarize some of the problems in the biblical text and to describe some of the ways scholars have dealt with them.
Who Wrote the Old Testament? And When?
Did Moses? What advantage is gained by an insistence on Moses as the Torah’s author? What is lost if we believe something else?
Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis:
He and other scholars began to pick up on “blocs” of the Old Testament that had distinguishing features that made one bloc different from others. Things like vocabulary, themes, disagreements on details, anachronisms and characterizations of God.
Originally it was hypothesized that there were four main authors:
The Jahwist Source- God is an anthropomorphic figure who walks and talks as a human does. YHWH bargains with Abraham, gets angry and threatens to destroy people. The Jahwist source focuses on Judah and Jerusalem, supports the Davidic monarchy and isn’t too fond of the other tribes. “J” themes appear frequently in Genesis emphasizing humanity’s mortality and relationship with the soil of the ground, the separation between God and people, resulting in progressive corruption.
The Elohist Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elohist
The Deuteronomist Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deuteronomist
The Priestly Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestly_source
Various Redactors (scribes who combined and edited different versions to make a complete story)
The modern scholarly consensus
The Old Testament is a complex blending of many different sources, both written and oral put together by redactors over a long period. Some elements are thought to have been put together in the 800’s BCE (the “yahwist”), the 700’s BCE (“Elohist”), 600’s BCE (“Deuteronomist ”) and just after the exile in the 500’s (Priestly source). These dates are disputed, but the idea that there are patterns and layers in the literary material is not seriously in doubt.
A Series of Tragic Events:
Under Hoshea, alliance with Egypt goes bad, and Israel is banished from their LAND (what about God’s promise in Gen. 15?)
Assyria resettles conquered people in other territories
Judah narrowly escapes Assyrian conquest under King Hezekiah.
Kings list Assyria, Egypt and Neo-Babylon fight for power- King Josiah of Judah sees his chance to reunite all Israelites as Assyria weakens
Josianic reforms- 2 Kings 23. Echoes of Joshua conquering the promised land?
Josiah is killed in battle against Pharaoh Necho, on his way to support Assyria
Four more kings reign in Judah as vassals of Egypt, then Babylon
2 Kings 24:1-7- Jehoaikim rebels against Babylon, hoping that Egypt has his back. “God causes” neighboring nations to ally with Babylon against Judah- and YHWH will get divine retribution later (Amos 1)
Jehoaikim dies, son Jehoaichin assumes control. Rebels against Babylon again. Babylon deports the upper echelons of society and loots Jerusalem
Zedekiah put in place as a puppet of Babylon. He proved to be the last straw.
Babylon besieges and destroys Jerusalem. More people were deported. Gedaliah was appointed, then assassinated by some stragglers from the Judean royal family, who then fled to Egypt.
Some Judahites remain in the land and more are taken captive to Babylon.
Looking for a National Story
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the Cold War the U.S. dropped its devotion to its civic national story in favor of a neo-liberal globalization story, in which the free movement of capital, supply chains and goods would create widespread prosperity and cause nation states to become obsolete. Instead, the catastrophic failure of that model in 2008 discredited American leadership in the world and American leaders at home, ushering in a global resurgence of authoritarian ethnonationalism that has challenged liberal democracies everywhere.
Increasingly, Americans have been asking what still holds us together as a nation and wonder if we no longer have a commitment to shared values and ideals. Intellectuals from Jill Lepore and Michael Lind to David Brooks and Ross Douthat have pointed to the need for a new national story, or possibly a renewed one, to provide a communal identity incorporating an understanding of our national origins, purpose and possible future. People need such a story and, as Lepore has put it, “they can get it from scholars or they can get it from demagogues, but get it they will.” A society without a credible story, historian William McNeill wrote 35 years ago, “soon finds itself in deep trouble, for in the absence of believable myths, coherent public action becomes very difficult to improvise or sustain.”
Evidence for Textual Layers, or "Seams in the Text"
One of the first textual features of the Old Testament that sparked the scholarship into its composite construction was the fact that the reader can track different elements or authors by the name or names they use for God. It's certainly not the only line of evidence, but it's something to consider when analyzing all the possible clues to how the Old Testament was constructed.
in the Hebrew Bible, we find different characterizations of God (how he looks, behaves, and interacts with humans) and predictable variations in names for God used in discernible blocs of text that differentiate one source from another.
El- Elohim-Elyon The use of Elohim by one of the contributors to the Old Testament may signify a distinct hand, although the presence of the name isn't enough to use as a criterion on its own.
ELOHIM is a plural noun, but often functions as a collective singular, taking a singular verb. It is related to the Hebrew terms: ’eloah and ’el, meaning God, god, power, or mighty one, and can refer to judges and leaders, heavenly beings, the gods of the nations, or the one God of Israel.
---Tabor, James D.. The Book of Genesis: A New Translation from the Transparent English Bible
YHWH- Most modern English Bibles use the form LORD to render the divine name, Yahweh. This name derives from the story of Moses and the burning bush. Yod, Heh, Waw, and Heh, known as the tetragrammaton. An ancient designation that is used to refer to Israel’s national deity. It means something like “He causes to exist that which exists.”
After the Babylonian Exile (6th century BCE), and especially from the 3rd century BCE on, Jews ceased to use the name Yahweh for two reasons. As Judaism became a universal rather than merely a local religion, the more common Hebrew noun Elohim (plural in form but understood in the singular), meaning “God,” tended to replace Yahweh to demonstrate the universal sovereignty of Israel’s God over all others. At the same time, the divine name was increasingly regarded as too sacred to be uttered; it was thus replaced vocally in the synagogue ritual by the Hebrew word Adonai (“My Lord”), which was translated as Kyrios (“Lord”) in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures.
When did we find out God's real name?
The composers of Exodus add a crucial detail in chapters 3 and 6: that Moses is the very first of the chosen people to discover what God's real name is. In Chapter 3 we find God answering Moses' question concerning his credibility among the enslaved Israelites:
Exodus 3:13 "and Moses said to Elohim suppose I come to the sons of Israel and say to them the God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they say to me, 'What is his name?' What shall I say to them? And said God to Moses, 'I am who I am (eh-yeh a-sher eh-yeh)…
Then we have a bit more clarification in chapter six:
Exodus 6:2-3 "And spoke Elohim to Moses and said "To him I am Yahweh and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as "Baal Shadday" (God Almighty). But by my name Yahweh I was not known to them. "
To someone who reads or hears the entire narrative in Hebrew from Genesis onward this evokes a "wait a minute…" Previously in Genesis, we find that Eve seems to know God by the name Yahweh in chapter 4: "I have acquired a man from Yahweh…" also at the end of chapter 4 we have this: "To Seth also a son was born, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to invoke the name of the LORD (Yahweh).
In Genesis 12:6-8 we find this: "And Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanite was at that time in the land. And Yahweh appeared to Abram and said, 'to your descendants I will give this land. And he (Abram) built an altar there to Yahweh who had appeared to him, and he moved from there.
In chapter 15, Abram directly addresses God as "Adonai Yahweh" or Lord God
Chapter 19 has Lot urging his household to get out of Sodom and Gomorrah by saying, "Get up, get out of this place for Yahweh will destroy the city…"
These are only a few examples that are obscured by the convention of translating "Yahweh" into English as "LORD" in all uppercase letters. It also reveals that the compilers of these stories chose to keep the inconsistency in place as one would if preserving an amalgam of different traditions. If Moses wrote both Genesis and Exodus, any discrepancies should cast doubt on his ability to keep his story straight, and calls into question other narrative details that may be incorrect. It goes without saying that this is a problem for the inerrantist.
Instead of insisting on some contrived agreement between these passages, why not approach the Old Testament as a compilation woven together from various traditions and interpretations? The resulting story that has come down to us may not agree on the details, and it was never intended to. Seeing the Old Testament as kind of archive that preserves these stories seems a much more natural and authentic reading.
Was Deuteronomy written by Moses?
“First, after notice of Moses’s death in the last chapter of Deuteronomy, we are told that no one knows his burial place to this day (34:6). Unless the Israelites had immediate mass memory loss, “to this day” surely suggests… that a lot of time had passed—so much time, in fact, that the grave site of the most important person in the Old Testament is unknown.”
"One more example (of many) comes from Deuteronomy 4:37–38. Moses—who never entered the promised land—speaks of the possession of the promised land as a present reality: “He [God] brought you out of Egypt* with his own presence, by his great power, driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, giving you their land for a possession, as it is still today.” As it is still today indicates that whoever wrote this was living in the land of Canaan long after Moses, after God had driven the Canaanites out of the land and given the land to the Israelites. Most scholars have concluded that this was written after the establishment of the monarchy—no earlier than 1000 BCE, and likely, for other reasons, centuries later.
Enns, Peter. How the Bible Actually Works (pp. 84-85). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
*And what about this? Joshua 5- circumcision of the new generation. Deut. 1:34 ““When the Lord heard your words, he was wrathful and swore, ‘Not one of these—not one of this evil generation—shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors, except Caleb son of Jephunneh… Even with me (Moses) the Lord was angry on your account, saying, ‘You also shall not enter there.
The Ill-fated Livestock of Egypt
It has been noted, for example, that in the fifth plague, the LORD killed “all of the livestock” of the Egyptians (9:6). So, based on this account one would think that “all” of the livestock were, indeed, dead. But then, just a few verses later, Moses performs the seventh plague, in which a terrible hail storm killed not just humans, but also all the “livestock” of the Egyptians that had been left in the fields (see 9:29-20; 25). Livestock? What livestock? It has been widely concluded that this story was patched up from at least two earlier accounts, which, when spliced together, created an inconsistency.
Bart Ehrman, Blog entry
There are more than a few narratives in the Old Testament that reveal multiple cooks in the kitchen whose work is preserved as-is even though it runs contrary to what another tradition claims about the same events. The Exodus material on the ten plagues mentioned here is a good example. As you re-read the account, it becomes difficult to reconstruct the scenes in your mind because of the inconsistencies. Another example beside dead livestock above is Egypt's water turning to blood. Chapter 7 relates that all water, in pools, canals, even storage vessels of wood and stone turned to blood, becoming undrinkable. None of the Nile's fish survived.
Between this event and the others- lost livestock and important crops, the loss of slaves- a crucial key to commercial competition- and other resultant disruptions in Egypt's economy, its reasonable to assume that the nation was considerably weakened by these disasters. The Egyptian economy would have suffered immensely, easily noticed by their neighbors, rivals and allies, yet we have no mention of any disruption in any records of the time period neither from Egypt nor her near eastern rivals.
Mistakenly placing a contemporary reality into an ancient setting is another giveaway that multiple authors worked on the stories we read in the Old Testament. This happens all the time in modern storytelling especially in historical fiction. Sometimes its done on purpose as a way of communicating something beyond the plot, or for interpretive purposes. In the movie Braveheart, for example, the Scots are depicted wearing their highland kilts in the late 1200's when in actuality the "Highland Tartan" was not invented until the 1700's.
The compilers, editors and redactors of the Old Testament weren't consciously taking shortcuts when they were assembling their texts. Ancient peoples did not have access to rigorous historical scholarship, archaeology or accurate source material when they reconstructed past events. How could they know the entire history of an established city-state they encountered? Some examples:
For example, if Moses did in fact compose the Torah in the 1300's BCE (14th century) How did he know about the Philistines and the city of Beersheba, both of which appeared much later?
“The archaeological evidence we have for both the arrival of the Philistines and the founding of Beersheba in the 12th century BCE is considerable. For the Philistines, extensive excavations conducted in 4 of the 5 major Philistine cities (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath–ancient Gaza is under the modern city and cannot be excavated), as well as other “minor” Philistine sites (e.g., Tell Qasile), have revealed a distinctive cultural assemblage (pottery, architecture, cultic remains, cooking styles and diet, etc.) that appears in all these sites around 1200 BCE (dating is based on fine-tuned pottery chronologies from countless sites in the Levant and around the Mediterranean).”
Mentions of Philistine rulers and cities as an established political entity before they arrived in the Levant strongly supports the contention that Moses could not have written texts such as Genesis 26, which describes Isaac's dealings with Abimelech, king of the Philistines. The simple historical fact is that there were no Philistines living nearby in the 14th century BCE. It's comparable to a modern author depicting a character taking her family to Disney World's opening day in Orlando, Florida in 1871, 100 years before it actually opened. Another principle to keep in mind here: in ancient cultures history was not written for precision, rather for its moral impact on the reader.
Arameans and Edomites
Genesis tells us that Isaac married a woman from the nation of Aram, as recorded in Genesis 25:
"…and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean."
The existence of Aram as an identifiable political entity, at least in the sense that Laban and his family could be associated with it as citizens of Paddan-Aram and Nahor, does not line up with more recent archeological findings. No mention of Aram has been found that dates earlier than 1100 BCE and we find that Aramean foreign policy only impacted her neighbors after the 9th century BCE.
The same can be said in regard to references to the land of Edom. Assyrian records reveal that a territory called Edom began only after their conquest of the area in the late 8th Century BCE. Genesis 36 provides an origin story for Edom: that Isaac's brother Esau settled in the "hill country of Seir" with his wives, sons, daughters, members of his household, cattle, livestock and other property gained in Canaan. According to the relative biblical timeline, these events would have taken place in the mid-19th century BCE, at least one thousand years before Aram and Edom appear on the maps of the ancient near east.
Edom and Israel were rivals during the late monarchic period (around the 700’s BCE), and yet Genesis pictures an etiology of Edom arising from Esau, the firstborn twin of Isaac and Rebecca. Jacob, the slightly younger twin, later sires twelve sons who produce the twelve tribes of Israel. This apparently took place in the distant past and while the Bible isn’t at all precise in assigning dates to events, it’s around 2000 BCE, according to the Bible’s own approximation. It’s an example of present-day (in the late monarchic years) realities dressed up in ancient costume and explained as if conflict between the two nations were just family squabbles.
"Edom did not exist as a distinct political entity until a relatively late period. From the Assyrian sources we know that there were no real kings and no state in Edom before the late eighth century BCE (the 700’s). Edom appears in ancient records as a distinct entity only after the conquest of the region by Assyria. And it became a serious rival to Judah only with the beginning of the lucrative Arabian trade. The archaeological evidence is also clear: the first large-scale wave of settlement in Edom accompanied by the establishment of large settlements and fortresses may have started in the late eighth century BCE but reached a peak only in the seventh and early sixth century BCE. Before then, the area was sparsely populated."
Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts (p. 40). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
Origin stories in Genesis
Genesis 4 contains very brief mentions of the origins of animal husbandry, music and use of metal for tools. Names are attached to these technologies as if they were invented by certain identifiable descendants of Adam and their families:
"Lamech took two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools."
What the author of these texts couldn't know with any certainty was that truly ancient bone and ivory flutes, dating to more than 40,000 years ago, have been uncovered and analyzed. The Jewish practice of constructing historical timelines using human lifetimes as the basic unit in no way accords with the timescales indicated by the artifacts themselves. Even using generations of 80 years, the furthest back the biblical accounts stretch is more like 8000 years.
The same goes for the rise of agriculture and the use of metals as implements. The transition from hunting and gathering was long and not discontinuous- there was likely a lot of "both and" before we finally opted for a mainly agrarian means of survival. The earliest recorded evidence of metalwork is the use of naturally occurring copper in the middle east around 9000 BCE.
The anachronism here is conceptual. Modern assumptions frame the origins of certain technologies around a gradual model with occasional breakthroughs based on former discoveries by cooperating investigators. Technologies evolve over time, in other words. Ancient people saw the world differently, attributing the origins of customs, technologies, ethnic groups and many other phenomena to individuals, whether human or divine. Scientific methodologies also enable us to test and clarify our ideas about the histories of things. Archaeology is an especially indispensable means of gathering data to tell a more accurate story.
Doublets- incongruent repetitions of the same story
When stories or events are recorded more than once in the Bible, discrepancies between them reveal the probability that more than one author is at work in compiling the accounts, especially when comparing 1 and 2 Chronicles with 1 and 2 Kings. Examples:
Different Family Trees: Genesis 4:17-18 versus Genesis 5
In Adam and Eve's family tree in Genesis 4 and 5, we find two different and overlapping records of the first generations of human beings. Cain's line is described at the end of chapter 4 with a terse list covering six generations from Cain to Lamech, including a short speech from Lamech about avenging Cain by killing an unknown "young man."
Chapter four then shifts back in time to Adam and Eve's third male child, Seth. To Seth was born Enosh and oddly, it mentions that people began invoking the name of Yahweh at that time. This unexpected phrase belies a seam in the text here as verse 26 ignores the fact that the entire original family had extensive dealings with Yahweh as told in the first three chapters of Genesis. Abel's murder by Cain occurred precisely because of a theological conflict between the two about the proper worship offerings required by Yahweh.
Chapter five (recall that modern chapter divisions weren't invented until the 15th century CE) begins abruptly with "This is the list of the descendants of Adam…" It continues with a much longer list of names and relationships that differ from the previous one. One reason for this is that it aims to follow the descendants of Seth, Abel's replacement.
However, there are some curiously similar names in both lineages. The Hebrew names Mahalalel and Methuselah are very close to the names Mehujael and Methushael.* Are we looking at two different traditions being combined here? Note also that Lamech (son of Methuselah) is recorded as the father of Noah in chapter five while in chapter four, Lamech (son of Methushael) has no offspring listed. Noah's absence here seems rather odd if it’s the same Lamech in both accounts.
To summarize, in chapter four we have a line from Cain that starts with Enoch and proceeds through Irad, Mehujael and Methushael to Lamech. No mention of Noah. Then it starts over with Seth and ends after a single progeny: Enosh.
Chapter five apparently picks up with Seth's son Enoch and descends thus:
Enosh (so far, the same as chapter four)
(notice that when you add up the lifespans it appears that both Methuselah and Lamech perished very close to the date of the flood along with all the other corrupt and violent humans)
Is chapter five simply an expanded version of Seth's line in chapter four? How do we arrive at the probable Methuselah (Methushael) -Lamech-Noah connection in both accounts? Did the tradition in chapter four simply skip five the generations from Irad-Mehujael/Mahalalel down to Lamech?
There's an Enoch in both accounts, echoing the probability that there was an ancient hero embedded in the national mythology by that name, but he plays different roles in either account.
The simplest explanation is that we have a seam in the text between chapters four and five. The chapter four tradition's message is etiological, that is, an explanation of the origin of nomadic animal husbandry (Jabal), music and musical instruments (Jubal), and bronze and iron metalwork (Tubal-Cain). It also focuses on Lamech, not as Noah's father, but as an murdering avenger in the spirit of God's promise to Cain in 4:15.
Chapter five has a much different agenda. Using some of the same ancient names, the redactor traces Noah's heritage with precise lifespans and descriptions, and connects the dots from Eden to the deluge with comments like "…[Lamech] named him Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed (Genesis 3) this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.” The text provides a clear lineage from Adam and Eve to Shem, Ham and Japheth who go on to sire the rest of us: "The sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was peopled." (Gen. 9)
Assuming that much of the Old Testament was crafted into a master narrative around the time of the exiles in the eighth through sixth centuries BCE, One can understand why chapter five's author is eager to show that the Hebrew people, in spite of having suffered the calamity of exile and the destruction of their centers in Samaria and Jerusalem, could continue to claim direct descent from the first humans, Adam and Eve, down through Noah and Shem. It was an existential crisis of identity that needed resolution.
What follows in chapter 10 is known as the "Table of Nations," a ethnological concept that served the ancient near eastern worldview for centuries. In Josephus's "Antiquities of the Jews," Book 1, Chapter 6,** he discusses the descendants of Noah and how they populated the world after the Flood. He also mentions the division of the world into the seventy nations outlined in Genesis 10 and their various territories, evidence that this ancient view of the world and its peoples was still influential.
There are many examples in the Old Testament in which two or more versions of a story do not match up, as if multiple sources were not checked for consistency. Did the invading Israelites capture Jerusalem on the first try? Joshua 15:63 says no, the Jebusites of Jerusalem still live there "to this day." Judges 1 says yes- they even burned it down.
*International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: MEHUJAEL
me-hu'-ja-el (mechuya'el, mechiya'el, "smitten of God"): A descendant of Cain through Enoch and Irad (Genesis 4:18). The list in Genesis 5:12; is a working-over of the same material of genealogy by another hand at a different date of spelling (compare spelling of Chaucer and that of today). In that ease, Mehalalel would be the correspondent name to Mehujael
See this Wikipedia article on the Supplementary Hypothesis for a summary of scholarship on the layers of authorship in the Old Testament
Where did Moses’ wife and sons go? Exodus 4:20 versus Exodus 18:4
Pre-Exodus, after Moses flees a murder charge in Egypt:
"Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, “Please let me go back to my own people in Egypt and see whether they are still living.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” The Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all those who were seeking your life are dead.” So Moses took his wife and his sons, put them on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt, and Moses carried the staff of God in his hand." - Exodus 4
Post Exodus, while the Israelites are camped at Rephidim:
"After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro took her back, along with her two sons. …Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, along with Moses’s sons and wife, came into the wilderness where Moses was encamped at the mountain of God. He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” - Exodus 18
Did Moses send his wife and sons back to Jethro after the circumcision argument with Zipporah? That would explain why we suddenly have Moses' family rejoin him after the exodus. The difficulty is that this must be invented and read into the story. One might also assume that Moses' family line would be subsequently well known and respected, but his wife and sons simply disappear from the narrative. The simplest explanation is that there exists a seam in the text, showing different authors relating dissimilar traditions.
Water from the Rock: Exodus 17:2-7 and Numbers 20:2-13
Exodus 17 "From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do for this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Numbers 20 "Now there was no water for the congregation, so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.”
So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels; shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and through which he showed himself to be holy."
In this doublet, we have two different versions of the same story. In the Numbers version, we have Moses disobeying God's specific directive to command the rock to "yield its water." Instead he petulantly hammers twice on the rock with his staff resulting in a devastating new reality: no entry into the promised land. In the Exodus version, God instructs Moses to strike the rock without regard to the severe consequences mentioned in Numbers. Two different stories with one similar message- a justification of God's indignation toward the faithless wandering generation and in Numbers, an added cautionary tale about strict obedience.
Was the removal of the Canaanite tribes quick and complete or slow and incomplete?
Way back in Exodus, God tells the people of Israel that the current inhabitants of the promised land will be done away with:
Exodus 23: "When my messenger goes before you and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I annihilate them…"
God then explains the process in verse 29 and 30:
"I will not drive them out from before you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild animals multiply to your hurt. I will drive them out from before you little by little, until you have increased and possess the land."
So to prevent the multiplication of dangerous wild animals, God will allow the people to advance slowly and deliberately throughout the territory. It's all part of a process that started with the Abrahamic covenant centuries ago; possession of the land has been an extremely gradual development. The Deuteronomist seems to know about the wild animal problem and the reality of a gradual conquest. In Deuteronomy 7:
"YHWH your God will dislodge those peoples before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them at once, else the wild beasts would multiply to your hurt."
And yet, there appears a mention of a rapid conquest in Deuteronomy chapter 9:
"…so that you may dispossess and destroy them quickly, as YHWH has promised you."
That sets the stage for Joshua’s blitzkrieg attack on the land of the Canaanites, wild animals be damned. Joshua chapters 1-12 describe the battles and movements of the Israelite army as well as the parceling out of territories devoid of any living political entities. Joshua 11:
"Joshua conquered the whole country, just as YHWH had promised Moses; and Joshua assigned it to Israel to share according to their tribal divisions. And the land had rest from war."
As if to make sure the reader knew that the conquest was rapid and exhaustive, the Deuteronomistic author lists 31 kings and 14 cities that fell to the swords, spears and arrows of the Torah-observant army of Israel.
Not so fast! In Joshua 13:1 we have an abrupt change of story.
"Joshua was now old, advanced in years. YHWH said to him, “You have grown old, you are advanced in years, and very much of the land still remains to be occupied."
Wait, what? Actually these are borderlands that surround the region just taken by Israel, at the time occupied by the Philistines, Sidonians, Amorites and others. To fulfill the oldest prophecies about the land, there are edges that need to be invaded. Joshua’s death is imminent, so the authors put a speech in his mouth that warns of the dangers of intermixing with these foreigners. Joshua 23:
"For should you turn away and attach yourselves to the remnant of those nations, to those that are left among you, and intermarry with them, you joining them and they joining you, know for certain that YHWH your God will not continue to drive these nations out before you…
…they shall become a snare and a trap for you, a scourge to your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land that YHWH your God has given you.
Furthermore, we discover that Joshua was unable to displace the Jebusites, smack dab in the middle of the region: “But the Judahites could not dispossess the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Judahites dwell with the Jebusites in Jerusalem to this day.” Jos. 15:63
Neither were they able to overcome the people in Gezer: "They (the Ephraimites) failed to dispossess the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer: so the Canaanites remained in the midst of Ephraim as is still the case. But they had to perform forced labor." Jos. 16:10
The tribe of Manasseh also had some trouble: “The Manassites could not dispossess [the inhabitants of] these towns (i.e., Beth-shean, Ibleam, En-dor, Taanach, Megiddo [v. 11]); and the Canaanites stubbornly remained in this region. When the Israelites became stronger, they imposed tribute on the Canaanites, but they did not dispossess them.” Jos. 17:12
Why the confusion? The Deuteronomistic History favors the rapid and complete invasion story, but other historians were left to rationalize why there were Canaanite tribes still around right down through the monarchical period. These seams are evidence of later redactions and adjustments by Deuteronomists and others with a sense of realpolitik. The result is a raft of reasons why YHWH “allowed” these idol-worshippers to hang around.
The Canaanites remain as a punishment for Israel
In Judges chapter 2:
"…Since that nation has transgressed the covenant that I enjoined upon their fathers and has not obeyed Me, I for My part will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died.”
"For it was in order to test Israel by them—[to see] whether or not they would faithfully walk in the ways of YHWH, as their fathers had done—that YHWH had left those nations, instead of driving them out at once, and had not delivered them into the hands of Joshua.”
How else will the Israelites learn the arts of war?
"That successive generations of Israelites might know war, to teach those who had no experience of it before." Judges 3
A handy source of slave labor
"All the people that were left of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites who were not of the Israelite stock—those of their descendants who were still left in the land, whom the Israelites were unable to destroy completely—of these Solomon made a slave force, as is still the case. 1 Kings 9
All that and the thing about the wild animals too. It gets downright difficult to attribute these twists and turns to a single author or coherent, univocal history. That later redactors didn’t just go back through their source material and obliterate all but their own story is yet another marker that the ancients didn’t write history the way we do!
Comparison of Psalms to Babylonian poetry
The Man of Proverbs- A Biographical Sketch
“The man of Proverbs is a highly-motivated member of the lower middle classes… He identifies himself neither with the rich nor yet with the poor… and disapproves when men of different stations pretend to be what they are not…
“He knows that money is not the be-all and end-all of life and he wants to get his priorities right. What is more, he has his home and family to think about, even though he is ambitious to give them security…
“He is backed up by an extremely devoted and capable wife. Not only does she see to the meals and the children’s clothes, but works all hours to earn a bit more. A wife, he holds, makes a world of difference to a man in his position. He is one who sets great store by domestic peace and feels sorry for men with ‘a nagging wife and a brawling household’, where the sons are always contradicting their father and getting their mother upset… That is why he believes in being strict with his boys and knocking some sense into them…
“The man of Proverbs is an open, cheerful character, who speaks his mind and does everything in his power to promote neighbourliness in the community at large… The way to deal with enemies, he believes, is not by revenge but by the same sort of generosity a man ought to show to everybody in need. He would not want to deny that he has his principles, but he prefers to think of himself as a practical man, for whom getting results is all-important, even if sometimes it does mean compromise. There are occasions, for example, when a bribe works ‘like a charm’, and to turn a blind eye is the only sensible thing to do…
“Such realism is the secret of his success… What counts in the end is the ‘know-how’ which is born of experience and the rigorous use of a carefully-trained mind.”
Barton, John. A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths (p. 65). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Quoting Heaton, Solomon’s New Men, pp. 124–6.
The Lord (and who else?) is My Shepherd
The theme of a king or a god portraying themselves as a shepherd for their people was a widespread and ancient practice among Mesopotamian cultures. It’s one example of how the Old Testament reflects contemporary literary phrases and ideas common to scribes in the 8th-6th centuries BCE. Without knowing this fact, we are apt to lean too far into the concept that the Bible is a divinely unique phenomenon with no parallel in any other religion or faith system. While the Bible is a strangely unique set of documents that have had an unparalleled impact on the world, they are largely similar to many recovered texts from Hittite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Ugaritic and Sumerian tablets and inscriptions. These texts include lists of regulations concerning social behaviors, commercial transactions, poetry, origin stories, records of kings and battles, victories and losses and many other topics that also find their way into the writings of the Hebrew scriptures.
Following are some examples of national leaders using the agricultural metaphor of shepherding to capture their responsibilities and performance as king. In those days, the King was responsible to keep social order, reinforce liturgical obedience to the national god and act as a go-between for the commoners and their pantheon. They inquired of oracles, priests and prophets as part of their foreign policy decision making, just like a careful reader of the Old Testament finds in many passages in 1 and 2 Kings and Chronicles.
First up we have part of an inscription from the Old Babylonian period, around 1900 BCE from Nippur. The reigning king Lipit-Ishtar says this about himself:
"At that time, the gods An and Enlil called Lipit-Ishtar to the princeship of the land-Lipit-Ishtar, the wise shepherd, whose name has been pronounced by the god Nunamnir -in order to establish justice in the land, to eliminate cries for justice, to eradicate enmity and armed violence, to bring well-being to the lands of Sumer and Akkad. At that time, I, Lipit-Ishtar, the pious shepherd of the city of Nippur, the faithful husbandman of the city of Ur, he who does not forsake the city of Eridu…"
Second, we have the famous Hammurabi, king of the old Babylonian empire in 1810 to about 1750 BCE:
"I am Hammurabi, noble king. I have not been careless or negligent toward humankind, granted to my care by the god Enlil, and with whose shepherding the god Marduk charged me."
"I have sought for them peaceful places, I removed serious difficulties, I spread light over them. With the mighty weapon which the gods Zababa and Ishtar bestowed upon me, with the wisdom which the god Ea allotted to me, with the ability which the god Marduk gave me, I annihilated enemies everywhere, I put an end to wars, I enhanced the well- being of the land, I made the people of all settlements lie in safe pastures, I did not tolerate anyone intimidating them."
"The great gods, having chosen me, I am indeed the shepherd who brings peace, whose scepter is just. My benevolent shade is spread over my city, I held the people of the lands of Sumer and Akkad safely on my lap. They prospered under my protective spirit, I maintained them in peace, with my skillful wisdom I sheltered them."
Isaiah chapter 44, written during the exile in the 6th century BCE has this to say about Cyrus, who deposed the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus and enacted a resettlement policy for the ethnic groups that were deported by the former administrations:
"Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens…
"…who by myself spread out the earth; who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose'; and who says of Jerusalem, 'It shall be rebuilt,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid.'"
Let’s compare that to what the official Babylonian record says about Cyrus, taken from the Cyrus Cylinder, found inside a wall in the ancient city. The following table compares passages in Isaiah and Ezra
What these comparisons show is that there were rhetorical conventions used for discussing the roles and activities of kings in the ancient world, and they appear in the writings of royal scribes and officials throughout the near east. When we run across the biblical usage of the idea that God can be described as a good shepherd, as in the classic example of Psalm 23, we should temper our religion-centric enthusiasm for the Bible’s brilliance as if the metaphor came directly from YHWH out of the blue; as if no one had ever thought of that before!
That’s not to say that the comparison is inadequate. Rather, it was popular because it performed well. Psalm 23 and John 10 are not the first to link gods and leaders with shepherds. It merely shows a deeply human attempt to comprehend what is difficult to reduce to everyday language.