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Can Archaeology Provide Evidence of the Reality of the Exodus?

Sept. 12 2017

Shortly before Passover 2013, the magazine Reform Judaism headlined an article with the title “We Were Not Slaves in Egypt.” The Bible scholar Richard Elliott Friedman writes that, upon seeing it, he “was troubled that this was informing an audience of about a million Reform Jews that the exodus was not real.” Furthermore, writes Friedman, although by now a wide range of archaeologists had agreed that little evidence existed to support the exodus story, or even that it was highly unlikely to have happened, there were also prominent dissenters; more importantly, there were problems with the arguments of those who claimed the event was unhistorical:

Some archaeologists had said, “We’ve combed the Sinai and didn’t find [any evidence of the Israelites’ wanderings].” But [they had conducted] a survey, not an excavation of the whole Sinai Peninsula. Moreover, even if they had excavated the whole Sinai, what could they find that people traveling from Egypt to Israel around 3,300 years ago would have left that they would dig up now? A piece of petrified wood with “Moses loves Zipporah” carved in it? An Israeli archaeologist told me that a vehicle that was lost in Sinai in the 1973 war was found recently under sixteen meters of sand. Sixteen meters down in 40 years! Finding objects 3,300 years down presents a rather harder challenge.

And, above all, our archaeological work did not turn up evidence to show that an exodus did not happen. What it turned up was nothing, an absence of evidence. And some archaeologists then interpreted this nothing to be proof that the event did not happen. On the other side, people who challenged such interpretations were fond of quoting the old principle: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

In his forthcoming book, excerpted here, Friedman attempts to explain what historical, archaeological, and textual scholarship can say about the exodus.

Read more at Bible and Interpretation

More about: Archaeology, Exodus, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas

The Movement to Return Jewish Worship to the Temple Mount Has Gone Mainstream

Sept. 25 2017

During the eruption of violence against Israelis in Jerusalem this summer, and the subsequent struggle over metal detectors, the Islamic authorities briefly boycotted the Temple Mount. As a result, Jewish visitors, normally prohibited from praying there, immediately began to do so. Meir Soloveichik puts the episode in context and describes its meaning:

The Temple Mount is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for religious Jews. In the past, most abstained from visiting out of concern that they might enter a sacred area in a state of ritual impurity, but many now believe that, with a knowledge of the layout, history, and religious laws pertaining to the location, it is permissible to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount plaza. They thus visit the site under religious guidance—immersing first in a ritual bath, or mikveh—and tread only in specific areas. What was once a trickle of pilgrims has become a stream, and this year they numbered in the many thousands. . . .

[Indeed, a] sea change has taken place in the past fifteen years: . . . the segment of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is becoming more and more mainstream, supported by rabbis noted for their liberalism in social or religious affairs. . . .

Visiting Jews were, for a brief and brilliant moment [this summer], able to utter several words of prayer without interference. The Israeli media published photos of a diverse group of Jews standing on the Temple Mount reciting the kaddish, so close to where their ancestors, on Yom Kippur, had once stood listening to the high priest pronounce the Name of God. Soon after this kaddish, the [status quo ante] returned; Jews again were no longer free to pray at the site toward which all Jewish prayer has been directed for thousands of years. But images of that one unimpeded kaddish remain; to study them is to look back on the miraculous and heartbreaking past half-century in Jerusalem, to celebrate what has been achieved, and to mourn what might have been.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Judaism, Palestinian terror, Religion & Holidays, Temple Mount