Archaeology & Torah II


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Reader: Almost daily, archaeological evidence comes out that casts doubt on the veracity of Biblical accounts, including the Exodus from Egypt and the conquering of Israel in the days of Joshua. How are we to deal with this information? Denying or ignoring it would be irrational, but accepting it at face value undermines our belief in the accuracy of Tanach.


Mesora: How would you respond to findings, casting doubt on George Washington's existence? You would most certainly deny the findings; in favor of what we know is an established, historical truth.


Similarly, once you realize that Jewish history, having been previously and currently accepted by millions of people passed down as truth, you will treat findings opposing Jewish history the same way. I do not mean to avoid analyzing the findings, just the opposite: study the findings and their claims. (But I would look for self-aggrandizing symptoms as well. Scientists are not immune to self-glorification, exaggerating claims to breakthroughs…with stardom as their destination.)


Understand, that findings are not unaccompanied by interpretations of the archaeologist. Is his theory sound, and is it irrefutable? On this note, ask yourself this: Does a finding have any more weight than history? If for example, we locate a pottery chard appearing to be of Roman design, but located where Romans never roamed, does this uproot a history echoed by an entire nation? The answer is that no finding can alter what we know is historical fact: there may also be a lack of records, which would explain why such a chard was found in a remote region, and it surprised us. This is quite plausible, and removes the assumed contradiction. But you may ask, let’s say we find ancient, historical records – not simple broken earthenware – that contradict our current records of Washington’s presidency. Based on the words of so many, which form American history, we would not dismiss our history of the majority; rather, we would dismiss the minority report, as evidenced in the findings.


This teaches us an important lesson: verbally transmitted history is the greatest evidence. Such transmission all the way back to any event, attests to eyewitnesses: what we call irrefutable proof. Hence, artifacts carry far less weight for this reason: artifacts possess no inherent “history”, but require interpretation, not inherent to the artifact. Whereas eyewitnesses form the inception of verbally, transmitted history. Thus, history is inherently “intelligible”. So when you compare an artifact with history, what must win out? The verbal history wins, as it is inherently explanatory, unlike static chards.


See "Torah from Sinai" on our website by Rabbi Israel Chait. Understand his argument, which is also that of Judah Halevi, Maimonides, and all other Torah giants. We should pay much attention to what geniuses unanimously consent to be irrefutable least as much attention we pay to common men.