One of the biggest mysteries of the ancient world is the question of whether the historical events recorded in the Bible actually happened. The stakes of this question are extremely high because today’s world is so connected to the Bible. In fact, the Bible may have been the greatest single influence to shape Western civilization. For more than 1500 years, the West accepted the truth of the biblical accounts. Presently, these accounts form the foundations of faith for hundreds of millions of Christians and Jews worldwide.
If these events never happened, are those religions based on a gigantic lie?
Many of today’s tensions in the Middle East are connected to the Bible. The opposing camps in the culture wars can be defined, in large measure, by their views of what the Bible is – and what it means. When issues relating to biblical history come up, they automatically qualify as controversial – and the unveiling of new archaeological finds related to the Bible are met with an atmosphere of explosive apprehension.
The story of the Exodus has become particularly controversial. For more than 50 years, the vast majority of the world’s most prominent archaeologists and historians have maintained that there is no hard evidence to support the Exodus story. In October of 1999, the prominent Israeli archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog wrote in Ha’aretz Magazine,
“This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel.”
The case against the Exodus appears to be so strong that even some religious leaders are labeling it as historical fiction. According to Rabbi David Wolpe, named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine, “The Exodus certainly didn’t happen the way the Bible depicted it, assuming that it was a historical event in any description.”
This is a dramatic shift from attitudes of just a century ago. In the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, European pioneers of archaeology came to the Near East with a shovel in one hand and a Bible in the other. At first, their discoveries seemed to be very supportive of the Bible. However, over the years, new findings and more exacting practices determined that the dates for many of the finds were actually from periods outside the biblical timeframe. In their zeal to prove their faith, it appeared that the previous generation had jumped to their conclusions prematurely.
Is the Exodus just a myth, or is it possible that the archaeologists got it wrong?