"The historical saga contained in the Bible . . . was not a miraculous revelation, but a brilliant product of human imagination." So say authors Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman in their book, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. They assert that there was no single exodus, no unified conquest of Canaan, and no glorious, vast kingdom of David and Solomon.
Who are Finkelstein and Silberman? Archaeologists who have attempted to validate the history of Genesis through their archaeological studies. Concentrating on Israel's ancient history itself, rather than solely on its biblical associations, they used artifacts, architecture, settlement patterns, animal bones, seeds, soil samples, anthropological models drawn from world cultures, and other modern methods to produce a description based on scientific evidence.
Most of the copy below comes from an article in Sunrise Magazine.
Rather than a chronicle or history, evidence indicates that part of Genesis was a national epic created in the seventh century BCE which successfully joined many regional legendary ancestors into one unified tradition.
Sites mentioned in the Exodus narrative are real. A few were well known and apparently occupied in much earlier periods and much later periods -- after the kingdom of Judah was established, when the text of the biblical narrative was set down in writing for the first time. Unfortunately for those seeking a historical Exodus, they were unoccupied precisely at the time they reportedly played a role in the events of the wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness.
The authors say this:
"the emergence of early Israel was an outcome of the collapse of the Canaanite culture, not its cause. And most of the Israelites did not come from outside Canaan -- they emerged from within it. There was no mass Exodus from Egypt. There was no violent conquest of Canaan. Most of the people who formed early Israel were local people -- the same people whom we see in the highlands throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. The early Israelites were -- irony of ironies -- themselves originally Canaanites!"
The authors hold in this connection that the stories in the Book of Judges about conflicts with the Canaanites -- such as those concerning Samson, Deborah, and Gideon -- may be authentic memories of village conflicts and local heroes preserved as folktales, combined and recast for later theological and political purposes.
Despite legendary exaggerations and elaborations, the authors believe that David and Solomon did exist -- but as minor highland chieftains ruling a population of perhaps 5,000 people. No archeological evidence exits around 1005-970 BCE for David's conquest or his empire, nor in Solomon's time (ca. 970-931 BCE) is there any evidence of monumental architecture or of Jerusalem as more than a village.
Near the end of the book, the authors remark:
"the Bible's integrity and, in fact, its historicity, do not depend on dutiful historical "proof" of any of its particular events or personalities . . . The power of the biblical saga stems from its being a compelling and coherent narrative expression of the timeless themes of a people's liberation, continuing resistance to oppression, and quest for social equality. It eloquently expresses the deeply rooted sense of shared origins, experiences, and destiny that every human community needs in order to survive."
On another site [Bible and Interpretation] the authors say this about their book:
"In The Bible Unearthed, we invite you to follow our line of argumentation, first an archaeological analysis of the patriarchal, conquest, judges, and United Monarchy narratives, showing that while there is no compelling archaeological evidence for any of them, there is clear archaeological evidence that places the stories themselves in a late 7th-century BCE context. We then go on to propose an archaeological reconstruction of the distinct histories of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, differing dramatically in environment, population, economy, and religious forms. We highlight the largely neglected history of the Omride Dynasty and attempt to show how the influence of Assyrian imperialism in the region set in motion a chain of events that would eventually make the poorer, more remote, and more religiously conservative kingdom of Judah the belated center of the cultic and national hopes of all Israel.
"This occurred in the 7th-century BCE and reached a culmination, we argue, during the reign of King Josiah (639-609 BCE)—and the primary history of the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History are the greatest achievements of this complex historical process. But they are not “history.”