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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Coats of Skins

“Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” This statement (Genesis 3:21) is made immediately after Adam has named his wife Eve. Before this we read of the terrible consequences of the Fall, of the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and God’s curse upon the Eden couple and the serpent. What follows is the expulsion from Eden, before Adam and Eve can reach the tree of life, eat its fruit (which apparently is the antidote), and so regain their immortality.

Artists' interpretations can have a profound influence upon our thinking. This 20th-century version by Stephen Gjertson of the expulsion from Eden perpetuates the misinterpretation of the original Hebrew texts and keeps the coats of skins determinedly literal.
In all different versions of the text in English, the phrase is either ‘coats of skins’ or ‘garments of skins’. And in this single three-word phrase is a world of difference: the difference between a pedantic [1]literal reading of scripture and a seeking for deeper meanings, for a greater understanding of what is actually being expressed. A pastor’s comment which I came across on a [2]webpage makes it clear that the pastor is left rather puzzled about what kind of nakedness is being referred to. He presumes that, being post-Fall, God covers their shame with those coats of skins before sending the couple out into the hostile world. But this puzzlement arises from a literal reading of the words – and from ignoring what the original Hebrew text says.

This picture postcard of the expulsion from Eden also follows the literal scriptural text.
If we take the phrase at its most literal, what we are asked to believe is that God slaughtered one or two of the animals which he had recently created (thus promptly making them extinct, because this was before they went forth into the world and multiplied), dressed the hides, and did a spot of bespoke tailoring in order to clothe Adam and his wife in suitable cave-man attire. Really? But ‘coats of skins’ is not what the original Hebrew texts actually say.

The 19th-century symbolist Franz von Stuck shows us a line in the sand which cannot be recrossed, and an Eden couple wearing their own 'coats of skin'.
The original Hebrew word used is not ‘coats’. It is kethorneth, conveying the idea of an all-covering tunic-like garment of some description. The word lavash implies an act of covering. Already things are looking rather different from the cave-man clothes scenario. The couple’s own solution to the awareness of their nakedness – the ‘aprons of fig leaves’ (Genesis 3:7) – apparently was an inadequate penance for their transgression (think about it: fig leaves are pretty scratchy things with which to cover one’s genitals). God’s solution was infinitely more final, and more profound. He equipped the couple with some sort of all-covering apparel that was fundamentally different from their appearance while in Eden. Their actual appearance – their very state of being – was altered in some way.

Another 19th-century symbolist, Max Klinger, powerfully conveys the expulsion as it is intended: a stony road into the world which now must be trodden. Radically original as always, Klinger shows us an Adam supporting a swooning Eve as they both struggle to come to terms with their new bodies of flesh.
Eden was not in the world. It was a state [3]beyond the physical realm, in which Adam and Eve were immortal as long as they did not eat of that forbidden fruit. Their transgression denied them their immortality. They now had no option but to live out an earthly life, with death waiting at the end. The bodies which they had in Eden were now changed. But what was this change? Only one letter’s difference separates the Hebrew words for ‘light’ (rut) and [4]‘skin’ (rug). The first couple’s transgression in Eden ensured their descent into the world of matter, of an incarnation into an earthly existence. Their non-material light bodies became transfigured into material bodies covered in skin, and all the joys and sorrows, all the pains and ecstasies of a life on Earth were now theirs to experience.

[1] When it comes to uncritical statements of faith on which I can shine a questioning spotlight, my Zondevan King James Study Bible is a gift which just keeps giving. In the editors’ annotation to Genesis 3:21, page 9, they explain that: “God graciously provided Adam and Eve with more effective clothing to cover their shame. God’s act of clothing them with skins, thus requiring the deaths of innocent animals, is symbolic of the merits of Christ’s future sacrifice… It is possible that it is here that God instructed Adam and Eve concerning the need of animal sacrifice as a part of worship.” WTF?? So let’s get this straight: God actually appreciates us killing the animals he has created, as long as such killing is done as a needful part of an act of worship to him. We know this, because God himself set an example of animal sacrifice when he clothed Adam and Eve in animal skins. Seriously?


[3] Whole books have been written about the possible location of Eden, and many theories have been put forward. Scripture appears to tease us with a specific geographical location. The four rivers which flow out of Eden are named, two of which are given as the Hidekel (Tigris) and the Euphrates. It must then be somewhere in the Middle East. Other theories place it in the Hindu Kush, or in a location which is now underwater, or in the Persian Gulf region, or even in the Americas. Still others (clinging to literalism) reason that it cannot be found because it would have been covered by the waters of the Flood. I would maintain that it cannot be found because it never was an earthly location in the first place. One cannot have a non-corporeal immortal body and live a life in the material world.

[4] The familiar phrase 'coats of skins' is therefore more accurately translated as; 'covering of skin', and the change from the plural ('skins') to the singular ('skin') becomes critical.

The top image is a detail from the painting So He Drove The Man Out, by Stephen Gjertson, private collection, 1982. The artist with the initials R.L. for the postcard is unidentified. The Expulsion from Paradise, by Franz von Stuck, 1891, is in a private collection. The work by Max Klinger comes from his Eve and the Future cycle of etchings of 1880, appearing in Graphic Works of Max Klinger, Dover Publications.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Amarna Heresies

His presence in the world would have seismic consequences for his time. His wife would secure a reputation as one of the most beautiful women in history, and his son who briefly succeeded him as an obscure and ineffectual ruler would, by a strange twist of fate, become one of the best-known names ever.

For three thousand undisturbed years the Ancient Egyptians had worshiped their many gods and goddesses, and the pattern of their lives and religious beliefs had continued unchanged from one generation to the next. And for those three millennia the two cities of Thebes in [1]Upper Egypt, and Memphis in Lower Egypt, were their sacred capitals. In those many centuries nothing really changed during what was probably the longest-lasting period of constancy in human history. And then the pharaoh Amenhotep IV came to the throne.

The pharaoh Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten and initiated a one-man cultural and religious revolution.
Just six years into Amenhotep's reign, something happened. This pharaoh, who otherwise was supposed to be the servant and representative of the gods on earth, grasped history in his hands and moulded and shaped it into a new form. This form was so radical, so heretical, that it needed a new name to define it. The name which the pharaoh coined was Aten, the one true god, the invisible presence who had created all, and from whom all life flowed. The [2]visible manifestation of Aten was the life-giving sun itself: the golden sky disk which shed its rays like a blessing on the world below. The pharaoh, now the servant of this divine oneness, sealed this recognition of his servitude by changing his name to Akhenaten – Spirit Of Aten. But things did not stop there.

Egypt during the reign of Akhenaten. The new sacred city of Akhetaten emerged on the eastern bank of the Nile midway between the former residences of the gods at Memphis and Thebes (now Luxor), and the religious as well as the regional map of Dynastic Egypt was rewritten.
Deserting any loyalty both to Thebes and to Memphis, Akhenaten determined to create a new sacred capital, symbolically midway between these two, on the eastern bank of the Nile. At what is now the site of Amarna, Akhenaten laid out his new capital Akhetaten – The Horizon Of Aten – and moved his entire court with him. It was possibly the first time in human history that the idea of a single creative deity was used as the basis for a religion. That is how radical Akhenaten was being. Inevitably, for the many former priests of the usurped old gods these were something more than extreme heresies. Their pharaoh had at a stroke made them [3]redundant, and in so doing had undercut their own power base in a way that would cast long shadows into his future dreams and plans.

Blessed by the glorious rays of Aten, the pharaoh and his consort relax with three of their daughters. Such an informal family scene was unprecedented in the art of Ancient Egypt.
The astonishing one-man revolution continued, with Akhenaten now turning his attention to artistic traditions. Rigid rules of proportion and conventional standards of royal portraiture were abandoned in favour of a daring new realism. To our eyes this new style might not at first appear to be so markedly different from what had gone before, but for its time it was extreme, even shocking. Perhaps the most shocking is the appearance of the pharaoh himself. The expression on the royal face is certainly imperious enough; but with its full lips, broad hips, waspish waist, and suggestion of breasts and rounded stomach, the figure is almost female. So extreme is the exaggeration that it is thought that, if this is indeed a faithful physical portrayal, the pharaoh could have been suffering from Marfan syndrome or Antley-Bixler syndrome: conditions which can produce the elongated limbs and skull deformities suggested by his portraits.

This bust of Nefertiti has become one of the most famous sculptures of the Ancient World. Seen here with two other unfinished versions, it was found in the sculptor’s workplace, and would have served as a prototype for other portraits of the queen.
Her name means The Beauty That Approaches, and when we look at the portraits of her which have been preserved we need not doubt that her name was well chosen. Queen Nefertiti is most famously known by the painted bust now in the Berlin Museum, but I recall seeing a small unpainted portrait of her carved in wood in London’s British Museum that was in every way as stunning as this better-known version. And in keeping with the pharaoh’s new dynamic realism, his consort was shown as being as susceptible to the march of time as any mortal.

Defying artistic conventions but not the passing years, this remarkable carving shows a Nefertiti who has now reached middle age. The beauty is still there, although the jowl is heavier, and her figure is no longer that of a young queen. Nefertiti seems to have enjoyed considerable autonomous power of her own, and reigned on after her husband’s death, only to vanish from history into an unknown obscurity.
Akhenaten and Nefertiti had six daughters, and even these appear to have had their own remarkable physical characteristic: all of them are shown with a strangely elongated skull. We are left to wonder whether this was a new artistic convention, or whether this as well was an accurate portrayal of some physical deformation, and that the elongated headdresses of their parents actually concealed more than they revealed.

Portrayals of the daughters of the royal couple show pronounced elongated skulls. Head binding of infants was unknown in Ancient Egypt, and we are left to wonder whether deformation or artistic stylization was the cause.
But the pharaoh had one son by a lesser consort, [4]Kiya. This son, whom he called Tutankhaten – The Living Image Of Aten – also appears to have had the same elongated skull as his daughters, and it was this son who would succeed his father to the throne. Like his father, this son also would undergo a change of name, and this change tells its own story. We famously know the son as [5]Tutankhamen. He had a brief reign of just eleven years, dying mysteriously before reaching his twentieth year. The extraordinary revolution in culture and religion which his father had initiated proved impossible to sustain. Following Akhenaten’s death the priests of the old gods seized their chance and moved in to reinstate both the gods and themselves. The glorious architecture of Amarna was ransacked to create their temples anew, and the likenesses of its king and queen were defaced or removed from their pedestals.

Unlike the daughters, we have Tutankhamen’s body to examine, which leaves no room for doubt that the elongated skull was a physical feature. This forensic reconstruction of the living boy pharaoh and the scan of his actual head supply us with all the hard evidence necessary – but an explanation of the phenomenon is still lacking.
Tutankhamen’s name embodies the reinstatement of the god Amen and his pantheon. Cloistered in his palace, accompanied by his radiant queen, and surrounded by sumptuous art, his father had spent more time preoccupied with introducing a new religion and its culture than he had with actually consolidating what he had created. Following Akhenaten’s death, there was in Amarna no power base left to continue the worship of Aten, and every religion needs a power base of some kind to sustain it. And as we know, the strange twist of fate that in the 20th-century saw the discovery of Tutankhamen’s intact tomb with its priceless treasures is what rescued the boy pharaoh from what otherwise would have been an indifferent obscurity.

Tutankhamen’s gold funerary mask has become the iconic image of Ancient Egypt. We admire its fabulous craftsmanship, but behind the mask was a boy still in his teens who became the pawn in a religious power struggle. Emerging serenely from a Nile lotus, the bust on the left is the same boy when he was still Tutankhaten and the machinations of rival priests were still in his future.
But the revolution initiated by Akhenaten was not in vain, despite what at first appears to be its failure to sustain itself. A heresy is only viewed as a heresy because it is not an approved majority view, not because it is ‘wrong’. The pharaoh’s heretically extreme idea of a single supreme deity endured. Within decades of the pharaoh’s death another Egyptian would take up the idea and spread it to a new territory and a new culture, and this time it would take root. It is more than coincidence that names such as Moses and [6]Thutmoses are so similar, and that we end each and every prayer with the muttered word ‘Amen’. But that, as they say, is another story.

For all his royal status a pharaoh is still a man, and few fragments from Antiquity are as poignant as this: the hand of Akhenaten continues to clasp the hand of his beloved Nefertiti over three millennia after the couple defied generations of tradition and changed their world.
Names may change, but Akhenaten’s radical and heretical idea of a single formless creative deity has endured. And a certain poetic justice also endures: even with all his great and radical vision, Akhenaten never could have imagined that his [7]'Hymn to the Sun', which in its devotional beauty has been compared to scripture's Psalm 104, would be hauntingly set to music by contemporary American composer Philip Glass and live again - almost three and a half thousand years after the heretic pharaoh had composed it. 

[1] The terms 'upper' and 'lower' refer to the distance from the river's source, so Lower Egypt was actually closer to the Nile delta in the north than Upper Egypt in the south.

[2] It is simplistic to think that Akhenaten actually believed that the physical sun was the god Aten. The sun was merely the material manifestation of the formless deity behind it: an idea which also surfaces in my previous post 666: The Number of the Beast.

[3] Akhenaten might also have been driven by political expediency as much as by sincere belief. His father, Amenhotep III, was already disturbed by the growing power of the priesthood. Akhenaten's sidelining of the old gods and their priestly servants also could have been an attempt to curtail this potential threat to the throne of the pharaoh. If that is so, then events showed that he made his move too late, and fatally opted to pursue a course of self-absorbed artistic flowering rather than military backup.

[4] Recent DNA tests conclusively establish that a mummy known only as the Younger Lady found in the Valley of the Kings is the mother of Tutankhamen, but the identity of this mummy is speculative. DNA establishes that the mummy is Akhenaten’s sister, which might or might not mean that it is Kiya. Other possible identities include Akhenaten’s daughter Meritaten, and even Nefertiti herself. While incest was the order of the day at the court of Dynastic Egypt, it also makes DNA conclusions more speculative.

[5] Also written as Tutankhamun and Tutankhamon. Being essentially pictographs, Egyptian hieroglyphs do not express vowel sounds, so converting hieroglyphs into a contemporary written language involves multiple choices and compromise. Placing an ‘e’ between consonants has however become a preferred archaeological protocol, which is why I have opted for ‘Tutankhamen’ and ‘Thutmoses’ in this post.

[6] Akhenaten’s elder brother.

[7] Listen to the Philip Glass Hymn to the Sun recording.

Irwin M. Braverman, MD; Donald B. Redford, PhD; and Philip A. Mackowiak, MD, MBA: Akhenaten and the Strange Physiques of Egypt's 18th Dynasty. Pub. American College of Physicians, 21 April, 2000.
Eliot G. Smith: The Royal Mummies. Duckworth Publishers, 2000.

Reconstructed head of Tutankhamen by forensic sculptor Elisabeth Daynhs for National Geographic magazine, June 2005. Tutankhamen skull scan: CT Scanning equipment by Siemens AG; Data courtesy, the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Arab Republic of Egypt; National Geographic magazine, June 2005. Akhenaten and Nefertiti hands photo by Bryan Jones.

Paul Docherty has created an excellent virtual reconstruction of Akhenaten's sacred capital at Amarna3D.

The Google Earth coordinates for the site of Akhetaten at Amarna are: 27°38’42.78”N 30°53’48.24”E.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Joshua, Jericho, the Trumpets and the Wall

When Julius Caesar wrote his account of the conquest of Gaul, he was not writing it as a personal diary, to keep those events fresh in his mind. He was not even writing it to preserve a record for history as such. He was writing it specifically to impress the Roman senate with his abilities of conquest, and he took pains to describe himself as a capable general of war who could – and did – win new territories for the Roman Empire. The account of the conquest of Gaul was, as it were, Julius Caesar’s doctorate.

Accompanied by the Ark of the Covenant, Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan towards Jericho (Joshua 3:17) and the conquest of Canaan. Scripture tells us that the waters miraculously parted to ensure that the Ark remained dry; wonders which Caesar had to make do without during his own conquest of Gaul.
Caesar made a suitable token gesture of modesty by always referring to himself in the narrative in the third person: ‘Caesar did this, he did that..’, as a way of distancing himself from the fact that he, the writer, was also the star of the story. But knowing the circumstances of why these events came to be written, we also can assume that Caesar beefed things up here and there in the narrative to cast himself in the most favourable light, and any messy [1]setbacks in the campaign were sometimes glossed over.

The Egyptians’ expansion of their empire by conquest followed a different pattern from the Romans’ of later centuries. The Egyptians would have maintained military garrisons in Sinai and Canaan, but did not export their culture and social laws to these new territories, as did the Romans in later centuries. The hieroglyphs, believed to indicate the word ‘Israel’, are from the [2]Merneptah stele.
In Gaul Caesar triumphed, and it became his prerogative to write history in his favour. But taking things one step further: supposing that Caesar had written his account… but that the conquest of Gaul had never actually taken place? Supposing that instead he had taken truly sweeping liberties with events, and had sat in his tent in some secluded corner of Gaul concocting the whole story of the conquest merely to impress? Were we to happen across his account in another millennium or two, and intervening history had become clouded, would we actually realise the subterfuge?

Scripture relates (Joshua 2:1-24) how the woman Rahab gave aid to two Israelite spies: a deed which prompted Joshua to spare her life and those of her family, so making them the sole survivors of the ensuing massacre. Subsequent translations describe her as a prostitute, although the original texts do not specify this.
Archaeology can both confirm and refute what we read in scripture. The principal Canaanite city of Jericho can be excavated. But excavations in Jericho have shown that in the era of Joshua it was a city without a [3]wall, so Joshua’s [4]trumpets bringing down the wall (with the help of the Almighty) might make a stirring story, but we have to doubt that the defeat of Jericho happened in the way in which scripture describes. With Jericho, we are confronted with a situation in which the texts tell us one thing, and actual excavations on the ground tell us another. But what about Joshua’s conquest of other cities in the land of Canaan? To go one step beyond: were Jericho and other Canaanite cities even conquered by the Israelites at all?

The walls of Jericho as they are today. 
It is not so much what archaeological excavations of these cities have turned up. It is more what is not found there. The more excavations have continued, the less signs have been unearthed of any Israelite warfare having taken place. There were no obvious signs of destruction in that time frame, and few weapons. What had happened? And how to explain the fact that the Israelites were so familiar with Canaanite beliefs and customs?

Jericho pottery from the period 3000BP up to the Middle Bronze Age of 1500BP: the time of the maximum expansion of the Egyptian Empire and its conquest of Canaan.
No less than other scientific disciplines, archaeology must go wherever the evidence takes it. As a practicing science, it does not exist to confirm what we prefer to believe. The Israelites were a new people without a history of their own. In this Bronze Age time frame, and in this place, a people’s credentials consisted of conquest. You were, so to speak, what you conquered. And if you had not actually conquered anyone, well then, you apparently shuffled the deck to make that happen. And so it seems that the Israelites wrote their own fictitious history of glorious [5]conquest, perhaps as much to give themselves a sense of their own identity as to impress others.

Some of the principal cities in the Canaan region which have been the subject of archaeological investigations. Cities such as Ai and Hazor, specified in scripture as being conquered by the Israelites, were already ancient ruins by the time Joshua and his forces were supposed to have arrived there. According to scripture, Gezer and Megiddo (from which comes our word Armageddon) were so strongly fortified that Joshua made no attempt to storm them. 
But Canaanite cities already had been conquered by Egypt long before Joshua arrived on the scene. The people whom scripture calls the Israelites probably were displaced refugees from this conquest – and many if not most would have been from Canaan itself. In other words: the Israelites were the Canaanites. This readily explains their familiarity with Canaanite traditions and beliefs – including their original pantheon of their god having a consort: the ‘Elohim’ (‘gods’) of Genesis, which refers to God’s consort, the Canaanite goddess Asherah. The scriptural account of the presumed ‘conquest’ of Canaan under Joshua was first written down some eight hundred to a thousand years after the events described – time enough to embellish things, and to create a catalogue of conquest which never actually took place.

And what a catalogue it is. From Jericho to Ai, from Ai to Makkeda to Libnah to Lachish to Eglon to Hebron to Debir, on and on (Joshua 8:1-onwards). The result is always the same: no Israelite losses are recorded, and all inhabitants of these cities – men, women and children – are slaughtered without mercy. Were this tragic list true, it would mean that the Israelites practiced ethnic cleansing in the land of Canaan on a genocidal scale. And what would that say about the Israelites – and about the God under whose sanction they operated? Do you really want it to be true?

Accompanied by the Ark of the Covenant, the trumpets sounded, the Israelites shouted, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. Or did the Egyptians beat the Israelites to the punch?
Excavations on site appear to suggest that the whole story in scripture of Joshua opening his conquest of Canaan with the defeat of Jericho (with God as his ally) is a fabrication. Not only did Jericho have no effective defensive wall at the time for the sound of the trumpets to cause to ‘fall down flat’: the city was not even a real going concern when Joshua and his army were supposed to have been there. So it seems that the unknown writers of these texts sat in their metaphorical tent in a corner of the land and fabricated the whole account of the conquest of Canaan.

Even Julius Caesar with his occasional possible embellishments in his account of the conquest of Gaul never presumed to stretch the truth as far as the unknown writers of scripture. Canaan was conquered, as was Gaul – but by the Egyptians many years before the Israelites even existed as a regional force. And when Joshua arrived at Jericho, he would have found many of its buildings in ruins, and its wall already buried in the dust. 

[1] The massacre at Ai: I’m being a little uncharitable to Caesar here, as his account generally seems to be an honest one, recounting both victories and setbacks. One crushing defeat in northern Gaul resulted in fifteen Roman cohorts (about 1720 men) being annihilated. Such narrative even-handedness is hard to find in the scriptural account of the presumed conquest of Canaan, which sweeps from victory to victory with truly ruthless savagery on the part of the Israelites, naturally enough with God's sanction, and with the unrealistically negligible loss of thirty six Israelites (Joshua 7:5). In the central city of Ai (the aerial view of the excavations, right) the Israelites indulged in yet another bloodbath, killing all twelve thousand of its inhabitants in a single day (Joshua 8:25). As I point out in this post, the whole conquest of Canaan by the Israelites could well have been fabricated. The pages of the Book of Joshua are so drenched in blood and slaughter that I for one sincerely hope that it is. 

[2] Israel: The Dynastic Egyptians, meticulous bureaucrats as always, mention the Israelites by name only once in three thousand years of their scrupulously-recorded history. A granite stele of Merneptah (left, with the hieroglyphs alleged to represent 'ISRAEL' highlighted), son of the famed Ramses II, proclaims tersely that ‘ISRAEL IS LAID WASTE, IT'S SEED IS NO MORE.’ The hieroglyphs on the stele indicate that the Israel referred to was considered to be, not a recognized city state, but a stateless semi-nomadic people. In the interests of accuracy, however, the stele hieroglyphs specifically say, not ‘Israel’, but ‘’. It was its discoverer, the 19th-century archaeologist Flinders Petrie, who concluded that it meant ‘Israel’. But since the land referred to is Canaan, Petrie’s conclusion seems reasonable. Please see also Note [5] below for an explanation of the 'seed' context.

[3] Dating the walls: Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon established that walls existed, but that these date from the Early, not the Middle Bronze Age. Therefore by the time of Joshua, these walls would have largely disappeared, buried beneath a city that was razed by the Egyptians. These conclusions were however made in the 1950’s. Subsequent further excavations point to Jericho being occupied by a nomadic squatter population in the Middle Bronze Age, when it would have been unfortified. By the time of Joshua in the Late Bronze Age there would have been little left of the largely deserted city to conquer. The city walls revealed in excavations are therefore unrelated to the time frame of the scriptural account. Few examples of the impartial ethics of science are as defined as in the excavation of the city of Jericho. Those who look for ‘proof’ of the Biblical account of a walled city that was destroyed will find what they seek in the ruins of Jericho. But such conclusions must necessarily ignore the discrepancy of centuries in the time frame provided by impartial archaeology.

[4] Two possible options: The entire account of Joshua’s conquest of Jericho can be found in Joshua 6:1-27 (left: Hebrew animal horn shofars). When the Israelite forces entered the city it was another gore fest massacre, with all within the city – men, women, children and the elderly – even oxen, sheep and donkeys – being put to the sword by the Israelites (Joshua 6:21). So either you accept scripture, in which case you must go along with the scenario that the Israelites were brutalized thugs who slaughtered women, children and the elderly – or you accept likely archaeological conclusions, which would let the Israelites off the hook, but would by default mean that the story in scripture is fabricated false witness. Which are you going to choose? 

[5] The question of the burnt grain: Dynastic Egypt added Sinai and Canaan to its conquered territories just as Rome added Gaul and other regions. The phrase on the Merneptah stele: "..its seed is no more" was a standard phrase referring to the Egyptian practice of destroying the grain store of a vanquished enemy, knowing that a missed harvest and starvation would be the result. This is exactly what we find at Jericho, where all the cached grain (right) has been burned and left behind. This burnt grain, characteristic of Egyptian conquest, has in part provided the C14 dating of the Dynastic Egyptian conquest of the city, centuries before Joshua's time. This is crucial, as it is clearly not logical that either the Canaanites or the victorious Israelites after them would have been resident in a city which contained existing burnt grain stores. Apparently this burnt grain also had the editors of the Christian fundamentalist Creation Wiki website scratching their heads when they came to write their entry on Jericho. They wonder why the Israelites burned the valuable grain, instead of taking it with them. The conclusion which they arrived at: "the Israelites were told to dedicate everything in the city to the Lord" – which goes to show just how much the shoe can be stretched to fit the foot.

The Empire that got overlooked
The Creation Wiki entry on Jericho nowhere mentions either the dating significance of recent archaeological finds or the fact that Jericho was actually sacked by the Egyptians – or even that Canaan was once part of the Egyptian Empire. Since this information is generally available, I can only conclude that the site editors knew of the information (presented here in my own post) but chose deliberately to omit it because it conflicts with the scriptural account. I have more respect for my readers than that, and if something is known then I’ll include it on this blog, yes, even if it conflicts with my own conclusions. Deliberately excluding material out of a fear that it will weaken one’s case is the surest way of admitting how weak that case is to begin with.

The archaeological aspects of this post have been drawn from the field excavations, researches and writings of:  Israel Finkelstein, chairman of the Archaeology Department, Tel Aviv University. Archaeology historian Neil Asher Silberman. Ze’ev Herzog, professor of Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University. Kay Prag, DPhil FSA, director of excavations in Jordan, et al. If you have objections to what is written here, please take them up with these academics. I’m just the messenger.

Joshua and the Israelites crossing the Jordan, Rahab with the two Israelite spies, and the priests blowing the trumpets have been repainted for this post from the 19th-century engravings by Julius Schnorr von Caroslveld, and are three of a complete cycle of engravings which von Carolsfeld produced for an illustrated edition (left) of the Bible. His engraving of the birth of Eve features in my other post The Ecstasy of Eve. The versions for this post have been painted by Hawkwood for the David Bergen Studio © All Rights Reserved.

Schnorr von Carolsveld might not always have portrayed things faithfully to scripture (in the third painting here, the trumpets should be shofars, the Levites bearing the Ark should be barefoot, etc.), but his art nevertheless expresses a lively dynamism which sweeps the viewer along with the action.