There has been an interesting German documentray series on SBS over recent weeks. It’s a survey of the current findings in Old Testament archaeology from an independent, secular view. I won’t go into all the detail save to say that the conclusion of the program is that the Old Testament was compiled in the time of King Hosea of the then northern kingdom of Israel (which was distinct from Judea in the south). It was compiled for political reasons, to provide a glorified past which he could use to further his ambitions. This is not unusual, rulers have often had lineages and histories fabricated in order to glorify and justify their ambitions.
One of the startling allegations (backed up by archaeological evidence) is that the famed kingdom of Solomon never existed as described. If Solomon existed he was a more minor figure. Another allegation is that the story of Moses and Joshua’s conquest of Canaan never really happened either. It’s myth designed to give the Jews, and especially Hosea, a divine mandate – again, a not uncommon thing.
It might be assumed that this means that the Jews do not have the claim over the land that they say they do. However, other evidence indicates that the Jews were always in Israel as part of the Canaanite people. Over time they became a separate culture that became dominant. The Bible was just a way for them to claim a supernatural history, rather than a more mundane, natural history.
So this research is not really bad news for Jews – but it is bad news for Islam because Mohammed accepts the Biblical account and bases his own claim to be a prophet on the authority of the OT prophets. The principle of jihad and his own (and Islam’s) aggressive expansion was inspired in part, by the story of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, which never really happened.
There’s an interesting twist to this. Many have excused the violence in the Koran by pointing to the violence in the OT. But it seems the violence in the OT may have been retrospective boasting to glorify the Jews of Hosea’s time. There may not have been the wholesale destruction the OT claims (though there would have been battles), rather a much longer period of gradual domination. Certainly aspects of the OT indicate that ‘purist’ Jews faced a constant struggle against other local variations (including the belief in Asherah, the consort of Jehovah). However, the destruction outlined in the Koran is historical, there is no real dispute that it happened. So the twist is that Jewish history may not have been as violent as first thought but the myth that it was inspired Mohammed who really did do a Joshua and expand his religion.
And what of the modern day Palestinian’s claim to be the descendents of the Canaanites? A curious claim because the Canaanites disappeared as the Jews came to prominance. There seems to no record of a parallel Canaanite precence in the region. However, after the Roman’s destroyed the Second Temple there was a large exodus of Jews. This created a vacuum which neighbouring Arabs quite naturally took advantage of (and why wouldn’t they?). Until the Muslim conquest Palestine was part of the Christian Byzantine empire. The Arabs converted to Islam but there were always Jews and Christians. As I understand it, until the Crusades and the Christian massacre of thousands of Jews, Jerusalem had a majority Jewish population. Where were these Canaanites?