Giants in the Promised Land
At Numbers 13:33, the Bible contends the Israelites were terrified of “Nephilim” (sg. נפיל nĕphiyl) or giants occupying the Promised Land, suggested as one reason the chosen sojourned for so long in the Sinai.303 These Nephilim are mentioned also at Genesis 6:4 as the offspring of the “sons of God” (bene Elohim) and “daughters of men.”
We need to ask why the all-powerful Yahweh could not rid Israel of the giants but instead made millions of his people suffer in the desert for 40 years. Additionally, if there were so many giants, where are their tens of thousands of remains, all dating to the second millennium BCE?
It is clear that this giants detail is a literary device used to drive the Israelites into the desert, where they could be brainwashed into the Mosaic cult/law, which is the stated purpose of this latter motif.
At Deuteronomy 1:28, we read the story about more Canaanite “giants,” the sons of Anakim ( ' ענקים Anaqiym), descendants of Anak and part of the Nephilim. These intimidating giants supposedly lived in huge fortified cities; yet, archaeology tells us that these cities were non-existent, in decline or destroyed by the time of the Exodus.
The Anakim were apparently the smiths of the Philistine people, who were also evidently the Kenites.305 In this regard, their presence in the story would constitute another anachronism.
Although some of the taller local tribes such as the Amalekites have been lighted upon in order to bring realism to the story, the Exodus “giants” or nephilim tale represents not “history” but an astral or astrotheological motif. In Aramaic, the word nephila refers to the constellation of Orion,758 the giant hunter in the sky who plays an important role in Egyptian religion, among many others. Gesenius cites the “Chaldean”759 (Akkadian) of this term as נפלא nephla, meaning “the giant in the sky, i.e. the constellation Orion, plur. the greater constellations.”760 The plural term nephilim, therefore, represents constellations or stars, like the khus of Egypt.
Another Semitic term used for Orion, גבור gibbowr, means “strong man” or “giant”761 and was “taken from ancient Near Eastern mythology.”762 Orion is called “the giant” also in Arabic, as al-jabbar, likewise employed to describe the constellation in the Peshitta or Syriac translation of Amos 8, Job 9:9 and Job 38:31.763 At Psalm 19:5, it is the sun that is called גבור gibbowr or “giant.”
Sons of God
Again, at Genesis 6:1–4, these Nephilim are said to have been the products of the “sons of God” mating with the “daughters of men.” Gray surmises that these verses describing the “amours of the ‘sons of God’ with the daughters of men” reflect the Canaanite myth of El, “father of the divine family,” begetting first the stars of dawn and dusk. This motif appears also at Job
38:7, in which the “sons of God” are mentioned “in parallel” with the “morning-stars.”764 In the myth, El is depicted as seducing two women and begetting the “twin-gods Ŝḥr and Ŝlm, ‘Dawn’ and ‘Evening.’”765 These twins, Shahar and Shalim, are called ’elm, “gods,”766 basically the same word as elohim in the biblical Hebrew.
This motif is similar to the Mithraic theme of the god between the two torchbearers or “dadophoroi,” representing dawn and dusk, as well as to Christian iconography, in which the two thieves surrounding Christ symbolize heaven and hell. The Canaanite name for the star-god of dusk is essentially salem, denoting “peace” in later Hebrew, as in Jeru-salem, and in the Arabic greeting, ﺳ ﻼم salaam.767 Gray notes that the word Salem’s meaning of “peace” is secondary, while “completion” is the root, and here it must connote the completion of a day, which could be perceived as a peaceful time.768
In any event, Van Seters avers that the biblical scribes borrowed from Greek mythology “the idea that the gods cohabited with human women and begat superhuman, gigantic offspring.”769
Representing not a unique “historical” event, the myth of a battle with giants is found in a number of cultures globally. As but one example, Pausanias (1.25.2) tells us about a “legendary war with the giants who once dwelt about Thrace and on the isthmus of Pallene.”770 This mythical event is recorded in stone at the theater dedicated to Attalus I (269–197 BCE), king of Pergamon,771 called Σωτὴρ Soter or “Savior” centuries before Christ’s purported advent.
Describing the stories of battles between gods, Canaanite mythologist Dr. Ulf Oldenburg remarks:
The close similarity between the Hurrian, Phoenician and Greek theogonies shows that we have to do with one mythological pattern and...the Greeks must have received this from the Orient, probably via Phoenicia.772
Apparently dating back thousands of years, the Pygmies/Ituri/Efé have a story of the triumph of their first man, Efé, over “giant monsters of heaven.”773 In the Egyptian archetype, the conflict is said to represent the victory of the sun over the darkness, as in the story of Osiris/Horus versus Set/Seth.
No Edomites at that Time
Another biblical anachronism occurs when the Israelites are depicted as negotiating with the king of Edom to cross his land (Num 20:14).
14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying: “This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt ,,,
17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard .... Num 20:14)
Although the name “Edom, Edomites” appears in the Ugaritic Keret epic or Krt Text (15th cent. BCE) as ’Udm or Udumu, there was NO kingdom in Edom before the time of the Assyrians in the seventh century BCE.
Moreover, the kingdom was short-lived, destroyed by the Babylonians in the next century, which would indicate that this part of the Exodus tale was cobbled together during the seventh century, which is the time of Hezekiah (about 715 to about 686 BCE), Josiah and the Babylonian exile.
God Commanded Holy Genocide (except the virgins of course)
Amid all the wanton biblical bloodshed and genocide, one sanguine episode stands out for its gruesome detail and matter-of-fact recounting: The massacre of the Midianites in Numbers 31. This pericope represents a chronicle of horrors:
The LORD said to Moses, “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites…”
And Moses said to the people, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Mid′ian, to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Mid′ian. You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.”…
They warred against Mid′ian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and slew every male. They slew the kings of Mid′ian with the rest of their slain...
And the people of Israel took captive the women of Mid′ian and their little ones; and they took as booty all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods.
All their cities in the places where they dwelt, and all their encampments, they burned with fire, and took all the spoil and all the booty, both of man and of beast.
Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses, and to Elea′zar the priest, and to the congregation of the people of Israel, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. Moses, and Elea′zar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation, went forth to meet them outside the camp.
And Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold, these caused the people of Israel, by the counsel of Balaam, to act treacherously against the LORD in the matter of Pe′or, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.
Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves....
The LORD said to Moses, “Take the count of the booty that was taken, both of man and of beast...”
And Moses and Elea′zar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses. Now the booty remaining of the spoil that the men of war took was: six hundred and seventy-five thousand sheep, seventy-two thousand cattle, sixty-one thousand asses, and thirty-two thousand persons in all, women who had not known man by lying with him....
Here we see that the God of the universe orders Moses to slaughter men, women and children, after which the Hebrew leader is angry because his men have left the women alive. The excuse here is that the women and children —all of them, apparently—have been acting against Israel, a deed punishable by death. Evidently, the omnipotent Lord God cannot find another solution except to slaughter every last one of them. Moses and his men are able to keep all the virgin girls as sex slaves, to be counted among the booty, upon which there is great focus throughout the biblical conquest.
No Midianites at that Time to Slaughter
Fortunately for the Midianites, the biblical account could not have happened, as the area of Midian was not settled in any significant way until the eighth to seventh centuries BCE, leaving us with yet another writing time frame of the Babylonian exile.
Therefore in Moses’s era there could not have been such numbers amassed in a kingdom for the Israelites to have slaughtered.
This disgusting account is simply one of the most outrageous of many in the Old Testament, in which the chosen people are depicted repeatedly as slaughtering and pillaging their way around the region for centuries.
The Midianite story appears to be designed to intimidate Israel’s neighbors into submission, woven at the time of Hezekiah, possibly by Hezekiah in his quest at centralized power. This later writing explains how Moses could be depicted as the son-in-law of a Midianite priest yet responsible for the subsequent genocide of the Midianites.
Everyone Still Alive after 38 Years?
In Deuteronomy (1:6ff, 2, 3), the manner in which Moses is made to speak to the “hosts of Yahweh” 38 years after the Israelites left Mt. Sinai is as if these were the same individuals who had left Egypt.
However, at Numbers 26:64– 65 we learn that almost all of the original refugees were dead, and only Joshua and Caleb remained of the original group of chosen who left Egypt 40 years earlier, indicating that in these speeches we are reading fictional accounts erroneously depicting the original exodus people as still alive.
64 Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. 65 For the Lord had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. Numbers 26:64– 65
Canaanites and Amorites
In another bloodthirsty act, Deuteronomy 2:34, 3:3 and 3:6 depict the massacre of all the people of Heshbon and Bashan, including innocent men, women and children. Although Genesis 14:13 says that certain Amorites were confederates of Abraham, Deuteronomy 20:17 lays out once again the planned genocide of Canaanitish peoples, including the Amorites:
Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan... And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the men of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Per′izzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Gir ′gashites, the Hivites, and the Jeb′usites; and I gave them into your hand.
This genocide subsequently was accomplished allegedly by Joshua (Jos 24:8, 11).
Also in Deuteronomy (1:20), Moses states that the Amorites were in the “hill country” promised to the Israelites by Yahweh. However, we now know that the Israelites were themselves Canaanites and Amorites who settled the hill country between the coast and Jordan River during the upheavals of the Late Bronze Age, to be discussed below.
Conquest of Canaan
Concerning the biblical account of the founding of Israel by the conquest of the Canaanitish peoples, Redford comments:
If we examine what evidence we have for the Israelite appearance and settlement in Canaan, we shall find that it falls into three disparate and unequal bodies of material. In the first place we have the historical traditions preserved in parts of Numbers, Joshua and Judges, which far outweighs in sheer volume the other two; second, the extra-Biblical textual evidence; and finally, the archaeological data of excavation….
…even a cursory reading of this account is bound to excite suspicion. Cities with massive fortifications fall easily to rustic nomads fresh off the desert…, a feat Pharaoh’s armies had great difficulty in accomplishing. Some cities are taken twice in the record…, suggesting conflicting traditions poorly integrated. …
A detailed comparison of this version of the Hebrew takeover of Palestine with the extra-Biblical evidence totally discredits the former. Not only is there a complete absence…in the records of the Egyptian empire of any mention or allusion to such a whirlwind of annihilation, but also Egyptian control over Canaan and the very cities Joshua is supposed to have taken scarcely wavered during the entire period of the Late Bronze Age. Far more damaging, however, than this argument from silence is the archaeological record. Sites such as Hormah, Arad, Jericho, ‘Ai and Jarmuth had indeed suffered violent destruction, but this had been during the Early Bronze Age or at the end of the Middle Bronze, and during the Late Bronze Age they had lain unoccupied (save for squatters); others such as Kadesh Barnea, Heshbon and Gibeon were not to be settled until the Iron Age. Those sites that do show massive destruction at the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age, about 1200 B.C., can as easily be explained as victims of the movement of the Sea Peoples.
In portraying the conquest of Canaan, Joshua 8:28 uses the term “to this day,” indicating the verse was written long after the purported facts. Adding to this fictional air, Joshua 10 depicts an impossible military move, and the important city of Gibeon probably would have been guarded by the Egyptians at that time, a fact unknown to the biblical scribe centuries later.
Regarding the purported conquest, Israeli archaeologists Drs. Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar conclude:
...it has become obvious that this was not the historical reality. Archaeological investigations have shown that many of the sites mentioned in these conquest stories turned out to be uninhabited during the assumed time of the Conquest, ca. 1200 B.C.E. This is the case with Arad, Heshbon, ‘Ali and Yarmuth. At other sites, there was only a small and unimportant settlement at the time, as at Jericho, and perhaps Hebron....
It is thus now accepted by all that archaeology in fact contradicts the biblical account of the Israelite Conquest as a discreet historical event led by one leader. Most scholars of the last generation regard the Conquest narratives as a literary work of a much later time, designed to create a pan-Israelite, national saga.
Concerning the conquest of Ai (Joshua 8), Finkelstein and Mazar surmise that the germ tale may have been created as the hill tribes began to settle into agricultural communities during the 12th to 11th centuries BCE.311 Such germ tales would have been developed as fictionalized tribal folklore, embellished over the centuries.
At Gilgal, Joshua magically acquires bronze weapons for his hundreds of thousands of warriors, made with tin, a metal rare in the Middle East. One wonders, of course, where all that tin could have come from at that time, making the story highly implausible.
The conquest of Canaan allegedly destroyed the town of Jericho and annihilated all living things within the walls, including babies. Yahweh devised this plan, but one could ask why he as God did not just make the Canaanites disappear, rather than commit brutal genocide?
It is claimed that the massive force of Israelites arrived at the city of Jericho (Jos 6:1–27), nevertheless requiring the horn-blowing "miracle" from the Lord to knock down the walls.
The Woman Rahab Totally Not Needed
What is the need of the treasonous woman Rahab in the tale (Jos 2:3, 6, etc.). Why Rahab the prostitute hid the Israelites and gave them access to the city, if the walls are going to be destroyed supernaturally by God anyway? Oddly enough, this “harlot” is listed in the New Testament as one of Jesus’s ancestors (Mt 1:5) even though linage is never through a woman.
Jericho, Another Fictional Story
As concerns Jericho and the excavations in the late 1950s by archaeologist Dame Kathleen Kenyon, Dever states:
...Kenyon showed beyond doubt that in the mid-late 13th century B.C.—the time period now required for any Israelite “conquest”— Jericho lay completely abandoned. There is not so much as a Late Bronze II potsherd of that period on the entire site. This seems a blow to the biblical account indeed…. Simply put, archaeology tells us that the biblical story of the fall of Jericho, miraculous elements aside, cannot have been founded on genuine historical
sources. It seems invented out of whole cloth.
Hence, in the story of Jericho we possess another biblical anachronism. Moreover, there exists at the site no extant evidence of any enormous and sudden occupation by huge amounts of Israelites with an enormous amount of Egyptian booty.
No Evidence of Conquest
Under such circumstances as the Canaanite inhabitants of Jericho being vastly outnumbered and easily defeated, and by the time of the supposed conquest (c. 13th cent. BCE), the city was NOT inhabited. It is evident that the massive Israelite incursion into Canaan depicted in the Old Testament never occurred.
Like other biblical stories, this Joshua tale too has precedent in other cultures, such as the Egyptian and Canaanite, as Joshua appears to be a localized version of a syncretized solar deity of the Egyptians and Canaanites, the “god of salvation.”
Unfortunately, this story has been used to justify the modern Israeli state, with the slaughterers of unarmed men, women and children in Jericho’s conquest labeled “special ops forces” by modern military strategists.
Christian apologists attempt through convoluted “reasoning” to insist that the Exodus could have happened as described in the Bible. They appeal to other incredible stories in the Bible, such as Noah’s ark and Jonah and the whale, as if these patent fairy tales somehow prove the implausible Exodus also could have occurred. It is contended that “God works in mysterious ways” and is omnipotent, therefore capable of pulling off anything, including all manner of natural law-bending miracles. For example, here is an apology about how this reason-defying event could have come about:
The exodus population were sustained by miracles: Pillar of fire provided light; cloud provided shelter and water (Isa 4:4–6); manna provided food, their cloths [sic] and shoes did not wear out; (Deut 8:4) God gave them supernatural strength in fleeing Egypt and crossing the Red Sea.
Such tortured attempts prove little more than the ability of the human mind to cling to things programmed into it at an impressionable age. After continued labored reasoning, the conclusion by the same individual is: “The Bible is God’s inspired word. Trust it!” The a priori assumption is that the Bible is true, therefore the Exodus happened, regardless of how implausible or impossible that story may be.
Political Fiction and National Epic
The Exodus as political fabrication was asserted as early as 1790–1800 in Critical Remarks on the Hebrew Scriptures by Reverend Dr. Alexander Geddes (1737–1802), a concept confirmed by modern thinkers almost 250 years later. Once again, the assessment of another older scholar has proved to be intelligent, insightful and accurate. The fact will remain that, not only is this migration an absurd notion for the reasons given here, but also, after over a century of intense exploration, there remains no unambiguous artifact for such a mass movement. Moreover, this tale of an exodus or desert sojourn can be found in ancient mythology.
In this “minimalist” or “mishnaic” analysis, the Exodus resolves itself to a national epic central to Jewish identity. As Oblath remarks:
...if we remove the exodus story, all references and allusions to it and all ethics and laws that derive from it, the Bible would indeed be a barren document. How do we explain its prominence in history and text, if indeed the events described never occurred?
As we can see, modern scholarship indicates the Exodus not to be a historical account, and the answer to this question is that this national epic ranks as little different from the foundational myths of other cultures. These other national epics too can be seen to permeate the culture they purportedly spawned. Much of the daily life of the huge nation of India, for example, is tied into its creation myths as concerns the world, its ethnicity, religion and
In reality, the Exodus story “cannot be accepted as an historical event and must be defined as a national saga.”316 As Finkelstein and Mazar state, “We cannot perceive a whole nation [wandering] through the desert for forty years under the leadership of Moses, as presented in the biblical tradition.”
They leave room however, for the tradition to be “rooted in the experience of a certain group of West Semitic slaves who fled from the northeastern Delta region into the Sinai during the late-thirteenth century, as paralleled by events recorded on papyri from the New Kingdom in Egypt.”
We are reminded that there have been many ingresses and exoduses to and from Egypt over the many centuries preceding the biblical era: “Papyri describe small groups of slaves escaping to the Sinai through the eastern fortification system of Egypt...”319 Finkelstein and Mazar suggest that such stories may have served as “typological parallels to the genesis of the Exodus narrative.”
The Exodus story constitutes epic myth, possibly with details added from any one or more of these various sojourns, up to the point when the biblical account was composed, parts of which possibly as late as the sixth century BCE, if not later, such as the time of Ezra (5th cent. BCE), with alterations into the third century BCE.
In the end, scholarly consensus asserts that “there is no archaeological evidence to support a Late Bronze Age exodus” and that “no historical kernel for the exodus can be placed within any specific period.”321 To reiterate, not a shred of credible physical evidence has been discovered anywhere in over a century of scientific excavations, scouring the Sinai Desert for any sign of the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn there.
As seen, the entire Exodus story appears unreal, even beyond the supernatural miracles. The pharaoh is never named, in dozens of pages of text, despite the fact that Egyptian kings were well known and inscribed their names all over
monuments. According to the Bible, Moses himself was raised as a brother of the pharaoh; yet, the account is vague and ambiguous, written in the third person. None of the individuals is clearly distinguished in history; no dates are given, and place-names, again, are primitive.
While Egyptian chronology remains problematic in its minute details, the general eras of various pharaohs is known through a number of scientific means, including: chronologies in texts; linguistics; DNA evidence; Carbon14 dates; styles of artifact such as pottery; building styles; climate studies; technological and metallurgic advancement; comparisons with other chronologies such as those of Canaan and Mesopotamia; and so on. The lack of specifying the pharaoh and era in the biblical tale is therefore inexplicable.
Furthermore, the biblical text contains abundant anachronisms, including the names of peoples such as the Philistines, Edomites and Midianites who did not exist as such at the purported time. The inclusion of these anachronisms fits in with political issues during the seventh century.
Clearly, the Exodus account was written long after the purported events, revealed in its anachronisms and simplicity in many instances. The setting reflects an era centuries later and unfamiliarity with the milieu of the purported Exodus period.
We have seen also numerous elements of the tale clearly implausible or impossible. Many other nonsensical aspects of the Exodus story can be found in the skeptical analysis by Wheless in his book Is It God’s Word?
The problems with the Exodus account were summarized by Michael D. Lemonick in a TIME magazine article entitled “Are the Bible’s Stories True?”:
But even scholars who believe [the events] really happened admit that there’s no proof whatsoever that the Exodus took place. No record of this monumental event appears in Egyptian chronicles of the time, and Israeli archaeologists combing the Sinai during intense searches from 1967 to 1982—years when Israel occupied the peninsula—didn’t find a single piece of evidence backing the Israelites’ supposed 40-year sojourn in the desert.
The story involves so many miracles—plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, the giving of the Ten Commandments—that some critics feel the whole story has the flavor of pure myth. A massive exodus that led to the drowning of Pharaoh’s army, says Father Anthony Axe, Bible lecturer at Jerusalem’s Ecole Biblique, would have reverberated politically and economically through the entire region. And considering that artifacts from as far back as the late Stone Age have turned up in the Sinai, it is perplexing that no evidence of the Israelites’ passage has been found. William Dever, a University of Arizona archaeologist, flatly calls Moses a mythical figure. Some scholars even insist the story was a political fabrication, invented to unite the disparate tribes living in Canaan through a falsified heroic past…. ...
If the general line of interpretation is correct, El, not Yahweh, was the original god of the Israelites who came out of the land of Egypt. Only later, under the impetus of contact with the southern tradition of Edom, does Yahweh come to be associated, and then assimilated, with El.
To sum further:
A century of research by archaeologists and Egyptologists has found no evidence which can be directly related to the Exodus captivity and the escape and travels through the wilderness, and most archaeologists have abandoned the archaeological investigation of Moses and the Exodus as “a fruitless pursuit.”
The Exodus is not a historical event fictionalized but a mythical motif historicized. Again, the difference may seem subtle but is highly important. The archetypal myth existed first and was utilized as a framework upon which to build a national epic. This sort of mythmaking is abundant enough —and easily identified as such—in the foundational stories of other cultures. Who, for example, would believe that the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, indeed were suckled by a she-wolf?
As concerns the creation of the Exodus myth, Finkelstein and Mazar conclude, “During several centuries of transmission, it was constantly changed and elaborated on until it received the form known to us from the Hebrew Bible.”325
Fig. 30. Exodus route bypassing the Red Sea, showing supernatural parting as unnecessary for flight from Egypt (Möller)
Fig. 31. Golden Calf worship (Exod 32:1–35). Bible card b