Wednesday, November 19, 2008

PBS' Nova: Archaeology and Yoohoo

I like PBS. I may peradventure aver the word "love" in reference to it. Shows like Masterpiece Theatre, Antique Roadshow, Red Green, This Old House are a great contribution to television watching that spur cultural necessities for a full life. The science department at PBS includes the program, NOVA. I love science too. In fact, if it weren't for science, I probably would not be alive today. The same goes for my wife and two daughters, perhaps....

However, I watched a NOVA program last night about archeology and the land of Israel. In the show, scholars from Hebrew University, the University of Arizona, Harvard and others affirm a strange "synthesis" about what archaeology teaches us about the Exodus from Egypt and the Conquest of Canaan. I say it is a strange synthesis because in the past, liberal scholars have used higher criticism, socio-cultural study, archeology and other sciences to debunk the biblical text as unworthy of historical trust. Conservative scholars have fought against this, of course. Today, the work of scholars is not simply stated as 'unbelieving' scholarship, but "un-unbelieving" scholarship.

In last night's program, "The Bible's Buried Secrets" seen here,, we are told that the Israelites indeed were in Canaan during 1250 BC and possibly earlier, but not because they took the land by conquest. Rather, Canaanite culture disintegrated over time and Israelites emerged quickly as nomadic tribes gathered in a place left fettered and undone. In fact, we are told, the Israelites did not merely enter the land, rather, they were already there. Conclusion: Israelites and Canaanites are one and the same people.

What about the so-called Exodus? Well, archaeologists from Israel are quick to point out that there was indeed an exodus, but not on the grand scale of which the Bible speaks. Rather, because of an inscription found in Egypt written as YHW similar to that of Israel's god YHWH, we may conclude that YHWH was taken from Egypt during a minuscule, small-scale escape from slavery in Egypt, except that YHW was incorporated into this "new identity" of Israel as YHWH. I had to laugh when the narrator of the show in all scholarly seriousness, replete with dramatic, drum-based background music told us the pronunciation of Egypt's YHW: Yoohoo.
That's right. Yoohoo.

But why, inquiring viewers ask, would we have such elaborate tales in the book of Exodus and Joshua of a mass exodus, victory of Yoohoo (evolving eventually into Yahweh) over the masses, a blitzkrieg (NOVA's words) military campaign over Canaanite city-states, and consequent settlement in the land? Why all these tales if they did not indeed happen that way? Well, we are told, it is because this new tribe of nomads were on a Freudian/Jungian identity crisis. The solution? Create elaborate tales of rescue by Yahweh (formerly Yoohoo), so as to create a name and culture for the new people in the land.

It is interesting to me that the archaeologists do acknowledge that in the land of Canaan, there is evidence of a mass extermination of city-states with a population of approximately 3,000-4,000 people, with a subsequent population explosion of approximately 45,000-50,000 people. How can this be explained? Not through a mass Exodus from Egypt (whose numbers, according the "new identity text" are in the millions, actually), and military conquest, but rather a simpler, more reasonable way. The way in which we must understand the mass population upheaval and shift, says NOVA is because the Canaanite culture disintegrated from within, as peasants revolted against the upper class. From this peasant revolt sprang up the "new people" who called themselves Israelites. This, and along with the small nomadic Yoohoos from Egypt explains the massive population explosion in the land of Canaan in 1250 BC.

NOVA would therefore tell us that it is perfectly justifiable to believe in the exodus--just not the way in which it was exactly written. And it is perfectly justifiable for us to believe in the conquest of Canaan--but just not exactly the way in which it was written. In fact, the "new Israelites (Canaanites, really) from Egypt merely created tall tales about Yahweh in order to produce a new, cultural identity for the new, peasant-revolt victors--who are not a new people at all genealogically, but rather they are new in the sense of Yoohoo evolved into Yahweh and along with a new, emerging god, comes new, fantastic stories with which a new (sort of) people can fancy themselves a formal identity.

"Or," I said to myself, "The reason for the new population growth in Canaan is because the Israelites actually did take over Canaan with the one true God, Yahweh as their leader, guide and everlasting Father." But, I'm just a Bible-thumper. Lastly, I think I'd like a chocolately drink.

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