Rabbi Joseph Reinman has been kind enough to allow us to post selections from his forthcoming book – The Bible Trial. The following is the first in a series of excerpts that we will be posting. Stay posted!
Dr. Clayton was back on the stand on Monday morning, waiting for Dexter to begin his cross-examination. The judge reminded him that he was still under oath, and he nodded nervously. He glanced at the defense table, and Calabrese gave him a thumbs-up for encouragement.
Dexter approached the witness, his hands clasped behind his back.
“Dr. Clayton,” he said, “you testified Friday that – and here I am quoting you –since we have already established that the Bible was not written at the time it claims to have been written but many years later, we can view the Bible in the context of the political situation in Israel at the time of its composition. You also said we can see that the various source documents serve the political goals of the different parties. Am I quoting you correctly?”
“In other words, the knowledge that the Bible was anachronistic lends impetus to the reconstruction of the Hypothesis, about which you will soon testify. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Thank you. Now, suppose we could demonstrate that there are really no anachronisms. And suppose we could furthermore demonstrate that the Bible really is a document of great antiquity written at more or less the time it claims to have been written. What would that do to the Hypothesis you are about to present to the court?
“I don’t understand what you want,” the professor said with blatant condescension. “The Hypothesis is a proven fact. The anachronisms are facts.”
“Really? If the Hypothesis is a fact, why is it only a hypothesis?”
“It was a hypothesis originally, and the name has stuck. It’s not important. The Hypothesis is a fact.”
“Dr. Clayton, humor me,” said Dexter. “Suppose we could demonstrate that the Bible really is a document of great antiquity written at more or less the time it claims to have been written. What would that do to the Hypothesis you are about to present to the court? Would it basically demolish the Hypothesis?”
Dr. Clayton fidgeted. “Well, I don’t know if it would demolish it, but it might create a need for some … er … adjustments.”
“I see,” said Dexter. “Adjustments. No doubt. Very well, Dr. Clayton, let’s take a closer look at your alleged anachronisms. You mentioned camels, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did. The Bible speaks about extensive use of camels in the Patriarchal age, which is about 2000 b.c.e., but archaeology has established that camels were not domesticated until close to 1100 b.c.e.”
“Yes, that is what you said. Tell me, Dr. Clayton, have archaeologists excavated the entire ancient world?”
“You mean every city, town and village?”
“That’s what I mean. Have they excavated all these?”
“Of course not.”
“How much have they excavated?”
“I don’t know. A small part.”
“So we don’t really know what the other ninety-nine percent would reveal, do we?”
“I suppose not. But we can project from the parts excavated.”
“I see,” said Dexter. “Projections. So your definite statement that there were no camels in use before 1100 b.c.e. is a projection based on less than one percent excavation. How can you know that we would not have found camels if we had excavated some more?”
“It is a reasonable assumption.”
“This assumption is sufficient proof of an anachronism in the Bible?”
“I believe it is.”
Dexter had what he wanted, and he abruptly switched topics. “Dr. Clayton, earlier you testified that the mention of the nations of Ammon and Moab in the Five Books of Moses was an anachronism because those nations did not exist yet. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is.”
“And you quoted as your source a book called The Bible Unearthed by Dr. Israel Finkelstein. Is that correct?”
“Now on page 40 of that book the author mentions another quite similar anachronism that you failed to mention.” He glanced knowingly at the jury and then turned back to the witness. “Dr. Finkelstein writes about the story in the Bible of Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca. Esau, the elder, is a feral hunter, while Jacob is a sensitive scholar. God tells Rebecca when she is pregnant, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two people, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’ This bit of legend, Dr. Finkelstein argues, was concocted as divine legitimization of the political relationship between the two nations in late monarchic times when Israel dominated Edom, the nation supposedly founded by Esau. Am I correct?”
“And then Finkelstein adds – and I quote – ‘But Edom did not exist as a distinct political entity until a relatively late period. From the Assyrian source we know there were no real kings and no state in Edom until the late eighth century b.c.e … The archaeological evidence is also clear: the first large-scale wave of settlement in Edom … may have started in the late eighth century but reached a peak only in the seventh and early sixth century b.c.e. Before then, the area was sparsely populated … Thus, here too the stories of Esau and Jacob … are skillfully fashioned as archaizing legends to reflect the rivalries of late monarchic times.’ These are the words of Dr. Finkelstein, slight condensed. Do they sound familiar, Dr. Clayton?”
The professor hesitated before he replied. “Yes, they do.”
“Why didn’t you mention the anachronism of a non-existent Edom together with the anachronism of non-existent Ammon and Moab?”
Dr. Clayton wiped his brow with the back of his hand. “Because I felt the case was a little weaker for Edom than the case for Ammon and Moab.”
Dexter leaned forward and looked the witness directly in the eye. “Isn’t it true that there were developments after Dr. Finkelstein’s book was published in 2001? Isn’t it true that in 2005 an international team of American, Canadian, Jordanian and German archaeologists, headed by Dr. Thomas Levy, professor of Archaeology at the University of California at San Diego, discovered that Edom existed hundreds of years earlier than previously believed?”
“Yes,” whispered the witness.
“Isn’t it true that they investigated an Edomite copper ore zone and found major copper mining and production, massive fortifications and over a hundred building complexes going back into the second millennium b.c.e.?”
“So what happened to Dr. Finkelstein’s projections?”
“They were disproved. But they were legitimate at the time.”
The witness had stepped right into Dexter’s trap.
“Which just goes to show you,” said Dexter, “that even legitimate projections cannot be considered conclusive, doesn’t it?”
“You can draw your own conclusions.”
Dexter was accustomed to hostile witnesses making fatuous statements. He cocked his head at the jury and smiled.
“Let’s move on, Dr. Clayton,” he said. “One of the most famous alleged anachronisms in the early days of the field of biblical criticism involved the Hittites, didn’t it?”
“Yes, it did.”
“Can you please tell the court about that alleged anachronism?”
“They thought there were no Hittites,” Dr. Clayton admitted.
“Now, Dr. Clayton, you can do better than that. But I understand your reluctance to go into the whole story. So I’ll help you out, and all you have to do is confirm or deny.” Dexter smiled at the witness. “The early Bible critics noticed that the Bible talks about a people called the Hittites, but history and the science of archaeology had absolutely no record of such a people. Clear evidence, argued the Bible critics, that these were an imaginary people and that the Bible was a work of fiction. Isn’t that true, Dr. Clayton?”
“But that was a hundred years ago,” he protested.
“And isn’t it also true, Dr. Clayton, that an excavation about ninety miles east of Ankara, the capital of Turkey, revealed the city of Boghazkoy, the royal capital of the previously undiscovered Hittite Empire which stretched across Turkey, Syria and Lebanon?”
“And isn’t it also true, Dr. Clayton, that the archaeologists discovered in the royal archive of Boghazkoy over ten thousand clay tablets covered in cuneiform writing, which added a mountain of information to what was already known at the time?”
“So tell me, Dr. Clayton, if you knew that the absence of Hittites in the historical record one hundred years ago did not prove that this huge empire did not exist, if you knew that Dr. Finkelstein’s conclusions about Edom had been disproved, why did you feel it appropriate to tell the court with such assurance that the mention of Ammon and Moab in the Bible is an anachronism?”
“I testified to the existing thinking in the archaeological community.”
“Are you saying, Dr. Clayton, that you were not telling us a fact, but rather the prevalent opinion in the archaeological community.”
Dr. Clayton took a deep breath. “I was doing my best to give accurate information.”
“Indeed you were, Dr. Clayton. I think you made it very clear. So let us go on a little further. You gave us a motivation for the invention of ancient Ammon and Moab. Would you be so kind as to refresh our memories?”
“Ahem. I said, again relying on Dr. Finkelstein, that the Judahites wanted to delegitimize Ammon and Moab, who were their regional rivals, so they invented the legend that these two nations were descended from the incestuous union of Lot and his daughters after the destruction of Sodom.”
“Tell me, Dr. Clayton, who was the greatest hero in the history of the Israelite kingdoms both as a warrior and a philosopher?”
“I suppose one might say that it is … uh … King David.”
“Exactly,” said Dexter. “King David, fearless leader, courageous warrior, poet, intellectual, the sweet singer of Israel. And who was his great-grandmother?”
Realizing he had been cornered, Dr. Clayton gave Dexter a nasty look.
“Dr. Clayton, the court is waiting for your answer,” said Dexter. “Wasn’t King David’s great-grandmother Ruth, the Moabite convert? Isn’t that what we read in the Book of Ruth?”
“So tell me, Dr. Clayton, if the Bible was a collection of myths composed at a late date toward the end of the monarchy, as the defense claims, and if the writers composed the story of the Moabites’ incestuous origins to besmirch the nation of Moab, why would they make the great King David a descendant of illegitimate people? Doesn’t that seem ludicrous to you?”
The witness lowered his eyes. “If you put it that way, I suppose it is not very reasonable.”
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal