Friday, June 10, 2005

Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence

R' Gil over at Hirhurim has a post about the number of Jews who left Egypt, and how the lack of archaeological evidence of the Israelite's presence in the wilderness, at least in those numbers, among other things, poses a serious question, and it not as easily answerable as the Frumteen's moderator presented it (that there was plently of evidence, etc.).

While Gil does say that this is the current archaeological perspective, and this can change if they discover new evidence, I feel that this point can be stressed more.

In February 2005, I linked to a Jerusalem Post article, and discussed it, in this post. Basically, for years minimalists had been saying that the depiction of Biblical Edom in the days of David and Shlomo could not be right, for there was no evidence that Edom existed back then. A citation:
Jordanian dig confirms Biblical Edom
Just-published evidence from a US-directed archeological dig in Jordan further authenticates the Bible's descriptions of the existence of the ancient nation of Edom during the eras of King David and his son, King Solomon.


The new study, headed by archeology Prof. Thomas Levy of University of California, San Diego, contradicts much contemporary scholarship claiming – on the basis of no physical evidence – that no Edomite state existed before the 8th Century BCE. Until the new discovery, many scholars said the Bible's numerous references to ancient Israel's interactions with Edom could not be valid.

While previous investigations in Edom had been carried out in the Jordanian highland zone and put the rise of the Edomite kingdom during the 8th to 6th centuries BCE, the new archeological data from modern-day Jordan presents strong evidence for the involvement of Edom with neighboring ancient Israel as described in the Bible and indicates the existence of the biblical nation of Edom at least as early as the 10th Century BCE – when David and Solomon were alive.

The Edomite lowlands, home to a large copper ore zone, had been ignored by archeologists because of the logistical difficulties of working in the extremely dry and hot region. But with an anthropological perspective and using high precision radiocarbon dating, the team showed evidence of two major phases of copper production – during the 12th to 11th centuries BCE and the 10th to 9th centuries BCE.
That is, they had assumed that the Biblical narrative was incorrect because they did not find archaeological evidence to support it. But, it is possible to miss archaeological evidence. And if the evidence ever turns up, is overturns previous conceptions.

Another example. The word shofet occurs in Devarim, and scholars tried to say that Dvarim was composed very late, for there was no evidence of this root contemporary to the purported time of the exodus from Egypt. Then, they discovered a treasure trove - the royal archive at Mari, which contained many documents - and discovered that shft was indeed a root that was in use well previous to that. There are other examples of this.

As a result, the claim that absence of evidence is a knock-down argument against the exodus from Egypt (or at least in those numbers) as described in the Torah - is unconvincing, to me at least.

This all assumes there is evidence to be found of such numbers of people. After all, not all bones, or vessels, last. The Israelites were in the desert for 40 years. That may seem like a long period of time, but I doubt it is from the perspective of archaeology. Furthermore, they did not spend that time in one place. There were 42 encampments, corresponding to answer to Life, the Universe, and everything, enumerated in Bemidbar 33. They may well have carried many things with them, and that which they left behind could have been collected by desert scavengers. This is without resorting to claiming miracles, of which the Torah itself describes (manna, the Clouds of Glory), and which the midrash itself expands upon. For example, one opinion in a dispute recorded in the midrash claims that the Israelites were surrounded on all 6 sides by Clouds of Glory.

Update: Further, giant squid were thought to be mythological sea creatures, the creation of the minds of seafarers, until in recent times they were spotted, and in fact, washed ashore.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

The point about absence of evidence is of course true. But the problem here is not just the absence of evidence, as evidence may yet be found, but the many logistical problems of 2,000,000 (or 600,000) living together for 40 years in the wilderness. How would an armed force of 600,000 in the area at that time not be simply invincible?

joshwaxman said...

I was only trying to address the issue of the lack of archaeological evidence. However:

It terms of the logistical problems of 600,000 living together in the wilderness, the Torah itself describes such problems. How do you feed so many people? How do they drink? The Torah describes these problems, and describes the miracles God wrought to solve them. (manna, quail, Miriam's well, etc.) If you dismiss these miracles, you have a problem resolving the logistical problems, but that is already cutting away half of the claim.

joshwaxman said...

In terms of your question: how would they not simply be invincible?

This in fact sounds like a question Balak and the Moabites must have asked themselves:

Bemidbar 22:2-3:

ב וַיַּרְא בָּלָק, בֶּן-צִפּוֹר, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָאֱמֹרִי. 2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.

ג וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם, מְאֹד--כִּי רַב-הוּא; וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 3 And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many; and Moab was overcome with dread because of the children of Israel.

ד וַיֹּאמֶר מוֹאָב אֶל-זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן, עַתָּה יְלַחֲכוּ הַקָּהָל אֶת-כָּל-סְבִיבֹתֵינוּ, כִּלְחֹךְ הַשּׁוֹר, אֵת יֶרֶק הַשָּׂדֶה; וּבָלָק בֶּן-צִפּוֹר מֶלֶךְ לְמוֹאָב, בָּעֵת הַהִוא. 4 And Moab said unto the elders of Midian: 'Now will this multitude lick up all that is round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field.'--And Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time.

That sounds to be like he was afraid of an invincible fighting force, because of their sheer number.

joshwaxman said...

Further, why do you assume that all 600,000 were trained, willing, able, and healthy fighters? True, Bemibar 1:2-3 does state:

ב שְׂאוּ, אֶת-רֹאשׁ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם--בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת, כָּל-זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם.
2 'Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, by their polls;
ג מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, כָּל-יֹצֵא צָבָא בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל--תִּפְקְדוּ אֹתָם לְצִבְאֹתָם, אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן.
3 from twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: ye shall number them by their hosts, even thou and Aaron.

but this does not need to mean that they actually went to war - I would read it as specifying a specific age range - the age range of warriors. Indeed, after years of harsh slavery, many of them were probably not fit warriors.

The Torah lists various exceptions in which people do not go to war, including knowing you would be afraid, turn tail and run, thus possibly turning the tide of the battle. So, who says that all went out to war.

Consider. In Bemidbar 1:21, we have a count of Reuven:

כא פְּקֻדֵיהֶם, לְמַטֵּה רְאוּבֵן--שִׁשָּׁה וְאַרְבָּעִים אֶלֶף, וַחֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת.
21 those that were numbered of them, of the tribe of Reuben, were forty and six thousand and five hundred.

In Bemidbar 31, we see an actual fighting force:

ג וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-הָעָם לֵאמֹר, הֵחָלְצוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם אֲנָשִׁים לַצָּבָא; וְיִהְיוּ, עַל-מִדְיָן, לָתֵת נִקְמַת-ה, בְּמִדְיָן.
3 And Moses spoke unto the people, saying: 'Arm ye men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian, to execute the LORD'S vengeance on Midian.
ד אֶלֶף, לַמַּטֶּה, אֶלֶף, לַמַּטֶּה--לְכֹל מַטּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל, תִּשְׁלְחוּ לַצָּבָא.
4 Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war.'
ה וַיִּמָּסְרוּ מֵאַלְפֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶלֶף לַמַּטֶּה--שְׁנֵים-עָשָׂר אֶלֶף, חֲלוּצֵי צָבָא.
5 So there were delivered, out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.

So we have only 1000 from each tribe, or 12,000, not the entire 600,000 going out to war.

In the book of Joshua, we have counts of actual warriors going to battle: (Joshua 4:13)

יג כְּאַרְבָּעִים אֶלֶף, חֲלוּצֵי הַצָּבָא--עָבְרוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לַמִּלְחָמָה, אֶל, עַרְבוֹת יְרִיחוֹ.
13 about forty thousand ready armed for war passed on in the presence of the LORD unto battle, to the plains of Jericho.

Which is less than the total count of the men of Reuven. Even if you say this is only the members of the tribe of Reuven, Gad, and half the tribe of Menashe mentioned in the previous verse (a debatable point), surely this is much less than the entire count of those tribes.

When they attacked Ai, in Joshua 7:3, they only sent a portion of their fighting force (about 3 thousand men) and were not invincible.

Some of their force were killed in that attack (about 36). In the subsequent chapter:

ג וַיָּקָם יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְכָל-עַם הַמִּלְחָמָה, לַעֲלוֹת הָעָי; וַיִּבְחַר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ שְׁלֹשִׁים אֶלֶף אִישׁ, גִּבּוֹרֵי הַחַיִל, וַיִּשְׁלָחֵם, לָיְלָה.

3 So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up to Ai; and Joshua chose out thirty thousand men, the mighty men of valour, and sent them forth by night.

So the fighting force seems to number in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands.

I hope this resolves your questions.

joshwaxman said...

Again turning to the logistical problems, Bemidbar 11:22f

כא וַיֹּאמֶר, מֹשֶׁה, שֵׁשׁ-מֵאוֹת אֶלֶף רַגְלִי, הָעָם אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי בְּקִרְבּוֹ; וְאַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ, בָּשָׂר אֶתֵּן לָהֶם, וְאָכְלוּ, חֹדֶשׁ יָמִים. 21 And Moses said: 'The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand men on foot; and yet Thou hast said: I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month!

כב הֲצֹאן וּבָקָר יִשָּׁחֵט לָהֶם, וּמָצָא לָהֶם; אִם אֶת-כָּל-דְּגֵי הַיָּם יֵאָסֵף לָהֶם, וּמָצָא לָהֶם. {פ} 22 If flocks and herds be slain for them, will they suffice them? or if all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, will they suffice them?'

כג וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הֲיַד ה תִּקְצָר; עַתָּה תִרְאֶה הֲיִקְרְךָ דְבָרִי, אִם-לֹא. 23 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Is the LORD'S hand waxed short? now shalt thou see whether My word shall come to pass unto thee or not.'

So the text itself surely recognizes some of the logistic problems, and offers solution - it is not naive in this regard.

joshwaxman said...

to clarify, the 40,000 count by sefer Yehoshua is indeed that of the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half the tribe of Menashe, as we see in 1 Chronicles 5:18:

יח בְּנֵי-רְאוּבֵן וְגָדִי וַחֲצִי שֵׁבֶט-מְנַשֶּׁה, מִן-בְּנֵי-חַיִל, אֲנָשִׁים נֹשְׂאֵי מָגֵן וְחֶרֶב וְדֹרְכֵי קֶשֶׁת, וּלְמוּדֵי מִלְחָמָה--אַרְבָּעִים וְאַרְבָּעָה אֶלֶף וּשְׁבַע-מֵאוֹת וְשִׁשִּׁים, יֹצְאֵי

"The sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, as many as were valiant men, men able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war, were forty and four thousand seven hundred and threescore, that were able to go forth to war."

this is still smaller than the total count of the men of the tribe of Reuven alone, and these had made a special deal with Moshe to go out first to fight, in exchange for land that had already been conquered.


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