Friday, November 11, 2005

Proof of Goliath? Absence of Evidence

Via PaleoJudaica, from an AP article:
Archaeologists digging at the purported biblical home of Goliath have unearthed a shard of pottery bearing an inscription of the Philistine's name, a find they claimed lends historical credence to the Bible's tale of David's battle with the giant.

While the discovery is not definitive evidence of Goliath's existence, it does support the Bible's depiction of life at the time the battle was supposed to have occurred, said Dr. Aren Maeir, a professor at Bar-Ilan University and director of the excavation.

"What this means is that at the time there were people there named Goliath," he said. "It shows us that David and Goliath's story reflects the cultural reality of the time."


Some scholars assert the story of David slaying the giant Goliath is a myth written down hundreds of years later. Maeir said finding the scraps lends historical credence to the biblical story.

The shard dates back to around 950 B.C., within 70 years of when biblical chronology asserts David squared off against Goliath, making it the oldest Philistine inscription ever found, the archaeologists said.


Obviously, this is not direct evidence that the battle occurred. This in all likelihood is not even the same Goliath. (Now, even if there were a description of the battle dating from that time could be similarly dismissed as myth. Or they would say it is Dod (the pagan deity some read into Shir haShirim), like they do with Bet David.)

But here we have the oldest Philistine inscription ever found. That means that until now, there was an absence of evidence which people could (theoretically, or maybe actually did) use to say that we know of no such Philistine name at that point in time. Now we have evidence that one detail of the story is chronologically feasible. If we have no other, similarly old Philistine inscriptions from this time period, how can we say what is and what is not feasible. For all we know, there were Philistine inscriptions which did not survive that spoke about David. For surely this was not the only inscription that was written by Philistines at this time. In other words, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Update: Or possibly just names of the same pattern as Goliath. See here, at Higgaion. (Again, thanks to PaleoJudaica.) Still, it shows something about the plausibility of the name, such that one cannot now say that the name is "anachronistic." Thus, something to leant about absence of evidence.

Update: From the HaAretz article: החוקרים מניחים שהשם "גוליית" הכתוב במקרא הוא שיבוש השם המקורי הפלישתי של הדמות, ולפיכך הם מניחים שהשמות שגילו הם הגרסאות המקוריות של השם. לדברי אחד החוקרים, "מדובר בדמיון יוצא דופן שאינו יכול להיות מקרי. זה כמו למצוא שמות כמו מחמד ומחמוד, ברור שאלה שמות מאותה משפחה".

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