Wall Street Journal Foreign correspondent Marcus offers a dry but ultimately fascinating look at how modern archaeologists and their recent discoveries at key biblical sites are reshaping traditional views of the Bible, as well as the entire map of the Middle East.
Over the years archaeologists have studied biblical texts, historical finds, and ancient records recovered at sites throughout the Middle East, and on this basis they have created an accepted structure of Israel’s history. But recently, exciting new discoveries at sites such as Meggido, Jerusalem, and Hazor have led scholars to question the very foundations of these long-held beliefs. Scientific advances in the past 50 years have refocused archaeological surveys away from biblical historicity to a more general investigation of the culture of the entire Middle East, and have brought astonishing new theories to light. For example, the origin of food prohibitions through the study of pig remains has now led to the belief that the Jewish dietary laws were not unique within the cultures of the Middle East: in fact, virtually no one in the region was eating pork during the biblical period. Another theory currently contested is that Israelite slaves built the pyramids—rather than skilled craftsmen and seasonal laborers, as many archaeologists now believe. Marcus’s careful research and extensive interviews provide an excellent base for the exploration of these theories, but she often assumes the reader’s familiarity with biblical narrative and history. And, although a historical timeline is provided at the beginning of the book, those who may have forgotten who begat whom will find moments when the text becomes confusing, dense, and lifeless.
Still, though Marcus may not always bring history to life, she offers a compelling glimpse into an undeniably fascinating topic. (Map of ancient Israel and its environs, not seen) (Reader’s Subscription Book Club/Natural Science Book Club alternate selection)