Author Lawrence Wright discusses Bible's Promised Land narrative

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  • Rufus T. Firefly
    Rufus T. Firefly

    Writer Lawrence Wright discussed his book, Thirteen Days In September, regarding the Camp David peace summit on C-SPAN's Book TV.

    The transcript below begins at 11:40 on the video counter:

    "The struggle for peace at Camp David is a testament to the enduring force of religion and the difficulty of shedding mythologies that lure societies into conflict.

    "Let’s begin with the biblical concept of the Promised Land, the legend that is at the root of this conflict.

    "In Genesis, God speaks to Abraham in a dream, and promises to give him and his descendants the land between the Nile and the Euphrates, a territory that would encompass southern Turkey, western Iraq, parts of Saudi Arabia, all of Syria, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and half of Egypt.

    "Later, God makes a similar pledge to Moses as he leads his people out of Egypt, although the boundaries are now from the Red Sea to the Euphrates. On another occasion, God tells Moses that the Promised Land is really Canaan, which is an entity that is much more like modern Israel, including the West Bank and much of southern Lebanon. Defining borders has always been a problem in the Middle East, evidently even for God.

    "When the wandering Israelites reached the river Jordan, God draws Moses up to Mount Nebo, and says, “This is the land that I promised to Abraham and his descendants, and you have the opportunity to see it, but I will not let you cross over.” And so Moses was able to look out from Mount Nebo and see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, and then he passed away at the age of 120, having delivered his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness of Sinai.

    "Now, at this point, God instructs Moses’ successor, Joshua, to take the Israelites into the Promised Land, saying, 'Every place you set foot I have given you.' However, the land is not vacant. The story of Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land is one of the most shocking events in the Bible. Cities are burned to the ground, populations are wiped out, every man, woman, child, even the livestock, all slaughtered on the Lord’s instruction to kill every living thing. In that way the children of Israel finally came into possession of the Promised Land.

    "One of the many problems with the Biblical account is that, during the time of Exodus, all of this territory was part of the ancient Egyptian empire. The 31 kings that Joshua is said to have executed were all paying taxes to the pharaoh before, during and after the supposed Israelite invasion. From the earliest times, the Egyptian people showed a terrific talent for bureaucracy. They kept extensive records. There’s no historical or archeological evidence that the Israelites were ever in Egypt.

    "The Bible records that 603, 550 Israelite men above the age of 20, plus their wives and children and various hangers-on, a hoard estimated to be 2 million people, spent 40 years wandering in the Sinai on their journey to the Promised Land. But 2 million people, lined up 10 abreast, would stretch more than a hundred and fifty miles, more than the entire width of the Sinai Peninsula. There’s no evidence of their presence in the Sinai.

    "Archaeologists have excavated most of the cities that Joshua is said to have razed. Many were not inhabited at the time or were not destroyed. On the other hand, there are abundant remains of Egyptian military outposts and administrative centers that testify to the imperial rule of one of the most powerful empires in the ancient world. So, even if the Exodus did occur in some fashion, the Israelites were making a journey from one part of Egypt to another. The Bible doesn’t mention this.

    "The most likely explanation for the origin of the Israelites is that they were themselves the Canaanites. DNA studies have indicated that Jews and Palestinians are very closely related. Both of them are descended from the Canaanites. Genetically, they’re the same people. Both have been in this place thousands of years."

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