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Chronological Schemes in the Book of Judges and the Arguments for an 18th or 19th Dynasty Exodus and Conquest

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"Quod est veritas?"

This is the eternally-perplexing question Pilate asked, even of Christ Jesus. It is that very question that vexes those who grapple with evaluating the historical events narrated in the Bible, and struggle to reconcile these with events reported in other records and the chronologies that flow from such other sources. Those endeavours introduce a variable which, despite the best of intentions, necessarily influences the process and, ultimately, any conclusions that may be reached. That variable is the inherent bias of the evaluator, the investigator's predilection for a certain paradigm or preferred outcome. To answer Pilate's question, most often "truth is in the eye of the beholder", as observers invariably and unconsciously marshal facts to support foregone conclusions.

Dean R. Ulrich, writing in the Trinity Journal, and referring to assessments of historiographical selectivity and the pre-suppositions of even the most critical historian, remarks as follows: "While every historian selects facts and unavoidably interprets them, the Bible's theological interpretation especially violates the positivistic canons of modern historiography", as a consequence of which the historical value of the Biblical account is denigrated.

Thus it would appear that the approaches in the academic debate surrounding the Book of Judges are not taken to the book per se, but rather to the historicity of the narrative in the book, concerned with its 'fit' within a chronological framework informed by extra-Biblical data, and consequently seeking to explain or challenge the Biblical account. The question is not so much whether the Book of Judges is a genuine description of the life of Israel in 'the Promised Land' from the time of Joshua's death to the rise of the monarchy, but rather whether the events described therein can be synthesised satisfactorily with non-Biblical records and data, thereby validating (or otherwise) the accuracy, and, consequently, the reliability and dependability, of the Biblical narrative.

This tendency is evident in the academic debate over the historical accuracy of the Judges account. The divergence commences with understanding the purpose of the book. If it were to be simply an historical record of events, then one might say the account is lacking. That would be quite understandable, accepting that Judges was written by Samuel or a contemporary of his, and that the beginning of the Judges period predated Samuel's adult life by some 300 years.

However, it seems that most scholars are agreed that the Biblical narrative does more than just 'record history'. Undoubtedly, Judges is an account of how the people of Israel strove to organise their community life in accordance with the precepts given of God. The living out of those commands by the people would be the outward manifestation of the nation's adherence to the covenant with God at Sinai. Critically, as Dr. Dalman puts it, the people were to organise themselves into "a theocracy led by Yahweh's representatives instead of a human nation state."

Unsurprisingly, the nation of Israel could not, and did not, measure up to the Divine standards required of it. Although the nation had endeavoured to organise itself in the manner directed, and was, at times, successful in doing so, its perennial failure to abide by Yahweh's spiritual directives was inevitable, an unavoidable consequence of The Fall. Accordingly, the historical account narrates a perennial cycle of adherence, apostasy, disaster and destruction, repentance and deliverance, and regeneration. Yet with each repetition of the cycle, so the nation's position diminished further - the period of adherence was more brief, the apostasy more marked, the disaster and destruction more intense, the repentance less genuine, and the deliverance and regeneration less permanent.

In this context, the polemical nature of the Judges becomes more obvious. This is well canvassed in Yahweh's Song. There had to be some justification for the establishment of the monarchy, which institution was a direct contradiction of Divine instruction.

Not all authors agree that the Book of Judges is an apology for kingship. Dumbrell argues compellingly that the final statement in Judges 21:25 is not "a disparaging rejection of (the) anarchic period" of the Judges, but rather an affirmation of the faithfulness of Yahweh in His promise as to the continued existence of Israel, its persistence in the face of religious and social disintegration. This interesting perspective is proffered on the basis that elsewhere in Judges (notably Judges 8 and 9), the argument against monarchical government is clear. Other scholars strongly maintain a polemical purpose of Judges in favour of the monarchy, as well as an historical account of "the degeneration of Israel in the pre-monarchic period".

If one accepts, as Sweeney contends, that the Book of Judges is not to be read only as a source reflecting the history and society of pre-monarchic Israel, but that one must also recognise that Judges "presents a polemical view of early Israelite history that promotes the interests of the tribe of Judah and the Davidic dynasty by pointing to the inadequacies of the judges from the northern tribes of Israel", then one can readily accept that, with such additional focus, the narrator is not primarily concerned to record sufficient information in the account so as to place the reader beyond any doubt that that which he narrates is historical fact.

Regrettably, this provides observers having inherent bias, or a desired paradigm that might challenge the inerrancy of Scripture, with a convenient reason to latch onto the apparent lacuna, presenting an opportunity to criticise the Biblical account as being historically inaccurate, or even historically impossible.

In this vein, the academic approaches to the historicity of the narrative in the Book of Judges, and its 'fit' within an 'acceptable' or 'independently-verifiable' chronological framework, differ markedly. Some of the approaches impact significantly on cherished understandings of the history of the nation of Israel, and present aggressive challenges to acceptance that the Biblical account is accurate and reliable.

Thus, one sees in the academic mainstream fundamentally different approaches to the rise of the nation of Israel in the Promised Land. Waltke records three main theories proposed as to the occupation of the land by the people of Israel. These 'primary models' are immigration, revolt, and conquest.

According to Waltke, the immigration

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