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One method that can be used in the dating of principal events in the
Jewish scriptures is archaeology. Archaeology is both accurate and
scientific. Although, it can be problematic and cause disagreements
between Rabbis and archaeologists, and even between Rabbis themselves,
who have different opinions and ideas about what actually happened,
furthermore if the biblical information contradicts the archaeological
information, or vice versa.
An example of when archaeology has been used is when the word ‘aperu’
was discovered on ancient Egyptian scriptures. The word ‘aperu’ is
the name which was given to the Hebrew’s in Egypt. This proves that
the Israelites were in Egypt.
Archaeology has also been used in order to determine who the Pharaoh
of ancient Egypt was at the time of the Exodus. There are several
candidates for the notoriety of having been the Pharaoh of the
oppression including; Rameses II, Merneptah, Ikhnaton and Thotmes III.
Ikhnaton abolished the belief in countless gods of the Egyptian
Pantheon; he then committed himself entirely to the worship of the
sun. His new monotheistic belief was totally opposite to his previous
belief of multitudinous deities. Scholars believe that there is some
relation between the faith of the Israelites and the solar monotheism
of Ikhnaton; Israelite influence must have been to a certain extent
Also, a scripture of Merneptah was discovered in 1896 and it is
alleged that the name ‘Israel’ occurs on it. The inscription is a
‘song of triumph’ of Merneptah describing in pretentious language his
victories in Canaan. However, it is not definite that the words
‘Ysiraal is desolated’ refer to Israel at all. Possibly, stating that
Merneptah had devastated the district of ‘Jezreel’. And if ‘Ysiraal’
does mean Israel, then it refers to the settlements in Palestine by
Israelites from Egypt before the Exodus. There is thus no logical
reason for disagreeing with the current theory that the Pharaoh of the
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Another method that can be used in the dating of principal events of
the Jewish scriptures is ‘Sitz Im Leben’; this Yiddish phrase means
‘life setting’. If we know the life setting of a text, it can shed
light on its origins and help us to date it and furthermore, it can
help us to gain a better understanding of it.
An example of how sitz im leben has been used is in the understanding
of the law of not mixing meat and milk. In ancient times meat cooked
in milk was considered to be a delicacy to be eaten whilst worshipping
idols. Therefore, G-d forbidding the Jews from mixing meat and milk
would ensure that they wouldn’t worship idols.
Another example is in the case of Abraham and the ‘akeda’, the
sacrifice of his own son. At the time of Abraham, people were
sacrificing children and Abraham fought strongly against this
practice. G-d then tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice
his own son. This was an enormous ordeal and proved his absolute
belief in G-d.
(B) ‘The Jewish scriptures are important for what they say about G-d
but are no use as historical documents’ Discuss.
It could be argued that the Jewish scriptures are useful as historical
documents. They list major events in Jewish history and through
reading them; one can get a basic outline of Jewish history.
However, it is just that, ‘basic’. It is elliptical; in some aspects
it is not complete. We only meet Abraham when he is in his seventies
(?) and we do not know about his life beforehand. Similarly, we are
introduced to Moses as an adult, once again we do not know about his
life before we meet him.
Another reason that the Jewish scriptures are useful as historical
documents is that through reading them we can learn who was
responsible for what and which people lived at the same time. For
example, we learn that Abraham and Moses did not live at the same
However, on the other hand, it could be argued that the Jewish
scriptures are no use as a historical document and are only important
for what they say about G-d.
The word Torah means teaching or direction. It is not only a
historical document but it also contains law. We learn about our
responsibilities to G-d and to each other. It is the word of G-d and
He tells us via the Torah how he wants us to live our life.
In conclusion, it is clear that although the Jewish scriptures do have
some use as a historical document, they are also very important for
what they say about G-d. Reading the scriptures will outline what G-d
has done for us and for our ancestors, therefore encouraging and
reminding us to have gratitude to Him.