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Exodus & Israelite Polytheism (Part 3 of 7)

Ancient Israelites believed in a pantheon of gods.  They weren’t monotheistic.  In our next conversation with biblical scholar Colby Townsend, we’ll learn more about the Canaanites and Israelites.

GT:  From what I understand, one of the big issues in the Bible was idolatry. And so, the Canaanite religion had a bunch of deities. You had Jehovah. You had Elohim. You had Ba’al. Who was the female?

Colby:  Asherah.

GT:  Asherah. It was kind of like the Greek gods Zeus and Jupiter and Mars and Venus and everybody. The Canaanites have the same thing. And so, you had some tribes that [said] Jehovah is our God. No Elohim is our God. No Ba’al is our God. And we’ve even got the story of Balaam who worships Ba’al.  And so, from what I understand is they had to decide, okay, well we’re not going to be polytheistic anymore. Who is our God? And so, J and E kind of merged together it. Is that a fair understanding of how that works?

Colby:  Yeah, you’re describing some scholarship. Yes. So, one of the big issues with that, is exactly what you just described, the turning point with Josiah’s reform. As far as the archaeological record is concerned, there’s no difference between Canaanites and Israelites. For example, the worship of Asherah continued very popularly throughout Josiah’s reign and well after so that description in Samuel and Kings both about this push against idolatry is a much later, post-Josiah depiction of early Israelite history. You not only get God’s name as YAHWEH and Elohim. You also have Ba’al. I think it’s in Hosea. And you have a handful of other names as well.

GT:  Moloch I think is another one.

Colby:  Right. Yeah. So, that depiction and that attempt to make it seem like Israelite belief wasn’t “tainted” by all of these others polytheistic [gods], this isn’t an accurate portrayal, historically, of what was going on. As scholars have continued to develop our understanding of that, in particular, I’d recommend Mark Smith’s writings on the development of monotheism within Israelite literature and practice. He has a lot of books, and some of them are more affordable than others and really approachable. He’s a great scholar.

We’ll talk about some biblical stories and ask questions about whether the Exodus and stories of Jericho have archaeological support, or if they bear resemblance to other stories in the Middle East.

Colby:  But in Joshua, you get a really famous story about the destruction of Jericho. And for Jericho, it’s when the Israelites are finally coming in and fighting off the Canaanites and, and purging the land. They come up to this great walled city of Jericho. The walls are massive. They’re all around the city. And they’re told to basically lay siege, and then walk around it for three days. And on the third day, the trumpet sounds and then the walls come crashing down, and then they go in and take over the city. It’s a fascinating story, and I love it. Joshua and Judges are both some of my favorite texts to read in the Hebrew Bible.

But the archaeological record doesn’t not only not support it, it argues against it, unfortunately. It’s just a story. So sometime, centuries after that…

GT:  The walls didn’t fall down? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?

Colby:  The walls were never up.

GT:  There were no walls?

Colby:  There were, but it only covered half the city. So in the 1960s, when archaeologists finally made it to Jericho and had the funding and the people to be able to go through and actually do a full look at the full city, they realized that the wall only covered the one side of the city. They were surprised by that, particularly with the significance of the walls in the biblical record.

Colby:  But that still represents where scholarship is at on the question of whether or not the Exodus happened. A lot of scholars don’t think that it did happen, because it’s not that there isn’t evidence. The majority of the evidence just doesn’t really support that. And then particularly when, archaeologically speaking again, in Canaan there isn’t a massive influx of population at the time. There are a handful of just different issues that really don’t support that.

And if you don’t have a historical Exodus, do you have a historical Moses and Joshua? Because that’s a key narrative turning point to each one.

Do you think the Exodus happened?  Did Moses and Joshua exist?  Check out our conversation….

Colby Townsend questions whether the Exodus happened. Did Moses and Joshua exist? We’ll also discuss Israelite polytheism.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Colby!

427:  Old Testament scholarship 101

426:  Intro to Documentary Hypothesis

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What Does Sandra Tanner have to say about Biblical Forgeries?

In our next conversation with Sandra Tanner, I’ll ask her about biblical forgeries, the Documentary Hypothesis, multiple Isaiahs, and several other theories critical of the Bible. Is she a Christian?

Sandra:   Yes. I’m a committed Christian….I go a local church here in town, Discovery Christian community. We would just be a standard middle of the road Christian congregation just following the Bible.

Given her background on forgeries, what does she think of these theories?

Sandra: I’ve read critical material on the Bible. I feel there is sufficient historical confirmation for me to accept the record. I mean, there really are Jewish people that live in Jerusalem, and, there really are ancient documents relating to the Bible. We have the Dead Sea Scrolls that show the preservation back before the time of Christ and we have New Testament documents back into, as early as the 130 A.D.  We have part of the Gospel of John, so I feel that historically we can show the preservation of the texts and on the New Testament, we are really on strong ground as far as the documents being the earliest record of Christianity. Now one can say, “I don’t accept their story.” One can say, you could say that’s really what the early Christians believed, but did it really happen?  So, then it’s a matter of faith whether you’re going to accept Christ’s resurrection.

GT:   Well, and even tying this back to Hofmann, because another word instead of a forgery would be pseudepigrapha. We don’t know that Matthew wrote the Book of Matthew, Mark wrote the Book of Mark, Luke wrote the Book of Luke. We have no idea who these authors were. A lot of these early…

Sandra: Well I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. The earliest Christian writers accepted the designations. I mean, they were always known as being written by those guys.

There are some scholars who believe that the Book of Isaiah was written by more than one author, although most scholars at BYU believe in a single-Isaiah theory.  What does Sandra think?

GT:   …as far as the argument, that the BYU scholars would make that there was just one Isaiah not four Isaiahs, would you tend to agree with?

Sandra:  I would be more to their side of view than the critic side of Isaiah.

Are you surprised?  Do you agree with Sandra?  Check out our conversation…. and don’t forget about our other interviews with Sandra!

179: Jerald’s Forensic Background (Tanner)

178: The Cowdery Forgery (Tanner)

177: How Jerald Tanner Identified Fake Salamander Letter (Tanner)

176: When Mark Hofmann met Sandra Tanner (Tanner)

How does Sandra Tanner feel about evolution, biblical literalism, and biblical forgeries?
How does Sandra Tanner feel about evolution, biblical literalism, and biblical forgeries?
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Found! The Real Mount Sinai!

Christians and Jews have long searched for the real Mount Sinai.  But is it the location discovered by Helena, the mother of Constantine in the 4th century AD?  Most people think it is not.  George Potter, an LDS researcher has done a lot of research in the Middle East and thinks he may have stumbled upon the real Mount Sinai.

George:  If you open up your Bible maps from the English version of the King James, published by the LDS Church, go to the maps in the back.  You clearly see that Midian was not located in the Sinai Peninsula.  Jethro[1] lived in Arabia.  Even today on maps in Arabia you see the town of Ugabe, which is translated as Jethro in English.

Jethro lived in Arabia when Moses fled Egypt, he went to Jethro’s, and that was in Arabia.  He was tending his sheep on the back side of the wilderness, it says.  So, in other words, he was probably on the back side of the inter-side of the mountains that run through Midian.  That’s where he was herding Jethro’s sheep at the time, and that’s where we believe Mount Sinai is found.  For him to have been in Jethro’s town, Midian, which is still there, the ruins of Midian, to have been in the Sinai Peninsula, he would have been a very lost shepherd, believe me.

When you get over there to where Mount St. Catherine’s is, anyway there is no evidence whatsoever that place was ever Mount Sinai.  There is no fodder for sheep.  There are no artifacts that have been left there.  The only reason that was ever claimed to be Mount Sinai was that I guess Constantine’s mother went down there with some kind of a guru at the time and they said this must be Mount Sinai.  But there is no evidence archaeologically that was ever Mount Sinai.

We are travelling down this wadi and they said here is where we ended our fourth expedition looking for Mount Sinai.  We’re going beyond this.  We didn’t go more than a mile until we actually came to the artifacts that were described as being from this candidate for Mount Sinai.  The first one is a natural feature.  It is maybe kind of a circular type of little plateau.  The circumference is probably 200 feet.  On top of this feature, there is a sacrificial—it is not an altar, but it is a place where they would have sacrificed animals.  It is a heathen—it is the same kind of feature you would find at Petra: the Nabateans.  It’s a basin.  It is a little kind of canal where the blood would flow into the rocks.

So, that is on top of the little natural feature, but all around it are petroglyphs of calves, Egyptian-type calves.  So that has become known as the Golden Calf Altar there.  If you continue down the wadi, there is a mountain in the west and maybe 50-100 yards from that mountain, you will find eleven different piles of stones with holes in them that you would have put maybe a banner in, a flagpole or something.  They separate the main area of the wadi, the valley, where people would have camped.  Then you have these eleven different pole markers.  They stretch maybe a mile and a half down.  Those we believe are the border markers that Moses was told to separate the people from Mount Sinai so they didn’t accidentally wander on to the mountain.

GT:  Ok.

George: So, they are the border markers.  They are still there.  Then if you can get through the antiquity fence, you will find that there is what they call the Altar of Moses, which is kind of an L-shaped feature.  It is maybe 100 feet long.

We will also talk about its ties to the Book of Mormon.

George:  To give your followers a little bit of a background as to how we came across what is believed to be the Valley of Lemuel.  If you look at any church publication now about the Book of Mormon and Lehi’s trail, they are following the photographs of us, or they are making pictures of what we believe to be the Valley of Lemuel.

But how did we find that?  It takes us back to Mount Sinai.  When I got there, I found out there had been a group of four different LDS parties who pre-dated me, had gone looking for Mount Sinai.  You’ve got to understand that there is a mountain range that runs down the entire length of Arabia, the western side of Arabia.  There are tens of thousands of mountains there.  How do you find Mount Sinai when there are all these mountains?  It is like the Rocky Mountain range or the Sierra Nevada.  I mean which one is Mount Sinai?  It seems kind of crazy.

I was there.  I had a four-wheel drive and two of the members of the group who had gone out four times before looking for Mount Sinai and never found it, encouraged me to come with us, but bring your four-wheel drive and let’s go look for Mount Sinai.  I bluntly told them, “Look.  You guys are crazy.  The instructions you have are almost impossible to follow.  I’ll give you one day to find Mount Sinai in the area you think it is.”

If you would like updates on George’s work, subscribe to his free newsletter at  Check out our conversation…..

George Potter thinks he has found the real Mount Sinai!

[1] Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law.