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"The actual evidence concerning the Exodus resembles the evidence for the unicorn," writes Baruch Halpern of Pennsylvania State University.

"The Book of Joshua is of no historical value as far as the process of settlement is concerned," contends Volkmar Fritz, director of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem.

"The period of the patriarchs, exodus, conquest, or judges as devised by the writers of Scriptures ... never existed," declares Robert Coote of San Francisco Theological Seminary.

The Genesis and Exodus accounts are "a fiction written around the middle of the first millennium," states Niels Peter Lemche at the University of Copenhagen, and, "The David of the Bible, David the king, is not a historical figure."

Welcome to the intellectual world of the biblical minimalists, a new breed of radical scholars who would turn Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and even King David into legends and myths by the stroke of their pens. As far-out as their pronouncements may sound, their work is filtering its way into our world through seminary textbooks and media soundbites. The effect is a wholesale rejection of the Bible's accounts of Israel's origins—a matter of no small concern to believing Jews and Christians.

Answering these skeptics, however, is not always so easy as one might expect. The fact is that not one shred of direct archaeological evidence has been found for Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob or the 400-plus years the children of Israel sojourned in Egypt. The same is true for their miraculous exodus from slavery. And remember those reassuring Sunday-school stories about archaeologists finding Jericho's walls lying outward just as the Book of Joshua suggests they fell? It turns out that the most respected archaeologist ...

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In the Magazine

September 7, 1998

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