Dating the Pentateuch: the Book of Deuteronomy, Archaeological Anomalies and Anachronisms

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

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21 April 2001

Deuteronomy opens with Israel assembled near the Jordan on the plains of Moab to hear Moses recapitulate their 40 years of wanderings and exhorting them to remember their covenant with God. 

Many of the sites mentioned in Deuteronomy are not known, the main problem being that Late Bronze Age pottery debris (ca. 1570-1200 BCE) associated with the Exodus is nowhere in sight for any of the encampments, be they in Sinai, the Negeb or Transjordan. MacDonald's recent book does a fine job of covering the various theories in the scholarly literature for many of these sites, for the portion of the itinerary extending from Kadesh-barnea to the plains of Moab by the Jordan (cf. Burton MacDonald. "East of the Jordan," Territories and Sites of the Hebrew Scriptures. Boston. American Schools of Oriental Research. 2000.  ISBN 0-89757-031-6, ppk pp. 287)

Although some disagreement exists on Heshbon, general consensus is that it is Tell Hesban. Dibon and Medeba are identified generally with Dibhan and Madaba. These sites do not possess Late Bronze Age deposits (cf. my article on dating the book of Numbers for the archaeological details), although these three cities appear together in a little ditty recounting how Israel suppossedly conquered and settled them, after vanquishing Sihon the Amorite (Nu 21:26-31). 

MacDonald has pointed out that based on his survey work in Transjordan over the past 30 years, that the sites suggest that an Iron II world is being envisioned by the Pentateuchal narrator as possessing the strength to withstand some 600,000 Israelite warriors and deny them passage through Edom and Moab. The Late Bronze Age is poorly represented in Transjordan as is Iron I. It is with Iron II that many settlements appear, fortified, and capable of offering resistance to such an invasion.

Moses is portrayed in Deuteronomy as predicting that the nation will go into Exile, and that God will eventually succor them and return them to their lands (De 30:1-5). The Pentateuch is a part of a national history from Genesis to 2 Kings, and in linear histories, the end dates the composition. 2 Kings 25:27 suggests a date of ca. 560 BCE, the Exilic world. 

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