Dating the Pentateuch: the Book of Leviticus, and the Archaeological Anomalies and Anachronisms
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20 April 2001
20 January 2002 "Update" at end of this article
Only one geographical site is given as the setting for Leviticus, Mount Sinai:
"These are the laws, rules, and instructions that the LORD established, through Moses on Mount Sinai, between Himself and the Israelite people." (TANAKH, Lev 26:46)
"These are the commandments that the LORD gave Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai." (TANAKH, Lev 27:34)
There is no consensus on the location of Mt. Sinai. Places under consideration in the past have been Jebel Musa, Jebel Katharina, Jebel Serbal, Har Karkom, Jebel Rekhme (modern Israeli: Yeroham), and Jebel el Lawz in Saudi Arabia, no doubt, there are other proposals. The bottom line though, is that none of these sites possess Late Bronze Age debris (1570-1200 BCE), the Exodus being commonly dated to this period, ca. 1446 BCE (cf. 1 Kings 6:1) by some Conservative scholars, or ca. 1240 BCE as posited by many Humanist or Liberalist scholars. For a detailed review of the many scholarly proposals for Mount Sinai please click here.
Careful sweeps of the Sinai and adjacent areas, like the Negeb, have failed to turn up any signs of a Late Bronze Age occupation. The archaeological evidence in the Southern Sinai, where tradition has Mt. Sinai identified with Jebel Musa (Musa being Arabic for Moses), suggests an Early Bronze presence, abandonment, then resettlement in the Iron Age. The Northern Sinai has evidence of Early Bronze, Middle Bronze I, abandonment, with resettlement in the Iron Age (after 1200 BCE).
One would expect that the thousands who perished in the worship of the Golden Calf while at Sinai, would be evidenced by numerous grave tumuli. There are no Late Bronze Age grave tumuli anywhere in the Sinai or Negev, but there are grave tumuli in the Early Bronze, the Middle Bronze and Iron Age periods (Middle Bronze I being attested in the Northern Sinai).
"All we can say is that recent, extensive exploration of the entire Sinai by Israeli archaeologists, geologists, and others has turned up virtually no Middle Bronze-Late Bronze presence in the Central or South Sinai. Our current detailed knowledge of this remote and hostile area calls into question the biblical tradition of a million-and-a-half or more people migrating there (Num 11:21) for some forty years (Deut 2:7). The barren terrain and sparse oases might have supported a few straggling nomads, but no more than that."(p.547, Vol.3, William G. Dever, "Israel, History of (Archaeology and the "Conquest"). David Noel Freedman, editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992)