Three Archaeological Questions About Genesis

I was rereading Genesis this week and three passages struck me as having archaeological implications. That is, they may indicate prospective archaeological finds. Here they are:

1.) Gen 14:10 “Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled into the hill country.” (ESV)

2.) Gen 50:2-3 “And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming.” (ESV)

3.) Gen 50:26 “So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” (ESV)

1.Now, I am not a student of archaeology, but it seems that the bitumen pits could easily have preserved a handful of the people who fell into them, much like the bogs in Ireland have preserved some very ancient bodies. The most famous was National Geographic’s “Bog Man” who was apparently murdered and then thrown into a bog. He was incredibly well-preserved: skin, organs and even clothes. I don’t know if bitumen, which is a liquidy component of asphalt, has the same preservative properties. But if it does, we might be able to find these bodies. Hmmm…talk about “knowing where the bodies are buried!” I found an article on this passage but haven’t had time to go read it yet: J.A. Emerton. “The Riddle of Genesis XIV.” Vetus Testamentum 1971. (I don’t have volume number or page numbers.)

2. According to this passage, Jacob was certainly mummified in the Egyptian style. That means that his mummy could be unearthed and observed.

3. Likewise, Joseph’s mummy must also be somewhere. The biblical text does not clarify if he was buried in Egypt or Palestine.

After mulling this over, I found the Cave of Machpelah (a.k.a. Ma’arat HaMachpelah, Ibrahimi Mosque). This is the tomb in which are buried Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah and possibly Joseph. It is venerated as a holy site by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Herod the Great built a massive structure over the tomb, which is now used as a mosque. Unfortunately, the Muslim authorities which control the site have prevented archaeologists from descending into the actual tomb. But a handful of medieval accounts of “excavations” of the tomb survive and apparently, when the Israelis briefly had control of the site in 1967, a girl named Michal was lowered into the tomb to investigate it, but wasn’t able to gain access to certain parts of it.

Needless to say, there is something down there at the Ibrahimi Mosque which deserves the attention of archaeologists. Finding the tomb which contained the bones of the Patriarchs and their wives would be amazing and would completely throw off a lot of theories about Genesis. Again, I am not an archaeology student so I am not familiar with the scholarly consensus (if there is one) on the caves beneath the Ibrahimi Mosque. Since no excavations have been allowed, I doubt there is much to say. And I’m not quite sure how the bones of the Patriarchs could be identified.

However, if archaeologists are ever allowed beneath Ibrahimi mosque and they happen to find a mummy of a certain man named Ya’akov and his son Yosef, then all bets are off. Israel made it to Egypt. Most scholars regard all the “Israel in Egypt” stories as historical hogwash and the exodus no better than a science ficiton novel. But if authentic Egyptian-style mummies are found in the Cave of Machpelah, the whole discipline of Pentateuch studies would be thrown on its head.

Wikipedia on Tomb of the Patriarchs

UPDATE 3/10/07:
According to Josh 24:32, Joseph’s bones were brought up by the Israelites during the exodus and buried at Shechem, not in the Cave of Machpelah: “As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.” (Josh 24:32 ESV)

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