What to make of a radical theory, effectively rewriting Biblical geographical and historical preconceptions?
In short, as I understand the theory, the original land promised to Abraham was not the land of Palestine as we know it, but an area of western Arabia, bordering the Red Sea, now known as Asir. Evidence presented is almost entirely founded upon place-name or topographical evidence, but the author never discounts the ancient presence of some Jewish people in Palestine. After the return from Babylonian exile , in 537BC, the Jews `returned’ to the site of present day Jerusalem, hence the Biblical term `daughter of Zion’. Some thirty locations we associate with the Bible, predating 537BC, such as Salem, Zion, Hebron, Beersheba, etc. being named in Palestine in similar fashion to York (UK), New York (US). Other authors have identified this phenomenon associated with displaced peoples worldwide, such as The Key by John Phillip Cohane (1969). Biblical history after the Babylonian exile is largely accepted by the author.
150 years of Biblical Archaeology would be largely superfluous if this theory were true, however, it cannot be dismissed lightly for several reasons. Mainly, this is down to the place-name evidence of Asir, which really demands an understanding of Hebrew and Arabic grammar, well explained here, and hence the book is of interest to linguists for this reason alone. Secondly, the theory does resolve certain apparent inconsistencies between our current understanding of Biblical place-names, and actually locating them on the ground, as well as resolving certain mysteries around events in early Biblical history.
Since the universality of the Biblical message is always more important than locating specific sites for specific events, or to clarify, true faith is based on the original message and not on subsequent commentators, and in addition, it becomes clear that this theory respects the Biblical tradition of accurate portrayal of real events and real people, just not necessarily in the places we imagined them. It will be interesting to see what transpires if and when archaeologists are able to discover concrete evidence in the Arabian locations cited. This would, as the author acknowledges, be the acid test for a seemingly impossible theory.
Refreshing indeed is the author’s honesty, `the Bible, is after-all, the Bible, and nothing is likely to undermine its importance as a book which enshrines the wisdom which has shaped the course of civilisation, and sustained the faith of all true believers.’ Surely the real disservice to the message of the Bible and its author has been perpetrated by our churches and schools. Ignorance and apathy may threaten individual understanding, but never the truth of the Bibles message. The minds of the unbelievers have certainly been blinded (2Cor. 4:4).
Stop press: Secrets of the Bible People (Revised second edition 2004) In Kamal Salibi’s new book he takes the theory an important stage further, through a re-examination of some of the best-known Bible stories. Did Adam exist? Is the story of the Flood rooted in Arabian mythology? Who was Abraham? Did the Exodus really begin in Egypt? These and other questions receive startling answers which are bound to re-open the furious debate which Salibi’s theory has unleashed. This book should be much easier to obtain than ‘The Bible came from Arabia’, and a full review will follow in the future.
Thomas Woods’ homepage comments on Kamal Salibi’s theory are at: http://www.cwo.com/~thowoods/salibi.htm