Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Modern Orthodoxy will disappear in another generation

And now for something a little different. I did mention that I had some topics unrelated to Biblical Criticism that I wanted to discuss and this is one of them. I have a bold prediction that Modern Orthodoxy, at least as the form of Judaism I grew up with, is probably going to vanish in the next 20-30 years, roughly one generation from now. Or at very least it will go a steep decline with members leaving either to the right or to the left.

What is Modern Orthodoxy

Modern Orthodoxy is form of religion essentially founded by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. There are two ways to view it which are non-contradicting, so both exist.

The first is the idea of Torah u'Maddah which essentially means Torah and science. The goal here is to seek harmonization between what we learn through Torah and what we learn through scientific methods. Standard Modern Orthodoxy accepts notions like the big bang, a 4 billion year old earth, and evolutionary theory and harmonizes the contradicting Torah passages by explaining them allegorically. One of the premier ideas along this line is an adaptation of the Rambam's concept of miracles as being purely natural events that occur at opportune times. The Hebrew term for this would be Hashgacha Pratit. Therefore, a common Modern Orthodox tactic is to search for natural phenomena that can explain the biblical miracles. This explanation for the red sea splitting is a good example.

The second aspect of Modern Orthodoxy is more social, and deals with the religious Jew in the modern world. Whereas many of the Hassidic communities that migrated into the US sought to develop their own isolated environments, Modern Orthodoxy permits interaction with the world as a whole. You can work in secular companies with non-Jewish co-workers. You can go to sporting events, amusement parks, movies. TV and radio are perfectly acceptable forms of entertainment, and so on. However, the important part is to continue following Halacha. So you go to the amusement park or baseball stadium, but you don't eat any of the non-kosher food.

The Challenge

To me, the major challenge to Modern Orthodoxy is regarding the second aspect, that of the Jew in the modern world. While I do think that the scientific challenges to Judaism are serious, I think it's easier to rationalize them. However, I do see very strong social challenges that are already here or will arrive shortly that look to upset the idea of the religious Jew in the modern world. Let's take a look at some of them.

Modern Orthodoxy was so successful in the late 20th century (and early 21st) because there was a very strong alignment between the morals of religious Judaism and the American society it was a part of.  One example of such an alignment is the practice of circumcision. Between about 1950 and 1970, circumcision rates in the US were somewhere between 70 and 80% peaking in 1965. In 1991 this had dropped to 62% and in 2006 to 56%, with drops occurring across all regions (see here for more info.) With circumcision rates so high, moral arguments against the practice were almost non-existent. It's only very recently, and in regions where rates are low (like Europe, and the western US) where moral arguments against circumcision have started to appear.

Another moral area with a very recent and very pronounced change in national outlook is in the area of treatment of homosexuals, both regarding sexual behavior and recognition of marriage. The change occurred over a single generation, with homosexual marriage finding only 27% support in 1996 and over 50% just 15 years later. The practice was legalized in the US in 2015 with a Supreme Court decision. Modern Orthodoxy, of course, cannot sanction homosexual marriage, so here too there is a strong rift between Halacha and societal norms.

There are various other areas that are not yet problematic for Modern Orthodoxy but that look like they could be in the next twenty years or so. These include the treatment of animals with regard to Halachically valid slaughtering techniques. And the role of women as Rabbis, something that currently is splitting the community, as it split the conservative community in the 80s and 90s.

In my mind these challenges represent a fundamental difference between how a religious Jew will interact with the world in the year 2030 vs how one did in the year 1990. In 2030, views condemning homosexual marriage will be bigoted (they already are). Orthodox Jews will carry that baggage with them as they interact with the world.

What Will Happen

I predict that the exact same thing that happened with Conservative Judaism in the 90s will happen to Modern Orthodox Judaism in the 2020, and maybe a bit before. Conservative Judaism was vibrant in the 80s and 90s but then it sort of fell apart. Adherents either went to the left, towards Reform or to the right towards Modern Orthodoxy. To put it simply, Conservative Judaism, an attempt to compromise between the modernization of Reform Judaism with the traditionalism of Orthodoxy was unstable. People that valued the modernism part pushed for egalitarian minyans, relaxation of Kashrut requirements, recognition of homosexual unions and so on. The more traditional members balked at that, and were willing to sacrifice some of the modernity they were used to for a religion they felt was more "authentic."

The same thing will happen to Modern Orthodoxy. The people that value the morals of western society, will be more willing to sacrifice religious precepts to fit in with society. They will become similar to the Conservatives of the 90s, which will continue to drift left because, as we found out, Conservatism is unstable. On the other hand, the people who want to maintain traditional Judaism, will no longer be able to integrate with society as cleanly as they did previously. The morals of Orthodox Judaism no longer align with the morals of the society they live in. The result will be isolation into more and more closed communities, where you don't need to be confronted with external opinions that criticize your moral values.

We can already see this in play today among my peers (people who grew up in the 90s). The standard path for a Modern Orthodox youngster involves growing up in a community where all the family friends are MO, attending Yeshiva through high school where they only interact with other MO kids, a year in Yeshivah in Israel that caters to MO students, and finally 4 years at either YU/Stern or a university with a large enough Jewish population that they are surrounded by people like them. Hopefully that is shortly followed by marriage into the MO community. Until this point they've essentially grown up in a closed environment. The idea of a Jew in the modern world has been eliminated. It is instead the story of a Jew in a sheltered world.

As the moral gulf between Orthodoxy and the moral center of the US continues to widen, the tendency to shelter youngsters from that world will grow. Then before you know it, Modern Orthodoxy has been replaced by plain old Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Vort: Did David actually kill Shaul?

This week follows on a bit from last week. To me, the book of Shmuel (Samuel) is one of the most interesting books from a historical perspective. The book is set in that area between things we know have a solid historical backing (later monarchies), and things that clearly belong to the world of myth and legend (Joshua and prior). Specifically, there is no doubt that there were kings of Judah who traced their lineage to the house of David. The Tel Dan Stele provides us with proof of that. But the Tanach indicates that the accession of David to the throne, and the succession of his son Shlomo (Solomon) after him were not clean. Therefore, we are left with a historical account, written by the eventual winners, in which they justify their right to the monarchy. First let's summarize the biblical story.

A Checkered History

Here, is a very quick runthrough of the major events of the book of Shmuel regarding the transition of the monarchy from Shaul to David.

  • Shmuel is approached by the people to appoint a king (1 Sam 8)
  • Shmuel appoints Shaul as king (1 Sam 9-12)
  • Shaul and his son Yonathan (Jonathan) fight against the Plishtim (Philistines) (1 Sam 13-14)
  • Shaul fights with Amalek, has mercy on the king, and Shmuel says he will lose the kingship because of this (1 Sam 15)
  • Shmuel secretly anoints David as king (1 Sam 16:1-13)
  • David is appointed as a harp player for Shaul (1 Sam 16:14-23)
  • David slays Galyat (Goliath) (1 Sam 17-18:5) Note that in this episode Shaul does not know who David is. A contradiction I discussed here.
  • Shaul becomes jealous of David and tries to kill him (1 Sam 18:6-20:42)
  • David escapes, winds up in Gath where he pretends to be crazy (1 Sam 21)
  • Shaul orders the slaughter of the priests of Nob at the hands of an Edomite because they helped David escape (1 Sam 22)
  • Shaul continues to chase David (1 Sam 23)
  • David has the opportunity to kill Shaul but does not, moved by this, Shaul essentially agrees that David should be the king and asks that his descendents are not killed (1 Sam 24)
  • David seduces the married woman Avigayil. Then her husband Nabal (who is evil mind you) conveniently dies (for unrelated reasons) so that David can marry her himself (1 Sam 25)
  • A doublet of the story in 1 Sam 24. David has the opportunity to kill Shaul, but does not. And Shaul recognizes David as the true king (1 Sam 26)
  • Despite the previous chapter ending with peace between David and Shaul, this one starts with David fearing for his life so much so that he goes and becomes a mercenary for the Israelite's arch-nemesis, the Plishtim! David only kills non-Judahites though, and lies to the Philistine king about it. (1 Sam 27-28:2)
  • Shmuel dies and Shaul confronts a prophetess to speak to the dead. Shmuel confirms that Shaul is no longer king (1 Sam 28:3-25)
  • The Plishtim go to fight the Israelites. But David does not go with them, and instead goes to fight the Amalekites (1 Sam 29-30)
  • The Plishtim defeat the Israelites and kill Shaul (1 Sam 31)
  • David learns of the deaths of Shaul and Yonatan and heartfully laments their passing (2 Sam 1)
  • There is a civil war between David and Shaul's son Ish-Boshet won by David (actually, the rival's name is Ish-Baal but changed to Ish Boshet because it was embarrassing that Shaul named a child after Ba'al.) (2 Sam 2-4)
  • Everyone happily accepts David as the king over all of Judah and Israel (2 Sam 5-rest of book)
  • Later, after David's death there is a succession crisis and another civil war, with eventually Shlomo (of questionable birth) defeating Adoniyah and capturing the monarchy.
  • After the death of Shlomo the north secedes from the south under Yerav'am (Jeroboam)
Obvious Propaganda is Obvious

It is obvious from the text of the Tanach that there was some real questions surrounding the legitimacy of the Davidic line. The authors of the text try to head this off at every possible place. They assure us several times that Shmuel took the kingdom away from Shaul because of his leniency regarding Amalek. They indicate in several places that Shaul recognized David's right to the throne, even though he never took action to transfer the kingship, and his surviving children didn't seem to get the message either and actively opposed David in armed conflict. They assure us that David wasn't in the Philistine army that killed Shaul even though he was a mercenary for them at the time. Furthermore, there were two occasions where he could have killed Shaul but didn't, so he almost certainly didn't kill Shaul during the battle. He even avenges Shaul's death! When David killed Ish-Boshet it was because David was the rightful heir to the throne and Ish-Boshet was the usurper, despite being the heir apparent. And everyone sure was relieved and unanimously supported David when he accepted the kingship over everyone.

If you read between the propaganda lines, you get a different story. Here David is a conspirator against the crown, who signs on with the Israelite's enemies and even goes to war with them against Israel in the battle where Shaul is killed. He then murders the king's descendents and captures the kingship for himself. Now, we can read every story in the book of Shmuel is an attempt of supporters of David to paper over the seedy side, casting everything in the best of light for David and the worst of light for Shaul. For example, Shaul is responsible for the Edomite slaughter of the priests of Nob. He's also not a real prophet, but a madman who strips naked and blabbers and is prone to fits of anger.

You can't get rid of everything though, invent a fake history out of thin air. Presumably when these accounts were written, people still remembered that there were open hostilities between David and Shaul. This is why the result is propaganda and not fiction. There are real events underlying this, they've just been distorted to favor one side explicitly. And in many cases it's obvious because, unlike modern authors, biblical authors aren't really all that subtle with their allegiances. Just read the doublet stories again in 1 Sam 24 and 26 and see what I mean.

So did David actually kill Shaul? No one knows. But it sure as hell looks suspicious, and it almost definitely looked suspicious to the ancient Israelites. It was so suspicious that the author(s) of Shmuel really go way over the top in attempting to prove that he didn't.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Vort: Switching Shmuel and Shaul

So, if you grew up in a religious environment you'll be familiar with the word "vort" which is Yiddish simply for word. These tend to be short insights into some manner of Judaism. I will coopt the language to provide some fairly short insights from Academia. Some of these, like this one, are parts of larger topics. But we'll keep them short and sweet.

Birth of Shmuel

The book of Shmuel (Samuel) begins with a very common biblical motif. A woman can't give birth, she makes a deal with God that she'll devote the child to him, and God causes her to give birth to a son (always a son). Children that were born in this way include Shimshon (Samson), arguably Yitzchak (Isaac) and here, Shmuel.

The story goes that Shmuel's mother Hannah promised her son to God if she could have one. God acquiesced, and she gave birth to Shmuel. However, the naming of the child is very bizarre. As with many biblical characters, Shmuel is given an etiological reason for the name. The verse in question is 1 Sam 1:20
And it came to pass, when the time was come about, that Hannah conceived, and bore a son; and she called his name Samuel: 'because I have asked him of the LORD.'
And here it is in Hebrew
וַיְהִי לִתְקֻפוֹת הַיָּמִים, וַתַּהַר חַנָּה וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ שְׁמוּאֵל, כִּי מֵיְהוָה שְׁאִלְתִּיו.
The reason why this is strange is that the name and the etiological reason don't match up at all. Shmuel means the name of "El", it has nothing at all to do with the word, to ask sha'al. Traditional commentators noticed this discrepancy, but they don't offer any amazing resolutions. For example, Rashi says (my translation) "Shmuel: In the name of El and in the name of the deed he is called, because he was asked from God." where Rashi is using the wordplay Al Shem to explain where the name Shmuel comes from. Al Shem literally means in the name of, but figuratively is an idiom for because. So he translates it as "because of El." Of course you need to add the word Al for that to make sense, and still it seems fairly weak.

The Old Switcheroo

The naming discrepancy has caused people to wonder if maybe there was a switch between the naming of two individuals. In other words, maybe the original story was about someone else, but was later sloppily switched to Shmuel. Is there an obvious candidate, someone around the same time period who's name would fit better there? Of course. What if it originally read:
וַיְהִי לִתְקֻפוֹת הַיָּמִים, וַתַּהַר חַנָּה וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ שָׁאוּל, כִּי מֵיְהוָה שְׁאִלְתִּיו.
If you switch Shmuel with Shaul (Saul) then the wordplay is exact. "Shaul" literally means "asked for" and the name fits the birth story perfectly.  Shaul is in my mind one of the more interesting characters in the Tanach, not so much because of the stories about him, but because of how he ended up on the bad side of the Biblical propaganda machine. Here, the argument, is that they literally crossed his name out of the birth story and wrote in Shmuel.

Why they did this is a question for another week (probably next week in fact).

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Radiocarbon Dating

For something a little different, I decided a post on radiocarbon dating might be appropriate. Since I put a lot of stock in the information gleaned from radiocarbon dating, I figure it's worthwhile to describe a little bit how it's done, and more importantly, to describe the various sources of error in it. Constraining error is one of the key issues with any scientific measurement, and radiocarbon is no exception. One particular point I will make is that the error will depend a lot on specifics to each measurement (time and location). So there are periods and locations where the result has extremely large errors, and other measurements that are more trustworthy.

How it Works

The physics of radioactive dating is pretty straightforward. Carbon-14 (6 protons 8 neutrons) is a radioactive isotope with a halflife of approximately 5700 years. The characteristic decay is "beta decay" which means (roughly) that one of the neutrons in the nucleus decays into a proton and an electron. The resulting nucleus is Nitrogen-14 (7 protons 7 neutrons). The energy from the emission goes partly to the nucleus and partly to the electron that was created. Because of conservation of momentum, much more of the energy goes to the electron and it gets ejected from the atom. These ejected electrons are called "beta particles" and you can monitor the decays by detection of them.

As with all radioactive decays the density of C-14 at any time can be modeled with an exponential equation. The characteristic time for the exponential, the half-life, indicates how long it takes for half of the C-14 atoms to undergo beta decay. So if you know how many C-14 atoms are around at the beginning, you can predict how many will be there at any point in time in the future (provided of course that there are enough of them that the statistical argument makes sense.) Similarly, if you know how many there were at at the beginning, and you know how many there are now, you can predict how long ago the "beginning" was. Finally, if you know the current concentration and you know exactly how long ago you wish to measure, you can use it to determine the original concentration at that time. This last calculation will be important later.

Willard Libby proposed using the concentrations of C-14 in organic material as a means of dating a substance. C-14 is constantly being created in the upper atmosphere from interactions between high energy photons from the sun and atmospheric molecules. While an organism is alive it is constantly exchanging its carbon atoms with those in the atmosphere, so the C-14 concentration in any living being is similar to the global concentration at that time. This is because chemically isotopes behave (almost) exactly the same, so the organism does not distinguish between C-14, C-13 or C-12. After it dies, it stops incorporating carbon from the atmosphere. If we know the global concentration at the time it died (more on that later) and we can measure the concentration now, then we can calculate the date that it stopped exchanging carbon with the environment as described above. Therefore, radiocarbon analysis of the C-14 content in organic material can be used to determine the death date of organic material. For this result Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Now we will discuss some of the details along with the various sources of error that arise.

Carbon-14 Measurement Errors

The first error that we will look at comes from the difficulty in actually measuring the C-14 content in a sample. As with any scientific measurement there is an associated error bar. There are several ways to look for the C-14 content. One is to look for the decay by measuring the emitted beta particles. A more popular method (due to better accuracy) is to convert the entire material to a gas and run it through a charge-mass spectrometer, that can distinguish between isotopes of carbon. You can read about the various techniques here.

Both these results will have errors based on the limitations of the actual measurement technique and due to statistical problems. The statistical error is generally small compared to the measurement error. You can reduce the error by comparing results from different samples and different techniques/laboratories. But you can never make it zero.

Finding Appropriate Material

Finding appropriate organic material can be difficult. The best material (at least for the Ancient Near East region) appears to be stuff like burnt seeds and stuff like olive pits which can be found in fire pits and cooking areas. Stuff like structural wood tends to be a bad choice since it's always possible that the wood is old, having been used for a previous structure, and using it will make the date appear older than it really is.

One common form of systematic error arises from improper association of a sample with a specific archaeological stratum. In other words, you find some burnt olive pits and think they belong to the city, but it turns out they are just the remains from hundreds of years later when some nomads made a makeshift camp in the ruins.  Obviously, the more samples you have, the less likely you are to make an error like this. Yet there can be systematic errors due to associating some result with an incorrect archaeological stratum.

This error is entirely in the domain of the archaeologists, and it's impossible to handicap it without being involved in the actual excavation, or by scanning the detailed reports. Nevertheless, when you see large discrepancies in dates between archaeologists, chances are that the reason is because they are arguing over which stratum belongs to which set of measurements.

Constraining Initial C-14 Fraction

Libby assumed that the C-14 fraction in the atmosphere was a constant. It turns out this is not true. It can vary slightly. However, slight variations can mean big differences with regard to dating, so it's important to figure out how much carbon was in the background atmosphere at all the possible dates that the organism may have died.

The way this is done is primarily through "dendrochronology" The idea here is that you can use trees as a method of determining the C-14 concentration at any time in the past. The inner rings of a tree are not living anymore, so they do not exchange carbon. Therefore, you can cut down a long lived tree and get information on the global C-14 concentration for each year that the tree was alive, just by comparing the carbon at each ring. You know the current concentration, and you know the time, so you can get the initial concentration. Then if you have trees that died a long time ago, but were preserved, you can find overlaps with known trees. With enough work we can build a database going back thousands of years. Indeed the carbon calibration curves we have go back around 40-50 thousand years. These curves are constantly being refined, but they are pretty robust for the area in question for Biblical archaeology.

I said "global" concentration above, but that's not entirely correct. Global here means a sizeable region surrounding the area in question. There are indeed separate calibration curves for the northern and southern hemispheres, and even more local curves for time periods closer to the present (where Biblical results fall.)

Errors from Calibration Curves

While the calibration curves are pretty robust, the fact that the initial concentration varies slightly can increase or decrease the error for a given measurement. It is probably best to use an example, so here's a typical plot that you might see (taken from here).
This plot is a little busy, so let's look at the details of what's going on. The y-axis shows the amount of C-14 that was detected in the unit BP (what exactly that is doesn't matter). The red bell shape indicates the actual measurement amount (around 3000 BP) and the error associated with it, (here probably around +/- 80 BP).  The x-axis represents the dates in years BCE. The thick blue line that goes through the plot indicates the calibration curve. From this curve you can calculate the date for any given amount of BP measurement. Except not so fast. Even if you exactly knew that you had 3000 BP, you wouldn't be able to distinguish between about 1260 and 1230 BCE, since the line at 3000 intersects the blue curve twice. So, because we have measurement errors in the amount of carbon, and because the blue curve is so "wiggly" what we wind up with is a probability distribution function which is pretty complicated looking (gray region). The results on the top right summarize the plot results. You have an 8.2% probability of being between 1375 and 1340 BCE (the bump on the far left), a 87.2% probability of being between 1320 and 1129 BCE, and about a 5% probability of being somewhere else.

This plot looks about typical for results I have seen but quoted results dates tend to have errors that are smaller errors +/- 150 years. How?

"Wiggle Matching" and Bayesian Analysis

So the way to do better, as before, is by using multiple measurements. However, here what you're using are multiple measurements from different strata. To use the above example again. Let's say you find some sample that produces exactly 3000 BP. As we noted above, you can't distinguish between 1260 and 1230 BCE. But let's say you dig a bit deeper, and somewhere below you find something else that also produces exactly 3000 BP. You know that the deeper one must be older. So you can say that the deeper one is 1260 BCE and the shallower one is 1230 BCE.

"Wiggle matching" takes multiple results from as many strata as can be found and attempts to match the "wiggles" in the calibration curve as best as possible. This is essentially another massive probability calculation and it is usually done by computer codes. If you have a lot of samples from a given site, you can usually constrain the results far better than with a single sample.

But archaeologists can go even further. If you can make estimates on things like how far apart in time different strata were, or if you know from Egyptian or Assyrian chronologies when cities were destroyed (or claimed to be destroyed) then you can put those assumptions into the model as well. This can produce very accurate estimates (less than 50 years error), even for results where the error in the C-14 measurements are large. But they depend on the assumptions you put into the model and your confidence in them. These models are "Bayesian" in that they attempt to determine the probability that a given set of date measurements could produce the actual results.

This is another area where you can have significant disagreement between archaeologists. They might disagree greatly between what assumptions are made. Here, we laymen are in a better position to evaluate the results, since all good archaeologists will state what assumptions, if any, are input into their models. Again though, these only show up in technical papers.

An Example: What I Found About the United Monarchy Debate

A while back I read a collection of essays in "The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating" edited by Levy and Highman, and first published in 2005. As such the results are about 10 years out of date, but that is the extent of my knowledge. The articles were highly technical, and I actually needed to learn about the topics in this post before I could properly appreciate the arguments. There were both detailed excavation reports and tons of results from radiocarbon analysis, similar to the plot I showed above.

The current main point of contention between archaeologists today (or at least in 2005) is whether or not there ever existed a united monarchy under Shlomo (Solomon). On one side is the "conventional chronology" championed first by Dever and now by Amihai Mazar which states that there indeed was such a united monarchy. The alternate view is the "low chronology" offered by Finkelstein which suggests that it never existed. At the heart of the debate are the dating of various monumental structures, specifically city gates, in various cities like Gezer and Hazor. The conventional chronology dates these to around 950 BCE which puts them in the time period of Shlomo.  The low chronology dates these to about 880 BCE and attributes them to the reign of the northern kings Omri and Ahab who were the first kings to garner international attention.

As we've noted above, a difference of less than 100 years is typically too small for radiocarbon analysis to distinguish, but each of these sites have many strata, and the articles record some of the most comprehensive attempts at carbon dating analysis to date. Nevertheless, from my perspective the results were inconclusive. Here are where the two sides differed.

1) The main source of disagreement is determining which stratum the monumental structures belong to. You can't date the structure itself, it's not organic, so you have to tie it to some organic material. As far as I know this is unresolved with Finkelstein continuing to insist it's dated to a later structure, and Mazar insisting it's an earlier structure.

2) Another source of disagreement was on the treatment of an outlier radiocarbon result. Various organic material were sent to several different labs, and one produced a date different than the others. From my memory, Finkelstein included these results in his models, but Mazar considered them an outlier and did not include them. As you can imagine this made a big difference on the results of each group's Bayesian analysis. Both groups stress the need for repeated measurements.

3) The disagreement includes anthropological models as well, specifically with regard to the appearance of specific pottery types that appear to have spread from the Philistine cities. Finkelstein thinks that it took a long time for this pottery to spread, Mazar says it spread quicker.

As you can see, when you start dealing with the details of these analyses, you very quickly get into the weeds. As a layman who is not involved in the measurements, I think it is absolutely impossible to determine who has the better argument. As such, I put the existence of the united monarchy as an unknown, and will wait until a consensus is reached on the matter.

Well Then, What Can We Know for Sure?

While the dating of monumental gates is still under question, other conclusions from archaeologists have reached a higher level of consensus. For example, the city of Yericho (Jericho) has a strong consensus that it was destroyed long before Yehoshua (Joshua) could possibly have arrived. Similarly with the city of Ai. There are fringe opinions otherwise, but overall there is very little academic debate on these matters anymore. Indeed Yericho, is a good example of carbon dating resolving a contradiction between archaeologists. As it provided enough resolution to confirm the early date proposed by Kathleen Kenyon instead of the later date proposed by Bryant Wood. You will still see apologetic answers using Bryant Wood's analysis, but this is disingenuous, and you should be able to recognize it as such.

There are other similar events which we can date, such as the destruction of major cities. Destructions tend to be easier to date because a lot of stuff tends to get burned and buried. These include sites like Ugarit and Hattusa which aren't mentioned in Biblical texts but belong to the period prior to their composition.

All in all, it pays to be cognizant of the claims being made, the associated error, and whether there's a consensus or a disagreement between the people that are closest to the measurement.