As Sportin' Life warns in Porgy And Bess, "The things that you're liable to read in the Bible—it ain't necessarily so." In From Eden To Exile: Unraveling Mysteries Of The Bible, archaeologist Eric H. Cline assumes the thankless task of separating fact from fiction on popular questions sparked by the Old Testament, like the location of Noah's Ark, the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, whether Joshua's trumpets toppled Jericho's walls, and what happened to the Ark of the Covenant. And his answers, all couched in appropriately nuanced terms, echo Ira Gershwin's lyrics. Wild hypotheses on these questions fly around in popular culture, but there isn't enough data to support those theories—there's barely enough data to support careful scholarly speculation. After reading Cline's summaries of the available evidence and ideas (in which credibility demonstrates an inverse relationship to publicity), an open-minded Bible student will be shocked at how few hard facts ground these discussions.
Much of the joy of From Eden To Exile lies in Cline's evenhanded collection of pertinent information, followed by his equally careful demonstration of the gaping holes in every extant theory. It's instructive to consider, in the first chapter, how little can be known about the location of the Garden of Eden, although the second chapter of Genesis devotes an entire paragraph to describing its map coordinates by way of rivers, nations, and natural resources. Similarly, attempts to verify the accounts in Joshua of the conquest of Canaan are difficult, since only a scant few of the cities named there can be identified or located. The Bible's specificity about place names, time periods, and royal successions, which appears at first blush to lend credence to its accounts of Noah or Moses, turns to shifting sand once it becomes clear that assuming the truth of one claim throws the story out of whack with other key details.
By Exile's end, Cline almost manages to state a definitive conclusion: The Ten Lost Tribes aren't lost at all, because most of them never left Palestine. But along the way, he's had his greatest successes deflating the wild claims of excitable documentary filmmakers like Simcha Jacobovici, evangelical nutcases like Ron Wyatt, and self-appointed pseudo-scholars like Tom Crotser. Cline may never hit the bestseller list, but in introducing his readers to the clarifying light of real antiquities scholarship, he's doing God's work.