In a recent (2001, I think) book, “The Bible Unearthed,” two Israeli scholars, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, present a compelling case that, with respect to most Biblical events recorded as occurring prior to the reign of King Josiah (almost the last king of Judah), not only is there insufficient evidence that the event occurred that way, but there is sufficent evidence that it didn’t. Most of the Old Testament is a pack of provable lies, pure and simple. There was a House of David, but it ruled only the area immediately around Jerusalem. There never was a united kingdom of Israel and Judah, ever. There never was an Exodus from Egypt. And Father Abraham never came up out of Ur of the Chaldees. Most of these stories, apparently, were made up after the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and the Israelite priests and nobles fled south to Judah. They settled down in the court of King Josiah and then got started on a massive propaganda campaign to create a new national-religious myth. There’s even some question as to whether Israel or Judah really had a monotheistic religion before that time. Check out the March 2002 Harper’s Magazine – Daniel Lazare wrote an article about the book, “False Testament.”
Judaism as we know it really took form after Judah was, in turn, conquered by the Babylonians, and its elite had to spend 40 years in exile in Babylon and environs, trying to keep alive their distinctive national-religious culture and, against all odds, succeeding after a fashion. There’s a theory, by the way, that the “Sabbath” was originally not an every-seven-days observance, but a monthly full-moon festival; in Babylon, the Jews picked up the Babylonian custom of counting the days by sevens, and worked their Sabbath into it. I got that out of “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible” – which is an excellent introduction to the general history of Biblical-era Palestine. Another is Asimov’s “The Land if Canaan.” It is written for a high-school-age readership and Asimov, despite his famous skepticism, did not really question the basic outline of the Biblical account; but it’s still a good start.