If you're interested in religions based upon the Hebrew Bible—Judaism, Christianity or Islam—then you should buy these two splendid books. They reveal essentials facts, based largely upon archaeology, concerning likely circumstances in which the stories of the Bible were conceived and set down in writing.
Both books have been written by the same scholars: an Israeli, Israel Finkelstein, and an American, Neil Asher Silberman. And they're "better than the Bible" (a sentiment that brings to mind John Lennon concerning the relative popularity of the Beatles with respect to Jesus Christ) in the sense that Finkelstein and Silberman don't beat around the burning bush. You don't have to worry about the authenticity of their explanations. They go straight to the facts, and demonstrate that the Biblical stories cannot possibly be descriptions of historical realities.
Today, few serious scholars persist in imagining that the stories of the Hebrew Bible describe real historical events. And there's no authentic factual evidence whatsoever (apart from the words of the Bible) enabling us to consider that real individuals such as Moses, David and Solomon, etc, actually existed once upon a time. Does this mean that everything in the Bible is make-believe? Not exactly, because the inspiration for most of the Biblical stories was surely derived from various real events and iconic personages. So, we have no right to say that everything's pure fiction. But neither does anybody have the right to claim that the books of the Bible relate authentic history.
Over the last week, I was reminded of the work of Finkelstein and Silberman because of a silly front-page "news" article that has been appearing throughout the world. I'm talking of an inspired American Christian guy (I prefer to leave him anonymous, to refrain from adding to his publicity) who claims to have discovered a way in which the waters of the Red Sea might have parted in order to enable Moses and his Hebrew brethren to escape from their Egyptian pursuers. I'm tempted to say to this brain-damaged guy: "For Christ's sake, what's the problem? Everybody knows it was God who separated the waters. Why the fuck do you need to demonstrate things scientifically?" In fact, this affair falls into place once you realize there's nothing whatsoever to be proven, for the simple reason that the Red Sea story is pure magic make-believe. If it didn't happen, then why go to the trouble of trying to explain technically how it might have happened?