Questioning  the Bible...
The following article appeared in Ha'aretz newspaper on Friday, October 29th.  It really knocked me to think that many of the things we take for granted about the Bible may not have even taken place, including the sojourn in Egypt, the 12 tribes of Israel and the conquering of the land of Canaan.  Read it for yourselves and make your own minds up...

Ha'aretz - Friday, October 29, 1999

                              Deconstructing the walls of Jericho

by Ze'ev Herzog

Following 70 years of intensive excavations in the Land of Israel, archaeologists have found out: The patriarchs' acts are legendary, the Israelites did not sojourn in Egypt or make an exodus, they did not conquer the land. Neither is there any mention of the empire of David and Solomon, nor of the source of belief in the God of Israel. These facts have been known for years, but Israel is a stubborn people and nobody wants to hear about it

                    By Ze'ev Herzog

                    This is what archaeologists have learned from their
                    excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never
                    in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the
                    land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12
                    tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is the fact
                    that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is
                    described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a
                    small tribal kingdom. And it will come as an unpleasant
                    shock to many that the God of Israel, Jehovah, had a
                    female consort and that the early Israelite religion adopted
                    monotheism only in the waning period of the monarchy and
                    not at Mount Sinai.Most of those who are engaged in
                    scientific work in the interlocking spheres of the Bible,
                    archaeology and the history of the Jewish people - and who
                    once went into the field looking for proof to corroborate the
                    Bible story - now agree that the historic events relating to
                    the stages of the Jewish people's emergence are radically
                    different from what that story tells.

                    What follows is a short account of the brief history of
                    archaeology, with the emphasis on the crises and the big
                    bang, so to speak, of the past decade. The critical question
                    of this archaeological revolution has not yet trickled down
                    into public consciousness, but it cannot be ignored.

                    Inventing the Bible stories

                    The archaeology of Palestine developed as a science at a
                    relatively late date, in the late 19th and early 20th century,
                    in tandem with the archaeology of the imperial cultures of
                    Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome. Those
                    resource-intensive powers were the first target of the
                    researchers, who were looking for impressive evidence
                    from the past, usually in the service of the big museums in
                    London, Paris and Berlin. That stage effectively passed
                    over Palestine, with its fragmented geographical diversity.
                    The conditions in ancient Palestine were inhospitable for
                    the development of an extensive kingdom, and certainly no
                    showcase projects such as the Egyptian shrines or the
                    Mesopotamian palaces could have been established there.
                    In fact, the archaeology of Palestine was not engendered at
                    the initiative of museums but sprang from religious motives.

                    The main push behind archaeological research in
                    Palestine was the country's relationship with the Holy
                    Scriptures. The first excavators in Jericho and Shechem
                    (Nablus) were biblical researchers who were looking for the
                    remains of the cities cited in the Bible. Archaeology
                    assumed momentum with the activity of William Foxwell
                    Albright, who mastered the archeology, history and
                    linguistics of the Land of Israel and the ancient Near East.
                    Albright, an American whose father was a priest of Chilean
                    descent, began excavating in Palestine in the 1920s. His
                    declared approach was that archaeology was the principal
                    scientific means to refute the critical claims against the
                    historical veracity of the Bible stories, particularly those of
                    the Wellhausen school in Germany.

                    The school of biblical criticism that developed in Germany
                    beginning in the second half of the 19th century, of which
                    Julian Wellhausen was a leading figure, challenged the
                    historicity of the Bible stories and claimed that biblical
                    historiography was formulated, and in large measure
                    actually "invented," during the Babylonian exile. Bible
                    scholars, the Germans in particular, claimed that the history
                    of the Hebrews, as a consecutive series of events
                    beginning with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and proceeding
                    through the move to Egypt, the enslavement and the
                    exodus, and ending with the conquest of the land and the
                    settlement of the tribes of Israel, was no more than a later
                    reconstruction of events with a theological purpose.

                    Albright believed that the Bible is a historical document,
                    which, although it had gone through several editing stages,
                    nevertheless basically reflected the ancient reality. He was
                    convinced that if the ancient remains of Palestine were
                    uncovered, they would furnish unequivocal proof of the
                    historical truth of the events relating to the Jewish people in
                    its land.

                    The biblical archaeology that developed from Albright and
                    his pupils brought about a series of extensive digs at the
                    important biblical tells: Megiddo, Lachish, Gezer, Shechem
                    (Nablus), Jericho, Jerusalem, Ai, Giveon, Beit She'an, Beit
                    Shemesh, Hazor, Ta'anach and others. The way was
                    straight and clear: every finding that was uncovered would
                    contribute to the building of a harmonious picture of the
                    past. The archaeologists, who enthusiastically adopted the
                    biblical approach, set out on a quest to unearth the "biblical
                    period": the period of the patriarchs, the Canaanite cities
                    that were destroyed by the Israelites as they conquered the
                    land, the boundaries of the 12 tribes, the sites of the
                    settlement period, characterized by "settlement pottery," the
                    "gates of Solomon" at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer,
                    "Solomon's stables" (or Ahab's), "King Solomon's mines" at
                    Timna - and there are some who are still hard at work and
                    have found Mount Sinai (at Mount Karkoum in the Negev)
                    or Joshua's altar at Mount Ebal.

                    The crisis

                    Slowly, cracks began to appear in the picture.
                    Paradoxically, a situation was created in which the glut of
                    findings began to undermine the historical credibility of the
                    biblical descriptions instead of reinforcing them. A crisis
                    stage is reached when the theories within the framework of
                    the general thesis are unable to solve an increasingly large
                    number of anomalies. The explanations become
                    ponderous and inelegant, and the pieces do not lock
                    together smoothly. Here are a few examples of how the
                    harmonious picture collapsed.

                    Patriarchal Age: The researchers found it difficult to reach
                    agreement on which archaeological period matched the
                    Patriarchal Age. When did Abraham, Isaac and Jacob live?
                    When was the Cave of Machpelah (Tomb of the Patriarchs
                    in Hebron) bought in order to serve as the burial place for
                    the patriarchs and the matriarchs? According to the biblical
                    chronology, Solomon built the Temple 480 years after the
                    exodus from Egypt (1 Kings 6:1). To that we have to add
                    430 years of the stay in Egypt (Exodus 12:40) and the vast
                    lifetimes of the patriarchs, producing a date in the 21th
                    century BCE for Abraham's move to Canaan.

                    However, no evidence has been unearthed that can sustain
                    this chronology. Albright argued in the early 1960s in favor
                    of assigning the wanderings of Abraham to the Middle
                    Bronze Age (22nd-20th centuries BCE). However,
                    Benjamin Mazar, the father of the Israeli branch of biblical
                    archaeology, proposed identifying the historic background
                    of the Patriarchal Age a thousand years later, in the 11th
                    century BCE - which would place it in the "settlement
                    period." Others rejected the historicity of the stories and
                    viewed them as ancestral legends that were told in the
                    period of the Kingdom of Judea. In any event, the
                    consensus began to break down.

                    The exodus from Egypt, the wanderings in the desert and
                    Mount Sinai: The many Egyptian documents that we have
                    make no mention of the Israelites' presence in Egypt and
                    are also silent about the events of the exodus. Many
                    documents do mention the custom of nomadic shepherds to
                    enter Egypt during periods of drought and hunger and to
                    camp at the edges of the Nile Delta. However, this was not
                    a solitary phenomenon: such events occurred frequently
                    across thousands of years and were hardly exceptional.

                    Generations of researchers tried to locate Mount Sinai and
                    the stations of the tribes in the desert. Despite these
                    intensive efforts, not even one site has been found that can
                    match the biblical account.

                    The potency of tradition has now led some researchers to
                    "discover" Mount Sinai in the northern Hijaz or, as already
                    mentioned, at Mount Karkoum in the Negev. These central
                    events in the history of the Israelites are not corroborated in
                    documents external to the Bible or in archaeological
                    findings. Most historians today agree that at best, the stay in
                    Egypt and the exodous occurred in a few families and that
                    their private story was expanded and "nationalized" to fit
                    the needs of theological ideology.

                    The conquest: One of the shaping events of the people of
                    Israel in biblical historiography is the story of how the land
                    was conquered from the Canaanites. Yet extremely serious
                    difficulties have cropped up precisely in the attempts to
                    locate the archaeological evidence for this story.

                    Repeated excavations by various expeditions at Jericho
                    and Ai, the two cities whose conquest is described in the
                    greatest detail in the Book of Joshua, have proved very
                    disappointing. Despite the excavators' efforts, it emerged
                    that in the late part of the 13th century BCE, at the end of
                    the Late Bronze Age, which is the agreed period for the
                    conquest, there were no cities in either tell, and of course
                    no walls that could have been toppled. Naturally,
                    explanations were offered for these anomalies. Some
                    claimed that the walls around Jericho were washed away
                    by rain, while others suggested that earlier walls had been
                    used; and, as for Ai, it was claimed that the original story
                    actually referred to the conquest of nearby Beit El and was
                    transferred to Ai by later redactors.

                    Biblical scholars suggested a quarter of a century ago that
                    the conquest stories be viewed as etiological legends and
                    no more. But as more and more sites were uncovered and it
                    emerged that the places in question died out or were simply
                    abandoned at different times, the conclusion was bolstered
                    that there is no factual basis for the biblical story about the
                    conquest by Israelite tribes in a military campaign led by

                    The Canaanite cities: The Bible magnifies the strength and
                    the fortifications of the Canaanite cities that were
                    conquered by the Israelites: "great cities with walls
                    sky-high" (Deuteronomy 9:1). In practice, all the sites that
                    have been uncovered turned up remains of unfortified
                    settlements, which in most cases consisted of a few
                    structures or the ruler's palace rather than a genuine city.
                    The urban culture of Palestine in the Late Bronze Age
                    disintegrated in a process that lasted hundreds of years
                    and did not stem from military conquest. Moreover, the
                    biblical description is inconsistent with the geopolitical
                    reality in Palestine. Palestine was under Egyptian rule until
                    the middle of the 12th century BCE. The Egyptians'
                    administrative centers were located in Gaza, Yaffo and Beit
                    She'an. Egyptian findings have also been discovered in
                    many locations on both sides of the Jordan River. This
                    striking presence is not mentioned in the biblical account,
                    and it is clear that it was unknown to the author and his

                    The archaeological findings blatantly contradict the biblical
                    picture: the Canaanite cities were not "great," were not
                    fortified and did not have "sky-high walls." The heroism of
                    the conquerors, the few versus the many and the
                    assistance of the God who fought for his people are a
                    theological reconstruction lacking any factual basis.

                    Origin of the Israelites: The fusion of the conclusions drawn
                    from the episodes relating to the stages in which the people
                    of Israel emerged gave rise to a discussion of the bedrock
                    question: the identity of the Israelites. If there is no evidence
                    for the exodus from Egypt and the desert journey, and if the
                    story of the military conquest of fortified cities has been
                    refuted by archaeology, who, then, were these Israelites?
                    The archaeological findings did corroborate one important
                    fact: in the early Iron Age (beginning some time after 1200
                    BCE), the stage that is identified with the "settlement
                    period," hundreds of small settlements were established in
                    the area of the central hill region of the Land of Israel,
                    inhabited by farmers who worked the land or raised sheep.
                    If they did not come from Egypt, what is the origin of these
                    settlers? Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology at Tel
                    Aviv University, has proposed that these settlers were the
                    pastoral shepherds who wandered in this hill area
                    throughout the Late Bronze Age (graves of these people
                    have been found, without settlements). According to his
                    reconstruction, in the Late Bronze Age (which preceded the
                    Iron Age) the shepherds maintained a barter economy of
                    meat in exchange for grains with the inhabitants of the
                    valleys. With the disintegration of the urban and agricultural
                    system in the lowland, the nomads were forced to produce
                    their own grains, and hence the incentive for fixed
                    settlements arose.

                    The name "Israel" is mentioned in a single Egyptian
                    document from the period of Merneptah, king of Egypt,
                    dating from 1208 BCE: "Plundered is Canaan with every
                    evil, Ascalon is taken, Gezer is seized, Yenoam has
                    become as though it never was, Israel is desolated, its seed
                    is not." Merneptah refers to the country by its Canaanite
                    name and mentions several cities of the kingdom, along
                    with a non-urban ethnic group. According to this evidence,
                    the term "Israel" was given to one of the population groups
                    that resided in Canaan toward the end of the Late Bronze
                    Age, apparently in the central hill region, in the area where
                    the Kingdom of Israel would later be established.

                    A kingdom with no name

                    The united monarchy: Archaeology was also the source
                    that brought about the shift regarding the reconstruction of
                    the reality in the period known as the "united monarchy" of
                    David and Solomon. The Bible describes this period as the
                    zenith of the political, military and economic power of the
                    people of Israel in ancient times. In the wake of David's
                    conquests, the empire of David and Solomon stretched
                    from the Euprates River to Gaza ("For he controlled the
                    whole region west of the Euphrates, from Tiphsah to Gaza,
                    all the kings west of the Euphrates," 1 Kings 5:4). The
                    archaeological findings at many sites show that the
                    construction projects attributed to this period were meager
                    in scope and power.

                    The three cities of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, which are
                    mentioned among Solomon's construction enterprises,
                    have been excavated extensively at the appropriate layers.
                    Only about half of Hazor's upper section was fortified,
                    covering an area of only 30 dunams (7.5 acres), out of a
                    total area of 700 dunams which was settled in the Bronze
                    Age. At Gezer there was apparently only a citadel
                    surrounded by a casematewall covering a small area, while
                    Megiddo was not fortified with a wall.

                    The picture becomes even more complicated in the light of
                    the excavations conducted in Jerusalem, the capital of the
                    united monarchy. Large sections of the city have been
                    excavated over the past 150 years. The digs have turned
                    up impressive remnants of the cities from the Middle
                    Bronze Age and from Iron Age II (the period of the Kingdom
                    of Judea). No remains of buildings have been found from
                    the period of the united monarchy (even according to the
                    agreed chronology), only a few pottery shards. Given the
                    preservation of the remains from earlier and later periods, it
                    is clear that Jerusalem in the time of David and Solomon
                    was a small city, perhaps with a small citadel for the king,
                    but in any event it was not the capital of an empire as
                    described in the Bible. This small chiefdom is the source of
                    the "Beth David" title mentioned in later Aramean and
                    Moabite inscriptions. The authors of the biblical account
                    knew Jerusalem in the 8th century BCE, with its wall and
                    the rich culture of which remains have been found in
                    various parts of the city, and projected this picture back to
                    the age of the united monarchy. Presumably Jerusalem
                    acquired its central status after the destruction of Samaria,
                    its northern rival, in 722 BCE.

                    The archaeological findings dovetail well with the
                    conclusions of the critical school of biblical scholarship.
                    David and Solomon were the rulers of tribal kingdoms that
                    controlled small areas: the former in Hebron and the latter
                    in Jerusalem. Concurrently, a separate kingdom began to
                    form in the Samaria hills, which finds expression in the
                    stories about Saul's kingdom. Israel and Judea were from
                    the outset two separate, independent kingdoms, and at
                    times were in an adversarial relationship. Thus, the great
                    united monarchy is an imaginary historiosophic creation,
                    which was composed during the period of the Kingdom of
                    Judea at the earliest. Perhaps the most decisive proof of
                    this is the fact that we do not know the name of this

                    Jehovah and his consort: How many gods, exactly, did
                    Israel have? Together with the historical and political
                    aspects, there are also doubts as to the credibility of the
                    information about belief and worship. The question about
                    the date at which monotheism was adopted by the
                    kingdoms of Israel and Judea arose with the discovery of
                    inscriptions in ancient Hebrew that mention a pair of gods:
                    Jehovah and his Asherah. At two sites, Kuntiliet Ajrud in
                    the southwestern part of the Negev hill region, and at
                    Khirbet el-Kom in the Judea piedmont, Hebrew inscriptions
                    have been found that mention "Jehovah and his Asherah,"
                    "Jehovah Shomron and his Asherah, "Jehovah Teman and
                    his Asherah." The authors were familiar with a pair of gods,
                    Jehovah and his consort Asherah, and send blessings in
                    the couple's name. These inscriptions, from the 8th century
                    BCE, raise the possibility that monotheism, as a state
                    religion, is actually an innovation of the period of the
                    Kingdom of Judea, following the destruction of the Kingdom
                    of Israel.

                    The archaeology of the Land of Israel is completing a
                    process that amounts to a scientific revolution in its field. It
                    is ready to confront the findings of biblical scholarship and
                    of ancient history. But at the same time, we are witnessing
                    a fascinating phenomenon in which all this is simply
                    ignored by the Israeli public. Many of the findings
                    mentioned here have been known for decades. The
                    professional literature in the spheres of archaeology, Bible
                    and the history of the Jewish people has addressed them in
                    dozens of books and hundreds of articles. Even if not all the
                    scholars accept the individual arguments that inform the
                    examples I cited, the majority have adopted their main

                    Nevertheless, these revolutionary views are not penetrating
                    the public consciousness. About a year ago, my colleague,
                    the historian Prof. Nadav Ne'eman, published an article in
                    the Culture and Literature section of Ha'aretz entitled "To
                    Remove the Bible from the Jewish Bookshelf," but there
                    was no public outcry. Any attempt to question the reliability
                    of the biblical descriptions is perceived as an attempt to
                    undermine "our historic right to the land" and as shattering
                    the myth of the nation that is renewing the ancient Kingdom
                    of Israel. These symbolic elements constitute such a critical
                    component of the construction of the Israeli identity that any
                    attempt to call their veracity into question encounters
                    hostility or silence. It is of some interest that such
                    tendencies within the Israeli secular society go
                    hand-in-hand with the outlook among educated Christian
                    groups. I have found a similar hostility in reaction to
                    lectures I have delivered abroad to groups of Christian
                    bible lovers, though what upset them was the challenge to
                    the foundations of their fundamentalist religious belief.

                    It turns out that part of Israeli society is ready to recognize
                    the injustice that was done to the Arab inhabitants of the
                    country and is willing to accept the principle of equal rights
                    for women - but is not up to adopting the archaeological
                    facts that shatter the biblical myth. The blow to the mythical
                    foundations of the Israeli identity is apparently too
                    threatening, and it is more convenient to turn a blind eye.