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The Bible Unearthed:

Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts
by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silverman

This terribly important book already has so many good reviews written by others, some of which you can read below, that there's no point in gaiaguys trying to gild the lily by trying to write yet another. Suffice it to say that everyone should read this book - heroically researched and written by two famous Israeli scholars - as soon as possible, in order to understand the untruths upon which Zionist Israel bases her expansionist territorial claims.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com's Best of 2001
The Bible Unearthed is a balanced, thoughtful, bold reconsideration of the historical period that produced the Hebrew Bible. The headline news in this book is easy to pick out: there is no evidence for the existence of Abraham, or any of the Patriarchs; ditto for Moses and the Exodus; and the same goes for the whole period of Judges and the united monarchy of David and Solomon. In fact, the authors argue that it is impossible to say much of anything about ancient Israel until the seventh century B.C., around the time of the reign of King Josiah. In that period, "the narrative of the Bible was uniquely suited to further the religious reform and territorial ambitions of Judah." Yet the authors deny that their arguments should be construed as compromising the Bible's power. Only in the 18th century--"when the Hebrew Bible began to be dissected and studied in isolation from its powerful function in community life"--did readers begin to view the Bible as a source of empirically verifiable history. For most of its life, the Bible has been what Finkelstein and Silberman reveal it once more to be: an eloquent expression of "the deeply rooted sense of shared origins, experiences, and destiny that every human community needs in order to survive," written in such a way as to encompass "the men, women, and children, the rich, the poor, and the destitute of an entire community." --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly
Finkelstein, director of Tel Aviv University's excavations at Megiddo (ancient Armageddon), and Silberman, author of a series of successful and intriguing books on the political and cultural dimensions of archeology, present for the first time to a general audience the results of recent research, which reveals more clearly that while the Bible may be the most important piece of Western literature--serving concrete political, cultural and religious purposes--many of the events recorded in the Old Testament are not historically accurate. Finkelstein and Silberman do not aim to undermine the Bible's import, but to demonstrate why it became the basic document for a distinct religious community under particular political circumstances. For example, they maintain that the Exodus was not a single dramatic event, as described in the second book of the Bible, but rather a series of occurrences over a long period of time. The Old Testament account is, according to the authors, neither historical truth nor literary fiction, but a powerful expression of memory and hope constructed to serve particular political purposes at the time it was composed. The authors claim quite convincingly that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah became radically different regions even before the time of King David; the northern lands were densely populated, with a booming agriculture-based economy, while the southern region was sparsely populated by migratory pastoral groups. Furthermore, they contend, "we still have no hard archaeological evidence--despite the unparalleled biblical description of its grandeur--that Jerusalem was anything more than a modest highland village in the time of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam." Fresh, stimulating and highly engaging, this book will hold greatest appeal for readers familiar with the Bible, in particular the Old Testament--unfortunately, a shrinking percentage of the population. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Carol Mann.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist
Unlike the millions who revere the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) as the word of God, Finkelstein and Silberman approach it as a distinctly human record, one bearing the marks not of careful historians but rather of impassioned visionaries struggling to wrest transcendent meaning out of the whirlwind of events. Following a trail of evidence uncovered in recent decades by archaeologists working throughout the Near East, the authors find no corroboration for the biblical accounts of Abraham or Joseph or Moses. And although archaeology does verify the historical reality of David and Solomon, it exposes their empire as a mere shadow of that ascribed to them in Scripture. Clue by clue, a pattern of discrepancies accumulates separating archaeology from Scripture, so revealing the authorial fingerprint of an embattled group of religious leaders, fighting valiantly against political treachery and spiritual apostasy. The authors argue forcefully that these guardians of orthodoxy forged a powerful new testimony for their faith, fashioning inherited traditions and recent developments into one magnificent--but profoundly ahistorical--saga. A significant, if controversial, contribution to cross-disciplinary studies of history and religion. Bryce Christensen
Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved

Jonathan Kirsch Los Angeles Times A brutally honest assessment of what archaeology can and cannot tell us about the historical accuracy of the Bible...presented with both authority and panache. --This text refers to the
Paperback edition.

Book Description

Is the Bible true? For the last hundred and fifty years a war has been waged over the historical reliability of the Hebrew scriptures. Recent dramatic discoveries of biblical archaeology have cast serious doubt on the familiar account of ancient Israel and the origins of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Though the Bible credits Abraham as the first human to realize there is only one God, we now know that there is no evidence for monotheism for many centuries after the reported time of Abraham. Nor is there any archaeological evidence for the Exodus, for Joshua's conquest of Canaan, or for the vast "united monarchy" of David and Solomon.

In The Bible Unearthed two leading scholars, an archaeologist and a historian, combine an exhilarating tour of the field of biblical archaeology with a fascinating explanation of how and why the Bible's historical saga differs so dramatically from the archaeological finds. They explain what the Bible says about ancient Israel and show how it diverges sharply from archaeological reality. They then offer a dramatic new version of the history of ancient Israel, bringing archaeological evidence to bear on the question of when, where, and why the Bible was first written.

What do we know about the time of the ancient patriarchs? When did monotheism first arise? When and where did the first Israelites appear? How did the people of Israel first come to occupy the Promised Land? How extensive was David and Solomon's kingdom? When and why did Jerusalem become the capital of ancient Israel? All of these questions have new answers.

As to why the answers are so new, Finkelstein and Silberman draw on evidence from decades of archaeological work and dozens of digs in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria, to explain that the key early books of the Bible were first codified in the seventh century BCE, hundreds of years after the core events of the lives of the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt, and the conquest of Canaan were said to have taken place.

Yet the ultimate message of The Bible Unearthed is not just a correction of the record. Instead, it is a unique and fascinating explanation of the origins of the Bible. The Bible's newly identified authors, threatened with political crisis and the intimidation of nearby empires, crafted a brilliant document, a set of stories and teachings that would eventually appeal to the faithful beyond the boundaries of any particular kingdom.

The Bible Unearthed will forever change how you think about the world's greatest book.


(Thanks to Rense.com )

The Bible Unearthed
By Larry Saltzman
For PaestineChronicle.com
Middle East News Online
January 9th, 2002

A revolution is happening in Biblical Archeology. Biblical Archeology is critically examining the Bible against the archeological record and is turning everything we thought we knew upside down. It may disturb many that hold strong political or highly conservative religious beliefs. This will be true of Christians, Muslims and Jews who interpret the Bible literally.
It will disturb many secular Zionists who justify modern Israel's existence and the proposed annexation of "Judah and Sumaria" based on the Biblical Texts. You can choose to believe this research or not. But it has profound implications for the Israeli Palestinian conflict. This article will review the theories of one of the foremost of these revolutionary Biblical archeologists -Israel Finkelstein.
Professor Finklestein (Head of the Archeology Department, Tel Aviv University), is an Israeli and has received a lot of criticism in Israel for his work from conservative elements in the society that are aware of what it means for the Biblical underpinnings of Zionism. To read more about the research that lies behind this summary, I refer you to the writings of Israel Finklestein. The most accessible book is "The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts" written with Neil Asher Silberman and published by The Free Press in 2001.
Finkelstein is one of a group of radical archeologists that is turning the field of biblical archeology on its' head.
Archeologists live in a world of tells, strata, Carbon 14 dating, Jericho IV, The Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age, Iron Age I and Iron Age II and of course pottery shards and architectural styles. Slowly but surely as they excavate and date the significant Archeological sites located in modern Israel and parts of Occupied Palestine the history of the region as recorded in the Bible is being re-written from what the Bible has told us. What follows is a very brief summary of that research and an analysis of its' implications.
Professor Finklestein has not attempted himself to interpret his research in the context of the contemporary political and diplomatic complexities of the Middle East. He has simply presented the facts that the archeological record has revealed. Some archeologists still disagree, but his is a mainstream scientific view and not the work of a fringe writer with a political or conspiracy ax to grind. And more and more prominent scholars in the field are moving to something like his viewpoint, even though they may disagree on the details.
Israel, Judah and Samaria were simply Canaanite States that arose out of indigenous Canaanite culture and not from the invasion of a mythical people called the Hebrews.
Israel was a small Canaanite State that briefly achieved a golden age, reaching its' height of power and glory in the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. The House of David never ruled in Israel it ruled over the Canaanite State of Judah.
Finklestein is convinced that the House of David did exist. David and Solomon were probably tribal chiefs in the hill country that became the Kingdom of Judah Jerusalem was the Capital of Judah not of Israel. In the time of David and Solomon, Jerusalem was an unimportant very small town with no great Temple. The major cult centers were farther to the north in the cities of Israel. In fact the great cities of Canaan that were previously attributed to the Solomon were built by Israeli Kings like Ahab.
It was under King Josiah that the Bible was finally written and something resembling modern Judaism begins to take shape in the 7th and 8th centuries BC. It is political document that is designed to glorify the Josiah and to connect him falsely with the golden era when the state of Israel briefly rose up as a powerful and advanced civilized center.
The Bible is essentially a work of propaganda weaving, historical fragments, and myths of various Canaanite peoples into a powerful justification for Josiah's rule and expansionist policies.
I personally draw a positive conclusion from this research. As an American-Jew, I have long struggled with the contradictions and problems of Zionism and the unjust policies of the State of Israel towards Palestinians. For those brave enough to seize this research in the right spirit, there is a solution in it for the problems of the Middle East. Simply stated, European Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, and Palestinians are brothers and sisters and share a common Canaanite ancestry. There were a small number of voices amongst the early Zionists who were against the creation of a separate Jewish state in the region. They lost out to the bigger faction lead David Ben-Gurion, who suffered from the disease of European colonialism. Ben-Gurion and those in his camp saw the natives of the region as an obstacle to be eliminated. I believe Jews around the world need to take pride not in Israel as a modern colonialist State but in the entire region Palestine as the homeland of Canaanite and Israelite culture that we are descended from. European Jews are simply Europeanized Canaanites, Palestinians, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish were simple Arabacized Canaanites. Even modern genetic research is proving that we come from the same ancestry.
Think of Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans returning to their ancestral homelands to experience the culture and the people. They do not think they have the right to conquer the land and dispossess those who stayed behind. Rather they go back to re-connect with their cultural roots from those who are part of the living culture. Because of Zionism, Jews lost the chance to return to Palestine and re-connect with the Palestinians who are the people that have carried forward the culture of ancient Canaan. Viewed in that light, I see the fight against Zionism as being as much my fight as the Palestinians fight. It is the Zionists who created a rift between family, where there should have been friendship and cooperation. It is modern Zionism that disconnected me from my roots not connected me.
It is that movement that even stole the spiritual base of Judaism and associated for the first time in two thousand years with aggression, and oppression of others. Whatever flaws my European ancestors had, they were not the ones starting wars and building colonial empires, as was the Christian majority in Europe.
It is the Zionists who through their acts of ethnic cleansing and on-going violence have made enemies out of people who share a common ancestry with me. The disease of European Colonialist thinking prevented them from seeing how much the Palestinians had to share with us of the ancient cultures and common heritage. Those who came from Europe may have had the advantage of European technology, but the Palestinians had something far more valuable that the Zionists treated with contempt and discarded.
My hope though, is that a new vision of the common ancestry of Jews and Palestinians can be shared and spread and used to defeat the discredited legacy of Zionism. The ancient Canaanites had a great culture. From their culture springs Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Their culture as expressed by the Canaanite civilizations of Judah and Israel exerts more influence on great portions of humanity than does that of far greater military powers and empires of the ancient world. Where the myths and religions of other ancient civilizations of the Middle East are no longer believed or practiced by many people, The religious heritage of Judah is practiced in the form of Christianity, Islam and Judaism by something approaching two billion people on every inhabited continent. When we can recognize and accept our profound common heritage, perhaps we can begin to overcome the suffering and warfare of the twentieth century and move towards lasting peace and justice in the Middle East.
Larry Saltzman is an American Jew who believes that the meaning of the Holocaust is that "never again" means that no people on the planet should be persecuted. He is deeply involved in organic gardening and has an orchard of some 60 fruit trees. He had been opposed to the Israeli occupation for some time, but when he learned of the wanton destruction of orchards and farmland by Israeli troops in the Palestinian Territories this past year, he decided to become active. He has a B.A. in Anthropology from UCLA but works as a computer programmer.


(Thanks to the Denver Seminary)

Denver Journal  http://www.denverseminary.edu/dj/articles2001/0100/0104.php

An Online Review of Current Biblical and Theological Studies.

Finkelstein, Israel and Neil Asher Silberman. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: The Free Press. Hardback, 2001. x + 385 pp. ISBN 0-684-86912-8.

This book is written by a member of the "new generation" of Israeli archaeologists who holds a professorship at the University of Tel Aviv, and by a journalist who has published critical analyses of the history of archaeology of the Holy Land. Together, their stated purpose is to present how the new discoveries of the discipline of archaeology have overturned long held assumptions about the essential reliability of the Old Testament as a historical record. The book is arranged so as to move chronologically from what is traditionally regarded as earliest (the patriarchs) to what is the latest testimony of the biblical historical record (the post-exilic period).

For each chapter, the authors present a summary of the biblical account and then discuss the ways in which archaeology has controverted this traditional understanding. The authors always present their interpretation of the archaeological data but do not mention or interact with contemporary alternative approaches. Thus the book is ideologically driven and controlled.

The following represents a selection of the arguments presented and some possible reponses to various claims. Due to the popular nature of the book it was felt useful to provide greater detail in the form of a review article, than is customary with reviews in the Denver Journal.


Of all periods of biblical history, that of the patriarchs is the most controversial. The authors use a variety of specific examples of items mentioned in the Genesis account that are not attested outside the biblical record until much later, centuries after any dating of the patriarchs that would do justice to the Bible's claims of their living in the early second millennium B.C. These include the presence of camels, Arabian goods and South Arab tribes, and Philistines. Domesticated camels are not clearly attested before the first millennium B.C., although camels are. However, their association with desert groups and the fact that Arabia has no written records prior to the first millennium B.C. make proof regarding historicity (or lack thereof) difficult. As for the Philistines, it may be that this name (like the Aramaeans) was applied to people living in the regions where the Philistines would later settle. Thus it is an updating of the account to make it understandable to readers of a later period.


According to the authors, the account of Ahmose's expulsion of the Hyksos provides a parallel for the biblical account of the exodus. This took place c. 1570 B.C. and that conflicts with a c. 1440 B.C. exodus date based on 1 Kings 6:1. However, it may be noted that the 480 years mentioned in 1 Kings 6:1 may be symbolic and not refer to a specific date (cf. Gen 15:13 and 16 where "four centuries" become "four generations"). Nevertheless, the name of Ramesses puts the exodus into the 13th century according to "most scholars".

Pp. 59-60 assert that Egypt makes no mention of the exodus and that no entity known as Israel existed in any specific place. Only migrant workers were known who came from multiple places of origin. However, it is not possible to determine , in a city as large as Tell ed-Daba, that there was no homogeneous W. Semitic element. So many of the finds demonstrate W. Semitic cultural influence. Interestingly, this city was rebuilt and inhabited by W. Semitic peoples at exactly the time of the oppression, in the generation or two before the Exodus. Egypt did not record major defeats and that is exactly how the exodus is portrayed in the Bible. Nor do we have a complete set of records from the Egyptian borders. Finally, it was a "mixed multitude" that left Egypt; not a single self-conscious entity. After all, the Bible records that it was the covenant at Sinai, after the exodus, that established this group as a distinct national entity.

On pp. 65-71 the authors assert that many of the cultural phenomena mentioned in the biblical accounts of Joseph and the exodus, while present in the second millennium B.C., re-emerged in the seventh century B.C. This is the time that the authors would like to date all these events. They assert that distinctive events such as the Egyptian expulsion of the Hyksos in the 16th century B.C. remained in Israelite consciousness a millennium later and formed part of the amalgam of traditions that were rewritten into the account of Israelite origins in Egypt. While it is true that a number of elements in the ancient Near East were shared by second millennium and 7th century B.C. inhabitants, it is not true to claim that the seventh century is a better period for the origin of the biblical material. No one has ever proven the renowned Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen wrong when he affirmed that the sale price for a slave such as Joseph was twenty shekels of silver according to Gen. 37:28. This amount for a slave was customary in the first half of the second millennium B.C. but unknown at later periods, including the era of the seventh century. Again, only in the thirteenth century B.C. was it known for the pharaoh of Egypt to have his capital in the eastern Delta region, the only region in Egypt that would allow for Moses and Aaron to visit pharaoh and return on the same day to the oppressed Israelites working on the cities of Pithom and Ramesses. These are just two illustrations of customs that are unique to the traditional periods assigned to these narratives. The absence of any attempt to identify and address contrary evidence is a symptom problemmatic to the type of scholarship that pervades this book

Wilderness Wanderings

Even if the number of Israelites was considerably smaller than 600, 000 warriors, it would be impossible for the Israelites to pass through the desert without a trace (pp. 62-63). However, that is exactly what many tribes have done for millennia. The only traces of purely nomadic peoples are group burial sites, religious memorials, and written inscriptions. Of the many written inscriptions identified in the Sinai, I know of none that pre-date the first millennium B.C., other than at Serabit el-Khadem, where Semitic inscriptions have been found. The religious memorials would be erected by pilgrims who worshipped various desert deities. However, the commands of Exodus forbid the erection of any sort of images of the God of Israel. Finally, corporate burial sites would only be used by nomadic groups who remained in a particular region and would periodically visit the site of the burials. This is explicitly not true of Israel, according to the biblical text.

On p. 63 the authors make a remarkable demand. They state that even the smallest group of Israelites should be expected to leave identifiable traces in the desert. Further, they maintain that there is no evidence for pastoral (nomadic?) activity at the time of the exodus, presumably the 13th century B.C. This means that there is no evidence for the pastoral groups from Edom and elsewhere that the border stations of Egypt on the edge of the Sinai record as visiting their land at the same time as the exodus (i.e., 13th century). The authors cite examples of this on p. 59 for another purpose. There are many more textual examples of pastoral groups and individuals moving back and forth betweenEgypt and the Sinai at this time. Although they may not be known to archaeologists insofar as they left no remains in the Sinai, they clearly are known to contemporary Egyptian border guards. As in other instances, the authors of this book trust the archaeological evidence far more than they do written sources, even eyewitness accounts.

On pp. 63-64 claims are made that various places and peoples mentioned in the biblical accounts of the wilderness wanderings did not exist in the Late Bronze Age. First of all, it is important to repeat that it is not at all clear what remains one should expect to find of a wandering people who remained in no single region for more than a relatively short period of time. Even if sites such as Kadesh Barnea are correctly identified, and we do not know that they are, the storage houses, domestic dwellings, and cult sites of occupants of the Negev, would not have been built, used, or left by Israel. Otherwise, artifacts left by inhabitants of the Negev more than three thousand years ago are few and by no means reflective of the population there at any one time. In fact, contrary to the implications of the authors, Late Bronze Age, 13th century B.C. sites do remain in the Negev. These include, above all, the "Hathor Temple" in the Timna Valley of the southern Negev. The Egyptianization of this site, that has been identified as "Midianite" included inscriptions that allow for the possible identification of it with the copper mining site of Atiqa mentioned in an Egyptian papyrus. And the evidence for the "tent" nature of the shrine, covered in cloth, parallels what would have been the contemporary tent shrine of ancient Israel, the Tabernacle.

While surveys from the first half of the twentieth century yielded little evidence for occupation in the Late Bronze Age regions of Edom, Ammon, or Moab; this has changed in recent years. Although small in comparison with later demographic evidence, the population of Jordan was of some significance in the Late Bronze Age. Egyptian scribes of the Late Bronze Age knew of and named sites in this area, such as Dibon. Dibon is also mentioned in the Israelite sojourn, along with Heshbon. The fact that neither Tell Hisban nor Tell Dhiban have revealed evidence of occupation at this time, does not mean that the sites did not exist. The names could have moved to other sites in the region, a phenomenon known elsewhere. Whatever the explanation, the contemporary scribes of Egypt, like the Israelite recorders of these events, clearly knew of population centers such as Dibon and others in the Ammonite/Moabite regions.


The chapter on Joshua and the issues surrounding the conquest of Canaan continues a one-sided presentation of the evidence in which the authors attempt to pit the archaeological evidence against the biblical account. In this case there can have been no entrance into Canaan from outside by a group of people known as Israel. First, there is no evidence of burn layers at most sites mentioned as conquered by Joshua. Second, the exceptions such as Bethel, Lachish, Hazor, and others are either too late (12th century B.C.) or were conquered by other people than Israel. Third, the movement of Sea Peoples and their wars and Egypt as well as destruction of the coastal city of Ugarit remain evidence that these intruded into Palestine, rather than Israel. Finally, the powerful hold that the empire of Egypt had on Palestine at this time would not have permitted the rise of a significant entity such as Israel in the hill country.

These all reflect particular interpretations of the archaeological evidence, minimally informed by contemporary textual evidence. First, Josh. 11:13 states that only Hazor, among all the cities that Israel conquered (in chs. 10-11) was burned by Israel. Therefore, it is not surprising that contemporary burn layers do not exist elsewhere. Jericho and Ai present special problems. However, the reuse of Middle Bronze and Late Bronze fortifications at both sites as (perhaps temporary) fortified outposts at the time of Israel's entrance into Canaan is never considered. Nor is the fact noted that sites such as Megiddo, whose Late Bronze Age wall has yet to be identified, are described by the pharaoh of Egypt as having such fortifications in the Late Bronze Age. Could it be that the work of archaeology is fragmentary and not a compelling argument that can overturn all textual evidence? Second, assuming a 13th century date for the exodus and entrance into Canaan, it is indeed likely that sites such as Lachish and Bethel, whose burn layers date to the 12th century, may have fallen to groups other than Israel. Joshua nowhere suggests that Bethel was destroyed by Israel nor that Lachish was burned. As to Hazor, its 13th century destruction level, as dated by the present excavator Amnon Ben Tor (following the same conclusions as the previous excavator, Y. Yadin), remains an interesting and plausible connection with the destruction by Israel as recorded in Joshua. Not only is the occupation that follows this destruction different (Canaanite urbant to Israelite village?), but the defacement of the cultic images suggests a people intolerant of the gods of the Canaanites.

Third, the movement of the Sea Peoples could be seen as paralleling that of the Israelites. The thirteenth and twelfth centuries B.C. were times of upheaval and geopolitical alteration throughout the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean worlds. It would be a good time of Israel to be on the move. Further, the destruction of Ugarit is not necessarily related to an invasion by the Sea Peoples. This reconstruction, on the basis of the existing textual evidence, has been called into question and is by no means certain. Indeed, there is no certain contemporary evidence for the presence of the Sea Peoples conquering nations except in Egypt. Finally, the power of Egypt was on the wane in the 12th century. The pharaoh Merneptah mentions Israel in Palestine on a stele describing his conquests, c. 1207 B.C. Events such as those in Johsua could have occurred in the 13th century when there is little certain evidence of Egyptian hold, either in the hill country between the Jezreel Valley and Jerusalem or in the region later identified as southern Judah. Further, it is not clear that sites such as Gezer and perhaps Jerusalem, as mentioned in the southern campaign of Joshua 10, were not Egyptian bases or strongholds. Particularly places such as Gaza, Bethshan, Megiddo, and Gezer do seem to have been influenced or controlled by Egypt at the time. It is interesting to note, however, that the biblical text does not suggest the occupation of any of these towns by Israel.


The appearance of hundreds of village settlements in the highland region of Palestine is noted by the authors. Indeed, Israel Finkelstein was a major figure in the identification of the emergence of this phenomenon c. 1200 B.C. Archaeologically, however, this chapter is concerned with demonstrating two points. First, the settlements are unwalled and betray no evidence of a people either moving from outside of Palestine or of a violent conquest. Second, the villages, especially in their oval configurations, resemble the pastoral nomad tent settlements They thus demonstrate that these new settlements were composed of former pastoral nomads in the highlands of Canaan who settled at this time. Here is further proof that the Israelites were not foreigners but indigenous to the highland areas. Several points should be made in response. First, the date of 1200 B.C. is not as certain as the authors would like it to be. In fact, they date the appearance of signficant village life to the decline in Egyptian control of the region in the mid-twelfth century. However, the field archaeologist for the northern region of the hill country, Adam Zertal, has dated some of his early settlements into the twelfth century B.C. This would be when Israel might have first begun to settle in the region and well before the collapse of Egyptian control throughout Palestine. Second, the unwalled village life presented in this archaeological picture is in precise agreement with the picture of village life found in Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel. This is Israelite life before the rise of the monarchy and the Bible reflects the sociology of this period accurately. The issue of whether these people, when they first came to Palestine, engaged in warfare primarily with the Canaanites of adjacent lowland regions, is not relevant to their settled life. Further, the picture is more complex than this as recent studies summarized by E. Bloch-Smith and B. A. Nakhai ("A Landscape Comes to Life: The Iron Age I," Near East Archaeology 62 [1999] 101-127) have demonstrated. Fortified villages do appear, often at the perimeter of the village settlement clusters, i.e., at the entrances to valleys and on the fringes of the desert. Compare the site of Tell ed-Dawwara, southeast of Bethel. This Iron Age 1 (1200-1000 B.C.) site was fortified in a way that could be used for a refuge in times of crises, such as occurred in the book of Judges. Finally, the question of whether or not the early Israelites used tent settlement plans for their villages says nothing about their origins. The problems with assuming that all the people who appear in the villages of Iron Age 1 highland Canaan were from nomadic groups in the same region are manifold. First, it assumes an insularity in the region that never existed. Neither 19th and early 20th century A.D. ethnographic observations of the nomadic movements back and forth across the Jordan River, nor the far-ranging biblical and extrabiblical textual and archaeological evidence from the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages support this interpretation. Whether considering the bull from the cult site east of Dothan or the personal names from the Amarna and other contemporary texts from this region, the evidence indicates widespread influence and exchange with groups from outside Palestine. Second, there is the contemporary similarity in pottery forms and architecture, as well as the increase in villages, in the areas east of the Jordan River. Thus the people east of the Jordan River were like those west of the Jordan in the late 13th and 12th centuries. This concurs both with Israel entering Palestine from east of the Jordan and with the settlement of the two and a half tribes east of the Jordan. Third, as has been argued by other archaeologists who specialized in this period, there are too many people represented in the village settlements to explain as all originating as highland nomads. Some, at least, must have come from outside and settled in the region. Finally, we should not be surprised to find that the Israelites were not distinguishable culturally from other occupants of the highland regions. This is the very point that Judges 2:9-12 makes.

United Monarchy

The authors contend that, while David and Solomon existed, they ruled over a small village and a tiny kingdom; completely unlike that suggested in the descriptions of the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. They focus on two reasons for this argument: the absence of tenth century B.C. (the time of the United Monarchy) evidence from Jerusalem, and the belief that the monumental gates at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer should now be dated a century later, along with other monumental buildings that might characterize the age of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 9:15, which names these three sites). However, these objections are not as strong as they appear. First, Jerusalem has been continuously inhabited since the time of David. There has been much building and rebuilding. On the site where David and Solomon would have had their palace and government buildings, there was extensive mining and destruction during the Roman period to allow for the building of luxury homes. Furthermore, the presence of Middle Bronze and Iron Age II walls, but not any from the tenth century, proves little. The occupation by David of a small Jebusite stronghold such as Jerusalem would have left him with a fortified area that was small. Little might have been left from that period. The same is true for the Late Bronze Age. Archaeological discoveries have revealed very little from that period, as well. Nevertheless, the Amarna correspondence bears witness to a population center that had interests and influence throughout Palestine. Again, the absence of archaeological evidence is not conclusive regarding what can be deduced, even from contemporary written sources. The question of the dating of the gates and other architecture at Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor continues to be debated. Finkelstein's carbon dating on some wooden beams from Megiddo cannot be considered conclusive until the evidence is published and adequate evaluation is made. Furthermore, the most recent excavators of Gezer (William Dever) and Hazor (Amnon Ben-Tor) continue to confirm a tenth century Solomonic dating for these gate structures.

Early Divided Monarchy

The authors devote a great deal of this chapter to arguing the cyclical view of the settlement patterns in the region and the manner in which that demonstrates both the lack of historicity to a tenth century United Monarchy and the origins of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah in two completely separate periods and places. The argument that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah occupy distinct ecological and geo-political contexts is well made. Not only the history of settlement in the region, but the entire history of the Divided Monarchy and subsequent experiences confirm this. However, none of this demonstrates anything about the origins of the two states nor does it prove that the United Monarchy could not have existed. Everything in the books of Samuel and Kings suggests that the formation and maintenance of the union of the twelve tribes was a difficult task involving the investment of much political and military energy. However, no amount of environmental determinism can change the fact that at times before (e.g., Egypt's New Kingdom) and after (e.g., the Hellenistic period) the tenth century, this land was united under a single sovereignty.

Later Divided Monarchy and Exile

The final chapters of the book reflect a closer agreement with the claims of the biblical texts for the respective periods under consideration. This is because the authors wish to locate the writing of the biblical text in the late 8th and 7th centuries B.C. However, several points deserve attention. First, in order to argue for these dates for the composition of the first materials that would form the Old Testament, the authors contend against literacy much before the time of Josiah. Thus they never explain the widespread presence of alphabetic writing that is attested in every major area of Palestine in every century from the 13th through to the time of Josiah. They also ignore the presence of an abecedary discovered in the 12th or 11th century Israelite village of Izbet Sartah, which demonstrates how even in small towns writing and reading were being studied and learned. Nor do the authors note that similarities with Assyria in that there and in Palestine the administrative beaurocracy of the 8th century resulted in a massive increase in the number of preserved documents. However, Assyria preserved important literary compositions from earlier centuries, as did Egypt, and the same may be true of Palestine located between these two superpowers.

A second point has to do with the authors' tendency to emphasize the massive destruction of most of Judea as a result of the invasion of Sennacherib. However, the historians writing Kings and Chronicles do not emphasize this. Instead, they focus on the miraculous preservation of Jerusalem and praise Hezekiah for his great demonstrations of faith. The authors belittle the accomplishment of Hezekiah and contend that the pragmatic acceptance of non-Yahweh worship and Assyrian control by Manasseh was more successful in the following century. However, they overlook one of the most important facts. During Hezekiah's reign, his main city (Jerusalem) did not fall. This was true despite its endurance of the full force of the Assyrian army under Sennacherib. No other city is known to have resisted and not fallen from Samaria to Babylon. If a miracle did not actually happen, surely Jerusalemites of the time must have believed that one did.

The third matter has to do with the number of people deported to Babylon. The authors do not carefully distinguish between what is certainly a long held view, that there was no one left in Jerusalem but they were all deported, and the actual statements of the Bible which may list numbers but are never clear as to the percentage of those deported.

Appendices follow in which specific arguments are made regarding ancient various points of scholarly debate. The same conclusions are argued as already presented in the main text.

This book must be used with caution because it pretends to describe what we now really know about archaeology and how it contradicts various biblical claims; however, it does so in a biased and non-objective manner. Contrary opinions in interpreting the new evidence are not discussed, much less given a fair hearing. The book is ideologically driven and should be treated that way by any one who reads it.

Richard S. Hess, Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament
Denver Seminary
March 2001

(Thanks to Atheist Coalition of San Diego)


Review of The Bible Unearthed

The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, Free Press, 2001

By Heather Campbell

"The historical saga contained in the Bible -- from Abraham's encounter with God and his journey to Canaan, to Moses' deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage, to the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah --was not a miraculous revelation, but a brilliant product of the human imagination."

So begins the Prologue of The Bible Unearthed, a book which summarizes and interprets very recent Biblical archaeology for the general public. Although much of the Hebrew Bible (the "Old Testament" to Christians) purports to be a history of the people of Israel from the beginning of time to a couple of hundred years BCE, archaeology and modern scholarship have made the case that the Biblical account is less like history and more like legend. Moreover, scholars have even been able to build an argument as to when and why this saga was composed.

It seems that around 630 to 600 BCE, in the court in Jerusalem, a national epic was compiled as a propaganda tool, to unite and energize the population with tales of past glories. This epic was woven together partly from oral traditions that may have preserved some dim memory of actual persons or events, but because it was written hundreds of years after the times it purports to chronicle, and also because it addressed issues current at the time of writing, there are telltale anachronisms and inconsistencies with the findings of archaeology.

Among the problems:

  • According to the Biblical chronology, Abraham and the patriarchs of Genesis were active roughly 2000 BCE. The stories make repeated mention of camel caravans. However, archaeology has shown that camels were not domesticated until much later; camel caravans were no earlier than 1000 BCE.
  • There is no evidence for the Exodus as the Bible describes it. The Bible does not give an exact date for the Exodus, nor refer to the pharaoh of the time by name. There is a stele of Pharaoh Merneptah mentions a people named Israel living in Canaan by 1200 BCE, so the Exodus should have occurred some time before that. However, there is no Egyptian documentation of any large group of slaves of any ethnicity leaving Egypt during a likely time frame. The population of Egypt was not over 5 million at the time, and it is out of the question that nearly 1 million people could leave without some kind of record or evidence.
  • There is no evidence for a swift, decisive military conquest of Canaan by Israelites by 1200 BC. And it does seem implausible that a ragtag group of slaves, however numerous, could have managed a well coordinated attack on an entire region after 40 years of wandering in the desert.
  • According to the bible, King David and his son Solomon reigned over a large territory, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, and had the wealth to build impressive temples and palaces. This monarchy would have had to have ruled in the range of 1000 to 900 BCE or so. Yet archaeologists have not found any monumental architecture at all dating to this time in Judah. Apparently Jerusalem was a rather small village at the time.

Most of the second half of The Bible Unearthed demonstrates how these problems can be explained by proposing a date of about 620 BCE for compilation, with later editing and additions. The Biblical account does accurately reflect the social and geopolitical situation of this period. In fact, the Bible does mention the story of the "discovery" of the book of Deuteronomy in the walls of the Temple during rebuilding at around 620 BCE. Deuteronomy passes itself off as a part of the history of Moses (who would have lived before 1200 BC as mentioned above). Yet, surprise, surprise, Deuteronomy confirms the religious reforms that King Josiah was pushing hard before his death around 600 BCE. King Josiah gave his platform credibility by ascribing its principles to the heroes of yore. Past history was written to serve the present.

Authors Finkelstein and Silberman show that Israel formed out of the indigenous Canaanite population, probably in the early Iron Age. The people were originally probably nomadic sheep and goat herders who settled in the hill country between the Jordan river to the east and the lowlands along the sea to the west. Until around 900 BCE the area seems to have been quite rural, at times forgotten by or subjected to the major civilizations of the Near East. The Israelites were divided into two kingdoms, Israel to the north and Judah to the south. These two siblings vied with each other for about 200 years, until the north was overrun by the Assyrians around 730 BCE. Refugees from the north swelled Judah's population and contributed to its rise as a "fully developed" state, with monumental architecture, trade-based economy, etc. Eventually Babylon came to dominate the region; Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BCE and carried off Israelite elites to Babylon (the "Exile"). Persia conquered Babylon in 539 BCE and allowed the Israelites to return. The dramatic Biblical epic helped maintain an ethnic identity and national unity that lasts today.

The Bible Unearthed is intended for a non-specialist audience, and the authors do a remarkable job of marshaling arguments from history, archaeology, and biblical criticism in a way that can be readily understood by the layman. On the other hand, I found myself wishing for endnotes. There is actually a bibliography given, divided by chapter, so documentation is certainly provided. Also, the main text works through the arguments fairly carefully. I know it can be difficult to strike a balance between scholarly authority and widespread appeal, and I commend the authors for doing as well as they have, but to me endnotes just seem more impressive.

One very helpful feature (for those of us who didn't get gold stars in Sunday school) is a concise but thorough summary of the Biblical version of the time period in question at the beginning of each chapter. Then, for most chapters, the authors discuss pre-1980 archaeology which until recently had been interpreted as supporting the Biblical account. The balance of each chapter presents the latest findings of archaeology which almost invariably shred the historicity of the Biblical version.

Although the authors do explicitly undermine the historical accuracy of the Bible, they are careful to pay homage to its value. They conclude by saying "we can at last begin to appreciate the true genius and continuing power of this single most influential literary and spiritual creation in the history of humanity". I find it somewhat puzzling that people who know best that the Bible is not what it claims to be are still enamored of it. Perhaps they are trying to cushion the blow for the faithful, or perhaps they cannot bring themselves to denigrate the object of their life work. I think the genius and power lie with the scientists and scholars who have painstakingly put together what really happened, based on real evidence, even though it goes against what they have been told is holy and authoritative. This book is a testament to what the human mind can discover when it does not delude itself.

(Thanks to the Humanists of Utah)


The Bible Unearthed:
Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts

by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman

~ Book Review By Adrienne Morris ~

March 2003

Why is understanding the origins and purposes of the Bible important? No one book has more strongly influenced Western history, and still does. Modern Zionists justify not only Israel's existence but its aggression based on so-ca1led Biblical history. Right-wing Christians who believe in a literal Bible strongly influence the Bush administration policies. Sadly, most Americans are ignorant of its nature and contents. This makes them very vulnerable to manipulation and power-grabbing "authorities."

Starting with genuine Biblical criticism in the 18th century, most of it has been focused on the text itself, and later with what actual history seemed to reveal or not. The Bible Unearthed is a revelation of the vast difference between what the Bible claims and what modern archeology has demonstrated. It is no surprise to find out there were no patriarchs, no exodus, no conquest of Canaan. What might be surprising to many is that Finkelstein, an archeologist at Tel Aviv University, and Silberman, also an archeologist and historian, also draw conclusions from archeological digs all over Israel in the past few decades to conclude that there was not even a united monarchy.

The book is divided into three logical sections: "The Bible as History" (it isn't), "The Rise and Fall of Ancient Israel" (not so ancient after all) and "Judah and the Making of Biblical History" (most of it was fabricated for political and religious purposes). The last section is, in my opinion, the most interesting one. The two authors think the "book of law," most probably Deuteronomy, was produced in the 7th century BCE by King Josiah and cohorts to purify the cult of Yahweh and further the aims of a small nation. Monotheism began to take root, and the Bible began to be compiled, pulling on many traditions, being edited and embellished at will.. It is among other things a political document designed to connect Josiah, etc., to a golden era, weaving historical fragments and myths of various Canaanite peoples to justify expansionist policies. The Israelites were originally natives of the land, indistinguishable from other Canaanite peoples. Much later they became the "chosen people"--an ambivalent legacy.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks it is important to demythologize the ancient idols to which so many humans remain subject. Without benefit of modern science, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "We discover (in the Bible) a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstition, fanaticism, and fabrication." He was so right.

I also recommend two classics, Folklore in the Old Testament by J. G. Frazer and Robert Graves and the Hebrew Myths by Graves and R. Patai.

The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman; The Free Press, 2001.

--Adrienne Morris





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