The Bible Unearthed-An Extended Review, Part 5

Chapter 4

Israel Finkelstein continues into his archeological theory about the origins of the Israelites. Since Finkelstein did plenty of surveying in the 80s, the should be trusted with interpreting the results of his findings. His results?


1. The Israelites were not warmongers. Judges is a projection of the warlike later eras into a rather primitive time period. No weaponry was found at the vast majority of Israelite sites. Also, the sites were almost never fortified MB style, but were tiny farming communities intensively using oil-and-wine processing technologies.

2. The desert could not supply the number of pastoralists needed to ferment such a settlement movement. The original Israelite population was nomadic and only began to rise after the fall of the great Canaanite city states c. 1130-20 BC (as confirmed by Radiocarbon dating). However, the stele of Merenptah (1209/8 BC) raises problems for this theory.

3. As to culture, no pig bones are found at Israelite sites, suggesting some kind of cultic prohibition. Neither were burials given much reverence. Culture seemed to come from the east, nullifying any suggestion of lowland origins. Heavy settlement began immediately to the N. of Jerusalem. Three settlement areas can be discerned from the map on p. 116: Benjamin (center between Beitin and Jerusalem), Ephraim (having a center around Shiloh and stretching into Shechem) and Mannaseh, between Shechem and Taanach. Judah was sparsely settled, comprising only 19 sites. The cultic importance of Shiloh in this arrangement is not discussed, and probably for the better.

4. The vast majority of the Judges stories probably originated in pre-722 BC Israel. It is not known how much of them are factual.

I only have two pities here: that F&S do not discuss settlement to the E. of the Jordan and Finkelstein’s theory of southern Iron IIa settlement (ala Qudeirat) being caused by the rise of the Masos-Nahas copper network and its fall due to the Phoenician Omrides and their expansion of the Cypriot trade.

O Say, Iron IIA…

The dating of Iron IIa is, perhaps, the most important issue in TBU (we can skip Finkelstein’s explanation of the origins of Israel for the while; it is basically correct). This is mainly due to this archeological period’s association with the United Monarchy and the Yadin Trinity of 1 Kings 9:15. This period is characterized by the presence of red-slip, hand-burnished pottery, distinguishing it from the later Late Iron II, characterized by its wheel-burnished pottery, and, towards its end, red-slipped unburnished pottery. Iron IIA pottery is found at the following sites:

1. Jezreel Enclosure (pg. 167)

2. Arad XII (first Israelite settlement at Arad, early) and XI (late, first fort).

3. Negev forts (early)

4. Dan IVA

5. Shechem X (and IX?)

6. Tell el-Far’ah (N,  32°17’14″N, 35°20’16″E) Stratum VIIb

7. Beersheba VII to V (had some RSHB before)

8. Lachish V(early)-IV (fortified, late)

9. Taanach II A and B

10. Rehob VI-IV

11. Hazor X-IX

12. Megiddo VB (early) and VA-IVB (late)

13. Gezer VIII (late)

14. Tel Masos II (early)

15. Tel Qasile IX-VIII (had RSHB in previous stratum)

It was only shown Iron IIa began in the so-called “Solomonic” period in 1990. Before that, any date between 1200 and 940 BC could be picked as the date of these wares’ beginning. The five-acre casemate-fortified Late Iron I site of Khirbet Qeiyafa is not included in the list.

Traditionally, the days of the Iron IIa were dated from c. 1000 to 926 BC, largely due to the excellent correlation between this chronology of Iron IIa and the claims of the Bible (see PBS, The Bible’s Buried Secrets, first, Nov 19, 2008 edition, or the second, April 13, 2011 edition, from 1:06 mark onwards, which, however, actually bothers to give viewers a good look at the Low Chronology from the 57 min mark).

However, after Finkelstein introduced the Low Chronology in 1994, radiocarbon was put up to the task to solve the chronological conundrum existing between proponents and opponents of the Solomonic paradigm. After all, there was no real archeological objection to the Solomonic Paradigm. First, dates from Tel Dor in 1997 put the start of Iron IIa in the early 9th century. These were rejoined by dates from Tel Rehov in 2003, which put the transition a century earlier. Finally, a great radiocarbon dating project begun, which concluded its preliminary results in 2007. This project, using 40 good samples, managed to conclude, with a 68.2% probability, that the transition between Iron IB and Iron IIa took place between 925 and 885 BC (mode=905 BC) and the transition between formative and “classic”(Solomonic) Iron IIa  between 865 and 830 BC (mode=850 BC) (Focused, Combined). Using the composite model, the 68.2% probability of the Iron I/II transition would be between 925 and 895 BC (mode=910 BC), the 28.3% probability of the transition to the classic Iron IIa would be between 905 and 885 BC (mode=900 BC), and the 39.9% probability of the transition to the classic Iron IIa would be between 875 and 845 BC (mode=857 BC) This made the tide begin to turn. The stronghold of Tel Rehov was shattered, yielding a 65.3% chance of the Iron I/II transition being between 960 and 914 BC,  the mode being 925 BC. Even Mazar’s own paper (pg. 113) admitted the most likely date for the Iron I/early Iron IIa transition was around 926 BC.

Megiddo and Taanach (mentioned in the Shishak list) were in their early Iron IIa phases already by the time of Shoshenq, as may have been Tel Arad. The Arads may have, as Lipinski suggested, been in entirely different locations from the Iron II Arad. The Solomonic Paradigm, therefore, seems to be having a slow and quiet funeral. The writing of Solomon’ acts must, therefore, be ascribed to the time of Hezekiah, before the compilation of the anti-Solomonic Deuteronomistic History. David and Solomon, therefore, must have been ordinary kings of the West Bank (or, at least, its southern part). The glories of the Solomonic kingdom are now ascribed to the kings Omri and Ahab, well attested from Assyrian and Moabite monuments (the Omride kingdom itself had little evidence of mass literacy). If the tide of Radiocarbon evidence is not reversed, the whole history of Palestine before Hezekiah must be revised in a Finkelsteinian manner.

The Bible Unearthed-An Extended Review, Part 5

Chapter 3

This chapter deals with the Conquest. Its description of the Bronze Age Collapse is accurate, except the beginning (Crete was not a part of the 13th century BC world,there were no mines in the Negev). Also, on the Page 84 map, Abu Simbel is much too far North. The description of LB II Canaan is also mostly accurate, except for the date of the Merenptah Stele (1209/8, not 1207 BC), and the unfounded assumption an Egyptian statue found at a site is indicative of Egyptian rule (such a statue, if found in situ, might serve as a dating criterion).

Then, the debatable (not by me) stuff follows. F&S decide to commence the critique with Albright’s excavations of Tell Beit Mirsim (a little mound just NW of Bayt Mirsim on Google Maps, at the edge of the W. Bank) in the Shephelah, wrongly identified by him as Debir in the hill country, which was later found (not definitively) at the fortified Late Bronze site of Khirbet Rabud (modern Rabud, on the Hebron-Beersheba road, just S. of the Israeli settlement of Otni’el). They seemed to show a destruction at the end of LB II. However, Jericho was only destroyed at the end of MB IIC, as confirmed by radiocarbon dating. Ai is, however, contra Finkelstein, possibly not et-Tell, but likely Khirbet Maqatir. In any case, et-Tell’s population would be 5, not 12, thousand people (thousand can mean “group of six to ten”, too!). Also, Joshua was only said to have destroyed three sites: Jericho, Ai, and Hazor. While some Joshua stories could be etiological tales, this can only be confirmed by looking at the occupation records of each site the book mentions.  The others were simply pillaged. Note, too, the book probably contains plenty of memories from the Shilohite priesthood that formed the Deuteronomistic school. There is also no contradiction between Josh and Judg.-one deals with raiding, the other deals with occupying. Since all the conclusively identified sites mentioned in the town lists of Joshua were not inhabited until the 7th century BC, this is the only period we can be sure when the book was put into its final edition.

The Bible Unearthed-An Extended Review, Part 4

Chapter 2

The anti-biblical portions of this chapter are almost entirely lie, misleading information, and falsehood. The chapter begins with an exposition of the sojourn through Sinai narrative, then talks a little about the Hyksos invasion and expulsion, strangely, giving the wrong dates (the reign of Ahmose I began in 1550, not 1570 BC, and the expulsion of the Hyksos should have taken Ahmose at least a few years, and at most, seventeen, to complete). F&S’s pointing out the fact the name “Ramesses” only appears in the thirteenth century and just after is a little irrelevant (a fundy could simply call “scribal update”). The absence of Israel in Egyptian records until 1209/8 (incorrectly stated by Finkelstein as 1207, the Egyptians did not use ascension dating) is a little curious, but, there is little room for mention of any specific groups of non-settled peoples in Palestine in Egyptian records except in name lists of Shasu tribes (i.e. Amenhotep III’s list). BTW, F&S should know there were no opportunities for Israel being mentioned at any time in Egypt (Hyksos-era record-keeping is nonexistent, when Egyptians mentioned slaves, they would only state ethnicity (Nubian, Asiatic, sometimes whether or not they were POW’s), not tribal affiliation. The voluminous archives F&S imagine we have from Tjaru and Ramesses simply do not exist (that Papyrus Anastasi 6 mentioning Pithom and Succoth was only found as trash in the sands of Saqqara after being used by a student scribe for training), there were only seven wine jar dockets recovered from Ramesses and no papyri whatsoever from Tjaru or any of the eastern fortresses. The Bible also explicitly states Israel had permission from Pharaoh to go, so all those fortresses in the Wadi Tumilat (those on the Via Maris are irrelevant) do not matter much anyway. The fact Israelite remains are absent from all archeological surveys of the Sinai stems from the fact that no tent dweller ever used pottery when in deserts for long periods of time, but goatskins. No campsite of Ramesses II at Kadesh or Thutmose III at Megiddo has been found (neither has any one of the Egyptian miners who went to Serabit el Khadim in the Sinai) The anachronisms F&S point to do not exist (Tell el Kheleifeh (29°32’50″N, 34°58’50″E), which F&S assume to be Ezion-Geber, cannot be Ezion-Geber, but is probably Eloth (built by Uzziah, then destroyed and rebuilt by Edomites [mistaken for Arameans, Hebrew d’s and r’s look almost exactly the same, plus, see previous verse]), it cannot hold ships of Tarshish on its shallow beach, see Sect. 6 of AJaL for Migdol (indeed, this toponym proves Ex. 14 must have been written before the late seventh century BC), this for Kadesh). The only real anachronism in the book of Exodus is the Tanite one. It is true, however, that Heshbon and other sites, such as Arad, were only settled during some distant earlier period and the Israelite era, proving that Numbers, at least, must have been written during the 1st millennium BC. Edom was a state a century before the Assyrian era. There is no evidence Goshen was named for an Arab king of Nehemiah’s time. Mention of spies from an Asiatic country need not be interpreted as evidence of a post-Assyrian date of writing, but could just as well be interpreted as pointing to a Ramesside (Hittites!) or a 13th-14th Dynasty date (Hyksos!). Even a Middle Kingdom date is permissible (nomadic Asiatics could attempt to bypass the Walls of the Ruler to invade the E. Delta to get pastureland, water, and food)! See Hoffmeier, “Israel in Egypt”, for the Egyptian elements. The idea the Exodus epic describes a struggle between Necho II and Josiah is just… stupid (remember the mid-12th century epic of Ex. 15 and the mentions in the Prophets).

The Bible Unearthed-An Extended Review, Part 3

Chapter 1

The beginning of the chapter goes over the basic Patriarchal Narrative. After this review, the history of the search of the Patriarchs in history is overviewed. At first, the search for the Patriarchs began as an attempt to confirm their existence, and, therefore, bolster the evidence for Christianity. The Baltimore School attempted to do so by using such data as names with Amorite imperfectives and laws relating to family and shepherding. The Amorite hypothesis, attempting to show a migration from Mesopotamia to Canaan, rose with Albright and fell with Thompson. The Nuzi/Hurrian hypothesis also fell. The social and legal parallels were shown to be rather vague. However, as F&S do not mention, no one has yet disproved the Amorite Impefective parallel (note: most info there is unreliable, but the 20 shekels, covenant formats, and imperfective parallels are sourced right from Kitchen himself), nor the fact 20 shekels was an acceptable slave price in the early second millennium.

F&S then start on their list of telltale anachronisms. Their assuming the Gileadite products of Genesis 37:25 Arabian shows their laziness in research quite well. While there do seem to be too many camels, only widely used for trade purposes during and after the Ramesside period, for the early second millennium, and the presence of Ishmaelites as merchants does seem to be indicative of a first millennium date, it is by no means proof of a date of composition between the 8th and 7th centuries BC. The increase in camel bones at Tell Jemmeh/Yurza in the 7th century only indicates a re-routing of the camel trade through Yurza by the establishment of an Assyrian fortress there, not its beginning. Philistines mentioned at Gerar may only be an updating of the narrative, perhaps for Caphtorites, since Gerar was a 38-acre MB site, but the Philistine references can still be interpreted as evidence for an 8th-7th century Genesis. The mentions of the Arameans are very much indicative of a 1st millennium date, but can still be somewhat plausibly assigned to the Mosaic period. Ammon and Moab have been Israelite enemies since the Judges period and are not indicative of any specific date.

The fact some tribes (Edomites, Temaites, nomadic Sabeans, ect.) were first mentioned in extra-biblical records by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC, does not mean they did not exist before that time. Who else would have bothered to mention them? Edom was, contra Finkelstein, a state ruled by a king a century before they were mentioned by the Assyrians (2 Kings 8:20). Bozrah had great citadels well into the mid 8th century (Amos 1:12). Finkelstein, denying the fact Judah ruled Edom until the reign of Jehoram, cannot use Gen 27:40 as evidence Genesis was compiled after the reign of Jehoram.

Ein Qudeirat was neither Kadesh, nor inhabited primarily in the 7th century. Hazezon Tamar is not Tamar. Also, the statement on page 323 the cities of Jerusalem and Shechem are not mentioned in Genesis makes me wonder precisely what F&S and the editors of TBU have been smoking.

In short, the evidence for a 7th century Genesis exists, but not as much as Finkelstein makes up.

The Bible Unearthed-An Extended Review, Part 2


F&S’s main goal throughout this introduction is to show how it became so that “Not since ancient times has the world of the Bible been so accessible and so thoroughly explored”. They also make sure to add at the end of the first section of their introduction a statement that “we now know that the early books of the Bible and their famous stories of early Israelite history were first codified (and in key respects composed) at an identifiable place and time: Jerusalem in the seventh century BCE”, boldly misleading the reader that the Pentateuch is laden with the Deuteronomic theology found in the Deuteronomic history, and that the discovery of the fact that the First Edition of the Deuteronomic History (Deut.-Kings) was written in 621 BC is anything new-it was widely accepted in the scholarly community for over half a century old when “The Bible Unearthed” was first published.

They first define what the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, is.
The Pentateuch (“five books”) are the works whose authorship is traditionally ascribed to Moses.
Genesis describes the history from Creation to the Death of Joseph. (X-Early Second Millennium BC)
Exodus describes the Oppression, Exodus, and Lawgiving at Sinai (Horemheb-Ramesses II).
Leviticus is a codex of priestly (Aaronid) law.
Numbers describes the 40-year period from Sinai to the Plains of Moab opposite Jericho.
Deuteronomy is a review of years past and contains a codex of non-Aaronid law.

The Deuteronomic History is the history from the camp at the Plains of Moab to the Exile.
Joshua describes the conquest of Canaan and following Israelite covenant ceremonies. (c. 1220 BC)
Judges describes the history of Israel in Iron I Canaan from the death of Joshua to c. 1070 BC.
1 Samuel describes the history of the rise of Samuel (c. 1090-1013 BC) and Saul (1033-1011 BC)
2 Samuel describes the history of the reign of David after Saul’s death. (1011 BC-971 BC)
1 Kings describes the history of Israel from Solomon’s reign to the reign of Ahaziah. (971-852 BC)
2 Kings describes the history of Israel from Ahaziah’s death to the Exile (852-562 BC)

The rest are books of Poetry (Job, Song, Psalms), Prophecy (Amos to Malachi), and more history to the Persian period (Chronicles-Esther). Daniel (164 BC), is an outlier.
The first breaks from fundamentalism in biblical studies occurred in the eighteenth century, when suggestions of separate sources in the Pentateuch began to be made. Biblical Geography, paving the way for Biblical Archeology, began with Edward Robinson’s journey to Palestine and Sinai in 1838. By the days of Wellhausen’s unification of theories of Pentateuchical source criticism, both Cuneiform and Egyptian were deciphered, but there was much to be discovered. The first excavations in the Holy Land began with W. F. Petrie in 1890 at Tell el-Hesi (Eglon?). They continued with William Albright in the 1920s and 1930s, establishing the Baltimore School of Biblical Archeology, extensively criticized later on in “The Bible Unearthed”. This school was famous for its use of false parallels (Nuzi) and unsupported hypotheses (Amorite Hypothesis) to reach suspiciously pro-Biblical conclusions in every case. It was discredited during the 1970s by minimalists Thompson, Van Seters, and Lemche. From there onwards, a lukewarm Deverite synthesis, obediently supporting the Documentary Hypothesis, seemed to hold a secular Biblical Archeology (renamed Syro-Palestinian archeology) in place, with steady attacks from the Minimalists. In 1994, Israel Finkelstein first put forward a pottery chronology lowering dates in strata from c. 1160-740 by 30-90, and in some cases (Taanach) over 200 years, essentially nullifying the 1950s “Solomonic Paradigm” of Yadin, an integral part of the Baltimore School’s teaching. This chronology was roundly criticized by Amihai Mazar, who, pointing out sites like Taanach and Arad, suggested a “modified conventional chronology”, extending the length of Iron IIA (Yadin’s Solomonic Period) by half a century. This chronological debate will be discussed in detail in a later extension of this review.

It is in this context, seven years after Finkelstein’s first dream of writing “The Bible Unearthed”, in which the present book must be placed. Finkelstein’s “new vision” of Biblical history is nothing more than one suggestion from one school of thought. The whole basis of Finkelstein’s most controversial claim-the non-existence of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon, and the formation of the narratives of the reign of Solomon in the post-Assyrian era under King Josiah, is a pottery chronology contradicting several secure chronological tenets, thought up by no one but Finkelstein himself.

UPDATE: In this Interlude on Pottery, I admit Finkelstein might be correct due to C14 dating, but the Iron IIa still should begin before the Shishak invasion (according to this article, Canaanite Megiddo VIA fell before 970 BC, logically, to be mentioned in the Shishak list, the Iron IIA at Megiddo should begin before 926 BC [5th Year of Rehoboam]).

The Bible Unearthed-An Extended Review, Part 1

The Authors

The chief archeological researcher behind this book is Israel Finkelstein, a Jew born in 1949 Petah Tikva who regards religion to be independent of reality and considers his ideas not to undermine Jewish rights to the territory of Israel-“The debate over our right to the land is ridiculous. As though there is some international committee in Geneva that considers the history of peoples. Two peoples come and one says, `I have been here since the 10th century BCE,’ and the other says, `No, he’s lying, he has only been here since the ninth century BCE.’ What will they do – evict him? Tell him to start packing?”. He also believes in the existence of “today’s American Empire” <>.

Neil Asher Silberman, a contributing editor for Archeology and author of eight books before The Bible Unearthed, is probably the one responsible for all the rhetoric.


The book starts off with a vague, misleading, and partially false paragraph. While it is true all the Deuteronomic History and the ideas behind it were finalized during the few generations F&S are talking about here, to say that all before Josiah in the Bible was “a brilliant product of the human imagination” is vague, and to say that it was “first conceived” during the reign of King Josiah is utterly false. To say Jerusalem was located “on a narrow ridge between steep, rocky ravines”, is not quite accurate-while the land of Jerusalem is hilly, it hardly compares in its ups and downs to any place in western Arabia or the southern Sinai. Also, the ideas F&S are proposing here are hardly the results of “recent archeological findings”– they are the overhyping of Martin Noth’s 1943 discovery that Deuteronomy and the five books that follow it (not counting Ruth) all contain similar theological ideas.

F&S emphasize strongly that practically every single theological innovation in the Bible was born under King Josiah, including the special holiness of a central sanctuary, the universality of YHWH’s rule, and the evil and untruth of all other forms and places of worship. They emphasize with almost equal strength that Josianic Jerusalem would have looked to us like “a small Middle Eastern market town”, and that the very fact the city managed to produce a written history that would bind a whole people together is almost miraculous. They are, however wrong on at least one thing- the idea of an Israelite central sanctuary is, in fact one of the one of the oldest unifying elements of Israelite culture, dating from at least the twelfth century BC, and probably as early as the reign of Ramesses II-see Frank Moore Cross’s “archaic hymns of Israel”, which describe YHWH as moving with the Tabernacle from Sinai to Seir to Moab toward the hill country of the West Bank.

The book promises “the latest archeological insights” and evidence that the vast majority of the biblical narrative was written exclusively to serve the Deuteronomic ideology of 621 BC. I, E. Harding, otherwise known as “pithom” will see if readers get what they are promised.