Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come from?

Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come from?

Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come from?

Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come from?

Synopsis

This book addresses one of the most timely and urgent topics in archaeology and biblical studies -- the origins of early Israel. For centuries the Western tradition has traced its beginnings back to ancient Israel, but recently some historians and archaeologists have questioned the reality of Israel as it is described in biblical literature. In Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? William Dever explores the continuing controversies regarding the true nature of ancient Israel and presents the archaeological evidence for assessing the accuracy of the well-known Bible stories.

Confronting the range of current scholarly interpretations seriously and dispassionately, Dever rejects both the revisionists who characterize biblical literature as "pious propaganda" and the conservatives who are afraid to even question its factuality. Attempting to break through this impasse, Dever draws on thirty years of archaeological fieldwork in the Near East, amassing a wide range of hard evidence for his own compelling view of the development of Israelite history.

In his search for the actual circumstances of Israel's emergence in Canaan, Dever reevaluates the Exodus-Conquest traditions in the books of Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, and 1 & 2 Samuel in the light of well-documented archaeological evidence from the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. Among this important evidence are some 300 small agricultural villages recently discovered in the heartland of what would later become the biblical nation of Israel. According to Dever, the authentic ancestors of the "Israelite peoples" were most likely Canaanites -- together with some pastoral nomads and small groups of Semitic slaves escaping from Egypt -- who, through the long cultural and socioeconomic struggles recounted in the book of Judges, managed to forge a new agrarian, communitarian, and monotheistic society.

Written in an engaging, accessible style and featuring fifty photographs that help bring the archaeological record to life, this book provides an authoritative statement on the origins of ancient Israel and promises to reinvigorate discussion about the historicity of the biblical tradition.

Excerpt

For nearly two thousand years the so-called “Western cultural tradition” has traced its origins back to ancient Israel. In Israel’s claims to have experienced in its own history revealed truth of a higher, universal, and eternal order, we in Europe and much of the New World have seen a metaphor for our own situation. We considered ourselves the “New Israel,” particularly we in America. And for that reason we knew who we were, what we believed in and valued, and what our “manifest destiny” was.

But what if ancient Israel was “invented” by Jews living much later, and the biblical literature is therefore nothing but pious propaganda? If that is the case, as some revisionist historians now loudly proclaim, then there was no ancient Israel. There was no actual historical experience of any real people in a real time and place from whom we could hope to learn anything historically true, much less anything morally or ethically enduring. The story of Israel in the Hebrew Bible would have to be considered a monstrous literary hoax, one that has cruelly deceived countless millions of people until its recent exposure by a few courageous scholars. And now, at last, thanks to these social revolutionaries, we sophisticated modern secularists can be “liberated” from the biblical myths, free to venture into a Brave New World unencumbered by the biblical baggage with which we grew up. Our gurus will be those renegade biblical scholars — along with the “new historians,” anti-humanists, and cultural relativists whom the historian Keith Windschuttle has described so well in his devastating critique The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past (1996).

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