In Search of Ancient Israel

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by Neil Godfrey

In 1992 Philip Davies published a monograph that began a heated controversy over the origins of the Bible and what light archaeology shed on this question. Davies criticized conventional biblical scholarship for lacking the rigour found in archaeological studies of sites without theological significance. He argued that the archaeological evidence suggested that the Bible was composed as late as the Persian era and that the stories of Abraham, the Exodus, David and Solomon were mythical inventions. I have begun to summarize the argument of Davies’ book, In Search of Ancient Israel.

Book details: Davies’ In search of ancient Israel (Sheffield, 1997)

Neil Godfrey

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5 thoughts on “In Search of Ancient Israel”

  1. The ethnic question of ancient Israel is a fascinating topic, and one that, perhaps, has no definitive, clear cut answer. Without a doubt, the ethnicity of the ancient Israelites was a pure bloodline, descending from the line of Eber, to Abraham. The ancient Hebrews of the Old Testament were adamant about not intermarrying with the local Canaanite population. Abraham searched out a wife for Isaac amongst his family. Isaac, under pressure from Rebekah, sought a wife for his son Jacob from amongst pure bloodlines. Esau, however, intermarried with Canaanite women. The Bible makes it clear ancient Israel descended, originally, from the sons of Jacob. Modern day academia dismisses such notions. I do not. What is interesting, though, is that the clans of each son also consisted of non-Israelite members. Abraham’s family included servants, warriors, perhaps slaves, and others who were probably non-Semitic. Rahab the harlot became a member of the nation of Israel after the destruction of Jericho, and she was obviously not an Israelite. Thus, it would seem, the root foundation of ancient Israel rested in the line of descent from Abraham to Jacob, and the 12 tribes were formed from the 12 sons of Jacob. In this respect, Israelite/Hebrew was defined as being from the pure blood line of Jacob. A similar group of people, known as the Habiru from multiple ancient sources, were defined as a social group of people, that did not maintain any ethnic connections. These people were groups of displaced individuals seeking the protection found in clans of other, similar displaced individuals. The Hebrews, later to be Israelites, were defined by their genealogical roots in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet, over the course of time, these 12 tribes of Israel absorbed outside individuals, and though they were a part of Israel, they remained a separate part of Israel, as they could not claim descent from the sons of Jacob. It has been concluded that the Exodus out of Egypt incorporated not only Israelites under Moses, but other groups of individuals fleeing Egypt. Upon the settlement of the land of Canaan, all Canaanites were not driven from the land. In the north, certain tribes intermingled with Phoenician and Canaanite groups. This can be seen in Hiram of Tyre, who Solomon brought in from Hiram, the king of Tyre, to do work on God’s Temple. Hiram’s mother was of Hebrew descent, while his father was a man of Tyre, in other words, probably a Phoenician. To summarize, the search for ancient Israel must start with in the book of Genesis, and can be traced to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the sons of Jacob. However, over the course of decades and centuries, it would seem Israeli bloodlines mixed with other nations of the ancient Near East. The website, http://www.israel-a-history-of.com, provides an in-depth look at the development of Israel, and her interactions with the land and people of Canaan, and the ancient Near East.

    1. Shep: “Modern day academia dismisses such notions. I do not.”

      I suggest you read The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel by Thomas Thompson. Keep an open mind and pay attention to what he’s saying about the physical evidence. It’s come to the point where either one accepts the conclusions of the minimalists or simply ignores everything but the Bible.


      Shep: “It has been concluded that the Exodus out of Egypt incorporated not only Israelites under Moses, but other groups of individuals fleeing Egypt.”

      That’s a curious statement, since the Exodus never happened. I say that not to be mean or contentious, but because all the evidence that should exist, if the Exodus from Egypt really occurred, is missing.

      1. Also curious is the claim that other ethnic groups fled with Israel is something that has been “concluded”. Exodus 12:38 states as a matter of fact that this is exactly what happened. Nothing left over to be “concluded”.

  2. The different meanings and applications of the term “Israel” have been listed by Philip Davies and I have summarized them at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2008/03/01/biblical-israel-an-ideological-concept/

    To simply declare that one rejects what scholars have concluded without giving some indication that one knows the reasons for their conclusions, and without giving a reasoned argument against those conclusions, is not something to boast about. Such a boast is demonstrating a pride that one’s beliefs are built on dogmatic unreason. (Call a spade a spade, this is what the euphemistic word “faith” attempts to cover.) This is the sort of boast one would expect from taliban mullahs who have known nothing but the primitive madrasas of the caves of central Asia.

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