A Leading Archaeologist Discusses Ancient Israel and the Historicity of the Bible

The veteran archaeologist Gabi Barkay has been behind some of the most important discoveries concerning biblical Israel. In an interview, he speaks about his career, his most celebrated findings, and his attitudes toward reconciling the Bible with material evidence about ancient history. (Interview by Nadav Shragai.)

As an archaeologist, I’m not trying to prove anything. I want to find out what was. If my findings contradict what the Bible says—fine. If my findings match what the Bible says—that’s also fine. I have no intention of proving or disproving anything. My approach is detached from any ideology. I’ll accept anything that is discovered. . . .

I’m Jewish—very Jewish, a believer, a member of the community, who goes to synagogue. I’m like a chest of drawers. When I’m busy with archaeology, I open the scientific drawer. When I go to synagogue, I close it and open the religious drawer, and the contents of one don’t mix with that of the other.

I know that what the book of Joshua says about Joshua’s “leaps” [i.e., instances where a conquest in northern Israel is followed with improbable rapidity by a conquest in the south and vice-versa] and about the extermination of the Canaanites at sword’s point isn’t an accurate historical account. Things didn’t necessarily happen that way. I [also] know that every historical source contains the writer’s bias, and that the historical truth is much more complicated.

[On the other hand, in] the book of Joshua, which is not historical, the twelfth chapter contains a list of 31 kings that Joshua defeated, and we know that in the late Bronze Age there were about 30 Canaanite city-states in the land of Israel, so therefore this is a report that conforms to history. It’s written in Joshua 11:10 that “Hatzor formerly was the head of all these kingdoms.” We know from archaeology that Hatzor was in fact the largest of the Canaanite cities. This means that in the book that contains absolutely unhistorical stories, there are also true accounts that pass archaeological tests.

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More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Book of Joshua, Canaanites, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas

 

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times