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

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East