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

Hamas’s Deadly Escalation at the Gaza Border

Oct. 16 2018

Hamas’s weekly demonstration at the fence separating Gaza from Israel turned bloody last Friday, as operatives used explosives to blow a hole in the barrier and attempted to pass through. The IDF opened fire, killing three and scaring away the rest. Yoni Ben Menachem notes that the demonstrators’ tactics have been growing more aggressive and violent in recent weeks, and the violence is no longer limited to Fridays but is occurring around the clock:

The number of participants in the demonstrations has risen to 20,000. Extensive use has been made of lethal tactics such as throwing explosive charges and grenades at IDF soldiers, and there has been an increase in the launching of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel. At the same time, Hamas supplemented its burning tires with smoke generators at the border to create heavy smoke screens to shield Gazan rioters and allow them to get closer to the border fence and infiltrate into Israel. . . .

[S]ix months of ineffective demonstrations have not achieved anything connected with easing [Israel’s blockade of the Strip]. Therefore, Hamas has decided to increase military pressure on Israel. [Its] ultimate goal has not changed: the complete removal of the embargo; until this is achieved, the violent demonstrations at the border fence will continue.

Hamas’s overall objective is to take the IDF by surprise by blowing up the fence at several points and infiltrating into Israeli territory to harm IDF soldiers or abduct them and take them into the Gaza Strip. . . . The precedent of the 2011 deal in which one Israeli soldier was traded for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners has strengthened the feeling within Hamas that Israel is prepared to pay a heavy price for bringing back captured soldiers alive. . . . Hamas also believes that the campaign is strengthening its position in Palestinian society and is getting the international community to understand that the Palestinian problem is still alive. . . .

The Hamas leadership is not interested in an all-out military confrontation with Israel. The Gaza street is strongly opposed to this, and the Hamas leadership understands that a new war with Israel will result in substantial damage to the organization. Therefore, the idea is to continue with the “Return March” campaign, which will not cost the organization too much and will maintain its rule without paying too high a price for terror.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security