Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? Hardcover – 18 Jul 2003
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"This new book by William Dever is a fluent, well-written critical account of the various views on the origins of Israel and its appearance on the stage of history. Dever evaluates a wide range of previous research and suggests his own solution to the question of the origins of Israel. Excellent reading for both scholars and laypersons."
"William Dever is a superb archaeologist with a deep knowledge of the issues and controversies concerning Israel's origins. In this book he presents a compelling case for early Israel as a reformist frontier society, and along the way he demolishes many rival theories. Dever's discussion is authoritative, polemical, and very readable. He is the exemplary heir of W. F. Albright, with the knockout punch of Mike Tyson."
"William Dever treats Israel's origins as no one before him ever has. This unique, lively synthesis of the archaeological and textual data will shape our understanding of Israel's emergence for years."
Richard Elliott Friedman
"For the general reader there is no better presentation of how the archaeology of Israel really works. It is not about finding an individual artifact like the lost ark but about a complex reconstruction of material culture. This is the real thing. It takes an exceptional archaeologist and writer to make biblical archaeology clear and to keep it interesting. William Dever is that person."
Amihai Mazar "This new book by William Dever is a fluent, well-written critical account of the various views on the origins of Israel and its appearance on the stage of history. Dever evaluates a wide range of previous research and suggests his own solution to the question of the origins of Israel. Excellent reading for both scholars and laypersons."Ronald Hendel "William Dever is a superb archaeologist with a deep knowledge of the issues and controversies concerning Israel's origins. In this book he presents a compelling case for early Israel as a reformist frontier society, and along the way he demolishes many rival theories. Dever's discussion is authoritative, polemical, and very readable. He is the exemplary heir of W. F. Albright, with the knockout punch of Mike Tyson."Baruch Halpern "William Dever treats Israel's origins as no one before him ever has. This unique, lively synthesis of the archaeological and textual data will shape our understanding of Israel's emergence for years."Richard Elliott Friedman "For the general reader there is no better presentation of how the archaeology of Israel really works. It is not about finding an individual artifact like the lost ark but about a complex reconstruction of material culture. This is the real thing. It takes an exceptional archaeologist and writer to make biblical archaeology clear and to keep it interesting. William Dever is that person." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
Other Editions: Hardcover
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 nomadsand 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
The book can but really be recommended as an interesting read!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Notably much of what he writes is based upon his enormous experience in archaeology and more importantly his own fieldwork. His incredible breadth and depth of knowledge and insight pour forth onto the pages of this book.
Revisionists and minimalists who allege the Old Testament contains no history of Israel and say it was not composed until the Persian or Greek periods will not like this book. Likewise conservatives and fundamentalists who interpret the scriptures literally will gain no encouragement here.
Doctor Dever's scholarly account of the stated positions of all the participants in the debate is of enormous help in sorting out the real issues and putting in perspective the biases and spin being inflicted upon us. Further by explaining how the entire mass of scientific, scriptural and other inquiries illuminates the origins of the Israelites he gives the definitive elucidation. His authoritative conclusions are astute, well thought-out, broadminded and evenhanded.
Future discoveries may yield additional knowledge about this important era and exciting subject. However it is unlikely that any results will alter drastically what Professor Dever has written in this excellent, eminently informative and readable tour de force.
Dedication of this book to Sean William Dever is especially poignant. It was the loss of the son that prompted the father to focus on a "journey" as the means for dealing with sorrow. I feel that the spirit of the son was in large measure the driving force in the achievement of a superb outcome, "the destination."
Louis C. Sheppard, Ph.D., D.I.C.
a) Assume the biblical text is literally true, and ignore all external evidence as irrelevant
b) Hold that the biblical text is probably true, but seek external corroboration
c) Approach the text and external data with no preconceptions, single out the convergences, but remain sceptical about the rest
d) Contend that nothing in the biblical text is true unless proven by external data
e) Reject the text and any other data because the Bible cannot be true
He holds to the middle ground because he thinks that truth is most likely to be found there.
This is an absorbing book, and one which seems to use "The Systems Approach" for describing his position - i.e. What is the problem and its significance, what are the facts, what are the alternatives, and what is the most appropriate solution. Having clearly stated the problem, Professor Dever reviews the account of the Exodus, the Conquest of Transjordan, and Conquest of the land west of the Jordan, identifying the problems with these accounts, and the inconsistencies with the archaeological evidence. This is followed by a thorough review of the current state of archaeological facts, and a summary of the material culture of Iron Age I.
From there he proceeds to review the various attempts at a synthesis of textual and archaeological data over the past 40 years, which includes a review of the work and position of scholars from the Older Israeli Biblical Scholarship, the German School, the American School Biblicists, Histories of Israel, The Biblical Revisionists, and the Israeli and American Archaeologists. He devotes a separate chapter to the works and views of Israel Finkelstein
His closing chapters on the Ethnicity and Archaeological record of the early Israelites, and Salvaging the Biblical Tradition are masterworks of analysis in arriving at a balanced conclusion on the origins of the Ancient Israelites
This is a very thorough and well reasoned book, and one that should be read by anyone who is interested in the subject of Israel, past or present. Whatever category you place yourself in the five approaches above, it is worth it. What category am I in? Probably somewhere between (b) and (c) and I definitely need to read it again before I read another book about Israel!
One of the points that I admire most about the book is the author's lack of rancor. Knowing as I do that the field of Biblical studies can present a minefield of controversy to anyone who professes any point of view, and that the journals can fairly smoke with comments and counter-comments to the editor, I find his openness laudable. The author does have his disagreements with the proponents of other theories, but he seems able to give them a fair and balanced airing and credit where credit is due. This isn't always easy in a field where contention rules, reputation is made by going against the current, and tenure may be given to those who successfully unseat their elders.
Part of the contention also arises from a peculiar need to justify the biblical narrative, to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it all "really happened" and is therefore "true." Like proving the existence of God, this is essentially a non-question. The religious reality of the Bible and its stories is a matter of faith; one either accepts it or doesn't according to ones own light. To the devout, proof is unnecessary as the author himself notes in his introductory chapters.
The modern political ramifications of Israelite origins is another embarrassing stone for the scholar to trip over, one of which Dever also makes note. The charge that Israelite origins or even the reality of its monarchal state was a fiction created to serve the political interests of their creators, and even more inflammatory, the possible suppression of "Palestinian history" by the modern state of Israel have made the issue of "historic reality" a major political problem that is not likely to go away anytime soon. With so much at stake both personally and nationally, any definitive statements in whatever direction are likely to be seen as an attack by someone.
With the above caveats, I tend to agree with Professor Dever's assessment of the situation. It seems highly probable that the later state of Israel arose from an indigenous source with small exogenous groups providing origin stories that were useful to later redactors to whose efforts we owe the modern version of the Biblical narrative. Whatever the motivation of these latter individuals, those of the earliest population or of the early monarchy were effected by conditions current during their own time. It is thus to these conditions and to this historical setting one must look to make sense of the record. Dever makes it quite clear from his discussion of the local infighting presented in the Armarna texts that conditions for the average citizen were deteriorating in the area during the Late Bronze/Early Iron age. Climate may or may not have been a factor in the Levant itself, but it most certainly had an effect on more northernly populations, since massive population movements occurred from there into the Near East. Change was almost unavoidable. With incursions of outsiders putting pressure on available land, increase in the number of lawless dissidents harassing the cities, quarrels between monarchs over control of their mutual boundaries, an unfair division of resources, the peasant population might well decide to cut its losses and run for it. It might also assume to develop an identity of its own irrespective of the ultimate origins of its constituent members.
In assessing the soundness of such a proposal, one might well benefit from the less emotionally charged example of the Anasazi origins and from research on the effects of climate on population movement and cultural change. To begin with, David Stuart's excellent account of the effects of climate change on the rise of the corn growing cultures of the four corners region of Arizona and surrounding states, makes a good parallel. In Anasazi America, the Professor suggests that the earliest inhabitants changed from a condition of transhumanescence to one of settled existence when climatic conditions made it necessary. With decline in resources, cultivation of multiple areas by people who considered themselves "kin" was a good way to spread risk widely. A need for organizing labor for water and land management probably led to a centralized authority, a class system of sorts, large scale architecture, in-group religious institutions, and an inequity in resource allocation. When climate changed again and the privileged elite were unable to manipulate conditions by their connections with nature or their management abilities, the sparsity of resources and inequity between classes became too pronounced for the culture to endure. The rural population disbursed. It had nothing to lose by doing so. Heading to the empty upland frontiers, they established architectural and technical hall marks suggestive of small family freeholds linked by obligations of shared risk, but the buildings and cultural menagerie did not arise from nothing; it arose as a derivative of what had been used in the area before.
The topics of climate and culture and climate and the rise and fall of polities are dealt with in very clear terms by Brian Fagan in The Long Summer, Harry Thurston in Secrets of the Sands and Richardson Gill in The Great Maya Draughts. In all four of the above books, there is ample data to support Professor Dever's thesis of an indigenous origin for the early Israelites.
There are lots of maps, drawings, pictures and tables, but not much explanation of them; he seems to assume they are self-explanatory. As he says, "Virtually everyone is familiar with the basic outlines of the biblical story" so he doesn't bother to tell it. Dever admits to dashing off this text, and it shows. This is one of those books that desperately needs editing.
Finkelstein insists that the scientific results must hold sway over the biblical text, while Dever claims to give them equal weight; in fact the two scientists end up rather close together. Dever is responding to Finkelstein's glibness, saying "Hey! Not so fast!" and does offer some balance to the facile Silberman and Finkelstein treatment.
It's a fascinating topic and Dever makes all the answers available in this short and easy to read book. In early chapters, Dever talks about the history of the archeology relating to this issue and the range of opinions which have developed. He also frankly discusses the modern fad of minimalism wherein some academics and non academics have advocated that Bible/Torah stories are just myth.
A veteran of field research in Israel, Dever shares the pertinent information from various digs to develop a picture of what was a mass population explosion in 12th/13th century BCE Canaan. In quantifying the findings from these digs, Dever introduces us to the people who lived in the Judean foothills at roughly the same time Pharaoh Merneptah was touting a victory stele which claimed: "Israel is laid waste; his seed is not."
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