Archaeological data dating patriarchs

Today I think most archeologists would argue that there is no direct archeological proof that Abraham, for instance, ever lived. Does it matter exactly how Abraham and his clan left, and when they arrived in Canaan, or where they settled?

We do know a lot about pastoral nomads, we know about the Amorites' migrations from Mesopotamia to Canaan, and it's possible to see in that an Abraham-like figure somewhere around 1800 B. What really matters is that Abraham is seen later by Jews and Christians as the father of the faithful. Some of the other names in the narratives are Egyptian, and there are genuine Egyptian elements. But those Israelites were in Canaan; they are not in Egypt, and nothing is said about them escaping from Egypt.

These are farming villages in which every household is independent.

I think there is a kind of primitive democracy in early Israel, which is enshrined in the vision of the good life in the Hebrew Bible. These settlements are very different from the urban centers of the earlier 13th century.

These were people rebelling against their corrupt Canaanite overlords.

Most of us mainstream archeologists also have now dated a series of monumental royal constructions to the 10th century—the famous gates at Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer.

And we have in the Bible, in First Kings -17, the famous description of Solomon's construction of gates of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer.

Archeologists can often tell you what happened and when and where and how and even why. But there is no word for history in the Hebrew Bible. We try to make the Bible something it is not, and that's doing an injustice to the biblical writers.

No archeologists can tell anyone what it means, and most of us don't try. In other words, what did the biblical writers think they were doing? They were good historians, and they could tell it the way it was when they wanted to, but their objective was always something far beyond that. [Yahweh is an ancient Israelite name for God.] Archeology is almost the only way that we have for reconstructing a real-life context for the world out of which the Bible came, and that does bring understanding.

William Dever, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona, has investigated the archeology of the ancient Near East for more than 30 years and authored almost as many books on the subject.


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