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Israelite Origins

Until the beginning of the large-scale surveys in the 1970s or in the late 1960s, there were three theories regarding the origin of ancient Israel on the table. One was the traditional theory that had been promoted by Albright and Yadin and others, the “military conquests;” basically a theory which was based on the biblical description with some interpretation of certain events that could ostensibly be gleaned in archaeological research of certain sites. 

And then there was the German school of “peaceful infiltration” from the outside into the highlands, a longer process, so to speak.  And then, of course, there was the theory of the “social revolution” uprising of certain groups of the Bronze Age society against the aristocracy of the Bronze Age and resettling these groups, these groups resettled in the highlands. 

When you look…these three theories look very different from each other but, in fact, they have something in common.  The something in common is that they…that all three of them speak about a single event.  They speak about a single phenomenon that happened ostensibly again in the transition from the last Bronze to Iron I and two of them, at least, speak about groups that came from the outside. 

The surveys in the 70s and 80s revolutionized what we know about the transition from the late Bronze to the Iron I in two senses.  The first is that we are aware now of the fact that we are not dealing with groups that came from outside (also, by the way, from the point of view of material culture, not only the settlement patterns).  And the second thing, no less important, is that we are aware of the fact that we are not dealing with a single event.  We are dealing with what the French call “la longue durée,” the long term, long term processes that took centuries; in fact, in the second millennium, if you wish, started in the third millennium B.C.E.; so this is the meaning of the results of the surveys.

  • Israel Finkelstein

    Israel Finkelstein is professor of archaeology in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations at Tel Aviv University. He directs the Megiddo expedition and is co-director of the European research project “Reconstructing Ancient Israel: The Exact and Life Sciences Perspective.” He is the author of numerous publications, including The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel (SBL, 2013).