Who Were the Early Israelites
and Where Did They Come From?

Author: William G. Dever

Among archaeologists who study ancient Israel, William G. Dever is a middle-of-the-roader. His approach differs from those archaeologists who consider the Old Testament as having nothing that can be drawn from regarding the history of Israel, and his approach differs from conservatives and fundamentalists who consider the scriptures to be the literal and unadulterated truth.

According to the one customer reviewer as of today at Amazon.com, "much of what [Dever] 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."

Here are Dever's chapter headings:

1. The Current Crisis in Understanding the Origins of Early Israel.

2. The "Exodus" – History of Myth?

3. The Conquest of Transjordan.

4. The Conquest and the Land West of the Jordan: Theories and Facts.

5. Facts on the Ground: The Excavated Evidence for the Archaeological Rediscovery of the Real Israel.

6. More Facts on the Ground: Recent Archaeological Surveys.

7. A Summary of the Material Culture of the Iron I Assemblage.

8. Previous Attempts at a Synthesis of Textual and Artifactual Data on Early Israel.

9. Toward Another Synthesis on the Origins and Nature of Early Israel.

10. Yet Another Attempt at Synthesis: Early Israel as a Frontier Agrarian Reform Movement.

11. Who were the Early Israelites? Ethnicity and the Archaeological Record.

12. Salvaging the Biblical Tradition: History or Myth?

Dever writes about the attempt to explain the miracles described in Exodus as natural phenomena. About the crossing of the Red Sea he suggests that perhaps it was not really the Red Sea. "The correct rendering of the term yam suf" from the Hebrew Text in Exodus," should not be "Red Sea" but "Reed Sea." Writes Dever on page 16:

Some suggest that the Reed Sea was a shallow, marshy area somewhere where the northern section of the Suez Canal is today, where it was possible for people on foot to ford the water, but which would have bogged horses and heavy iron chariots down in the mud.

About the conquest of Transjordon, Dever writes:

... there cannot have been a king of Edom to have denied the Israelites access, since Edom did not achieve any kind of statehood until the 7th century B.C.

Dever describes three theories on the presence of the Israelites in Canaan. One is the "conquest model," another "the peaceful infiltration model," and the third is the "peasant revolt model," this last model describing the origins of the early Israelite peoples and largely indigenous. Dever describes this last theory as now accepted by "virtually all scholars." On page 189, Dever writes:

If early Israel indeed constituted an agrarian movement with strong reformist tendencies driven by a new social ideal, it would not be unique.

Dever writes that he wishes that more would follow "the refreshing example" of Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, near UCLA, who, in a Passover sermon, according to Dever, said:

The Truth is that virtually every archaeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.

Copyright © 2003-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.