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Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?
William G. Dever

0802809758 Retail Price: $18.00
CenturyOne Price: $12.24
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Format: Paperback, 280pp.
ISBN: 9780802844163
Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Pub. Date: March 31, 2006

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From The Publisher:

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 nomads and 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.


Dever is one of the very best archaeologists of the Near East, and everything he writes needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness.... Required reading.
—David Noel Freedman

Dever provides a judicious analysis of archaeological data and shows how it squares with what much of the biblical text tells us…. Highly polemical (and for good reason), this book attempts to correct various recent assertions based more on feelings for the modern Israeli-Palestinian question than on any concern for honest history…. Dever’s accessible book offers a sound critical examination of Israel’s origins. An advisable purchase for all academic and most public libraries.
Library Journal

William Dever, a master of the world of Syro-Palestinian archaeology and history, has written a masterpiece.
—Lawrence E. Stager

A helpful introduction to the world of Syro-Palestinian archaeology and its possible interaction with biblical studies.
Publishers Weekly

Meticulously detailed…very illuminating, well-informed and surprisingly balanced.
The Jerusalem Report


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About the Author

Recently retired as professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He has served as director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology in Jerusalem, as director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, and as a visiting professor at universities around the world. He has spent thirty years conducting archaeological excavations in the Near East, resulting in a large body of award-winning fieldwork.

Table of Contents

1The Current Crisis in Understanding th eOrigins of Early Israel1
2The "Exodus" — History or Myth?7
3The Conquest or Transjordan23
4The Conquest of the Land West of the Jordan: Theories and Facts37
5Facts on the Ground: The Excavated Evidence for the Archaeological Rediscovery of the Real Israel75
6More Facts on the Ground: Recent Archaeological Surveys91
7A Summary of the Material Culture of the Iron I Assemblage101
8Previous Attempts at a Synthesis of Textual and Artifactual Data on Early Israel129
9Toward Another Synthesis on the Origins and Nature of Early Israel153
10Yet Another Attempt at Synthesis: Early Israel as a Frontier Agarian Reform Movement101
11Who Were the Early Israelites? Ethnicity and the Archaeological Record191
12Salvaging the Biblical Tradition: History or Myth?223
Some Basic Sources242
Index of Authors258
Index of Subjects261
Index of Scripture References267

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