Why Study Prehistoric Israel?

Gaining better insight into the Biblical period through prehistoric Israel

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2014.—Ed.


Field photo and reconstruction of an adult and adolescent skeleton discovered in situ during excavations in the Natufian layer at Raqefet Cave, Mt. Carmel. Images: Photograph reproduced with permission from E. Gernstein. Illustration by A. Regev-Gisis.

Excavations at Raqefet Cave on Mt. Carmel have revealed a number of fascinating insights into the Natufian culture in prehistoric Israel. Archaeological investigations show, for example, that the Natufians—hunter-gatherers living 15,000–11,600 years ago in the Levant—held feasts at the burial sites of the deceased and decorated the graves with flowers. The practice of laying flowers at graves to commemorate the dead still exists today, providing us with a powerful emotional link to the past.

As Daniel Nadel explains in his Archaeological Views column “Why People Interested in Biblical Archaeology Should Also Be Interested in the Prehistory of the Land of Israel” in the September/October 2014 issue of BAR, studying prehistoric Israel can be of great interest to both scholars and laypeople alike. In fact, understanding the prehistory of Israel can give us a better perspective on Israel in the Biblical period.

Prehistoric Israel spans the Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods. Ubeidiya in the Jordan Valley, dating about 1.5 million years before present, is the oldest site thus far uncovered in the region and was home to some of the first hominids who migrated out of Africa. Excavations at Paleolithic sites all over prehistoric Israel have yielded, among other things, stone tools, butchered animals bones and evidence for the control of fire.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

Investigating the long cultural history of the Levant can deepen our understanding of how settlements grew increasingly complex over millennia. Nadel writes that by the Neolithic period (11,600–6,500 years ago), for example, “the common use of pottery was established, large villages with hundreds of people thrived and architecture reached sophisticated achievements with monuments such as the high Jericho tower (30 feet high), on the one hand, and two-story dwelling complexes on the other.”

Innovations that developed over millennia in prehistoric Israel—agriculture, the domestication of animals and metallurgy, to name a few—thus set the stage for the emergence of complex cities and mighty kingdoms in the Biblical period.

Learn more about the archaeology of prehistoric Israel by reading the full column “Why People Interested in Biblical Archaeology Should Also Be Interested in the Prehistory of the Land of Israel” by Daniel Nadel in the September/October 2014 issue of BAR.


BAS Library Members: Read “Why People Interested in Biblical Archaeology Should Also Be Interested in the Prehistory of the Land of Israel” by Daniel Nadel as it appears in the September/October 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on September 16, 2014.


Related content in Bible History Daily:

No Matches? No Problem. Ancient Fire-Making in Israel

The Ancient Bean Diet: Fava Beans Favored in Prehistoric Israel

Neolithic Figurine Could Lead to Reassessment of Prehistoric Israel

Manot Cave Skull Links Modern Humans to Neanderthals

“Lay Some Flowers on My Grave”: Oldest grave flowers discovered in Israel

Going Paleo: Prehistoric site in Israel offers menu for a Paleolithic diet

Journey to the Copper Age: A Video Lecture by Thomas E. Levy

The Göbekli Tepe Ruins and the Origins of Neolithic Religion

Çatalhöyük Mural: The Earliest Representation of a Volcanic Eruption?


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  1. Kurt says

    ADAM (First Man) Created year 4026 B.C.E.
    The Genesis Account—Scientifically Credible?
    First, let us review the key elements in the account of the creation of the first man. Regarding Adam, the Bible says: “Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) Is this statement scientifically credible?
    The book Nanomedicine states that the human body is made up of 41 chemical elements. These basic elements—carbon, iron, oxygen, and others—are all present in the “dust” of the earth. Thus, as Genesis states, humans truly are formed “out of dust from the ground.”
    How did those lifeless building blocks come together to form a living human? To illustrate the enormity of the challenge, consider the NASA space shuttle, one of the most complex machines ever devised. This technological marvel contains a staggering 2.5 million parts. It took teams of engineers years to design and put it together. Now consider the human body. It is made up of some 7 octillion atoms, 100 trillion cells, dozens of organs, and at least 9 major organ systems.* How did this biological machine of mind-boggling complexity and superb structure come to be? By blind chance or by intelligent design?
    Moreover, what makes humans live? Where does the spark of life come from? Scientists confess that they do not know. In fact, they cannot even agree on an acceptable definition of life. To those who accept the idea of a Creator, the conclusion is obvious. The Source, of course, is God.*For further information, see the books Is There a Creator Who Cares About You? and Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?
    Adam and Eve—Were They Real People?

  2. calib says

    Just because our minds cant comperhend like Gods doesnt mean its a mystery. While were busy looking up Hes looking within. But totally understand the curiosity….we were made like this for a reason…. wondering isnt disbelief its our nature. Which gets me to how i made it to youlls presence. Im far from intellectual, but was gifted with art and attention to detail. I love God and everything He is and Jesus for making a way for us. Jesus is the foundation of everything wrong and right in my life. But through out my life, prison the streets etc. i have always kept the word close, but have always had an inner hunch u can say that the word was played with sorta speak. And Im not out to prove or point fingers, simply scratching an itch. For about 2 MO now i have turned my attention to the History of all languages, tribes, rise and fall of Kings etc. and comparing the impact it had on Isreal from all angles. Needles to say some things dont add up, and I begin to wonder its not whats taken out but what might have been added. But thats yet to be decided in some asspects. Comcuring that b aware of your advesary wasnt taken serious enough in some points of our history.Its good to b here and I thank God for the hunger of something that has changed lives all over the world. Glory to God…..and remember the knowledge will always be knowledge, what u do with it defines you.

  3. Joel says

    Which creation story is true? Genesis 1 or Genesis 2? Who did God make first, woman or animals? It depends on which story you believe. Better yet, if God starts the book with two competing, contradictory creation accounts, maybe God is setting the tone for the entire book! Divine creation does not contradict any scientific explanation! You’re trying to learn pharmacology from a cookbook.

  4. Oracle says

    Actually the First Man [Adam] was created about 7,000 years BCE. The bible tells us that a day with the Most High is 1,000 years. Well there were seven days of creation all taking 1,000 years of completion. That makes the Earth at the time of Adam’s birth or creation already 7,000 years old. So I would say, the Earth is about 13,000 years old roughly from the time before Adam was created to present day.

  5. phillip says

    Any “indication” of man emerging prior to Adam is “baloney”. Either one believes ALL the Bible, or none of it.

  6. REV says

    Jericho at the bottom of the hill is one of the oldest cities in the world. The road west went past Jerusalem. The ridge on top by Jerusalem is the ancient north south road. Jerusalem had the largest spring for a long distance. Ancients considered springs to have spiritual importance, usually worshipped the spirit there. Gihon was a very unusual spring not only large but also its flow varied from small to gushing. The spirit there was powerful controlling the flow. In addition at the very top of the nearby hill was a huge flat rock with a cave in one side. The country has many caves. All caves are located down on the side of the hill. That cave on top would have been recognized as the mark of a spirit. Jerusalem is located at one of the great cross roads of ancient times. It had two of the greatest natural “spiritual” places. Of great significance is the fact that the Scripture does not say much about what everyone knew. It is as if the Author of Scripture wanted to minimize the lesser, non existent spirits.
    The ubiquitous standing stones of the ancient worship are faceless, Did they worship a god without name and without image. No other people did. Except the God of the Israelites had not image and no real name. “I am” “God Almighty” “God of Jacob” are not real names. No one in the world created, made up a god without name or image.

  7. GENE says

    The divine name, represented by the four Hebrew consonants יהוה, appears nearly 7,000 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. This translation renders those four letters, known as the Tetragrammaton, “Jehovah.” That name is by far the most frequently occurring name in the Bible. While the inspired writers refer to God by many titles and descriptive terms, such as “Almighty,” “Most High,” and “Lord,” the Tetragrammaton is the only personal name they use to identify God.

    Jehovah God himself directed Bible writers to use his name. For example, he inspired the prophet Joel to write: “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.” (Joel 2:32) And God caused one psalmist to write: “May people know that you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:18) In fact, the divine name appears some 700 times in the book of Psalms alone—a book of poetic writings that were to be sung and recited by God’s people. https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1001070204

  8. REV says

    the Tetragrammaton יהוה is the Hebrew word “I am” or perhaps better understood as “Being”. It was not pronounced in later years instead when the letters were in the text the reader said Lord – Adoni or better Edona. “Jehovah.” is the combination of the consonants יהוה with the vowels for Lord. It would be the same as combining the consonants of God with the vowels of Jesus and coming up with the word Gedu. “Jehovah” was never intended to be a real word, but people who did not know better took it to be the proper name for God. He is, I am, is the only God with no image and no real name. Unique no other god, all invented by people is like that. It is actually a pretty good argument that only God Himself could be the original author, creator of the concept.

  9. Wes says

    Kurt’s narrative skips a chapter: Genesis 1. And the events occur in that chapter by fiat. There were no qualifications. Organization came from chaos. The Space Shuttle, for what it was worth, arrived with organization from engineering elements, but not from nothing. It arrived based on a science and technology which identified a universe apparently 13 billion years old and an Earth that 4.5 billion. Its mission payloads collected further evidence of such. You can’t have it both ways.

    With either of of those eon numbers, a lot of things can happen, including the formation of the elements which the earth is composed of. We observe that process in the stars in the cosmos. Moreover, if you look at the sky in certain constellations you can see the process of worlds forming even now.

    The problem is not the texts but the interpretations we load them with. And in many cases the commentaries are assumed inerrant.

  10. GENE says

    Translators who remove the name out of deference to Jewish tradition fail to recognize a key fact. While some Jewish scribes refused to pronounce the name, they did not remove it from their copies of the Bible. Ancient scrolls found in Qumran, near the Dead Sea, contain the name in many places. Some Bible translators hint that the divine name appeared in the original text by substituting the title “LORD” in capital letters. But the question remains, Why have these translators felt free to substitute or remove God’s name from the Bible when they acknowledge that it is found in the Bible text thousands of times? Who do they believe gave them authority to make such a change? Only they can say.
    Those who say that the divine name should not be used because it is not known exactly how to pronounce it will nevertheless freely use the name Jesus. However, Jesus’ first-century disciples said his name quite differently from the way most Christians do today. To Jewish Christians, the name Jesus was probably pronounced Ye·shuʹa‛. And the title “Christ” was Ma·shiʹach, or “Messiah.” Greek-speaking Christians called him I·e·sousʹ Khri·stosʹ, and Latin-speaking Christians Ieʹsus Chriʹstus. Under inspiration, the Greek translation of his name was recorded in the Bible, showing that first-century Christians followed the sensible course of using the form of the name common in their language. Similarly, the New World Bible Translation Committee feels that it is reasonable to use the form “Jehovah,” even though that rendering is not exactly the way the divine name would have been pronounced in ancient Hebrew. https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1001070204

  11. GENE says

    In English, the four letters of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) are represented by the consonants YHWH. As was true of all written words in ancient Hebrew, the Tetragrammaton contained no vowels. When ancient Hebrew was in everyday use, readers easily provided the appropriate vowels.
    About a thousand years after the Hebrew Scriptures were completed, Jewish scholars developed a system of pronunciation points, or signs, by which to indicate what vowels to use when reading Hebrew. By that time, though, many Jews had the superstitious idea that it was wrong to say God’s personal name out loud, so they used substitute expressions. Thus, it seems that when they copied the Tetragrammaton, they combined the vowels for the substitute expressions with the four consonants representing the divine name. Therefore, the manuscripts with those vowel points do not help in determining how the name was originally pronounced in Hebrew. Some feel that the name was pronounced “Yahweh,” whereas others suggest different possibilities

  12. GENE says

    What we do know is that God used his name repeatedly in communication with his people, that they addressed him by that name, and that they used it freely in speaking with others.—Exodus 6:2; 1 Kings 8:23; Psalm 99:9.
    Why, then, does this translation use the form “Jehovah”? Because that form of the divine name has a long history in the English language.

    God’s name at Genesis 15:2 in William Tyndale’s translation of the Pentateuch, 1530
    The first rendering of God’s personal name in an English Bible appeared in 1530 in William Tyndale’s translation of the Pentateuch. He used the form “Iehouah.” Over time, the English language changed, and the spelling of the divine name was modernized. For example, in 1612, Henry Ainsworth used the form “Iehovah” throughout his translation of the book of Psalms. Then, in 1639, when that work was revised and printed with the Pentateuch, the form “Jehovah” was used. In 1901, the translators who produced the American Standard Version of the Bible used the form “Jehovah” where the divine name appeared in the Hebrew text.
    Explaining why he used “Jehovah” instead of “Yahweh” in his 1911 work Studies in the Psalms, respected Bible scholar Joseph Bryant Rotherham said that he wanted to employ a “form of the name more familiar (while perfectly acceptable) to the general Bible-reading public.” In 1930 scholar A. F. Kirkpatrick made a similar point regarding the use of the form “Jehovah.” He said: “Modern grammarians argue that it ought to be read Yahveh or Yahaveh; but JEHOVAH seems firmly rooted in the English language, and the really important point is not the exact pronunciation, but the recognition that it is a Proper Name, not merely an appellative title like ‘Lord.’” https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1001070204

  13. GENE says

    What is the meaning of the name Jehovah? In Hebrew, the name Jehovah comes from a verb that means “to become,” and a number of scholars feel that it reflects the causative form of that Hebrew verb. Thus, the understanding of the New World Bible Translation Committee is that God’s name means “He Causes to Become.” Scholars hold varying views, so we cannot be dogmatic about this meaning. However, this definition well fits Jehovah’s role as the Creator of all things and the Fulfiller of his purpose. He not only caused the physical universe and intelligent beings to exist, but as events unfold, he continues to cause his will and purpose to be realized.
    Therefore, the meaning of the name Jehovah is not limited to the related verb found at Exodus 3:14, which reads: “I Will Become What I Choose to Become” or, “I Will Prove to Be What I Will Prove to Be.” In the strictest sense, those words do not fully define God’s name. Rather, they reveal an aspect of God’s personality, showing that he becomes what is needed in each circumstance to fulfill his purpose. So while the name Jehovah may include this idea, it is not limited to what he himself chooses to become. It also includes what he causes to happen with regard to his creation and the accomplishment of his purpose. https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1001070204

  14. Wes says

    So, Gene, admittedly Ive strayed some myself, but what do these four posts have to do with Prehistoric Israel?

  15. GENE says

    Good question Wes. Human life began with the creation of
    Adam and Eve and prior to them there is no human history in the geographical location of the land later called Israel. Early on Adam and Eve were told God’s name. For example, at Genesis 4:1 in the oldest Hebrew manuscripts Eve says “I have produced a man with the aid of Jehovah” (YHWH). So the tetragrammaton, the name of God, was known and used by the earliest humans long before the descendants of Jacob(Israel) were established as a nation.
    Thereafter the name was used by the Jews in the Hebrew Scriptures thousands of times. Even Jesus taught us to pray at Matt 6: 9, “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified…..” in the first words of the Lord’s Prayer(or Hallowed be thy name, KJ). Also at John 17:26 in a prayer to God Jesus said, “I have made your name known to them and will make it known……”.
    At Acts 15:14 it says” Symeon has related thoroughly how God for the first time turned His attention to the nations to take out of them a people for His name.” It became clear that faithful ones among the Gentile nations now were in God’s purpose to be become God’s name people. Also verse 17 says, “in order that those who remain of the men may earnestly seek Jehovah(NW), together with people of all the nations, who are called by My name…….”
    Two posts were made saying that God did not have a name. That was impossible to ignore. Ultimately God’s name will be vindicated as the one who created all things and deserves our worship. Even man’s salvation, is secondary to the vindication and sanctification of the one and only true God.

  16. Wes says

    Well, to get this back thread back on Pre-Historic Israel, and since this forum is both “Biblical” and “archeological”, then we would tend to compare evidence of Scripture with what we can derive from evidence at a site or other written records.

    Gene’s line of argument implies that there is no such thing as a pre-historic Israel because his history has a defined bound – and evidently literate from its start. But if that is true, then how did people go about writing a four letter word to denote such a name?

    So far as I can tell, even with Gene’s and Kurt’s chronology, it’s unlikely the script that is the vessel for this message was invented or available for use even circa 1500 BC. It has several antecedents, but the most widespread were pictographic before they took on phonetic forms.

    And if we are to allow that Eden was within “pre-historic” Israel geographically, are we to assume that Adam and Eve passed each other notes which they wrote on parchment written in letters they had learned in school? In other words, I see problems with this line of argument.

    We do have records of ancient peoples and burial grounds in Israel – which it is unnecessary to point out to the regular readers of BAR. But the way they recorded things at these sites the further back we go, resembles less and less the written records of this day or even that of post Captivity Judea. Back far enough and there are no written records at burial sites – Or at the very least, I would open that up as a discussion point. Elsewhere, say in Turkey, in settlements you might have drawings and sculpted figures. Hunter populations in Europe drew and sculpted as well. Kurt’s first entry on this discussion cited 4026 BC as the beginning for pre and historic Israel (as opposed to 4004 of Bishop Ussher) – I assume all three of you are speaking of much the same starting point. But there is world wide evidence for societies that continue to exist today of even greater antiquity.

  17. REV says

    “Jehovah” was never intended to be a real word, “He is”, “I am”, “Being” – Existence. The only God with no image and no real name. Unique no other god, all invented by people is like that. It is actually a pretty good argument that only God Himself could be the original author, creator of the concept. “The God who hides Himself” Is 45:15. Never leaves “proof” so “Faith is Alone”. The attempt to prove is a denial of faith, rejecting all that is hinted at in His revealed will. Studying archeology does not prove but does imply, hint, Biblical faith is not irrational. It takes “faith” to believe God is not. Spiritual truth is concealed from simplistic minds. Two versions of the Ten Commandments, of the Lord’s prayer. Four of the resurrection, of the communion Verba, of the Gospels. See a clear message! The letter kills – the Spirit gives life. Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Jesus spoken Aramaic words recorded in Greek. The Heavens declare the glory of God to those willing to listen. Many ways of thinking, irreconcilable concepts, cultures, tribes, peoples, reveal that whose who hold they are correct and all the others wrong are fools. Thousands of years, billions of believers, reveal the power of the Spirit of God. God’s truth and the ways of error both demonstrate God is Love and all who love Him and love all in Christ.

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