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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  • GENE says

    (Exodus 3:14) God’s reply in Hebrew was: ʼEh·yehʹ ʼAsherʹ ʼEh·yehʹ. Some translations render this as “I AM THAT I AM.” However, it is to be noted that the Hebrew verb ha·yahʹ, from which the word ʼEh·yehʹ is drawn, does not mean simply “be.” Rather, it means “become,” or “prove to be.” The reference here is not to God’s self-existence but to what he has in mind to become toward others. Respected scholar J. B. Rotherham’s translation agrees with this understanding. So in verse 15 it says: “This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel, ‘Jehovah( not I AM ) the God of your forefathers,……..has sent me to you.’ this is my name to time indefinite.
    It must also be kept in mind that names then had real meaning and were not just labels. For example Abraham’s name means “Father of a Multitude” but he was still called Abraham.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Wes says

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

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