Excavating the Bible

New Archaeological Evidence for the Historical Reliability of Scripture


Excavating the Bible: New Archaeological Evidence for the Historical Reliability of Scripture

Yitzhak Meitlis
(Savage, MD: Eshel Books, 2012), 400 pp., $32.95 (hardcover)

Reviewed by Itzhaq Shai

In this book, a professor at Herzog College in Israel with a doctorate in archaeology from Tel Aviv University explores the correlation between archaeological finds and the Biblical narrative. The author’s position is quite clear: He “believes that no substantive contradiction exists between the two fields.” Meitlis seeks to “restore the Bible to its former stature as a reliable historical record.”

In the first chapter, the author explains why this book is needed—to show that there is no contradiction between Biblical text and the archaeological finds. He approaches his subject with a sense of mission: Since the 1980s too many scholars, he claims, have argued that there is a contradiction between the Bible and archaeology.

In his second chapter, he defines the chronological framework that is the focus of the study. Here, Meitlis claims that the common and traditional chronological framework is wrong and he presents an alternative view. According to him, the Middle Bronze Age continued until nearly the 1400 B.C.E.—and then the Iron Age begins. In effect, he has eliminated the Late Bronze Age and moved the beginning of the Iron Age back two centuries.

The third chapter deals with previous studies, beginning with excavations that took place at some of the principal Biblical sites. According to the author, the lack of destruction levels during the Late Bronze Age (1500–1200 B.C.E.) at these sites can be explained by his alternative chronology.

In the following chapters, Meitlis presents the archaeological evidence that in his opinion reflects the material culture of the Patriarchal period, the Settlement period and the period of the Israelite Monarchy.

In his concluding chapter, Meitlis presents his view on the limits of archaeology in historical reconstruction. At the same time he purports to show that his new dating of the beginning of the Iron Age to the 14th century B.C.E. (two centuries earlier than the traditional dating) will demonstrate a correlation between the Biblical narrative and the archaeological evidence.

His argument has several weaknesses: The book lacks any real discussion of up-to-date Biblical research.

Most of the references are in Hebrew and are not updated; as a result, the author does not deal with the most recent scholarly literature. For example, he refers to Beth Shemesh as an Israelite site during the Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.E.); in 2009 Beth Shemesh excavators wrote that the inhabitants were Canaanites. (Meitlis’s book is a translation of a Hebrew book published in 2008.)

In the past two decades, more and more carbon-14 analyses have been published from dozens of sites in the Levant, which provide scientifically determined dates for the material tested. Meitlis doesn’t relate to any of these studies. He refers only to an article in Hebrew that was published in 1990 (!) and emphasizes the problematic nature of carbon-14 testing. The many carbon-14 studies that have been published in the past 20 years cannot be ignored, however, especially by someone who purports to offer a new chronology.

Meitlis also claims that a new culture can be identified by new pottery styles. This view is very simplistic. It is clear that the changes from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age I are much more complicated.

Meitlis also argues that based on buildings plans, the inhabitants of the Iron Age I highland settlements in Israel originated in the desert. While one can agree with the suggestion that the settlement plans indicate a nomadic or semi-nomadic tradition, there is no proof for a connection to the desert.

Meitlis identifies the Egyptian ‘apiru with the Hebrews. This identification has been shown by the late Anson Rainey and others to be wrong, based both on linguistic and social reasons.

These are only a few of the problems with this book. In addition, certain technical issues should have been addressed. It is clear that the translator was not familiar with archaeological terminology: For example, the Israelite four-room house is translated as the “Four Spaces House.”

While the goal of reviewing and challenging traditional views is more than welcome, this book has many methodological and data-related problems. It hardly presents a substantial challenge to current mainstream interpretation of the relationship between the Bible and the archaeological remains.



Itzhaq Shai is director of the Tel Burna Archaeological Project at Ariel University, Israel.

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  • yitzhak says

    Response to criticism of Yitzhak Shai
    The criticism of the reader indicates a superficial reading. . He ignored the data that I based on. My research based on the ceramics that was found in Tel Shiloh excavations and C14 tests from Tel Dan. He did not deal with the data I brought in my book. He also doesn’t understand the new research that was made in Babylon and the connection with the end of the middle bronze age in Israel (I admit that it is hard to understand). At this point there are no finds that contradict my main arguments. He also claimed that I “claims that a new culture can be identified by new pottery styles. This view is very simplistic. It is clear that the changes from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age I are much more complicated.” My argument is more complicated and it seems that he read the chapter partially. I suggest to Dr. Shai re-read the book

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