How Israel Became a People


How Israel Became a People

By Ralph K. Hawkins
(Nashville: Abingdon, 2013), 306 pp., $37.99 (paperback)
Reviewed by Aren M. Maeir

Ralph Hawkins of Averett University, Danville, Virginia, makes an admirable attempt in this book to summarize the widely discussed topic of Israel’s ethnogenesis. Although the book is seemingly intended as an introductory text for undergraduates with a strong Christian background, Hawkins also covers a range of issues that make his book of interest to a broader readership, although some may not completely agree with his analysis.*

In an introductory discussion of the history of the Israelite settlement, Hawkins lays a theoretical framework for his study. This seems intended to fit the needs of conservative students, although this process is seemingly described in the Biblical text itself.

Next Hawkins presents an overview of previous scholarship on the Israelite settlement, from the well-known classic theories (e.g., conquest, settlement, revolution) to those of more recent years (e.g., symbiosis, agrarianism, etc.).

Hawkins then summarizes and interprets the Biblical data (and also later Jewish/Christian interpretations) that may date the Exodus-Conquest. The author opts for the often-accepted date of the late 13th century B.C.E. for the Exodus, and the conquest/settlement following this. Hawkins discusses both Biblical and non-Biblical evidence for dating these events, once again in agreement with the commonly accepted dating of the late 13th/early 12th centuries B.C.E.

Hawkins reviews relevant archaeological evidence for the Israelite conquest from four major cities in the Biblical account—Jericho, Ai, Hazor and Dan. Although he admits that some of this archaeological evidence is problematic (particularly in the case of Jericho and Ai), he believes that at least Hazor and Dan (and perhaps the other two as well) do provide evidence of an Israelite conquest.

Regarding the Israelite “settlement,” Hawkins presents his views on how to define the material culture of the Israelite highland settlers, and how this can be used to define them ethnically. Hawkins discusses in detail Izbet Sartah, an Israelite village located on the western foothills of Samaria, near modern-day Rosh Ha-ayin. He sees this as a prototype of the Israelite settlement.**

The author also attempts to understand the formation of the Israelite people through the lenses of what he identifies as cult centers—especially Mt. Ebal and the so-called Gilgalim sandal-shaped sites that were excavated and surveyed by Adam Zertal, who interpreted them as the locations of the earliest Israelite settlement in Canaan and suggested that they were shaped liked sandals to indicate symbolically their possession of the land.

Hawkins recreates the settlement processes and the formation of the Israelite people, using the “Culture Scale” lens of anthropologist J.H. Bodley. In essence, Hawkins believes one can identify both a process of settlement and of conquest. At first there was a process of slow and peaceful settlement in the peripheral areas in Canaan, followed by conquests of the Canaanite lowlands—sort of a combination of the traditional Alt/Noth and Albright/Yadin approaches.

Without a doubt, this volume is an admirable attempt to survey the literature and the data, and it suggests an understanding of the processes of Israel’s ethnogenesis. That said, I got the feeling that the author is taking an “apologetic” approach, attempting as much as possible to harmonize the Biblical text with the archaeological and historical data. While this is a viable approach, readers not looking for such interpretations should be aware of this. This is apparent already in the first chapter, where Hawkins endeavors to answer the questions:

“Why do we need to reconstruct the history of the Israelite settlement? Does the Bible give us an exact historical report as to how the Israelites came into Canaan?” For anyone teaching a student body some of whom may be of traditional Judeo-Christian background, these questions are hardly foreign. But this reviewer came out with the feeling that the answer the author gave to those questions was one that perhaps would not upset conservative viewpoints—and did not fully deal with all aspects of current archaeological and Biblical research.

Thus, for example, in the discussion of the Biblical texts, the author shows a strong preference for North American scholarship. When he deals with European scholars, they are mainly scholars of many decades ago (Alt, Noth, etc.). Many modern middle-of-the-road European scholars, such as Thomas Römer and Konrad Schmid, would disagree with Hawkins’s use of Biblical texts and their relevance to the discussion of the issues at hand.

While he does consider matters of social theory in the processes of Israelite ethnogenesis, much of this centers on quite-dated discussions, mainly from before the turn of the current century. And some of Hawkins’s interpretations of the archaeological evidence can be questioned. For example, can Izbet Sartah be considered a prototypical Israelite village? Or perhaps, is it Canaanite? We cannot know for sure. Similarly, can one accept the supposition (originally espoused by Adam Zertal) that one can see an east-to-west pattern in the Israelite settlement? This is a point that is hardly agreed upon by scholars. And, relating once again to Zertal’s views, can one accept the cultic and symbolic importance of the so-called Gilgalim (sandal sites)?

I fully concur with Hawkins that the Israelite settlement is a very complex process, but his overall acceptance of the peaceful settlement pattern, followed by conquests, is hard to accept in light of current research—both archaeological and Biblical. Too many aspects of early and later Israelite and Judahite culture have precedents in Canaanite culture to brush aside the existence of substantial indigenous portions of early Israel. Likewise, Biblical texts that recount the narratives of the early Israelite settlement and conquest most likely reflect a long process of formation and editing—which may very well reflect later periods and social situations in the history of early Israel.



* I have previously dealt with Hawkins’s views relating to the early Israelite culture; here the author expands his discussion to present a general overview of the issues. See my review of his book The Iron Age I structure on Mt. Ebal: Excavation and Interpretation (Winona Lake, In: Eisenbrauns, 2012), in BAR, July/August 2013.

** Avraham Faust, “How Did Israel Become a People?” BAR, November/December 2005.

Aren M. Maeir is a professor at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath.

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