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Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?
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Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  140 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
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 Israelite ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published March 31st 2006 by Eerdmans (first published 2003)
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If there was an award for cumbersome book titles, this and Dever's earlier What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel would be strong contenders.

This book is an adequate survey of the archaeological finds in Israel and the various attempts to reconcile the data with the Biblical Exodus and Conquest narratives, ranging from those who see the Bible as very true and those who see it as very false. Dever's own view is
Dec 23, 2010 rated it liked it
A number of books on the Hebrew Bible have been published in the 1990s and the 2000s that claim that the early history of the Israelites is a fabrication; The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman is one, but others are much more extreme in their claims. The claims were eagerly picked up by assorted anti-Zionists and Palestinian nationalists; some of the latter claim that Bronze Age Canaanites are their direct ancestors; in 1996 some West Bank Palestinians reenacted a ceremony of worshipi ...more
Gilda Felt
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Using the lack of historical or archaeological evidence of the Exodus, along with the archaeological evidence that over forty of the towns that were supposedly destroyed by the invading Israelites didn’t exist at the end of the Bronze Age, Dever gives an objective and plausible response to that question.

The book is clearly and succinctly written. Starting with the story of the Exodus, to the conquest of Transjordan, to the final takeover of Canaan, the reader is given all the theories and facts
Eric Wurm
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
William Dever seeks to analyze archaeology of the "Holy Land" from an objective basis. More than other authors on the topic, he seems to succeed in doing so. His analysis of the evidence suggests that the Biblical narrative was written by people who believed what they were writing but embellished certain aspects. However, just because people believed what they were writing doesn't make it true. The Judeo-Christian narrative is encompassed by documents that contain some truths, some probable fabr ...more
William Dever also tends towards the indigenous solution as to who the early Israelites (he calls them 'proto-Israelites) were, but he thinks it more likely that they were Canaanite peasants fleeing the chaos and oppression that marked the end of the Bronze Age to find a new birth of freedom in the highlands, unlike Finkelstein, who believes that they were upland nomads who needed to start growing their own wheat and vegetables because the agricultural system in the coastal plain and valleys col ...more
Nov 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Good overview of the disparities between current archaeological perspectives about the early Israelites and the biblical text. While Dever doesn't seem overtly hostile to the biblical narratives, he does not find them supported by archaeology. There's some good review here of the (then) current state of archaeological research in Palestine, though a little too much academic "inside baseball" about various disputes and personalities. It's generally very readable for the non-specialist (like me). ...more
Andy Caffrey
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the Bible and the origins of the israelites
Extremely well written, well argued, and exciting archaelogical examination of the question, where did the Israelites come from? Does the Bible accurately represent historical reality? Was there an Exodus? Maybe, but not from Egypt. Were there wars against the Canaanites? Nope! Who was Moses?
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoy reading historical, archaeological and anthropological treatises and Mr. Dever did a nice job of explaining the background of each assertions he makes, he's very explicit about his reasoning and why he does or does not agree with another author's theories. I also enjoyed getting a look at some of the bickering that seems to go on between disagreeing peers, each profession seems to have their own divas.
Jun 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: archaeology
The title doesn't leave much room for doubt when it comes to the content of the book. An archaeological survey of what we know about the early Israelites and proposes an interpretation for the data that is highly compelling. Dever also does a good job in providing an overview of competing interpretations and why he disagrees with them. I found this book as it was highly referenced by Karen Armstrong in the Great Transformation (which I loved) and so I was already predisposed to Dever's interpret ...more
Dec 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The "science" behind determining where the Bible and the "Jews" really came from is only emerging within the last 20 years or so. The results have ramifications that, if understood, would drastically alter the world-view of billions of people. The findings of this body of knowledge are too challenging and too hard to understand, however, and I think it will take a generation or two or three for people to catch up.
Sidney Davis
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This takes a rather academic scholarly historical-critical approach to the of the Biblical narrative upon which the current historiography of the State of Israel is based. One will have to come face to face with the facts and with the fiction in the naked presentation and examination of the empirical evidences and the facts on the ground. One will have to decide whether the truth is better than the fiction.
Gilbert Wesley Purdy
Jul 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: archeaology
Very readable comparison of the early books of the Bible to existing archaeological evidence. Many helpful drawings and site and building layout plans. I think this is one of the first studies (if not the first) to forward the idea that the early Israelites might actually have been Canaanites who broke free from their aristocratic rulers to set up for themselves.
Aug 06, 2011 added it
Mainly an updated take on archaeological finding and interpretations concerning the origins of Israel. If you're looking for something which confirms the full biblical narrative of the exodus, this wouldn't be the book for you. A good read, though i think the final verdict is still out and we are looking at an incomplete picture.
Dave Sammath
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, own
A very well-balanced and thought-provoking book on the origins of the Israelites. It raises a lot of serious questions to the general way I, and many others, have read the certain parts of the OT, while still being balanced. Dever uses the archaeological data as a primary source to see where it and the Old Testament literature "converge" in order to determine Israelite origins.
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Well-written, thoughtful, and respectful study of the origins of the Tanach and the Jewish people. It will NOT be appreciated by fundamentalists and very Orthodox Jews. I found Dever's arguments persuasive.
Heath Workman
Mar 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-nonfiction
Fascinating but dry. I'm glad I read this after Finkelstein's book since a significant portion of the book is a rebuttal to a lot of Finkelstein's ideas.
Cor Heijboer
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Dec 31, 2016
Justeen Ward
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Sep 10, 2008
Richard Condon
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Colin Cushman
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Jay Hoekstra
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Oct 31, 2011
Chris Jones
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Nov 22, 2017
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Oct 06, 2008
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Lisa Shields
rated it it was ok
Apr 04, 2015
Wyatt Houtz
Feb 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Helpful criticism of miller and hayes. Still deficient. Good discussion of archeology.
Xavier Alexandre
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Jan 17, 2014
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