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by Patricia Berlyn


These Records Are From Ancient Times
-- 1 Chronicles 4:21-23

Some of those openly bent on the destruction of the present-day State of Israel allege that it has no historic roots in the Land of Israel -- the Land they identify by the faux-name "Palestine" [on "Palestine" see further Issue 2]. One version of this line is that there never was any ancient Israelite/Judaean nation in this Land. A slightly modified version, perhaps geared to some slightly less gullible audience, is that maybe there was, but contemporary Jews are not descended from that long gone nation, and therefore have no claim on its Land.

A special tenet of this credo, is that Jerusalem was never holy to Jews, and there was never a Jewish Temple on Temple Mount. A former Arab Mufti of Jerusalem recently explained that the Western Wall where Jews pray is really part of a mosque, and gave assurance that when Temple Mount comes under Muslim sovereignty no Jews will be to pray at this mosque.

[Comment: Despite such denial of any ancient Israelite-Jewish presence on Temple Mount, the Muslim Waqf, that Israeli governments since 1967 have unaccountably permitted to hold control of Temple Mount, uses bulldozers to destroy Jewish and Christian remnants and relics that supposedly were never there. Israeli governments even more unaccountably do not interfere.]

In this campaign of mis-information the Arabs and other Muslims have acquired a curious ally: A school of Bible Scholars that specializes in discrediting and dismissing the Bible and all the history preserved therein.

As will be seen below, evidence within the Bible, and even outside of Israel and Judah and the Bible, establish that the people of Israel lived, had nations in Israel and Judah, and Jerusalem was the city of their heart.

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"Some ideas are so preposterous, that only an intellectual can entertain them."
-- George Orwell

There has been biblical scholarship for almost as long as there has been a Bible, and it is indeed an inexhaustible subject for study, interpretation, and analysis. For centuries, this meant the study of the biblical text itself. In modern times, as knowledge emerged about the histories and cultures of other peoples of the biblical age, those too became subject of study about the Bible. Modern archaeology in Israel and surrounding areas adds texts, relics, and artifacts of the biblical age, that can illustrate and be correlated with the text of the Bible.

Only recently has there arisen an entirely new view of biblical scholarship, generally known as Minimalism. Its principle is that nothing in the biblical text can be given credence unless it is confirmed by archaeological remains. That means that if the required material remains have not survived the past few millennia, or if no excavator's spade as yet hit upon them, then the written text of the Bible does not count as a valid source. It is dismissed as mere "story."

The biblical writers studied extant records of the Children of Israel, and selected the material that fit their special interest -- often citing sources where readers could find other material. These writers are now disqualified on the grounds that endeavors were "ideological." Indeed they were, and the ideology was Ethical Monotheism.

[COMMENT: It is questionable that this standard of scholarship would be applied to the history of classical Greece, with the demand that it be known only from archaeological relics, and its historical writings be dismissed as mere "story."]

Minimalist scholars who are rigidly demanding of archaeological proof for the biblical history of ancient Israel are more indulgent of fancy when they produce their own substitutions for that discarded history on the basis of no evidence at all.

At the same, time, they go against a basic principle of all serious research: "Absence of proof is not proof of absence." For example, it is said that Jerusalem in the time of David and Solomon could not have been a city of any significance because it has not (thus far) yielded written the kind of royal archives found in some ancient cities. This argument overlooks a salient distinction: Those other cities have been abandoned ruins for millennia past, where artifacts could survive undisturbed and archaeologists can dig wherever they please. Jerusalem has during those millennia been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, with consequent loss of material relics, and is today too full of people and buildings to leave much space for digging. So when the question is posed "If there was an historical King David, where are his archives?" the answer could just possibly be "Underneath the swimming pool of the King David Hotel."

Scholars who go even further -- who will here be dubbed Nullists -- assert that ancient biblical Israel never existed at all, and that the entire Bible is a hoax concocted around the fifth-third century BCE. The purpose of this fraud was to deceive a foreign ruler into thinking that some bunch of people who called themselves Jews that a particular land they wanted for themselves had once been their homeland.

This conclusion requires the proponents to suppose that thirty-nine books, from Genesis through II Chronicles, including some 1,500 years of national history, a complex code of religious and civil law, prophets, psalms, proverbs, wisdom literature, poetry and narratives, with the intricate cross-references among the books, were all forged within a short period of time.

The Nullists are not certain whether the foreign ruler was a Persian or a Greek, but seem to assume that he knew how to read and understand Hebrew, and would have the patience to peruse this entire corpus of text.

These endeavors are problematic and controversial, but within the range of academic and intellectual freedom. Minimalism and its more extreme offspring Nullism might be merely academic fads, debated within a small circle of colleagues. However, the movement does not stop there. It is carried onto the contemporary international stage with the argument that since ancient Israel never existed and the Bible is a fraud, there is no reason why modern Israel should exist. Since the bunch of people who call themselves Jews never had a nation in "Palestine," then they have no right to have one there now.

What presents itself as "scholarship" then becomes a prop for the propaganda of Israel's mortal enemies who proclaim that Israel and the Jewish people have no roots, or history, or rights in Palestine, that Jerusalem was never an Israelite/Jewish city, and there was never a Temple on Temple Mount.

The Nullists, with their professorial credentials, provide support for those who proclaim this doctrine for their own advantage. It can provide justification to powers and interests that want to diminish Israel and appease jihadis.

As colleges, universities, and other institutions progressively discard such obsolete values as knowledge, facts, and logic, Nullism has become respectable. A professor who professes it can be granted tenure to pass it on to inexperienced students who will then take it with them into the outside world and into the positions of influence they may hold in years to come.

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The Minimalist/Nullist doctrine that the Bible does not record real history is contradicted by the very archaeological artifacts and ancient archives in which they place their faith. There is indeed a plethora of such "proof," both in archaeological remains and written records from the lands that were neighbors of biblical Israel.

For those who do not seek or need the kind of "proof" demanded by Minimalism/Nullism, these sources may nevertheless be of interest because they show Israelite history in its regional setting -- a setting of often larger and stronger nations and societies that are now long vanished, while Israel alone is still living and vibrant,

The ancient Israelites were very conscious of their identity, and kept careful records of their own history and doings. These records are not now extant, but they are cited in the Five Books of Moses, and also in the histories of I and II Kings and I and II Chronicles. Even with the loss of the earliest written sources, much is preserved about the Children of Israel, and the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

There are also embedded references to personages and doings in neighboring lands. By the Persian or Greek age, many centuries later, some of those personages and doings could not have been known from any source other than the Bible itself -- that allegedly had not yet been written.

Only in the nineteenth century CE did Western archaeologists and scholars begin to reconstruct the history of the Near East in the biblical period, excavate its relics and decipher its documents and inscriptions. In so doing, they found much material that correlates with and at times illustrates texts in the Bible, and thereby establishes both the antiquity and the authenticity of those texts.

The following examples relate to only a few people and events in biblical history, but they are sufficient to establish that the biblical writers were knowledgeable both about their own people and about their neighbors. They also establish that those neighbors knew of and interacted with the Children of Israel.

I. The Merneptah Stele, with a text written by the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah in about 1220 BCE, tells of his incursion into Canaan, where he attacked a people called "Israel." He boasts that that thanks to him "Israel is desolate, his seed is not."

II. The Bible (Numbers 22-25, Joshua 24:10, Micah 6:5, Nehemiah 13:2) recalls the sayings and doings of Balaam son of Peor, a soothsayer from a land near the Euphrates River.

An inscription from early first millennium BCE, discovered in Jordan in 1967, recalls "Balaam son of Peor" as a prominent soothsayer of an earlier time.

III. The Bible (I Kings 16:15-29) records the reign of Omri, King of Israel (886-874), and speaks of <"T10">"the might that he showed."

The Annals of Assyria, from his time onward refer to the Northern Kingdom of Israel as "Omri-Land."

IV. The Bible (I Kings 16-22, II Chronicles 18) records the reign of King Ahab of Israel (c. 874-853 BCE).

The Assyrian Monolith Inscription, whose text was dictated by King Shalmaneser III of Assyria in about 850 BCE, lists the names of kings who formed a league to defend their realms against his attacks. Prominent among them is "Ahab the Israelite," who sent into the battle a formidable force of 10,000 infantry and 2,000 war-chariots.

V. The Bible (I Kings 22:39) in its record of King Ahab's reign refers to "the ivory house that he built."

Archeological excavations at the ruins of Samaria, Ahab's capital city, uncovered ruins of the royal house of his period. Scattered throughout it were hundreds of pieces of ivory furniture and ivory ornaments.

VI. The Bible (II Kings 3), records that King Mesha of Moab was a vassal of Omri's son King Ahab, and rebelled after the death of Ahab.

The Moabite Stone, dated to circa 840-830 BCE, has an inscription written by a King of Moab: It says "I am Mesha, . . . King of Moab . . . . Omri was King of Israel, and he oppressed Moab many days . . . . And his son [Ahab] reigned in his place, and he also said 'I will oppress Moab' . . . . But I triumphed, and Israel has perished forever."

This inscription was discovered in 1868 CE. Until then, the Bible was the only source for the existence of Mesha.

VII. The Bible (II Kings 8) describes the ambiguous circumstances of the death of King Ben-Hadad of Aram [Syria] and the succession to the throne of Hazael, a commoner who had been in his service.

The Annals of Assyria for this same year records how Ben-Hadad [also called Hadadezer] died in questionable circumstances, and his throne was taken by Hazael, whose geneoliogy was a disdainful "son of nobody."

VIII. The Bible (II Kings II 9) records the reign of Jehu as King of Israel (842-815 BCE).

The Assyrian Black Obelisk lists the rulers and states that sent tribute-gifts to King Shalmaneser III in 841. Among them is "Jehu, son of Omri" [that is, of Omri-land], whose gifts included "silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden beaker, golden goblets, pitchers of gold . . . ." There is even an illustration of the visiting Israelites delivering these items, including a man who was either Jehu himself or possibly his emissary.

IX. The Bible (II Kings 9, II Chronicles 22) describes how Jehu killed both King Jehoram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah.

The Tel-Dan Stele, inscribed with a text written by a King of Aram in the mid-ninth century BCE, tells of the slaying of King Jehoram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah, whom it identifies with "the House of David."

After the discovery of this inscription in 1992, some Minimalist/Nullists set out to find -- or if necessary invent -- an alternative reading or meaning of the word "David," and thereby protect their assertion that there was no evidence that he ever existed.

X. The Bible (II Kings 17:3-6) records how King Hoshea of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (c. 732-722) rejected vassalage to the King of Assyria:

"Against him [Hoshea] came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria; . . .And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea for he . . . brought no present to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison. Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

The royal annals of Assyria show that Shalmaneser V died at some time during the three-year-long siege, and his successor Sargon II completed the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and took many of its residents off into exile.

In Sargon's own words: "Samaria I looked at, I captured; 27,280 men who dwelt in it I carried away."

XI. The Bible (II Kings 20:20, II Chronicles 32:2-4) includes among the many accomplishments of King Hezekiah of Judah (c. 715-686 BCE) that he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city.

On the water supply for Jerusalem, there is also this background: When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come, intent on making war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officers and warriors about stopping the flow of the springs outside the city, and they supported him. A large force was assembled to stop up all the springs and the wadi that flowed through the land, for otherwise, they thought, the king of Assyria would come and find water in abundance"

This tunnel still exists in Jerusalem, and is open to the public to walk or wade through it. It begins at a spring of fresh water at Gihon, a site that in Hezekiah's time was outside of the wall of Jerusalem, runs underneath that wall, and diverts the water into the Pool of Siloam inside the city. Scientific radio-carbon dating confirms that this water-system was made in the time of Hezekiah.

In 1880, an inscription was found cut into the inside wall of the tunnel, telling how two crews had dug from opposite ends, and the work was completed when they met each other inside the tunnel:

"The tunneling was completed... While the hewers wielded the ax, each man toward his fellow . . . there was heard a man's voice calling to his fellow . . . the hewers hacked each toward the other, ax against ax, and the water flowed from the spring to the pool, a distance of 1,200 cubits . . . . "

The Ottoman Turks, who ruled the city when the inscription was found, cut it out of the wall, and it is now in a museum in Istanbul.

XII. The Bible (II Kings 18-19. II Chronicles 32, Isaiah 36-37) gives long and detailed accounts of how

-- King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah and sent officials to try to secure the surrender of Jerusalem through dire threats and coaxing promises to King Hezekiah and his people

-- Hezekiah -- with the counsel of the Isaiah --refused to surrender

-- a disaster in Sennacherib's camp forced him to withdraw from Judah

-- Hezekiah delivered to Sennacherib "three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold."

The Oriental Institute Prism, discovered in the ruins of Nineveh in 1830, is inscribed with a text dictated by Sennacherib himself, c. 700 BCE. In a list of his campaigns, he includes this:

"As for Hezekiah the Judaean [Jew], who did not submit to my yoke, forty-six of his strong, walled cities, . . . I besieged and took them. . . . . [Hezekiah] himself, like a caged bird I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city. . . . . Hezekiah himself, did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver . . . . "

Here is the contemporary testimony of the hostile King of Assyria that in his time Jerusalem was the capital city of a Jewish Kingdom.

XIII. The Bible reports what befell Sennacherib after he retreated from Judah and returned to his capital at Nineveh:

II Kings 9:36-37: "And as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Ararat <"T16">[Armenia]<"T1">. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead."

II Chronicles 32:21: "And when he entered the temple of his own god, some of his own offspring struck him down there with the sword."

Isaiah 37:37-38: "And as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat, and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead."

Babylonian Chronicle -- that recorded events as they happened year by year:

On the twentieth day of the month Tebet, his son killed King Sennacherib of Assyria, in a rebellion . . . . From the 20th day of month of Tebet until the 2nd day of the month of Adar [comment: a period of about six weeks] there was continuous rebellion in Assyria. On the 18th day of of the month of Adar, Esarhaddon, his son, sat himself on the throne in Assyria."

Inscription of Esarhaddon states that his father had named him crown prince, and this enraged his two older half-brothers. He was away on a military expedition when "my brothers went out of their senses, doing everything that is wicked . . . to take over the kingship," and how he quickly secured the throne for himself.

XIV. Bible (II Kings 24:8, 15-16) tells how King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon deposed one King of Judah and replaced him with another:

"Jehoichin was eighteen years old when he became king and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. . . . At that time the servants of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. He [Nebuchadnezzar] deported Jehoiachin to Babylon . . . And the King of Babylon made Mattaniah, his [Jehoiachin's] father's brother, king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah."

The Babylonian Chronicle gives the exact date:

"In the seventh year [of the reign of Nebucahnezzar], the king . . . besieged the [capital] city of Judah, and on the second day of the month of Adar [March 16, 598 BCE] he seized the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own choice."

Babylonian administrative records give a tally of the food and wine allotted to Jehoichin and his family living in exile in Babylon, and refer to him as a King of Judah.

XV. The Bible (Jeremiah 34:6-8) tells of the plight of the Kingdom of Judah during the last days of Nebuchadnezzar's second invasion (587 BCE):

"When the king of Babylon's army fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities of Judah that were left, against Lachish, and against Azekah . . . these fortified cities remained of the cities of Judah."

The Lachish Letters were discovered in 1935, in the burnt-out ruins of the guardpost at the city gate of Lachish. They are written on clay shards, and contain reports sent to the garrison at Lachish from outlying posts. One of them reads: ". . . we are watching for the signals of Lachish, according to all the indications which you gave, sir, for we cannot see [the signal fire of] Azekah."

XVI. The Bible (Jeremiah 39:1) names Nebu-Sarsekim as one of Nebuchadnezzar's chief officers at his second siege of Jerusalem [587 BCE].

The Babylonia Chronicle for the tenth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (595 BCE) names Nebo-Sarsekim as one of his high royal officials.

XVII: The Bible records that King Cyrus of Persia, after he conquered Babylon in 539, allowed the Jews carried into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar to return to their homeland, and take with them the precious things that had been looted from their Temple:

II Chronicles 36:22-23: "Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia , The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying: 'Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath The Lord God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up.'"

Ezra 1:1-7 repeats this text, and adds: "Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of The Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods; Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer and counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the prince [or: governor] of Judah."

The Persian Cyrus Prism bears a text by the King that does not mention Judah by name, but does define the principle on which he permitted exiles to return to their homelands:

"I am Cyrus, King of the World, Great King, Legitimate King, . . . When I entered Babylon as a friend and when I established the seat of the government in the palace of the ruler under jubilation and rejoicing, . . . I gathered all their former inhabitants [exiles from conquered states] and returned them to their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled . . . all the gods . . . . in their former temples, the places which make them happy."

XVIII. Throughout biblical times, the Children of Israel -- like other peoples of the region -- had personal seals, used to stamp the owner's name on a document or a possession. These were small stones, set in a ring or pierced through to be worn on a cord, engraved with the name of the owner, usually with the further identification of a patronymic, and sometimes with a title. A man in the service of the royal government might add the name of the king for whom he worked.

Many seals and bullae [clay disks on which the seal was stamped] have been found, and some of them bear the names of personages in the Bible. That the names are indeed those of those personages is attested by expert dating of the style ofbr the writing.

Here are some seals or bullae that belonged to personages named in the biblical text.

Bulla: "Ahaz son of Jotham King of Judah"
Bible: "Ahaz son of Jotham, King of Judah, began to reign (II Kings 16:1), "Jotham slept with his fathers and his son Ahaz succeeded him as king" (II Chronicles 27:9)

Bulla: "Baruch ben-Neriah the Scribe"
Bible: "So Jeremiah got another scroll and gave it to Baruch ben-Neriah the Scribe" (Jeremiah 36:32)

Seal: "Seriah [son of] Neriah"
Bible: "The instructions that Jeremiah gave to Seriah son of Neriah son of Mahseiah . . . the chancellor" (Jeremiah 51:59)

Bulla: "Jerameel son of the king"
Bible: "The king ordered Jerameel, son of the king . . . . " (Jeremiah 36:26)

Bulla: "Gemariah son of Shaphan"
Bible: "Then Baruch read in the book the words of Jeremiah . . . n the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe" (Jeremiah 369-11)

Seal: "Shema Servant of Jeroboam"
Bible: This seal was found at Megiddo, one of the strongholds of King Jeroboam II of Israel.

Bulla: "Yehozarak ben-Hilkiah Servant of Hezekiah"
Bible: This is from an official of King Hezekiah of Judah.

Seal: "Jezebel"
Bible: This seal is unusually large, and engraved on an unusually costly gem and it most likely belonged to the Tyrian wife of King Ahab of Israel.

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One of the Minimalist/Nullist principles is that the history of the biblical age must be based first and foremost on archaeology. Thus it may be concluded that since archaeology has not come up with a distinctive Israelite/Judaean style of pottery they were not a distinct people.

It may be so that the pottery was no different, but the people were -- for only they could have produced the artifact known as the Harvester Letter, dated to the time of the Kingdom of Judah. It is written in ink on a shard from a broken pot -- as was the custom for short notes in the days in preference to expensive parchment.

The writer was an agricultural worker, and he addressed his letter to the local royal governor. In it, he complained that a creditor was holding his garment as collateral on a debt, even though the law of the land required that the garment be returned to him.

This little bit of a broken non-distinctive clay pot shows that this man of the common people
-- knew how to write
-- knew biblical law: "If you take your neighbor's garment as a pledge, you shall deliver it unto him by that the sun goes down" (Exodus 22:26).
-- expected the governor to act to secure his rights.


This article is archived in Vol. VII:5 (No. 69) of TIME TO SPEAK, December 2007 -- Kislev-Tevet 5768

"A Time To Speak" appears once a month, and each issue is on a theme that relates to Israel and the Middle East past and present, including history, background, current events, analysis and comment. All issues appear on its website: A complimentary subscription to the e-mail edition is available by request to:


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