Archaeology and the Bible – Absence of Evidence Is Not Evidence Of Absence

Then Yehoshua ordered the Kohanim, “Take up the Aron HaBrit and advance to the head of the people.” And they took up the Aron HaBrit and marched at the head of the people.




(the israel bible)

April 26, 2023

5 min read

For thousands of years, both Jews and Christians have been reading the Old Testament believing that the Scriptures described real historical events.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob really existed. The Israelites went down to Egypt and stayed there for 400 years.

In the eyes of the leaders of the American and French revolutions as well as the American Abolitionists, they were continuing the legacy of the ancient Israelites coming out of slavery and bondage in Egypt. They too, believed that the Exodus happened as described in the Bible.

The American colonists believed they continued the legacy of the Israelites. They called it their “Manifest Destiny” – the same destiny that the Israelites had during the conquest of the Promised Land, which at the the time of Joshua was Canaan.

But did the stories in the Book of Joshua really happen?

Since the 1960s, many archaeologists claimed that there is no evidence of an Israelite invasion into Canaan as described in the Bible.

According to the Scriptures, Joshua crossed the Jordan river with hundreds of thousands of Israelites and proceeded with the conquest of Jericho.

Such an invasion must leave archaeological traces on the ground yet they were not found, they argued.

The absence of evidence was used as evidence of absence – completely undermining the historicity of the book of Joshua.  

It was Professor. Z Herzog from the Tel Aviv university who wrote:

“It is hard to accept, but scholars today are convinced that Israel was not present at Egypt, nor wandered in Sinai; they did not conquer Canaan nor inherited it to the twelve tribes…”

(“The Bible: No evidence on the ground” Haaretz Newspaper, 29/10/1999)

What Professor Herzog is saying is that both the Jewish and Christian faiths are based on a lie, a fairytale.

In the Six Day War, Israel liberated Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley – these regions constitute the Biblical Heartland. This is where 90% of the Biblical stories happened.

Surprisingly, the region was never thoroughly researched. Yes, there were several excavations in important sites like Shiloh, Bethel and Hebron, but that did not give a full picture of the entire region. Vast territories were uncharted and the liberation of these areas by the Israeli army brought forth new opportunities for Israeli archaeologists to conduct  archaeological surveys of these areas. The aim was to find and map important archaeological sites that had not been previously documented.

Professor Adam Zertal started the Manasseh Hill Country Survey in 1978. The area under his jurisdiction was central and northern Samaria but more importantly, the Jordan Valley.

Zertal and his crew covered hundreds of miles on foot searching for remains of ancient human activity. They didn’t focus on any particular period, rather they mapped sites dating from the Chalcolithic period all the way to World War One army encampments. Almost 7000 years of history.

They found hundreds of previously undocumented sites and to the present day, they are still surveying and finding even more ancient sites.

A huge surprise came when the maps started showing a huge settlement change in the Jordan valley when shifting from the Late Bronze age to the Early Iron Age. This period in history is believed to be the time of the Israelite invasion and conquest of Cannan.

The Jordan Valley is empty of settlements during the LB (Late Bronze) and experiences a shapr increase at the Eearly Iron Age (IA1)

Picture from the Manasseh Hill Country Survey volumes

According to the results of the survey, the Jordan valley was empty of cities, towns and villages during the period of 1500-1250 BC. But something happened when the Early Iron Age began around 1250 BC. Suddenly, hundreds of new settlement sites appeared. These were Semi Nomadic camps which included circles of stones that served as sheep pens. 

Around these pens, tents were erected. Furthermore, the archaeological evidence showed that the invaders gradually moved westward into the mountains of Samaria. This points to a possible invasion from the east bank of the Jordan River to the west bank.

Early Iron Age sheep pens. Hundreds of these sites “suddenly” appear at the Early Iron Age.

Are we looking at the archaeological evidence of the Israelite invasion into Cannan?

Picture from the Manasseh Hill Country Survey volumes

This settlement change seems to have concentrated 10 to 20 miles north of Jericho near the Adam Bridge. Why was this area the center of settlement change and could it be connected to the Israelite invasion? We cannot say for certain but perhaps the Bible can help us because it points out that the crossing of the Jordan river was made possible due to a miracle of the Jordan river stopping exactly in that area.

The waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. (Joshua 3:16 ESV)

So the area that experienced the settlement change corresponds with the area that according to the Bible, hosted the miracle and allowed the Israelites to cross at any point north of Jericho and south of Adam.

The area of the Jordan Valley North of Jericho was uncharted territory. The Manasseh survey discovered hundreds of undocumented sites to the north of Jericho.

Bringing together the historical period, the evidence of a semi nomadic culture, their sudden appearance during the Early Iron Age, the settlement location in relation to the location of the miracle of the Jordan river as mentioned in the Bible and the east to west expansion, provides a strong foundation for those that seek proof for the Israelite invasion into Canaan,  all thanks to Professor Adam Zertal and the ongoing work of the Manasseh Hill Country Survey team headed today by Dr. Shay Bar.

As Bible believers, we must understand that the science of archaeology can sometimes be used as a tool by biased professors to undermine the validity of the historicity of the Bible. As we understand now, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because you haven’t found something, doesn’t mean it never happened. It just means you didn’t find it or in our case, never really looked for it…

We will never find evidence for every historical event in the Bible but as time passes, new archaeological discoveries are aligning with the Biblical account and are disproving the disprovers.

Aaron Lipkin is a Lecturer on Biblical Archaeology, Film Maker, Drone Photographer, and Travel Agent.

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