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NARRATOR: God is dead...
or so it must have seemed
to the ancestors of the Jews in 586 B.C.
Jerusalem and the temple to their god are in flames
The nation of Israel founded by King David is wiped out
WILLIAM DEVER: It would have seemed to have been the end,
but it was rather the beginning
NARRATOR: For out of the crucible of destruction
emerges a sacred book: the Bible...
and an idea that will change the world:
the belief in one God
¶ ¶
THOMAS CAHILL: This is a new idea
It was an idea that nobody had ever had before
LEE LEVINE: Monotheism is well-ensconced,
so something major happened which is very hard to trace
NARRATOR: Now a provocative new story
from discoveries deep within the Earth and the Bible
EILAT MAZAR: We wanted to examine the possibility
that the remains of King David's palace are here
DEVER: We can actually see vivid evidence here of a destruction
AMNON BEN-TOR: Question number one: Who did it?
NARRATOR: An archaeological detective story puzzles together clues
to the mystery of who wrote the Bible, when and why
And it was very clear
it was some kind of a tiny scroll
I immediately saw very clear, very distinct letters
This is the ancestor of the Hebrew script
NARRATOR: And from out of the Earth
emerge thousands of idols that suggest God had a wife
We just found this exceptional clay figurine
showing a fertility goddess
NARRATOR: Powerful evidence sheds new light on how one people,
alone among ancient cultures,
finally turn their back on idol worship
to find their one God
This makes the god of ancient Israel
the universal god of the world that resonates with people,
at least in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim tradition
to this very day.
(thunder crashes)
NARRATOR: Now science and scripture converge to create
a powerful new story of an ancient people,
God and the Bible
Up next on NOVA "The Bible's Buried Secrets"
Captioning sponsored by EXXONMOBIL
DAVID H. KOCH
the HOWARD HUGHES MEDICAL INSTITUTE
the CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING
and VIEWERS LIKE YOU
Major funding for NOVA is provided by the following: NARRATOR: Near the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt in 1896,
British archaeologist Flinders Petrie leads an excavation
in Thebes, the ancient city of the dead
Here, he unearths one of the most important discoveries
in biblical archaeology
(worker yelling)
From beneath the sand appears
the corner of a royal monument, carved in stone
Dedicated in honor of Pharaoh Merneptah,
son of Ramesses the Great,
it became known as the Merneptah Stele
Today it is in the Cairo Museum
DONALD REDFORD: This stele is
what the Egyptians would have called a "triumph stele,"
a victory stele commemorating victory over foreign peoples
NARRATOR: Most of the hieroglyphic inscription celebrates
Merneptah's triumph over Libya, his enemy to the West
But almost as an afterthought, he mentions his conquest
of people to the East in just two lines
REDFORD: The text reads,
"Ashkelon has been brought captive
"Gezer has been taken captive
"Yanoam in the North Jordan Valley has been seized
Israel has been shorn, its seed no longer exists"
NARRATOR: History proves the pharaoh's confident boast to be wrong
Rather than marking their annihilation,
Merneptah's Stele announces the entrance
onto the world stage of a people named Israel
REDFORD: This is priceless evidence
for the presence of an ethnical group called Israel
in the central highlands of southern Canaan
NARRATOR: The well-established Egyptian chronology
gives the date as 1208 B.C.
Merneptah's Stele is powerful evidence
that a people called the Israelites are living in Canaan,
in what today includes Israel and Palestine
over 3,000 years ago
The ancient Israelites are best known through familiar stories
that chronicle their history
Abraham and Isaac...
(thunder crashes)
Moses and the Ten Commandments...
David and Goliath
It is the ancient Israelites who write the Bible
(reading aloud)
Through writing the Hebrew Bible,
the beliefs of the ancient Israelites survive
to become Judaism, one of the world's oldest
continuously practiced religions
And it is the Jews who give the world an astounding legacy:
the belief in one God
¶ ¶
This belief will become the foundation
of two other great monotheistic religions:
Christianity...
and Islam
Often called the Old Testament,
to distinguish it from the New Testament,
which described the events of early Christianity,
today the Hebrew Bible and a belief in one God
are woven into the very fabric of world culture
But in ancient times, all people from the Egyptians
to the Greeks to the Babylonians,
worshipped many gods, usually in the form of idols
How did the Israelites, alone among ancient peoples,
discover the concept of one god?
(man chanting)
How did they come up with an idea
that so profoundly changed the world?
Now archaeologists and biblical scholars are arriving
at a new synthesis that promises to reveal
not only fresh historical insights,
but a deeper meaning
of what the authors of the Bible wanted to convey
They start by digging into the earth...
and the Bible
DEVER: You cannot afford to ignore biblical text,
especially if you can isolate a kind of kernel of truth
behind these stories,
and then you have the archaeological data
Now, what happens when text and artifact seem to point
in the same direction?
Then I think we are on a very sound ground historically
NARRATOR: Scholars search for intersections
between science and scripture
The earliest is the victory stele
of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah from 1208 B.C.
Both the stele and the Bible place a people
called the Israelites in the hill country of Canaan,
which includes modern-day Israel and Palestine
It is here, between two of history's greatest empires,
that Israel's story will unfold
PETER MACHINIST: The way to understand Israel's relationship
to the superpowers Egypt and Mesopotamia on either side
is to understand its own sense of its fragility as a people
The primary way in which the Bible looks at the origins
of Israel is as a people coming to settle in the land of Israel
It's not indigenous
It's not a native state
NARRATOR: The Hebrew Bible is full of stories of Israel's origins
The first is Abraham,
who leaves Mesopotamia with his family
and journeys to the Promised Land, Canaan
READER: "The Lord said to Abraham,
'Go forth from your native land, and from your father's house,
'to the land that I will show you
'I will make of you a great nation
'And I will bless you
I will make your name great"
"Genesis 12:1 and 2"
NARRATOR: According to the Bible,
this promise establishes the covenant,
a sacred contract between God and Abraham
To mark the covenant, Abraham and all males are circumcised
His descendants will be God's chosen people
They will be fruitful, multiply, and inhabit all the land
between Egypt and Mesopotamia
In return, Abraham and his people,
who will become the Israelites, must worship a single God
This is a new idea
NARRATOR: It is hard to appreciate today
how radical an idea this must have been
in a world dominated by polytheism--
the worship of many gods and idols
The Abraham narrative is part
of the first book of the Bible, Genesis,
along with Noah and the Flood, and Adam and Eve
Though they convey a powerful message,
to date, there is no archaeology or text
outside of the Bible to corroborate them
DAVID ILAN: The farther back you go in the biblical text,
the more difficult it is to find historical material in it
The patriarchs go back to Genesis
Genesis is, for the most part,
a compilation of myths, creation stories, things like that
And to find a historical core there is very difficult
NARRATOR: This absence of historical evidence leads scholars
to take a different approach to reading the biblical narrative
They look beyond our modern notion of fact or fiction
to ask why the Bible was written in the first place
DEVER: There is no word for "history" in the Hebrew Bible
The biblical writers were telling stories
They were good historians, and they could tell it
the way it was when they wanted to,
but their objective was always something far beyond that
NARRATOR: So what was their objective?
To find out, scholars must uncover
who wrote the Bible and when
READER: "And the Lord said to Moses, 'Write down these words,
'for, in accordance with these words,
I make a covenant with you and with Israel"
"Exodus 34:27"
NARRATOR: The traditional belief
is that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible--
Genesis: The story of creation
Exodus: Deliverance from slavery to the Promised Land
Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy:
Laws of morality and observance
Still read to this day, together they form the Torah,
often called the Five Books of Moses
MICHAEL COOGAN: The view that Moses had personally written down
the first five books of the Bible
was virtually unchallenged until the 17th century
There were a few questions raised about this
For example, the very end of the last book of the Torah,
the Book of Deuteronomy,
describes the death and burial of Moses
And so some rabbi said,
"Well, Moses couldn't have written those words himself
because he was dead and was being buried"
NARRATOR: And, digging deeper into the text,
there are even more discrepancies
COOGAN: For example, how many of each species of animal
is Noah supposed to bring into the ark?
One text says two-- a pair of every kind of animal
Another text says seven pair of the clean animals,
and only two of the unclean animals
NARRATOR: In one chapter, the Bible says
the flood lasts for 40 days and 40 nights
But, in the next, it says 150 days
To see if the floodwaters have subsided,
Noah sends out a dove
But, in the previous sentence, he sends a raven
There are two complete versions of the flood story
interwoven on the same page
Many similar discrepancies throughout its pages suggest
that the Bible has more than one writer
In fact, within the first five books of the Bible,
scholars have identified the hand
of at least four different groups of scribes writing
over several hundred years
This theory is called the Documentary Hypothesis
COOGAN: One way of thinking about it is, as a kind of anthology
that was made over the course of many centuries
by different people adding to it,
subtracting from it, and so forth
NARRATOR: But when did the process of writing the Bible begin?
Tel Zayit is a small site
on the southwestern border of ancient Israel
that dates back to biblical times
Since 1999, Ron Tappy has been excavating here
It was the last day of what had been a typical dig season
TAPPY: As I was taking aerial photographs
from the cherry picker,
a volunteer notified his square supervisor
that he thought he had seen some interesting marks--
scratches, possibly letters-- incised in a stone
Which? Right here? Yeah
NARRATOR: Letters would be a rare find.
So, when he kneeled to look at the marks,
Tappy got the surprise of a lifetime
TAPPY: As I bent down over the stone,
I immediately saw very clear, very distinct letters
NARRATOR: Tappy excavated the rock
and brought it back to his lab at the nearby kibbutz
It was only then that he realized he had more
than a simple inscription
TAPPY: "Aleph, bet, gimmel, dalet..."
I realized that this inscription represented an abecedary
That is to say, not a text narrative, but the letters
of the Semitic alphabet
written out in their correct order
"Nun" and then "pe" and "'ayin" are difficult to read,
but they're out here
NARRATOR: This ancient script is an early form
of the Hebrew alphabet
McCARTER: What was found
was not a random scratching of two or three letters
It was... it was the full alphabet
Everything about it says
that this is the ancestor of the Hebrew script
NARRATOR: The Tel Zayit abecedary
is the earliest Hebrew alphabet ever discovered
It dates to about 1000 B.C.,
making it possible that writing the Hebrew Bible
could have already started by this time
To discover the most ancient text in the Bible,
scholars examine the Hebrew spelling,
grammar and vocabulary
McCARTER: The Hebrew Bible is a collection of literature
written over about a thousand years
And, as with any other language,
Hebrew naturally changed quite a bit
over those thousand years
The same would be true of English
I'm speaking English of the 21st century
And, if I were living in Elizabethan times,
the words I choose, the syntax I use,
would be quite different
NARRATOR: Scholars examine the Bible in its original Hebrew
in search of the most archaic language,
and, therefore, the oldest passages
They find it in Exodus, the second book of the Bible
(hoofbeats thudding, horse neighing)
READER: "Pharaoh's chariots and his army He cast into the sea
His picked officers are drowned in the Red Sea."
"Exodus 15:4"
NARRATOR: This passage, known as the "Song of the Sea,"
is the climactic scene of Exodus,
the story of the Israelites' enslavement in Egypt,
and how Moses leads them to freedom
In all of the Bible,
no single event is mentioned more times than the Exodus
With the development of ancient Hebrew script,
the "Song of the Sea" could have been written by 1000 B.C.,
the time of Tappy's alphabet
But it was probably recited as a poem
long before the beginning of Hebrew writing
LAWRENCE STAGER: It's very likely that it was a kind of story
told in poetic form that you might tell around the campfire
Just as our poems are easier to remember, generally,
than prose accounts, so we generally think
that the poetry is orally passed on from one to another
long before they commit things to writing
NARRATOR: Because the poetry in Exodus is so ancient,
is it possible the story has some historical core?
Here, in the eastern Nile Delta of Egypt,
in a surreal landscape of fallen monuments and tumbled masonry,
archaeologists have uncovered a lost city
Inscribed on monuments throughout the site
is the name of Ramesses II,
one of the most powerful Egyptian rulers
It is Ramesses who is traditionally known
as the Pharaoh of the Exodus
Ancient Egyptian texts call the city Pi-Ramesse,
or House of Ramesses, a name that resonates
with the biblical story of Exodus
COOGAN: The only specific
item mentioned in the Exodus story
that we can probably connect with nonbiblical material
is the cities that the Hebrews were ordered to build,
and they are named Pithom and Ramesses
NARRATOR: Scholars agree that the biblical city Ramesses
is the ancient Egyptian city Pi-Ramesse
(wind whistling softly)
Its ruins are here in present-day Tanis
MANFRED BIETAK: Most of the Egyptologists
identified Piramesse, the Ramesses town, with Tanis,
because here you have an abundance
of Ramesside monuments
NARRATOR: This convergence between archaeology and the Bible
provides a time frame for the Exodus
It could not have happened
before Ramesses became king around 1275 B.C.
And it could not have happened after 1208 B.C.,
when the stele of Pharaoh Merneptah,
Ramesses II's so
specifically locates the Israelites in Canaan
(crowd clamoring)
The Bible says the Israelites leave Egypt in a mass migration,
600,000 men and their families,
and then wander in the desert for 40 years
But even assuming the Bible is exaggerating,
in a hundred years of searching,
archaeologists have not yet found evidence of migration
that can be linked to the Exodus
DEVER: No excavated site gives us any information
about the route of the wandering through the wilderness
An Exodus is simply not attested anywhere
NARRATOR: Any historical or archaeological confirmation
of the Exodus remains elusive
Yet scholars have discovered that all four groups
of biblical writers contributed
to some part of the Exodus story
Perhaps it is for the same reason
its message remains powerful to this day...
...its inspiring theme of freedom
CAROL MEYERS: Freedom is a compelling notion,
and that is one of the ways that we can understand
the story of the Exodus,
from being controlled by others to controlling oneself,
the idea of a change from domination to autonomy
These are very powerful ideas
that resonate in the human spirit
And the Exodus gives narrative reality to those ideas
(distant chatter)
NARRATOR: Following the Exodus,
the Bible says God finally delivers the Israelites
to the Promised Land-- Canaan
Archaeology and sources outside the Bible
reveal that Canaan consisted of well-fortified city-states,
each with its own king,
who in turn served Egypt and its pharaoh
The Canaanites,
a thriving Near Eastern culture for thousands of years,
worshipped many gods in the form of idols
The Bible describes how a new leader, Joshua,
takes the Israelites into Canaan
in a blitzkrieg military campaign
(crowd clamoring)
READER: "So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown
"As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets,
they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat"
"Joshua 6:20"
NARRATOR: But what does archaeology say?
In the 1930s,
British archaeologist John Garstang
excavated at Jericho,
the first Canaanite city in Joshua's campaign
Garstang uncovered dramatic evidence of destruction
and declared he had found the very walls
that Joshua had brought tumbling down
(helicopter blades whirring)
And at what the Bible describes
as the greatest of all Canaanite cities, Hazor,
there is more evidence of destruction.
(speaking Hebrew)
Today, Hazor is being excavated
by one of the leading Israeli archaeologists,
Amnon Ben-Tor,
and his protégé and codirector, Sharon Zuckerman
I'm walking through a passage between two of the rooms
of the Canaanite palace of the kings of Hazor
Signs of the destruction
you can still see almost everywhere
You can see the dark stones here,
and most importantly, you can see
how they cracked into a million pieces
It takes tremendous heat
to cause such damage
The fire here was, how should I say,
the mother of all fires
NARRATOR: Among the ashes,
Ben-Tor discovered a desecrated statue,
most likely the king or patron god of Hazor
Its head and hands are cut off,
apparently by the city's conquerors
This marked the end of Canaanite Hazor
BEN-TOR: Question number one: Who did it?
Who was around?
Who is a possible candidate?
So, number one, the Egyptians
They don't mention having done anything at Hazor
In any of the inscriptions of the time, we don't see Hazor
Another Canaanite city-state could have done it?
Maybe, but who was strong enough to do it?
Who are we left with?
The Israelites
The only ones about whom there is a tradition that they did it
So, let's say they should be considered guilty
of destruction of Hazor until proven innocent
NARRATOR: And there's another Canaanite city-state
that Joshua and his army of Israelites
are credited with laying waste
(men talking indistinctly)
It's called Ai, and has been discovered
in what is now the Palestinian territory of the West Bank
Here, archaeologist Hani Nur el-Din and his team
are finding evidence
of a rich Canaanite culture
(speaking indistinctly)
EL-DIN: The village first appears
and developed a city,
and then there was a kind of fortification
surrounding this settlement
(wind whistling)
NARRATOR: These heaps of stones
were once a magnificent palace and temples,
which were eventually destroyed
But when the archaeologists date the destruction,
they discover it occurred about 2200 B.C.
They date the destruction ofericho to 1500 B.C...
and Hazor's to about 1250 B.C.
Clearly, these city-states were not destroyed at the same time
They range over nearly a thousand years
In fact, of the 31 sites
the Bible says that Joshua conquered,
few showed any signs of war
DEVER: There was no evidence of armed conflict in most of these sites
At the same time it was discovered
that most of the large Canaanite towns
that were supposed to have been destroyed by these Israelites
were either not destroyed at all or destroyed by others
NARRATOR: A single, sweeping military invasion led by Joshua
cannot account for how the Israelites arrived in Canaan
But the destruction of Hazor does coincide with the time
that the Merneptah Stele locates the Israelites in Canaan
So who destroyed Hazor?
Amnon Ben-Tor still believes it was the Israelites
who destroyed the city
(speaking Hebrew)
But his codirector, Sharon Zuckerman,
has a different idea
ZUCKERMAN: The final destruction itself
consisted of the mutilation
of statues of kings and gods
It did not consist of signs of war
or of any kind of fighting
We don't see weapons in the street
like we see in other sites that were destroyed by foreigners
(both speaking Hebrew)
NARRATOR: So if there was no invasion, what happened?
Bobby, just, uh, be careful about the stones there, okay?
NARRATOR: Excavations reveal that Hazor
had a lower city of commoners, serfs and slaves,
and an upper city with a king and wealthy elites
Zuckerman finds within the grand palaces of elite Hazor
areas of disrepair...
and abandonment--
to archaeologists, signs of a culture in decline...
and rebellion from within.
ZUCKERMAN: I would not rule out the possibility
of an internal revolt
of Canaanites living at Hazor
and, uh...
revolting against the elites that, uh, ruled the city
NARRATOR: In fact, the entire Canaanite city-state system,
including Hazor and Jericho, breaks down
Archaeology and ancient texts clearly show
that it is the result of a long period of decline and upheaval
that sweeps through Mesopotamia,
the Aegean region
and the Egyptian empire around 1200 B.C.
MACHINIST: And when the dust, as it were, settles,
when we can begin to see what takes the place of these...
of this great-state system,
we find a number of new peoples suddenly coming into focus
in a kind of void that is created
with the dissolution of the great-state system
NARRATOR: Can archaeologists find the Israelites
among these new people?
In the 1970s, archaeologists started wide-ranging surveys
throughout the central hill country of Canaan,
today primarily the Palestinian Territory of the West Bank
ISRAEL FINKELSTEIN: I was teaching at that time
We used to take students and go twice a week to the highlands
And every day we used to cover
between two and three square kilometers
And this accumulates very slowly
into the coverage of the entire area
NARRATOR: Israel Finkelstein and teams of archaeologists
walked out grids over large areas,
collecting every fragment of ancient pottery
lying on the surface
NARRATOR: Over seven years, he covered nearly 400 square miles,
sorting pottery and marking the locations
of where it was found on a map
FINKELSTEIN: In the beginning, the spots were there on the map
and they meant nothing to me
But later, slowly, slowly,
I started seeing sort of phenomena and processes
NARRATOR: By dating the pottery, Finkelstein discovered
that before 1200 B.C.,
there were approximately 25 settlements
He estimated the total population of those settlements
to be 3,000 to 5,000 inhabitants
But just 200 years later,
there's a very sharp increase in settlements and people
FINKELSTEIN: Then you get this boom of population growing and growing,
then we are speaking about 250 sites
And the population grows also ten times
from a few thousand to 45,000 or so
Now, this is very dramatic
and cannot be explained as natural growth
This rate is impossible in ancient times
NARRATOR: If not natural growth,
perhaps these are the waves of dispersed people settling down
following the collapse of the great state systems
Then, more evidence of a new culture is discovered,
a new type of simple dwelling never seen before
And it's in the exact location
where both the Merneptah Stele and the Bible
place the Israelites
AMNON BEN-TOR: The sites in which this type of house appears
throughout the country, this is where Israelites lived.
They are sometimes even called the Israelite house
or Israelite type house
The people who lived in those villages seemed to be arranged
more or less in a kind of an egalitarian society,
because there are no major architectural installations
If you look at the finds, the finds are relatively poor
Pottery is more or less mundane--
I don't want to offend the early settlers
or the early Israelites-- very little art
NARRATOR: Curiously, the mundane pottery
found at these new Israelite villages
is very similar to the everyday pottery
found at the older Canaanite cities like Hazor
In fact, the Israelite house
is practically the only thing that is different
This broad similarity
is leading archaeologists to a startling new conclusion
about the origins of the ancient Israelites
The notion is that most of the early Israelites
were originally Canaanites, displaced Canaanites
The Israelites were always in the land of Israel
They were natives, but they were different kinds of groups
They were basically the have-nots
So what we are dealing with is a movement of peoples,
but not an invasion of armed hordes from outside,
but rather a social and economic revolution
NARRATOR: Ancient texts describe how the Egyptian rulers
and their Canaanite vassal kings
burden the lower classes of Canaan
with taxes and even slavery
A radical new theory based on archaeology
suggests what happens next
As that oppressive social system declines,
families and tribes of serfs, slaves, and common Canaanites
seize the opportunity
In search of a better way of life,
they abandon the old city-states and head for the hills
Free from the oppression of their past,
they eventually emerge in a new place as a new people--
the Israelites
FINKELSTEIN: In the text, you have the story
of the Israelites coming from outside,
and then besieging the Canaanite cities,
destroying them and then becoming a nation
in the land of Canaan
Whereas archaeology tells us something which is the opposite
According to archaeology, the rise of early Israel
is an outcome of the collapse of Canaanite society,
not the reason for that collapse
NARRATOR: Archaeology reveals that the Israelites
were themselves originally Canaanites
So why does the Bible consistently cast the Israelites
as outsiders in Canaan?
Abraham's wanderings from Mesopotamia...
(thunderclap)
...Moses leading slaves out of Egypt
and into the Promised Land...
and Joshua conquering Canaan from outside
The answer may lie in their desire
to forge a distinctly new identity
MACHINIST: Identity is created, as psychologists tell us,
by talking about what you are not, by talking about another
In order to figure out who I am,
I have to figure out who I am not
NARRATOR: Conspicuously absent from Israelite villages
are the grand palaces and the extravagant pottery
associated with the kings and rich elites of Canaan
AVRAHAM FAUST: The Israelites did not like the Canaanite system
and they defined themselves in contrast to that system
By not using decorated pottery, by not using imported pottery,
they developed an ideology of simplicity,
which marked the difference between them
and the Egyptian Canaanite system.
NARRATOR: If the Israelites wanted to distinguish themselves
from their Canaanite past,
what better way than to create a story about destroying them?
But the stories of Abraham, Exodus, and the Conquest
serve another purpose
They celebrate the power of what the Bible says
is the foremost distinction between the Israelites
and all other people-- their God
In later Judaism,
the name of God is considered so sacred,
it is never to be spoken
COOGAN: We don't know exactly what it means,
we don't know how it was pronounced,
but it seems to have been the personal name
of the God of Israel
So his title, in a sense, was God,
and his name was these four letters,
which in English would be YHWH,
which we think were probably pronounced
something like Yahweh
NARRATOR: But Yahweh only appears in the Hebrew Bible
His name is nowhere to be found in Canaanite texts or stories
So where do the Israelites find their God?
The search for the origins of Yahweh
leads scholars back to ancient Egypt
Here in the royal city of Karnak,
for over a thousand years,
Pharaohs celebrated their power with statues,
obelisks, and carved murals on temple walls
REDFORD: Here on the north wall of Karnak,
we have scenes depicting the victories in battle
of Seti I, the father of Ramesses the Great
Seti here commemorates one of his greatest victories
over the Shasu
NARRATOR: The Shasu were a people
who lived in the deserts of southern Canaan,
now Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia,
around the same time as the Israelites emerged
Egyptian texts say one of the places where the Shasu lived
is called "YHW,"
probably pronounced "Yahu,"
likely the name of their patron god
That name Yahu is strangely similar to Yahweh,
the name of the Israelite god
In the Bible, the place where the Shasu lived
is referred to as Midian
It is here, before the Exodus, the Bible tells us
Moses first encounters Yahweh in the form of a burning bush
READER: "Come no closer
"Remove the sandals from your feet,
for the place on which you are standing is holy ground"
"Exodus 3:5 and 15"
COOGAN: So we have in Egyptian sources,
something that appears to be a name like Yahweh
in the vicinity of Midian
Here is Moses in Midian, and there
a deity appears to him
and reveals his name to Moses as Yahweh
NARRATOR: These tantalizing connections
are leading biblical scholars to reexamine the Exodus story
While there is no evidence to support a mass migration,
some now believe that a small group did escape from Egypt;
however, they were not Israelites,
but rather Canaanite slaves
On their journey back to Canaan, they pass through Midian,
where they are inspired by stories
of the Shasu's god, Yahu
FAUST: There was probably a group of people who fled from Egypt
and had some divine experience
It was probably small, a small group demographically,
but it was important at least in ideology
NARRATOR: They find their way to the centrahill country,
where they encounter the tribes
who had fled the Canaanite city-states
Their story of deliverance resonates
in this emerging egalitarian society
The liberated slaves attribute their freedom
to the god they met in Midian,
who they now call Yahweh
MEYERS: They spread the word to the highlanders,
who themselves perhaps had escaped
from the tyranny of the Canaanite city-states
They spread the idea
of a god who represented freedom,
freedom for people to keep the fruits of their own labor
This was a message that was so powerful
that it brought people together
and gave them a new kind of identity
NARRATOR: The identity of Israelites
They are a combination of disenfranchised Canaanites,
runaway slaves from Egypt, and even nomads settling down
The Bible calls them a mixed multitude
According to the Hebrew Bible,
early Israel is a motley crew, and we know that's the case now
But these people are bound together by a new vision
and I think the revolutionary spirit
is probably there from the beginning
NARRATOR: The chosen people may actually be people who chose to be free
Their story of escape, first told
by word of mouth and poetry, helps forge
a collective identity among the tribes.
Later, when written down, it will become a central theme
of the Bible-- Exodus and divine deliverance
Deliverance by a god who comes from Midian,
exactly where the Bible says,
adopted by the Israelites
from slavery to freedom
So is this the birth of monotheism?
COOGAN: The common understanding of what differentiated
the ancient Israelites from their neighbors
was that their neighbors worshipped
many different gods and goddesses,
and the Israelites worshipped only the one true God
But that is not the case
NARRATOR: This bull figurine, likely representing El,
the chief god of the Canaanite deities,
is one of thousands of idols discovered in Israelite sites
COOGAN: The Israelites frequently worshipped other gods
Now, maybe they weren't supposed to, but they did
So at least on a practical level,
many, if not most, Israelites were not monotheists
NARRATOR: The Bible's ideal of the Israelite worship of one god
will have to wait
About two centuries pass after the Merneptah Stele
places the Israelites in Canaan
Families grow into tribes
Their population increases
Then about 1000 B.C., one of the Bible's larger-than-life figures
emerges to unite the 12 tribes of Israel
against a powerful new enemy
READER: "David put his hand into the bag;
"he took out a stone and slung it
"It struck the Philistine in the forehead;
"the stone sank into his forehead
"and he fell down on the ground
First Samuel 17:49"
NARRATOR: The Bible celebrates David as a shepherd boy
who vanquishes the giant Goliath,
a lover who lusts after forbidden fruits,
and a poet who composes lyric psalms still recited today
Of all the names in the Hebrew Bible,
none appears more than David
Scriptures say, David creates a kidom
that stretches from Egypt to Mesopotamia
He makes Jerusalem his royal capital
And in a new covenant, Yahweh promises
that he and his descendants will rule forever
David's son Solomon builds the temple
where Yahweh, now the national God of Israel,
will dwell for eternity
The Kingdom of David and Solomon--
one nation, united under one god-- according to the Bible
DEVER: Now, some skeptics today have argued
there was no such thing as a United Monarchy
It's a later biblical construct
and particularly a construct of modern scholarship
In short, there was no David
As one of the biblical revisionists have said,
David is no more historical than King Arthur
NARRATOR: But then, in 1993, an amazing discovery
literally shed new light on what the Bible calls
ancient Israel's greatest king
Gila Cook was finishing up some survey work with an assistant
at Tel Dan, a biblical site in the far north of Israel today
The excavation was headed
by the eminent Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran
It was near the end of the day,
and Cook was getting her last measurements
when she hears a yell from below.
MAN (yelling): Gila!
And it was Biran in his booming voice yelling, "Gila, let's go"
And so I waved to him...
Hold on.
...and continued working
Okay.
NARRATOR: After being summoned by Biran
a second time,
Cook had her assistant load her up
And she started down the hill
COOK: So I get there and I just drop my bag and drop the board
and I set my stuff down
NARRATOR: But something catches her eye
A stone,
with what appeared to be random scratches,
but was actually an ancient inscription
This time she yelled for Biran
And he looks at it and he looks at me
and he says, "Oh, my God!"
NARRATOR: Cook had found a fragment of a victory stele,
written in Aramaic, an ancient language very similar to Hebrew
Dedicated by the king of Damascus,
or one of his generals,
it celebrates the conquest of Israel,
boasting, "I slew mighty kings
"who harnessed thousands of chariots
"and thousands of horsemen
I killed the king of the House of David"
Those words, "the House of David,"
make this a critical discovery
They are strong evidence that David really lived
Unlike Genesis, the stories of Israel's kings
move the biblical narrative out of the realm of legend
and into the light of history
DEVER: The later we come in time,
the firmer ground we stand on
We have better sources, we have more written sources
We have more contemporary eyewitness sources
NARRATOR: When the biblical chronology of Israel's kings
can be cross-referenced with historical inscriptions,
like the Tel Dan Stele,
they can provide scholars with fairly reliable dates
King David is the earliest biblical figure
confirmed by archaeology to be historical
And most scholars agree he lived around 1000 B.C.,
the 10th century
Could any of the Bible have been written during David's reign?
The earliest Hebrew alphabet discovered by Ron Tappy
carved on a stone at Tel Zayit provides an enticing clue
Across this wall here
TAPPY: The stone was incised with this alphabet,
the stone was then used to build a wall,
and the structure itself suffered massive destruction
by fire sometime near the end of the 10th century B.C.E.
NARRATOR: The find is even more significant
because Tel Zayit was a biblical backwater,
on the fringes of David's kingdom
McCARTER: Surely if there was a scribe that could write this alphabet
that far away, way out in the boondocks
at the extreme western boundary of the kingdom,
surely if there is a scribe that could do that out there,
there were scribes, much more sophisticated scribes
back in the capital
NARRATOR: Could these scribes have been in the court of King David
and his son Solomon?
Could they have been the earliest biblical writers?
In the 18th century, German scholars uncovered a clue
to who wrote the Bible,
hidden in two different names for God
COOGAN: According to one account,
Abraham knew God by his intimate, personal name,
conventionally pronounced Yahweh
NARRATOR: Passages with the name Yahweh,
which in German is spelled with a J,
scholars refer to as J
COOGAN: But according to other accounts, Abraham knew God
simply by the most common Hebrew word for God, which is Elohim
NARRATOR: So the two different writers became known
as E for "Elohim" and J for "Yahweh"
Most likely based on poetry and songs
passed down for generations, they both write a version
of Israel's distant past--
the stories of Abraham in the Promised Land,
Moses and the Exodus
(thunder)
COOGAN: The earliest of these sources
is the one that is known as J, which many scholars dated
to the 10th century B.C., the time of David and Solomon