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Question A:

Is it true that there is no archaeological evidence that the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years?

Here is an interesting article which discusses the idea that history revisionists have promulgated that there is no evidence for a group of millions of people wandering around the desert for 40 years. Both sides of that debate areThe 10 Commandments

The 10 Commandments

discussed. Our focus is ALWAYS on the evidence. If some written  or archaeological evidence supports some of an oral tradition, then there is probably a factual basis. If only “new thinking” is presented, then where is the evidence for the “new thinking”? Is thinking really evidence at all, no matter how well presented? We would tend to disagree with opinions unsupported by any real facts.

 

Some believe that there IS evidence; others say not. See discussion below
Answer 1

Some Archaeologists believe: Yes it is true.

It would certainly have been impossible for 600,000 fighting men – or probably around 2.5 million men, women and children – not to have left some evidence behind. Generations of researchers have tried unsuccessfully to locate Mount Sinai and the encampments of the tribes in the desert. And according to Numbers chapter 14, the Israelites who left Egypt all died during their time in the wilderness. So there should have been all of 2.5 million burials over the 40 years of wandering, but not a single bone has been found.

Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman (The Bible Unearthed) say that even if the Israelites fleeing Egypt really only formed a small band, some remains should have been found. For example, pastoral activity has been identified in the Sinai Peninsula from the 3rd century BC and the Hellenistic and Byzantine periods.

John Romer (Testament: The Bible and History) points out that no town called Rameses could have existed before 1212 BC, when Rameses II came to the throne. The author of Exodus 12:37, which says that the Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth at the start of the Exodus, simply assumed the town had always been there..

The cities of Arad (Numbers 21:1-3) and Heshbon did not even exist in the late Bronze Age. Their kings supposedly fought the Israelites and tried to stop their passage.

These central events in the history of the Israelites are not corroborated in any documents external to the Bible or in any archaeological findings.

Answer 2: Other Archaeologists believe: No it is not true.

William Dever, Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Arizona calls Finkelstein and archaelologists like him, revisionists. He believes that such scholars ignore approaches that disagree with their own.

Rabbi Dovid Lichtman writes: “As for the issue of encampments are concerned, it is nearly impossible to find traces of large Bedouin encampments in the Sinai Desert from 200-300 years ago. So would one expect the remains of large encampments after 3,000 years?”

And Prof. Adam Zartal, chairman of the Dept. of Archaeology at the University of Haifa says:

After years of research, however, I believe it is impossible to explore Israel’s origins without the Bible. At the same time, the research should be as objective as possible. The Bible should be used cautiously and critically. But again and again we have seen the historical value of the Bible. Again and again we have seen that an accurate memory has been preserved in its transmuted narratives, waiting to be unearthed and exposed by archaeological fieldwork and critical mind work.

Zartel may have found an object that is mentioned in the Bible.

Joshua 8:30-35 tells of building an altar on Mount Eval in accordance with Moses’ command (Deut. 27). Zartal believes his excavation team found this very altar. It is in the right place, it is from the right time, and the animal bones found there are those of typical biblical offerings. According to Zartel, the uniquely Israelite design of the altar seems nearly identical to the Talmud’s description of the Temple’s altar — a design that no Canaanite temples used before or after.

Some Archaeologists also say evidence may yet be found.

It could be contended by some that the arguments against the evidence of the children of Israel ever being in the wilderness is really simply one form of an argument from silence. However according to others it is actually worse than that since archaelogists acknowledge themselves that nomads typically do not leave archaelogical remains.

Finkelstein in particular has rejected the ‘no remains therefore no occupation’ theories that form the basis of the objection that there simply were no late bronze age (the time of the Israelite conquest) cultural remains and therefore no invasion or occupation by Israel {1}. He points out that arid dwelling peoples typically have a behaviour range from the sedentary to the nomadic. The latter does not leave remains to be found by archaeologists.

These so-called ‘invisible nomads’ have been documented by Finkelstein in a number of well known cases where we have explicit written records of peoples existing but have absolutely no archaeological evidence for them{2}. These include the following:

1. Edom and Seir in the late bronze age – referred to in numerous Egyptian documents.

2. Arabs in Neo-Assyrian times – referred to in numerous royal records of Tiglath-Pileser11,Sargon11, Esarhaddon, etc.

3. The early Nabataeans- referred to by Diodorus of Sicily and Hieronymous of Cardia.

4. The Sinai Saracens of the Byzantine period – referred to by Ammonius, Egeria, Nilus,Procopius, et.al.

5. Bedouin of the Medieval period- referred to in Bedouin historical sources.

6. Bedouin tribes in the first part of the 20th century – known from modern sources.

The point here is that, especially in the latter relatively recent case, a lack of remains does not necessarily prove that something did not happen, especially when arachaeologists like Finkelstein and others acknowledge the settlement patterns of ancient peoples.

Further to the above practice was the policy of ‘scraping sites clean’ when a new construction project was begun. This obviously obliterated a great deal of evidence of earlier settlement and also caused confusion when fragments from the earlier settlement would turn up in the later period.

Finkelstein acknowledges on top of all this that vast areas of the Negev region (through which the Israelites would have had to pass) have simply not been surveyed. This was one reason for the heading placed on this post. In other words the verdict is not yet in. The conclusions that can be made on what hasn’t been found are therefore minimal, especially since we know there is good reason for scant, if any, remains.

{1} Living On The Fringe – The Archaeology and History of the Negev, Sinai, and Neighboring Regions in the Bronze and Iron Ages, Israel Finkelstein, Sheffield Academic, 1995. see pages 10ff,30ff, 94ff.

{2} ibid. p.27-30.

Confusion Regarding Sites

Sites mentioned during the Israelite Exodus such as Arad and Heshbon are acknowledged by archaeologists as being somewhat uncertain as to their location. It is quite likely that there is more than one Arad. This is supported by the fact that Pharoah Shishak of Egypt in 926 Ad claimed to have captured two Arads in the Negev region, Arad the Great (possibly the current archaeological site) and Arad of the House of Yeroham.

A straightforward perusal of the Biblical accounts in regard both to Arad and Heshbon also clearly indicates a plurality of cities as well as a region that was conquered and thus points to the fact that the site may not yet be found. These accounts are found in Numbers 21:1-3 in the case of Arad and Deuteronomy 2:34 in the case of Heshbon.

As far as Heshbon specifically is concerned there are other sites of the relevant late bronze age era nearby, and even further to that there have in fact been some late bronze fragments found at the current ‘Heshbon’ site itself.

Further to the above comments, the Biblical records also indicate name changes which may further add to the difficulty in identification of the correct site.

 An Unanswerable Question

Strictly speaking in terms of the way the question is phrased it would be virtually impossible for any archaeological investigation to demonstrate that the children of Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert.

Most certainly there is evidence of invaders into the land during the relevant time frame. Most certainly there is evidence of a pattern consistent with the Biblical record which includes destruction of some sites and non-destruction of others until a later date. In such cases archaeology demonstrates a continuity of Canaanite culture.

Archaeology also demonstrates in Egyptian records that Israel was invaded a number of times by the relevant pharoah’s in the years following the c. 1400 BC Israelite invasion. The interesting point here is that the Egyptians never recorded that they attacked any region which the Bible records as being occupied by the Israelites.

A worthwhile discussion could also centre around the al-amarna letters relevant to this period, where military help from Egypt was repeatedly requested against the ‘hapiru’.

Thus, even though there probably cannot be any absolute archaeological proof of an exact 40 year wilderness wandering, the signs of what followed are abundant and they point to Israel.

In addition, as mentioned above, the written historical records of “invisible nomads” are accepted as sufficient proof where no archaeological evidence exists. The Bible also provides a written record that is substantiated on very many other points by clear archaeological evidence.

Reference:

http://wiki.answers.com /Q/Is_it_true_that_there_is_no_archaeological_evidence_that_the_Children_of_Israel_wandered_in_the_wilderness_for_forty_years

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