Egal Israel on the Middle Bronze I Israelites

Egal and the Exodus

Ein Hatzeva 30 47 52.43N

35 14 47.76E The coordinates are for the moshav where we stayed. I could not identify the ecavation site in the picture.

I first met Egal Israel in 1993 when I was involved in excavations at Ein Hatzeva, 18 miles south of the Dead Sea. It all started the previous year when I talked with Dr Rudolph Cohen, then head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who holds the same view as I do on the identification of the Middle Bronze I people with the Israelites who invaded Palestine under Joshua about 1405 BC. I told him that I would like to bring my Australian group to one of the sites under his control. He readily agreed and the following year we stayed at a moshav near the dig site and went to work.

Excavations in this area are particularly relevant to the re-identification of the archaeological strata in the Middle Bronze Period because this was the area from which the Israelites first invaded Palestine. Previously Dr Cohen was in charge of the excavations at Kadesh Barnea from where Moses had sent the twelve men to spy out the land they expected to occupy. Dr Cohen realised that two million people could be expected to leave plenty of evidence of their occupation of the area and when he found a proliferation of MBI pottery he concluded that it must have been left behind by the Israelite people who were camped there for at least forty days. Numbers 13:25 says, “And they returned from spying out the land after forty days.”

Egal Israel was in charge of all the excavations at Ein Hatzeva and was digging with a team of labourers on the western side of the tel. Occasionally he would come to our site to see how we were getting on, and it was on one of these visits that I asked him about his views. I said, “Egal, Rudolph Cohen believes that the MBI people were the Israelites under Joshua who invaded Palestine, as described in the Bible. Do you agree with him?”

“Of course I do,” he replied. “We all do down here.”

While I was in Israel this year (2004) I phoned Egal and asked him if he still held the same views about the MBI people, and he assured me that he did, even more than before. I then made an appointment to visit him at his home which, fortuitously, was only 5 miles from where our group was excavating.

On the appointed night we made our way to his house in the moshav and met Egal and his wife, a gracious lady who spoke faultless English, and spent a profitable hour there. Strange to say, Egal works at Beer Sheba and commutes the 120 km to and fro each day. He is working on excavating wells there. The Bible says that Abraham dug a well at Beer Sheba and he feels that while he is working there he is living in the land of Abraham.

Egal has worked on many sites in the Negev (Southern Israel) and was a member of the team which excavated Kadesh Barnea during the period after the Six Day War which resulted in Israel occupying the Sinai Peninsula in which Kadesh Barnea is located. By virtue of his long archaeological experience he is a highly qualified archaeologist. He is a man who has convictions and forcibly expresses his views.

I asked him if he had come to hold these views because he was influenced by Rudolph Cohen, or was it the result of his own observations. He was emphatic that he regarded the Middle Bronze I people to be the Israelites because of the huge weight of archaeological evidence to support this view. There was the profusion of the MBI pottery, not only at Kadesh Barnea, but at other sites along the route of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt to their promised land.

There is also the evidence from Jericho, Gibeon, and other sites in Palestine showing that the MBI people were nomadic, a feature to be expected from a generation that had been born in and lived in tents all their lives. The archaeological evidence shows that they were tribal, with a different culture to the preceding Canaanite people. In the course of time they seem to have completely replaced the previous culture. This would be consistent with the Biblical record which says that the Israelites ultimately replaced the Canaanites. Egal stressed that it was a long and fluctuating process, but that is the picture the book of Judges presents.

I also asked Egal if his views were coloured by his religious beliefs. Did he adopt these views because this is what the Bible says? Must we interpret archaeological evidence accordingly? He was emphatic that his conclusions were based on archaeological evidence alone. He has confidence in the historical reliability of the Hebrew writings in certain areas, but he does not regard them as a divine revelation from God. They must be submitted to the archaeological evidence, which in the case of the Exodus and the MBI period, are consistent with each other.

© David Down 2004

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