Biblical Archaeology Review 14:5, September/October 1988

Searching for Israelite Origins

By Israel Finkelstein

The emergence of Israel in the hill country of Canaan poses some of the most intriguing questions now occupying archaeologists as well as Biblical scholars. The archaeological reflection of the “Israelite settlement”1 is dozens of hill-country sites dated to the period that archaeologists call Iron Age I (c. 1200–1000 B.C.).

At the heart of research on the emergence of Israel lies the question of the origin of the people who settled these hill-country sites. If we fail to answer it, we will not be able to solve the riddle of the Israelite settlement.

Until the early 1960s, scholars were virtually unanimous in concluding that the newcomers came from the desert, or the desert fringe, to the east. The differences among scholars concerned the manner in which these people appeared on the scene, whether by military conquest (Albright and others)2 or by peaceful infiltration (Alt and his followers).3

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