Biblical Archaeology Review 34:4, July/August 2008

Wilderness Wanderings

Ethnographic Lessons from Modern Bedouin

By Zeʼev Meshel

Does the narrative of the journeys of the Israelites in the wilderness have any authentic background? Could the wanderings really have taken place in Sinai? After all, as is frequently noted, there is a complete absence of any archaeological remains that would evidence their wanderings.

Every natural environment, however, has its unique characteristics, its natural possibilities. Human beings generally try to live and work in harmony with their varying natural environments.

This is certainly true of the Sinai Peninsula and the Bedouin who live there, at least until the modern technological revolution reached them at the end of the 20th century. And a comparison of the Bedouin way of life with that attributed to the Israelites in the wilderness after leaving Egypt may uncover a certain authenticity to the Biblical narrative not available otherwise. In short, we may be able to recognize in this comparison the historic and geographic background of the Israelites (or of one or more of the Israelite tribes) as a nomadic group living and wandering in the desert.

We may begin with the very basic characteristic of Bedouin life: They live as nomadic shepherds.

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