The Jewish origin tale recounted in the Pentateuch is a work of geopolitical fiction. This is the uncontested consensus of biblical archaeologists and bible scholars. It has been the consensus position amongst professionals for nearly three generations now, but as the Chief Archaeologist at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum, Professor Magen Broshi, explained: “Archaeologists simply do not take the trouble of bringing their discoveries to public attention.” So solid is the consensus, and so definitive the evidence supporting it, that in 1998, the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the primary American professional body for archaeologists working in the Middle East, changed the name of its professional publication from Biblical Archaeologist to Near Eastern Archaeology simply because the bible had been determined to be (beyond all doubt) an entirely unreliable historical source to direct research into the early Jews, pre-Babylonian captivity. Indeed, in that same year, even Christianity Today’s Kevin D. Miller conceded: “The fact is that not one shred of direct archaeological evidence has been found for Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob or the 400-plus years the children of Israel sojourned in Egypt. The same is true for their miraculous exodus from slavery.”
These are just the facts. They are not a secret. The information has been in the public domain for decades, and today even the majority of Jewish rabbi’s openly concede their origin narrative is a work of fiction cast as a family unity tale: Isaac in the north (Israel), Jacob in the south (Edom), and Abraham, the father, right in the middle in Hebron (Judah) uniting them all. Imagined in the 8th and 7th century BCE, the story was designed to place Judah at the centre of the Jewish world so as to capitalise on a weakened Mamlekhet Yisra’el (whose name is derived from El, the father of the Canaanite pantheon, not the Judean Yhwh) after its sacking in 722 BCE. Coincidently, the 8th/7th century was precisely when the high priest, Hilkiah, miraculously rediscovered the supposedly “long-lost” scroll of the law, the Sefer Torah, hidden in a wall, telling this fantastic tale how his kingdom, Judah, was in fact the center of the Jewish world.
Convenient and timely discoveries aside, it is, however, known today that the very hills where the kingdoms of Judah and Israel would be found were not inundated with 2.5 million “arriving” slaves in the 14th Century BCE, rather they were first settled 50 years after the well-documented landing of the Philistines on the Levant in 1100 BCE. This is known today as the Settlement Period, it lasted for about a century, and the total population of the initial 11 villages never exceeded 30,000 during that entire period.
Libraries of evidence exist which confirm this more pedestrian history of the early Jews, but there is a contemporary case study which helps illustrate how just one element of the Exodus tale, for example, can be graphically shown to be myth.
In the Exodus tale, Kadesh Barnea (today known as Tell el-Qudeirat) is the site between the Wilderness of Paran (Num 13:3) and the Wilderness of Zin (Num 13:21) where the 2.5 million Hebrew refugees (Exodus 12:37) spent 38 continuous years in the 14th Century BCE before entering Canaan.
For a visual reference, this is what a temporary encampment of just 2 million extremely well-organised people without animals, food, water, or belongings of any sort looks like for one week at the 2016 hajj.
Over four decades in Kadesh Barnea, they built homes, got married, raised children, died, and were buried. For four decades they conducted business, practiced law, and dealt with the affairs of state, including defence which would have demanded fortifications and guard towers. The daily nutrition needs of 2.5 million people (a population roughly the size of Chicago) would have demanded the establishment of extensive farms, roads for transportation and distribution, and, importantly, enormous food depots and storage facilities. No doubt, the presence of 2.5 million people (half the population of the Egyptian Kingdom at the time) would have drawn traders from nearby towns eager to service this huge (static) population. Trade would require some sort of currency, so a mint and central bank would have had to of been established, and guarded. Indeed, to satisfy the material needs of 2.5 million people, mines would have been sourced, secured, and worked. Industrial-sized smelters and metal forgery’s would have to of been constructed, turning out everything from weapons to farming equipment. Colossal pottery enterprises would have had to of been built that would have demanded equally enormous supplies of raw materials and the construction of industrial kilns. Brickworks would have been established, as well as the public infrastructure for sewage and general waste disposal. At a minimum (and not including bathing, irrigation, or other uses), 2.5 million people would consume 5 million litres of water every day, requiring dozens of deep wells feeding local aqueducts and immense reservoirs. Schools and places of worship would have been built and adorned. Multi-seated entertainment venues would have hosted music and theatre. Governing bodies would no doubt need a permanent place to meet, and this central government apparatus would almost certainly have been supported by numerous satellite councils which operated medical clinics, garbage collection, and other day-to-day civil services.
In Kadesh Barnea, according to the narrative, the Hebrews had to wait until all the original men of fighting age had died, meaning a minimum of 600,000 graves. Naturally, when considering all other deaths in the forty year period, the real number of burials would be closer to 2-3 million.
For a visual reference, this is Wadi us-Salaam (“Valley of Peace”) cemetery in Najaf, Iraq. The cemetery has been in use for over 1,400 years, covers an area of 1485.5 acres, and contains an estimated two to three million bodies.
Given all this, and more, it should not come as any surprise to anyone that Kadesh Barnea was the very first site archaeologists (many of whom were American evangelicals) poured over in the first half of the 20th Century, eventually spending decades looking for evidence of this enormous city: its foundations, graveyards, drainage systems, fireplaces, landfills, etc.
Those decades of exhaustive work can be summarised in one sentence: nothing was found from the 14th Century BCE. The site was first occupied in the Iron Age (a tiny, primary 12th to 10th Century BCE settlement), then adorned with a small fort which stood from the 10th to 8th Century BCE.
Now, it does not take any great intellectual effort to understand that this was extraordinarily strange, and just a little northwest of Tell el-Qudeirat is a living example of just how strange this total and complete absence of hard archaeological evidence was: Gaza.
In 1948 the virtually undeveloped Gaza strip (home to approximately 35,000 in Gaza City, excluding Bedouins) became home to 233,000 Palestinian refugees experiencing their own forced Exodus, the Nakba. Here they established eight main refugee camps: Beach Camp (housing 23,000 refugees), Bureij Camp (13,000), Deir el-Balah Camp (9,000), Jabalia Camp (35,000), Khan Younis Camp (72,000), Maghazi Camp (24,000), Nuseirat Camp (16,000), Rafah Camp (41,000).
To be clear, this 233,000 is an eleventh of the total number of refugees who are said to have settled Kadesh Barnea.
Today in the Gaza Strip, 68 years after Nakba, that initial refugee population of 233,000 has become 1.26 million (1.76 million Gazans in total), for whom the United Nations Relief and Works Agency alone operates 245 schools, two vocational and technical training centres, 22 primary health centres, six community rehabilitation centres, and seven women’s programme centres.
And that’s just that one UN agency.
To make this point perfectly clear, let’s focus on one camp only: Beach Camp, also known as “Shati.” The 0.52 square kilometres camp is on the Mediterranean coast and initially accommodated 23,000 refugees who’d fled mostly from Lydd, Jaffa, and Be’er Sheva. Through natural birth rates, today, 68 years later, the camp has nearly quadrupled in size to 87,000 (still thirty-times less than the 2.5 million refugees who settled Kadesh Barnea), and includes 32 schools.
And here is a brief photographic journey through the history of the Beach Camp: Shati.
Beach Camp, 1948.
Beach Camp two years later, 1950, school operated by Jordanian government.
Beach Camp four decades later in the 1990’s.
Beach Camp in 2006, population 80,000.
The photo above is what 23,000 refugees can do in a few decades. To make life bearable, it’s what they must do. And so now take a look at the following two photographs: the first is what archaeologists found when they first arrived at Kadesh Barnea, where 2.5 million refugees allegedly spent four decades. The second is Kadesh Barnea today; the excavation in the foreground is the remains of the 10th to 8th Century BCE fort. Nothing from the 14th Century BCE has ever been unearthed… Not even a single pottery shard.