Ancient Israel

During the past 150 years, archaeological excavations in the Near East has brought to light the ancient civilisations of this region. In popular imagination this is dominated by the impressive monumental temples and pyramids of Egypt, the tomb of Tutankhamen, the Rosetta stone, and the winged bulls and palace reliefs from the ruined royal cities of Assyria. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Numerous sites in this region have been excavated, their artefacts studied and classified. The written languages of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites and other peoples of this world have all been deciphered, enabling us to read the surviving documents and use these to reconstruct the histories of these respective peoples. It was in this world - a literate world humming with life, and the rise and fall of states and empires - that the ancient Israelites lived and wrote. Our major written source for the history of ancient Israel is the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), which outlines the origins of the ancient Israelites and their subsequent successes and failures in the ancient world. However, the reality of these events has often being questioned.

This course will look at some of the issues of using the Old Testament as a source of history, comparing these issues with those that arise when reconstructing the histories of other nations of the ancient Near East. Particular attention will be applied to written records of the ancient Israelites from outside the pages of the Old Testament. These latter records consist of documents excavated in modern Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Mesopotamia, some of which mention people and/or events recorded in the Old Testament. Two general points that will be emphasised in the course are that respect should be given to any ancient document, whether it be biblical or otherwise (i.e. sound reasons must be canvassed before denying the historical claims made in any written source), and the history of ancient Israel should viewed as part of the ancient Near East. This course is not one of theology, does not aim to look into the existence of God, but is one of historical inquiry.

This class will be delivered face-to-face at WEA Sydney. Enrolling students need to ensure they have read the current COVID-19 Safety Guidance that WEA Sydney has put in place before enrolling.


  • Arnold, B.T. and Hess, R.T. 2014. Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  • A brief introduction to archaeology, and the problem of the findings of “dirt archaeology” versus the historical “claims” made in contemporary documents from the ancient Near East - including the Old Testament.
  • Chronology of the ancient Near East, with specific reference to Israel.
  • What the Old Testament says about Israelite origins, and when the Israelites first appear in the archaeological record. Discussion will include the mention of “Israel” in the famous “Hymn of Victory” stela of Merenptah and the sudden appearance of many new settlements in Palestine during the early Iron Age.
  • Major archaeological findings from the Near East, particularly textual, that illuminate the united (reigns of David and Solomon) and divided (states of Judah and Israel) monarchies of ancient Israel.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Learn the difficulties in reconstructing the history of ancient Israel with respect to the histories of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
  2. Discover the earliest extant texts of the Old Testament.
  3. Discover the earliest examples of writing that have come from the area of ancient Israel.
  4. Know that the history of ancient Israel should be seen as part of the history of the ancient Near East (and not as something separate – which it often has been).
  5. Discuss the theories that have been proposed for the origin of the ancient Israelites.
  6. Explore the archaeologically excavated texts that record an individual in the Old Testament and/or record an event that is referred to in the Old Testament.
$79 Limited / $71

<p>During the past 150 years, archaeological excavations in the Near East has brought to light the ancient civilisations of this region. In popular imagination this is dominated by the impressive

13 Mar

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