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The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel


If one were to summarize this publication into a single sentence, it would be “Israel Finkelstein has rewritten Biblical history through archaeology.” Israeli archaeologist and academic and professor of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze Age and Iron Ages at Tel Aviv University, Dr. Israel Finkelstein has established himself as one of the leading authorities on topics surrounding the ancient history of Israel.

I have been following Finkelstein’s work for over a decade and have grown to appreciate his science focused reinterpretations of Biblical history. The science we refer to as archaeology had its roots in attempting to prove the Bible true; that is, after the treasure hunting phase. Traditionally, the chronologies used for the archaeology of the Holy Land centered around what was written in the Old Testament. Israel Finkelstein has taken the opposite and yet radical approach of providing the historical evidence first and if it complements any Biblical texts, all the better. The result of such an approach has produced a lower chronology , which challenges the traditional Levantine chronology; pushing the 11th century BCE assemblages and events to the early/mid 10th century BCE, and the 10th century BCE assemblages and events to the early 9th century.

With this in mind, Finkelstein succeeds in providing the reader with clearer dates (predominantly based on radiocarbon dating and extra-biblical source) in the settlement layers of various northern Israelite locations. It immediately becomes clear that the northern kingdom and “empire” of Israel reached each peak as far north as Aram and into Aramean Damascus territory, as far south into Judah, and also as far southeast and into Moab during the Omride dynasty. This is when commerce and general trade took off making this dynasty the most influential of its time; with the manufacturing of wines, oils, to even training/exporting Egyptian (Nubian) horses.

Prior to the Omrides, we find evidence of cult places established at Shiloh and Bethel until eventually centralized in Samaria. It is also during the Omride dynasty that writing started to take off, which would eventually be used generations later to the south (i.e. the southern kingdom of Judah). During this time of Israelite glory, stratigraphical analysis has revealed that Judah was not as populated as its neighbor to the north. This did not occur until the Neo-Assyrians swept through the region and the Israelite refugees migrated south.

It was during this period that an identity for the children of Israel came to be. While there is no reason to doubt the existence of a Davidic king, seeing that archaeology has revealed the Judahite monarchs coming from the House of David, a Unified Monarchy, however, under the leadership of David and Solomon and ruling from Jerusalem would have been less likely. It would seem that Omri and Ahab served as the model for this.

Finkelstein also brings to focus the most likely stories from the Pentateuch that would have survived from Israel and into Judah to later be redacted and canonized into the books we have come to know today.

The Forgotten Kingdom is one of the most well researched books on the topics of Biblical Israel and for those interested in Biblical and Levantine history, this publication is highly recommended.

By Petros Koutoupis