Magnetic Fields Reveal the Truth Behind Biblical Battle Narratives
Biblical accounts of ancient military campaigns against the kingdoms of Judah and Israel have been confirmed by archaeologists in a very interesting new study. By recording geomagnetic fields in 21 archaeological destruction layers at 17 different archaeological sites, Israeli researchers have verified accounts in the Hebrew Bible of the Egyptian, Aramean, Assyrian and Babylonian military campaigns during the 10th-6th centuries BC.
Twenty researchers from different countries and disciplines have published their research in the form of a paleomagnetic study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). It is based on the doctoral thesis of Yoav Vaknin, supervised by Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef and Prof. Oded Lipschits of TAU's Institute of Archaeology and Prof. Ron Shaar from the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University.
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Yoav Vaknin measuring at the site (Photo: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority/TAU)
Magnetic Fields, Geophysics, and Dating the Sites
“Based on the similarity or difference in intensity and direction of the magnetic field, we can either corroborate or disprove hypotheses claiming that specific sites were burned during the same military campaign. Moreover, we have constructed a variation curve of field intensity over time which can serve as a scientific dating tool, similar to the radiocarbon dating method”, explained Yoav Vaknin.
Together, they reconstructed the direction and intensity of the Earth's magnetic field recorded in burnt remnants. Geophysicists attempt to understand the mechanism of the Earth’s magnetic field by using archaeological finds containing magnetic minerals. These minerals, when burnt or heated, record evidence of the magnetic field at the time of the fire.
This includes ceramic vessels and sun-dried mud bricks, which contain tiny ferromagnetic particles. When the particles are heated to very high temperatures, like in a kiln or a fire, they act like compass needles, aligning with the magnetic field of the Earth. They are thus magnetized based on the direction and intensity of the field at the time, according to a Haaretz report.
Researchers used a collection of mud stones containing magnetic minerals that record magnetic fields when heated or burned. This is because some rocks and materials contain minerals that respond to the magnetic field like the needle of a compass. (Tel Aviv University)
“Our location here in Israel is uniquely conducive to archaeomagnetic research, due to an abundance of well-dated archaeological findings. Over the past decade we have reconstructed magnetic fields recorded by hundreds of archaeological items,” explained geophysicist Ron Shaar of the Hebrew University.
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Corroborating the Finds: Texts and Inscriptions
They corroborated these finds with historical accounts contained in ancient inscriptions and biblical accounts. For example, the Hebrew Bible stated that the army of Hazael, king of Aram-Damascus, was responsible for the destruction of several cities—Tel Rehov, Tel Zayit and Horvat Tevet. In addition to all of these is the Gath of the Philistines, whose destruction is also noted in the Hebrew Bible, The Daily Mail reported. Incidentally, the study helped disprove the prevailing notion that Hazael was the conqueror who destroyed Tel Beth-Shean.
Several of these wars led to settlements being built and rebuilt within a century, making it extremely challenging for archaeologists to ascertain who destroyed what, and when. For ages, separating biblical fact from fiction has been a huge challenge for historians and theologians alike, making the dating of sites in the Levant particularly difficult. For this purpose, applying paleomagnetic research to Biblical archaeology has been the focus of the researchers.
Map of the studied destruction layers and the different military campaigns. Chronological anchors are highlighted in bold. (Yoav Vaknin/PNAS)
“The last days of the Kingdom of Judah are widely debated,” Ben-Yosef said. “Some researchers, relying on archaeological evidence, argue that Judah was not completely destroyed by the Babylonians. While Jerusalem and frontier cities in the Judean foothills ceased to exist, other towns in the Negev, the southern Judean Mountains and the southern Judean foothills remained almost unaffected. Now, the magnetic results support this hypothesis, indicating that the Babylonians were not solely responsible for Judah’s ultimate demise.”
Vaknin believes that going forward, the method of a variation curve of field intensity over time can serve as a scientific dating tool. It can thus provide a counter or an accompaniment to the radiocarbon dating method, greatly enriching the field of archaeology as a result. Palaeomagnetic data is particularly useful for a time period like 800-400 BC, when radiocarbon dating does not allow for high resolution dating.
Prof. Oded Lipschits added that, "the new dating tool is unique because it is based on geomagnetic data from sites, whose exact destruction dates are known from historical sources. By combining precise historical information with advanced, comprehensive archaeological research, we were able to base the magnetic method on reliably anchored chronology." A separate paper, presenting the scientific principles of the novel archaeomagnetic dating method, is in preparation.
Top image: Archaeologists peeled back layers of destruction to uncover recordings of Earth's magnetic field in burnt mud brick wall. Photo is from Tel Batash (Biblical Timnah) and shows markings of the magnetic field orientation. Source: Yoav Vaknin/ Tel Aviv University
By Sahir Pandey
David, A. October 25, 2022. Archaeologists Reconstruct Biblical Conflicts Using Earth’s Magnetic Field. Available at: https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/2022-10-25/ty-article/archaeologists-reconstruct-biblical-conflicts-using-earths-magnetic-field/00000184-0983-d018-af87-b9d3221d0000.
Liberatore, S. October 25, 2022. Biblical stories of military campaigns against the kingdoms of Israel and Judah 3,000 years ago are proven with a new tool that reconstructs the intensity of Earth's magnetic field recorded in burnt remains. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-11353097/Biblical-stories-military-campaigns-against-kingdoms-Israel-Judah-proven.html.
Mozter, P. October 25, 2022. The Magnetic Field of the Earth Is Assisting Scholars in Locating the Ruins of Biblical Warfare. Available at: https://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/53851/20221025/magnetic-field-earth-assisting-scholars-locating-ruins-biblical-warfare.htm.
Siegel-Itzkovich, J. October 25, 2022. Archaeologists prove invasions of biblical Israel with Earth's magnetic field. Available at: https://www.jpost.com/archaeology/article-720453.
Vaknin, Y., et al. October 24, 2022. Reconstructing biblical military campaigns using geomagnetic field data. PNAS, 119 (44). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2209117119.