Nova (1974–…): Season 35, Episode 16 - The Bible's Buried Secrets - full transcript

A powerful partnership between science and scholarship breaks exciting new ground in investigating the origins of the ancient Israelites, their faith in a single, omnipotent God and the creation of the Bible.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
God is dead...

or so it must have seemed

to the ancestors of the Jews
in 586 B.C.

Jerusalem and the temple
to their god are in flames.

The nation of Israel founded
by King David is wiped out.

It would have seemed
to have been the end,

but it was rather the beginning.

For out of the crucible
of destruction

emerges a sacred book:
the Bible...

and an idea that will change
the world:

the belief in one God.

Â♪ Â♪

This is a new idea.

It was an idea that nobody had
ever had before.

Monotheism is well-ensconced,

so something major happened
which is very hard to trace.

Now a provocative new story

from discoveries deep within
the earth and the Bible.

We wanted to examine
the possibility

that the remains of King David's
palace are here.

We can actually see vivid
evidence here of a destruction.

Question number one: Who did it?

An archaeological detective
story puzzles together clues

to the mystery of who wrote
the Bible, when and why.

And it was very clear

it was some kind
of a tiny scroll.

I immediately saw very clear,
very distinct letters.

This is the ancestor
of the Hebrew script.

And from out of the Earth

emerge thousands of idols
that suggest God had a wife.

We just found this exceptional
clay figurine

showing a fertility goddess.

Powerful evidence sheds new
light on how one people,

alone among ancient cultures,

finally turn their back
on idol worship

to find their one God.

This makes the god
of ancient Israel

the universal god of the world
that resonates with people,

at least in Jewish, Christian,
and Muslim tradition

to this very day.

(thunder crashes)

Now science and scripture
converge to create

a powerful new story
of an ancient people,

God, and the Bible.

Up next on NOVA,
"The Bible's Buried Secrets."

Major funding for NOVA
is provided by the following:

At Cancer Treatment Centers
of America,ndersta.

Major funding for
"The Bible's Buried Secrets"

is provided by:


Additional funding for this
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And by:

Major funding for NOVA
is also provided

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for Public Broadcasting

and by:

Near the banks of the Nile
in southern Egypt in 1896,

British archaeologist Flinders
Petrie leads an excavation

in Thebes,
the ancient city of the dead.

Here, he unearths one of the
most important discoveries

in biblical archaeology.

(worker yelling)

From beneath the sand appears

the corner of a royal monument,
carved in stone.

Dedicated in honor
of Pharaoh Merneptah,

son of Ramesses the Great,

it became known
as the Merneptah Stele.

Today it is in the Cairo Museum.

This stele is

what the Egyptians would have
called a "triumph stele,"

a victory stele commemorating
victory over foreign peoples.

Most of the hieroglyphic
inscription celebrates

Merneptah's triumph over Libya,
his enemy to the West.

But almost as an afterthought,
he mentions his conquest

of people to the East
in just two lines.

The text reads,

"Ashkelon has been
brought captive.

"Gezer has been taken captive.

"Yanoam in the North Jordan
Valley has been seized.

Israel has been shorn,
its seed no longer exists."

History proves the pharaoh's
confident boast to be wrong.

Rather than marking
their annihilation,

Merneptah's Stele announces
the entrance

onto the world stage
of a people named Israel.

This is priceless evidence

for the presence of an ethnical
group called Israel

in the central highlands
of southern Canaan.

The well-established Egyptian

gives the date as 1208 B.C.

Merneptah's Stele
is powerful evidence

that a people called the
Israelites are living in Canaan,

in what today includes Israel
and Palestine

over 3,000 years ago.

The ancient Israelites are best
known through familiar stories

that chronicle their history.

Abraham and Isaac...

(thunder crashes)

Moses and
the Ten Commandments...

David and Goliath.

It is the ancient Israelites
who write the Bible.

(reading aloud)

Through writing
the Hebrew Bible,

the beliefs of the ancient
Israelites survive

to become Judaism,
one of the world's oldest

continuously practiced

And it is the Jews who give
the world an astounding legacy:

the belief in one God.

Â♪ Â♪

This belief will become
the foundation

of two other great monotheistic


and Islam.

Often called the Old Testament,

to distinguish it from
the New Testament,

which described the events
of early Christianity,

today the Hebrew Bible
and a belief in one God

are woven into the very fabric
of world culture.

But in ancient times, all people
from the Egyptians

to the Greeks
to the Babylonians,

worshipped many gods,
usually in the form of idols.

How did the Israelites, alone
among ancient peoples,

discover the concept of one god?

(man chanting)

How did they come up
with an idea

that so profoundly changed
the world?

Now archaeologists and biblical
scholars are arriving

at a new synthesis
that promises to reveal

not only fresh
historical insights,

but a deeper meaning

of what the authors of the Bible
wanted to convey.

They start by digging
into the earth...

and the Bible.

You cannot afford to ignore
biblical text,

especially if you can isolate
a kind of kernel of truth

behind these stories,

and then you have
the archaeological data.

Now, what happens when text
and artifact seem to point

in the same direction?

Then I think we are on a very
sound ground historically.

Scholars search
for intersections

between science and scripture.

The earliest is
the victory stele

of the Egyptian pharaoh
Merneptah from 1208 B.C.

Both the stele and the Bible
place a people

called the Israelites in the
hill country of Canaan,

which includes modern-day Israel
and Palestine.

It is here, between two
of history's greatest empires,

that Israel's story will unfold.

The way to understand Israel's

to the superpowers Egypt and
Mesopotamia on either side

is to understand its own sense
of its fragility as a people.

The primary way in which the
Bible looks at the origins

of Israel is as a people coming
to settle in the land of Israel.

It's not indigenous.

It's not a native state.

The Hebrew Bible is full of
stories of Israel's origins.

The first is Abraham,

who leaves Mesopotamia
with his family

and journeys to the
Promised Land, Canaan.

"The Lord said to Abraham,

'Go forth from your native land,
and from your father's house,

'to the land
that I will show you.

'I will make of you
a great nation.

'And I will bless you.

I will make your name great.'"

"Genesis 12:1 and 2."

According to the Bible,

this promise establishes
the covenant,

a sacred contract
between God and Abraham.

To mark the covenant, Abraham
and all males are circumcised.

His descendants
will be God's chosen people.

They will be fruitful, multiply,
and inhabit all the land

between Egypt and Mesopotamia.

In return,
Abraham and his people,

who will become the Israelites,
must worship a single God.

This is a new idea.

It wasn't an idea that nobody
had ever had before.

God in our sense doesn't exist
before Abraham.

It is hard to appreciate today

how radical an idea
this must have been

in a world dominated
by polytheism--

the worship of many gods
and idols.

The Abraham narrative is part

of the first book of the Bible,

along with Noah and the Flood,
and Adam and Eve.

Though they convey
a powerful message,

to date, there is no archaeology
or text

outside of the Bible
to corroborate them.

The farther back you go
in the biblical text,

the more difficult it is to find
historical material in it.

The patriarchs go back
to Genesis.

Genesis is, for the most part,

a compilation of myths, creation
stories, things like that.

And to find a historical core
there is very difficult.

This absence of historical
evidence leads scholars

to take a different approach to
reading the biblical narrative.

They look beyond our modern
notion of fact or fiction

to ask why the Bible was written
in the first place.

There is no word for "history"
in the Hebrew Bible.

The biblical writers
were telling stories.

They were good historians,
and they could tell it

the way it was
when they wanted to,

but their objective was always
something far beyond that.

So what was their objective?

To find out,
scholars must uncover

who wrote the Bible and when.

"And the Lord said to Moses,
'Write down these words,

'for, in accordance
with these words,

I make a covenant with you
and with Israel.'"

"Exodus 34:27."

The traditional belief

is that Moses wrote the first
five books of the Bible--

Genesis: The story of creation.

Exodus: Deliverance from slavery
to the Promised Land.

Leviticus, Numbers,
and Deuteronomy:

Laws of morality and observance.

Still read to this day,
together they form the Torah,

often called
the Five Books of Moses.

The view that Moses
had personally written down

the first five books
of the Bible

was virtually unchallenged
until the 17th century.

There were a few questions
raised about this.

For example, the very end
of the last book of the Torah,

the Book of Deuteronomy,

describes the death
and burial of Moses.

And so some rabbi said,

"Well, Moses couldn't have
written those words himself

because he was dead
and was being buried."

And, digging deeper
into the text,

there are even
more discrepancies.

For example, how many
of each species of animal

is Noah supposed
to bring into the ark?

One text says two-- a pair
of every kind of animal.

Another text says seven pair
of the clean animals,

and only two
of the unclean animals.

In one chapter, the Bible says

the flood lasts
for 40 days and 40 nights.

But, in the next,
it says 150 days.

To see if the floodwaters
have subsided,

Noah sends out a dove.

But, in the previous sentence,
he sends a raven.

There are two complete versions
of the flood story

interwoven on the same page.

Many similar discrepancies
throughout its pages suggest

that the Bible
has more than one writer.

In fact, within the first
five books of the Bible,

scholars have
identified the hand

of at least four different
groups of scribes writing

over several hundred years.

This theory is called
the Documentary Hypothesis.

One way of thinking about it is,
as a kind of anthology

that was made over the course
of many centuries

by different people
adding to it,

subtracting from it,
and so forth.

But when did the process
of writing the Bible begin?

Tel Zayit is a small site

on the southwestern border
of ancient Israel

that dates back
to biblical times.

Since 1999, Ron Tappy
has been excavating here.

It was the last day of what
had been a typical dig season.

As I was taking
aerial photographs

from the cherry picker,

a volunteer notified
his square supervisor

that he thought he had seen
some interesting marks--

scratches, possibly letters--
incised in a stone.

Which? Right here?

Letters would be a rare find.

So, when he kneeled
to look at the marks,

Tappy got the surprise
of a lifetime.

As I bent down over the stone,

I immediately saw very clear,
very distinct letters.

Tappy excavated the rock

and brought it back to his lab
at the nearby kibbutz.

It was only then
that he realized he had more

than a simple inscription.

"Aleph, bet, gimmel, dalet..."

I realized that this inscription
represented an abecedary.

That is to say, not a text
narrative, but the letters

of the Semitic alphabet

written out
in their correct order.

"Nun" and then "pe" and "'ayin"
are difficult to read,

but they're out here.

This ancient script
is an early form

of the Hebrew alphabet.

What was found

was not a random scratching
of two or three letters.

It was...
it was the full alphabet.

Everything about it says

that this is the ancestor
of the Hebrew script.

The Tel Zayit abecedary

is the earliest Hebrew alphabet
ever discovered.

It dates to about 1000 B.C.,

making it possible
that writing the Hebrew Bible

could have already started
by this time.

To discover the most ancient
text in the Bible,

scholars examine
the Hebrew spelling,

grammar and vocabulary.

The Hebrew Bible is a collection
of literature

written over about
a thousand years.

And, as with any other language,

Hebrew naturally changed
quite a bit

over those thousand years.

The same would be true
of English.

I'm speaking English
of the 21st century.

And, if I were living
in Elizabethan times,

the words I choose,
the syntax I use,

would be quite different.

Scholars examine the Bible
in its original Hebrew

in search
of the most archaic language,

and, therefore,
the oldest passages.

They find it in Exodus,
the second book of the Bible.

(hoofbeats thudding,
horse neighing)

"Pharaoh's chariots and his army
He cast into the sea.

His picked officers
are drowned in the Red Sea."

"Exodus 15:4"

This passage,
known as the "Song of the Sea,"

is the climactic scene
of Exodus,

the story of the Israelites'
enslavement in Egypt,

and how Moses leads them
to freedom.

In all of the Bible,

no single event is mentioned
more times than the Exodus.

With the development
of ancient Hebrew script,

the "Song of the Sea" could
have been written by 1000 B.C.,

the time of Tappy's alphabet.

But it was probably recited
as a poem

long before the beginning
of Hebrew writing.

It's very likely that
it was a kind of story

told in poetic form that you
might tell around the campfire.

Just as our poems are easier
to remember, generally,

than prose accounts,
so we generally think

that the poetry is orally
passed on from one to another

long before they commit things
to writing.

Because the poetry in Exodus
is so ancient,

is it possible the story
has some historical core?

Here, in the eastern Nile Delta
of Egypt,

in a surreal landscape of fallen
monuments and tumbled masonry,

archaeologists have uncovered
a lost city.

Inscribed on monuments
throughout the site

is the name of Ramesses II,

one of the most powerful
Egyptian rulers.

It is Ramesses
who is traditionally known

as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

Ancient Egyptian texts
call the city Pi-Ramesse,

or House of Ramesses,
a name that resonates

with the biblical story
of Exodus.

The only specific

item mentioned
in the Exodus story

that we can probably connect
with nonbiblical material

is the cities that the Hebrews
were ordered to build,

and they are named
Pithom and Ramesses.

Scholars agree that
the biblical city Ramesses

is the ancient Egyptian city

(wind whistling softly)

Its ruins are here
in present-day Tanis.

Most of the Egyptologists

identified Piramesse,
the Ramesses town, with Tanis,

because here
you have an abundance

of Ramesside monuments.

This convergence between
archaeology and the Bible

provides a time frame
for the Exodus.

It could not have happened

before Ramesses became king
around 1275 B.C.

And it could not have happened
after 1208 B.C.,

when the stele
of Pharaoh Merneptah,

Ramesses II's son,

specifically locates
the Israelites in Canaan.

(crowd clamoring)

The Bible says the Israelites
leave Egypt in a mass migration,

600,000 men and their families,

and then wander in the desert
for 40 years.

But even assuming
the Bible is exaggerating,

in a hundred years of searching,

archaeologists have not yet
found evidence of migration

that can be linked
to the Exodus.

No excavated site
gives us any information

about the route of the wandering
through the wilderness.

An Exodus is simply
not attested anywhere.

Any historical
or archaeological confirmation

of the Exodus remains elusive.

Yet scholars have discovered
that all four groups

of biblical writers contributed

to some part
of the Exodus story.

Perhaps it is
for the same reason

its message remains powerful
to this day...

...its inspiring theme
of freedom.

Freedom is a compelling notion,

and that is one of the ways
that we can understand

the story of the Exodus,

from being controlled by others
to controlling oneself,

the idea of a change
from domination to autonomy.

These are very powerful ideas

that resonate
in the human spirit.

And the Exodus gives narrative
reality to those ideas.

(distant chatter)

Following the Exodus,

the Bible says God
finally delivers the Israelites

to the Promised Land-- Canaan.

Archaeology and sources
outside the Bible

reveal that Canaan consisted
of well-fortified city-states,

each with its own king,

who in turn served
Egypt and its pharaoh.

The Canaanites,

a thriving Near Eastern culture
for thousands of years,

worshipped many gods
in the form of idols.

The Bible describes
how a new leader, Joshua,

takes the Israelites into Canaan

in a blitzkrieg
military campaign.

(crowd clamoring)

"So the people shouted,
and the trumpets were blown.

"As soon as the people heard
the sound of the trumpets,

they raised a great shout,
and the wall fell down flat."

"Joshua 6:20."

But what does archaeology say?

In the 1930s,

British archaeologist
John Garstang

excavated at Jericho,

the first Canaanite city
in Joshua's campaign.

Garstang uncovered
dramatic evidence of destruction

and declared
he had found the very walls

that Joshua
had brought tumbling down.

(helicopter blades whirring)

And at what the Bible describes

as the greatest
of all Canaanite cities, Hazor,

there is more evidence
of destruction.

(speaking Hebrew)

Today, Hazor is being excavated

by one of the leading
Israeli archaeologists,

Amnon Ben-Tor,

and his protégé and codirector,
Sharon Zuckerman.

I'm walking through a passage
between two of the rooms

of the Canaanite palace
of the kings of Hazor.

Signs of the destruction

you can still see
almost everywhere.

You can see
the dark stones here,

and most importantly,
you can see

how they cracked
into a million pieces.

It takes tremendous heat

to cause such damage.

The fire here was,
how should I say,

the mother of all fires.

Among the ashes,

Ben-Tor discovered
a desecrated statue,

most likely the king
or patron god of Hazor.

Its head and hands are cut off,

by the city's conquerors.

This marked the end
of Canaanite Hazor.

Question number one: Who did it?

Who was around?

Who is a possible candidate?

So, number one, the Egyptians.

They don't mention
having done anything at Hazor.

In any of the inscriptions
of the time, we don't see Hazor.

Another Canaanite city-state
could have done it?

Maybe, but who was
strong enough to do it?

Who are we left with?

The Israelites.

The only ones about whom there
is a tradition that they did it.

So, let's say they
should be considered guilty

of destruction of Hazor
until proven innocent.

And there's another
Canaanite city-state

that Joshua
and his army of Israelites

are credited with laying waste.

(men talking indistinctly)

It's called Ai,
and has been discovered

in what is now the Palestinian
territory of the West Bank.

Here, archaeologist
Hani Nur el-Din and his team

are finding evidence

of a rich Canaanite culture.

(speaking indistinctly)

The village first appears

and developed a city,

and then there was
a kind of fortification

surrounding this settlement.

(wind whistling)

These heaps of stones

were once a magnificent palace
and temples,

which were
eventually destroyed.

But when the archaeologists
date the destruction,

they discover it occurred
about 2200 B.C.

They date the destruction
of Jericho to 1500 B.C...

and Hazor's to about 1250 B.C.

Clearly, these city-states were
not destroyed at the same time.

They range over
nearly a thousand years.

In fact, of the 31 sites

the Bible says
that Joshua conquered,

few showed any signs of war.

There was no evidence of armed
conflict in most of these sites.

At the same time
it was discovered

that most of the large
Canaanite towns

that were supposed to have been
destroyed by these Israelites

were either not destroyed at all
or destroyed by others.

A single, sweeping
military invasion led by Joshua

cannot account for how the
Israelites arrived in Canaan.

But the destruction of Hazor
does coincide with the time

that the Merneptah Stele locates
the Israelites in Canaan.

So who destroyed Hazor?

Amnon Ben-Tor still believes
it was the Israelites

who destroyed the city.

(speaking Hebrew)

But his codirector,
Sharon Zuckerman,

has a different idea.

The final destruction itself

consisted of the mutilation

of statues of kings and gods.

It did not consist
of signs of war

or of any kind of fighting.

We don't see weapons
in the street

like we see in other sites that
were destroyed by foreigners.

(both speaking Hebrew)

So if there was no invasion,
what happened?

Bobby, just, uh, be careful
about the stones there, okay?

Excavations reveal that Hazor

had a lower city of commoners,
serfs and slaves,

and an upper city
with a king and wealthy elites.

Zuckerman finds within
the grand palaces of elite Hazor

areas of disrepair...

and abandonment--

to archaeologists,
signs of a culture in decline...

and rebellion from within.

I would not rule out
the possibility

of an internal revolt

of Canaanites living at Hazor

and, uh...

revolting against the elites
that, uh, ruled the city.

In fact, the entire
Canaanite city-state system,

including Hazor and Jericho,
breaks down.

Archaeology and ancient texts
clearly show

that it is the result of a long
period of decline and upheaval

that sweeps
through Mesopotamia,

the Aegean region

and the Egyptian empire
around 1200 B.C.

And when the dust,
as it were, settles,

when we can begin to see
what takes the place of these...

of this great-state system,

we find a number of new peoples
suddenly coming into focus

in a kind of void
that is created

with the dissolution
of the great-state system.

Can archaeologists
find the Israelites

among these new people?

In the 1970s, archaeologists
started wide-ranging surveys

throughout the central
hill country of Canaan,

today primarily the Palestinian
Territory of the West Bank.

I was teaching at that time.

We used to take students and go
twice a week to the highlands.

And every day we used to cover

between two and three
square kilometers.

And this accumulates very slowly

into the coverage
of the entire area.

Israel Finkelstein
and teams of archaeologists

walked out grids
over large areas,

collecting every fragment
of ancient pottery

lying on the surface.

Over seven years, he covered
nearly 400 square miles,

sorting pottery
and marking the locations

of where it was found on a map.

In the beginning,
the spots were there on the map

and they meant nothing to me.

But later, slowly, slowly,

I started seeing sort of
phenomena and processes.

By dating the pottery,
Finkelstein discovered

that before 1200 B.C.,

there were approximately
25 settlements.

He estimated the total
population of those settlements

to be 3,000 to 5,000

But just 200 years later,

there's a very sharp increase
in settlements and people.

Then you get this boom of
population growing and growing,

then we are speaking
about 250 sites.

And the population
grows also ten times

from a few thousand
to 45,000 or so.

Now, this is very dramatic

and cannot be explained
as natural growth.

This rate is impossible
in ancient times.

If not natural growth,

perhaps these are the waves of
dispersed people settling down

following the collapse
of the great state systems.

Then, more evidence of a new
culture is discovered,

a new type of simple dwelling
never seen before.

And it's in the exact location

where both the Merneptah Stele
and the Bible

place the Israelites.

The sites in which
this type of house appears

throughout the country,
this is where Israelites lived.

They are sometimes even called
the Israelite house

or Israelite type house.

The people who lived in those
villages seemed to be arranged

more or less in a kind of
an egalitarian society,

because there are no major
architectural installations.

If you look at the finds,
the finds are relatively poor.

Pottery is more or less

I don't want to offend
the early settlers

or the early Israelites--
very little art.

Curiously, the mundane pottery

found at these new
Israelite villages

is very similar
to the everyday pottery

found at the older
Canaanite cities like Hazor.

In fact, the Israelite house

is practically the only thing
that is different.

This broad similarity

is leading archaeologists
to a startling new conclusion

about the origins
of the ancient Israelites.

The notion is that most
of the early Israelites

were originally Canaanites,
displaced Canaanites.

The Israelites were always
in the land of Israel.

They were natives, but they were
different kinds of groups.

They were basically
the have-nots.

So what we are dealing with
is a movement of peoples,

but not an invasion of armed
hordes from outside,

but rather a social
and economic revolution.

Ancient texts describe
how the Egyptian rulers

and their Canaanite vassal kings

burden the lower classes
of Canaan

with taxes and even slavery.

A radical new theory
based on archaeology

suggests what happens next.

As that oppressive
social system declines,

families and tribes of serfs,
slaves, and common Canaanites

seize the opportunity.

In search of
a better way of life,

they abandon the old city-states
and head for the hills.

Free from the oppression
of their past,

they eventually emerge in
a new place as a new people--

the Israelites.

In the text, you have the story

of the Israelites
coming from outside,

and then besieging
the Canaanite cities,

destroying them
and then becoming a nation

in the land of Canaan.

Whereas archaeology tells us
something which is the opposite.

According to archaeology,
the rise of early Israel

is an outcome of the collapse
of Canaanite society,

not the reason
for that collapse.

Archaeology reveals
that the Israelites

were themselves
originally Canaanites.

So why does the Bible
consistently cast the Israelites

as outsiders in Canaan?

Abraham's wanderings
from Mesopotamia...


...Moses leading slaves
out of Egypt

and into the Promised Land...

and Joshua conquering Canaan
from outside.

The answer may lie
in their desire

to forge a distinctly
new identity.

Identity is created,
as psychologists tell us,

by talking about what you are
not, by talking about another.

In order to figure out who I am,

I have to figure out
who I am not.

Conspicuously absent
from Israelite villages

are the grand palaces
and the extravagant pottery

associated with the kings
and rich elites of Canaan.

The Israelites did not like
the Canaanite system

and they defined themselves
in contrast to that system.

By not using decorated pottery,
by not using imported pottery,

they developed
an ideology of simplicity,

which marked the difference
between them

and the Egyptian
Canaanite system.

If the Israelites wanted
to distinguish themselves

from their Canaanite past,

what better way than to create
a story about destroying them?

But the stories of Abraham,
Exodus, and the Conquest

serve another purpose.

They celebrate the power
of what the Bible says

is the foremost distinction
between the Israelites

and all other people--
their God.

In later Judaism,

the name of God
is considered so sacred,

it is never to be spoken.

We don't know exactly
what it means,

we don't know how
it was pronounced,

but it seems to have been
the personal name

of the God of Israel.

So his title, in a sense,
was God,

and his name was these
four letters,

which in English would be YHWH,

which we think
were probably pronounced

something like Yahweh.

But Yahweh only appears
in the Hebrew Bible.

His name is nowhere to be found
in Canaanite texts or stories.

So where do the Israelites
find their God?

The search for the origins
of Yahweh

leads scholars back
to ancient Egypt.

Here in the royal city
of Karnak,

for over a thousand years,

Pharaohs celebrated their power
with statues,

obelisks, and carved murals
on temple walls.

Here on the north wall
of Karnak,

we have scenes depicting
the victories in battle

of Seti I, the father
of Ramesses the Great.

Seti here commemorates
one of his greatest victories

over the Shasu.

The Shasu were a people

who lived in the deserts
of southern Canaan,

now Jordan and
northern Saudi Arabia,

around the same time
as the Israelites emerged.

Egyptian texts say one of
the places where the Shasu lived

is called "YHW,"

probably pronounced "Yahu,"

likely the name
of their patron god.

That name Yahu is strangely
similar to Yahweh,

the name of the Israelite god.

In the Bible, the place
where the Shasu lived

is referred to as Midian.

It is here, before the Exodus,
the Bible tells us

Moses first encounters Yahweh
in the form of a burning bush.

"Come no closer.

"Remove the sandals
from your feet,

for the place on which you are
standing is holy ground."

"Exodus 3:5 and 15."

So we have in Egyptian sources,

something that appears to be
a name like Yahweh

in the vicinity of Midian.

Here is Moses in Midian,
and there

a deity appears to him

and reveals his name
to Moses as Yahweh.

These tantalizing connections

are leading biblical scholars
to reexamine the Exodus story.

While there is no evidence
to support a mass migration,

some now believe that a small
group did escape from Egypt;

however, they were
not Israelites,

but rather Canaanite slaves.

On their journey back to Canaan,
they pass through Midian,

where they are inspired
by stories

of the Shasu's god, Yahu.

There was probably a group of
people who fled from Egypt

and had some divine experience.

It was probably small, a small
group demographically,

but it was important
at least in ideology.

They find their way to the
central hill country,

where they encounter the tribes

who had fled the Canaanite

Their story
of deliverance resonates

in this emerging
egalitarian society.

The liberated slaves
attribute their freedom

to the god they met in Midian,

who they now call Yahweh.

They spread the word
to the highlanders,

who themselves perhaps
had escaped

from the tyranny of
the Canaanite city-states.

They spread the idea

of a god who
represented freedom,

freedom for people to keep
the fruits of their own labor.

This was a message
that was so powerful

that it brought people together

and gave them a new kind
of identity.

The identity of Israelites.

They are a combination of
disenfranchised Canaanites,

runaway slaves from Egypt,
and even nomads settling down.

The Bible calls them
a mixed multitude.

According to the Hebrew Bible,

early Israel is a motley crew,
and we know that's the case now.

But these people are bound
together by a new vision

and I think the revolutionary

is probably there
from the beginning.

The chosen people may actually
be people who chose to be free.

Their story of escape,
first told

by word of mouth and poetry,
helps forge

a collective identity
among the tribes.

Later, when written down,
it will become a central theme

of the Bible-- Exodus
and divine deliverance.

Deliverance by a god
who comes from Midian,

exactly where the Bible says,

adopted by the Israelites

to represent their exodus
from slavery to freedom.

So is this the birth
of monotheism?

The common understanding
of what differentiated

the ancient Israelites
from their neighbors

was that
their neighbors worshipped

many different gods
and goddesses,

and the Israelites worshipped
only the one true God.

But that is not the case.

This bull figurine,
likely representing El,

the chief god
of the Canaanite deities,

is one of thousands of idols
discovered in Israelite sites.

The Israelites frequently
worshipped other gods.

Now, maybe they weren't
supposed to, but they did.

So at least on
a practical level,

many, if not most, Israelites
were not monotheists.

The Bible's ideal of
the Israelite worship of one god

will have to wait.

About two centuries pass
after the Merneptah Stele

places the Israelites in Canaan.

Families grow into tribes.

Their population increases.

Then about 1000 B.C., one of the
Bible's larger-than-life figures

emerges to unite
the 12 tribes of Israel

against a powerful new enemy.

"David put his hand
into the bag;

"he took out a stone
and slung it.

"It struck the Philistine
in the forehead;

"the stone sank
into his forehead

"and he fell down on the ground.

First Samuel 17:49."

The Bible celebrates David
as a shepherd boy

who vanquishes
the giant Goliath,

a lover who lusts after
forbidden fruits,

and a poet who composes lyric
psalms still recited today.

Of all the names
in the Hebrew Bible,

none appears more than David.

Scriptures say,
David creates a kingdom

that stretches from Egypt
to Mesopotamia.

He makes Jerusalem
his royal capital.

And in a new covenant,
Yahweh promises

that he and his descendants
will rule forever.

David's son Solomon
builds the temple

where Yahweh, now
the national God of Israel,

will dwell for eternity.

The Kingdom of David
and Solomon--

one nation, united under one
god-- according to the Bible.

Now, some skeptics today
have argued

there was no such thing
as a United Monarchy.

It's a later biblical construct

and particularly a construct
of modern scholarship.

In short, there was no David.

As one of the biblical
revisionists have said,

David is no more historical
than King Arthur.

But then, in 1993,
an amazing discovery

literally shed new light
on what the Bible calls

ancient Israel's greatest king.

Gila Cook was finishing up some
survey work with an assistant

at Tel Dan, a biblical site in
the far north of Israel today.

The excavation was headed

by the eminent Israeli
archaeologist Avraham Biran.

It was near the end of the day,

and Cook was getting
her last measurements

when she hears a yell
from below.

MAN (yelling):

And it was Biran in his booming
voice yelling, "Gila, let's go."

And so I waved to him...

Hold on.

...and continued working.


After being summoned by Biran

a second time,

Cook had her assistant
load her up.

And she started down the hill.

So I get there and I just drop
my bag and drop the board

and I set my stuff down.

But something catches her eye.

A stone,

with what appeared
to be random scratches,

but was actually
an ancient inscription.

This time she yelled for Biran.

And he looks at it
and he looks at me

and he says, "Oh, my God!"

Cook had found a fragment
of a victory stele,

written in Aramaic, an ancient
language very similar to Hebrew.

Dedicated by the
king of Damascus,

or one of his generals,

it celebrates the conquest
of Israel,

boasting, "I slew mighty kings

"who harnessed thousands
of chariots

"and thousands of horsemen.

I killed the king
of the House of David."

Those words,
"the House of David,"

make this a critical discovery.

They are strong evidence
that David really lived.

Unlike Genesis, the stories
of Israel's kings

move the biblical narrative
out of the realm of legend

and into the light of history.

The later we come in time,

the firmer ground we stand on.

We have better sources,
we have more written sources.

We have more contemporary
eyewitness sources.

When the biblical chronology
of Israel's kings

can be cross-referenced with
historical inscriptions,

like the Tel Dan Stele,

they can provide scholars
with fairly reliable dates.

King David is the earliest
biblical figure

confirmed by archaeology
to be historical.

And most scholars agree
he lived around 1000 B.C.,

the 10th century.

Could any of the Bible have been
written during David's reign?

The earliest Hebrew alphabet
discovered by Ron Tappy

carved on a stone at Tel Zayit
provides an enticing clue.

Across this wall here.

The stone was incised
with this alphabet,

the stone was then used
to build a wall,

and the structure itself
suffered massive destruction

by fire sometime near the end
of the 10th century B.C.E.

The find is even more

because Tel Zayit was
a biblical backwater,

on the fringes
of David's kingdom.

Surely if there was a scribe
that could write this alphabet

that far away, way out
in the boondocks

at the extreme western boundary
of the kingdom,

surely if there is a scribe
that could do that out there,

there were scribes, much more
sophisticated scribes

back in the capital.

Could these scribes have been
in the court of King David

and his son Solomon?

Could they have been the
earliest biblical writers?

In the 18th century,
German scholars uncovered a clue

to who wrote the Bible,

hidden in two different
names for God.

According to one account,

Abraham knew God
by his intimate, personal name,

conventionally pronounced

Passages with the name Yahweh,

which in German is spelled
with a J,

scholars refer to as J.

But according to other accounts,
Abraham knew God

simply by the most common Hebrew
word for God, which is Elohim.

So the two different writers
became known

as E for "Elohim"
and J for "Yahweh."

Most likely based on poetry
and songs

passed down for generations,
they both write a version

of Israel's distant past--

the stories of Abraham
in the Promised Land,

Moses and the Exodus.


The earliest of these sources

is the one that is known as J,
which many scholars dated

to the 10th century B.C.,
the time of David and Solomon.

And because the backdrop for J's
version of events

is the area around Jerusalem,
it's likely he lived there,

perhaps in the royal courts
of David and Solomon.

(monks singing)

For over a hundred years,

archaeologists have searched
Jerusalem for evidence

of the Kingdom of David.

(monks singing)

But excavating here
is contentious

because Jerusalem is sacred

to today's three monotheistic

For Christians, Jesus comes
in his final week

to worship
at the Jerusalem temple.

He's crucified, he's buried,

he's resurrected in the city
of Jerusalem.

(monks singing)

For Islam, it is the site where
Mohammed comes

in a sacred night journey,

and today the Dome of the Rock
marks that spot.

In Judaism, the stories of
the Hebrew Bible, of Solomon,

of David, of the temples
of Jerusalem,

all of these take place,
of course, in Jerusalem.

So, Jerusalem is a symbol
of sacred space today,

important for all three

Despite the difficulties,

Israeli archaeologist
Eilat Mazar went digging

in the most ancient part
of Jerusalem,

today called the City of David.

We started excavations here

because we wanted to check

and to examine the possibility
that the remains

of King David's palace are here.

But because this area has been
fought over, destroyed

and rebuilt over thousands
of years,

it was a long shot that any
biblical remains would survive.

But then...

Large walls started to appear,

three-meter wide,
five-meter wide.

And then we saw that
it goes all directions.

It goes from east,
30 meters to the west,

and we don't see the end
of it yet.

Such huge walls can only be part
of a massive building.

And Mazar believes her
excavations to date

represent only 20%
of its total size.

Such a huge structure shows

and capability of construction.

It can be only royal structure.

This huge complex may be
evidence of a kingdom.

But is it David's kingdom?

For these walls to be
David's palace,

it would have to date to his

Around 1000 B.C.

The problem is stone walls can
never be dated on their own.

Biblical archaeologists date
ruins based on

the pottery they find associated
with those ruins.

Pottery dating is based
on two ideas:

pottery styles evolve uniformly
over time,

and the further down you dig,
the further back in time you go.

If "pottery style A" comes from
the lowest stratum,

then it is earlier
than "pottery style B"

that comes from the stratum
above it.

By analyzing pottery from
well-stratified sites,

excavators are able to create

what they call
a "relative chronology."

But this chronology is
"floating" in time

without any fixed dates.

To anchor this chronology,
William Foxwell Albright,

considered the father
of biblical archaeology,

used events mentioned
in both the Bible

and Egyptian and Mesopotamian
texts to assign dates

to pottery styles.

Albright's chronology, slightly
modified, is what Mazar uses

to date her massive building,

and what most archaeologists use

What we found is a typical
tenth-century pottery,

meaning bowls with hand burnish
you can see from inside,

together with an import;
a beautiful black-on-red juglet.

What is so important

is that this is a tenth-century
typical juglet.

So has Mazar discovered
the Palace of David?

She adds up the evidence--
the building is huge,

it is located
in a prominent place

in the oldest part of Jerusalem,

and the pottery, according
to Albright's chronology,

dates to the 10th century B.C.,
the time of David.

Mazar believes she has indeed
found the Palace of David.

But that evidence and indeed
the kingdom itself

rest on the dates associated
with fragments of pottery.

And some critics argue the
system for dating that pottery

relies too heavily on the Bible.

Archaeologists in the past
did not rely too heavily

on the Bible.

They relied only on the Bible.

We have a problem in dating.

How do you date in archaeology?

You need an anchor from outside.

Today, there is a more
scientific method

to anchor pottery to firm dates,
radiocarbon dating.

It is a specialty
of Elisabetta Boaretto

of the Weizmann Institute.

The first step is, of course,
in the field,

which relates this sample
material like olive pits

or seeds or charcoal
to the archaeological context.

If an olive seed is found
at the same layer

as a piece of pottery, the
carbon in the seed can be used

to date the pottery.

When the seed dies, its
radioactive carbon 14 decays

at a consistent rate over time.

By measuring the ratio
of carbon 14 to carbon 12,

Boaretto can determine the age
of the olive seed,

which in turn can be used
to date the pottery.


Boaretto has meticulously
collected and analyzed

hundreds of samples from over
20 sites throughout Israel.

Her carbon samples date the
pottery that Albright

and most archaeologists
associate with the time of David

and Solomon
to around 75 years later.

For events so long ago, this may
seem like a trivial difference.

But if Boaretto is right,

Mazar's Palace of David

and Tappy's ancient Hebrew
alphabet have to be redated.

This places them in the time
of the lesser-known kings

Omri, Ahab
and his despised wife Jezebel,

all worshippers
of the Canaanite god Baal.

With no writing
or monumental building,

suddenly the Kingdom of David
and Solomon is far less glorious

than the Bible describes.

So David and Solomon did not
rule over a big territory.

It was a small chiefdom,
if you wish,

with just a few settlements,
very poor,

the population was limited,
there was no manpower

for big conquest,
and so on and so forth.

This would make David a petty
warlord ruling over a chiefdom,

and his royal capital,

nothing more than a cow town.

These are the results
of the radiocarbon dating.

He or she who decides
to ignore these results,

I treat them as if arguing
that the world is flat,

that the Earth is flat,
and I cannot argue anymore.

But it's not so simple.

Other teams collected
radiocarbon samples

following the same meticulous

According to their results,

Mazar's Palace and Tappy's
alphabet can date

to the 10th century,
the time of David and Solomon.

How can this discrepancy
be explained?

The problem is that these
radiocarbon dates have

a margin of error
of plus or minus 30 years,

about the difference
between the two sides.

Pottery and radiocarbon dating
alone cannot determine

if the Kingdom of David
and Solomon was as large

and prosperous as described
in the Bible.

Fortunately, the Bible offers
clues of other places to dig

for evidence of this kingdom.

The Bible credits David
with conquering the Kingdom,

but it is Solomon, his son,
who is the great builder.

"This was the purpose
of the forced labor

"which Solomon imposed.

"It was to build
the House of YHWH

and the wall of Jerusalem,
Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer."

"First Kings 9:15."

Here in Hazor, Amnon Ben-Tor,
director of excavations,

believes this may be evidence
of Solomon's building campaign.

Archaeologists call it
a six-chambered gate--

a massive entryway fortified
with towers and guard rooms.

Ben-Tor's predecessor,
Yigal Yadin,

first uncovered this structure.

It turned out to be a
six-chambered gate,

and Yadin immediately remembered

that a very, very similar gate
was excavated at Gezer.

And then the Chicago University

excavated this gate
here at Megiddo.

Stunned by the similarity
of these three gates,

Yadin recalled the passage
in the Bible.

Here we have a wonderful

of the biblical passage
as it shows up in archaeology.

Three monumental gates,
all based on the same plan,

would seem to be powerful
evidence not only of prosperity,

but also of a central authority.

Throughout its history,
the Israelites

had been divided into tribes,

then into kingdoms,
north and south.

The locations of these
strikingly similar gates

in both regions suggest
a single governing authority

throughout the land.

But how can we be sure

this is the kingdom of David
and Solomon?

The answer once again
lies in Egypt.

The head-smiting scene
which you see on this wall

commemorates a military campaign

conducted by Pharaoh Shishak
or Sheshonk,

the founder of Dynasty 22
in Egypt.

The Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak
invades Israel,

an event the Bible reports

and specifically dates to five
years after Solomon's death,

during the reign
of his son, Rehoboam.

"In the fifth year
of King Rehoboam,

"King Shishak of Egypt marched
against Jerusalem

"and carried off the treasures
of the House of Yahweh

"and the treasures
of the royal palace.

He carried off everything."

"First Kings 14:25 and 26."

The importance of this
in fixing

one of the earliest dates,
specific dates

in which Egyptian history
coincides with biblical history

is really startling
and has to be taken note of.

This stunning convergence

between the Bible
and Egyptian history

gives a firm date
for the death of Solomon.

Shishak's campaign, according
to the well-established

Egyptian chronology,
dates to 925 B.C.

And the Bible says Solomon
dies five years earlier,

which means 930 B.C.

This is further evidence
that David and Solomon

lived in the 10th century.

But there's even more hidden
in these walls.

These ovals, with their
depictions of bound captives

and city walls,
represent places

Pharaoh Shishak conquered
in Israel.

One of those places is Gezer,

where archaeologists find
the hallmark

of Solomon's building program,
a six-chambered gate.

Bill Dever directed the
excavations in the late 1960s.

We can actually see vivid
evidence here of a destruction.

Down below, we have the original
stones pretty much in situ.

But if you look in here, you see
the stones are badly cracked.

You can even see where
they're burned

from the heat of a huge fire
that has been built here.

And then up in here, you see
the fire has been so intense

that the soft limestone
has melted into lime,

and it flows down like lava.

This is vivid evidence
of a destruction,

and we would connect that

with this well-known raid
of Pharaoh Shishak.

And if the gate was destroyed
by Shishak in 925 B.C.,

then it must have been built
during the lifetime of Solomon,

who died just
five years earlier.

Surely this kind of monumental

is evidence of state formation,

and if it's in the 10th century,
then Solomon.

Although a minority
of archaeologists

continue to disagree, this
convergence of the Bible,

Egyptian chronology,
and Solomon's gates

is powerful evidence that
a great kingdom existed

at the time of David and
Solomon, spanning all of Israel,

north and south, with
its capital in Jerusalem.

But Jerusalem is more
than a political center...

It is the center of worship.

The magic of Jerusalem is
the magic of the temple.

One temple for the one god.

The result is that Jerusalem
and the temple

emerge as powerful symbols not
just of the oneness of God,

but also of the oneness
of the Jewish people.

The worship
of the ancient Israelites

bears little resemblance
to Judaism today.

It centered around the temple,
built by David's son Solomon,

and seen as Yahweh's
earthly dwelling.

To understand how the ancient
Israelites worshipped their god,

scholars must discover
what the Temple looked like

and how it functioned.

But although archaeologists know
where its remains should be,

it is impossible to dig there.

It lies under the third
holiest site in Islam,

which includes
the Dome of the Rock.

Not a stone of Solomon's Temple
has ever been excavated,

but the Bible offers a
remarkably detailed description.

"The house which King Solomon
built for Yahweh

"was 60 cubits long,
20 cubits wide

"and 30 cubits high.

"In the inner sanctuary,
he made two cherubim--

"each ten cubits high.

He overlaid the cherubim
with gold."

"First Kings 6:2, 23, and 28."

The Bible's description
suggests a floor plan

for Solomon's Temple,

and it is strikingly similar
to those of temples built

by neighboring peoples
who worship many gods.

The closest in appearance

is a temple hundreds of miles
to the north of Jerusalem

at Ain Dara in modern-day Syria.

They have similar dimensions
and the same basic floor plan.

Guarding both temples
are sphinxes or cherubim,

as the Bible calls them.

Unique to the temple at Ain Dara

are the enormous footprints
of the god who lived here.

They mark his progress
as he strode to his throne

in the innermost sanctuary.

If we take the details that we
find of Solomon's Temple

in the Book of Kings and compare
it with the Ain Dara temple,

we can piece together

a fairly good picture, I think,

of what this temple might
have looked like

in the age of Solomon.

Now it is possible to
reconstruct with some confidence

how Solomon's Temple
may have looked

and how the ancient Israelites
worshipped their god.

Out front was an enormous altar.

Beyond that was a porch area

that led into the inside
of the temple.

There was a room,
the holy place,

and then beyond that,
the most sacred room--

the holy of holies,

where, tradition says,
the Ark of the Covenant

held the tablets of the law.

And this room was
considered to be

the most sacred site on Earth,

because it is the room where
God's presence could be found.

And the ancient Israelites

their god demanded a very
specific form of worship.

Evidence of this survives today
on Mount Gerizim in Palestine.

The Samaritans,
who live here,

claim direct descent from
the ancient tribes of Israel.

According to their tradition,

for over 2,500 years,
they have been practicing

the ancient Israelite
form of worship--

animal sacrifice.

(goat bleating)


The primary function
is to make a connection

between our mundane world
and the divine world.

(men chanting)

And the means
for the ancient Israelites

is embodied in blood.

Blood is the most sacred
substance on the altar.

And blood is the substance
that embodies life.

So it is the most precious
substance in the human world.

But while the priests were
offering sacrifice to Yahweh

in the Temple, many Israelites
were not as loyal.

At Tel Rehov, archaeologists
are digging

at an Israelite house
that illuminates

the religious practices
of its ancient inhabitants.

We just found

this beautiful, exceptional
clay figurine

showing a goddess,
a fertility goddess,

that was worshipped here
in Israel.

Here, in this case,
she is shown holding a baby.

Who is this fertility goddess,

and what is a pagan idol
doing in an Israelite home?

Dramatic evidence as to
her possible identity

first surfaced in 1968.

Bill Dever was carrying out
salvage excavations

in tombs in southern Israel

when a local brought
him an inscription

that had been robbed
from one of them.

When I got home
and brushed it off,

I thought I was going
to have a heart attack.

Executed in clear
8th century script,

it's a tomb inscription.

And it gives the name
of the deceased

and it says,
"Blessed may X be by Yahweh."

That's good Biblical Hebrew.

But it says "by Yahweh
and his Asherah," and Asherah

is the name of the old Canaanite
mother goddess.

More inscriptions associating
Yahweh and Asherah

have been discovered...

and thousands of figurines
unearthed throughout Israel.

Many scholars believe this
is the face of Asherah.

Dever concludes God had a wife.

Even hundreds of years
after the Israelites

rise from their
Canaanite pagan roots,

monotheism has still not
completely taken hold.

This is awkward for some people,

the notion that
Israelite religion

was not exclusively

but we know now that it wasn't.

The Bible admits
the Israelites continue

to worship Asherah and other
Canaanite gods, such as Baal.


In fact, the prophets--

holy men speaking
in the name of God--

consistently rail against
breaking the covenant

made with Moses
to worship only Yahweh.

"The more I called them,
the more they went from me;

"they kept sacrificing
to the Baals

and offering incense to idols.
Hosea 11:2."

The Israelites had made
a contract with God.

If they kept it,
God would reward them.

If they broke it,
he would punish them.

He would punish them by using

foreign powers
as his instruments.

Events seem to fulfill
the prophet's dire predictions.

Soon after Solomon's death,
the ten northern tribes rebel

and form the Northern
Kingdom of Israel.

Then a powerful new enemy storms
out of Mesopotamia

to create the largest empire

the Near East had ever
known-- the Assyrians.

The Assyrians were the
overpowering military force,

and Israel and Judah,
the two states

that the Bible talks about

as the states making up
the people Israel,

fell under the sway
of the Assyrian juggernaut.

Numerous Assyrian texts
and reliefs vividly document

their domination
of Israel and Judah.

(swords clanging,
men clamoring)

In 722 B.C., the Assyrian army
crushes the Northern Kingdom.

Those who escape death
or exile to Assyria

flood south into Jerusalem,

where the descendants of David
and Solomon continue to reign.

One of them, Josiah,
according to the Bible,

finally heeds
what the prophets prescribe.

We're told in the Book of Kings
that King Josiah

in the late 7th century B.C.
was told that a scroll

had been discovered
in the temple archives.

The scroll was brought to him

and as the scroll
was being read,

Josiah began to weep,
because he realized

that it was a sacred text
containing divine commands

which the people
had been breaking.

Scholars believe
that the lost scroll

is part of the fifth book
of the Torah, Deuteronomy,

a detailed code
of laws and observance.

It inspires another
group of scribes

in the 7th century B.C., whom
scholars call the D writers.

According to the Documentary
Hypothesis, after J and E,

D is the third
group of scribes

who write part
of the Hebrew Bible.

D retells the Exodus story

and reaffirms
the covenant Moses made

between God
and the Israelite people.

You should love
the Lord your God

because he has loved you.

He has loved you more
than any other nation.

So, the divine love
for Israel requires

a corresponding loyalty to God,
an exclusive loyalty to God,

and Deuteronomy, more
than other parts of the Bible,

is insistent that only the God
of Israel is to be worshipped.

To enforce the covenant,

Josiah orders
that idols and altars

to all other deities
be destroyed.

The book of Deuteronomy

contains the clearest

of the worship of other gods--
the Ten Commandments.


"I am Yahweh your God.

"You shall have no other
gods before me.

"You shall not make
for yourself an idol.

"You shall not bow down to them

or worship them."

"Deuteronomy 5:6 through 9."

The Ten Commandments appears
in two books of the Bible,

in Deuteronomy and in Exodus.

It is not only a contract
with Yahweh,

it is also a code
of conduct between people.

The revelation
of the Ten Commandments

is an ethical revelation,

And that's where the idea
of justice comes in,

Because, that's the most
important thing

about the way in which we treat
one another.

We will not kill him, we will
not steal from him,

and we will not lie about him.

We will abide
by the Commandments.

The Commandments,

as God himself repeatedly
says through the later prophets,

are already written
on the hearts of human beings.


By associating
the belief in one god

with moral behavior,

the Ten Commandments establishes
a code of morality

and justice for all--

the ideal
of Western civilization.

Despite Josiah's reforms,
the ancient Israelites

continue to worship other gods.

Their acceptance of one god
and the triumph of monotheism

begins with a series of events

vividly attested
through archaeology,

ancient texts and the Bible.

It starts with the destruction
of Yahweh's earthly dwelling,

the Jerusalem Temple.

In 586 B.C., after
defeating the Assyrians,

a new Mesopotamian Empire
invades Israel.

The Babylonians
ransack the temple

and systematically
burn the sacred city.

Before his eyes,
the Babylonian victors

slay the sons of Zedekiah,
the last Davidic king,

then blind him.

The covenant--
the promise made by Yahweh

to his chosen people
and to David, that his dynasty

would rule eternally
in Jerusalem-- is broken.

After 400 years,
Israel is wiped out.

The destruction of Jerusulem

created one of the most
significant theological crises

in the history of
the Jewish people.

The Babylonians round up
the Israelite priests, prophets

and scribes and drag them
in chains to Babylon.

Babylonian records confirm
the presence of Israelites,

including the king, in exile.

In every age of disbelief,

one is inclined
to think God is dead,

and surely those who survived
the fall of Jerusalem

must have thought so.

After all, how could God
allow his temple,

his house, the sign,
visible sign

of his presence among his
people, to be destroyed?

Without temple, king or land,

how can the
Israelites survive?

Their journey begins
with the ancient scrolls,

which some scholars speculate

were rescued from the flames
of the destruction.

Among the exiles
from Jerusalem to Babylon

were priests from the temple,

and they seem
to have brought with them

their sacred documents,
their sacred traditions.

According to the widely
accepted Documentary Hypothesis,

it is here in Babylon,
far from their homes in Israel,

that priests and scribes
will produce

much of the Hebrew Bible
as it is known today.

Scholars refer to these writers
as "P" or the Priestly Source.

It was P who took all
of these earlier traditions,

the J source, the E source,

the D source
and other sources as well,

and combined them
into what we know as the Torah,

the first five books
of the Bible.

But more than just compiling,
P edits and writes a version

of Israel's distant past,
including the Abraham story,

that provides a way for the
Israelites to remain a people

and maintain
their covenant with God.

"You shall circumcise
the flesh of your foreskins,

and it shall be a sign of a
covenant between me and you."

Genesis 17:11.

When Genesis 17 attributes

a covenantal value
to circumcision,

it is not really
talking about Abraham.

It is really talking about the
exiles of the 6th century B.C.E.

who, far from their native home,
were desperately trying

to find a way
to reaffirm their difference.

Therefore, they began
to look at circumcision

as not simply another practice,

but rather as the marker
of the covenant,

and they attributed
this view back to Abraham.

To the exiles, the Babylonians
are the new Canaanites,

the idol-worshipping,
uncircumcised peoples

from whom they
must remain apart.

(baby crying)

But the Abraham story,
with its harrowing tale

of a father's willingness
to sacrifice his own son,

is also about
the power of faith.

It is no coincidence
that the exiled P scribes

place Abraham's origins in Ur,

just down the river
from Babylon.

Perhaps with the same faith
as Abraham had,

so, too, will the Exiles be
returned to the Promised Land.

One of the pervasive themes
in the Torah

is the theme
of exile and return.

Abraham goes down to Egypt
and comes out of Egypt.

that theme must have resonated
very powerfully.

God, who had acted
on their behalf in the past,

would presumably do so again.

But the Israelites
still have a problem.

How, in a foreign land, without
the temple and sacrifice,

can they redeem themselves
in the eyes of Yahweh?

(singing in Hebrew)

To assure
that divine protection,

the P tradition

emphasizes observances
such as the Sabbath observance.

You don't need to be in the land
of Israel to keep the Sabbath.

And we have allusions

in the biblical writings
and the prophets

to the fact that the Exiles
also learned to pray

in groups, in what was to become
the forerunner of the synagogue.

(all reciting Hebrew prayer)

It is during this period
through the Exile

that the Exiles realized

that even far away
from their homeland,

without a temple,
without the priesthood,

without kings,

they are still able
to worship God,

be loyal to God

and to follow
God's commandments.


This is the foundation
of Judaism.

The experience of the Exile

ancient Israelite cult

into a modern religion.

By compiling
the stories of their past,

originally written
by the scribes J, E and D,

the Exodus,
from slavery to freedom,

Moses and the Ten Commandments,

Abraham's Journey
to the Promised Land,

P creates what we know today

as the first five books
of the Bible.

(birds chirping)

Though this theory
is widely accepted,

physical evidence
of any biblical text

from the Exile or earlier
is hard to come by.

(stone clatters)

The most celebrated

surviving biblical texts
are the Dead Sea Scrolls.

First discovered
by accident in 1947,

the scrolls represent nearly all
39 books of the Hebrew Bible,

at least in fragments.

They survived
because they were deposited

in the perfect environment
for preservation--

the hot, dry desert.

Archaeologists suspect
there were at least

hundreds more scrolls
throughout Israel,

but because they were written
on papyrus or animal skins,

they have long since decomposed.

Even though the earliest
of the Dead Sea Scrolls

date to the third
and second centuries B.C.,

that doesn't mean that they're
the first copies or examples

of this work
that were ever written.

It means that they already stand
in a line of tradition

that had been established

by the time
the scrolls were written.

Still, the earliest
of the Dead Sea Scrolls

dates to at least 300 years
after the Babylonian Exile.

In the absence of proof
of earlier text,

some scholars claim the entire
Bible is pious fiction...

and even doubt whether Israel
and the Israelites ever existed.

For many of the revisionists,
these extreme skeptics,

there was no ancient Israel.

Israel is
an intellectual construct.

In other words, these people
were not rethinking their past,

they were inventing their past.

They had no past.

So the Bible is a myth,
a foundation myth,

told to legitimate a people
who had no legitimacy.

The legitimacy
of the Israelite past

hinges on finding
a piece of evidence

to prove the ancient origins
of the Bible.

What would be
the discovery of a lifetime

starts outside the walls
of Jerusalem in an old cemetery.

We came here and excavated

seven of these burial caves.

The burial caves date back
to the 7th century B.C.,

somewhere around
the time of King Josiah.

But the caves were found looted,

so we didn't anticipate
too much.

Gabriel Barkay instructed
a 13-year-old volunteer

to clean up a tomb
for photographs.

Instead of that, he was bored,

he was alone,
and he had a hammer,

and he began
banging on the floor.

(distorted, echoing thud)

But the floor turned out
to be a fallen ceiling...

and beneath it
were some artifacts

that had escaped the looters.

Among the hundreds
of grave goods,

one artifact stood out.

It looked like a cigarette butt.

It was cylindrical,
about an inch in size,

about half an inch in diameter,

and it was very clear
it is made of silver.

It was some kind
of a tiny scroll.

A second, slightly smaller
scroll was also found,

and both were taken to the labs
at the Israel Museum.

But unraveling the scrolls

to see if they contain
a readable inscription

could risk
destroying them completely.

Andy Vaughn was one of
the epigraphers on the project.

Archaeology is basically
a destructive science.

In order to learn anything,

you have to destroy
what's there.

Gabriel Barkay and his team
had to make a decision.

Does one unroll these amulets,
or does one preserve them?

They decided that
it was worth the risk,

and hindsight would tell us

that they could not
have been more correct.

Through painstaking

technicians devised
a special method

for unrolling the scrolls
and revealing their contents.

I went over there, and...

I was amazed to see
the whole thing full

of, uh...

very delicately scratched,

very shallow, uh, characters.

The first word
that I could decipher

already on the spot

was yod-het-waw-het,

which is the four-letter
unpronounceable name of God.

Further investigation
revealed more text

and a surprisingly
familiar prayer

still said in synagogues
and churches to this day.

"May the Lord bless you
and keep you;

"may the Lord make his face
to shine upon you,

"and be gracious to you;

"may the Lord lift up
his countenance upon you,

and give you peace."

Numbers 6:24 through 26.

There is no doubt at all
that these two amulets

contain the Priestly Benediction
found in Numbers 6.

These inscriptions
are thus very important

because they are
the earliest references we have

to the written
biblical narratives.

The archaeological context
was very clear,

because it was found
together with pottery

dating back
to the 7th century B.C.

Also, the paleography,
the shape of letters

points towards somewhere

in the 7th century B.C.
beyond any doubt.

The Silver Scrolls, with the
priestly benediction,

predate the earliest Dead Sea
Scrolls by 400 years.

It is an amazing find.

Proving that at least some
verses of the Bible

were written in ancient times

during the reign of King David's

By giving us text from before
the Babylonian exile

The Silver Scrolls confirm that
the Hebrew Bible is created

from poetry, oral traditions,
and prayers.

that go back to the time of
Josiah's 'D' writer,

And likely beyond:
to writers, 'E' and 'J.'

As modern scholars suspect,
the Torah,

the first five books
of the Bible,

takes its final form
during the Babylonian Exile.

But dwarfed
by the mighty temples

and giant statues
of Babylonian gods...

(whip cracks, man yells)

...the Israelites
must also confront

the fundamental question--

why did their god, Yahweh,
forsake them?

In the ancient world,

if your country was destroyed
by another country,

it meant that their gods were
more powerful than your god.

And the natural thing to do

was to worship
the more powerful god.

But the survivors

continued to worship Yahweh

and struggled to understand
how this could have happened.

They resort first

to a standard form
of explanation,

which is found elsewhere
in the ancient Near East.

We must have done
something wrong

to incur the wrath of our god.

It's out of this
that comes the reflection

that polytheism
was our downfall;

there is, after all,
only one god.

The Israelites abandon
the folly of polytheism.

Monotheism triumphs,

and the archaeological
evidence proves it.

Before the destruction
of the First Temple,

wherever we dig in whatever part
of the Judean country,

we find sanctuaries,
and more often we find

hundreds and thousands
of figurines

even in Jerusalem itself.

But after the destruction,
there are none.

We are speaking
about thousand in before

and nothing,
completely nothing at all after.

Monotheism is well ensconced,

firmly ensconced,

so something major happened,

which is very hard to trace.

But that was
a searing experience,

that time in the Exile.

Through the experience
of the Exile

and writing the Bible,

the concept of God,
as it is known today, is born.

In a way, P created something
that was much greater,

because it was greater than
any individual land or kingdom.

It was a kind of
a universal religion

based on a creator god--

not just a god
of a single nation,

but the god of the world,
the god of the universe.

This moves Yahweh

into the realm of being
a universal deity

who has the power to affect

what happens
in the whole universe.

This makes
the god of ancient Israel

the universal god of the world
that resonates with people,

at least in Jewish,
Christian and Muslim tradition,

to this very day.

In 539 B.C.,

the Babylonian Empire
is toppled by the Persians.

As written in the Bible,

Yahweh, in his new role
as the one invisible God,

orchestrates a new Exodus.

(reading in Hebrew)

Among one group
of returning exiles

is the prophet Ezra.

Back in Jerusalem,
he gives a public reading

of the newly written Torah
to reestablish the covenant.

"All the people
gathered together.

"They told the scribe Ezra

"to bring the book
of the law of Moses,

"which the Lord
had given to Israel.

"He read from it
from early morning until midday,

"and the ears of all the people

were attentive
to the book of the law."

Nehemiah 8:1 through 3.

To me it's one of the most
moving moments

in the whole Bible.

Ezra returns with the Bible
in his hands.

So, we have
the feeling

that the process begun
in the exile

is finally finished
and Ezra has a copy.

The scrolls that chronicle

the Israelites' relationship
with their god

is now the Hebrew Bible...

the Old Testament...

a sacred text
for over three billion people.

Through its writing,

an ancient cult
becomes a modern religion.

(chanting in Hebrew)

And the Israelite deity Yahweh

transforms into the God

of the three great
monotheistic religions.

Through its teachings,

the Bible established
a code of morality and justice,

aspirations that resonate
through the ages.

More than fact or fiction,

at the intersection
of science and scriptures

is a story that began
over 3,000 years ago

and continues to this day.

On NOVA's "Bible's Buried
Secrets" website,

share your thoughts
on the program,

hear from biblical scholars,

explore a timeline of
archaeology, and more.

8,000 warriors built
for eternity:
To order this NOVA program
for $24.95

plus shipping and handling,
call WGBH Boston Video

at 1-800-255-9424 or order
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