Biblical stories of military events in kingdoms of Israel, Judah really did happen, archaeologists show

TEL AVIV, Israel — Biblical stories of military campaigns against the kingdoms of Israel and Judah appear to be more than just legendary stories, according to the latest scientific research. Researchers in Israel say ancient Egyptians, Arameans, Assyrians, and Babylonians really waged these battles. The team found evidence of these historical events in burnt remnants from 21 archaeological sites.

Study authors were able to connect them with Earth’s geomagnetic field at the time. The analysis shows the army of Hazael, King of Aram-Damascus, was responsible for the destruction of several cities. They include Tel Rehov, Tel Zayit, Horvat Tevet, and Gath — one of the five Philistine states.

Findings also indicate the Edomites razed parts of Southern Judah to the ground after taking advantage of the fall of Jerusalem.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also refutes the theory that Hazael conquered Tel Beth-Shean.

“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,” says lead author Yoav Vaknin, a student at the Hebrew University, in a media release.

Yoav Vaknin measuring at the site
Yoav Vaknin measuring at the site. (Credit: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

How did Earth’s unique fields reveal these events?

Earth’s ever-changing geomagnetic field is generated by the motion of liquid iron in the outer core of the planet. It shields the planet from dangerous radiation and enables technology to function, from satellites to phone lines.

Various dating methods have placed the destruction of Gath in the Judean foothills at around 830 BC. However, researchers were unable to verify that Hazael was also responsible for the destruction of Tel Rehov, Tel Zayit, and Horvat Tevet.

Vaknin and colleagues synchronized the magnetic fields recorded at all four sites, making a very strong case for them occurring during the same campaign, but they recorded a totally different magnetic field at Tel Beth-Shean — suggesting it wasn’t attacked by Hazael.

Instead, the magnetic data suggests this city, along with two other sites in northern Israel, were probably destroyed nearly a century earlier. This would correspond with the military campaign by the Egyptian Pharaoh Shoshenq, described in the Hebrew Bible. An inscription on a wall of the Temple of Amun in Karnak, Egypt, mentions Beth-Shean as one of his conquests.

The groundbreaking investigation also provides new insights regarding the end of the Kingdom of Judah.

Burnt mud stones.
Burnt mud stones. (Credit: Tel Aviv University.)

“The last days of the Kingdom of Judah are widely debated. 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,” says Prof. Erez Ben Yosef.

“Now, the magnetic results support this hypothesis, indicating that the Babylonians were not solely responsible for Judah’s ultimate demise. Several decades after they had destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple, sites in the Negev, which had survived the Babylonian campaign, were destroyed – probably by the Edomites who took advantage of the fall of Jerusalem. This betrayal and participation in the destruction of the surviving cities may explain why the Hebrew Bible expresses so much hatred for the Edomites – for example, in the prophecy of Obadiah.”

Residual magnetism in ancient burnt-down buildings is also helping biblical experts to date other finds in the area.

“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,” adds Prof. Oded Lipschits of Tel Aviv University.

Map of the studied destruction layers and the different military campaigns
Map of the studied destruction layers and the different military campaigns. (Credit: Itamar Ben-Ezra)

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that the Bible is a true, accurate, and a historical text.

“Earth’s magnetic field is critical to our existence. Most people don’t realize that without it there could be no life on earth – since it shields us from cosmic radiation and the solar wind. In addition, both humans and animals use it to navigate,” explains Prof. Ron Shaar, who led the geophysical aspects of the study.

“The geomagnetic field is generated by earth’s outer core, at a depth of 2,900 km, by currents of liquid iron. Due to the chaotic motion of this iron, the magnetic field changes over time. Until recently scientists believed that it remains quite stable for decades, but archaeomagnetic research has contradicted this assumption by revealing some extreme and unpredictable changes in antiquity,” Prof. Shaar continues.

“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. By combining this dataset with the data from Yoav’s investigation of historical destruction layers we were able to form a continuous variation curve showing rapid, sharp changes in the geomagnetic field. This is wonderful news, both for archaeologists who can now use geomagnetic data to determine the age of ancient materials and for geophysicists studying the earth’s core.”

Yoav Vaknin
Yoav Vaknin (Credit: Tel Aviv University)

Last year, scientists found “sin cities” Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by a meteor “cloudburst” that incinerated all 8,000 inhabitants. God was said to have been enraged by their wickedness, raining “fire and brimstone” upon them. The giant space rock created a fireball. It may also have led to Jericho’s walls “tumbling down,” just 20 miles away.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.