Israel Mini-Series Megapost

As of now, I have notes out to King Saul, which is a surprising number of episodes. I thought this would be like a five episode series, and every time I put one episode together, I find it stretches out more and more. But that is fine, I am having a lot of fun with this series, and I expect to (hopefully) update this once I get through the monarchy period.

As a reference, the Israel series is going to look in pretty significant detail up until the kingdom of Israel is sacked by Assyria, then sort of quickly sketch things out for Judah until the Babylonian sack. I sort of want to get the whole story put together from a biblical perspective first, then when we go back through Mesopotamian history we will have a chance to see some of the same action from an outside perspective.

This is maybe the best place for asking any questions specifically about Israel, that or shoot me an email over at the contact page. Anything at all is fair game, either about stuff that comes up in the show, stuff on this page, or just stuff about related topics. I love getting questions because it usually sends me checking in places that I often skimmed over the first time.

The big theme of this series overall is that biblical history has very few yes or no answers. Nearly everyone comes to it with a certain perspective, but going just by the evidence there is often a pretty wide range of possibilities. Some stories we genuinely can’t rule out the possibility of every word being literally true, and sometimes those same stories we can’t rule out the possibility of them being literally false. While I myself am not perspective-neutral and faith-neutral, it is important that both skeptics and believers alike look at the same evidence, and acknowledge the same window of plausibility, and then we can consider these stories from a good foundation, even if it can feel fluffy at times.

As for Bible translation, I don’t have strong opinions on the matter. My bible quotes in the show are mostly ESV because that has a reputation of being a rigorous translation which also sounds good and is pretty comprehensible to a wide audience, though in a few of the more poetic spots I am going back the the good old King James.

Also, I got some listener feedback, and it seems like it would help to know where we are going in this series, because it really does bounce around in terms of perspective and such, so here is a sort of outline. I have a solid prep up through episode 8 so far, and the rest of the outline may change:

  • Overview and Skeptics – This introduces the series, then introduces us to the most radically skeptical view, as a way of framing what will come next
  • Formation and Exodus – This glosses over Genesis and the main Exodus narrative, moving pretty quickly through some of the more dramatic things in order to poke at a few of the details. Hopefully, this helps people see where the real questions of historicity lie, which usually aren’t the most memorable parts of the narrative
  • Numbers Problem – Here we look at places where the bible has real, serious problems as an historical source, carrying our story through the back half of Exodus and into the famous list of Numbers Ch 1.
  • Hebrews – This one surprised me, but it took an entire episode to discuss the word “Hebrew” and its relation to “Habiru” or “‘Apriu”. It took longer because I actually have a strong opinion here, and I expect a fair number of people to disagree, but that is fine.
  • Wandering and Settlement – Here we look at details in the rest of the book of Numbers ands start to integrate specific archeological findings into our narrative to see how they interact.
  • Conquest and Integration – All about Joshua, what are the options for his historicity and what do we think about the Canaanite genocide.
  • Settlements – All archeology all the time! A full episode looking just at the archeological indicators of an “early Israelite settlement” and the degrees to which these markers are and are not consistent or reliable.
  • Judges and Defeats – A bunch of assorted issues in the book of Judges. Geography, genre, Baal, and the Shoftim get discussed
  • Bonus episode – This one takes a break from the main narrative and having built up a foundation of looking at the early bible, I give my personal opinions and perspectives on various issues in biblical history. The central question of the episode is “How can I have faith in the religion of the bible if I think there are false statements within the bible?”, but the whole thing is more wide ranging than that.
  • Entering the monarchy – We look at the later chapters of judges and the early chapters of Samuel to look at the institution of Kingship and enter in to king Saul
  • — The stuff after here hasn’t been fully put together yet, and may change, but is my working outline —
  • Saul – A political history of Saul and how he would look if we saw him as a minor king in any other period of history, and the interaction of Samuel
  • David – The multiple narratives of his rise, the “House of David” inscription, the international character of his court, the influence of writing and the census plague, and of course, Uriah and Bathsheba
  • Solomon – What is left of him when we cut through the myth? Not much, but still some interesting bits.
  • The Split – Stepping back to look at Absalom, Adonijah, then the Rehoboam / Jeroboam split.
  • The Omrides – Following the line of the North until Assyrian conquest pretty quickly.
  • Judah – This will be a bunch of episodes looking at the Judahite kings in much the same way we are used to looking at the Mesopotamian kings, bringing in the outside evidences, discussing the religious relationship with the northern kingdom.
  • Josiah – This guy is a big deal, I am genuinely afraid of how long this episode might turn out, but on him hinges pretty much all of the most important religious issues, and having built this foundation, we are going to get deep into the different theories about his religious reforms.
  • Babylonian Captivity – Honestly not sure where I will end this series specifically. There will be at least some narrative to the Babylonian captivity, but then all of the conquest, deportation, integration, and captivity narratives will be looked at a second time when they come up in the Assyria and Babylon narratives.

Of course, we always want maps. None of these maps are terribly reliable. Bible mapping is unreliable if you take the bible too seriously, and unreliable if you don’t take it seriously enough, and many of the ancient place names are in any case hard to map too closely with modern places.

Also, something I found relatively recently is a fantastic site called It looks like it has been around for a while, but it has a digital map that you can look around, it has a timeline of events, and perhaps best, it has a sort of blog and passage browser. You stick any biblical chapter in the search, and it will pop up a listing of any relevant maps, which is fantastic for the historical sections that we are focusing on here. Like most ancient maps, I wouldn’t treat any of them like hard TRUTH, but they are often quite good at putting question marks on questionable locations, and overall seem quite well researched, and of the places I have checked appear to represent the best scholarly estimates on a lot of these locations.

Still, here are the best references I have for us.

This is the general situation of the near east minus Israel, and of course placing Israel anywhere at all is a big old mess. Those Luwian Arameans are a pretty neutral way of referring to the Neo-Hittites, though the whole region seems to have been remarkably diverse at this point.

Here is a map that does something subtle to preserve the “red sea” idea in the exodus – We know historically that the coastline has changed around the near east, especially around the Persian Gulf. As such, it isn’t insane to think that maybe the coastline of the red sea was deeper in ancient times, and some of what are today disconnected lakes (discounting the suez canal here) could have been attached by a slightly deeper sea. The key here is that location number 3, Pi-Hahiroth, which no one has any idea at all where it could be located, with suggestions ranging as far as Libya and the Gulf of Aqaba. Now, this sea level thing is in theory testable, though to my knowledge has not yet been examined rigorously, yet whether the sea level was deeper in those days only provides support or refutation for this particular route, not support for the biblical exodus story as a whole. Generally, while I think this is a fair attempt at making sense of the route of the exodus, I personally would suggest a lower sea level and a path through a lake, as I discuss on the show.

The twelve tribes are also a fun topic – here are three maps, one Jewish, one Christian, one from Wikipedia, and you can see that while they all have similarities, they have all made different judgement calls on where exactly the borders lay, sometimes making pretty significant changes. Which one is right? None of them. Not only did the borders naturally shift over time, they were probably never formally delineated in this way. Ancient peoples did not conceive of territory as lines on a map, but as power centers and geographical features. A tribe or nation might own a set of towns, fields and hills, and maybe everything on one side of a river. In the absence of something clear like a river, the place where one nation stopped and the next began was often very unclear.

The Kingdom Period

Yeah, we are starting the kingdom period now, so here are some fun maps I have found.

This is David’s approximate empire, if we take everything at face value and assume that he is basically fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant. Those bits that stretch all the way to the Euphrates are mostly implied, because people really want it to stretch to the Euphrates, but if the Abrahamic Covenant was not fulfilled in these days and was purely eschatological, then Hamath should be pretty much the north-most point, plus some bonus territory in wherever might have come along with that victory.

By the way, you do get some versions of this map as the “True Abrahamic Covenant”. This is because the bible says that the kingdom will stretch from “The River of Egypt to the Euphrates” But this map is extremely stupid for two reasons. First, the River of Egypt is not the Nile, there is a separate word for the Nile. The River of Egypt is referred to multiple times, and while the exact river is sometimes argued over, it is one of the various rivers that run into the Mediterranean on the eastern end of the Sinai peninsula, and is called the River of Egypt because it served as a border for the geographical unit of Egypt, as separate from the rest of asia. Remember, there was no Suez Canal back then, which is where we would normally draw the africa-asia border nowadays, and the River of Egypt was more notable for the people back then. The other reason is that stretching between the two named rivers does not imply the entire length of the friggin’ river, which should be obvious for anyone who thinks about it for a bit, or who looks at usages in the near east in general. Fortunately, you mostly see this kind of map thrown around by crazy people, so we don’t really need to worry about it that much, but if you see someone claiming this is the promised land, maybe worry about them a bit.

Another, less crazy, approximate map of the United Kingdom period. It is a bit generous with what it gives to pretty much all three of these kings, but of course plenty of people think none of this kingdom ever actually existed, and was all mostly an excuse for later Jews to make expansive territorial claims, so the expansive maps would be intentional under that reading.

This is a nice reconstruction of Saul’s wars. All these arrows and solid colors make things look a bit more objective and the kingdoms look a bit more territorial than they really are, but it is still a nice reconstruction.

A bit on Solomon’s kingdom and the 12 districts. This mostly represents the biblical picture, though of course all the question marks and uncertainties of the other maps apply equally here as well.

Send me a note if you would like to see anything else posted up here, for reference or for questions or whatever.

2 thoughts on “Israel Mini-Series Megapost”

  1. Thanks for the update. I’ve often found discrepancies in these topics while doing my research. I appreciate the time and effort you’ve put into your research. It makes all the difference. I am glad I found you.


  2. You totally need to do a show with Gary Stevens at the History of the Bible podcast. I’d listen to you to talk for hours. The Texas/Australian accents would really make it pop.


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