ARCHAEOLOGY has little to add to the Biblical narrative regarding the personalities
of the patriarchs,
but it certainly helps us to visualize more clearly the background against which they moved.
In the first place excavation has proved the extraordinary fact that in
the patriarchal period Canaan as a whole had not yet emerged entirely from
the Stone or Neolithic Age.
There were still, side by side with the bronze-using Amorites, debased aboriginals who employed weapons of flint, wood, or bone, and lived in caves.
'The earliest limit of the cave-dwelling period is usually spoken of as 3000 BC.
It is much more likely that it extends back as far as 10000 to 12000 BC, if not earlier:
and traces of the cave-dweller civilization are found as late as 2000-1200 BC.'
[J. G. Duncan, Digging up Biblical History (1931), vol.i, has a good description of these cave-dwellers.]
The caves, which have been found in large numbers through the length and breadth of Palestine, were partly natural, partly artificially adapted, for the cave-man was evidently a patient and skilful miner, piercing long tunnels in the solid rock, digging a staircase to some deep water-hole, or linking up cave with cave until a perfect labyrinth of underground tenements was made.
In stature, judging by his low lintels and narrow passages, he was slim
and short: in appearance, if we are to trust the Amorite caricatures of him
executed on jug-handles, far from prepossessing, with an exceedingly thick
neck, huge cauliflower ears, bridgeless nose, and jutting under-jaw.
A few of the cave-man's own graffiti or wall-drawings have been found, showing him engaged in the chase, or (more remarkably) in agricultural pursuits.
Of his religion little is known.
He seems to have worshipped some underground deity to whom libations of blood were poured through channels cut in the rock.
The presence of many bones of pigs indicates that he was particularly addicted to swine's flesh, and may explain the later Jewish horror of it.
The cave man apparently cremated his dead.
His caves continued to be used at times long after the last cave man had
They were adapted as water-cisterns by cutting a hole in the roof, and making them watertight with plaster.
'When we read of Isaac digging a well near Gerar (Gen.xxvi.25 J),
this undoubtedly refers to the excavation of a cistern in the soft rock for collecting rainwater.'
Such wells were valuable, a prize to be fought for (Gen.xxvi.20 J),
or as a last resort choked up with rubbish.
Many of these wells have been found so filled.
Terrible were the purposes to which these empty cisterns were sometimes
Recent excavation has discovered several full of human bones.
Such, no doubt, was the pit into which Joseph was cast (Gen. 3724 E),
and the dungeon where there was no water,
but mire into which they let down Jeremiah with cords (Jer. 386).
They were also used as traps, as store-chambers, as secret hiding-places, as tombs.
To such dens in the mountains and caves fled the Israelites from their foes (Jdg.vi.2 J), the five Kings at Makkedah (Josh.x.16 J), David at Adullam (I Sam.x.1), and so on.
Many large caves have been discovered quite capable of accommodating the parties of fifty prophets who fled to them from the fury of Jezebel (I Kg.xviii.4).
Earlier, probably, even than the cave-men was a palaeolithic
[The oldest human remains yet found in Palestine (by Miss Garrod in 1934) were at Mount Carmel,
where they are dated 75000 BC.
They were rather smaller men than ourselves (Daily Telegraph, Feb. 5, 1934).]
race who left behind them the colossal dolmens, menhirs, and other megalithic monuments still visible, especially on the east of Jordan.
Great slabs of stone, some of them weighing as much as nineteen tons, were somehow or other dragged from enormous distances and heaped one upon the other.
Sometimes an incredibly massive slab is raised at one end upon a smaller one, sometimes there are sloping rows of such slabs, sometimes a pair of upright slabs is surmounted with a huge stone lintel in the manner of Stonehenge.
These monuments are not isolated but grouped, again as at Stonehenge, in circles or ovals, one of which is 250 feet in diameter, 5 feet high, and 40 feet thick.
Others are arranged in long parallel avenues, oriented east and west, with the entrance towards the rising sun.
These megalithic monuments show progressive development, the latest type being a rectangular structure of several chambers built of huge stones, and roofed with yet greater slabs resting on a false vault.
No wonder that new-comers in Canaan, arriving long after the extinction of these remarkable builders, looked on their gigantic monuments with awe, and spoke of the '
" 'giants' that were in the earth in those days"
(Gen.vi.4 J, RV marg.).
Who but giants could have done such mighty works?
The principal inhabitants of Canaan, however, at the time of the patriarchs
and until the Conquest, were the Amorites.
[The term probably included the Canaanites (i.e. 'traders') and-subsidiary tribes, such as Hivites, Jebusites, &c.]
Of these archaeology has much to tell.
They were of Semitic blood, akin to the Hebrews but of older stock, having
migrated northwards from Arabia, motherland of all the Semitic peoples [In
the Aurignacian and Upper Mousterian periods Arabia was a far more fertile
and better watered locality than it is to-day (J. A. Montgomery, Arabia
and the Bible (1934)).], about the beginning of the third millennium,
so settling in Palestine nearly a thousand years before the days of Abraham.
From about 3000 BC onwards they gave their name to the country, which is frequently described on the earliest cuneiform inscriptions as the 'Land of Amurru'.
They have left no inscriptions of any length themselves, but judging by their nomenclature and by the Amorite glosses [Glosses = explanatory insertions, as it were 'in brackets'.] in the Tell el Amarna letters, they spoke a Semitic language probably not incomprehensible to the Hebrews.
Many pictures of them appear on the monuments, showing a refined and handsome type of face, with high receding forehead, aquiline nose, and neatly trimmed beard.
Although spoken of with contempt by the Biblical historians, the Amorites
had clearly attained no little degree of culture.
In contrast with the nomadic Israelites, long before patriarchal days they had become characteristically city-dwellers and settled agriculturists.
Their cities were both numerous, well built, and strongly fortified ... fenced with high walls, gates, and bars; beside the unwalled towns a great many (Deut.iii.5).
Excavation at many Amorite sites has revealed well-planned houses, with drainage, water-conduits, granaries, and store-chambers, as well as beautifully executed ornaments in gold, silver, and bronze.
The presence of Egyptian, Babylonian, and even Mycenaean pottery shows maritime enterprise and worldwide commerce.
They were obviously wealthy and powerful, and have been called 'the aristocrats of the ancient world'.
That they were well advanced in the science of warfare is evinced not only
by the fact that they were able to win and to hold the country for so many
centuries, but by the ruins of their fortifications which recent excavation
has laid bare.
Built mostly of brick reared upon some commanding hillside, each fortress was, not isolated, but one of a strategic chain guarding the land from invasion by Aramaean and Hittite on the north, by Babylon and the Bedouins on the east, and perhaps at first by Egypt on the south.
Such forts have been located and in many cases excavated
at Gerar, Bethpelet, Megiddo, Taanach, Bethshan, Hebron, Lachish, Shechem, and elsewhere.
Highly important to the Biblical student is a study of the religious atmosphere
which the Hebrews encountered in Canaan, for there can be little doubt that
it had a great influence on the development of early Judaism.
Excavation has shown that culturally there was little distinction between the Canaanite and the Hebrew, and that the latter on his arrival in Palestine naturally adopted much that he found in use.
Thus the modern archaeologist, examining the many remains of pottery, tools, weapons, and the like surviving from pre-monarchical Palestine, finds himself unable as a rule to distinguish Hebrew from Amorite workmanship.
How far the religion of the Hebrews was influenced by local usage it is beyond our present scope to discuss
[See Oesterley and Robinson, Hebrew Religion (1930);
and A. W. F. Blunt, Israel's Social and Religious Development (1924).],
but we cannot omit a rapid survey of Canaanite religious remains.
[For a brief but close-knit survey see S. A. Cook, Religion of Ancient Palestine in the Light of Archaeology (1908).]