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Scientific breakthrough in Israel: Geomagnetic fields reveal truth behind biblical narratives

Groundbreaking study allows researchers to verify biblical accounts of Egyptian, Aramean, Assyrian and Babylonian military campaigns against Israel and Judah

Tel Aviv University PhD student Yoav Vaknin measuring at the Tel Batash (biblical Timnah) archaeological site in Israel. (Photo: Tel Aviv University)

Israeli researchers have succeeded in reconstructing geomagnetic fields from excavation sites in Israel which verify the biblical accounts of Egyptian, Aramean, Assyrian, and Babylonian military campaigns against Israel and Judah.

The study has accurately dated these location points in Israel by reproducing the direction and/or the intensity of the earth's magnetic field as recorded in burnt remnants.

The groundbreaking collaborative research – led by professors from Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Hebrew University – was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS) and involved 20 researchers from different countries and disciplines. 

PhD student Yoav Vaknin of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology at TAU was working on a thesis which attempted to understand the mechanism of earth's magnetic field and how to track its changes throughout history.

"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,” Vaknin explained. “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." 

Burnt mud brick wall from Tel Batash (biblical Timnah) with markings of the field orientation. (Photo: Yoav Vaknin)

Using archaeological findings made several decades ago, historical information from ancient inscriptions and biblical accounts, researchers were able to reconstruct the magnetic fields recorded in 21 destruction layers throughout 17 excavation sites. 

During a 2020 study, researchers reconstructed the magnetic field just as it was discovered on the ninth of the month of Av, 586 B.C., the Hebrew date of the destruction of the First Temple and the City of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army (2 Kings 25:3).

Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef from the Institute of Archaeology at TAU said that one of the most interesting discoveries made while the new dating tool was regarding the last days of the Kingdom of Judah, a topic of wide debate among researchers. Ben Yosef has been supervising Vaknin’s research, along with Prof. Oded Lipschits of TAU.

Burnt mud stones (Photo: Tel Aviv University)

Results regarding magnetic fields support the hypothesis that the Babylonians were not the only ones responsible for the ultimate demise of the kingdom of Judah, but that the Edomites may likely have been involved, according to Ben-Yosef.

“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,” he explained. “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."     

Another example of geomagnetic field research being used to verify biblical history relates to the destruction of Philistines in the city of Gath – today known as Tel Tzafit in the Judean Hills – by Hazael, King of Aram-Damascus (2 Kings 12:18)

Map of ancient Israel (Courtesy Tel Aviv University)

“Various dating methods have placed this event at around 830 B.C., but were unable to verify that Hazael was also responsible for the destruction of Tel Rehov, Tel Zayit and Horvat Tevet,” explained Vaknin. “Now the new study, identifying full statistical synchronization between the magnetic fields recorded at all of these four sites at the time of destruction, makes a very strong case for their destruction during the same campaign.”

The researchers discovered magnetic data from Tel Beit-Shean may indicate that the city – along with two other sites in northern Israel – was probably destroyed 70 to 100 years earlier than original thought, possibly corresponding with the military campaign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shoshenq (1 Kings 11:40, 14:25 and 2 Chronicles 12:2-9).

“By combining precise historical information with advanced, comprehensive archaeological research, we were able to base the magnetic method on reliably anchored chronology,”Lipschitsadded. 

Shaar from the Institute of Earth Sciences at Hebrew University led the geophysical aspects of the study, as well as the development of the geomagnetic dating method. He is currently preparing a separate paper which will present the scientific principles of the novel archaeomagnetic dating method.

Prof. Ron Shaar from the Institute of Earth Sciences at Hebrew University led the geophysical aspects of the study, as well as the development of the geomagnetic dating method. He is currently preparing a separate paper which will present the scientific principles of the novel archaeomagnetic dating method.

"Earth's magnetic field is critical to our existence,” Shaar said. “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. The geomagnetic field is generated by earth's outer core, at a depth of 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) by currents of liquid iron.”

Shaar explained that until recently scientists believed that magnetic fields mostly remain stable for decades  but their research shows that magnetic fields change over time because of the chaotic motion of liquid iron, which has revealed some “extreme and unpredictable changes” in antiquity.

“Our location here in Israel is uniquely conducive to archaeomagnetic research, due to an abundance of well-dated archaeological findings,” Shaar said.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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