October 27, 2022 | David F. Coppedge

Magnetism Confirms Biblical Dates

The earth’s magnetic field has multiple uses for mankind and life.
Now, another benefit has come to light: dating archaeology sites.

 

When ancient empires destroyed towns in the Middle East, little did they know that, thousands of years later, smart people named geophysicists would be able to snoop in and figure out when they did it. And they could do it by reading an invisible force field that surrounded the conquerors, leaving its imprint on the burned bricks they left behind – a force field oblivious to them that was also keeping them alive: the earth’s magnetic field. The global magnetosphere shields all life from deadly radiation from the sun and from deep space.

Historians say that the magnetic compass was invented in the Han dynasty in China a couple of centuries before Christ. For many centuries before that, kings made sport of conquering cities as they sought to expand their power. The Bible tells of many battles throughout the Holy Land as the kingdoms of Israel and Judah fought to defend their towns from invading armies from Syria, Philistia, Egypt, Edom, Assyria and Babylon. Some of those cities were demolished and burned in fiery conflagrations. In the melted metals and clays of the burned materials, the earth’s magnetic field imprinted a signature of its strength and orientation that could later be measured, thousands of years later, with precision instruments invented by scientists and engineers. Ariel David wrote in Haaretz on 25 October,

According to the Bible, the Holy Land was a frequent target for conquering empires: from the ancient Egyptians to the Arameans, from the Assyrians to the Babylonians. Of course, the good book interprets these tragedies from a religious standpoint, usually as divine retribution for the sins of the ancient Israelites. But many of the wars mentioned in the biblical text were historical events.

Now, scientists at Tel-Aviv University think they can use those magnetic signatures as dating marks for those events. Archaeological sites have long been dated by carbon-14, a radiometric technique that relies on a different force field: the weak nuclear force. Radiocarbon dating is also dependent on the earth’s magnetic field, because the rate of incoming carbon-14 from the atmosphere depends on the strength of the magnetic field to shield nitrogen atoms from cosmic rays. Radiocarbon dating is accurate for a few thousand years but becomes increasingly error prone farther back in time because of assumptions that must be made about the production rate of carbon-14. And there are other problems (see 28 July 2022).

Settlements were often burnt down, and in some cases were rebuilt only to be sacked again a century or so later – leaving archaeologists today puzzling over multiple layers of destruction and struggling to figure out who destroyed what and when.

Sometimes there are texts and inscriptions that can help archaeologists date remains. A few can be correlated with known celestial events like total solar eclipses that were recorded by ancient observers. These can be calculated with pinpoint accuracy by astronomers using celestial mechanics. Yet the dates of many destruction layers in mounds called tells in Israel are problematic. “Questions over the dating of ancient sites in the Levant are not purely academic,” Ariel David writes. “They lie at the heart of the longstanding debate over fact and fiction in the Bible.

Radiocarbon requires organic remains, which are not always available. And even when they are, the degree of error is often too big to establish certainty. Independent corroboration of dates would be helpful to anyone interested in the historicity of the Bible. Some liberal archaeologists, most famously Israel Finkelstein, have advocated a “low chronology” for Iron Age sites, arguing that David and Solomon were local chieftains incapable of building the extensive empires described in the Biblical books of Kings and Chronicles. Conservatives who accept the Biblical texts as reliable historical narratives have been trying to “poke holes” in Finkelstein’s chronology ever since it was proposed. The new paleomagnetic data may help to resolve those disputes.

The team’s work is “impressive,” says Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv and Haifa University who is one of the leading figures in this debate. “There are ways in which paleomagnetism dating can help, especially in periods for which radiocarbon is not reliable, first and foremost after the middle of the eighth century B.C.E.,” says Finkelstein, who did not participate in the paleomagnetic study.

The Haaretz article says that “more than a dozen top archaeologists who are often on opposing sides of the debate on biblical historicity” participated in the research. Early results were published in PNAS on Oct 24 by Vaknin et al., “Reconstructing biblical military campaigns using geomagnetic field data.” The significance of the research is described at the top of the paper:

Studying the events described in the Hebrew Bible is a complex task that involves textual and archaeological investigation and often bears highly contentious results. Here, we introduce an approach that applies archaeomagnetic investigation to the remains of ancient towns that were destroyed by fire. The new magnetic data provided chronological insights that enabled linking archaeological contexts with specific military campaigns, shedding new light on the history of the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah. This interdisciplinary study also reconstructs the behavior of the geomagnetic field during a unique period in its history, when it changed rapidly and exceeded twice the intensity of today’s field. This has significant implications for various fields of research, including geodynamic modeling in geophysics.

Historical Confirmation

The press release from Tel-Aviv University is optimistic. Under its headline, “The Bible: Fact or Fiction?” it says, “Researchers confirm invasions of biblical Israel using geomagnetic fields” with specific examples.

A joint study by TAU and the Hebrew University, involving 20 researchers from different countries and disciplines, has accurately dated 21 destruction layers at 17 archaeological sites in Israel by reconstructing the direction and/or intensity of the earth’s magnetic field recorded in burnt remnants. The new data verify the Biblical accounts of the Egyptian, Aramean, Assyrian, and Babylonian military campaigns against the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

Findings indicate, for example, that the army of Hazael, King of Aram-Damascus, was responsible for the destruction of several cities – Tel Rehov, Tel Zayit, and Horvat Tevet, in addition to Gath of the Philistines, whose destruction is noted in the Hebrew Bible. At the same time, the study refutes the prevailing theory that Hazael was the conqueror who destroyed Tel Beth-Shean.

Other geomagnetic findings reveal that the cities in the Negev were destroyed by the Edomites, who took advantage of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians.

In the press release, lead researcher Yoav Vaknin explains the paleomagnetic technique. It can be calibrated against both radiocarbon and textual evidence. To the extent that variations in the strength and polarity of the earth’s magnetic field over time are known, it can serve as an independent dating method.

Yoav Vaknin explains: “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.

This new dating technique gives scientists another function for our global magnet, which has served the biosphere well ever since life appeared on the earth.

Prof. Ron Shaar, who led the geophysical aspects of the study, as well as the development of the geomagnetic dating method, explains: “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.

So Is the Bible Accurate?

The paper gives some examples of geomagnetic dates that agree with dates known from other historical events. It also showed that the technique was able to resolve a disputed date concerning a destruction layer at Beth-Shan. And yet the technique is young; the PNAS paper ends with an admission that its usefulness needs to be demonstrated at more sites.

This research demonstrates how an archaeointensity curve constructed from a dense archaeomagnetic dataset in which the chronology rests on radiocarbon (for periods before the eighth century BCE) and firm historical ages (from the eighth century BCE and on) can be used as a powerful chronological tool. This is especially useful during the Hallstatt Plateau (ca. 800–400 BCE) (27), a period in which the resolution of radiocarbon dating is limited. This research also demonstrates the direct applicability of archaeomagnetism to solving questions related to the synchronization of archaeological contexts, especially its potential to negate concurrency. The Aramean, Assyrian, and Babylonian campaigns turned out to have occurred at times of very high geomagnetic field intensity and are separated by well-defined minima. This should also be very useful for future dating efforts, distinguishing these major campaigns from other periods in the history of the Levant.

“Negating concurrency” means that if two sites have different paleomagnetic signatures, they must have been destroyed at different times. Ariel David ends his Haaretz article inconclusively, agreeing that radiocarbon and paleomagnetism can work together. Knowing archaeologists, though, he expects disputes will continue.

Is paleomagnetism the key to resolving the ceaseless arguments on biblical historicity? Well, it’s certainly a powerful new tool, but let’s face it, archaeologists love to argue and come up with conflicting interpretations of data from the field. So this new method, like most good research does, will likely help provide some answers, only to generate even more questions.

The PNAS paper does not state outright that any Biblical texts have been confirmed, but neither does it state that any have been falsified. Watch for future uses of this method in archaeology.

All dating methods rely on assumptions. This one does, too. We can think of three: it depends on (1) theories about the magnetic field’s changes over time; (2) whether or not the imprints of intensity and polarity change over time; (3) the reliability of the instruments used to measure the tiny geomagnetic signatures. We hope this method does prove useful as a cross-check on other methods for events recorded in the Bible. But the Word of God does not need man’s testing; rather, men will face God’s testing (see Romans 1:18-end). We will be accountable to our Maker for our actions. Through Christ, he has provided a way of escape for the judgment due our rebellion against the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

We like some things about this research. For one, it validates that the earth’s magnetic field is decaying. This evidence for a young earth is detailed in chapter 7 of Dr Henry Richter’s book Spacecraft Earth: A Guide for Passengers (now in a second edition with minor revisions and updates). The PNAS paper says that in Old Testament times the field “exceeded twice the intensity of today’s field.”

Dr Richter’s book examines many amazing examples of design in our bodies, our planet, and the universe.

Another amazing aspect of the work is the tie-in to the habitability of the earth. Professor Ron Shaar’s statement points out how the magnetic field is “critical to our existence” and is “used by both humans and animals to navigate.”

Animal navigation is a fascinating subject. Scientists are still trying to understand how creatures as diverse as sea turtles, butterflies and birds can detect the intensity and angle of the field to use it like a coordinate system. Illustra Media’s film Living Waters (see excerpt here) depicts the story of sea turtle navigation using geomagnetism.

The foresight that our Creator displayed by shielding the Earth from the solar wind and cosmic rays is another prime example of his wisdom and love. He chose to put creatures made in his image on a Privileged Planet, along with a richly diverse field of other creatures, but did not so equip our neighboring planets Mercury, Venus and Mars. It’s another signpost calling us to pay attention to his purposes in preparing a perfect habitation for life.

If it turns out that tiny signatures of the Creator’s wisdom are preserved in burned pottery shards from events over 3,000 years ago that are narrated in his Word, that would be another wonderful thing.

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Dating Methods, Physics

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