A land flowing with milk and honey, referring to the bounty of the promised land, first appears in Exodus 3:8:

“So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (TNIV)

and subsequently occurs 19 times in the Hebrew bible (see Exodus 3:17, 13:5, 33:3, Leviticus 20:24, Numbers 13:27, 14:8, 16:13, 16:14, Deuteronomy 6:3, 11:9, 26:9, 26:15, 27:3, 31:20, Joshua 5:6, Jeremiah 11:5, 32:22, Ezekiel 20:6, 20:15).

The scholarly assumption up to now had been that the ‘honey’ was not actually bee honey, but that the hebrew word most likely refers to a sweet syrup perhaps extracted from dates as there was no evidence for apiculture (agricultural beekeeping) in this early period.  (Incidentally the milk was most probably goats milk rather than cows).

However, this consensus has now been overturned thanks to a remarkable discovery “of unfired clay cylinders similar to traditional hives still used in the Near East at the site of Tel Reh:ov in the Jordan valley in northern Israel suggesting that a large-scale apiary was located inside the town, dating to the 10th–early 9th centuries B.C.E..” (Bloch et al., 2010)

A new article entitled “Industrial apiculture in the Jordan valley during Biblical times with Anatolian honeybees” by Guy Bloch, Tiago M. Francoy, Ido Wachtel, Nava Pantiz-Cohen, Stefan Fuchs, and Amihai Mazar was published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  This academic article can be downloaded here (if you have subscription access).  A well written newspaper article in the LA Times does a very nice job of summarizing the work.  Credit to the bibleplaces blog for first posting these links.

The recent scientific findings confirms industrial apiculture during Biblical times (corresponding to the period of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon).