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The Bible Unearthed

Grounds for disbelief


Aviva Lori (Haaretz newspaper)


Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and his colleagues are stirring controversy with contentions that many biblical stories never happened, but were written by what he calls `a creative copywriter' to advance an ideological agenda.

Prof. Israel Finkelstein sees no contradiction between holding a proper Pesach seder and telling the story of the exodus from Egypt, and the fact that, in his opinion, the exodus never occurred. The Hebrew edition of the book by Finkelstein and his American colleague, the historian and archaeologist Neal Asher Silberman, "The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts" has just been published. The English edition was published in the United States in January 2001 and a French edition appeared last year. In both countries the book spent many weeks on the best-seller lists and generated considerable public interest. The New York Times dubbed the biblical authors of the seventh century BCE "God's ghostwriters" in a lengthy review of the book. 

Next month the University of California in Los Angeles will hold an event on the archaeology of David and Solomon, with the participation of Finkelstein and Prof. Lawrence Stager of Harvard. On the same occasion Arte, the Franco-German culture channel, will start to film a four-part documentary based on the book, which is scheduled to be broadcast next year. 

What is it about "The Bible Unearthed" that has stirred such interest? Finkelstein, who is director of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, observes that this is the first "comprehensive book in which archaeology is the queen of battle and not some tawdry ornament of Bible scholars." And Finkelstein is indeed ready to do battle. In addition to the periods of the patriarchs and the exodus, about which most scholars agree that there is only the most tenuous connection between the stories in the Bible and the historical reality, Finkelstein and Silberman place a large question mark over the period up to and including the time of the United Monarchy. 

"Did it happen or not?" he asks at the end of each chapter, and proceeds to explain why it did not, based on his research and archaeological findings, including the discoveries at Megiddo, a site that is considered the jewel in the crown of biblical archaeology. 

An additional innovation in the book is the reverse point of view the authors adopt. "The book does not examine the history chronologically, from earlier to later," he explains. "It goes from the later to the earlier, and at the end of every chapter there is a "punch line" that examines the authors' intentions." The authors, in this case, are those who wrote the biblical account in question, and the authorial intention refers to the theological and ideological foundation of the seventh century BCE, the period in which most of the Bible was written, according to Finkelstein. 

He deconstructs this foundation only in order to reconstruct it according to the logic that guided the ancient authors, and arrives at the conclusion that the stories about the conquest of the Land of Israel, the settlement period, the United Kingdom and the attempt to enhance the prestige of the Kingdom of Judah at the expense of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) are part of an ideological - religious and political - manifesto, a master stroke by a creative copywriter. 

The village of Jerusalem 

The Bible talks about the great and magnificent united monarchy of David and Solomon in the 10th century BCE, which split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, because of the demand by Solomon's son, Rehoboam (Rehavam), for excessive tax payments from the tribes of the northern hills and Galilee, which thereupon angrily seceded from the united monarchy. The result was two centuries of strife, wars and fraternal hatred. 

The Scriptures treat Israel as a secondary kingdom of no importance, a place of incorrigible sinners, whereas Judah is considered the great and just kingdom whose capital is Jerusalem, where King Solomon established a splendid temple during the glorious era of the united monarchy. Finkelstein is dubious about the existence of this great united monarchy. 

"There is no archaeological evidence for it," he says. "This is something unexampled in history. I don't think there is any other place in the world where there was a city with such a wretched material infrastructure but which succeeded in creating such a sweeping movement in its favor as Jerusalem, which even in its time of greatness was a joke in comparison to the cities of Assyria, Babylon or Egypt. It was a typical mountain village. There is no magnificent finding, no gates of Nebuchadnezzar, no Assyrian reliefs, no Egyptian temples - nothing. Even the temple couldn't compete with the temples of Egypt and their splendor." 

Then why was it written? 

"For reasons of ideology. Because the authors of the Bible, people from Judah at the end of the seventh century BCE, in the period of King Josiah, had a long score to settle with the northern kingdom, with its splendor and richness. They despised the northerners and had not forgotten their dominance in forging the Israelite experience, in the competition for the sites of ritual. Contrary to what is usually thought, the Israelites did not go to pray in Jerusalem. They had a temple in Samaria (today's Sebastia) and at Beit El (Bethel). In our book we tried to show that as long as Israel was there, Judah was small and frightened, militarily and internationally. Judah and Jerusalem were on the fringes. A small tribe. There was nothing there. A small temple and that's all." 

And the kingdom of Israel? 

"The archaeological findings show that Israel was a large, prosperous state, and was the main story until its destruction in the eighth century. Its geographic location was excellent, on the coast, near Phoenicia, Assyria and Syria. It had a diverse demographic composition: foreign residents and workers, Canaanites, Phoenicians; there was an Aramean population in the Jordan Valley, and there were mixed marriages. It was only 150 years after Israel's destruction that Judah rose to greatness, becoming self-aware and developing the monotheistic approach: one state, one God, one capital, one temple, one king." 

What is the root of the tension between archaeology and the text, and what happened during Josiah's reign? 

"We think these ideas of Judah, that all the Israelites have to worship one God in one temple, and live under the rule of one king, sprang up in the seventh century BCE. If anyone had raised such ideas aloud before 720, he would have been beaten to a pulp by the northern monarchs. Everything started to come together after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel, and it also had a territorial aspect: from 734 to 625 BCE the Assyrian Empire ruled here. Today's American empire is negligible in comparison, in terms of its power and its crushing strength. For example, if someone in Judah had talked about expansion into Assyrian-dominated territories in 720, that would have been the end of him. King Hezekiah tried, and we saw happened to him. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, arrived with a huge army and decimated him. 

"But a few years later, when Josiah was in power, something incredible happened. Assyria, the kingdom of evil, collapsed in front of his eyes. In the same way we saw the Berlin Wall collapse in 1989, that's what happened to Assyria. It fell apart and beat a hasty retreat from the Land of Israel. By this time the kingdom of Israel no longer existed, so Josiah woke up one morning, looked to his left and to his right, and there was neither an Assyrian nor an Israelite to be seen. And then his officials decided to put into practice their religious and territorial ideas." 

Still, why was the United Monarchy invented? 

"Because they wanted to seize control of the territories of the kingdom of Israel and annex them, because, they said, `These territories are actually ours and if you have a minute, we'll tell you how that's so. `Many years ago, one of our kings, David, reigned in Jerusalem and ruled them, and we are the only ones who have a historical claim to them' - and so the myth was created. `The kings of Israel were scoundrels,' the people of Judah said, `but as for the people there, we have no problem with them, they are all right.' They said about Israel what an ultra-Orthodox person would say about you or me: `Israel, though he has sinned, is still Israel.'" 

Nothing to conquer 

According to Finkelstein's theory, the legends about earlier periods were invented for the same purpose. "The people of Judah started to market the story of Joshua's conquest of the land, which was also written in that period, in order to give moral justification to their territorial longings, to the conquest of the territories of Israel. The story also contains a `laundering' of foreigners, which was exactly the problem Josiah faced when he conquered Israel. So they relate the story of the Gibeonites, who were terrified by the might of Joshua and his army and begged for their lives, and told Joshua that they were not indigenous Canaanites but foreigners who came from afar. Joshua made an alliance of peace with them, but when he found out they had cheated him, he did not expel them but made them hewers of wood and drawers of water - in other words, he laundered them. 

"That is the situation Josiah and his people faced with foreign deportees the Assyrians brought to the Land of Israel, and the biblical text comes and says, `Have no worry, this already happened before: there were strangers in the land then, too, and Joshua laundered them during the conquest. Our conquest is not really what it looks like, it is only the restoration of past glories.' 

So they must have had a good information ministry? 

"I don't believe that there was a department for the invention of stories in Jerusalem. There were folktales that were handed down from generation to generation, local traditions and legends, and they were the basis for the creation of the biblical narrative. Maybe there really was no conquest, and maybe there were vague memories of local events. In any case, the scribes in the period of Josiah collected these materials and forged them into a coherent story containing a message it was important for them to get across. They didn't actually care whether there ever was such a person as Joshua. Jericho and the area of Bethel, and the Shefelah and the Galilee were on the agenda of Judah. They never actually conquered many of these regions. `This was once ours,' they said, `as in the time of Joshua, and all we are doing is putting history back in its track, correcting the course of history and on this occasion renewing the glorious monarchy of David, which was the first to rule these territories.'"

Are you saying that the story of the conquest of the land is a complete fiction? 

"It is a story which, as it is presented in the Bible, definitely never happened. Archaeology shows that it has no historical grounds. Many of the sites that are cited in the story of the conquest were not even inhabited in the relevant period, so there was nothing to conquer, there were only hills and rocks. Jericho was not fortified and had no walls, and it's doubtful that there was a settlement there at the time. Therefore, in the case of the story of the conquest of Arad, for instance, some scholars said that the war was fought against the forces of one Bedouin sheikh. 

"If one does a calculation backward from the point at which we have historical documentation, such as the external Assyrian writings about the monarchy of Ahab, it turns out that the story of the biblical conquest would have occurred at the end of the 13th century BCE. At that time the Egyptians ruled in the land, but there is no mention of that in the Bible. 

"There is a stela in a Cairo museum on which the word Israel first appears in written form. The son of Ramesses II launched a military expedition to Caanan and conquered Ashkelon and Gezer, and wrote the famous sentence, `Israel is spoiled, his seed is not.' That was in 1207 BCE - after the conquest as related in the Bible." 

If there was no conquest, where did the Israelites come from? 

"Egypt was a mighty empire that ruled here with an iron fist. In the 14th century BCE there are stories about local kings who ask Pharaoh for help against one another, asking him to send 50 soldiers - in other words, that was the number that was sufficient to impose order here. So how did a few foot soldiers from the desert conquer the land? There was certainly no orderly military conquest. According to the archaeological findings, the Israelites came from the local stock: they were actually Canaanites who became Israelites in a socio-economic process." 

Lies, no; spin, yes 

Finkelstein did not always hold these views. "I remember that when I was writing my doctoral thesis about the Israelite settlement in the hill region, I was convinced of the accuracy of the theory propounded by the German scholars - which was then dominant in the field - holding that this population came from outside in a quiet infiltration and settled here," he says. "And I remember well that in the course of the surveys I did in Samaria, at Shiloh and in the areas between Ramallah and Nablus, I began to be aware that this was not a population that had infiltrated here but groups of a local population that moved around the land in circular processes. That it was not a pool of desert nomads who then moved rapidly west, but rather a lengthy process, of hundreds of years, which had already taken place in the past, at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age and in the Middle Bronze Age. 

"For me this was something entirely new. It led me to the thought that the settlement processes in the Land of Israel were circular: in periods of crisis the tribes became nomadic shepherds, and in periods of abundance they had permanent settlements. From this I understood that these were processes that were undergone by the local population and not by a population that marched in a procession and entered the Land of Israel by means of war or peace." 

The question is why it appears in this form in the Bible. What idea is it meant to serve? 

"The answer is that in order to understand the episode of the conquest, we have to look at the kingdom of Judah in the seventh century BCE and understand that the story serves the authors of the Scriptures, because through it they resolved for themselves the territorial problems of the conquest of the then vanquished Kingdom of Israel." 

So Joshua did not exist? 

"I don't say that. Perhaps there were memories of some great commander or general. On the other hand, this text describes something that happened in the 13th century and was written in the seventh century - that is, 600 years later - by people who did not have access to newspaper archives, and at the time of the events not one letter of the alphabet had been written anywhere, so it is not reasonable to think that this story contains many early memories." 

And was there a United Monarchy? 

"A huge number of people talk about the United Monarchy; but the number of people who truly understand the matter is very small. There is a stream in the research that says that David and Solomon were not historical figures, that they are a legend. I don't think so. There is an inscription from Tel Dan from the ninth century BCE that mentions the southern kingdom by the name of `the house of David.' So it stands to reason that they existed, but the question is whether they ruled a large empire, and about that there is not the slightest hint. All the evidence is against it." 

Yet there are many archaeologists and historians who dispute your view? 

"It's true that until recently there was a great deal of opposition to this conception. Today, though, at least some of my adversaries agree with me. There is a large difference in the text between the David stories and the Solomon stories. The whole character of Solomon is that of an Assyrian king: resplendent, rich, wise, a womanizer and a great trader, a figure of ideology like someone out of a journal. David is not, precisely because he is given a complex description and there are the unpleasant stories about him that make him a human figure. And according to archaeology, there is no hint of magnificence or pomp in 10th-century Jerusalem, and in fact until the end of the eighth century BCE, until the Assyrian period and after the destruction of Israel, when refugees from the north began streaming into the city, it was a small village, remote, wretched and unfortified." 

So are you saying that the United Monarchy is a lie? 

"I don' believe in lies in history. Spin, yes; lies, no. What I am saying is that if in the seventh century BCE a strong tradition existed in Jerusalem that the temple on the hill had been built by the founders of the dynasty, I see no reason to question that. That doesn't mean it was a huge and magnificent building. On the question of the grandeur of the United Monarchy I find myself in a tough scholarly confrontation: there is still a debate over the archaeological remnants. Two magnificent palaces were found at Megiddo. [The noted archaeologist] Yigael Yadin said they were from the 10th century BCE, the period of Solomon, and could support the account of the great monarchy, whereas I think they are from the ninth century BCE, 70 years later, from the period of the northern kingdom." 

Doesn't it follow that if there was no United Monarchy, there was also no schism? 

"All the villages in the north in the 10th century BCE were Canaanite villages. David and Solomon ruled in Jerusalem, and probably also the southern hill region, and maybe part of the northern hill region. They did not rule in the northern valleys or in Galilee, and therefore there was no split of the monarchy. From the beginning there were two entities - northern and southern - but the Scripture story about the schism is meant to serve Josiah's conquest in the seventh century BCE. `Now we will establish the monarchy anew,' the authors of the Bible said to their readers, `and it will be united eternally.'"

The Caananite connection 

If Finkelstein is ready to concede the existence of David and Solomon, albeit as kinks of a small, marginal entity, when it comes to the exodus from Egypt he is absolute in his opinion. "There is no evidence that the Israelites were in Egypt, not the slightest, not the least bit of evidence. There are no clues, either archaeological or historical, to prove that the Israelites built monuments in Egypt, even though the biblical description of the famine in the Land of Israel may be accurate. We know from archaeology that there was a migration of Canaanites to Egypt in the first half of the second millennium BCE, that these migrants built communities in the area of the Nile Delta, and that the Egyptians afterward expelled them from there. Perhaps that is the ancient memory, I don't know. What I can say is that the story, in the form we have it, serves a later situation. It spoke to the exiles in Babylon and to those who returned from the exile. What the story told them is that exile is not the end of the world, it's possible to return, the deserts can be crossed, the land can be reconquered. That gave them hope." 

The stories of the patriarchs, Finkelstein says - adding that today most scholars accept this view - are folklore about forefathers that the authors of the Bible in the seventh century salvaged from the mists of history in order to reinforce their hold on the cultural heritage. Scientific searches for them have produced nothing. 

"Did these people ever exist? I don't know. They were primeval forbears, and the goal was to create a myth saying that Judah is the center of the world, of the Israelite way of life, against the background of the reality of the later kingdom." 

So, if there were no patriarchs, maybe we don't have patriarchal rights? 

"I am a great believer in a total separation between tradition and research. I myself have a warm spot in my heart for the Bible and its splendid stories. During our Pesach seder, my two girls, who are 11 and 7, didn't hear a word about the fact that there was no exodus from Egypt. When they are 25, we will tell them a different story. Belief, tradition and research are three parallel lines that can exist simultaneously. I don't see that as a gross contradiction." 

What about the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron? 

"The building is Herodian. It was built in the time of Herod, hundreds of years after the period of the patriarchs as told in the Bible. There are apparently ancient graves under the building. The question is what the Bible intended to express in the story of the cave's purchase. Its genre is influenced by the Assyrian and Babylonian period, from the eighth and seventh centuries BCE. This particular chapter was probably written in the period of the return to Zion and it may have earlier foundations, from the end of the period of the monarchy, and then the goal would be to exalt the kingdom of Judah and say that the fathers of the nation are buried in "our territory" - not where the Israelites were, but in Judah. If it was written in the period of the return to Zion it is even more interesting, because when the Persians divided the land and redefined its borders, Hebron remained outside Judah. In this context, the tombs of the patriarchs are the Promised Land. They resided in Judah and saw Hebron from afar, and they could only despair over their territorial ambitions. 

"One day, at the time of the withdrawal from Hebron, I visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs with Rabbi Menahem Fruman, from [the nearby settlement of] Tekoah, as part of a television program. I explained that the structure is Herodian, and the interviewer, Emmanuel Rosen, asked Fruman what he had to say about that. He replied, `It's very interesting. He is a man of science, so I assume he knows what he is talking about.' Rosen was absolutely flabbergasted, he was afraid Fruman would attack me, but Fruman went on, `Do you want me to play time games here? For me it's enough that he says Jews prayed here in the Herodian period. If he said that it's been here since the Middle Ages, that would be enough for me, too.' 

"I identified so strongly with him that I almost embraced him, because matters of culture and identity are not measured by a stopwatch and don't work at the pace of politics.' 

Aren't you concerned that your theory will serve those who deny the Zionist argument? 

"The debate over our right to the land is ridiculous. As though there is some international committee in Geneva that considers the history of peoples. Two peoples come and one says, `I have been here since the 10th century BCE,' and the other says, `No, he's lying, he has only been here since the ninth century BCE.' What will they do - evict him? Tell him to start packing? In any event, our cultural heritage goes back to these periods, so this whole story is nonsense. Jerusalem existed and it had a temple that symbolized the longings of the Judahites who lived here, and afterward, in the period of Ezra and Nehemiah, of the Jews. Isn't that enough? How many peoples go back to the ninth or 10th centuries BCE? And let's say that there was no exodus from Egypt and that there was no great and magnificent united monarchy, and that we are actually Canaanites. So in terms of rights, we are okay, aren't we?" 

Turbulent years 

As a child, Prof. Finkelstein, 54, didn't dream of becoming an archaeologist and didn't collect shards of broken vases in order to glue them back together. After his army service he applied to study international relations and political science at Hebrew University and, for good measure, to study archaeology and geography at Tel Aviv University. 

"It transpired like many things in life," he says. "I didn't fall in love with archaeology at first sight. It grabbed me slowly and surely, until finally I decided to do a second degree." 

He also obtained his Ph.D. at Tel Aviv University and then went on to teach and conduct research at the University of Chicago, Harvard and the Sorbonne. Professionally, he is today in the forefront of the group of excavators at Megiddo (together with Profs. David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University and Baruch Halpern of Penn State). He and some of his colleagues reject the possibility that the palaces there are from the period of the United Monarchy. 

"The identification of the strata of the United Monarchy is as though written on ice. It's all circular reasoning, which in the end is based on one source: a verse in I Kings stating that Solomon built Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer and Jerusalem. That is the Yadin structure, and it is incorrect. But we should not pass judgment on Yadin for this, because at the time everyone thought as he did. I didn't agree with this dating, and in 1996 I published my thoughts in a professional journal in England. The seven years since have been turbulent - one unending battle that still continues. What didn't they say about me and some of my colleagues? That we are nihilists, that we are savaging Western culture, undermining Israel's right of existence. One person used the term `Bible denier.'" 

Finkelstein doesn't want people to think that he is being deliberately provocative, that he only wants good headlines. 

"I am not some kind of yuppie nihilist," he emphasizes. He was born in Petah Tikva and grew up in a farming family. His mother's family came to Palestine in 1860, his father's family eight decades ago. "So what will I do, leave? Where am I supposed to go? To Grodno? I don't want to go there," he says. "Maybe it's quiet and pleasant in Boston or Paris, but if you live here, then you at least have to be part of the ongoing historical experience and understand its power. If you live here only for the parties on the beach on Thursday night, then it would be better if you didn't live here, because this is a dangerous place. Anyone who thinks that Tel Aviv is a type of Goa has missed the point completely."



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Kings of Controversy
Was the Kingdom of David and Solomon a glorious empire—or just a little cow town? It depends on which archaeologist you ask.
By Robert Draper

The woman sitting on a bench in the Old City of Jerusalem, round-faced and bundled up against the autumn chill, chews on an apple while studying the building that has brought her both fame and aggravation. It doesn't really look like a building—just some low stone walls abutting an ancient terraced retaining wall 60 feet high. But because the woman is an archaeologist, and because this is her discovery, her eyes see what others might not. She sees the building's position, on a northern escarpment of the ancient city overlooking Jerusalem's Kidron Valley, and she imagines an ideal perch from which to survey a kingdom. She imagines the Phoenician carpenters and stonemasons who erected it in the tenth century B.C. She imagines as well the Babylonians who destroyed it four centuries later. Most of all, she imagines the man she believes commissioned and occupied the building. His name was David. This, she has declared to the world, is most likely the building described in the Second Book of Samuel: "King Hiram of Tyre sent … carpenters and masons, and they built a house for David. And David realized that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel."

The woman's name is Eilat Mazar. Munching and gazing, she is the picture of equanimity—until a tour guide shows up. He's a young Israeli man accompanied by a half dozen tourists who assemble in front of the bench so they can view the building. The moment he opens his mouth, Mazar knows what's coming. The tour guide is a former archaeology student of hers. She's heard how he brings tourists to this spot and informs them that this is NOT the palace of David and that all the archaeological work at the City of David is a way for right-wing Israelis to expand the country's territorial claims and displace Palestinians.

Mazar jumps up from the bench and marches over to the tour guide. She chews him out in a staccato of Hebrew, while he stares passively at her. The gaping tourists watch her stalk off.

"You really need to be strong," she mutters as she walks. "It's like everyone wants to destroy what you do." And then, more plaintively: "Why? What did we do wrong?"

The archaeologist gets into her car. She looks stricken. "I feel like I'm really getting sick from stress," she says. "I've lost years from my life."

In no other part of the world does archaeology so closely resemble a contact sport. Eilat Mazar is one of the reasons why. Her announcement in 2005 that she believed she had unearthed the palace of King David amounted to a ringing defense of an old-school proposition under assault for more than a quarter century—namely, that the Bible's depiction of the empire established under David and continued by his son Solomon is historically accurate. Mazar's claim has emboldened those Christians and Jews throughout the world who maintain that the Old Testament can and should be taken literally. Her purported discovery carries particular resonance in Israel, where the story of David and Solomon is interwoven with the Jews' historical claims to biblical Zion.

That narrative is familiar to any student of the Bible. A young shepherd named David from the tribe of Judah slays the giant Goliath from the enemy tribe of the Philistines, is elevated to king of Judah following the death of Saul at the close of the 11th century B.C., conquers Jerusalem, unites the people of Judah with the disparate Israelite tribes to the north, and thereupon amasses a royal dynasty that continues with Solomon well into the tenth century B.C. But while the Bible says David and Solomon built the kingdom of Israel into a powerful and prestigious empire stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, from Damascus to the Negev, there's a slight problem—namely, that despite decades of searching, archaeologists had found no solid evidence that David or Solomon ever built anything.

Then Mazar sounded her trumpet. "She knew what she was doing," says fellow Israeli archaeologist David Ilan of Hebrew Union College. "She waded into the fray purposefully, wanting to make a statement."

Ilan himself doubts that Mazar has found King David's palace. "My gut tells me this is an eighth- or ninth-century building," he says, constructed a hundred years or more after Solomon died in 930 B.C. More broadly, critics question Mazar's motives. They note that her excavation work was underwritten by two organizations—the City of David Foundation and the Shalem Center—dedicated to the assertion of Israel's territorial rights. And they scoff at Mazar's allegiance to the antiquated methods of her archaeological forebears, such as her grandfather, who unapologetically worked with a trowel in one hand and the Bible in the other.

The once common practice of using the Bible as an archaeological guide has been widely contested as an unscientific case of circular reasoning—and with particular relish by Tel Aviv University's contrarian-in-residence Israel Finkelstein, who has made a career out of merrily demolishing such assumptions. He and other proponents of "low chronology" say that the weight of archaeological evidence in and around Israel suggests that the dates posited by biblical scholars are a century off. The "Solomonic" buildings excavated by biblical archaeologists over the past several decades at Hazor, Gezer, and Megiddo were not constructed in David and Solomon's time, he says, and so must have been built by kings of the ninth-century B.C.'s Omride dynasty, well after David and Solomon's reign.

During David's time, as Finkelstein casts it, Jerusalem was little more than a "hill-country village," David himself a raggedy upstart akin to Pancho Villa, and his legion of followers more like "500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting—not the stuff of great armies of chariots described in the text.

"Of course we're not looking at the palace of David!" Finkelstein roars at the very mention of Mazar's discovery. "I mean, come on. I respect her efforts. I like her—very nice lady. But this interpretation is—how to say it?—a bit naive."

Now it is Finkelstein's theory that is under siege. On the heels of Mazar's claim to have discovered King David's palace, two other archaeologists have unveiled remarkable finds. Twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem in the Elah Valley—the very spot where the Bible says the young shepherd David slew Goliath—Hebrew University professor Yosef Garfinkel claims to have unearthed the first corner of a Judaean city dating to the exact time that David reigned. Meanwhile, 30 miles south of the Dead Sea in Jordan, a University of California, San Diego professor named Thomas Levy has spent the past eight years excavating a vast copper-smelting operation at Khirbat en Nahas. Levy dates one of the biggest periods of copper production at the site to the tenth century B.C.—which, according to the biblical narrative, is when David's antagonists the Edomites dwelled in this region. (However, scholars like Finkelstein maintain that Edom did not emerge until two centuries later.) The very existence of a large mining and smelting operation fully two centuries before Finkelstein's camp maintains the Edomites emerged would imply complex economic activity at the exact time that David and Solomon reigned. "It's possible that this belonged to David and Solomon," Levy says of his discovery. "I mean, the scale of metal production here is that of an ancient state or kingdom."

Levy and Garfinkel—both of whom have been awarded grants by the National Geographic Society—support their contentions with a host of scientific data, including pottery remnants and radiocarbon dating of olive and date pits found at the sites. If the evidence from their ongoing excavations holds up, yesteryear's scholars who touted the Bible as a factually accurate account of the David and Solomon story may be vindicated.

As Eilat Mazar says with palpable satisfaction, "This is the end of Finkelstein's school."

A busy highway, Route 38, crosses the ancient road that follows the Elah Valley en route to the Mediterranean Sea. Beneath the hills on either side of the road lie the ruins of Socoh and Azekah. According to the Bible, the Philistines encamped in this valley, between the two towns, just before their fateful encounter with David.

The battlefield of legend is now quiet and abounds with wheat, barley, almond trees, and grapevines, not to mention a few of the indigenous terebinth (elah in Hebrew) trees from which the valley derives its name. A small bridge extends from Route 38 over the Brook of Elah. During high season, tourist buses park here so that their passengers can climb down into the valley and retrieve a rock to take back home and impress friends with a stone from the same place as the one that killed Goliath.

"Maybe Goliath never existed," says Garfinkel as he drives across the bridge and up to his site, Khirbet Qeiyafa. "The story is that Goliath came from a giant city, and in the telling of it over the centuries, he became a giant himself. It's a metaphor. Modern scholars want the Bible to be like the Oxford Encyclopedia. People didn't write history 3,000 years ago like this. In the evening by the fire, this is where stories like David and Goliath started."

Beneath Garfinkel's bald, scholarly exterior and gentle sense of humor—which reveals a jagged edge when the subject is Israel Finkelstein—lurks a man of unmistakable ambition. He first learned from an Israeli Antiquities Authority ranger about a nine-foot-high megalithic wall looming over the Brook of Elah. He began digging in earnest in 2008.

The wall, Garfinkel discovered, was of the same variety seen in the northern cities of Hazor and Gezer—a casemate of two walls with a chamber in between—and it encircled a fortified city of about six acres. Private houses abutted the city wall, an arrangement not seen in Philistine society. After shoveling out the topsoil, Garfinkel uncovered coins and other artifacts from the time of Alexander the Great. Beneath that Hellenistic layer he found buildings scattered with four olive pits, which carbon-14 analysis dated to around 1000 B.C. He also found an ancient tray for baking pita bread, along with hundreds of bones from cattle, goats, sheep, and fish—but no pig bones. In other words, Judaeans, rather than Philistines, must have lived (or at least dined) here. Because Garfinkel's excavation team also uncovered a very rare find—a clay pottery sherd with writing that appears to be a proto-Canaanite script with verbs characteristic of Hebrew—the conclusion to him seemed obvious: Here was a tenth-century B.C. complex Judaean society of the sort that low chronologists like Finkelstein claimed did not exist.

And what was its name? Garfinkel found his answer upon discovering that the fortified city had not one but two gates—the only such site found thus far in the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. "Two gates" translates into Hebrew as shaarayim, a city mentioned three times in the Bible. One of those references (I Samuel 17:52) describes the Philistines fleeing David back to Gath via the "road from Shaaraim."

"You have David and Goliath, and you have our site, and it fits," says Garfinkel simply. "It's typical Judaea, from the animal bones to the city wall. Give us two arguments why this is Philistine. One argument is because Finkelstein doesn't want us to destroy low chronology. OK, so give us a second reason."

Here would be a second reason to be skeptical of Yossi Garfinkel's conclusions: He announced them, swiftly and dramatically, despite the fact that he had only four olive pits on which to base his dating, a single inscription of a highly ambiguous nature, and a mere 5 percent of his site excavated. In other words, says archaeologist David Ilan, "Yossi has an agenda—partly ideological, but also personal. He's a very smart and ambitious guy. Finkelstein's the big gorilla, and the young bucks think he's got a monopoly over biblical archaeology. So they want to dethrone him."

Better still, from the perspective of other interested parties: Once Finkelstein retreats from the throne, King David returns to it.

He has persisted for three millennia—an omnipresence in art, folklore, churches, and census rolls. To Muslims, he is Daoud, the venerated emperor and servant of Allah. To Christians, he is the natural and spiritual ancestor of Jesus, who thereby inherits David's messianic mantle. To the Jews, he is the father of Israel—the shepherd king anointed by God—and they in turn are his descendants and God's Chosen People. That he might be something lesser, or a myth altogether, is to many unthinkable.

"Our claim to being one of the senior nations in the world, to being a real player in civilization's realm of ideas, is that we wrote this book of books, the Bible," says Daniel Polisar, president of the Shalem Center, the Israeli research institute that helped fund Eilat Mazar's excavation work. "You take David and his kingdom out of the book, and you have a different book. The narrative is no longer a historical work, but a work of fiction. And then the rest of the Bible is just a propagandistic effort to create something that never was. And if you can't find the evidence for it, then it probably didn't happen. That's why the stakes are so high."

The books of the Old Testament outlining the story of David and Solomon consist of scriptures probably written at least 300 years after the fact, by not-so-objective authors. No contemporaneous texts exist to validate their claims. Since the dawn of biblical archaeology, scholars have sought in vain to verify that there really was an Abraham, a Moses, an Exodus, a conquest of Jericho. At the same time, says Amihai Mazar, Eilat's cousin and among Israel's most highly regarded archaeologists, "Almost everyone agrees that the Bible is an ancient text relating to the history of this country during the Iron Age. You can look at it critically, as many scholars do. But you can't ignore the text—you must relate to it."

But, adds Mazar, "you shouldn't seek to prove the text verbatim." And yet multitudes of archaeologists have made that very goal their life's work, beginning with the American scholar and godfather of biblical archaeology William Albright. Among Albright's protégés was the Israeli military titan, politician, and scholar Yigael Yadin. For Yadin and his contemporaries, the Bible was unassailable. As a result, when he uncovered the city gates at the biblical city of Hazor in the late 1950s, Yadin committed what would be a current-day archaeological no-no: Since carbon dating wasn't available, he used the Bible, along with the stratigraphy, to date the pottery found inside the gates. He attributed the gates to the exalted tenth-century B.C. empire of Solomon—because the First Book of Kings said so.

The problem with relying on this particular chapter of the Bible is that it was added long after Solomon died in 930 B.C., when Israel had split into two parts—Judah in the south and Israel in the north. "Gezer was the most southerly city in the northern kingdom of Israel, while Hazor was in the most northern realm, and Megiddo was an economic hub in the center," says Tel Aviv University archaeologist Norma Franklin. "So it would be important to the people writing this story to lay claim to all of this territory. To Yadin, the Bible said so and that was it. Three gates—they all have to be Solomon's."

Today, many scholars (including Franklin and her colleague Finkelstein) doubt that all three gates are Solomonic, while others (Amihai Mazar, for example) think they could be. But all of them reject Yadin's circular reasoning, which in the early 1980s helped spawn a backlash movement of "biblical minimalism," led by scholars at the University of Copenhagen. To the minimalists, David and Solomon were simply fictitious characters. The credibility of that position was undercut in 1993, when an excavation team in the northern Israel site of Tel Dan dug up a black basalt stela inscribed with the phrase "House of David." Solomon's existence, however, remains wholly unverified.

Absent more evidence, we're left with the decidedly drab tenth-century B.C. biblical world that Finkelstein first proposed in a 1996 paper—not a single great kingdom replete with monumental buildings but instead a scruffy landscape of disparate, slowly gelling powers: the Philistines to the south, Moabites to the east, Israelites to the north, Aramaeans farther north, and yes, perhaps, a Judaean insurgency led by a young shepherd in not-so-dazzling Jerusalem. Such an interpretation galls Israelis who regard David's capital as their bedrock. Many of the excavations undertaken in Jerusalem are financially backed by the City of David Foundation, whose director of international development, Doron Spielman, freely admits, "When we raise money for a dig, what inspires us is to uncover the Bible—and that's indelibly linked with sovereignty in Israel."

Unsurprisingly, this agenda does not sit well with the Jerusalem residents who happen to be Palestinian. Many excavations take place in the eastern part of the city, where their families have dwelled for generations but stand to be displaced if such projects morph into Israeli settlement claims. From the Palestinian perspective, the scurrying for archaeological evidence to justify a people's sense of belonging misses the point. As East Jerusalem resident and archaeology professor Hani Nur el-Din says, "When I see Palestinian women making the traditional pottery from the early Bronze Age, when I smell the taboon bread baked in the same tradition as the fourth or fifth millennium B.C., this is the cultural DNA. In Palestine there's no written document, no historicity—but still, it's history."

Most Israeli archaeologists would prefer that their work not be used as a political wedge. This, nonetheless, is the way of young nations. As Bar-Ilan University archaeology professor Avraham Faust observes, "The Norwegians relied on Viking sites to create a separate identity from their Swedish and Danish rulers. Zimbabwe is named after an archaeological site. Archaeology is a very convenient tool for creating national identities."

That is one way in which Israel differs from other countries. Its national identity came well before any digging. What's dug up can only confirm that identity … or not.

"This place was hell," says Tom Levy cheerfully as he stands over an open pit filled with ancient coal-black slag. Sprawling around him and his volunteer undergraduates from the University of California, San Diego is a 25-acre copper production site—and adjacent to it, a large fortress complex that includes the ruins of 3,000-year-old guardhouses. Apparently the sentinels lived practically on top of the smelting operations, while overseeing a presumably reluctant labor force. "When you have industrial production of this scale, you have to have a procurement system for food and water," Levy continues. "I can't prove it, but I think that the only people that are going to be working in this rather miserable environment are either slaves—or undergrads. The point is, simple tribal societies couldn't do something like this."

Levy, an anthropologist, first came to southern Jordan in 1997 to examine metallurgy's role in social evolution. The lowland district of Faynan, where the blue-green glitter of malachite can be seen from a distance, was an obvious place to study. It also happened to be where the American rabbi and archaeologist Nelson Glueck unabashedly proclaimed in 1940 that he had discovered the Edomite mines controlled by King Solomon. Subsequent British excavators believed they had found evidence that Glueck was off by some three centuries and that Edom actually dated to the seventh century B.C. But when Levy started probing the site known as Khirbat en Nahas (Arabic for "ruins of copper"), the samples he sent off to Oxford for radiocarbon dating confirmed that Glueck had been on the right track: This was a tenth-century copper-production site—and, Levy adds pointedly, "the closest copper source to Jerusalem."

The team headed by Levy and his Jordanian colleague Mohammad Najjar has uncovered a four-chambered gate similar to ones found at sites in Israel that might date to the tenth-century B.C. A few miles from the mines, they've excavated a cemetery of more than 3,500 tombs dating to the same period—perhaps filled with the remains of Iron Age mountain nomads known from ancient Egyptian sources as Shasu, who Levy thinks may have been "corralled at certain points in time and forced to work in the mines." Most work in the mines appears to have ceased by the end of the ninth century—and the so-called "disruption layer" uncovered by Levy's students may explain why.

They found in this layer 22 date pits, which they dated to the tenth century B.C., along with Egyptian artifacts such as a lion-headed amulet and a scarab, both from the time of the pharaoh Shoshenq I. That ruler's invasion of the region shortly after Solomon's death is chronicled in the Old Testament and at the Temple of Amun at Karnak. "I definitely believe that Shoshenq disrupted metal production here at the end of the tenth century," says Levy. "The Egyptians in the Third Intermediate Period weren't strong enough to field an occupying force, which is why you don't see Egyptian bread molds and other material culture here. But they could organize some pretty big military campaigns—strong enough to upset these petty kingdoms, to make sure they wouldn't be a threat to them. That's what I think Shoshenq did here."

The "hell" that Levy has unearthed at Khir­bat en Nahas could prove to be hell for the Finkelstein school of low chronology. Levy's copper mines may not be as sexy as King David's palace or the perch overlooking the battle of David and Goliath. But Levy's excavation work spans more time and area than those of Eilat Mazar and Yosef Garfinkel, with far more extensive use of radiocarbon analysis to determine the age of his site's stratigraphic layers. "All scholars dealing with Edom in the last two generations claimed that Edom didn't exist as a state before the eighth century B.C.," says Amihai Mazar. "But Levy's radiocarbon dates have their own story, and that story is related to the tenth to ninth century B.C., and no one can claim that they're incorrect."

In fact, that is precisely what Levy's critics are doing. Some deemed his first 46 datings insufficient to justify reordering an entire chronology for Edom. For his second round of C-14 analysis, Levy doubled the number of samples and meticulously selected charcoal from shrubs with verifiable outer growth rings.

Despite the high cost of C-14 analysis—more than $500 for a single olive pit—the technique isn't a silver bullet. "Carbon-14 doesn't help you solve all this controversy," says Eilat Mazar. "You have the plus or minus"—a margin of error of about 40 years. "You have different laboratories bringing different interpretations. You have debates about the whole C-14 issue." Indeed, Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar have been locked in an ongoing tussle over the dating of a single stratum at Tel Rehov, a Bronze and Iron Age city just west of the Jordan River. Mazar contends that the stratum could be Solomonic. Finkelstein says it's from the later Omride dynasty, named for Omri, Ahab's father. The gap between the two eras is about 40 years.

"Many of the radiocarbon dates for this period cover exactly the range that's under debate," Amihai Mazar says, chuckling wearily. "Not before and not after. It's been this way for 15 years."

"You can find evidence in radiocarbon for David being a villager in Norway in the sixth century A.D.!" declares Israel Finkelstein—exaggerating to make a point, as he is prone to doing. "But look, I enjoy reading everything Tom writes about Khirbat en Nahas. It has brought all sorts of ideas to me. I myself would never dig in such a place—too hot! For me, archaeology is about having a good time. You should come to Megiddo—we live in an air-conditioned B&B next to a nice swimming pool."

This is how Finkelstein begins his rebuttals, with amiable preambles that cannot conceal the Mephisto-like gleam in his eyes. For a scholar, the Tel Aviv archaeologist has a highly visceral manner—leaning his tall, bearded frame into a visitor's face, waving his large hands, modulating his baritone with Shakespearean agility.

Yet his charm wears thin for those who have felt the sting of his attacks. "If you want to attract attention, you behave like Finkelstein," says Eilat Mazar. Similarly unamused is Yosef Garfinkel, who says of Finkelstein's recent receipt of a four-million-dollar research grant, "He doesn't even use science—that's the irony. It's like giving Saddam Hussein the Nobel Peace Prize."

Still, Finkelstein's theories strike an intellectually appealing middle ground between biblical literalists and minimalists. "Think of the Bible the way you would a stratified archaeological site," he says. "Some of it was written in the eighth century B.C., some the seventh, and then going all the way to the second B.C. So 600 years of compilation. This doesn't mean that the story doesn't come from antiquity. But the reality presented in the story is a later reality. David, for example, is a historical figure. He did live in the tenth century B.C. I accept the descriptions of David as some sort of leader of an upheaval group, troublemakers who lived on the margins of society. But not the golden city of Jerusalem, not the description of a great empire in the time of Solomon. When the authors of the text describe that, they have in their eyes the reality of their own time, the Assyrian Empire.

"Now, Solomon," he continues with a sigh. "I think I destroyed Solomon, so to speak. Sorry for that! But take Solomon, dissect it. Take the great visit of the Queen of Sheba—an Arabian queen coming to visit, bringing all sorts of exotic commodities to Jerusalem. This is a story which is an impossibility to think about before 732 B.C., before the beginning of Arabian trade under Assyrian domination. Take the story of Solomon as the great, you know, trainer in horses and chariots and big armies and so on. The world behind Solomon is the world of the Assyrian century."

Of Levy's mining fortress, Finkelstein says, "I don't buy that it's from the tenth century B.C. There's no way people lived on this site during production. The fire, the toxic fumes—forget it! Instead, look at the fortress of En Hazeva on our side of the Jordan River, built by the Assyrians on the main road to Edom. I see Tom's building as an eighth-century Assyrian fortress parallel to the other one. And look, at the end of the day, his is a marginal site. It's not a stratified city with many eras, like Megiddo and Tel Rehov. Taking a pile of slag and making it the center of the discussion of biblical history—forget it, no way, I reject this absolutely!"

With greater venom, Finkelstein mocks Garfinkel's discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa: "Look, you'll never catch me saying, 'I've found one olive pit at a stratum in Megiddo, and this olive pit—which goes against hundreds of carbon-14 determinations—is going to decide the fate of Western civilization.' " He snickers. The lack of pig bones, suggesting it is a Judaean site? "A gun, but not a smoking gun." The rare inscription found at the site? Probably from Philistine Gath rather than the kingdom of Judah.

The irony is that biblical archaeology's enfant terrible has become the establishment, a Goliath fending off upstart assaults on his chronological order. The proposition that a complex tenth-century B.C. society may have existed on either side of the Jordan River has thrown Finkelstein's vision of the David and Solomon era squarely on the defensive. His many rebuttal papers and his sarcastic tone reflect that defensiveness, and his arguments at times seem a bit desperate. (The notion of living in a fortress next to a copper-smelting site would not seem ludicrous to West Virginia coal miners or residents near Three Mile Island, for example.)

Still, even if Garfinkel can prove that the Judah tribe that begat David dwelled in the fortress of Shaaraim, and Eilat Mazar can document that King David commissioned a palace in Jerusalem, and Tom Levy can successfully demonstrate that King Solomon oversaw copper mines in Edom, this does not a glorious biblical dynasty make. How much digging before the argument is settled?

Many archaeologists question whether the obsessive scramble to prove the biblical narrative is a healthy enterprise. One of them, Tel Aviv University's Raphael Greenberg, flatly states, "It's bad for archaeology. What we're supposed to contribute is a point of view that isn't available from texts or preconceived notions of history—an alternative vision of the past: relations between rich and poor, between men and women. Something richer, in other words, than just validating the Bible."

But does David, with all of his metaphorical power, cease to matter if his deeds and his empire are ultimately viewed as works of fiction? When I point out to Finkelstein that people all over the world are invested in the greatness of David, I am surprised by his response. "Look, when I'm doing research, I have to distinguish between the culture of David and the historical David. David is extremely important for my cultural identity. In the same way, I can cele­brate the Exodus without seeing it as a purely historic event. David for me is the David reflected in the later king Hezekiah, the David reflected in the later king Josiah, the David of Zacharias in the eschatological prophesies in which Jerusalem is burned but David is alive, the David who is the connection with the beginning of Christianity. In this sense, David is everything. If you want me to say it simplistically, I'm proud that this nobody from nowhere became the center of Western tradition.

"So for me," says Finkelstein, David's dethroner, "David is not a plaque on the wall, not even merely a leader of a tenth-century band. No. Much more than that."



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Biblical Archaeology and the Quest for the Ancient Israelite States’ Oldest Remains 

By: Juan Manuel Tebes, Catholic University of Argentina – University of Buenos Aires – National Research Council

Buried beneath the houses of Silwan, a small neighborhood south of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, lie the remains of four thousand years of human history. As elsewhere in the Middle East, in Silwan history is counted by ages. But the key to this site, what sets it apart most prominently from other places in this part of the world, lies in a short period of time in its history, no longer than a century, situated in the tenth century BCE.

This is the time of the United Monarchy, an era when, according to the Hebrew Bible, Israelite King David and his son Solomon reigned over a large mass of land from their capital at Jerusalem, territory which the Book of Kings eloquently describes as extending from “the (Euphrates) river to the land of the Philistines and the Egyptian border” (1 Kgs. 5:1 [4:21]). A quick glimpse into a map of the modern Middle East will reveal that this passage effectively includes the territories of the state of Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and parts of Syria and Jordan.

This was the Golden Age of the history of the ancient Israelites. The biblical authors saw David and Solomon as archetypical – but hardly perfect – monarchs. David is described as the prototype of the warrior and pious king. It was David who expanded exponentially the borders of the kingdom, transforming it from a small chiefdom based on Judah, as the highlands south of Jerusalem were known, into a supranational state.

But it was Solomon, on the whole, who benefited most from his father’s ventures. He’s remembered as the model of the wise, powerful and rich ruler that was going to become emblematic of the history of the Middle East. The point is illustrated by the visit of the Queen of Sheba, who’s said to have heard of the great wisdom of Solomon, traveling from her remote Arabian kingdom with immense riches to test him with difficult questions.

The United Monarchy story is framed in similar narratives of flourishing and decay. The biblical text relates that after the Golden Age of David and Solomon the kingdom split up, the blame laying in the secession of the northern part of the kingdom, whose people chose their own kings and rejected the predominance of the cult of Yahweh – Israel’s only god – in Jerusalem. This came to be known as the Kingdom of Israel, with Samaria as its main capital. Unsurprisingly, the biblical authors didn’t have a respectable opinion about this kingdom, for their monarchs were seen as idolatrous who departed from the Davidic dynasty, abandoning the only licit Jerusalemite cult and adopting foreign gods. To the contrary, the southern portion of the land, called the Kingdom of Judah, was seen as the “loyal” kingdom under God’s eyes, governed until its end by the successors of David and Solomon, and continuing the cultic practices at the Temple of Jerusalem.

Biblical Archaeology, Jerusalem and Solomonic Gates

It’s hardly a surprise that our own memories of David and Solomon are intertwined with the modern conflicts over land, people and religion that have shaped the entire Middle East since the end of the 19th century. Modern archaeological research in the area began during the last decades of the Ottoman Empire, but took its classical form after the end of World War I, during the period of the British Mandate in Palestine, between 1920 and 1948.

These years saw the flourishing of Biblical Archaeology, with several excavations unearthing the first known remains of the Iron Age, as the crucial period extending between 1200 and 586 BCE came to be known. Pioneer archaeologists such as W. Flinders Petrie and William F. Albright championed in these early ventures using methods of dig and adopting interpretations of finds that seem outdated from our own perspective, but that were revolutionary at that time. Research on the Iron Age was conducted by an almost strict adherence to the biblical text, which provided the guide for the analysis of the material remains, the dating of the layers of human occupation and even the entire construction of the chronology of that period. So much that the indictment “Bible in one hand, spade in the other” is a common cliché for describing how people dug in these early times.

It’s precisely in these decades when archaeologists began to amass a collection of material remains that seemed to confirm the biblical depiction of the great empire of David and Solomon. This view was basically built upon three pillars.

The first two pillars were based on a key biblical passage. According to the Book of Kings, King Solomon used forced labor “for the building of the Temple of Yahweh, his own palace, the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer” (1 Kgs. 9:15). What better way to start looking for the material evidences of the United Monarchy than excavating its building enterprises?

Central to the biblical account is Jerusalem, city that according to the Book of Kings housed King David’s Palace and the Temple of Yahweh, built by Solomon. Most historians believe this sanctuary, known as the “First Temple” and destroyed by the army of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, was located in what is now a trapezoidal walled compound within the Old City known by Jewish and Westerners as the “Temple Mount” and by Muslims as “Haram al-Sharif” (Noble Sanctuary).

In Jerusalem, as elsewhere in the Middle East, the construction of successive cultic complexes in one site throughout different historical eras is quite characteristic. Another sanctuary to Yahweh, the “Second Temple”, was built by the Jewish exiles returning from Babylon in the late 6th century BCE and rebuilt by King Herod the Great in the 1st century CE, to be destroyed by future Roman Emperor Titus in 70 CE. In the same spot, now considered by Sunni Muslims the third holiest place to Islam after Mecca and Medina, Muslims built in the 7h-8th centuries CE the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It’s understandable why, for obvious political and security reasons, no archaeological excavations – apart from a few underground surveys in the 19th century – have been carried out inside this compound.

David and Solomon Fig 1

Aerial view of the “Temple Mount”/“Haram al-Sharif” within the Old City of Jerusalem. Readily recognizable is the Dome of the Rock with its golden dome and facing it the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Below in the center, the Silwan /”City of David” neighborhood outside the City’s walls. (Photo courtesy of David Silverman.)

Yet archaeologists have been able to excavate in areas right outside the Temple Mount’s walls. And this is where we return to Silwan, for it was in this low hill that, according to most archaeologists, the first settlement in Jerusalem was founded in the Bronze Age – also known as the “Canaanite” period. The site was still a medium-size town by the time David captured it to the local Canaanite Jebusites, and it was here where he built his palace. For this reason, this area is better known, by Israelis and Westerners, as the “City of David”, although it should be obvious that the predominantly Arab population living there isn’t fond of this name.

Silwan is one of the most excavated sites on Earth, with digs being carried out during the Ottoman era, the British Mandate, the Jordanian period and now by the Israelis. Excavating here isn’t without its problems, some methodological – the accumulation of human occupation is several meters deep – and others more logistical – the hill lies in disputed territory and is occupied by a modern settlement.

Influenced in great measure by the biblical image of David’s building enterprises, British and Israeli excavations in the site unearthed archaeological remains that were ascribed to the 10th century BCE. A great deal of debate was caused by the discovery of a narrow stone structure several meters high on the eastern side of the hill. Kathleen Kenyon, famed British archaeologist who excavated the site in the 1960s, dated this construction, so-called “Stepped Stone Structure”, to the 10th century, and argued it served as a sort of supporting structure of a large building standing uphill. Many assume it’s the “Millo” mentioned in the already cited passage of the Book of Kings, an interpretation maybe hinted by the Hebrew word from which it derives, meaning “fill”. However, much of this is speculation, because it is not possible to firmly associate the stone structure with the pottery found nearby, and pottery is, as we’ll quickly see, the backbone of dating in archaeology.

It was obvious from the beginning that, despite all the celebration the Bible does about the building frenzy of David and Solomon, Jerusalem can’t provide good material evidences of it. This left archaeologists with the other building projects mentioned by the Book of Kings: the walls of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. This is exactly what Yigael Yadin, the leading exponent of the archaeology of the nascent State of Israel, did. During the first decades of the new state, Israeli archaeology accompanied the efforts to connect the young nation to the millennia-old history of Jewish presence in Palestine, thus reaffirming the right of the modern Jewish ownership of the land. Yadin, a former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, was the most appropriate person to unearth the evidences of the occupation of the territory by the early Israelites and the material remains of the ancient Jewish states.

In archaeology, his name is better associated with the “Solomonic gates”. The key site was Megiddo in northern Israel, a city of tremendous historical and geographical significance in ancient times, so much that the Book of Revelation mentions it by its Greek name, Armageddon, as the place of the end of days. During the 1930s the University of Chicago excavations had discovered the remains of a large city gate complex that was ascribed, on the basis of stratigraphical evidence and the description of the Book of Kings, to the reign of Solomon. In short, the American archaeologists connected this gate with some structures identified as stables, which were readily related to the cities Solomon built “for his chariots, and the cities for his horsemen” (1 Kgs. 9:19).

During the 1950s Yadin excavated the site of Hazor, another important ancient city north of the Sea of Galilee. In 1958 Yadin found a gate with six chambers in an Iron Age layer, very similar to the one found at Megiddo. To Yadin, both gates fitted nicely into the biblical account. In the moment of such amazing discovery he wrote, “This fact not only confirms the biblical narrative (I Kings, ix, 15) that Megiddo and Hazor were both rebuilt by Solomon, but even suggests that both were built by the same architect!”

Yadin did not stop there. He started looking for the same chambered gate in the third city mentioned by the Book of Kings, Gezer, another major site located in the Judaean foothills, which had been excavated in the first decades of the 20th century by the British. And so he found it. Carefully browsing through the dig’s final report, he found a structure presumably dated to a much later period which closely resembled those found at Megiddo and Hazor. Yadin happily concluded that this structure was what survived of the original Iron Age gate, claiming with excitement that this corroborated the extent of the Solomonic building enterprises.

The Myth of King Solomon’s Mines

The third archaeological pillar of David and Solomon’s grandeur is probably the best known by the common people, although in a grossly distorted way. In 1885 English writer H. Rider Haggard published his novel King Solomon’s Mines, a story that told the journey of a group of explorers in the so far unexplored territories of inner Africa. Written at the peak of European colonialism, Haggard’s novel started a myth that has impregnated books, movies and TV shows until this day, where a few bits of reality mixed with lot of fiction. For fiction it is, since there is no mention at all to King Solomon’s Mines in the Hebrew Bible.

David and Solomon Fig 2

Poster of the 1985 film “King Solomon’s Mines”, one of the many adaptations of Haggard’s novel, this one parodying Indiana Jones. (Wikimedia image:

The Solomonic mining myth, however, was endorsed by Nelson Glueck, an American archaeologist trained as a rabbi and the pioneer of the archaeological research in the Negev desert and Jordan. During the 1930s-40s Glueck was the first to meticulously explore these remote areas, recording their most important archaeological remains and collecting hundreds of pottery sherds, thus accumulating a large amount of data that is still used by modern archaeologists.

Among the areas that were of most interest to him were the copper mines of Timna and Faynan, both located in a desolate, extremely arid valley known as the Wadi Arabah, extending from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Although today Timna is within the boundaries of Israel and Faynan in Jordan, both sites share a similar geology, best illustrated by the ubiquitous presence of copper sources, the most important metal in the Bronze Age and exploited throughout the ages.

Dozens of mines, production sites, and mounds made of industrial waste from copper smelting testify the longevity of the human presence in such inhospitable sites, at least since the 6th millennium BCE. Glueck explored extensively both regions in the 1930s and, based on the pottery he collected, argued that the local copper mines were exploited during the Iron Age by the Israelites, and that this was the source of Solomon’s extraordinary wealth.

Glueck’s efforts in unraveling the evidences of the Israelite metalworking led him to excavate another site, Tell el-Kheleifeh, close to shore of the Gulf of Aqaba and now in the Jordanian side of the border. He interpreted the site as an Israelite settlement, identifying it as biblical Ezion-Geber, used by King Solomon as a base for his maritime trade ventures in the Red Sea with Hiram King of Tyre, bringing back tons of gold (1 Kgs. 9:26-28). Glueck went even further, identifying the remains as evidence of a large copper smelter-refinery, to the extent that he nicknamed Kheleifeh as the “Pittsburg of Palestine”. “The wise ruler of Israel,” wrote Glueck with enthusiasm, “was a copper king, a shipping magnate, a merchant prince, and a great builder”.




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 The paradox of the “King Solomon’s Mines” myth is that it was booming with romantic images of lost words, barren landscapes and adventurous archaeology, but it suffered tremendously from lack of evidence. Despite all the fuss about Timna, the site was only excavated since the 1960s by a team directed by Beno Rothenberg, former photographer in Glueck’s excavations and self-taught field archaeologist. When Rothenberg started digging in the ancient mines and workshops were the copper was smelted, he still adhered to the dating in the 10th century advocated by Glueck. However, in 1969 Rothenberg discovered a small shrine devoted to the worship of the Egyptian goddess Hathor. The shrine was found full of Egyptian finds dated to the 13th and 12th centuries. Now we know that the shrine was established by the Ramesside pharaohs to be used jointly by the Egyptians managing the exploitation of the local mines and the desert people working under their guidance. So Timna was exploited, not by the Israelites under Solomon, but by the Egyptians two centuries earlier than assumed.

This fatal blow, which knocked down the Solomonic identification of the Timna mines, went parallel with more research on the material remains of Tell el-Kheleifeh, Glueck’s Solomonic Pittsburg. Rothenberg discovered that, among other things, Glueck’s furnace room was in reality a storage room, the alleged clay crucibles were actually handmade wares, the sulphuric discoloration was a product of the final destruction of the building and not from the industrial activities…The list could go on, but the point should be clear enough: the alleged metallurgical industry in the site was imaginary.

Although Glueck wrote some preliminary reports on the Kheleifeh excavations, he never got to publish a book presenting the complete finds. When, since the 1980s, a younger generation of scholars studied again the finds, they discovered that the pottery found at the site could not be dated before the 8th century, effectively putting the nail in the coffin of Solomonic Ezion-Geber.

The Low Chronology and Controversy

By the 1980s the foundations supporting the whole model of the great kingdom of David and Solomon were shaking. Yet few would have ventured that a complete paradigm shift was coming, one that would affect the complete history of ancient Israel.

In 1980 David Ussishkin, archaeologist of Tel Aviv University, published a challenging article titled “Was the ‘Solomonic’ Gate at Megiddo built by King Solomon?”. In a detailed study, Ussishkin presented several weaknesses in the attribution of the six-chambered gate at Megiddo to Solomon. Since 1994 Ussishkin and his Tel Aviv colleague Israel Finkelstein had the unique opportunity to test their views on the Iron Age when they began their own excavations at Megiddo. Their new chronological model was going to be known as the “Low Chronology”.

The emergence of the Low Chronology in the 1990s coincided with changes that had been occurring in the Israelite society for decades, such as the secularization of the society, the rise and posterior failure of the peace movement, and new trends in the humanities. It’s certainly no coincidence that the early chronological studies of the Tel Aviv School were contemporary with novel historical approaches towards the early years of the modern State of Israel and with more eclectic views of its “founding myths”, rapidly dubbed as the “New History”. While historians were reassessing past views on the foundations of modern Israel, archaeologists were doing the same with the ancient Israelite states.

The doyen of the new approach was Finkelstein, who by the 1990s had built a solid reputation based on his previous excavations and surveys in Cisjordan. The new data had allowed him to develop a revolutionary theory for explaining the first “Israelite” settlements in the region during the early Iron Age, proposing that these weren’t founded by people coming from other areas – such as Egypt or Jordan – but by local pastoral nomads who adopted a more agricultural way of life, for that reason establishing new sedentary sites. In the 1990s, at the same time than his excavations at Megiddo, Finkelstein started publishing a series of articles re-interpreting the chronology of the entire Iron Age and proposing new approaches towards the history of the Israelite states.

Chronology is the backbone of archaeology. But, when archaeologists dig in sites or periods with few or no inscriptions, dating can be a complicated task. And here we arrive at a basic principle of archaeology: dating by pottery. How does this method work? When pottery is retrieved from a site, it’s immediately compared with similar ceramics found elsewhere. The principle is simple: similarities in the ceramics’ features are most likely the result of their being contemporary. So, if you know the dating of a specific pottery type in a site, you can use it to date similar pottery types in other places, and by extension those same places. The only thing that can be estimated is the relative position of one pottery type with respect to another – that is to say, if it’s earlier or later. So when inscriptions are absent, chronologies have to be constructed like a puzzle, putting together the sequences of different ceramic types.

This tedious excursus serves as prelude to the complex debates on the Iron Age of Palestine, because this is precisely a time of a desperate lack of inscriptions. For several decades the “Solomonic” layers discovered by Yadin were used as chronological anchors for assigning other sites to the 10th century.

Building upon Ussishkin’s previous work, Finkelstein asserted that the “Solomonic” gate complex at Megiddo in reality dated a full century later than Yadin thought. He asserted with irony that “the key stratum is dated by the pottery. The pottery is dated by its relationship to the six-chambered gate, which is, in turn, dated according to the biblical testimony to the days of Solomon; a classical circular reasoning”. In order to test his theory Finkelstein started looking for sites with similar features than those present at “Solomonic” Megiddo, such as pottery, city gates and methods of construction.

The whole foundations of Yadin’s theory seemed to be wrong. To begin with, six-chambered gates, the key piece in Yadin’s idea of an enormous building program mastered by Solomon’s architects, were found in Iron Age sites dating way before and after the 10th century. And not only that, for places completely outside the boundaries of the Israelite kingdom also featured this type of gate. In simpler words, six-chambered gates weren’t only “Solomonic” or Israelite.

If this wasn’t enough, Finkelstein focused on two northern sites relatively close to Megiddo, Samaria and Jezreel, cities that had been built, or re-built, by the monarchs of the “rebel” Kingdom of Israel. We know from the Bible and Assyrian sources that these two sites had been established in the 9th century, one century after David and Solomon’s reigns, after the secession of the northern part of the kingdom. His team discovered that Jezreel contained pottery very similar to that found at “Solomonic” Megiddo. Remember the old principle of archaeology: similar pottery in two different sites means both sites were probably contemporary. He also noted that masons’ marks in stone blocks found at the “Solomonic” layer at Megiddo were remarkably similar to the ones found at a palace of Samaria. So, either the establishment of Jezreel and Samaria should be re-dated to the 10th century or “Solomonic” Megiddo is in fact a 9th century city.

The conclusion is, the “Solomonic” stratum of Megiddo, with its six-chambered gate and pottery, wasn’t actually Solomon’s, but belonged to the monarchs of the northern kingdom. And the city buried below the “Solomonic” layer, much more reduced in extension and with less complex buildings, was the actual 10th century level. Thus, all of a sudden the United Monarchy was deprived of “Solomonic” Megiddo, one of its most precious jewels and, instead, was given a much smaller, regional town.

This reconstruction of the Iron Age chronology led, of course, to a vast transformation in the way we see the origins of the ancient Israelite states. For what was considered the material proof of the great state founded by David and strengthened by Solomon turned out to be the earliest material evidence of the northern Kingdom of Israel. It was Israel the first to emerge as a full-blown state in the 9th century, not the southern Kingdom of Judah which only developed fully a century later. It was Israel the state that possessed a relatively high rate of urbanization, with its great cities of Samaria, Jezreel, Hazor and Megiddo, not predominantly rural Judah with capital in Jerusalem, just a local town until the late 8th century. And it was Israel’s territory the one possessing the best agricultural potential and trade connections, not semi-arid Judah with its vast semi-pastoral economy.

So, ironically, it was Israel, land of idol worshippers and monarchs rejecting the true Davidic dynasty, the one having the strongest kingdom, while Judah was only the backyard of its more powerful northern neighbor. Why does the Bible have this unexpected change of roles? At this point Finkelstein resumes centuries-old scholarship on the authorship and dating of the biblical texts that agree that the northern Israelites had little to do in the composition of the Books of Kings, our main source for the study of the Israelite states, and that most of it was written in Judah or by Judaeans.

History is written by the victors and Judah’s posthumous notoriety is probably its most twisted case. Finkelstein views most of the Book of Kings as a product of the Jerusalemite temple scribes of the 7th century, writing in a time of vast political and cultic transformations. Judaean King Josiah did a vast cultic reform that involved the centralization of cult in Jerusalem and the persecution of other deities and religious practices. It’s within this background that the Book of Kings was written, probably with a sort of political agenda aimed at exalting Josiah as a “new David”, and for which the northern kingdom of Israel was nothing more than a schismatic entity, punished by Yahweh with its destruction by the Assyrians in the year 722 BCE.

During the 1990s and 2000s it seemed that David and Solomon were going to lose the battle against their oblivion. The rise of the Tel Aviv Low Chronology coincided with, and actually benefited from, a time of rapid changes in the field of biblical studies, with scholars more prone to take more challenging approaches towards the biblical text. A specific group of scholars, known as the “Minimalist School”, shared some points of view with Finkelstein’s vision of the development of the Hebrew Bible. Although they have different ideas on how the biblical text was composed, “Minimalists” agree that the Bible should be studied just as any other ancient Near Eastern textual source, such as we do with Egyptian or Assyrian inscriptions. So every historical reference in the Bible should be taken with the most caution unless it’s confirmed by parallel, extra-biblical sources. More to the point, they usually claim very late dates for the composition of some parts of the Bible, sometimes as late as the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. Although the Tel Aviv archaeologists don’t belong to this “school”, both groups have done a lot to shake off old assumptions about the United Monarchy.

Another Paradigm Shift?

Now, during the last decade the tide seems to be turning, bringing to the fore again David and Solomon’s kingdom. In reality, the United Monarchy never died, because despite its appeal, the Low Chronology has caused more frenzy than adepts, and has always been hotly rejected by many scholars. In addition, the popularity of new methods of research – particularly radiocarbon dating –, far from ending the discussions, offered more fuel to nonstop disputes. Radiocarbon dating consists in measuring the amount of Carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of carbon, in organic materials such as wood, bones or seeds. Since the quantity of Carbon-14 decays when an animal or plant dies, it’s possible to know the date of the perished remains by determining the extent of that decrease.

And here we come back to Silwan again. In 2005 Hebrew University archaeologist Eilat Mazar, member of a family of distinguished archaeologists, announced to have unearthed the remains of a large public building in her excavations in the City of David. To Mazar, this building, named the “Large Stone Structure” because it was found close to the “Stepped Stone Structure” known for decades, should be dated to the 10th century. She argued this dating was based on the pottery found in the site and claimed these were probably the remains of King David’s Palace. This announcement rocketed to the news in minutes, stirring a debate that is still going on.

Mazar’s excavations were object of harsh criticism from the beginning. Particularly, severe judgment was placed upon her interpretation of the pottery evidence attributing a 10th century date to the public building. Mazar claimed to have unearthed pottery from the early Iron Age underneath the building, clearly indicating the structure was constructed after the pottery was deposited (on the basis that the deeper the material remains are found, the earlier in time they are.) But, how much later is the building?

A key principle of field archaeology is that the dating of a structure is determined by the pottery found in a building. Not anywhere, but in the building’s floor. These ceramics are usually the last pottery to be used by the people living or working there. Finkelstein and his Tel Aviv colleagues rebutted Mazar’s arguments, pointing out that no floors were found associated with the building. Actually, they totally re-interpreted Mazar’s finds and claimed the building belongs to a much later era, the Hellenistic period.

More criticism focused on the funding of Mazar’s excavations, particularly the role of Elad, Jewish private organization that has managed to control large portions of the village of Silwan and operates the “City of David” park. Elad’s objective is to encourage awareness of the Jewish background of the Silwan area, and particularly to carry out excavations in the area in order to prove the Jewish historical “roots” of the village. Critics say that this is done at the expense of not studying properly other periods in the site’s history, such as the Islamic era.

Leaving the conflicting history of the city of Jerusalem, we move to the west. Here, in the lowlands known as the Shephelah, is located Khirbet Qeiyafa, and Iron Age walled site that has become the last step in the long history of discussions about the United Monarchy. The site was long known by archaeologists, but was only object of excavations since 2007 by a team lead by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University. When Garfinkel began excavating the site, many expected it to be another settlement of the southern Kingdom of Judah, maybe with a material culture more mixed than in those sites in the heartland of Judah. But no one was anticipating unearthing the remains of a fortress dated to the time of King David.

Khirbet Qeiyafa was found to be a fortress with public buildings, perimetral wall and two gates. What makes it much more interesting is its date. Garfinkel announced that the ceramics and radiocarbon dates taken from the site indicated it was inhabited during the late 11th and 10th century, identifying it as a Judaean stronghold facing the threat of the Philistines, the Israelites’ greatest foe located in the coastal plain. This clearly indicated that state formation in Judah began much earlier than claimed by the proponents of the Low Chronology. Garfinkel concluded with joy that “Low Chronology is now officially dead and buried”.

This claim was rapidly followed by the announcement in 2008 of the finding of an ostracon (an inscribed pot sherd) with five lines of text in Early Alphabetic script, very hard to interpret. If the dating of the site was correct, then the ostracon may point to the existence of scribes – that is to say, professional writers – and scribal schools in Judah during the 10th century, one of the clearest indications of stateness. The icing on the cake was a press release issued in 2013 publicizing the discovery of two large buildings, identified as part of King’s David Palace.

These finds are indeed fascinating, but were sharply criticized. Finkelstein and the Tel Aviv archaeologists rapidly responded to the challenge in a 2012 paper titled “Khirbet Qeiyafa: Unsensational Archaeological and Historical Interpretation,” in which they did a thorough review of the evidence presented by Garfinkel, testing it against their own Low Chronology. They concluded that the pottery and the radiocarbon dates taken from the site in reality indicate an occupation during the 11th and the first half of the 10th century, thus having no bearing in the discussions on the beginnings of the state in Judah. The site was, actually, a northern Israelite outpost established in southwestern Palestine to face the Philistine attacks.

It’s probably in the southern desert belt of the Negev and southern Jordan where the contest on the United Monarchy will be decided. Because, believe it or not, the old debate on “King Solomon’s Mines” is alive and well.

King Solomon’s Mines…Again

Since little research was done in this area after Beno Rothenberg’s ground-breaking work at Timna, his interpretation of the local mining exploitation as largely an Egyptian affair stood the test of time for quite a while. Yet new excavations are challenging this view.

David and Solomon Fig 3

The barren landscape of Timna Site 2, a smelting copper workshop, still reminds of romantic images of “King Solomon’s Mines”. (Photo by the author.)

Most famous are the current excavations at Khirbet en-Nahas, a large Iron Age square fortress in the copper district of Faynan in southern Jordan, directed by Thomas E. Levy of the University of California San Diego. The UCSD team boast is that it will strip the archaeological business down to the methods that are shown to contribute directly to the chronology debate. With the use of digital field recording on a daily basis and the gathering of dozens of radiocarbon dates, Levy has tried to inaugurate a new era in the archaeology of the Middle East.

Khirbet en-Nahas (Arabic for “ruins of copper”) was initially built to control the smelting of the copper collected from the nearby mines, the high mounds of black slag (the waste of copper smelting) surrounding the site being an eloquent proof of the extent of the ancient metallurgical industry. Consensus on who did the mining and smelting and when it took place, however, remains elusive.

Levy, based on the pottery and the many radiocarbon dates from the fortress, claimed it was built and used during the 10th and 9th centuries. Following Glueck, he suggested that it was the Israelites who controlled the fortress in the 10th century, in line with several biblical passages that tell the story of David’s conquest of the land of Edom – the old name of the whole area. According to Levy’s reconstruction, there is the possibility that the fortress was abandoned after the local people, the Edomites, revolted against the Israelite oppression in the 9th century.

Not surprisingly, some scholars have concluded that the availability of more digital and radiocarbon data isn’t the secret to unraveling the chronology of the mining at Faynan. While Levy claims to have identified pottery from the 10th century, Finkelstein and other prominent experts point out the local ceramics are much later in date, probably as late as the 8th century.

Also, critics also point out the fact that the radiocarbon results can be ambiguous. In order to render good results, Carbon-14 dates should be taken from good organic samples, retrieved from well-stratified contexts and being object of minimal manipulation. Scholars questioning Levy’s dating assert that none of these points are fulfilled in the case of Khirbet en-Nahas. Because the use of wood for building construction can be very prolonged, it is not recommended the use of wood samples, as it may give dates considerably earlier than the context were they were found. Other point often raised by critics is that the radiocarbon samples retrieved at the site were taken from slag mounds, not from floors, and since the earlier are more prone to mixing, the radiocarbon dates are of no use.

A more technical aspect is that in the first reports Levy did not provide the original radiocarbon dates, but Carbon-14 dates processed through a complex mathematical analysis known as “Bayesian dating”, which basically involves the insertion of external data into the “pure” dates in order to reduce the range of probability. It turned out that the Bayesian dates were considerably earlier than the dates that weren’t processed, which raised questions on the real chronology of the site.

Thus, while Levy and this team claim that Khirbet en-Nahas is evidence of the exploitation of the Faynan mines supervised by the fortress in the 10th and 9th centuries, other scholars detach the 10th-9th century industrial smelting of copper from the fortress, about which they claim is of later, probably 7th century date.

Research in Faynan encouraged more excavations at Timna, at the other side of the border. One of these is directed by Tel Aviv University archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef, who is digging in one of the camps – known as Site 30, close to the famous shrine of Hathor – that housed the workers digging at the mines and smelting the copper extracted there. His team has collected several samples of radiocarbon dates which suggest a period of occupation during the 11th and early 10th centuries, that is to say, a couple of centuries later than the Ramesside Egyptian dates advocated decades before by Rothenberg. These dates are getting closer to the crucial date of the mid and late 10th century, King’s Solomon times.

But that’s only true for Site 30. In Site 2, a few kilometers to the northwest, precisely the opposite is the case. Tali Erickson-Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority is investigating here the remains of a smelting site excavated, like Site 30, decades ago by Rothenberg. She collected pottery and several Carbon-14 samples from this site which point to dates in the 13th-12th centuries, in line with Rothenberg’s Egyptian model. It may be possible, then, that the sites of Timna were occupied at different times and at different pace during the Iron Age, and that discoveries in one place should not instantaneously disprove the finds at others.

* * *

Does this mean that the old paradigm of David and Solomon is coming back? It’s premature to say so, because the whole picture is always changing, with more and more data being gathered all the time on the formative years of the ancient Israelite states. The worst possible outcome would be for scholars to accept only one historical model and get rid of the contending ideas before anyone can really be sure that it offers a satisfactory replacement. What is clear is that models will be always provisional, and that future consensuses will have to be built bearing in mind the modern construction of the legend of David and Solomon.

Juan Manuel Tebes is Director of the Center of Studies of Ancient Near Eastern History, Catholic University of Argentina, and Editor-in-Chief of its scholarly journal Antiguo Oriente. His research focuses on the history and archaeology of the southern arid areas of the Levant and northwestern Arabia in the Iron Age. He has published, most recently, the books Nomads at the Crossroads (Archaeopress, 2013) and Unearthing the Wilderness (Peeters, 2014).

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