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Archeology vs the Bible, Watzman, (2000) Article

Archeology vs the Bible, Watzman, (2000) Article

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Published by: David Bailey on Jul 17, 2012
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Archaeology
vs,
theBiblePage1of5
ARCHAEOLOGYVS.THEBIBLEAReluctantIsraeliPublicGrapplesWithWhatScholarshipRevealsAbouttheOldTestament'sVersionofHistory
ByHAIMWATZMANJerusalem
"If
Abraham,Isaac,Jacob,Moses,andDavidaren'tproven,howamIsupposedtolivewiththat?"TheagonizedquestioncamefromthecrowdedbackrowofanauditoriumatBen-GurionUniversity,duringaconferencetitled"HastheBiblicalPeriodDisappeared?"ItexpressedtheshiverthatwentdownIsrael'scollectivespineattheendoflastyear,aspuzzledscholarssawIsrael'slaypopulationjerkedintoawarenessofthelasttwodecadesofbiblicalarchaeologicalandhistoricalresearch.JustasIsraelishavehadtoreconsidertheirrecentpast,inlightofrevisionisthistoricalworks,theyalsoarefindingthemselvesfacingthemythsoftheirantiquitywithunprecedentedintensity.Unlikethehistoriansofmodemtimes,muchofwhoseworkisbasedonnewrevelationsfrompreviouslyclosedarchivesandpapers,thearchaeologistswhohavegiventheIsraelipublicitslatestcoldshowerarepresentingestablishedscholarship,someofitdatingfromthepasttwoorthreedecades,andsomeof
it
datingbackacerifury.
----
"
Butlikesomeo~there~isionisthistori~~,the~areprese~ti?gtheirresearchina~r?voc~tive--some
'<.t.tn./
wouldsayevenincendiary--way,explicitlyaimedatrevisingthenatureofIsraeliIdentity./~ThechillthatproducedthequestionatBen-GurionUniversitywassetoffbyoneofIsraeliarchaeology'sleadingbiblicalminimalists--alabelattachedbytheircolleaguestothosewhothinkthatverylittleintheBible'shistoricalsectionsistrue.TheTelAvivUniversityarchaeologistZe'evHerzogbeganthe
flurry
withacoverstoryintheweekendmagazineoftheOctober29,1999,issueof
Ha'aretz,
thenationaldailynewspaper."ThisiswhatarchaeologistshavelearnedfromtheirexcavationsintheLandoflsrael:theIsraeliteswereneverinEgypt,didnotwanderinthedesert,didnotconquerthelandinamilitarycampaignanddidnotpassitontothe12tribesofIsrael.PerhapsevenhardertoswallowisthefactthattheunitedmonarchyofDavidandSolomon,whichisdescribedbytheBibleasaregionalpower,wasatmostasmalltribalkingdom,"hewrote.WhydoesthatmakeIsraelisshiver?Itisnot,primarily,areligiousissue.ThequestioneratBen-GurionUniversitywasnotanOrthodoxJew.Hewasanolderman,byhisappearanceandmodeofspeecharepresentativeofIsrael'sfoundinggeneration,oneofthosewhohadfoughttoestablishamodemJewishstatein1948after2,000yearsofexile.ForsuchIsraelis,theBibleisnotareligiousdocument.Rather,itfillstheplaceheldbytheDeclarationofIndependenceintheUnitedStates:ItisthedefiningdocumentofJewishnationhood..DespitebeingawarethatbothtextualandhistoricalscholarshiphaveshownthattheBiblewaswrittenbymultipleauthorsandputinitsfinalformlongaftertheeventsitdescribes,theaveragesecularIsraeli,whostudiestheBibleinschoolaspartoftherequiredcurriculum,hasgrownupwithavagueimpressionthatthearchaeologicalfinds,fromthebeginningofbiblicalarchaeologyatthestartofthiscenturytothepresenttime,haveprovidedaconsistentstreamofevidenceforthefundamentaltruthofthebiblicalhistoricalnarrative.
 
Archaeologyvs.theBiblePage2of5Butwhatiftheartifactsturnedupinthefieldoverthelastcentury--thepottery,theancientbuildingsandcities,theinscriptionsanddocuments--insteadfailtoprovideevidencethatmuchofthebiblicalstoryeverhappened,oractuallycontradictit?ThatispreciselyMr.Herzog'sposition.Heendedhisarticlebyexpressingpuzzlementthathisconclusions,representing,heclaimed,theconsensusofbiblicalarchaeologicalandhistoricalscholarshipforthelast15yearsorso,hadfailedtopenetratethepublicconsciousness,despitethefactthathiswashardlythefirstnewspaperarticletoexplainthemtothegeneralpublic.Thequotesfrompublicfiguresthat
Ha'aretz
gatheredandprintedinaboxalongsidethearticleseemedtobearthatout.NolessapersonagethanYossiSarid,Israel'sministerofeducationandtheleaderoftheleft-wing,secularistMeretzParty,expressedsurpriseandsaidhehadbeenunawareoftheclaimspresentedbyMr.Herzog.
'1,.
Amongacademics,thg.t;_Ls
!.
broadconsensusonsomebasic_factsbUldiff~rencesofopinionabout~a~ydetails.ThatwasclearfromtheBen-GurionUniversityconferenceandanotherconferenceheldlastril'(jnthattheHerzogTeacherTrainingCollege,aninstitutionlocatedinanIsraelisettlementintheWestBankand.associated.withthecountry'sreligiousZionistcommunity.NoneofthescholarsspeakingateitherconferencebelievethattheBible'shistoricalsectionscanbeacceptedasliteral,accuratedescriptionsofhistoricalevents.Theyalsoagreethattheextra-biblicalevidenceforeventsdescribedintheBibledwindlesthefartherbackintimeonegoes.KingAhabofIsraeliswell-documentedinotherinscriptionsfromelsewhereintheMiddleEast;theunitedmonarchyof.DavidandSolomonisnot.EvidenceexistsoftheriseofthenewIsraelitenationinthePalestinianhighlandsduringthelateBroTlz~ge--theageoftheJudges--butitcanbeinterpretedindifferentways.Thereisnoexternalevidenceatallforthepatriarchsand,infact,thebiblicaldescriptioncontainscontradictionsandanachronismsthat,scholarsgenerallyagree,seemtoplacethepatriarchsintheageoftheJudgesratherthanseveralgenerations_earlierastheBiblehasit.
Mr.
HerzogconcludesfromsuchfindingsthattheBiblesimplyshouldnotbeusedasahistoricalsource.ThearchaeologicalpracticebegunbyWilliamFoxwellAlbright,whofoundedthedisciplineofbiblicalarchaeologyintheearlypartofthe20thcentury,wasthatfindingsinthefieldshouldbeinterpretedinthelightofthebiblicaltext.Mr.Herzog'snewparadigmisthattheBibleshouldbesetasideandthefindingsinterpretedintheirownright."ThedemandtoverifytheBiblehascoercedarchaeologytointerpretfindingsinaparticularway,"hesays."Theresulthasbeenthatthequantityofexcusesexceedsthequantityoffacts.Ourinterpretationhasbeenskewedbythissystem.Nowwe'reundergoingarevolution.Archaeologyisbecomingascience.""Ifwedidn'thavetheBible,wewouldn'thavedreamedofreconstructing
t
·odthewaywehave,"Mr.Herzogadds,referringtotheworkofwhathetermsthe'traditionalistoldschool'"farchaeologists.AndsilJfetheBibleitselfisnotacontemporaryaccountoftheevens
1
eurather,heargues,amuchlaterworkwhosepurposewastocreateaunifyingmythologicalpastforthe
"'I
Israelites,itshouldbesetasidewhenitcomestoreconstructingtheplaceandperioditostensiblydepicts.
\:)'t\
wJ:,tpositionisrejectedbyoilierscholars.WhileagreeingthatthebiblicaltextcannotbetakenliterallyandthatIt
IS
problematic
III
manyways,MordechaiCogan,aHebrewUniversityhistorianofthebiblical~period,insistedattheBen-Gurionconferencethat,whiletheBiblewasputinitspresentformatalaterdate,itisbasedonolderhistoricalchroniclesandcanthusprovideimportanthistoricalinformation.
 
Archaeologyvs.theBiblePage3of5"ItisindeedpossibletowritehistoryfromtheBible,"hedeclared.
"It
containsprimarysources.Thelackofevidenceinthegroundisnotsufficienttonegateevidenceinwriting,andthearchaeologistsneedtoberemindedofthatmorning,afternoon,andnight."Thatpositionisnotheldjustbyhistorians:Manyarchaeologistsagree.OneofthoseisAmihaiMazaroftheHebrewUniversityofJerusalem."Herzog,"hesayspolitely,"gotalittletoocarriedaway.True,there'sgeneralconcurrencethatwhenitcomestotheprotohistoryoftheIsraelites,archaeologycansayverylittle."Hepointsoutthatthepatriarchsandtheirsocieties,giventheirnomadicculture,wouldnothaveleftmuchforarchaeologiststofind."Inanycase,"Mr.Mazarcontinues,"thearchaeologyofthelandofIsraelisverynarrow.IfwetakeagenerallookattheculturesoftheMiddleEastinthattime,wegetabroadandveryinterestingbackgroundagainstwhichitispossibletounderstandthesourceofthebiblicalstories."Take,forexample,"theperiodofsettlement"--theperiodparalleltothebiblicalBookofJudges,whentheIsraelitenationtookshapeinthelandofCanaan,aneventthatthearchaeologistsandhistoriansplacein1200to1000B.C.Allagreethatexcavationshaveshownthatinthisperiodhundredsofsmallsettlementswereestablishedinthecentralmountainousregionofthecountry.ThatisthesameregioninwhichthestoriesoftheBookofJudgestakeplace,andthereisgeneralconsensusthattheinhabitantsofthosesimplevillagesandhomesteadsweretheforebearsofthepeoplewhowouldlateridentifythemselvesasIsraelite.Butwheredidtheycomefrom?Mr.HerzogemphasizesaspectsofthefindsinthosesettlementsthatdonotfitwithamasssettlementbynewarrivalsfromEgypt.Forexample,theceramicsthesettlersusedwereintheCanaanitestyle,andtheirlanguagewasapparentlyveryclose,ifnotidentical,tothelanguagespokenbytheCanaanites."Toalargeextent,theartifactscontinuetheCanaanitetraditionthatprecededthesesettlements.There'snoevidenceofmassmigration,"heinsists.HecitesatheorypropoundedbyhisTelAvivcolleagueIsraelFinkelsteinthatthesettlementswereestablishedbyshepherdswholeftthevalleysandcoastalplainswhenpolitical,economic,andclimaticcrisesforcedthemtostartgrowingtheirowngrain.Inotherwords,theIsraeliteswereCanaanites--localsratherthannewarrivalsfromEgypt.Mr.Mazar,whoexcavatedoneofthosesmallsettlementsthatnowissurroundedbytheoutlyingJerusalemneighborhoodofGilo,firmlydisagrees."True,theceramicsaresimilar.ButtherearetypesofCanaaniteceramicsthatareabsent,"heexplains.Inhismind,thatabsencesuggeststhattheceramicswerenotlocallyproducedbutpurchasedfromtheCanaanites.Moretelling,hebelieves,isthedesignofthesettlementsandtheindividualhomes,whichwereverydifferentfromCanaanitedesigns."Wheredidthispopulationcomefrom?There'sdebateaboutthat.Butthere'snocontradictionhere--thesepeopledevelopedintosomethingnew.It'sreallyexceptionalconfirmationofthebiblicalscenario,"hemaintains.
No.t
a.confirmation.ofitsliteraltruth,heallows,forthenewarrivalsdidnotnumberinthemillionsastheBiblehasit.ButitmaywellbethatasmallgroupthatindeedescapedslaveryinEgyptarrivedandmergedwithothermigrantsandlocalgroupsandforgedanewidentityandreligion.
,_-
To
Mr.
Mazarandothersofhispersuasion,
Mr.
Herzogandscholarslikehim--includingagroupofarchaeologistsandhistoriansoutsideIsraeloftencalledtheCopenhagenSchoolbecauseoftheirstrongpresenceattheUniversityofCopenhagen--areminimalistsandnihilistsreadytohittheBibleovertheheadwitheveryavailablepotsherd.Theepithet"post-Zionist"wasalsobandiedaboutagreatdealatthe

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