- Rare inscription from King David’s era found outside Jerusalem
- Crying King David: Are the ruins found in Israel really his palace?
- Brightly dyed, 3,000-year old textiles from King David-era found in southern Israel
Archaeologists always hope that advances in technology will shed fresh light on at least part of this ancient mystery: Did the Bible really happen? So far, what discoveries there are, tend to indicate that at the least, the timelines are off.
Bible in one hand, pick in the other
Meanwhile, everybody wants to know whether the Bible is literally true, from the layman to the clergy, to the political echelon, pertaining as it does to questions of identity and “our right to the land.”
In Jericho no wall was found from the era that Joshua was supposed to have lived, around the mid-13th century B.C.E., that he could have caused to tumble down. No evidence has been found that a large new group of people entered into Canaan during the post-Exodus settlement period.
From the Egyptian frying pan into the fire
The last 18 years of digging have changed basically nothing about the very earliest Biblical periods, for all the advances in archaeological technique.
Archaeology has not been able to find the Patriarch Abraham, or signs of his heirs. There is no evidence that the Children of Israel ever went to Egypt, or fled it in the Exodus.
Ditto the Philistines, who seem to have actually sailed to the Holy Land only centuries after the Bible says they did.
Another snag is that Egypt itself ruled the Land of Israel at that time of the purported Exodus. Even if the Children of Israel fled from Egypt, they would just have reached another territory under Egyptian control. It is hard to find a mainstream archaeologist prepared to defend the biblical description of events. There, in 18 years, nothing has changed.
No sign of Joshua
In any case, most archaeologists now agree that the Israelite-Jewish identity arose from traditions that developed among the inhabitants of Canaan. It was not brought from outside by invaders.
‘Beitdavid’: A glorious kingdom, named something or other
The Bible describes a regional power with its capital in Jerusalem that controlled extensive parts of the Land of Israel.
The critical camp argues that a century of excavations in Jerusalem and elsewhere indicates that David and his sons, if they existed, ruled a fairly small, remote hill town, no more. There is no evidence of the existence of a large and powerful kingdom in the hills in the 10th century B.C.E., they say.
The second element was the political and religious interest of kings of Judea, under whose auspices the Davidic texts were written.
Even the most enthusiastic supporters of the biblical approach are unable to say what the name of that glorious unified kingdom was, Herzog stresses.
‘I found David’: The Qeiyafa enigma
The real drama lay in the recent dating of the olive pits. Carbon-14 tests showed that they, and the fortress, had existed at the end of the 11th century B.C.E. and the early 10th century B.C.E. In other words, they were precisely from the days of King David’s postulated rule in Jerusalem, according to Scripture.
Though mighty, the edifice was evidently short-lived. At most, Qeiyafa seems to have survived a few decades. But the sheer possibility that a fortified settlement (or fortress) existed in the area of Judea during the Davidic era bolsters the maximalist, faithful view, and contradicts the minimalist opinion that the urbanization of the hills only began in the 8th century B.C.E., before which Jerusalem was merely an oversized village that controlled nothing.
Key to the Qeiyafa story is the head of the dig there, Professor Yossi Garfinkel of Hebrew University, who excavated it with Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Originally a researcher of the prehistoric era, Garfinkel didn’t belong to any camp before he began digging at Qeiyafa. Post-olive pits, he belonged firmly to the biblical camp.
Everything hung in the balance – either the Bible or the minimalist camp headed by Israel Finkelstein, he says. “If it came out 800 (B.C.E.), I would have received an honorary doctorate from minimalist Tel Aviv. If it came out 900 B.C.E., it would have been possible to argue; with 1000 B.C.E., there is no argument. In retrospect it is possible to say that I found David but I didn’t think of that at the time.”
Meanwhile, in recent years Prof. Aren Maier of Bar-Ilan University has been digging deeper at Tell Tsafit, site of the powerful Philistine city of Gath, which is right near Qeiyafa.
Not to mention, the Philistines of Gath most likely were the ones who conquered Qeiyafa just 20 or 30 years after it was built. “There is a limit to how many conclusions about Jerusalem can be drawn from Qeiyafa,” Finkelstein cautions.
All roads lead to Jerusalem, wherever that is
Jerusalem is the critical camp’s trump card. In the 18 years since Herzog’s article, the historic tell of Jerusalem, which descends from the Temple Mount to the Kidron Stream, via the neighborhood of Silwan, including the so-called City of David, has been dug up like never before.
Yet as the vast majority of archaeologists would agree, with the exception of a few controversial sites which we’ll come to in a moment – the capital of a unified kingdom of David and Solomon has not been found.
There is evidence of settlement, says Dr. Doron Ben-Ami of the Antiquities Authority. “We’ve found the Jerusalem of the 10th century B.C.E., but it was a paltry settlement with no monumental construction. If you are letting archaeology speak, that is what it says. If you take the Bible and start searching with candles, it isn’t archaeology any more.”
The Givati parking lot is not unique. For all the discovery that Jerusalem has been occupied for some 7,000 years, it hasn’t produced many findings from the period of David and Solomon, the 10th century B.C.E.
Solomon’s wall and David’s palace
In archaeological circles, Mazar is practically a one-woman camp of her own. Again and again she finds evidence of Bible lore, stressing the connections between the text and the findings.
Both structures are certainly impressive, but dating them to the period of David and Solomon, and their direct attribution to those kings, are controversial. Many archaeologists disagree with Mazar’s dating of the palace, claiming the findings she used in order to date the structure to the Davidic period are weak and it was actually built in a later period.
Solomon’s walls elicited similar reactions and it is hard to say that Mazar has succeeded, thus far, in persuading significant parts of the archaeology community of her position.
Part II: Hazor
Who built, and burned down, the capital of the Galilee?
If the gates were indeed built in the 10th century B.C.E. (as Yadin said) and if they do indeed resemble one another, then a unified kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem is the natural candidate for having built them.
But the crux of the disagreement today concerning Hazor is who exactly destroyed it in the 13th century B.C.E., and whether the culprits might have been the early Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua Bin Nun, fighting the Judahites.
In 2012 Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman unearthed the site of a great conflagration. Among other things they found there were vessels containing burned wheat grains. This fire is exactly congruent with the Book of Joshua, says Ben-Tor.
“Who could have destroyed Hazor? If not people from outer space, there are a limited number of options,” he says. “The Egyptians didn’t pass through Hazor, so was it the Sea Peoples [Philistines]? Not one single pottery fragment suggests as much. Maybe some other Canaanite city did it? No, they were all in bad shape. Who is left? The ones who have a tradition of having done it. They are guilty until proven otherwise.
His partner in the dig, Zuckerman, who died in 2014, proposed that the fire was caused by inhabitants of lower Hazor rebelling against the elite who dwelled in the palaces at the top of the mound. The houses in the lower part of the city were not burned, she noted – and the dating of the fire doesn’t accord with the time of Joshua, mid-13th century B.C.E., but was about 150 years earlier.
Timna: Who ran the copper mine?
Then the excavators became convinced that Timna had been mined by the ancient Egyptians, and moved its date to the 13th century B.C.E. Now, use of more advanced scientific tools led to a third postulation: that most of the activity at Timna indeed took place in the 10th century B.C.E.
Okay, that’s King Solomon’s era, but what about King Solomon? The head of the excavation team at Timna, Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef, has a complex answer.
The first excavator at Timna was American archaeologist Nelson Glueck, among the fathers of biblical archaeology. He thought the Timna mines were part of Solomon’s kingdom and figured that Solomon kept a fleet in the Red Sea bay of Eilat. Thus the name “King Solomon’s Mines” took hold.
Nine years ago, along came Ben-Yosef and sent date pits and scraps of cloth for carbon-14 dating, and the picture changed dramatically. The site indeed turned out to be 10th century B.C.E., a.k.a., of the Davidic/Solomonic era.
So was there some large, sufficiently powerful kingdom that could manage this enterprise? The problem is that in the 10th century B.C.E., neither side of the Jordan had a kingdom that clearly filled this requirement. No serious archaeologist today thinks that if there was a King Solomon, his rule reached as far south as Timna.
“The basic assumption that the thickness of a wall is equivalent to the size of a kingdom is too simplistic,” he says. “It is correct in general but it misses exceptional periods in history. The 10th century B.C.E. in the land of Israel was just such a period.”
“Fortunately for us, they engaged in something that leaves evidence [mining]. Had they engaged in trade, we wouldn’t know about them at all,” Ben-Yosef says. “But it gives you an understanding about what nomads are capable of.” Timna copper has been found in ancient Greece, he points out, and in Aram Damascus.
Thus, he cautiously postulates, the solution to certain anomalies between Scripture and science could be the archaeological invisibility of nomads. Possibly, for example, the great 10th century kingdom based in Jerusalem didn’t have fortified settlements but did have a large, powerful population within.
“When the Egyptians left Canaan, an opportunity arose that doesn’t recur often in the history of the land: the locals could flourish,” he suggests. And perhaps nomadic forces enabled whole kingdoms to flourish, including the Kingdom of Israel.”
Typically, archaeologists discount nomads, says Ben-Yosef – but they don’t realize the nomads could have “played a winning game” because they look only at stone. “The bottom line isn’t whether or not David existed but rather that we have to be humble, much more humble,” he sums up.
Shaka Zulu and the charisma factor
“Possibly the kingdom of David and Solomon was a kingdom with a charismatic leadership, which controlled certain areas without a lot of monumental construction, and influenced other areas by virtue of their status,” Maeir postulates. “This can be compared to Shaka, the King of the Zulus, who controlled a large kingdom without cities, or Dhahir al Umar, who controlled large areas of the Galilee in the 18th century thanks to his charismatic leadership.”
Eighteen years ago, Herzog’s article powerfully threw the argument towards the minimalists, at the expense of the scriptural approach. Discoveries since then have lent a little more credence to the biblical tales.
“Questioning the reliability of biblical depictions is perceived as questioning of our historic right to the land,” Herzog wrote in 1999. “It turns out that Israeli society is ready in part to acknowledge the injustice that has been done to the Arab inhabitants of the land, and is prepared to accept equal rights for women, but it is not strong enough to embrace the archaeological facts that challenge the scriptural myth.”
But 11 months after the article ran, the Barak government’s major move failed and the second intifada broke out. The Israeli public turned rightward. Tolerance of the critical position weakened.
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