The Rise and Fall of Archaeology in the Service of Ideology in Israel

By Rami Arav
University of Nebraska at Omaha
February 2013

In this op-ed, I will try to summarize what I wrote in 1998 and published in 2001.1 Nadia Abu el-Haj was busy at that time gathering material for her dissertation on the same topic and apparently missed this presentation.2 I do not know if it would have changed anything in her views or corrected any of her mistakes, but it is perhaps due time to present it again through the eyes of someone who has spent his entire career in archaeology. I am not going to deal with Abu el-Haj’s controversial book. This was vigorously done in the past. The fact that even after so many years of debate, very few archaeologists subscribe to her views is compelling. I would only add that her work is typical of a young student who is excited about the material she works on but borrows indiscriminately and without critical thinking from well-known political narratives and agendas. My hope is that as she matures she will do a better job.

In this op-ed, I hope to demonstrate how “anthropological approach” without solid “fact in the ground” can be misleading. Just like in any other historical essay, it is extremely important to know what things meant to the people involved at the time of the occurrences. The meaning derived by the interpreter today is almost insignificant because every interpretation reflects the concerns and the time period of the interpreter and not necessarily the people it deals with. For example, El-Haj dubs the Jewish settlements of Palestine in the first half of the 20th century as Colonialism; it does not mean anything and is totally anachronistic and irrelevant. The Jewish settlers not only never viewed themselves as such, but very vehemently rejected European colonialism for its practice of exploitation and self-serving purposes.

Similar to Nadia Abu El-Haj, I divide the time under this consideration to a few distinct periods: the end of the 19th century until 1905 is known in the history of Zionism as the First Immigration period. The Second Immigration period encompassed the years 1905-1933. The years 1933 – 1948 are considered the Third Immigration period and the War for Independence. For the sake of this article, I dub the period of 1949 – 1967 as a period of uncertain existence and the period of 1967 to present as the period when the fears of uncertain existence are removed. Each period had a different view on archaeology and each treated this scientific discipline with a different perspective. By and large, Israel is a free and open society, and although the government sponsors archaeological excavations, it never told archaeologists what to find. The debates were and are always on the interpretations of the finds.

In the first period, the first wave of immigrants established villages they called “colonies." However, these were not colonies in the European colonial sense or style. First and foremost, the settlers purchased the land on which they built their homes; they did not conquer it in any military style. Many left their traditional homes in Palestine such as Jerusalem, Hebron, Saffed (Tzfat), and Jaffa to join these villages. Others who came from Europe did not see Europe as their “homeland." They were not supported by any military or by any European countries and never sent raw materials to the “motherland” to be processed and sold back to colonies.

These villagers at the end of the 19th century were totally ignorant or indifferent to the archaeological research done in the Holy Land. It is amazing how nothing of the explorations and discoveries of this time interested them. The names of the villages reflect better than anything else this indifference. While the American Edward Robinson, the French Victor Guerin, the German Gottlieb Schumacher and many other explorers painstakingly endeavored to identify biblical towns, no such attempts were made by the Jewish villagers to restore the ancient place names. They all reflect a Zionist expectation for a better future than what they had encountered in Europe. Zionism was indeed instigated by European nationalism, but European anti-Semitism mixed with frustrations and hopelessness from a real integration in the Christian society drove hundreds of thousands of Jews out of Europe. The majority immigrated to the United States while some tens of thousands immigrated to Palestine. Their hopes for a new future were expressed in the names of the places they established, such as Petakh Tikqvah (“Hope Emerging”), Nes Tziona (“a Banner for Zion"), Zikhron Ya’akov ("a memorial for Jacob (Rothschild)," Yesod Hama’alah (“Exulted Foundation”), Rosh Pinah (“A Corner Stone”), and Tel Aviv (after Theodore Herzl’s book Altneueland that had been translated into Hebrew as Tel Aviv. (This is the only city in the world, I know of, that was named after a book.) My grandfather settled in Galilee in 1899, having been born in Hebron to a family who moved there from Jerusalem. He witnessed Kohl and Watzinger’s excavations at the synagogue of Umm el-Amad but was typically more concerned with questions of survival in harsh conditions rather than in archaeology. Another important testimony to this ignorance is to look at the icons they selected to express themselves. It was not the synagogue of Capernaum which had been excavated at that time, nor was it the impressive gate of the synagogue at Biraam, but surprisingly enough, they picked up Islamic icons: the Ottoman citadel with its minaret known as the “tower of David," or the Islamic structure of the “Tomb of Rachel."

The second wave of immigrants came from Central and Eastern Europe. Many who fled the unsuccessful Russian revolution of 1905, were students, professors, and professionals. They were filled with the socialistic zeal that ignited Europe at that time. Their wish may have been to continue the struggle against the bourgeoisie in their new location in Palestine, but there were no bourgeoisie in Palestine at the turn of the 20th century. They founded communal villages called kibbutzim and practiced what they believed was the true meaning of communism. Unlike the First Immigration wave, however, they incubated a dream to build an independent state, a restoration of the ancient Israelite state. After all, the British government ruling this region in the wake of WWI received a mandate from the League of Nations to prepare the Middle East for statehoods, not colonies. The opening of the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem in 1924 and the Technion in Haifa earlier stimulated this ideology of preparation for statehood. The Department of Archaeology was founded and included the first “Museum for Jewish Antiquities." Hebrew University archaeologists participated in the United Expedition that excavated Samaria/Sebaste.

The culmination of these early discoveries, for our purpose, was, undoubtedly the discovery of the Synagogue at Beth Alpha. The story of the discovery and the ensuing excavations would be a role model for years to come. In the winter of 1929, a group of young Jewish Zionists, who had emigrated from central Europe and settled a kibbutz at the foothills of the Gilboa Mountain near the ancient ruins named Bit Ilfa, came across an ancient mosaic pavement of a synagogue. They immediately sent messages to the Zionist Executive (the former of the Jewish National Fund), the Government Department of Antiquities of Palestine, and the Hebrew University. The Department of Antiquities commissioned Eliezer L. Sukenik from the Hebrew University to conduct an excavation. Under his direction, ten young people from the kibbutz excavated the synagogue and uncovered a stunning mosaic pavement. The excitement was palpable. This discovery ignited the imagination, not only of the small group but also that of the entire Jewish community in Palestine. All were awestruck by the idea that this group had settled right on the top of an ancient Jewish settlement. The mosaic appeared to be a "welcome home" greeting sent directly to them from their ancestors. A gap of fourteen centuries seemed to collapse in their imaginations and their hearts. The Hebrew University published a special bulletin about the progress of the dig. People from all over came to see the wonder. Dr. J.L. Magnes, the chancellor of the Hebrew University, together with Dr. John Haynes from New York came riding in on horseback. In the words of Sukenik at that time: “Our guests were much interested in these remnants of the Jewish past now being laid bare and also in the picture of the new life now coming into existence in this furthermost point of the modern Jewish settlement in the valley of Jesreel."

All through the 1930’s, this tendency continued, but not without some surprises. The most important excavation in the 1930’s by the Hebrew University was at Beth She’arim by Benjamin Mazar (then Maisler). However, this excavation did not reach the level of a national icon. Perhaps this was because the site was the burial place of rabbis whose bones were sometimes shifted from abroad to be buried in the Land of Israel. To the basically secular, anti-rabbinical, socialistic Jewish community, the message of "die abroad and send your bones to be buried in Israel" was apparently not the correct message.

However, in a different place there was a much more appealing message. The story of the Jewish Zealots fighting for their freedom on the top of Masada truly resonated with the ideals of these new immigrants and was much more enticing. The modern Jewish community, fighting for independence, could easily identify with the ancient Zealots struggling for freedom or death. Following the horrific news from Europe in WWII came the slogan “Masada shall not fall again." Abraham Stern, the leader of the extreme underground guerillas, renamed himself Elazar ben-Yair in honor and emulation of the leader of the Zealots of Masada.

The next period, 1948 to 1967, was a period of independence mixed with great fear that this independence would prove to be fragile and perhaps temporary. The British government, feeling kind of responsible for this, posted military in neighboring Cyprus in case immediate deployment to rescue the Jewish population would be necessary.

In 1952, the retired Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, Yigael Yadin, spent two years in London writing his PhD dissertation on a topic close to his career, "The Art of Warfare in the Biblical Period." When he returned to Israel, he mentally prepared himself to encounter the biblical conqueror of the country, Joshua the son of Nun. The site selected was Hazor where “the names Joshua, Sisera, Deborah, Solomon, Ahab, and Jezebel are not only chapters and verses but connected with strata building and artifacts” as Amnon Ben-Tor stated it in BAR in 1999. The excavations took place during 1955 – 1958 and ended up with a big debate over the interpretation of the finds. While Yadin interpreted the destruction layer at Hazor in the 12th century BCE as caused by Joshua, his colleague Prof Y. Aharoni claimed that others could have done it.

The climax of archaeology as a national icon was definitely the excavations at Masada. As noted above, the fame was already there. Yadin was not even the first to excavate the site; it was excavated by prominent archaeologists like Y. Aharoni, M. Avi-Yonah, and Sh. Gutman. However, it became apparent that grand scale excavations could only be carried out by Yadin. In the fall of 1963, his staff was recruited, water pipes were laid, and a small cable ferry was installed to bring the equipment up. A tractor was pulled apart, transported, and reassembled at the top of the mountain. A military camp was built near the ancient Roman camp, and hundreds of volunteers from 28 countries arrived at the site to begin the operation. It continued for almost two years without interruption. Similar to the military style, briefings were held every night and the results were not disappointing. Masada, according to Yadin, was found exactly as Josephus had described it, stone by stone. The terrace palaces of Herod the Great, the Roman rampart and the walls, everything perfectly fit the description of Josephus. Not only did Masada become a national monument but Josephus became a national historian.

The State of Israel adopted Masada as a symbol. Stamps, coins, and posters were issued, and the subject was taught at schools. Elite military units were sworn to the flag on the top of Masada. Under the blaze of torchlight, they vowed “Masada shall never fall again." Yadin proclaimed on one of these occasions: “The echo of your oath this night will resound through the encampments of our foes! Its significance is not less powerful than all our armaments." There is no need to elaborate that the fear that “Masada might fall again” is obvious here and is the driving force for this symbolism.

The Six Day War in 1967, in which the State of Israel managed to defeat three strong countries in six days, came as a big surprise not only to the defeated but also to the Israelis themselves. This victory entirely changed the perception of the people. In the space of less than a week, the Israelis realized that their country was the strongest power in the region. In those euphoric days, the fear that “Masada might fall again” totally vanished together with its symbolic images. From that point on, and until today, archaeology as a vehicle to deliver political agendas diminished and again became the playground of scholars and professionals. The excavated sites became nothing more than tourist attractions and shops selling trinkets.

There is no better place to see this demise than in Jerusalem. Since 1968, the Southern Wall, the Upper City, and the City of David have been excavated. However, none of these excavations achieved status as national icons. Nothing echoes the glorious days of Masada and indeed, these excavations exhibit fairly well whatever was found from its earliest finds in the Middle Bronze Age until the late medieval period. For example, the most impressive finds in the City of David are definitely the Middle Bronze Age remains around the spring of Gihon: the Southern Walls exhibit in addition to Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine architecture, and three Umayyad palaces, hitherto unknown. Sadly, some marginal circles usurped some sites at the City of David for the sake of promoting their agenda. However, this is met with strong resentment from most of the archaeological community and the general public alike. It has not turned the site into a national icon. The indifference of the public about these happenings is here self-evident. Who cares? My hope is that for the sake of respect for the discipline of archaeology, this practice should be stopped.

The Jewish Ultra-Orthodoxy (Haredim) in Israel is good evidence that archaeology is no longer the focal point of the Israeli leadership. Starting in the 1970’s, a small but violent group of Haredim realized that archaeological sites are an arena where they can enforce their agenda without much opposition. They assault and vandalize archaeological sites almost without interruption. In 1981, they attacked my dig at Jerusalem, smashed my car as a warning not to come back, and told me to check again in the office to see that my license to the dig was canceled. And indeed, that night, it was canceled by a special intervention of the minister of culture. In 2006, they again assaulted my site at Bethsaida, causing irreversible damage to the site and thousands of dollars of damage to our equipment. A complaint that we placed at the police department was returned after a few months saying that the file was closed due to lack of public interest. The police department absolutely hit the nail on the head! The public does not care anymore about archaeology. From a “national hobby” in the early 1960’s, archaeology has become a victim and a cheap sacrifice for political concessions. Years ago the Haredim demanded to have five members in the Archaeological Council who license excavations. Their obvious intention was to bring about the complete shutdown of this discipline all together. Later, as a concession to the Haredim, the General Attorney removed ancient burials and bones from the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority. All the bones that were carefully excavated and stored for further study were reburied. Along with this interment, all the invaluable information that they conveyed was obliterated forever. The department of Physical Anthropology at IAA was closed. Only fossils were allowed. Today, in addition to applying for the formal license from IAA, further arrangements are made with the Haredim in the hopes of securing the site from malicious attack. After my site was assaulted in 2006, the sponsors of my dig met with the mastermind of the vandals and begged permission to continue the excavations. The permission was granted on a condition that we should not dig tombs.

This pitiful tendency is also reflected in the number of students choosing to study archaeology. In 1969, there were 100 students enrolled in archaeology in Tel Aviv University. Today, the population of the country has more than doubled, yet, the universities struggle to fill the ranks. The number of faculty members shrank and programs were closed. Many PhD graduates have found jobs abroad. A prominent Tel Aviv University archaeologist, Z. Herzog, complained a few years ago in an article in the prestigious Israeli paper Haaretz that despite the fact that archaeology has totally changed our current understanding of the Bible, nobody pays attention. The public is apathetic and indifferent. The glorious heyday of iconic archaeology has gone forever.


1 Arav R. Archaeology in the Service of Ideology in Israel, “A Land Flowing With Milk and Honey”, Visions of Israel from Biblical to Modern Times, Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual Symposium of the Philip and Ethel Klutznick, Chair in Jewish Civilization November 1-2, 1998. Studies in Jewish Civilizations 11, Edited by Leonard J. Greenspoon and Ronald A. Simkins, Creighton University Press, 2001.

2 Nadia Abu El-Haj, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, Chicago 2001.

Comments (32)

The situation in America is totally different. Archaeology- especially of Israel- is the golden child and looks like it will continue to be that for the foreseeable future.

#1 - Jim - 02/15/2013 - 13:18

Thanks for this article Rami. Ironcially, in the US especially, it seems that "Biblical Archaeology" as a fairly widespread public interest is thriving, via the popular vehicles of BAS and BAR as well as the outreach now of ASOR via its revamped NEA magazine with lots of "eye candy" (but not those horrid BAR ads for "flesh colored Christs that glow in the dark") and the E-newsletter, popular ASOR Blog, etc. I think the AIA also finds that its local chapters, which are not necessarily focused on ANE topics, draw large crowds...not to mention all the TV media, good, bad, and ugly. Ironically, when you run into the average "Joe" or "Jill" on the street, as I often do, the question I most often get is the hopeful query--Dr. Tabor, isn't it the case that "they" are discovering more and more all the time that confirms the Bible? Interesting demonstration of wishful thinking since most academics would stress the paucity of such evidence.

#2 - James D. Tabor - 02/15/2013 - 15:48

Well, it's a point of view, against which numerous quotations from Herzl and Ben-Gurion could be brought to give a rather different impression of Zionism. Bt Zionism was, until recently, multifaceted. Only recently have the biblical and political forms converged. As for loss of interest in archaeology - well, yes, and hardly surprising. Once it begins to create a non-biblical history very few people want to know. They are not really interested in archaeology, but only in biblical historicity. As for Abu el-Haj, well, she is not quite as isolated as this article makes her appear, is she? Finally the 'freedom fighters' on Masada terrorized the local population perhaps more than the Romans. It's not surprising that passing out parades no longer happen there. Glorifying ancient Jewish terrorists while condemning modern 'freedom fighters' from Palestine looks a little bit contradictory.

#3 - philip davies - 02/15/2013 - 15:56

Calling Masada fighters terrorists is anachronistic and a little jejune. Don't you think?

El-Haj's book does not find many adherents among serious scholars. I share Professor Arav's sentiments.

#4 - Michael Helfield - 02/15/2013 - 16:54

If archaeology - and critical history and theology too - have transformed our understanding of the Bible then it is no wonder that public opinion, if accustomed to thinking of it received ideas as biblical, becomes wary. I think that what you describe is wariness rather than indifference. People don't want to get drawn into disputes with religious enthusiasts of whom they'd rather not think or into disputes over the Temple the Waqf and all that. But the likes of.Shlomo Sand can enjoy a succes de scandale - wasn't he at the top of the best seller list for 18 weeks? - which is another sign that is more wariness than (what I would call) indifference.

#5 - Martin - 02/15/2013 - 18:07

What is really going on here? The problem of secular Zionism with a society that seems more and more to ge governed by religious fanatics? Not unlike what is happening in other places, be it Muslim countries (it was not long ago that an Islamist leader in Egypt proposed to blow the Pyramids away, and we now see the al-Qaeda madmen what they have been doing to ancient remains at Timbuktu and other places in Mali), or Christian ones, such as the rejection of science in many parts of the US in favour of creationism, intelligent design and their likes.

Otherwise the article includes a diatribe about people who dr. Arav does not like, especially Nadia Abu El-Haj. He will hardly be happy with her new book, The Genealogical Science: The Search for Jewish Origins and the Politics of Epistemology (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

The interesting thing is the emergence of a contra-history (and archaeology) directed against the usual image of the past painted by Zionist archaeologists like Yadin and his entourage, and their companions outside of Israel. I am thinking of an emergent Arab history writing by people like Basem L. Ra'ad, Hidden Stories: Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean (PlutoPress, London 2010). It is not that it is a great work (lot of things to critizise), but it is creating an alternative history of Palestine, and the one that will be taught in the future in the Middle East outside of tiny Israel itself. Dr. Ravi should pay attention to this phenomenon before he discovers that it has taken over his field among people not belonging to his own circle.

As to "Martin" who does not like Sand: You will "love", I guess, to read Sand's new book The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland (Verso Books, 2013, just out--I am waiting for my copy). More to frown at (I suppose that you actually read his former book!).

Summing up, Rami Arav's review of Israeli archaeology hardly gets to the point. It is OK that so much have changed to the better, but it is not OK that he does so little in encountering critics of archaeological practice in Israel of today, and among their interpreters especially in the US. As I write this a discussion is going on on Jim West's list Biblical Interpretation, about the Meyrs and their problems with the way archaeology is represented in the media. Rami, you should have a look at this discussion.

Niels Peter Lemche

#6 - Niels Peter Lemche - 02/16/2013 - 15:13

Neils Peter Lemche , you compared the Islamist leaders of Egypt who threaten to “blow the pyramids away” to the Israeli leaders. Strange but I never heard an equivalent statement from any Israeli leader. Can you quote an Israeli statement equivalent to this from somebody in Israel equivalent to the president of Egypt? Nor have I seen a humiliating caricatures of Mohamed in any Israeli newspaper, the way it appeared in a country that, despite the fact that Shakespeare thought it is rotten, some say, it is quite civilized. “Physician, heal yourself." (Luke 4:23).

I am sorry but I have no clue what you mean by: “he does so little in encountering critics of archaeological practice in Israel of today, and among their interpreters especially in the US.” I am sure you know that every professional journal devotes large section to book reviews and criticism. Can you please elucidate what you mean by that? However, my essay dealt with a different topic, not with “critics of archaeological practice in Israel”.

#7 - Rami Arav - 02/16/2013 - 22:40

Thank you Philip Davies, a few years ago, you and I presented in the same session at SBL. Soon after your presentation you left the hall. You certainly had better preferences than to listen to me, I do not blame you, do not get me wrong. So now I feel really privileged that you read my op-ed article and even commented on it. Thank you!
I do agree with you that unlike theology, Zionism has no strict dogma and therefore is pluralistic. I attempted to describe the mainstream which was featured by secular Jews with socialistic orientation. This trend dominated the movement until less socialistic trend replaced it.
However, I am confused when you said “biblical and political forms converge”. I do not know what you mean by applying term “biblical” to the political reality in Israel. If you mean “religion and politics converge” I would agree with you and there is a hope that it will be changed. I have the feeling that “biblical” is a Protestant term and does not define Israelis. You know better than I do, that Bible and religion are not synonyms. Moreover, in Judaism religion does not necessarily mean a belief in god. A recent poll done in Israel discovered that 5% of the orthodox and ultra-orthodox never believed and do not believe in god! Among the Israelis who define themselves as secular the percentage is 42%, however, they all define themselves as Jews. Just by comparison the number of people who do not believe in god in the USA is 22%. Obviously somebody has to change the wording on the dollar bill.
Philip Davies, you are right, the zealots in Masada did loot their fellowmen neighboring Jewish population. I have mentioned this irony in my longer article in 2001 (see the f.n. in the essay). However, we all know that people turn very selective to what they pick up from history. As I said in the onset of the essay, one needs to see what this archaeological symbolism meant of the people who created it, and not what it means to us today. During 1948 – 1967 the state of Israel was under a siege and its existence was severely challenged. In this state of mind it is only natural that people turned to the freedom fighters of Masada as a role model. The fact that the zealots of Masada were “terrorists” in our modern terms is interesting to note as something ironic, but it is totally anachronistic and irrelevant.

#8 - Rami Arav - 02/17/2013 - 01:07

I don't know why NPL should think I don't like Sand. I metely argued that the success of his book with the Israeli rrading public indicated that public was not quite as indifferent to critical theology/archaeology as Professor Arav suggests. Wary and suspicious perhaps but ready to respond when a certain level of excitement is generated. I will read Sand's next book with interest.

#9 - Martin - 02/17/2013 - 01:17

Rami, you wrote:
Neils Peter Lemche , you compared the Islamist leaders of Egypt who threaten to “blow the pyramids away” to the Israeli leaders. Strange but I never heard an equivalent statement from any Israeli leader.

Apart from misspelling my name you didn't readf what I wrote: Religious fanatics in Egypt have made this proposal, rejected by their president. Religious fanatics in Israel would gladly blow up the buildings on the Haram esh-Sharif in Jerusalem, but your government will not allow it, and we could go on. As a matter of fact, I was not targetting Israeli political leadership but those people you also see as a treat to your own business.

As to the last part, well "study" BAR.


#10 - Niels Peter Lemche - 02/17/2013 - 09:05

Niels Peter Lemche, I am terribly sorry for misspelling your name, and by the way, if in the comment signed by you, Dr. Ravi pertains to me (Rami Arav), we both suffer from the same challenge in spelling names.
I am sorry but I could not find where you wrote that the proposal to “blow away” the pyramids was rejected by the president of Egypt. You indicated only that an Islamist leader in Egypt has suggested it. How could I think that “an Islamist leader in Egypt” is not the president? So please be more informative in the future.
Your notion that the Israeli government will not allow crazy ideas like blowing up the mosques on the Haram el-Shrif is absolutely correct as much as it goes without saying. I am happy that you did not accuse the Israeli government in behavior like the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, I am also happy that you pointed to the fact that when it comes to a rational thinking the government of Israel reacts (most of the times) as it should, but when it comes to the Haredim/archaeology confrontation, as I pointed out in my essay, the government of Israel is much more compromising. The reason being that archaeology is no longer a protected icon in Israel.
I could not figure out what you mean “Study BAR”. You have to be more explicit.

#11 - Rami Arav - 02/17/2013 - 23:13

The last part has to do with the discussion about archaeology now and then in Israel. BAR is a good place to begin for the quest for historical Israel (ancient). Bible and spade archaeology and diffing if not anymore for king and country, then for facts on the ground. Eilat Mazar is at least quoted for saying exactly that about her archaeology (Bible & spade).

But then the business of Elad also comes in. In the end they may cause as much destruction to archaeological sites as the fanatics who would go for destroying these sites. And when Ronny Reich is quoted for saying that he is not abused by the religious but it is the other way around, this argument has been used before by people who are believing that they can control the devil.

#12 - N. Lemche - 02/18/2013 - 16:14

-Only some 5-7% of Americans don't believe in god. Your 22% is probably those unaffiliated with any organized religion.

#13 - E. Harding - 02/18/2013 - 20:32

Rami, et. al., perhaps this will be of interest ...

#14 - Curtis Hutt - 02/20/2013 - 04:14

Once the name Eilat Mazar is mentioned, I should comment that Eilat is a very careful archaeologist with quite a long experience in the field. She did discover a monumental architecture and she did discover 10th century BCE pottery in the building. These two facts are undeniable. However, the association of these two is indeed very problematic in a city like Jerusalem where inhabitation never ceased. In my mind, since there was more than one king in the tenth century BCE Jerusalem, distinguishing one is going one step too far. However, in places without this constrains, monumental architecture in the 10th century BCE is possible. (Possibility is not evidence, but at least, it helps to remove sweeping assertions such as “there was no monumental architecture in the 10th century BCE”).

For example, tenth century Bethsaida (Stratum VI) yielded monumental architecture in remarkable state of preservation. These include a palace in the style of Bit Hilani, city walls, the largest and the best preserved a city gate ever found, a massive granary, loaded with Emmer wheat and a road leading to the city gate . The road measures 4 m wide, which is wide enough for wheeled vehicles. In his research of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis explains that the disappearance of wheeled vehicle roads during the Middle-Ages is due to lack of law and order. According to him, no peasant would purchase a cart if it could be stolen and there is no authority to retrieve it. I took his model to the 10th century BCE and claim that the existence of roads to accomodate wheeled vehicles is an indication to law and order which is typical to statehood and not chiefdom .

In conclusion, just as archaeology did not support the maximalists’ views in the 20th century, it does not support the minimalists’ views today. The 10th century BCE reality was somewhere in between. It is better that biblical scholars still holding on to the minimalists views should recognize it, rather than dismiss archaeology as a discipline because it does not fit their hypotheses. Rhetoric is not a substitute to a good scholarly work that integrates all given data.

E. Harding, thank you for your comment. I took my figures from Richard Dawkins’ latest book. He might be bias.

#15 - Rami Arav - 02/21/2013 - 00:08

Hm, maybe it is time to see if you can find anyone from the Tel Aviv bunch to sigh that statement!

Or is it just another sweeping message from the other side?

Niels Peter Lemche

#16 - Niels Peter Lemche - 02/21/2013 - 13:54

1) Funny thing to say, I am a Tel Aviv university alumnus myself, Israel Finkelstein was my classmate, I just hosted David Ussishkin at my conference. None of them is a minimalist.

2) I am not maximalist either. I do not know what is the "other side" that you label me with? Please elucidate. But more importantly, what difference does it make? It is not a personal issue. It is whether there are fortified cities in Iron Age IIA or not? You may check the publications of Bethsaida and decide whether or not we have an Iron Age IIA fortified city? You are most cordially invited to see the site in your own eyes. I will be honored to guide you and show you the site. We will be digging at Bethsaida May 19th to June 29, 2013, Mondays to Fridays, 6:00 AM - 12:30 PM.

Be our guest of honor.
Rami Arav

#17 - Rami Arav - 02/21/2013 - 17:44

well, the Jerusalem balagan started for me when David Ussishkin during a lecture in Jerusalem in 1995 whispered to me: Until now we haven't found one sherd in Jerusalem from the 10th century! Then as the last I have Finkelstein's evaluation of Eilat Mazar's findings, when asked directly by one of my company wheen visiting Megiddo in 2010: Oh, she jas found some nice monumental architecture from the Hellenistic Period.

Both have been my friends for many years, Finkelstein since 1988.

AS to minimalist/maximalist: I am not sure how helpful these labels really are. I much better like the way Malamat described it (we were on very good terms): As he said pointing at a line: I am here, your are there, but the line was unbroken, Just different parts of the same line.

However, what I will not accept is Bible and spade archaeology, and archaeology for political reasons.

#18 - Niels Peter Lemche - 02/23/2013 - 07:30

As to the dreaded labels, Finkelstein (Quest Hist.Is.p.10 ff)offers the following definitions -
CONSERVATIVES = those who believe that the Bible is a reliable record of Israel's history
MINIMALISTS = those who believe that the historical material that pertains to the Iron Age is a)a late composition from Persian or Hellenistic periods and b)largely fictional
CENTRISTS = those who believe i)in a late monarchic or exilic date for much of the Pentateuch and Dt. History; 'hence' ii) that these texts preserve reliable evidence for monarchic Israel.
The a) and b) of the definition of Minimalists are presented as a conjunction, with the Centrists, ii) is presented as an inference from i), which logically it is not: there could be an enormous amount of misleading elements in the history of any period written towards that period's end. Likewise we may choose to restrict the term Minimalist to those who assert both a) and b) in conjunction, but neither of these propositions implies the other and a) deserves consideration in itself. A composition of much later times could in principle provide reliable information about earlier ones.
Definitions which refer to the composition of texts could concern the date around which the main substance of these texts was composed or to the date when the final effective editing took place. If both these dates are relevant one could quite easily be both a Centrist and a Minimalist (as defined) at the same time, believing that the Biblical account was mainly an exilic composition, significantly edited by Hellenists and in the final result mainly fictional. One could also be a Conservative who accepted Minimalist dates, believing that the Bible was conscientiously edited in Hellenistic times by people who had access to detailed royal archives or even, come to that, to Moses' personal diary.
Definitions are extremely important in any discussion and I thank Finkelstein for offering these, though I think that from a logical point of view they can be somewhat confusing. But anything's better than the exchange, especially the angry exchange, of undefined terms which the disputants are not using in the same way. But then I'm not an archaeologist, only a philosopher of a kind and not even French, though I do think rather highly of Sand.
- Martin Hughes

#19 - Martin - 02/25/2013 - 16:40

OK, Martin but where does this lead us?

The only thing I can say about the centristic position is that it is a very unhealthy one: They shoot at you from both sides.

It is also a cul-de-sac, as scholarship progress through the confrontation between extremes.

So my advice: Skip the philosophy (I didn't say philosophical crap--should I?)and get out there where the shooting takes place, in the confrontation between different positions.

I believe that this is the place where you can find me and my band of brothers.


#20 - Niels Peter Lemche - 02/26/2013 - 12:37

Well it won't help if the crucial words used within the different positions don't mean the same thing.
Finkelstein does at least explain what he means by crucial terms but causes some confusion by placing the disputants on two different spectra, one concerned with the trustworthiness and one concerned with the composition date of the biblical texts. Worth noting, in my view.
I didn't engage Rami Arav in my suggestion that what he calls indifference is not indifference in the sense of lack of interest (Sand's commercial success proving that this interest exists)but suspicion, did I? The suspicion arises, surely, because an ideology is under threat from what had seemed to be one of its essential helpers. This fact in itself tells you two things about Israeli archaeology as developed before the zealots could interfere. One that it was never innocent, purely scientific or non-political. The other than many of its practitioners were honest enough to produce results that the dominant ideology did not welcome.

#21 - Martin - 02/28/2013 - 17:29

A few comments to NPL and MH,
1. “I will not accept …. archaeology for political reasons” (NPL)
I take it to mean that any archaeological article with any political bias should be rejected. I find it philosophically troubling since it seems to imply that archaeological (or historical) articles bare of biases are common and are only to be contaminated by the biased articles. In the January op-ed article I claimed that although bias free articles are the ideal, in reality there is no such thing. The idea that there is no “objectivity” in historiography (and archaeology alike) and that every author reflects his own period and his concerns is not new. The renowned Roman historian Ronald Syme brought it to the forefront of scholarship in his famous “Roman Revolution” in 1939. Facing the rise of the European dictators he suggested to renounce the images of Julius Caesar and Augustus as portrayed by Tacitus and instead to view them as dictators. His followers and disciples, Prof. Zvi Yavetz from Tel Aviv University, who passed away last January, and the German Prof. Dr. Christian Meiers, followed his example and developed his ideas further.
Because of its inclusiveness I would be very cautious with such a claim. Moreover the demand to reject it is ironic and condescending. It would actually mean: “I do not like your biases because they do not comply with mine”. In the January op-ed I suggested to reduce biases by having multiple authors for archaeological articles and books. (In fact, this practice has been done by Yadin and his team members in the report of the Hazor excavations. Perhaps the multiple authors and approaches are the reasons Yadin never published a final report).

2. “A Spade and the Bible” reminds me of the claim on “A Spade and Homer” in regard to the archaeology of Troy. Basically it is the same claim that comes from people that archaeology destroys their romantic image of the past. It will be unwise not to use any piece of information from the past in order to recover antiquity. Likewise, it is unwise to accept texts on their face value, without critical reading. In the past when we had little archaeology and more biblical narratives, archaeology was used to illustrate biblical narratives, today when we have more archaeology; the situation is reversed, the bible helps to illustrate archaeological discoveries. For example, the excellent preservation of the city gate of Bethsaida is a perfect stage for biblical narratives relating to city gates, i.e., the courtyard located between the inner and the outer gates of Bethsaida, the strong tower abutting the court and the city wall, would be a perfect setting for the narrative describing King David “sitting between the two gates, and the scout went up to the roof of the gate by the wall” (2 Sam 18:24).

3. “Centric approach”- In my mind the best theory is a theory that solves more problems than it creates. Even if assuming the centric state saying that “the texts preserve a reliable evidence for the monarchic Israel”’ this should not be taken on face value. Just compare Egyptian and Assyrian texts relating to events mentioned in the Bible and you realize that the description is not unbiased. Take for example the biblical account on the Shishak campaign. Shishak claims victory over dozens of cities, archaeology has proven destruction of such places, but the Bible is only interested in Jerusalem and the treasures of the temple. Nothing, of the loss of lives, devastation and destruction of so many places, the treasure of the temple is what bothered the narrator.

4. David Ussishkin was correct in 1996 but since then 18 years have passed and we have some new discoveries in Jerusalem.

5. As is required from a good scholar, since 2009 Israel Finkelstein has changed his opinion and suggests beginning Iron Age IIA in c. 950 BCE, and consequently, to date the end of Iron Age IIB with the destruction of the four chambers city gate at Megiddo (Stratum IVA) to 732 BCE. These dates comply with the situation at Bethsaida as was suggested already in 1999.

#22 - Rami Arav - 03/02/2013 - 03:59

I've just consulted Finkelstein's and Piasetzky's 09 Oxford Journal of Archaeology article on destruction layers and all that. He does indeed seem to have changed his opinion about Sheshonq but at that stage seems to be sure that there was no destruction connected with that event. Has he changed his mind again so decisively that you can say that archaeology has now proved the destruction which as recently as 09 was being denied?
What little is preserved of Shoshenq includes a reference to others' having done wrong. To me this suggests that S saw himself not as an invader but as a legitimate sovereign exercising his rights (rectifying abuses and collecting taxes) inherited from Amarna times and earlier, rights which later Egyptian rulers down to Neco, down to Ptolemy Soter and even to Cleopatra, surely thought they had. The lack of destruction suggests that at the time his claims were widely accepted, a fact which would put a lot of things in a new light.

#23 - Martin - 03/04/2013 - 20:38

In his article for Stager’s festschrift (2009), Finkelstein dates the destruction of Megiddo VA-IVB to the mid-9th century BCE and ascribes it to Hazael. He repeated it with Piasetkey in NEA 74 2011. This is acceptable; Bethsaida VI (which he did not mention in his articles) was also destroyed in the mid-9th century (see Bethsaida volumes III and IV). However, since the mid-9th century was a period of turmoil in this region. Hazael is only but one contender, Shalmaneser III could have been another.
However, every stratum has two dates, the construction date and the destruction date. Of these two, the destruction date is easier to establish since it is always the latest find in the layer of the destruction. The construction date is much more challenging. Ussishkin and Finkelstein’s idea that Shishak /Sheshoneq) did not erect his monument in a ruined city makes sense. It only means that by 925 Stratum VA-IVB was still functioning. Now who constructed it? Was it Solomon as was argued for many years? Or perhaps was it Jeroboam I as soon as he came to power? There are not too many contenders. Yet, Bethsaida VI was constructed c. 950 BCE.
I agree with you, Shishak/ Shoshenq probably did not see himself an invader. Actually who in history saw himself so? Even Hernan Cortez the Spanish Conquistador saw himself as part of the Reconquista. All conquerors in history thought that they are operating in some noble if not divine mission.

#24 - Rami Arav - 03/11/2013 - 00:43

In your sentence "It only means that by 925 Stratum VA-IVB was still functioning.", "Stratum VB" should be substituted for "Stratum VA-IVB". VB was a village; VA-IVB had palaces.

#25 - E. Harding - 03/11/2013 - 15:03

E. Harding,
Not necessarily, Megiddo VB may have been constructed in around 970 BCE (Mazar suggested 980 BCE and Finkelstein 950 BCE), and if this village had a life span of about 25-30 years before it defused and elevated to the town of VA-IVB, than Shishak/Sheshoneq could still post his stele in VA-IVB. Yet, it is also possible that he posted his stele in a humble village just to commemorate his alignment with Tutmoses III. However, even as a town it was quite modest, Bethsaida was more than twice its size. Moreover, the palace 9000 is strikingly similar to the Bit Hilani palace in Bethsaida Stratum VI which dates to 950 BCE. If we accept the low chronology than it is possible, that many years after a palace was built in Bethsaida, Megiddo had a palace too. It means that Megiddo was not that important place as we may attribute to it.

#26 - Rami Arav - 03/12/2013 - 02:35

I'm pursuing Sheshonq, I'm sure, beyond the point where patience is lost.
There seems to be some tendency to see S as a marauder, though neither his inscription nor the Bible nor Ussishkin's observation about the point of erecting monuments fully bear this out. All would be consistent with S's asserting his sovereign right to raise taxes in the area. The reason why the incident was remembered must in part have been because there was such an impressive monument in Egypt, regarded by the Egyptians as a statement of their continuing rights in Palestine; in part because later Biblical texts, Chronicles especially, interpret the lack of short-term effort to reunite the Kingdom to S's massive intervention. That interpretation is surely rendered questionable by the very non-Jerusalemite locations which S mentions on his itinerary or tribute list or whatever it is. Was S really trying to preserve the crumbling position of the pro-Egyptian (marriage to Pharaoh's daughter; donation of Gezer) Jerusalem regime, receiving the golden shields as a grateful contribution to his expenses?
That may be a flight of fantasy but the absence of destruction implies absence of resistance and that S's claim to sovereign rights was not just asserted by him by widely accepted. At that point it doesn't seem so fantastic to me to suggest that Egyptian control of the area, mainly through allies and client kings, had never decisively ceased. Which would put the stories of David and Solomon into a certain perspective.

#27 - Martin - 03/13/2013 - 11:22

E. Harding
Years ago (1978) my Prof. at Tel Aviv university Raphael Giveon wrote a nice book called “The Impact of Egypt in Canaan, Iconographical and Related Studies”. I think that his book is still relevant today; anyway it is sold in amazon for $68.
Several years ago Gabriel Barkai presented evidence for an Egyptian temple in Jerusalem. I cannot recall the reference now. In this conjuncture, if the story of Solomon marrying the daughter of Pharaoh was historically true, some suggested that it could have been Siamun, of whom some finds were found in archaeological excavations in Israel.
In any case, Ktziah Spanier argued in 1999 that in royal marriages the stronger party marries his daughter to the weaker party in a hope that the next generation of kings will demonstrate loyalty to the mother’s house (Spanier The Two Maachahs, Bethsaida, A City by the North Shore of the Sea of Galilee, Vol. II, Truman State University 1999, pp. 295-306). This means that by marrying the daughter of the Egyptian king, Solomon recognized the superiority of the Egyptians despite their period of weakness. However, the king after Solomon was not the son of this Egyptian princess but Rehoboam whose mother was Na'amah the Amonite. Rohoboam's wife was Maachah, the daughter of Absalom and the granddaughter of Talmai the king of Geshur. Apparently Rehoboam was more concerned with his rivals at the north rather than Egypt at the far south.
However, it seems that except for Siamun the Egyptian kings of the 21 dynasty were too weak to reclaim their provinces.

#28 - Rami Arav - 03/13/2013 - 20:06

I think that as to the Egyptians you may have been replying to me rather than to EH. I guess I've taken enough of your time but how do you regard the story of the Gezar 'donation'? If I read that there was a great King of England who was made a present of (say) Oxford by a Danish army led by ancestors of Professor Lemche (who would be nicer to me and my philosophical 'crap' (how wounding! I ask you!) if I was French) I would think hat Danish influence on England at the time was more than had been estimated.

#29 - Martin - 03/15/2013 - 21:18

Sorry I did not understand you.

#30 - Rami Arav - 03/25/2013 - 18:41

Sorry to be incomprehensible after you'd answered my previous queries so patiently! I was thinking of the passage in IKings 9 where Pharaoh makes a present of Gezer to Solomon, eliminating the existing population. I had been suggesting - or entertaining the possibility - that the Egyptian domination of the Holy Land of which we know from the second millennium had never really ceased and that this record of a rather strange 'donation' made that possibility seem more likely. Strange in that Gezer is some way from the Egyptian heartland and fairly close to Jerusalem, strange in the same way that a donation by a foreign power of Oxford to a king reigning in London might be.

#31 - Martin - 03/27/2013 - 20:35

This is what the Bible writes:
"Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with fire, and killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it for a dowry to his daughter, Solomon's wife".(1 Kings 9:16)

Gezer excavations yielded two poor, short living phases of layer (Strata X -IX), which came to a violent end around 950 BCE presumably by Siamun and perhaps reflect the mentioned above verse in the Bible.
However, archaeology suggests that the inhabitants of Gezer in this period, were the Philistines, not canaanites.
Indeed there are many unanswered questions regarding these biblical passages. Jewish interpreters often said that in cases we have no clear answer, we need to wait for the second coming of Prophet Elisha to explain it to us. So until then were are in limbo.
You may read about the possible meaning of it in: Rainey and Notley, The Sacred Bridge, Jerusalem 2006, p. 165.

#32 - Rami Arav - 03/28/2013 - 21:32

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