The Politics of Biblical Archaeology

kingdavid1Insofar as it touches on questions of ethnic origin and national identity, archaeology can be a contentious field. Nowhere is this more true than in present day Israel/Palestine, where every new discovery or theory must travel through a political filter that often does more to shape a scholar’s opinion than do the cold facts of the debate. 

This problem is illustrated well in Robert Draper’s excellent feature story, “Kings of Controversy,” in the current issue of National Geographic. In it, Draper traces the fiery — often nationalistic — dispute over the historicity of Kings David and Solomon, and their 10th century BC kingdom. 

Representing the skeptical view — now mainstream opinion — is Israel Finklestein of Tel Aviv University, who claims that David was a small-scale rabble-rouser, Solomon a mere literary invention, and 10th century Jerusalem little more than a country village.

While that’s great for headlines (or a Time Magazine cover story), a set of new discoveries is threatening to upend the thesis:

On the heels of [Eilat] 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.”

Here’s the entire article. Bookmark it, print it out, save it to Instapaper — just read it.

Brian Saint-Paul

By

Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

Crisis Magazine Comments Policy

This is a Catholic forum. As such:

  1. All comments must directly address the article. “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” (Matthew 12:36)
  2. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  3. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  4. Keep it brief. No lengthy rants or block quotes. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
  5. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
  6. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36)
  7. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)
MENU