Friday, August 9, 2013

Uncovering Israel’s Past

Uncovering Israel’s Past

By Christopher S. Carson 
It seems that many educated liberals who wish Israel didn’t exist are turning to archaeologists to succor their agendas.

These archaeologists are called biblical “minimalists,” and loosely affiliate themselves with the “Copenhagen School” of archaeology.  They believe that the scientific evidence in the dirt is irrefutable—there was no Moses, there was no Exodus, there was no period of the “Judges,” there was not a Conquest of Caanan by Joshua or anyone else, and there was no glorious “United Monarchy” of King David and Solomon to guide Jewish hopes for the future of Jerusalem.  There was no Ark of the Covenant with its Ten Commandments.

In his 2001 wild bestseller, co-written with Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New 
Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, Professor Israel Finkelstein argued that “an archaeological analysis of the patriarchalconquestjudges, and United Monarchy narratives [shows] that while there is no compelling archaeological evidence for any of them, there is clear archaeological evidence that places the stories themselves in a late 7th-century BCE context.”  David and Solomon were really “tribal chieftains ruling from a small hill town, with a modest palace and royal shrine.”  He has declared those who disagree with his conclusions as like those “who think the earth is flat.  And at that point, I cannot argue with them.”

A more stringent Copenhagen-school advocate is Prof. Thomas L. Thompson, once from Detroit and now a Danish subject.  Claims Thompson, “The linguistic and literary reality of the biblical tradition is folkloristic in essence.”

In The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past Thompson argued that the Bible was entirely, or almost entirely, a product of the period between the 5th and 2nd centuries BC.  Thompson notably has argued that the Hebrew Tabernacle is a purely literary fiction, that the Merneptah Stele is not reliable evidence for a people named “Israel” in early 13th century Canaan, that the Tel Dan Stele does not refer to a Hebrew “House of David,” that the description of Solomon’s wealth is legendary, and that the use of the first person perspective in the Mesha Stele indicates a post-mortem or legendary account.
Prof. Philip Davies of the University Of Sheffield, England, has also placed the entire history of the Bible narratives squarely in the neo-Babylonian Exile, which took place after 586 BCE.  Unsurprisingly, Davies also hates Israel.  In a 2003 piece ostensibly slamming the historical evidence for the entire Judges period of Israel, he wrote:
Finally, I want to say….[that] the term [anti-semitism] means hatred of Jews, and I cannot see anything in any of Keith Whitelam’s [another minimalist] writings that indicates that sentiment. I appreciate that his comments are hostile to the State of Israel, and I believe he is entitled to those views.
But Davies correctly described the current stakes behind these somewhat arcane debates about ancient history:
Debate about ancient Israel is also debate about modern Israel, and in the eyes of many people, the legitimacy of the latter depends on the credibility of the biblical portrait.
Archaeologist and former Christian Prof. William G. Dever commented, “Originally I wrote to frustrate the Biblical minimalists; then I became one of them, more or less.” Now he’s an atheist.  His 2001 magnum opus, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did they Know It? purported to maintain a middle ground between the minimalists and what he terms “maximalists” like Prof. Kenneth Kitchen, who generally believe in the historical reliability of the Old Testament narratives and whom Dever derides as “fundamentalists.”

It is high time to confront Finkelstein, Thompson, Davies and even Dever with some recent finds from archaeology which strongly support the truth of the Biblical narrative and of Israel’s traditionally understood antiquity.

Once in Royal David’s City

The first is the remarkable excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which Professors Yossi Garfinkel and Saar Ganor of Hebrew University have been leading for the past several years. For well-argued technical reasons, their publications have shown that the site is a 10th Century fortified city near Jerusalem, and that it is indeed the Judean city of Shaarayim, where, it is alleged, the young David smote Goliath as described in the Bible, and where David later kept a palace.

“The ruins are the best example to date of the uncovered fortress city of King David,” Garfinkel and Ganor told the media.  ”This is indisputable proof of the existence of a central authority in Judah during the time of King David.”

Garfinkel and Ganor identified one structure as David’s palace and the other as a huge “royal storeroom,” which implied a wide geographical political control.  The excavators remarked on the mega-storeroom find:
It was in this building the kingdom stored taxes it received….Hundreds of large store jars were found at the site whose handles were stamped with an official seal as was customary in the Kingdom of Judah for centuries.
The excavators elaborated on other important findings at the site:
The wall enclosing the palace is about 100 feet long and an impressive entrance is fixed it through which one descended to the southern gate of the city, opposite the Valley of Elah. Around the palace’s perimeter were rooms in which various installations were found — evidence of a metal industry, special pottery vessels and fragments of alabaster vessels that were imported from Egypt.
Finkelstein and Alexander Fantalkin retaliated, publishing the article “Khirbet Qeiyafa: An Unsensational Archaeological and Historical Interpretation.”  “We cannot close this article,” they sniffed, “without a comment on the sensational way in which the finds of Khirbet Qeiyafa have been communicated to both the scholarly community and the public.”

What Finkelstein and his colleagues in Tel Aviv could not explain were the proverbial “dogs that didn’t bark”—for as Garfinkel explained:
Over the years, thousands of animal bones were found, including sheep, goats and cattle, but no pigs. Now we uncovered three cultic rooms, with various cultic paraphernalia, but not even one human or animal figurine was found. This suggests that the population of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed two biblical bans—on pork and on graven images—and thus practiced a different cult than that of the Canaanites or the Philistines.
The Ophel Inscription

Only last year, Dr. Eilat Mazar’s team, excavating between the Temple Mount and the City of David, discovered a large building that dates clearly to the 10th century.  One of the large storage jars discovered there was inscribed with writing.

As scholar Douglas Petrovich, after announcing the find to Fox News today, commented in his careful breakdown of the epigraphy of this potsherd:
[T]he Ophel inscription is almost certainly written in Hebrew, with all of the legible letters finding their ultimate origins in the Middle Egyptian language, as opposed to Philistine, Phoenician, or Canaanite. The letters of the inscription match those of contemporary inscriptions, many of which form words that clearly are part of the Hebrew language. Moreover, every letter of the Ophel inscription confirmed the acrophonic nature of Hebrew, meaning that the letters of the alphabet were formed by using a word whose initial sound was represented by that letter.
Garfinkel himself is uncertain on the language in the Ophel shard, but he stated that his epigrapher called the language of the Qeiyafa Ostracon “Hebrew.”  Garfinkel also suggested that the Gezer Calendar, the Tel Zayit Abecedary, and the Izbet Zartah Abecedary also represent an earlier phase of the Hebrew language.  The letters in all these finds are more or less the same.

It should be noted that Dr. Eliat Mazar, an archaeologist and not an epigrapher, herself does not think the letters are proto-Hebrew—but she can’t make head or tails of it at all.

But if the writing is not early Hebrew, it is early Canaanite.  And if it is Canaanite, why does it have Middle Egyptian [ME] parallels?  As Petrovich argued in a Yahoo group posting two weeks ago, “Most–if not all–of the ‘letters’ in this inscription find their roots in ME, not Canaanite.”  Of course, owing to the time of Exodus, the Hebrew written language originated from Middle Egyptian.

“It’s just the climate among scholars that they want to attribute as little as possible to the ancient Israelites,” Petrovich explained.  Talk about academic bias.

Christopher S. Carson, formerly of the American Enterprise Institute, is a lawyer in private practice in Milwaukee.