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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The once and future city

I found this article from the JPost's weekend magazine fascinating.

Last year, I heard a shiur (lecture) from R. Asher Weiss in which he said that when it comes to matters of faith, we cannot just believe our eyes. He brought a story from the Talmud in Bava Bathra 75, in which a student does not believe that in the future, God will make huge previous stones for the Temple until he sees them being made on a trip overseas. When he returns and tells his Rebbe, "Drosh (learn the hidden meaning behind the verses) Rebbe drosh, as you said, I have seen," his Rabbi says he is a fool for only believing what he sees and turns him into a pile of bones.

Today, we actually have visual evidence that the events described in the bible are true, as this article indicates. For those of you who want 'evidence' that the bible is true and that the events that it described are real, here it is. And for those who want to be even bigger fools than the student who is described in the Talmud, this article shows that they will continue to deny even what their eyes see. Make sure to read it all.

The once and future city

The first major archeological digs in Jerusalem since the 1980s have uncovered some of the most significant - and the most highly controversial - finds ever discovered in the area known by most, and revered by many, as Ir David - "The City of David."

For decades, archeologists had assumed that there was little new to uncover at the site, already one of the most visited archeological sites in Israel. Yet in the past year, two archeological teams, each with a different vision and each supported by private institutions, have made discoveries that have surpassed even their own expectations.

Different experts attach different significance and meaning to these discoveries. As Yair Zakovitch, professor of biblical studies at the Hebrew University, observes, "Everyone uses the Bible for their own agenda. Jerusalem is a sensitive place, and everyone uses the digs to prove what it is they want to prove.

"Which is why objectivity is so critical," he says, "although it is perhaps impossible under the circumstances."

Yet even the critics of these excavations, who downplay their significance, agree that the recent discoveries have the potential to change the prevailing views, not only of Jerusalem's ancient past, but of its future as well.


Reich's and Shukran's digging has unearthed valuable finds. Most recently, they have uncovered over 60 bullae (broken clay seals) and six stamps used to seal letters, attesting to the fact that literacy and a system of administration were in place in Jerusalem as early as the ninth century BCE.

They have also discovered thousands of fish bones that, together with the bullae were found in an area that Reich and Shukran believe to be the Shiloah Pool, used as a ritual bath for the Temple Mount, and a tiled road which ends at the pool and has its origins near the Temple Mount. Ostensibly, this is the road that worshipers used to go back and forth between the Shiloah Pool and the Temple Mount.

The second team, headed by Dr. Eilat Mazar, entered the picture in 1997. Mazar, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based conservative think tank, is a graduate of the Hebrew University, and granddaughter of the famous archeologist Binyamin Mazar.


Mazar further hypothesizes that since in II Samuel 5:17 it is written that David descends from his residence to the citadel, David must have come from the north. The north, she explains, is the only direction that he could have "come down from," since the rest of the city is surrounded by valleys. Furthermore, she reasons, it would have made sense for the citadel to have been built on a high point, and, because the north of the city was always vulnerable to attack, it would have required such a citadel for its defense.

Mazar began her excavation in 1999 in a project jointly funded by the Shalem Center and the Ir David Foundation. She uncovered a large building that, she believes, was built approximately in 1000 BCE - about the time that David is thought to have conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites.

She further claims that pottery shards that she found date from the 10th to the sixth century BCE, which attests to the constant use of the site over periods of many centuries.

One of Mazar's most significant finds was a seal with the name Jehucal son of Shelemiah, a figure mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3. Mazar dates the seal to the First Temple Period, based on the dating of similar seals discovered by Shiloh in the 1980s excavations.


Professor Israel Finkelstein, chairman of the Archeology Department of Tel Aviv, University is one of Mazar's fiercest opponents.

A 2005 recipient of the prestigious Dan David Prize, awarded for outstanding scientific, technological, cultural or social achievements, Finkelstein contends that all of the recent discoveries from Ir David are merely "Messianic eruptions in biblical archeology."

Finkelstein is best-known for his claim that certain impressive structures found throughout the country that were originally dated to the 10th century BCE, the time of David and Solomon, were actually built at least a century later, a theory known as "lower dating."

He argues, "You cannot study biblical archeology with only a simple reading of the text. The Bible cannot be understood without a knowledge of the millennia of biblical criticism that has gone along with it, not the least of which necessarily includes the dating of different sections of the Bible according to who wrote them and when."

He concedes that "The Bible is an important source, but we can't take it seriously." Clearly referring to Mazar's hypothesizing, he says, "That David took two steps down and four steps up and saw Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop does not prove that you have found King David's palace. Reading the Bible in that way is insulting to its various composers. Spinoza wouldn't have interpreted that verse in that way. Biblical archeology is the only discipline I know in which time stopped four centuries ago and no progress has been made since then."

Accordingly, he believes, based on biblical scholarship, that the biblical tales of David and Solomon are, at best, an exaggeration. In his influential book, The Bible Unearthed (The Free Press, 2001), Finkelstein argues that Jerusalem in the time of David and Solomon was no more than a small village of 500 inhabitants.

"The glorious epic of united monarchy was - like the stories of the patriarchs and the sagas of the Exodus and conquest - a brilliant composition that wove together ancient heroic tales and legends into a coherent and persuasive prophecy for the people of Israel in the seventh century BCE," he writes.


Although the Shalem Center would not arrange an interview with Eilat Mazar, David Hazony, editor of Azure, the center's magazine, did eventually agree to an interview.

"Zionism as a whole rests on a major assumption about where Jews came from, that we once had a thriving kingdom ... [and] that the Jewish people have a right to reclaim their ancestral land and establish a sovereign state there."

Referring to Finkelstein, Hazony contends that "the work that many new historians and biblical archeologists are doing in rewriting our Zionist history undermines our traditional Zionist self-understanding and by extension our claim to this country and the city of Jerusalem."

He continues, "The Shalem Center supports Eilat Mazar's excavations because we are always interested in supporting good scholarship when it comes to attacks on our classical narrative. When the truth is on your side, all you need is good scholarship.

"Jerusalem is no longer [considered] a hilltop village. The debate is over. We have made a step towards reclaiming the city."

Like I said, read it all.