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A time to gather stones

By Alexander Eterman

Posted September 4, 2005

In lieu of a preface

Ever since I was I child, I have wondered why, in the famous sequence of verbal contrasts that crown the Book of Ecclesiastes, it is simultaneously written:

"A time to be born and a time to die" -- and "A time to kill and a time to heal",

"A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted" -- and "A time to break down and a time to build up",

"A time to keep and a time to lose" -- and "A time to rend and a time to sew";

"A time to love and a time to hate" -- and "A time of war and a time of peace".

Why is it that in some of the oppositions the positive precedes the negative, while in others the negative comes before the positive, at times against the natural chronological order of things? Why are the oppositions, as it were, doubled? A time for the positive and a time for the negative? I think what is being partitioned here is space rather than time. Time has already been arranged and partitioned -- it is no accident that the Jewish scripture, followed by Jewish law, preface the temporal positive with the negative: "And the evening and the morning were such and such day." In our sources, agony precedes birth -- that is common knowledge. Yet what are the criteria used in partitioning space?

Until now, I have managed to come up with unsatisfactory, albeit impressive, answers to this question. Any given double opposition is subject to interpretation. It is much more difficult to prevent the found interpretation from crumbling into dust when applied to other oppositions. Nevertheless, a certain explanation fits all of the oppositions -- except for two, as luck would have it. Another one introduces an undesirable context into the story. In short, the problem remains unresolved in my eyes.

In the course of working on this article, I have managed to explain for the first time, to myself at least, why the opposition "A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together" runs in the negative order. Why is it that the process of casting away stones, with its connotations of creating chaos, disorder, increasing entropy in what is essentially a pointless act, precedes the act of gathering stones? It is because we can only gather what has been cast away? That is when I thought about archeology. I believe that this science, with its symbolically hard work of gathering once scattered stones, makes for a pretty good paradigm of negative order -- and possibly more than that.


Israeli archeology is currently undergoing a regular Renaissance. Not that we are witnessing any mind-boggling discoveries [1] which dazzle us with sudden glimpses of hitherto hidden vistas. Quite the contrary, in fact: today's enthusiasts are less concerned with vistas than fences, trying to close off the suspicious America hovering on the horizon, to ward off any possible trouble. The newly built stage -- at once political and ideological, and not at all intellectual, unfortunately -- has been taken over by the Inquisition, something akin to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, [2] which employs archeological censorship as its primary, though far from sole, objective. That is why the new Renaissance has become a farce rather than a drama, a barbaric situation comedy where the characters trip one another and wage pillow fights. The present archeological boom is the Indian summer of self-centered blue stockings experiencing true jealousy for the first time, a trivial and degraded Renaissance of interpretations, many of which are suspiciously resonant of vociferous ideologies. Not a Renaissance, then, but a Resonance; not a string quartet, but the chiming of tuning forks, the beating of tom-toms, the whistle of arrows. Still, the facts speak for themselves: a total indifference toward archeology has been replaced by demanding public interest -- as happened once, during the dawn of the era of statehood. The only difference is that if fifty years ago scientists were expected to come up with discoveries, today they are expected to issue politically correct declarations of love for self-contradictory ideological edifices, to live up to the demands of the political moment, and naturally, to carry out ideological reconstruction. Modern archeology has been declared politically incorrect and anti-national, a tool of the enemy, a devilish plot and an instrument of sedition, which makes it ten times as alluring. On the agenda is a return to the good old conservative archeology (as though a conservative science were even possible), or, better yet, an open season on recalcitrant archeological witches. In a word, if this is the Renaissance, we should feel sorry for the Middle Ages.


Previously, this tragedy was referred to as a "discrepancy between archeology and the Scripture" -- in this particular order, since even before systematic archeological excavations began in Israel, the orthodox interpretation of the Scripture was actively criticized "from the inside" by biblical scholars belonging to the so-called "critical school". That is why archeology was initially viewed as a discipline that protects the Bible from biblical scholars, and not vice versa as it is today. To be sure, purely textual biblical criticism had plenty of flaws. First, to criticize the Scripture exclusively on the basis of its own text one must trust the Scripture almost unconditionally -- which makes for poor criticism indeed. Second, an attempt to reconstruct history based on bare text inevitably leads to posing artificial questions and reaching unverifiable conclusions. Thus biblical criticism's move beyond the textual framework was completely fruitless. No one questions its merits; nevertheless, the historical arguments of its pre-archeological classical scholars bring on melancholy thoughts. Archeology was supposed to put everything back in its place. Well, it has done just that -- only not all at once.

Here is another preliminary point. Before we embark on a discussion of the "discrepancy" we must clarify what is discrepant with what. On the one hand we are dealing with archeological material that has been heavily fortified with interdisciplinary findings. On the other hand we seem to have the Scripture. However, both archeological material and Scripture may be interpreted in various ways. With archeological interpretations, whatever they may be, the case is fairly simple: they are attributable to specific individuals and subject to classification. When all is said and done, they may be compared with the Scripture one by one. In the case of the Scripture, the situation is far more confusing: no one knows which of its interpretations is being discussed. Standard, authoritative interpretations of the Scripture are countless -- or there are none at all. Which of them is to be taken as the point of departure? Is it the literary reading of the Biblical text, its rabbinical interpretation, the so-called "secular fundamentalist version" that disowns the miracles yet fully accepts the biblical historical narrative, or the popular eclectic approach that adheres to this narrative only "whenever possible" yet never misses a chance to do so? There are also other interpretations of the Scripture.

Today, the notorious "discrepancy" issue has arisen in a somewhat different guise. During recent decades archeology has changed its self-perception in a marked manner. Rather than confine itself to modest analysis of its material finds, leaving the contextual interpretation to historians and ideologists, archeologists have developed their own methods of studying the society that produced these finds. These methods, of course, are interdisciplinary. The joint efforts of archeologists, linguists, paleo-zoologists and botanists, geologists, physicists, chemists and experts in other fields have been fairly successful, naturally giving birth to new interpretational ambitions. It must be stressed that this holds true not only, or even predominantly, for Israeli archeology -- this is a worldwide phenomenon. In fact, this is the general present state of all the disciplines concerned with ancient history. Wherever you look, archeologists and their allies have created their own methods and concepts. With considerable delay, this modernized archeology has reached us as well. The interpretations it engendered of Israel's history were inevitably bound to clash with all the possible interpretations of the Scripture. However, regardless of who is right and who is wrong, this latest clash is markedly different from the previous one. If several decades ago the most one could do was argue that certain findings are inconsistent with the acceptable or desirable historical outline, today such trifles are too negligible to consider. The archeologists have created a comprehensive picture of Israel's past -- i.e. of all that took place, in their opinion, in a given area in certain periods -- and incorporated it into the broader regional canvas. It was inevitable that this picture would clash with competing pictures based on different material, above all the text of the Scripture and its traditional interpretations. Were it not for the ideological intensity of the conflict, this clash would not be such a terrible thing. On the contrary, it would be a welcome development. A sacrilege, however, is not something you welcome with open arms!


I have long been tempted to volunteer as a janitor and to create some order in modern views on ancient Jewish history: to put the questions in their proper place, to tidy up the answers, to sweep the cobwebs from the corners, to separate the indisputable from the controversial -- in short, to make life easier for the coming generations of researchers, who will certainly be better than we are. This cleaning may yet take place -- but not this time.

The target of this article is not history and archeology as such, nor their relationship with the Scripture. I will not deal with the methodological revolution that overturned these sciences over the last decades, but merely with a single example of a fundamentalist attack on modern studies of Jewish history, David Hazony's malignant essay entitled "Memory in Ruins" [3], aimed, as he himself puts it, against the "new archeology". This work was chosen not because of any particular depth or originality, but rather the opposite -- due to its conventionality and ordinariness. It is an apt representative of today's ideological publications -- and aptness is a find in itself.

First of all, by addressing Hazony I am saving time and ammunition. Thanks to him I know which questions are to be answered first, and this will help avoid a multidimensional presentation of the issue. I shall proceed on the assumption that the reader is familiar with this issue, as well as that he cares about the accuracy of the historical interpretation given to the achievements of Israeli archeology.


Then again, a lack of caring is out of the question here. I was strongly tempted to open the article by saying that the Jewish collective is distinguished by its passionate concern for events that took place 3,000 years ago, and that this is probably what account for its uniqueness. After all, who else makes such earnest practical efforts to derive its own legitimacy from such a remote -- and, as even Hazony allows, partly mythological -- past? Yet, regrettably, I immediately had to restrain myself, having realized that we are not alone in this respect. The Koreans, for example, are to this day involved in a raging argument with their neighbors, the Chinese and the Japanese, over the national character of the state of Koguryo, which emerged in North Korea and Eastern Manchuria over two thousand years ago. If this state was not Chinese, it was probably indigenously Korean. In that case, this confers legitimacy on both the ancient origins of the Korean ethnicity and certain territorial rights of the Korean people. Moreover, the Koreans can then justifiably claim not only that they are older than the Japanese, but that they were probably their ancestors. If, on the other hand, Koguryo was a Chinese rather than a Korean state, as claimed by official Chinese propaganda, the Koreans, and possibly the Japanese, may prove to be merely Chinese tribes that separated at a later date. In a word, the current East Asian conflict concerning hazy events of distant past is now in full swing -- the same as in our region and in many other places as well. This happens wherever there are ethnic groups whose ethos, having failed to renew itself, reaches back into the relevant ancient past, and there finds its self-justification.

On the other hand, the West European collectives whose ethnic and cultural fabric was formed in more or less recent past, and who have abandoned their ancient ethos, are all but indifferent to their own ancient roots. Neither the Trojan nor even the Peloponnesian war defines the political, territorial and cultural proclivities of the modern Greeks. Neither Pericles nor Alexander the Great is regarded by them as their nation's founding father. The age-old enmity between Attica and Beotia, or between Athens and Sparta, is completely irrelevant today. The same can be said about the Italians, who see absolutely no connection between their earthly existence and the valor of the ancient Romans, let alone of the Etruscans, the British, who could not care less about King Arthur, or the French, who have long forgotten about the glorious Gauls. At the same time, the Russians are still trying to decide whether they actually owe their statehood to the Scandinavians (and if they do, whether they should feel insulted), agonize over the unsettled business with the Tartars and entertain morbid dreams of Constantinople. Doubly fascinating was the historic censorship imposed by the Communists who, out of love for party ethos, ceaselessly edited their own ancient legacy -- the history of the worker's movement and the Russian revolution. Something very similar might be said about the Germans. That is the reason why Mussolini's attempts to revive the Roman Empire were pathetic and ludicrous, while Hitler's flirtation with the phantoms of ancient Germany, though terrible, was not totally misplaced.

Thus we find ourselves in the cozy company of nations that have remained loyal to their original ethos. That is why the question of the extent to which our national lore reflects reality, what exactly our ancestors did, and what actually happened in the Holy Land in the ancient formative (and possibly mythological) times has such an intense and political effect on us, especially since some of us had the insight to make our political independence dependent on a certain historical right. Regardless of whether ownership of land two or three thousand years ago really justifies its ownership today, the fanatics of historical rights immediately become tributaries of linguists, historians and archeologists. Those for whom the UN resolution is not enough will be shaken if historical science places their historical rights in doubt.

For the aforementioned sciences, this is both good and bad. Good -- for political engagement fosters interest in research and facilitates fund-raising. Bad -- for it causes considerable harm to the objectivity of scientific inquiry. Today's Korea and China are highly unlikely to study the issue of Koguryo in an objective manner, or even to have a favorable reaction to third-party objective data that does not play into the hands of Korean or Chinese patriotism.


Hazony did not confine himself to the scientific, or even the pseudo-scientific, aspect of the problem. A sizable portion of his text is devoted to pure ideology. There he attempts, in the best manner of his ideological predecessors (I have omitted their names for didactic reasons, but the reader can easily recreate it on his own), to prove to his Jewish and Christian readers that scientific opponents are in part social adversaries, and in part outright enemies. In fact, this is not quite accurate: Hazony does not try to prove anything -- whether due to his poor grasp of the material or to his excellent mastery of political craftsmanship. In the words of a classical authority, never try to prove anything; make your statements, ignore your opponents, think only of the audience, catch the listener by surprise, be daring -- and incessantly repeat yourself. That is exactly what Hazony has done. He made his ideological statements and went on to repeat them ad nauseam, without even trying to give them substance.

Having no intention of imitating Hazony's tactics, I am nevertheless compelled to divide my theories into three parts. The first will be devoted to the ideological discourse that has burst into wild bloom around Jewish history. In the second part, I will touch upon some questions of methodology. In the third, I will try to describe the real state of affairs -- in other words, what we know today about the earliest past of the Israeli ethnic and cultural collectives.

Hazony, in the footsteps of his more famous colleagues, has sown the ideological wind. This wind bodes nothing but evil. With the slightest of efforts, it can be turned into a tempest. He can even be made to reap this tempest. But why bother?


On ideology

Hazony accuses the "new archeologists" of the following:

The key figures of "new archeology", Israeli scholars Israel Finkelstein and Ze'ev Herzog, recreate, in a softened and partly de-ideologized form, the central tenets of the Sheffield school, linked to the politically slanted, anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian Keith Whitelam.

The "new archeologists" undermine the symbolic foundation of Western civilization, as well as destroying the fabric of historical narrative, which reveals to the Western individual the history of his evolution and the way to reach the Judeo-Christian peaks of spiritual enlightenment and ethical monotheism.

And so ideological fundamentalism, true to form, comes up with the same old Orwellian charge of state treason.

It is plain to see that Hazony's ideological attacks are based on fabrications that are in the same class as the Orwellian paradigms. What Hazony protects is not the interests of a broad collective (be it Jewish, Christian, or simply the reading public) that he seems to champion, but merely the interests of his own political group, which are clearly opposed to the former. Interestingly, he himself is not bothered by it.

I will begin with the central accusation, without which there is no point in presenting or challenging the rest. Essentially, Hazony accuses the "new archeology" [4] of denying the historical Jewish connection to Canaan, the Land of Israel, Palestine, the Levant, the West and the East banks of Jordan -- in short, the area which includes today's State of Israel -- and thereby undermining the legitimacy of the Jews' historical right to this territory or parts thereof. On the contrary, he believes that the classical biblical historical concept is the embodiment of this right.

In reality -- and this is completely regardless of my personal views on the nature and meaning of historical rights, the authenticity of biblical narrative or the essence of the connection between modern Jews and ancient Israelites -- the truth of the matter is the total opposite.

The classical biblical concept defines the Jews as a collective that is inherently alien to Canaan. The Jews were strangers. If we are to believe the Bible, the Jews' forefathers came to this land from the outside, from northern Mesopotamia. They felt alien to this land and its indigenous population, and viewed mixing with that population as blasphemy. What is more, they soon abandoned the land, settling in Egypt for many centuries to come. It was there, and not in Canaan, that they became an important nation. They conquered Canaan in the course of a bloody war, after almost total extermination of the indigenous inhabitants.

Some historical right! This account goes against any rational, secular idea, including the aforementioned one. It would be logical to ascribe the authorship of the biblical, historical narrative to an anti-Semite trying to prove that the Jews were alien to the land, rather than show their connection to it. Moreover, if a group appeared today with a reasonable claim to having a connection to the ancient Canaanites (which, incidentally, is much less absurd than it would seem), its historical rights to Canaan in the context of biblical narrative would appear infinitely more convincing that those of the Jews.

On the other hand, the "new archeology" (and modern science in general) maintains that the ancient Israelites were mainly native inhabitants of Canaan who took control of the land though relatively peaceful means, following many centuries of economic, ecological and political crisis of the rich Canaanite culture of the Middle Bronze Age. If the claims made by "new archeology" are tenable (we have yet to discuss them), they provide an ideal justification for the theory of Jewish historical rights. Another question is whether such justification is enough today, whether it can help us smooth the relationship with our neighbors -- yet this is the best historical basis for Jewish historical claims that can be hoped for. The "new archeology", at the very least, gives natural legitimacy to the Jewish-Israeli claim to this land. How this legitimacy is applied is something for politicians, not historians, to decide.

Hazony and others try to mask their propensity for the long-discredited fundamentalist model of Jewish history with diehard patriotism. Yet we have to deny them even this. Their true intentions and interests are far too sectarian to qualify as patriotic. Hazony uses every means at his disposal to vindicate the religious, insular approach to things, above all to the nature of Jewish collective, or what is essentially the interests of Orthodox religious communities and their conservative margins. For them, a secular Jewish history is a prospect too terrible to consider. Indeed, they would much rather regard the Jews as an occupying force that exterminated the native Canaanite population than a group of indigenous Canaanites, for it is only the former instance that lends validity to the idea of being a unique, God-chosen people set apart from all other nations. Therein lies the crux of the problem! The choice made by Hazony is theological on the one (theoretical) side, and tribal on the other (sociological) side. He is totally unwilling to entertain the idea of the Jews as a natural, evolving social entity. On the contrary, for him the Jews are the product of supernatural circumstances. The laws of history do not apply to them; unlike all other nations, they obtain their rights by divine decree. In that case, however, these rights cannot be called historic. On the contrary, they are outside history, and thus lack any rational, earthly qualities. Essentially, for Hazony even the existence of modern Israel is meaningless if it is devoid of theological underpinnings. Yet if so, what does he want from scholars trying to find the Jewish roots on earth rather than in heaven? Any objective findings of such a search are bound to be rejected by Hazony from the outset.

I am not going to review the biographies of "new archeologists" in the hope of proving their civic devotion and unquestionable patriotism -- a boring exercise. I will, however, take certain pleasure in pointing out the latest piece of nonsense -- this one having to do with Sheffield.

By using the term "the Sheffield school" in his masterworks -- and not only that, but "headed or represented by K. Whitelam" -- Hazony falls into a fairly basic methodological trap. In fact, the historical community has been ridiculing this term and those who introduced it for the past few years.

Hazony's problem is that the "Sheffield school" is an illusion capable of misleading the surface observer. Had he taken the trouble of at least taking a closer look at the facts, let alone opening a book or two, he would have immediately seen through this illusion.

Indeed, if one does not read books, the following analytical line of reasoning is unavoidable. A) Prof. Whitelam is head of the Sheffield department of biblical studies. B) He is also the author of the controversial book The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History and other works of this kind. C) In addition, the same institution employs another well-known "minimalist", Peter P. Davis. One plus two plus three (pundits will also add to this list the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, a venerable Sheffield publication) -- and there you have the entire minimalist Sheffield school. Hazony eagerly swallowed this conjuring trick.

The humor of the situation is that Whitelam moved to Sheffield only in the year 2000, while all of his main works came out much earlier. Even the relatively late Invention of Ancient Israel was published in 1996, and in London rather than Sheffield, with which Whitelam had nothing to do at the time. The possibility that the Sheffield school was created in the three years between Whitelam's move to Sheffield and Hazony's writing of his article is out of the question, if only because Whitelam published nothing of importance during that time.

I should add that along with the "Sheffield school" of "minimalism", the same domain is shared by yet another mythical entity, the "Copenhagen school". The latter is virtually centered around another pair of "minimalists", professors Thomas L. Thompson and Niels P. Lemche, who at different times came to roost at the Copenhagen University's Biblical Interpretations Institute. To all intents and purposes, the worldwide list of leading "minimalists" is more or less confined to this foursome (another possible candidate is Canada's John Van Seters) who allegedly gave birth to two academic schools at once -- a truly prodigious feat.

No less interesting are the accusations leveled against "new archeology" as such. Below, I will discuss it in greater detail. For now, I will only make one point. By declaring the "new archeology" the enemy of Western, or essentially Christian, civilization, Hazony once again betrayed his ignorance, as well as a rare gift for disregarding information that stares him in the face. The fact is that "new archeology" -- both as a term and a direction -- was not born in Israel at all, nor is its purpose the debunking biblical truths. It is merely a misnomer for modern archeology, which has learned in recent decades to deal with issues concerning the economy and sociology of ancient societies. It was somewhat late at reaching us, which is probably what caused the perplexity experienced by Hazony and others.


On methods and objectives

One of the main accusation made against the "new archeologists" is (to quote another right-wing fundamentalist) their "basic denial of national responsibility in favor of conscientious academic inquiry". Such wording cries out for clarification. Among other things, it would be a good idea to define the subject of academic, or in this case historical, inquiry.

On the whole, reaching a unanimous consensus on this matter is far from certain. Hazony is fully entitled to invent any kind of science to meet his needs -- even metaphysics. There is nothing exceptional about that. At the same time, he has no right to force his inventions on us in the guise of academic consensus. Unfortunately, that is exactly what often happens. Personally, I grew up in a country where academic findings were seriously believed to depend on ideological context. There it was possible, on the one hand, to suppress genetics as a science, and on the other hand to announce a priori that Lysenko's experiments are predestined to be an unqualified success. Even more interestingly, there it was possible to ban cybernetics, while at the same time successfully developing operation theory and building computers. I am not even mentioning the Jesuistic ploys that took place in sociology and the humanities.

Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that lackadaisical pseudo-scientific games are a transitory phenomenon. After relatively short-lived spasms, genetics was reinstated, Wiener's books saw the light, and Russia ceased to be the birthplace of the elephant. No wonder: the accuracy of bridge design is measured, in both the middle term and the long term, by the durability and stability of the bridges. Lysenko's total failure to come up with high-yield grain harmed him much more than the rash alchemical promise to transform one species of plants (why not animals, come to think of it?) into another by means of ecological manipulations. Scientific inquiry, when confronting the unknown, almost invariably produces the unexpected, rather than hatch results based on a preconceived notion. Thurgau's immortal idea about the need to learn how to accurately predict the essential present only underscores Lysenko's intellectual corruption, in his attempts to link scientific findings to the transparent wishes of powers-that-be. Conservative science is all very well, but it is barren. Those who, with Voltairian naivete, hope to reap the real rather than metaphysical fruit of science, realize before long that what should be predicted is something like the future, or at least hitherto unknown things.

When embarking on historical research, we believe that the past, no matter how ancient, was unconditional and unambiguous reality, and thus can be reconstructed to a certain degree. Relativist speculations about the multiplicity and ambiguity inherent in any reality, as well as the idea of the randomness of any consistent narrative, perish like ephemeral butterflies when they run up against real-life inquiry, as in the case of a criminal investigation, for example. No court will accept that a relativist accused was simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles, was both awake and sleep at a certain hour or was both single and married. To the same extent, it would be pointless to look for Hannibal in Samnia or Campagna after he had already fled Italy. Similarly, in 950 or any other year BCE Canaan exhibited a certain political, economic and social reality. This reality does not depend on the researcher's tastes, gender, nationality and political views. It cannot be chosen. It can and must be recreated -- unless our prejudices prevent us from doing so.

That is precisely why we cannot help being touched by the conceptual castling move clumsily attempted by Hazony and other adherents of historical fundamentalism. On the one hand, they accuse their opponents, above all the "minimalists", of being malicious post-modernists of every ilk who politicize science by declaring the equal value and social bias of self-contradictory historical narratives. On the other hand, while ignoring the basic methodological notions, they proclaim what is essentially the same thing -- the muteness of empirical data and their total dependence on the interpreter's views.

Hazony's amazing thoughts regarding the stone wall deserve not only to be discussed but quoted as well:

Thus a stone wall discovered in a dig may be incontrovertibly determined to be a stone wall, but nearly every meaningful conclusion about it -- that it is part of a palace and not a citadel; that it was built in the ninth century B.C.E. and not in the seventh; that it was destroyed by one invading king and not another; or even that it was built by one people and not another -- is a matter of interpretation.

Politicized thinking is an incredible thing. Even recently, certain people seriously maintained that without the help of a Party organizer, scientists would never manage to handle their atoms. Now, Hazony has taken the classical ambiguity to absurd limits -- and to its logical conclusion. Analysis of archeological data, as far as he is concerned, is a arbitrary, vague, ideological matter. These data contain no objective information, apart from the physical. Thus it would be more sensible to put their interpretation in the service of the people. And another thing: scientific findings are so arbitrary that they should be censored. In other words, Hazony transparently hints that archeology is a false science, which, however, may be put to good use.

All this is terribly inane and embarrassing -- yet far from new. We have already been promised that the chemical composition of the stars would remain an enigma forever, that the existence of atoms would never be verified, and that the Egyptian hieroglyphs would never be deciphered. If the archeologists were unable, in almost every case, to tell the difference between a ninth-century and a seventh-century wall with the same precision that chemists tell gold from platinum, archeology should have been dismissed or transferred to the Institute of Marxism and Leninism. Evidently, Hazony simply has no idea what this science is about -- or does not care one way or the other. What is far more important, however, is something else. Hazony, exactly like his religious fundamentalist colleagues, proclaims a radical difference between "experimental sciences" and all others. Here is a quote:

Unlike the conclusions produced in the experimental sciences, "purely" archaeological histories are thus based on mountains of guesswork and creative gap-filling. If archaeology is ever going to produce a more reliable history, it needs the input of historical documents.

Therefore Hazony's ignorance is not restricted to archeology -- it also extends to natural sciences. He seems to believe that a physical or chemical experiment interprets itself -- a point of view that gave up the ghost many centuries ago, along with classical metaphysics.

What Hazony is essentially saying is this: the wall exposed by archeologists is a pile of stones. A pile of stones, of course, is self-referential and cannot carry any external information. On the other hand, if the right book were to say that King Solomon built a fortress somewhere nearby, the researcher should grasp this statement and link the wall to the fortress. After all, there is no better way to use a wall. It would also be convenient: the right book automatically, by virtue of its existence, becomes a geographic and historical guidebook.

All that remains to do is shrug and apply the same argument to, say, physics. I remember how, many years ago, I staged a simple experiment proving the existence of the tunnel effect in my school lab. The entire proof consisted, as usual, of the position of the ammeter arrow. Yet how is the arrow better than a wall? Let me repeat Hazony's argument: all that an arrow may be unambiguously called is an arrow, and the number (the strength of electric current) only a number. No other information can be squeezed out of these things in and of themselves. Who knows what moved the arrow? And more importantly, who knows how many theories may be invented around this arrow? It would be another matter if there were a physics textbook lying nearby. Then we could compare the results of the experiment with the information contained on the relevant page and draw the proper conclusion. The only problem is how to choose the right page.

Hilarious, isn't it? And yet this is exactly how Hazony's ultra-religious allies consider physics: the natural sciences are unable to reach final conclusions on any issue, are therefore they cannot refute even the most outlandish biblical claim. Hazony follows exactly the same line of reasoning; the only difference is that what the clergymen do not understand in physics and biology, Hazony does not understand in history, archeology and linguistics. Naturally, this refers to the nature of scientific methodology.

Walls and ammeters have an eloquence of their own. However, we obtain meaningful information not from them, but rather from the overall context. Eloquence is not the property of individual phenomena, but rather of configurations of these phenomena. They are the only ones worth subjecting to serious analysis. To that extent, there is no difference between most areas of physics, above all the most modern ones, and archeology. Both cases have to do with the multiplicity and reduplication (though not always the total identity) of experiments, with the predictive power of offered hypothesis (in archeology it is at times easier to predict something than in physics, let alone astronomy -- due to the enormous number of as yet undiscovered parallel objects), and most importantly, with the ability to consistently improve the quality of erected theories. Today, our knowledge of the solar system, the living cell and the nucleus is significantly greater than it was one hundred or even fifty years ago; similarly, we know much more about Ramses II or even Herod the Great. Even more importantly, we have an immeasurably deeper understanding of their times and the worlds they lived in. We benefit from our scientific mistakes. In fact, discovery of these mistakes is a scientific achievement in itself, a sign of progress as it were.

And another vital point:

Any perception we may have, by definition, means building a model of the observed phenomenon. Therefore it is only an approximation of reality, which does nothing to detract from its objective nature. The essential inexactitude of any perception does not by any means diminish our ability to make exact statements. All we have to do is be careful in our choice of words. We will never be able to calculate the exact height of the bridge, yet we are quite capable of determining whether it is intact or wrecked. We have only a partial grasp of elephant physiology, yet we usually have no problems telling a dead elephant from a live one. The same goes for differentiating between victory and defeat, republic and monarchy, cultivated land and virgin land. Thus we have no reason to claim, with our eyes cast down, as many religious theoreticians do, that since we do not know everything at once, we know nothing. Our loftiest achievements are more often than not directly related to our mistakes. Our undeniable ability to correct these mistakes proves that we going in the right direction. It often turns out that a search for answers to crucial questions, lengthy though it may be, is quite finite. Without making this principle an absolute truth, we should keep in mind that as a rule, historical inquiries do not pose fundamentally insoluble questions.


On distortions

I would like to utilize the fact that Hazony has found himself in the epicenter of today's fundamentalist mainstream. This enables me to use his article to compile something like a dictionary of distortions, a compendium of logical, factual and other quirks that drift from one article to another. This compendium is quite instructive, and may prove useful not only to those concerned with the nature of the reaction that has sprouted in the fruitful soil of ancient Jewish history.

1. Hazony writes:

The era of David and Solomon is the classical, formative period in Jewish political history, analogous to that of Athenian democracy or the early Roman Republic in the history of the West.

It is hard to imagine anything more ridiculous. Athenian democracy and the early Roman republic were vivid examples of realpolitik, instructive experiments conducted by the Greek and Roman societies. Like any illustrative experiment, these political entities exposed the virtues and flaws of the society being tested, in this instance direct democracy under certain social, class and economic conditions. Like any significant historical event, these gave birth to interesting political and cultural traditions, as well as spurring on the rejection of those same traditions. The painfully real early republican experiments, or more exactly, their attendant triumphs and failures, became part of mankind's political experience.

Biblical accounts of the kingdom of David and Solomon, regardless of the extent to which they reflect reality, serve as a pretty good example of utopian literature. Though interesting and instructive, they obviously cannot be viewed as a source of political experience, as a historical training ground. To be sure, they are not unique in this regard. Many national traditions have their ideal rulers, their ideal eras. The Roman world provides excellent examples of this. It is only natural to compare David with Romulus and Solomon with Numa Pompilius. The Greeks had their Golden Age, and more than one at that. Akkad produced the epic saga of Sargon the Great, Britain the stories of King Arthur. All of these heroes are real historical figures. Their memory was preserved over centuries, partly surviving to this day. Nevertheless, we can hardly draw political conclusions based on these traditions. Utopia is quite a different component of the public mind. Especially in the Jewish case, where the early kings were not mentioned in any contemporary account -- let alone anything more. Then again, the fundamentalist world does entertain the hope of realizing a utopia, of seeing the coming of the messiah and the restoration of David's kingdom. Those who adhere to such a tradition can hardly be expected to cause anything but harm. For us, however, what is important is that messianic Jews are not interested in real history.

2. Hazony writes:

For nearly two millennia after its completion, the Bible's overall story line was widely viewed as more or less accurate.

It appears that Hazony believes the endurance of traditional notions regarding Jewish history to be an argument in their favor. Strange reasoning. For over two thousand years, the world was under the absolute rule of mistaken Aristotelian notions of mechanics. What good is that? Over the same two thousand years, the world consigned to oblivion even the tiniest vestiges of ancient languages, both oral and written, along with the names of many ancient peoples. Finally, the entire Western world was ravaged by the very same religious extremism that Hazony so faithfully represents. It was this extremism that ensured the endurance of the concepts championed by Hazony. What is there to boast about? The modern era gave birth to the new technology of understanding, which enabled mankind to solve countless problems that it had not known how to approach until then. The new era systematically reevaluates old paradigms. Is that so surprising?

3. Hazony writes:

... it was broadly accepted that a distinct Israelite people arose about 3,500 years ago; that this people was enslaved in Egypt, entered Canaan, and ultimately established a unified kingdom under David and Solomon; that this realm was divided into the kingdoms of Israel and Judea; that the fall of the latter in 586 B.C.E. led to the destruction of the Temple and the Babylonian exile; and that this exile was followed, half a century later, by the Jews' return to the land in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.

I do not know which is the most prominent here -- ignorance, malicious intent, or impudence. Since this claim is redolent of ultra-religious sentiment, it merits a detailed discussion.

To begin with, a simple remark is in order. If we are to believe the biblical historical account, as we are urged to by Hazony, without mixing in unhealthy mysticism, we must admit that the Jewish nation was formed in Egypt. After all, according to the Bible, Jacob's clan numbered a mere seventy people by the time they reached Egypt (leaving aside minor discrepancies between the traditional text and the Septuagint); moreover, they did not consider Canaan their homeland. In that case, how could the newly formed Jewish nation return to Canaan? Certainly, they could have conquered it like any other territory, but to return? Unless, of course, it were to happen as part of Jewish religious, miracle-laden, manifestly extra-historical narrative. In short, this proviso clearly reveals the religious, ideological roots of Hazony's text. Beware: fundamentalism.

Next, Hazony's claim that the kingdom of Judea fell in 586 BCE is sheer nonsense. According to Talmudic chronology, this event took place around 420 BCE. Hazony, in his reluctance to back the visibly lame Jewish traditional chronology, does what he tries to prohibit historians and archeologists from doing: he revises Jewish sources to fit Western scientific moulds in the hope of obtaining a viable description of the past. What is allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to the bull.

Next, the statement "this exile was followed, half a century later, by the Jews' return to the land in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah" does not have a leg to stand on. According to Jewish sources, the exile lasted no less than seventy years, even though there are plenty of ways to manipulate this number. However, by involving Ezra and Nehemiah in the story of the return (real or imagined), Hazony created a true oxymoron. The Jewish sources themselves, regarding Ezra and Nehemiah as contemporaries, believe that they lived quite a long time after the exiles' return under the leadership of Zerubavel. No external sources confirm the existence of these characters. Nevertheless, as scholars played speculative games in an attempt to place these figures in time they ran into serious difficulties, since Jewish traditional history of that time is one long (hundreds of years) anachronism. The very least that academic consensus maintains is that if Ezra and Nehemiah did exist, they were separated by at least a century or so; what is more, the earliest character, Nehemiah, lived nowhere near the time of the return from Babylonian exile. So much for the "broad acceptance".

I would not bother Hazony with such trivial matters if he did not lay claim to serious scholarly discussion. I am afraid that someone this ignorant or sloppy (let him choose) would do better to stay out of it.

4. Recounting the basics of Canaan archeology, and correspondingly of the academic consensus regarding local history, Hazony engages in desperate bluffing (although this time it is less blatant, combining truth and fiction):

Clear evidence of a distinct people, possessing its own material culture and showing up at the dawn of the Iron Age -- just the right time from the biblical perspective -- appeared in hundreds of highland sites stretching from the Galilee to the Negev. Dozens of ancient Jewish, Canaanite, and Philistine cities were excavated and found to contain remains that corresponded surprisingly well to the biblical narrative. In Shiloh, the religious and political center of the Israelite tribes in the book of Judges, the remains of an extensive twelfth-century B.C.E. Israelite community were discovered. Great cities, containing many of the building projects which the book of Kings attributes to Solomon, were excavated and identified as Megiddo, Hazor, and Gezer. Even in Jerusalem, where opposition from the Arab world continues to foreclose excavation at the site of the First Temple, monumental finds were nonetheless uncovered, including biblical-era structures and fortifications in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the Southern Wall area, and the City of David (the original town of Jerusalem first conquered by David around the year 1000 B.C.E.).

At the same time, ancient inscriptions from Egypt to Assyria provided independent confirmation of the biblical narrative. The Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah testified to the existence of a people "Israel" dwelling in Canaan around the year 1200 B.C.E.; the campaign of the pharaoh Shishak, who the book of Kings says swept through Israelite cities shortly after the death of Solomon, was confirmed by discovery of the Egyptian's own records at Karnak; the war between the Moabite king Mesha and the combined forces of Israel and Judea depicted in the book of Kings was described from Mesha's perspective on a monument found in Dibon, in western Jordan; the reign of King Jehu was confirmed in the Black Obelisk of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III discovered at Nimrud; the Assyrian siege of the city of Lachish around 700 B.C.E. was depicted vividly at the palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh in northern Iraq; and a clay seal was found in Jerusalem bearing the name of Gemaryahu ben Shafan, who is described in the book of Jeremiah as the chief scribe in the court of King Jehoiakim.

Indeed, there are hundreds of sites -- primarily in the central mountain area -- where archeologists discovered and partially excavated tiny settlements dating from the 13th-11th centuries BCE. Hazony maintains that the inhabitants possessed a unique material culture and were a distinct people. Alas, neither of these descriptions applies. The material culture of the inhabitants of these settlements, who are indeed considered proto-Israelites by the majority of scholars, was manifestly Canaanite, though very impoverished and primitive. Evidently, they did represent a new political or social phenomenon in Canaan. However, they can hardly be viewed as a unique people, let alone one that came from the outside. Several theories were designed to explain the formation of proto-Israelite settlements, yet none of those theories tallies with biblical accounts. In all likelihood, we are dealing with a complex process inside Canaan that facilitated the Israelite ethnogenesis, rather than an influx of outside invaders in the land.

The list of archeological data, allegedly corroborating biblical accounts, that Hazony offers is highly fanciful.

The settlement in southern Samaria which may be tentatively identified as ancient Shiloh can hardly be termed extensive. On the contrary, the very period we are concerned with -- namely, the 12th-11th centuries BCE -- marked the decline of this settlement. What is far more important, however, is that its material culture in principle does not enable us to identify the ethnic origins of its inhabitants. They could have been Canaanites or proto-Israelites -- if we can even see them as separate ethnic groups at that time. Since they left no written records, all we can say about them is that their material culture was parochial and poor. The Shiloh excavations never became, and could not have become, either a confirmation or a refutation of the biblical narrative. In fact, they have no connection to it whatsoever.

Discussing Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer in the 10th century BCE, i.e. the time of the presumed united monarchy, Hazony is clearly bluffing. First of all, only someone who has never seen these sites can call them "great cities". Hazor, which had really been a large city about 500 years earlier, had shrunk to one tenth its previous size. The same can be said about Gezer and Megiddo, which were never large even in the best of times. At any rate, these towns never matched the scale of Solomon's great empire, as it is described in the Scripture, nor did the structures uncovered in those places.

As for "many of the building projects which the book of Kings attributes to Solomon", here the overkill becomes intolerable. The fact of the matter is that the Bible does not attribute any specific structures outside of Jerusalem to Solomon! What it does say is that Solomon built those towns, among many others. [5] This is a fascinating story in its own right. Discovery of sufficiently large uniform structures in the same historical layer in all of these cities would have constituted important evidence in favor of the existence of a state in Canaan, and possibly in what was already Israel in the 10th century BCE. Whether such structures were actually discovered is both a fascinating and an open question. Whatever the case may be, however, there is no question of "structures mentioned in the Bible" being discovered -- for there is no such mention.

It is true that monumental structures, buildings and fortifications were discovered in Jerusalem. Yet Hazony prudently and shrewdly fails to mention the following facts.

Jerusalem was a rather large city as early as 18th century BCE, long before the start of the Israelite period. Next the city entered a protracted period of decline. By the time we are concerned with, the 10th century BCE, there was hardly anything left of it. Despite Hazony's hints (he does not dare be any more specific) to the effect that the structures discovered in Jerusalem date from the period of united monarchy, they are either much older or much younger. Along with magnificent Canaanite structures such as fortifications and water-gathering systems, excavations also uncovered impressive structures dating from the heyday of the Judean kingdom, mainly the 7th century BCE, including the famous drainage tunnel of King Hezekiah. What they did not discover in Jerusalem were structures from the 10th century BCE -- with all the misgivings that this implies.

On the other hand, we should keep in mind that the existence of an Israelite ethnos and Israelite states is a well-documented fact that has not been challenged by any serious historian; moreover, the later the times in question, the more detailed and reliable this documented evidence becomes. As we are about to see, starting in the mid-9th century BCE and up until the demise of the Judean kingdom, the biblical historical and political description is fairly accurate. This, however, is a far cry from recognizing the biblical narrative as a truthful account of Jewish and regional history. The problem is not just the obvious historical gaffes contained in the Bible, but above all the fact that the distinctive cultural and religious traits of ancient Israelites appear to have been far from biblical. That is why the task facing the historical science of the modern era is totally different from merely confirming or refuting the biblical narrative, which -- at least where the pre-monarchy and monarchy periods are concerned -- is fairly clear. This new task is both fascinating and daunting. It involves recreating the true past, above all the cultural past of the Jewish people and the land it conquered and settled at some stage. In other words, determining what actually took place here.

5. A few words about Hazony's attack on the prominent Israeli archeologists Israel Finkelstein and Ze'ev Herzog. For now, I am not going to seriously discuss the topic of this attack, the question of whether the united monarchy existed or not; I will talk about it a little later. Right now I am only concerned with Hazony's reasoning, with his juggling the facts as is his wont.

To begin with, Hazony incorrectly identifies the school to which Finkelstein and Herzog belong with "minimalism". The distance between Thompson (who is apparently the most prominent representative of "minimalism") and Finkelstein is hardly smaller than that between Finkelstein and a fundamentalist like Hazony.

Next, Finkelstein actually believes that the united monarchy never existed, and that the so-called Northern Kingdom of Israel was the Israelites' first major state. He laments the fact that the founders of the legend of the united monarchy unfortunately forgot to name it!

At the same time, neither Finkelstein nor Herzog claims that there was no state with its capital in Jerusalem or Hebron in the 10th century, or that David and Solomon are fictional characters. Hazony himself unwittingly admits that in the following passage:

The author, Ze'ev Herzog, Finkelstein's colleague at Tel Aviv University, declared that "the great unified monarchy was an imaginary historiosophic creation, invented at the end of the Judean period, at the very earliest." Articles in Science and The New York Times followed, highlighting Finkelstein's claim that, as he told the Times, "there is no evidence whatsoever for a great, united monarchy which ruled from Jerusalem over large territories." King David's Jerusalem, he added, "was no more than a poor village at the time."

As they see it, there was no large kingdom with its center in Jerusalem at the time. Whether a small state existed in Judea in the 10th century BCE is a question that merits closer examination. However, even if this state is a historic fact, it is part of a totally different political history than the one depicted by the fundamentalists.

The plot thickens: As we know, Finkelstein came up with the concept of what he termed "lower dating", which takes several decades off certain types of Canaanite pottery and their makers. By no means are we to see a direct link between the concept of "lower dating" and the question of the united monarchy. One of the most outspoken critics of Finkelstein on both issues, the famous American archeologist William G. Dever, wrote recently that the question of "lower dating" is a purely professional archeological discussion that should not be confused by ideological or historical debates. Naturally, the acceptance of "lower dating" strengthens the position of those who doubt the existence of a united monarchy, yet it does not constitute decisive proof for their cause. In my opinion, this "strengthening" is purely marginal, especially since the main arguments against the united monarchy have no need of chronological reform. Most importantly, we should also keep in mind the flip side of the coin: rejection of "lower dating" is no proof that the united monarchy did exist! In this instance, Hazony either confuses the necessary with the sufficient or tries to force this mistake on the reader.

In recent years, serious arguments have been proposed both for and against the "low dating". There is no doubt that this debate will be resolved in the near future -- if not through archeology, then by means of physical and chemical analysis. However, even if the "new chronology" is ultimately proven wrong, its concept has been far from fruitless. In fact, it has yielded interesting by-products. Thus, researchers have expressed the rather plausible view that the six-chamber gates from Megiddo, traditionally compared with similar structures in Gezer and Hazor, were erected somewhat later, regardless of the dating system used. This opinion is shared by many of Finkelstein's opponents, who consistently argue in favor of the united monarchy, such as William Dever, and probably even Amnon Ben-Tor. What is even more interesting, practically [6] all eminent modern archeologists, like Herzog and Finkelstein, are convinced that even if this monarchy existed, its biblical description is highly exaggerated, and in any case it was not a superpower controlling the territory from Gaza to the Euphrates. Therefore the differences of opinion between Finkelstein and his learned opponents, who are not to be confused with religious fundamentalists, are not all that great, and will probably shrink with time.

6. The main professional accusation made by Hazony against his opponents is the unwillingness, not to say the refusal, of "new archeologists" to consider the Bible a serious historical source. They write that the "new school of Bible scholars, historians, and archaeologists has argued that nearly every major story of the Hebrew Bible is little more than a fabrication", that the weakness of "new archeology" "stems directly from its principled refusal to credit the biblical narrative as a legitimate corroborative source". He goes even further and puts forward a mighty methodological principle that is quite in keeping with his Orwellian philosophy. Note the "in all cases" I have emphasized:

Given two plausible interpretations of an archaeological find, one that matches the biblical account and one that does not, it is reasonable to prefer the biblical reading. This is not because the biblical text is assumed to be accurate in all cases. It is because the two sources -- the find and the text -- lend support to each other. This way of looking at the Bible is no different from the way historians treat the testimony of any other ancient text that appears to shed light on archaeological finds.

Not a single word of truth. Modern science, including the "new" history and archeology, never denies the biblical text the right to serve as a historical source. On the contrary, they use the Bible precisely as a source -- not as a sacred text or a political manual -- far more intensively than their predecessors. It is true, however, that they do not regard it as more reliable or authoritative than other similar sources. To put it simply, they treat the Bible as they would any other written record with similar origins and structure. That is precisely why the question of who wrote the different books of the Bible, and when they wrote it, acquired such practical importance in the 20th century. A text that is contemporary to the event it describes can and must be used in a totally different manner than a text written hundreds years after the event.

It should be kept in mind that a written record may be useful not only when the information contained therein is factually accurate. The very fact that someone, under certain historical conditions, created the specific description in question represents invaluable information. Moreover, a distortion of reality can be highly instructive at times. This is true for any text, including the Bible.

For modern science, the Bible has become a highly useful resource used, among others, to recreate many-layered historical reality. To be sure, the biblical testimony is not necessarily true. Yet even biblical fictions can provide a great deal of useful information -- the same, in fact, as other ancient sources.

The Bible is completely accurate in telling us that the kings of Israel built the cities of Shomron and Yizreel. It is the exactness of this description that enabled Finkelstein, who is amusingly accused by Hazony of ignoring biblical texts, to formulate his concept of "lower dating". In fact, this is a purely biblical concept that is almost completely dependent on the testimony of the book of Kings. On the other hand, the biblical account of the united monarchy, which clearly contradicts archeological and other data, became the basic material used by scholars in their attempts to recreate the historical and ideological environment that gave birth to the Deuteronomy narrative. In short, the Bible, in exact conformance with the Talmudic aphorism, honestly serves researchers with accurate, distorted and fictitious stories alike. What is more, the scholars make use of biblical linguistics, which also testifies to the intentions and designs of the authors and editors of biblical texts.

Modern science is no longer enslaved by the Bible. On the contrary, it has learned to view the Bible as a technical aid, reversing the roles. That is why the "new" scholars are so active and enthusiastic in their use of biblical material. Naturally, Hazony is far from happy with this state of affairs, since he treats the Bible as first and foremost a sacred text.

Now we begin to understand the nature of the artificial dilemma contained in the above quote. From Hazony's standpoint, any archeological material may be interpreted as either pro-biblical or anti-biblical. He views any other interpretation as redundant. If only things were that simple! In those instances where biblical testimony is constructive -- as in the case of Shomron and Yizreel, the Israel-Moab wars, the Assyrian invasions, and so on -- archeologists avail themselves of that testimony without waiting for Hazony's advice. Whenever biblical testimony is obviously inaccurate in terms of archeology, it becomes the focus of attention of historians and linguists trying to understand the nature of biblical invention. Yet in every case, without exception, modern scientific methodology considers it not as a political imperative, but as a piece of an intricate, many-layered puzzle to be studied and tested. I repeat: the biblical account is treated exactly as any ancient text written hundreds of years after the events it describes.


"New archeology"

Our fundamentalists have more than once quoted the following passage:

Archeological studies, like studies conducted in adjacent disciplines, anthropology and history, depend on place and time, and are therefore subjective... If the modern researchers were to expose the foundations of their own education, their ideological and political biases, their attitude to the trends in today's Israel, the academic undercurrents, etc., we would then gain a true perspective of their interpretation of archeological data.

This passage is taken from an article by Dr. Shlomo Bunimovitz, a prominent representative of the conservative archeological mainstream, a faculty member of the Tel Aviv University's School of Archeology. This article, entitled "Interpretation of Culture and the Bible: Biblical Archeology in the Postmodern Era", was published in the 100th issue of Cathedra magazine. Well, if they can quote this article, so can I, especially since I have a very high opinion of Bunimovitz's work. Unlike them, however, I will not pluck the author's words out of their context, even though I am unfortunately forced to limit myself to translating only a small portion of the article.

This article is a wonderful theoretical work on the history and methodology of archeology, and not only the local kind. The author, a staunch supporter of the existence of a united monarchy and simultaneously one of those who convincingly proved the relatively minor presence of Israelites in the central highlands during the early biblical period, thoroughly and neatly deflates the personal and ideological myths invented by fundamentalists, sometimes with a false reference to Bunimovitz himself.

'New archeology', a label probably bestowed by its opponents rather than adherents, is an intellectual school established in the US and England [7] against the background of profound dissatisfaction with the state and content of archeology in the form it assumed in the period between the two world wars and after... [8] The 'young Turks', headed by Lewis Binford in the US and David Clark in Great Britain, rapidly spread their views... through numerous universities.

The 'new archeology' was founded on the optimistic view that the only obstacle preventing archeology from gaining comprehensive knowledge of the past is its methodological approaches... Since human culture is a system that combines the elements of environment, society and material culture, a mute archeological find that once was part of this dynamic system is linked to each of these cultural components. Therefore it carries knowledge of all of them, which can be obtained if this find can be made to speak. Thus, for example, even though we cannot 'dig out' the social structure of an extinct society, proper methods and exact interpretation of its burial grounds may reveal the status of members of this society buried in their graves.

Many of the founding fathers of 'new archeology' maintained that in order to succeed in deciphering the customs of ancient societies, archeology must be transformed into the anthropology of the past, i.e. a science possessing precise algorithms for reaching reliable conclusions. These fundamental concepts had a far-reaching influence in shaping the forms and trends of archeology in the '60s and '70s...

What was the effect of these dramatic changes on the theory and practice of biblical archeology in the Land of Israel?

Of the countless new ideas that shook up world archeology, we are privy to only two innovations that marked, as early as the '40s, the study of early farming carried out by Robert Braidwood in Kurdistan, as well as a field survey of settlements conducted by Gordon Willey in Peru's Viru valley. They were: an interdisciplinary approach aimed at gathering a maximum amount of information on every type of activity performed by early humans and on their adaptability to the environment, and an ecological orientation. George Ernest Wright [9] defined the methodology of the new approach, and it was adopted in all the American excavations conducted by his school during the '60s and '70s at Schechem, Gezer and Tel Hasi. In addition to pottery experts, Bible scholars, historians and linguists, these excavations were joined by geologists, paleobotanists, zoologists, etc... Looking back, William G. Dever, one of Wright's students and an exceptional biblical archeologist in his own right, pointed out that these innovations, even though unaccompanied by a corresponding theoretical breakthrough, may be regarded as 'new' archeology. Nevertheless, as he himself has noted, due to the rather small interest in issues of theory and methodology, this archeology was fundamentally different from 'new archeology' or, as it should be called in light of its interest in processes of cultural change, 'processual archeology'... Despite all that, the Israeli digs of the '60s and '70s exhibited no hint of recognition of the theoretical achievements that had taken place in world archeology. The wide spectrum of opportunities offered by the Israeli system of excavations was only partially utilized...

In the mid-1970s, biblical archeology was treading water. Despite the global changes in archeological thought, and in methods and techniques of analyzing and interpreting remains of past material cultures the agenda of biblical archeology and the nature of its relationship to biblical text remained largely unchanged -- exactly the way they were defined fifty years earlier by William Foxwell Albright... Two fundamental parameters -- the content of biblical archeology and its relationship with the Bible -- were essentially a function of the intellectual and ideological baggage that determined the nature of Albright's work in Israel. He and his disciples, with Wright the brightest of them, were Protestant priests whose spiritual views were rooted in the religious life of the late 19th -- early 20th century in the United States. Their goal was to verify the historical authenticity of biblical narrative, and thereby to counter the criticism of the Wellhausen school. Thus they regarded archeology as a subsidiary discipline in Bible research, a tool supplying external objective evidence, capable of refuting the theoretical hypotheses of 'higher' criticism. It was given the task of proving the authenticity of ancient traditions related to the patriarchs, of showing how the Israelites settled Canaan, and of placing Israeli monotheism in its proper spot in the ideological history of the ancient Near East. Improvements in stratigraphic diagnostics, development of a sophisticated system of pottery classification, establishment of a reliable system of Near East dating, identification of the parameters of the region's cultural evolution -- all of these wonderful achievements by Albright and his disciples were not an end in itself...

As paradoxical as it may sound, the field of interest of Israeli biblical archeology, institutionalized in the '50s under the leadership of Yigal Yadin, overlapped with the field of interest of the Albright school -- despite the fact that the objectives of Israeli archeology were purely secular, while those of Albright were religious. From the standpoint of Israeli archeologists, who represented the generation of the state's founding fathers, the Bible was the documentary cornerstone of national Jewish history, and at the same time an endorsement of the Jewish claim to the land. Thus archeology was assigned the crucial role of reinforcing the link between the newly forming nation, its past and its ancient homeland. It is no wonder, therefore, that interpretation of archeological finds was entirely based on the Bible, giving rise to 'secular fundamentalism'. Even though this interpretation was more a reflection of the needs of ethnic and national consciousness than of a connection to religion, Israeli biblical archeology focused on exactly the same aspects of history that interested the scholars of the Albright school: the settlement of Canaan by the Israelites, the monumental construction projects carried out by the kings of Israel and Judea, military campaigns, awe-inspiring calamities, and so on. Both branches of biblical archeology -- the American and the Israeli -- thus joined together in their search for evidence of large-scale historical events and acts of biblical kings, regarding the Bible as a historical source whose claims should be verified on the one hand, and taken as a basis for research on the other. This monumental archeology, which had retained its conservative and pragmatic character since the 1920s, relied on the traditional framework of interpretation. It found no room to examine the cultural and social processes or study the 'silent majority' and its everyday life, which ran its course far from historical events and in between calamities.

Considerable changes took place after large-scale archeological field surveys were conducted in Judea and Samaria following the Six-Day War. Within a short time, these surveys extended to other parts of the country. The rebirth of the settlement ideology... led to conceptual innovations that breathed new life into biblical archeology, yet undermined its connection to the Bible at the same time.

First of all, these surveys brought the scholars closer to the 'people without history' -- the villagers who formed the overwhelming majority and the core of the country's ancient society, and yet had not until then been the focus of archeological research, which had mainly centered on large tells -- man-made mounds -- and concentrated on the political history of the ruling elite. Secondly, the reconstruction of the rural and demographic past of the Land of Israel produced a long-range archeological perspective that 'subjected' ancient Israel to the laws and rules of ordinary, 'secular' cultural evolution, which formed an alternative to its unique 'extra-historical' status in the eyes of biblical archeologists of the preceding generation. Thirdly, ecological and other environmental considerations that had been totally ignored before now became essential not only for understanding the nature of the everyday life and the socio-political fabric of Canaan and Israel, but also for revealing the nature of their cultural evolutions.

Regretfully, I have to end the quote here. Subsequently, Bunimovitz discusses the fruitful adoption by Israeli archeology of the ideas of Fernan Brodel -- namely, the view of long-term historical changes in the context of ecological, geographic and other parameters of environmental evolution -- and goes on to the exciting topic of the development of post-processual archeology. This is precisely where the above-mentioned quote was plucked from by our fundamentalists -- to no purpose, in fact, for the context speaks for itself.


The things we know and do not know about ancient Jewish history

To begin with, what exactly are we interested in?

The choice of question is a sign of maturity.

When scholars -- not only archeologists -- began to study the hitherto unknown ancient world of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and the islands of the Aegean Sea, not to mention more exotic places, they asked themselves the only possible question: what happened here?

When scholars embarked on a real -- not limited to papers and books -- empirical study of Canaan/Palestine/the Land of Israel, it did not even occur to them to ask this question. This country held no mystery for them. On the contrary, they knew everything there was to know about it. Its history has been described in detail and studied not only in universities, but also in primary schools, secondary schools and religious seminaries. On the other hand, it was not written by scholars -- but rather by God, or by some persons unknown, in times long gone. This was the land of the Bible. Any other labels were irrelevant. That is why Israeli archeology, even when it dealt with prehistoric times, was immediately dubbed biblical. What was being dug up was not the country, but the book. Therefore all questions should be addressed to the book.

Local scholars asked a totally different question: where, on which particular spot on the ground, are we to find the book's words and paragraphs? Where are its cities? Its temples?

History was known beforehand. All that remained was to find it on the ground, to unearth it, to wave it in front of the public. This task was undertaken not by treasure hunters or linguists or even genuine archeologists. As was to be expected, the quest for sacred history was taken up by the priests.

Wherever there are priests, there is the devil. To right the balance, so to speak. In theological games -- and the game being played here was theological archeology -- the devil, too, is allowed to ask questions. And what question did he venture? This one, of course: "Is everything written in the Bible confirmed on the ground?"

Indeed. Everything -- or not everything?

For decades, fiddling around with this query was the maximum extent of permissible skepticism. Priests and the archeologists they nurtured sifted through the dirt searching for book-inspired treasures, which they then waved in the air like a censer to banish the devil. In the rest of the world, archeological treasure hunting had long been outlawed, yet here, in Canaan/Palestine/the Land of Israel, archeologists continued to look for buried treasure, albeit of a particular, polygraphic kind. Individual theories had become totally redundant. At the most one could debate the question of which hill was concealing a biblical toponym of one kind or another. Even the Prince of Darkness had become civilized here, addressing not human nature but the book's letter, the letter of the law, more or less in this form: "But what if the Bible is not infallible? And what if such and such chapter is an overstatement? Or an understatement?"

Essentially, even before the first archeologist embarked on a study of the Holy Land, his future findings had already been fit into a rigorous hypothesis. No, hypothesis is too mild a word -- an actual theory. Still, I will continue to refer to it as a hypothesis -- purely out of spiritual humility. This refers, of course, to the "biblical hypothesis" capable of explaining everything about this land.

This hypothesis is very easy to sum up -- in fact, this has been done for centuries by thousands of mature adults in theology departments of various universities, and by hundreds of thousands of children in religious schools. Hazony, too, outlined it in his article -- though much too briefly. I will be happy to reiterate. The Jewish people formed about 3,500 years ago. After a lengthy sojourn in Egypt and a relatively short sojourn in the desert, this people invaded (we will forgive Hazony for his "returned to") Canaan from the east, thereby setting into motion the archeologically relevant period in their history. This was followed by the conquest of Canaan, its settlement, the period of the Judges, the united monarchy, and much more. The "biblical hypothesis". No other country in the ancient Near East had known anything like it [10]. Everywhere else researchers had to start, if not from scratch, at least from considerable theoretical desolation. As we are about to see, science only benefited from this. At least scholars were able to build their own hypotheses and modify them as their studies progressed.

Well, in this case a hypothesis was ready and waiting -- and a sacred one at that, at least for those who, having first learned it in religious classrooms and then in the Department of Theology, had come to Palestine to elaborate (or rather to embody) it.

The scholars were divided into two camps. The first -- call them the whities -- proposed to confirm the hypotheses. The others -- the blackies -- intended to test it. Those were the only approaches. The issue did not go beyond simple misgivings. Research relied exclusively on biblical texts as its theoretical basis. Some leading researchers not only announced for all to hear that they kept a shovel in one hand and a catechism in the other, they actually did. Geodesic material served as applied data. Since very few written records were discovered, psalms were used instead.

For decades everything went swimmingly -- the only limit being the stamina exhibited by the priests, their disciples and their ideologically devout colleagues. And then the a priori theological edifice collapsed like a house of cards, burying some of the researchers underneath; even the humiliated devil, having lost the knack for asking the right questions, fled with his tail between his legs. It may be possible to lag behind world archeology by twenty or thirty years, but a century is far too much!

From a practical standpoint, the "biblical hypothesis" had a pretty good run, having endured for a good fifty years in parallel to "biblical archeology", and then another thirty years or so in cutthroat competition with the latter. Yet from the theoretical standpoint, it gave up the ghost -- in its full and indivisible version -- at about the same time as classical non-relativistic physics, in the middle of the second half of the 19th century. In other words, it passed away at a venerable old age, yet long before it came across the shovel for the first time.

Classical physics was doomed, at the very latest, the moment Maxwell deduced his breathtaking electromagnetic field equations. His theory perfectly described electromagnetic phenomena on the one hand, and contained irreconcilable contradictions on the other. It took several decades to become aware of them -- and then an entire series of scientists, from Plank to Einstein and onward, exploded from inside the dazzling world of Newton and Maxwell.

A somewhat similar fate befell the "biblical hypothesis". It had been appropriate for the Middle Ages, and barely made it to the 19th century. In the 19th century historical science, naturally including archeology and linguistics, built a pretty good model of the history and culture of the ancient Near East, above all Egypt and Mesopotamia. Of course, science did not sit idle in the 20th century as well. For the poor "biblical hypothesis", however, the discoveries of the 19th century were quite enough. The Holy Land, as the new "Iron Age" found out, is no longer an Ultima Thule or a Terra Incognita. On the contrary, it is situated in the center of a highly civilized region whose ancient languages are quite readable, whose history, chronology and even economics are known quantities. Most importantly, it became clear that nothing could have happened in the Holy Land that was not related to the history of the region.

Any person with a classical education, sitting down at his desk and surrounding himself with books (let us say in 1900), could have easily seen through the "biblical hypothesis". Unfortunately, no one did. Then again, I seriously suspect that such an inquisitive innovative theoretician, had he existed, would have been ignored.

As a result, the "biblical hypothesis" safely endured until about 1970.

I do not wish to enter the minefield of trying to establish who was the first to ask the question: "What, in heaven's name, actually did happen here?" Today, this first place is being claimed by many. One way or another, these many have benefited not only science but the Jewish national consciousness as well.

And so, what actually did happen here? And if the "biblical hypothesis" is wrong, what exactly makes it so?

I will begin from what was already obvious in the 19th century. All the figures, all the demographic and other qualitative claims made by the Bible in regard to the period prior to Nabuchadnezzer's conquest of Judea, are not only wrong but exaggerated by several orders. Consequently, all the chapters in early Jewish history that are verifiable, at least in principle, are either fictitious or outright mistaken to one degree or another.

I will not discuss the stories of Creation and the Flood due to their obvious mythological nature, or the accounts of the patriarchs due to their extra-historical status. I will begin, like Hazony, from the sojourn in Egypt and the subsequent exodus.

"Back then" -- during the New Kingdom period -- Egypt's population totaled two to three million at the most. The country simply could not have been home to millions of Jews. Nor could they have left the place -- for then the country would have been totally deserted.

Yet even if we were to assume that the Bible inflated the figures, say, tenfold, and revert millions into hundreds of thousands, this would still get us nowhere. During the very same period in which we are supposed to place the Jewish-Egyptian epic -- i.e. the 13th century BCE -- Egypt suffered no earth-shattering calamities. What is more, this was the time when Egypt was in control of Canaan (!), and fleeing there from the Egyptians would have been a highly irrational act. As luck would have it, this is the most transparent and well-understood period in Egyptian history, and the fearsome exodus story simply does not stick.

Yet this is not all. Canaan's population at the time was very small -- much smaller than that of Egypt. For purely ecological reasons, the land could -- and did -- support only a small number of people. And if we concentrate, as the Bible demands, exclusively on the impoverished, arid mountainous areas of Samaria and Judea (the place settled by the Jews, according to the "hypothesis") that precluded the very idea of artificial irrigation, they could not have supported more than a couple of hundred thousand people at the time, certainly including the native population.

So far, we have not yet involved local archeology in the matter. The moment we do that, the picture becomes even clearer. No millions, not even hundreds of thousands! The protracted crisis that struck all the lands of the Fertile Crescent dealt a terrible blow to the once flourishing Canaan and practically demolished its old civilization. Moreover, it weakened the land politically. Its cities were deserted. Its population plummeted. A considerable number of Canaanites -- several thousand at first, and then more -- moved to the desert highlands in the hopes of finding sustenance there. To be sure, they may have been joined by outsiders, but their number would have been very small due to ecological limitations. Gradually, very gradually, the highland inhabitants formed a new ethnic group, commonly referred today as proto-Israelites. In a couple of centuries they would become true Israelites. But for the time being (let us say in the 12th century BCE) they were still poor peasants living in small hamlets. Their material culture was extremely primitive; they had no written language to speak of. [11] This is a far cry from the image of Israelites coming from the desert with the Torah in their hands, the Talmud in their minds, and monotheism in their hearts.

Thus the entire Egyptian epic is a fiction, albeit an interesting and fruitful one. The same can be said about the conquest of Canaan: there was no conquest, since in fact there was nothing to conquer. Most of the cities, "whose walls rise up to heavens" as the Bible has it, either did not exist at the time or were abandoned and unfortified. What did take place was a slow process of ethnogenesis and re-assimilation into their own ancient homeland.

On the other hand, it may be plausibly claimed that the biblical account of the time of the Judges, i.e. the pre-state period in the Israelites' existence, is to some extent -- essentially, to the extent it described the tribal peasant life -- close to reality. Provided, of course, that we throw out the fanciful military exploits with their fantastic politics and demographics. Keep in mind that the Israelite population was still small, barely numbering 150,000 in the entire land. We are now looking at the 11th century BCE or so -- just a short time before David!

Next comes the 10th century -- a time of rapid and all-embracing growth. The Israelites become aware of their ethnic identity, build cities, and finally create their own material culture -- although it is barely distinguishable from the Canaanite culture of the same period. Nevertheless, starting from that period the archeologists are on firmer ground: thank God, they are beginning to recognize the Israelites by their pottery. There is a scent of a state -- or of two states. Here we confront the first real puzzle -- the question of whether the united monarchy of David and Solomon actually existed.

To be sure, this had nothing to do with the biblical description of an empire stretching from the borders of Egypt to the Euphrates and onward. There can be no doubt that a state of this size would have sparked the interest of its neighbors, above all the Assyrians, and we would have plenty of external reminders of its existence. For centuries the Assyrians pursued an active foreign policy, so we have a pretty good idea (among other things), of who their neighbors to the west were. For example, we know of the emergence of Aramaic tribes precisely in David's future "Syrian domain" shortly before this attracted Assyrian attention. Not so with David and Solomon. Yet there is more to this than foreign politics. Such an imperial undertaking -- or even a small portion of it -- would have required a much greater effort than the Israelites could muster. Archeology, too, is very clear on this point: there was no empire, period.

So what is at issue is not an empire at all. The question should be rephrased as follows: did a small yet more or less Canaan-wide Israelite state exist in the 10th century BCE, with its center in poor and underpopulated southern Judea, preferably in Jerusalem, rather than in rich and densely populated Israel? This is not a "personal" question: David and Solomon could very well have been its kings, concurrently or in turn. Real questions, however, are plenty. So far we have no clear-cut answers. To an unbiased observer such an entity looks rather far-fetched, yet we cannot rule it out completely: there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio. It should be kept in mind that the united monarchy has a palliative: the simultaneous existence of two separate monarchies, the northern and the southern, Israel and Judea, as early as the 10th century BCE. These monarchies, if they had already formed by that time, could very well have been allies or even partners in joint undertakings. Once again, there are plenty of arguments against this hypothesis, but it cannot be easily refuted.

At any rate, even if the united monarchy did exist, it was not the pinnacle of Israelite statehood. Such a pinnacle is generally believed to be the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which gained considerable power in the 9th century BCE. It, too, was a far cry from the mythical empire of David, yet it was almost a regional superpower that, having allied itself with the Aramaic Syrian kingdoms, managed to contain the militant Assyrians for a time.

Now is the best time to return to the Bible. Starting from the 9th century, it becomes a fairly reliable reference book on Israel's political history. Amazingly, from this point on it lacks any large-scale myths. Most of the miracles that do take place are minor; it keeps fairly accurate royal lists. In short, starting in the 9th century, i.e. from the establishment of a developed Israelite-Judean monarchy until its lamentable end under the Babylonian boot in 586 BCE, the Bible is a rather valuable source of historical information. Had the "biblical hypothesis" applied only to this period of three centuries or so, its fate would have been completely different.

However, this period gives rise to riddles of a completely different sort, many of which have not yet been solved. This refers to the infinitely fascinating cultural and religious history of Israel, which we understand much less than its political history.

I have no intention of discussing this subject in any depth at this time; however, since it cannot be ignored altogether, I will touch upon some of its elements. Essentially, my brief digression may be seen merely as a selective presentation of the question. The answers, or at least an exploration of these questions, must be the focus of a separate article.

To date we have not been able to give intelligible answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the origin of biblical texts? When were they written? Which ancient sources did their authors use? What are the origins of biblical literary language?
  2. What was the evolution of Israel's religion? We know perfectly well that as late as the 8th century BCE the Israelites wrote no important books and were not monotheists. What happened afterwards?
  3. What was the nature of the prophetic institution -- provided it even existed? We are not talking about the magical qualities sometimes attributed to the prophets -- they can hardly be taken seriously, and they are definitely not the scholar's concern. At the same time, prophets were an important cultural and social phenomenon -- if not unique to Israel -- and everything that has to do with it is extremely interesting. Moreover, they seem to have produced a distinctive type of text -- the prophetic literature. Unfortunately, we know too little about it, especially since the surviving prophetic books were subjected to thorough revision during the time of the Second Temple.
  4. What is the origin of Deuteronomic historiography? This gripping puzzle has long awaited a solution. Did the ancient Israelites really write historical works, above all the book of Kings, having barely mastered the gift of literacy? A highly unlikely scenario. Yet that being the case, how did everything actually happen?
  5. And now the most implausible question: what happened to the Israelite culture after the demise of the Judean monarchy? Where did the Deuteronomic school disappear? Why did the Jews lose interest in history and stop recording it? What accounts for the appearance of the "black hole" -- a gap almost four hundred years long that is practically empty of political information -- between the collapse of the monarchy and the Hasmoneans? How did the Jews lose their historical memory to such an extent that even the basic Jewish chronology of the Persian period became badly deformed? How did racial elements find their way into Jewish self-identity? In short, who are they, these pre-Hasmonean Jews of the Second Temple period?

These questions should suffice for the time being.

I began this paragraph  with what we already know quite well, with a brief overview of early Israelite history, and I ended it with what we do not yet know, with a lunge toward the history of Israelite culture, which smoothly flowed into the Jewish one. On this note I will say goodbye -- not so much to the reader as to the "biblical hypothesis", which continues to find advocates. May it rest in peace -- and for the love of God, Mr. Hazony and all the others, do not disturb the remains. It is not the Jewish way.


A small yet crucial addendum

I am compelled to point out that Hazony misguides the reader on the key issue -- that of scientific consensus. Contemporary historical science has unanimously rejected the "biblical hypothesis" in its fundamentalist form. This does not mean that the scientists have renounced the Bible altogether -- quite the contrary: they have only just learned to work with it.

Below is a selection of quotes culled from the most recent articles by top scientists, historians and archeologists, all of them belonging to the conservative camp. They all stand, at the very least, to the right of Finkelstein and Hertzog. Concerning their views on the "Biblical hypothesis" let the reader be the judge. Keep in mind, however, that from the mountain of completely unequivocal and quite representative texts -- which I did not have the slightest need to manipulate -- I have chosen but a mere molehill.

Amihai Mazar:

Despite the abundance of ancient Near Eastern records collected in the 20th century, as well as the impressive array of archeological finds amassed since the start of archeological research, an increasing number of researchers doubt the very possibility of writing a history of the people of Israel dating to the time that preceded the period of divided kingdoms. The course set in motion by Wellhausen and his students seems to have come full circle. However, where they relied exclusively on critical text analysis, today's researchers possess masses of data, from ancient Near Eastern records to archeological findings. Despite the availability of this material, or even with its aid, many contemporary researchers arrive at conclusions that reject the historical veracity of Biblical sources concerning Israel's proto-history.

The majority of Biblical scholars belonging to the central scientific approach agree that both the Deuteronomy account (the sequence of books from Deuteronomy to Kings II) and the other books of the Torah were written in the seventh century BCE, in all likelihood during the reign of Josiah, and underwent an additional revision shortly upon the return from the Babylonian exile.

It is possible that certain elements in the accounts of the patriarchs and the sojourn in Egypt trace their origins to the realities of the second millennium BCE and were added, over generations, to stories, motifs and elements rooted in the various periods when they were transmitted orally and in writing. As I have already noted, it can be reasonably assumed that many of these accounts were disseminated as traditional lore of Eretz Israel among the local population and were not the creation of the Israelite tribes; the Israelites adopted them over time, giving them the form in which they reached us, probably towards the end of the Judean Kingdom.

I am not suggesting that the accounts of the period of Egyptian slavery and the subsequent exodus by a fully-formed nation made up of twelve tribes are to be regarded as historical truth. However, it would be reasonable to surmise, as many scholars have, that a small, tightly-knit group, which had a considerable effect on the shaping of the Israeli nation in later historical times, was indeed in Egypt during that period, and even experienced a lengthy sojourn there and a journey through the desert.

There is no doubt that the Biblical account of the conquest of the land under the leadership of Joshua, as well as other conquest stories contained in the Book of Numbers and the Book of Judges, are later historiographic works of an ideological nature. Nevertheless, they do appear to contain elements of an ancient tradition.

It is reasonable to conclude that the story of the conquest of Ai was created by the Iron Age-A village [12] residents, living among the ruins of the extensively fortified ancient city. This was the basis for the etiological story. When the etiological story was inserted into the Deuteronomy account, it was already several centuries old.

The history of the conquest of Hatzor reflects what I believe to be an ancient, possibly pre-Israelite tradition that was preserved by the Israelites.

One of the most controversial issues in the debate concerning the period when Canaan was colonized by the Israelites is the interpretation of finds discovered on Mount Ebal. Zertal maintains that he discovered an altar built by Joshua, in accordance with the Biblical account. Identification of this structure as an altar seems to me questionable in the extreme. At the same time, the excavations unearthed evidence of cult activity taking place in the period preceding the erection of the structure. This took place in the late 13th -- early 12th centuries BCE. If so, it is possible that the Biblical stories about Mount Ebal originate from ancient stories about this place.

In my opinion, the few external pieces of evidence and archeological data suggest that the united monarchy did exist, albeit certainly not on the scale described in the Bible. Biblical depictions are indeed enveloped in layers of literary, theological and ideological embellishments, created as they were written; however, by removing these layers and using external records and archeological findings, we can draw a realistic picture of this monarchy.

The archeological data offer absolutely no indication of the existence of a large and developed (united) state; it seems, therefore, that the territorial description contained in the Bible is an exaggeration.

Concerning the united monarchy, I have already stressed that Shishak's campaign to the areas around Jerusalem hints at the existence of this monarchy. I have also pointed out archeological data that attests (in the framework of traditional chronology) to the formative stage of a new material culture in the 10th century BCE, the revival of wide-scale urbanization in many areas throughout the land and the construction of public buildings, including those made of hewn stone, during that period. These data form the basis for a real picture of the united monarchy; this picture, despite being markedly at odds with the Biblical depiction, does not deny the very existence of this kingdom.

Where the kingdom of Israel is concerned, it is hard to accept Finkelstein's assertion that its incredible power, expressed in the erection of the Samaria acropolis and the royal castle in Yizreel, as well as in the extensive construction in Megiddo and other locations, emerged in the time of Ahab out of thin air, without lengthy preparation. The complex stratigraphic picture of such sites as Hatzor, Yokneam, Tel Rechov and Tel Alfara is indicative, in my opinion, of the slow and gradual evolution of Israel's material culture, an evolution that began during the period of the united monarchy and reached its apogee during the Omride dynasty in the 9th century BCE.

Nadav Neeman:

Some researchers, myself included, do not deny the very existence of the united monarchy, governed by rulers mentioned in historical Biblical sources. However, they regard it as a sort of transitional period from a patriarchal tribal society to a monarchy controlling a sizable, clearly defined territory, where it created enduring and stable organs of government. It would seem that the monarchic institutions began to develop and establish themselves in the mountain region roughly in the 10th century BCE, and succeeded in creating the mature Kingdom of Israel at the start of the 9th century BCE and the Kingdom of Judea in the second half of the same century. However, a number of researchers totally reject the very idea of a united monarchy. In their opinion, the description of the period of the united monarchy is no more "historical" than the accounts of the time of the patriarchs, the wandering through the desert or the conquest of the land.

Archeological findings have shown that in the 10th century BCE the process of urbanization in the Judean hills and the coastal plain was only beginning, and that Jerusalem was but a tiny and impoverished hill settlement which left practically no physical traces that could be studied. There is nothing in common between the Biblical description of Jerusalem at the time of Solomon and the finds of the excavations conducted in the City of David.

Only in the 8th century did the settlements in Judea begin to undergo a rapid growth, leading to the establishment of urban centers surrounded by a dense network of villages. During that period, Jerusalem went through a significant expansion, becoming a major urban center.

No written records dating from the 10th and 9th centuries BCE have been found in the hill areas on either side of the Jordan. It was only at the start of the 8th century that writing began to spread through the Kingdom of Israel, and somewhat later through Judea. The 7th century saw a considerably wider use of writing, a fact that finds its clear expression in the archeological materials. In the neighboring states, writing spread in a very similar fashion. The creation of extensive and high-quality historiographic works indicates, above all, the existence of a guild of scribes and a social elite capable of appreciating them. It is impossible to imagine their existence in Jerusalem or the provincial towns of Judea before the end of the 8th century BCE. It should be noted that in all Eastern countries, as well as in Greece, a long period elapsed between the adoption of writing and the creation of advanced historiographic works. All of these data reinforce the hypothesis that the first major Israelite writings were created at a considerably later date.

Anthropological and historical studies have demonstrated that the biblical account of the conquest and settlement of the land, at some stage, by large groups of nomads who had no previous contact with the land's inhabitants lacks any historical basis.

The biblical story, according to which the land was settled by a homogeneous people with a distinct ethnic, religious and cultural identity that set it apart from the local inhabitants -- a people, moreover, that continued to retain this homogeneity during the period following the land's settlement -- contradicts the findings of archeological, anthropological and ethnographic studies.

Amnon Ben-Tor:

It is extremely difficult to identify the material culture that characterized the "Israelites", since some of the colonizers were nomads who lacked a ceramic culture, while others descended from the native Canaanite population and continued the pottery-making tradition they had inherited. Thus it is basically impossible, unlike in the case of the western part of Asia Minor, [13] to isolate ceramics that characterized the period of the colonization process.

Circa 1200 BCE the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah raided Canaan leaving behind a victory stele with the following contemporary (!) inscription: "Canaan is captive with all woe, Ashkelon is conquered, Gezer seized, Yanoam made nonexistent, Israel is wasted, bare of seed." The descriptive adjectives used clearly indicate that the settled town inhabitants referred to Canaan as a territorial entity, while applying the term "Israel" to a nomadic group that lacked it own territory. Therefore during the 13th century BCE there was a group roaming the land, numbering several hundred people at the most, or possibly even more, and known as "Israel".

We all agree that David's power did not extend to as a large territory as stated in the Bible, which obviously tended to glorify and exalt this king. However, is it only the size of the area [under his control] that determines a ruler's importance?

The overwhelming majority of researchers agree that the revision [of historical biblical texts] was done around the late 7th -- early 6th centuries BCE, i.e. many centuries after the colonization of Canaan and [the existence of] the united monarchy.

Yair Hoffman:

The stories of the patriarchs should be regarded as fiction, not because no collaborating archeological evidence has been found, but due to their nature. It is impossible to accept this form of folk narrative (three patriarchs, twelve tribes, etc.) as historical and social truth, since stories about what allegedly happened in the 17th century BCE, only written down in the 10th century, cannot be viewed as historical testimony (as opposed to religious truth).

The exodus from Egypt is a myth -- and a magnificent one! (whose formative significance during the biblical period I have discussed in an entire book) -- not only because there is no actually archeological or epigraphic evidence to support this event, but also because it is historically inconceivable that 600,000 men of military age -- i.e. about two and a half million people in all -- wandered in the desert for forty years, gathering around the Arc of the Covenant each night in a strict and predetermined order! Another reason is that the Bible itself contains contradictions concerning the course of their desert wanderings and the wars they waged against the enemies of Israel before colonization.

The sweeping conquest of Canaan, led by Joshua, is not a historical fact -- not only because archeological findings from Jericho and Ai are inconsistent with this theory while the data from Hatzor are controversial, but also because the Book of Joshua is a very late work refuted by biblical accounts themselves. The real discussion [14] starts only from the era of David...

Avigdor Horowitz:

The Book of Joshua, once considered a "dormitory" sheltering the sayings of two or three prophets living during the Assyrian period and the return from Babylon, now appears to be a work that was thoroughly revised during the Second Temple period... Even the book of the twelve Minor Prophets, containing the utterances of at the very least fourteen prophets, underwent thorough editing in very late times... It may be assumed that the ancient Book of Hosea was revised to fit the concepts of the editor of the book of Minor Prophets, who definitely lived no earlier than the Prophet Malachi, during the Second Temple period.

Yair Zakovich:

When we recognize that, despite its historiographic appearance, [the Bible] is a literary work, we should ask ourselves: are we really going to study a certain fragment in history based on a short story or a novel? Will Walter Scott's Ivanhoe or The Talisman become our source of historical information on the period of the Crusades? Would it not be more reasonable to view them as indicators of the romantic notions that marked the cultural and social context of the times in which they were written? The biblical narrative, in my opinion, where its factual veracity is concerned, is no different from a modern historical novel. It can certainly contain grains of factual accuracy, but supplying accurate facts was never the main reason it was written.

Adam Zertal:

Albright influenced biblical archeology through several ideas linking archeology and the Bible as if it were the most natural thing in the world. In many instances he started off by viewing the biblical story as history, dating his finds and excavation findings accordingly... Albright and the scholars of his generation were not concerned with ecology and elements of the environment... That was the reason the studies of Albright and his students became an easy target for the "nihilists".

Sara Yafet:

The bitter tears [of the archeologists] are caused by the fact that from the very start, the archeology of Israel, and possibly of the entire Near East, took upon itself a task it should not have: to "prove" the historical version or to "disprove" it.

The main question is: what is the modern historian supposed to do... when he attempts to describe the history of the biblical period?.. Can and must this description be based on the existing biblical narrative? Must and can someone now writing a "History of Israel in the biblical Period" restate in modern language the facts stated in the Bible? In other words, can we view the Bible as the exclusive, or at least the main source -- indeed, the binding source for a description of the biblical era? There are some who will answer this question with a yes... These people will wave aside any evidence... epigraphic, archeological and historical, that contradicts the biblical narrative...

... There is no doubt that the biblical historical narrative is driven by ideological motives of the time, and cannot be understood without taking these motives into account... Today it is perfectly clear that it is impossible to accept the biblical narrative at its face value... for two reasons. First, because of the literary nature of the material: some of the biblical stories are manifestly "a-historical", and the very perception of them as historically accurate distorts their meaning. Second, due to the ideological nature of the material...

I would like to... illustrate this point with an example. The Book of Judges... depicts the history of Israel during the period following the conquest of the land. A large nation, made up of twelve tribes and ruled by charismatic judges, has become entrenched in the land, fighting for its survival against enemies who are more powerful. However, by subjecting these stories to a detailed analysis, and above all by taking them out of their editing framework, we reveal a different picture. There is no "nation" here, only tribes, sometimes individual tribes at other times groups of tribes... That is to say, the discrepancies between the direct testimony of the material and the frame into which it was set are subject to analysis. It is impossible to talk about a large, unified "nation of Israel" in the era of the Judges, only about independent tribes which at a later date coalesced into broader political structures.        

[1] Actually, there is no shortage of discoveries. It should be noted, however, that most of the important finds made in the recent years belong to the pre-historic era, and thus do not qualify for a Renaissance or resonance. The largest biblical discovery in recent years was of a somewhat unusual nature: it proved not only that sensational historical finds of the present-day Renaissance are forgeries, but that the same applies to the most famous, the most incontrovertible artifacts supposedly dating from the First Temple period. What is even worse, all of these forgeries are the handiwork of one and the same group, somewhat amateurish yet steadily perfecting its skills. No wonder: its efforts have lasted decades.

[2] The name of the Office of the Inquisition in today's Vatican.

[3] David Hazony, "Memory in Ruins", Azure No 16, winter 5764/2004.

[4] We still have to define the term "new archeology". For now, let us assume, for the sake of discussion, that this is the academic school to which Prof. Finkelstein and Prof. Herzog belong. This is not a bad approximation of the truth.

[5] In 1 Kings (9, 15-19), it is written: "And this is the reason of the levy which king Solomon raised; for to build the house of the Lord, and his own house, and Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer. For Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up, and taken Gezer, and burnt it with fire, and slain the Canaanites that dwelt in the city, and given it for a present unto his daughter, Solomon's wife. And Solomon built Gezer, and Beth-horon the nether, and Baalath, and Tadmor in the wilderness, in the land. And all the cities of store that Solomon had, and cities for his chariots, and cities for his horsemen, and that which Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, and in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion."

[6] I make this proviso just in case -- for I do not know of any "eminent" exception.

[7] In the 1960s.

[8] This had nothing to do with biblical archeology.

[9]An archeologist, one of the leading Canaan researchers, a Harvard University professor and the most prominent of William Albright's students.

[10] Let us leave Greece and Italy aside. I would love to draw a fruitful comparison between these countries and Canaan, but the magazine framework is not spacious enough for such an undertaking.

[11] They would have had none at all, but this was all but impossible in the center of a civilized region with millennia of written tradition. Let us say, therefore, that they did not use writing because they had not mastered it -- nor did they have any use for it -- at least up to this point.

[12] The village appeared on the site of the ancient city more than a thousand years after its destruction.

[13] Where the process of Greek colonization began at about that time, presumably in the 12th century BCE. Ben-Tor stresses that, in contrast to the proto-Israelite colonization of the mountainous areas of Canaan, the Greek colonization left distinct archeological traces which enabled researchers to establish its historical veracity.

[14] Concerning the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of the Biblical account.