Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Biblical Archaeology Bonus Week

First, it was news of the discovery of Solomon's mines. Now, we have not one but two discoveries connected to the Davidic era in Israelite history. It's been an exciting week for biblical archaeology.

Since I'm already fairly conservative and my minimalist tendencies have been called into question anyway, I've decided to abandon skepticism and wholeheartedly endorse any purported archaeological discovery that can be interpreted in some way to prove the Bible. I just can't keep up with debunking every discovery, especially with how productive 2008 has been for biblical archaeology. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

From the Jerusalem Post:
First-Temple era tunnel found in J'lem
Oct. 29, 2008
Etgar Lefkovits , THE JERUSALEM POST

A water tunnel dating back to the First Temple era - but that might have been used even earlier, during King David's conquest of Jerusalem - has been uncovered in the ancient City of David, a prominent Israeli archeologist said Wednesday.

The opening of the 3,000-year-old tunnel, which was found earlier this year during the ongoing excavations at the site, is just wide enough to allow one person to pass through, but only the first 50 meters are accessible since it is filled with debris and fallen stones, said Dr. Eilat Mazar, who is leading the dig at the site.

The walls of the tunnel are composed partly of unworked stones, while other parts simply use the bedrock.

The tunnel was discovered under an immense stone structure built in the 10th century BCE that has previously been identified by Mazar as the palace of King David.

The already-existing tunnel was integrated into its construction and was probably used to channel water to a pool located on the palace's nearby southeast side, Mazar said.

Near the end of the First Temple period, the tunnel was converted to an escape passage, perhaps used in a manner similar to King Zedekiah's escape during the Babylonian Siege, as related in 2 Kings 25:4, she said.

At this time, additional walls were constructed to prevent the possibility of anyone entering the tunnel from the slope of the hill and to prevent penetration of debris.

During the dig, complete oil lamps were found on the ground of the tunnel, characteristic of the end of the First Temple period.

But the tunnel's characteristics, date, and location, Mazar said, testify with "high probability" that the water tunnel is the one called "tsinor" in the story of the King David's conquest of Jerusalem (Samuel II, 5:6-8; Chronicles I, 11:4-6).

Archeologists have previously speculated that Warren's Shaft, also located in the City of David, was the tsinor referred to in the biblical account.

"The new discoveries in the excavations in the City of David illuminate the ancient history of Jerusalem and the reality described in the Bible," Mazar said.

The excavation at the City of David, which is located just outside the walled Old City across the road from the Dung Gate, has proven in recent years to be a treasure trove for archeologists.

Mazar, who rose to international prominence for her excavation of King David's palace nearby, has been at the forefront of a series of Jerusalem archeological finds, including the remnants of a wall from the prophet Nehemiah in the area, and two seal impressions belonging to ministers of King Zedekiah.

The current dig is being conducted on behalf of the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem research institute, and the right-wing City of David Foundation, and was carried out under the academic auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The latest finding will be made public Thursday morning in an archeological symposium at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
I have nothing to critique about this claim. Like most other archaeological discoveries related to the Bible, it shows that the Bible preserves historical details here and there that are plausible. It doesn't prove anything about David or corroborate the identification of the palace above as David's. It proves people lived in Jerusalem during that time and that they had water tunnels. We already knew that.

From the New York Times:
October 30, 2008
Find of Ancient City Could Alter Notions of Biblical David

KHIRBET QEIYAFA, Israel — Overlooking the verdant Valley of Elah, where the Bible says David toppled Goliath, archaeologists are unearthing a 3,000-year-old fortified city that could reshape views of the period when David ruled over the Israelites. Five lines on pottery uncovered here appear to be the oldest Hebrew text ever found and are likely to have a major impact on knowledge about the history of literacy and alphabet development.

The five-acre site, with its fortifications, dwellings and multi-chambered entry gate, will also be a weapon in the contentious and often politicized debate over whether David and his capital, Jerusalem, were an important kingdom or a minor tribe, an issue that divides not only scholars but those seeking to support or delegitimize Zionism.

Only a tiny portion of the site has been excavated, and none of the findings have yet been published or fully scrutinized. But the dig, led by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is already causing a stir among his colleagues as well as excitement from those
who seek to use the Bible as a guide to history and confirmation of their faith.

"This is a new type of site that suddenly opens a window on an area where we have had almost nothing and requires us to rethink what was going on at that period," said Aren M. Maeir, professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University and the director of a major Philistine dig not
far from here. "This is not a run-of-the-mill find."

The 10th century B.C. is the most controversial period in biblical archaeology because it is then, according to the Old Testament, that David united the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, setting the stage for his son Solomon to build his great temple and rule over a vast area from the Nile to the Euphrates Rivers.

For many Jews and Christians, even those who do not take Scripture literally, the Bible is a vital historical source. And for the state of Israel, which considers itself to be a reclamation of the state begun by David, evidence of the biblical account has huge symbolic value. The Foreign Ministry's Web site, for example, presents the kingdom of David and Solomon along with a map of it as a matter of fact.

But the archaeological record of that kingdom is exceedingly sparse — in fact almost nonexistent — and a number of scholars today argue that the kingdom was largely a myth created some centuries later. A great power, they note, would have left traces of cities and activity, and been mentioned by those around it. Yet in this area nothing like that has turned up — at least until now.

Mr. Garfinkel says he has something here that generations have been seeking. He has made two informal presentations in the past month to fellow archaeologists. On Thursday he will give his first formal lecture at a conference in Jerusalem.

What he has found so far has impressed many. Two burned olive pits found at the site have been tested for carbon-14 at Oxford University and were found to date from between 1050 and 970 B.C., exactly when most chronologies place David as king. Two more pits are still to be tested.

A specialist in ancient Semitic languages at Hebrew University, Haggai Misgav, says the writing, on pottery using charcoal and animal fat for ink, is in so-called proto-Canaanite script and appears to be a letter or document in Hebrew, suggesting that literacy may have been more
widespread than is generally assumed. That could play a role in the larger dispute over the Bible, since if more writing turns up it suggests a means by which events could have been recorded and passed down several centuries before the Bible was likely to have been written.

Another reason this site holds such promise is that it was in use for only a short period, perhaps 20 years, and then destroyed — Mr. Garfinkel speculates in a battle with the Philistines — and abandoned for centuries, sealing the finds in Pompeii-like uniformity. Most sites are made up of layers of periods and, inevitably, there is blending, making it hard to date remains accurately.

For example, several years ago the archaeologist Eilat Mazar uncovered in East Jerusalem a major public building from around the 10th century B.C. that she attributes to David's time and was perhaps even, she believes, his palace. While she found pottery, it was in a fill, not
sealed, making it hard to know how to relate the pottery to the structure.

Still, how this new site relates to King David and the Israelites is far from clear. Mr. Garfinkel suggests that the Hebrew writing and location — a fortified settlement a two-day walk from Jerusalem — add weight to the idea that his capital was sufficiently important to require such a forward position, especially because it was between the huge Philistine city of Gath and Jerusalem.

"The fortification required 200,000 tons of stone and probably 10 years to build," he said as he walked around the site one recent morning. "There were 500 people inside. This was the main road to Jerusalem, the key strategic site to protect the kingdom of Jerusalem. If they built a fortification here, it was a real kingdom, pointing to urban cities and a centralized authority in Judah in the 10th century B.C."

Others say it is too early to draw such conclusions. "This is an important site, one of the very few cases from the 10th century where you can see a settlement fortified in a style that is typical of later Israelite and Judean cities," said Amihai Mazar, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University. "The question is who fortified it, who lived in it, why it was abandoned and how it all relates to the reign of David and Solomon."

The Philistines had a huge city, Gath, some seven miles away, but pottery found there looks distinct from what Mr. Garfinkel has found here. He says the David and Goliath story could be an allegory about a battle between the two. Seymour Gitin, an archaeologist and a director
of the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, a private American institution, who has seen the finds, said: "The real value is that there was an urban center in the 10th century. You can extrapolate and say this helps support a kingdom, a united monarchy under David and Solomon. People will rightly use this material to support that."

That is happening. Financing for the dig is now being raised by an organization called Foundation Stone, run by a Los Angeles-born Israeli named David Willner, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat and said the point of his group was "to strengthen the tie of the Jewish people to the land." The group's Web site says that it is "redrawing the map in Jewish education," and that its activities are "anchoring traditional texts to the artifacts, maps and locations that form the context for Jewish identity."

This is an approach to unearthing the land's past that disturbs Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University and a prominent skeptic toward a Bible-based historical chronology.

"Some of us look at things in a very ethnocentric way — everything is Israelite or Judahite," he said. "History is not like that. There were other entities playing a big role in the southern part of the country. And even if it belongs to Jerusalem, fine. So there is a late 10th-century fortified structure there. I don't believe that any archaeologist can revolutionize our entire understanding of Judah and Jerusalem by a single site. It doesn't work that way. This is a cumulative discipline."

It is also a divided one. Mr. Finkelstein is among the most prominent advocates of what is called the "low chronology," meaning those who date David and Solomon's rule to closer to 900 B.C. than 1000 B.C. They argue that the kingdom was a minor affair that a later generation of Israelites in the seventh century B.C. mythologized for its own nationalistic purposes.

Ilan Sharon, a radiocarbon expert at Hebrew University, said another problem was that "we are working very close to the limits of measurement accuracy" when dealing with 3,000-year-old objects like olive pits.

He added in an e-mail message: "A measurement is expected to be within about 50 years of the correct date two-thirds of the time and within a century 95 percent of the time." Given how hard it is to be sure that objects found near the tested items were from the same time, "you can
see that this is a statistician's nightmare."

Put another way, basing an understanding of history on two olive pits — or even four — is risky. What is needed, he added, are scores or even hundreds of samples. Mr. Garfinkel is not arguing about that. He says with some 96 percent of this site still to be unearthed, a process likely to take 10 years, he hopes that more writing, more olive pits and more pottery will be uncovered, and add depth to what he believes is a revolutionary find.
I'm curious how they've determined their 5 lines of text are Hebrew and not Phoenician since this text would be from around the same time as the Gezer calendar (and we can argue whether that's Hebrew or not). Of course, it's always exciting to find stuff with writing on it. They mentioned they found an inscription over a month ago, but this is the first I've heard any more details. And whether or not there's a connection to David, it sounds like an interesting site.

[N.B. I don't have a sarcasm category like Jim West.
I was alerted to the existence of these news stories via the Agade list (obligatory acknowledgment of source that must also mention Jim West if he wrote on the topic). For a typical minimalist response to these discoveries, see Jim's post on the Tunnel. He posts on Khirbet Qeiyafa, too, but without skeptical comments (perhaps because Aren Maier's quoted??).]


  1. again, told jack of all 3 of these stories.

    and why my reaction to kh. q? because it was found by reputable scholars in a controlled dig. that makes ALL the difference. further, they didn't make outrageous claims about it.

  2. Doug,

    Todd Bolen has blogged quite a bit on this site, including a few details here and there about the ostracon.


  3. Jim,

    That's why I have an "obligatory reference to Jim West" policy. Odds are, you were the first to notice. Unless it's the middle of the night and Antonio scoops you because it's day in Italia.

    I agree that Kh. Qeifaya is a promising site with good scholars doing good work. All I could come up with to question was if the inscription is really Hebrew since we have so little from that early time.


    Thanks for the links. I knew Todd had mentioned it before but didn't know of all of these. I'll check them out.