New archaeological finds give skeptics something to think about
In Israel, which has been the object of centuries of embittered conflict over the historical right to the land, it is unavoidable that archaeology, apart from its historical significance, becomes political. For decades Israelis and Palestinians have fought a propaganda war the latter supported by Islamic ideologues, who have always claimed that the Jews are aliens without the slightest right to exercise political power west of the Jordan River.
New archaeological discoveries, however, irre-futably document that Jews have had a presence in the area for at least the past 3000 years.
The new finds are likely to reignite the debate over the Old Testaments reliability as a historical source.
Since the 1960s an influential school of Bible scholars have claimed that the Old Testaments stories about Saul, David and Solomon, traditionally dated to around 1000 BC, and everything reported on wars between Israelis and Philistines are pure fiction fairytales with no confirmation outside the Old Testament that was written down centuries after the occurrences it purports to report.
Some scholars have even characterized the traditional story told by the Bible as entirely invented. It may have religious and literary significance but cannot be confirmed by anything outside holy Jewish scripture.
A prominent spokesman for this point of view is Thomas L. Thompson, who until 2009 was professor of the Old Testament at Copenhagen University. In his book The Bible in History: How writers create a past (1999) he minces no words. It is a gross error to think of the Bible as history. It is pure fiction and Biblical archaeology has resolutely failed to provide the Bible with an historical context in which it might reasonably be understood.
The recent Israeli discoveries may well force the skeptical scholars to readjust their position.
Particularly important are the excavations carried out by Professor Yosef Garfinkel of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. For a number of years he has been digging at a locality called Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley southwest of Jerusalem and has found a fortress that has been interpreted as an Israeli border fortification against the Philistines.
The fort seems to have been occupied for only 20 years, after which it appears to have been conquered by enemies (Philistines?) and demolished. This makes it easy to date the artifacts found there.
The most important of them is an ostracon (a pottery shard with an inscription). According to Israeli archaeologists, it is among the earliest known Jewish texts and technical analyses date it to between 1026 and 975 BC, i.e., to the period where according to traditional history David was king of a Jewish State with Jerusalem as its center.
As the reverend Carl Lomholt with Yosef Garfinkel as his source reported in the magazine of the Danish Priests (Præsteforeningens Blad:46, 2010), the writing on the shard is early Phoenician or Canaanite, but the language is Hebrew.
It has been difficult to interpret the meaning of the text and till this day scholars are discussing it, but a few words were easily understandable from the start. One of them was king, melech in Hebrew.
That is very interesting because many Biblical scholars have until now doubted that there was a Jewish kingdom at the time. Now, however, Yosef Garfinkel considers it proven that a Jewish kingdom was a reality as early as the tenth century BC.
There is no doubt that the archaeologists have got something to speculate about. The same may said of the ideologues who have striven to deny the Jews any right to the land.
It is now abundantly clear that there was a Jewish State in Palestine 1700 years before it was overrun by armies from the Arabian Peninsula.