Tag Archives: Archaeology

The Politics of Archaeology

We laugh now at the idea that the Soviets and Nazis used scientific research to buttress their ideologies but archaeology is still being used to support nationalist ideologies and justify illegal occupations today. From Ynetnews:

Culture Minister Miri Regev has ordered the Israel Antiquities Authority to put plans in motion to undertake far-reaching archeological restoration of many historical Jerusalem sites, in a bid to strengthen Jewish bonds to the ancient city. . . .

“The immense importance of the archeological digs taking place in Jerusalem cannot be questioned. The digs are uncovering the deep roots we have in our land,” Israel Antiquities Authority Chairman Israel Hasson in a letter to Regev.

“The digs’ results provided the appropriate response to anyone wishing to dispute our right to Jerusalem, alongside the fact the sites are a tourist attraction of the highest order and research being conducted there is foremost in the world,” Hasson added.

Regev herself told Yedioth Ahronoth that the desire to strengthen Jewish bonds to the city was at the heart of the initiative. “Even if (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas made an effort to dig hundreds of meters into the ground he will not find a Palestinian coin from 2,000 or 3,000 years ago,” she explained.

H/T PaleoJudaica.com

I thought the Palestinians were in large part the descendants of the people of the Palestine of 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. See Keith Whitelam’s Rhythms of Time.

 

The God El (statue here is from Megiddo) was worshiped by Palestinians prior to the rise of the kingdom of Judah and was subsequently adopted by the priests of that Palestinian kingdom.

Archaeology as Manufacturer and Destroyer of Historical and Contemporary Identities

I’ve been struggling with a virus since returning from my recent o/seas trip and unable to focus on blogging after work hours these past two weeks but a Jerry Coyne blog post has roused me from my lethargy:

The anti-Semitism of UNESCO

The visceral illogic of his post leaves me somewhat dismayed. Does he really believe — is he even aware that he is saying — that present-day cultural monuments of devotion for one religious and historical identity should be replaced by monuments to ancient myths that have not existed in the land for millennia in the interests of an opposing religious and historical identity? Is he really oblivious to the politics of archaeology, to the way archaeology has long been used as an ideological and nationalistic propaganda tool?

Did he even read in full the Unesco draft decision [link is to pdf] that he curiously declares to be “anti-semitic”? (I’m reminded of yesterday’s debate. If something goes against X, X always says it is because it was “rigged”.)

I will probably delete any comment that expresses an view that clearly demonstrates a failure to have actually read the UNESCO document which I copy in full below. I’m interested in informed discussion. read more »

What they’re saying in the world of archaeology

Some recent news (and not quite so recent) that has come to my attention via the social media —

Arabia_saudita-_Iscrizione_(Imbert)A forest of crosses and names of martyrs in the desert of Saudi Arabia

A Franco-Saudi archaeological team is responsible for the discovery. Prof Frédéric Imbert dated the graffiti to 470-475, a time when anti-Christian persecution began, culminating under the usurper Yusuf. Even the Qur’an refers to it indirectly. The findings show how far Christianity had spread at the time, until the arrival of Islam.

Has anyone seen “First Century Mark”?

By P. J. Williams. He begins

I have had correspondence with Craig Evans and have his permission to confirm that he has not seen the alleged first-century manuscript of Mark and does not know the identity of the scholar or scholars to whom it has (presumably) been assigned for publication.

10 Great Biblical Artifacts at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem

Nothing new, but it’s always nice to visit a museum.

The Walls of Assyrian Nineveh destroyed

This is an Italian site so most of us will need an online translator. No doubt by now there are some sites with this story in English but this is the one that came to me first. From my Google translator:

A source in Nineveh province revealed on Wednesday, that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “ISIS” terrorist organization has resumed bombing historical buildings and monuments in the province, noting that it has blew up the historic wall in the center of Mosul.

The source, who asked for anonymity told “Shafaq News”, that “ISIS terrorists have destroyed on Tuesday night large parts of the historic wall of Nineveh in Tahrir neighborhood in the left coast of the Mosul area, noting that terrorists have used large quantities of explosives”. 

Ah, how I miss Saddam …

_80397343_closeupXray imaging and the Herculaneum Papyri

This one I can’t wait to learn more about. I suspect the results won’t be known for many years, however.

Hundreds of papyrus rolls, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and belonging to the only library passed on from Antiquity, were discovered 260 years ago at Herculaneum. These carbonized papyri are extremely fragile and are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process of trying to open them to read their contents. In recent years, new imaging techniques have been developed to read the texts without unwrapping the rolls. Until now, specialists have been unable to view the carbon-based ink of these papyri, even when they could penetrate the different layers of their spiral structure. Here for the first time, we show that X-ray phase-contrast tomography can reveal various letters hidden inside the precious papyri without unrolling them. This attempt opens up new opportunities to read many Herculaneum papyri, which are still rolled up, thus enhancing our knowledge of ancient Greek literature and philosophy.

There is an earlier story (again in Italian so keep the translator handy) on Antonio Lombatti’s blog.

Pagan deities in ancient synagogues

I’ve always wondered what to make of these. The author’s attempt to rationalize an explanation with modern sensibilities strikes me as naively amusing. read more »

Ideological Archaeology in Israel, Greek beauty, Coffee and the Paranormal

Some articles I’ve found interesting this past week:

The Connection Between Archaeology and Ideology in the Middle East in Counterpunch (h/t Otagosh)

Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a speech/article by Uri Avnery. In the desperation to find confirmation of the Biblical stories after the 1967 war Moshe Dayan and others swept away all the top layers of Ottomans, Arab/Crusader, Byzantine, Roman, Greek and Persian eras and found nothing. They had very likely pushed aside their real history. Excerpt:

Even if one would like to believe that the Bible only exaggerates real events, the fact is that not even a tiny mention of the exodus, the conquest of Canaan or King David has been found.

They just did not happen.

IS THIS important? Yes and no.

The Bible is not real history. It is a monumental religious and literary document, that has inspired untold millions throughout the centuries. It has formed the minds of many generation of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

But history is something else. History tells us what really happened. Archeology is a tool of history, an invaluable tool for the understanding of what took place.

These are two different disciplines, and never the twain shall meet. For the religious, the Bible is a matter of belief. For non-believers, the Hebrew Bible is a great work of art, perhaps the greatest of all. Archeology is something entirely different: a matter of sober, proven facts.

Israeli schools teach the Bible as real history. This means that Israeli children learn only its chapters, true or fictitious. When I once complained about this in a Knesset speech, demanding that the full history of the country throughout the ages be taught, including the chapters of the Crusades and the Mamelukes, the then minister of education started to call me “the Mameluke”.

If that’s too political for you you might prefer more philosophical reading. Salon.com has an extract from David Konstan’s book, “Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea” :

The secret history of beauty: How the Greeks invented Western civilization’s biggest idea — (People think of beauty as universal to the human experience. But the truth is actually much more complicated)

Conclusion — some interesting openings into understanding the breadth of human experience: read more »

Archaelogical Finds 2014 — But Beware Christians Bearing Gifts

We feed your body and take your soul!

Much has happened in the world of archaeology this past year but little of it has been related to themes biblical. Two interesting pages are up for comparison and review. The advertisement that appears on the biblical one is obnoxious. Try not to get distracted (though I won’t help at all by re-posting the offending images here) but then finish up with the page listing some really interesting discoveries of wider relevance and interest.

The boring list of “bible-related” archaeological finds:

Biblical Archaeology’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2014 by Gordon Govier, on Christianity Today.

This includes the tomb of St. Stephen (who almost certainly was a myth) and the theatre where Polycarp was (very likely not) martyred.

No, I lie — there is something there of a little interest after all. Something about Noah’s ark being round like a giant version of one of those bath-tubs. And the animals going in two-by-two even on a Babylonian text. (Add it to your trivia list.) The curator of the tablet wears a beard to suit the part, too.

But this shameless plug on the page smacks your face:

Screen shot 2015-01-01 at 5.54.57 AM

The link takes you to a list of all the things your donation can do: provide clean water, a bible in his language and the good news of Jesus. And don’t forget that by giving to this child you are really giving to God himself so you’ll get a really great reward in heaven.

Screen shot 2015-01-01 at 5.56.35 AM

That sort of “compassion” I can do without.

There’s a similar boring list at Bible History DailyTop 10 Biblical Archaeology Discoveries in 2014 by Robin Ngo. This one has more interesting graphics for the Noah’s ark story here. And it does not have obnoxious ads telling you how to exploit the sufferings of others or how to get a bigger reward in heaven.

But let’s get real. The most interesting archaeological news for the past year is at Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014.

The biggest one is, of course, the tomb from the era of Alexander the Great. Then there’s the Richard III find, more news from Stonehenge, the glamour and cheese mummy in China, the mummified erection of King Tut in Egypt, and most interesting of all (well, to me anyway) is the indication that homo erectus produced some form of “art” designs half a million years ago.  read more »

Who wrote the Bible? (2) Challenging the Documentary Hypothesis

Русский: Распределение документов Йахвист, Эло...
Image via Wikipedia

This post continues from my post some weeks ago in which I covered primarily Philippe Wajdenbaum’s account of the rise of the Documentary Hypothesis. At that time in one of the comments I explained I had paused to take stock of how best to address the challenge that has arisen against the Documentary Hypothesis. This is a study I undertook some years ago and so thoroughly enjoyed that it is easy for me to cover way too much detail. Maybe I will have to return to address some of the specifics in separate posts later. Once this is out of the way I would like to post another explaining how political anthropology offers a cogent explanation for the character of the biblical books as Hellenistic productions.

First, to recap the Documentary Hypothesis. This is the idea that the Old Testament was essentially a result of four separate sources that were originally written over a span of some centuries:

  • a Jahwist/Yahwist (J) written in the southern kingdom of Judah around the time of Solomon – 10th century bce / later shifted to the Babylonian Exile period:
    • Gerhard von Rad in 1944 “considers the time of Solomonic enlightenment to contain all the prerequisites for literary production, including history writing. It was first of all a time of political stability and economic prosperity. On top of this came the need of a new state to provide a history of its past. Finally the creative impetus following in the wake of the establishment of an Israelite state created this new literature.”
    • Subsequent scholarship revised this, arguing that “External circumstances were thought to provide the most likely background for this kind of literature.” (pp. 158-9 of The Israelites in History and Tradition, Niels Peter Lemche)
  • an Elohist (E) composed in the northern kingdom of Israel – 9th or 8th century bce
  • a Deuteronomist (D) in the southern kingdom of Judah at time of Josiah – late 7th century bce
  • a Priestly source (P) during the Babylonian Exile – 6th century bce

The dating of the sources is central to the hypothesis:

Essential to the history of scholarship expressed in Wellhausen’s synthesis [the DH is the result of W’s synthesis of two generations of OT historical-critical scholarship] was that these four discrete sources of the pentateuch were to be understood as literary documents created at the time of their written composition, and hence as compositions reflecting the understanding and knowledge of their authors and their world. (p. 2 of Early History of the Israelite People from the Written & Archaeological Sources, by Thomas L. Thompson.)

This meant, for example, that the Pentateuch was not a reliable source for the events it narrates, such as the Patriarchal period and Exodus.

But in recent decades biblical scholars are not so united in their acceptance of this explanation for the Bible or “Old Testament” portion of it.

Basically, the old consensus that had developed around the Documentary Hypothesis has gone, though there is nothing to take its place (Rendtorff 1997; Whybray 1987). Some still accept the Documentary Hypothesis in much its original form, but many accept only aspects of it or at least put a question mark by it. There has also been much debate around the J source (Rendtorff 1997: 53-5) and the P source (Grabbe 1997). It seems clear that the Pentateuch was put together in the Persian period (Grabbe 2004:331-43; 2006). (p. 44 of Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? by Lester L. Grabbe)

So where have the cracks appeared? read more »

In Search of Ancient Israel

In 1992 Philip Davies published a monograph that began a heated controversy over the origins of the Bible and what light archaeology shed on this question. Davies criticized conventional biblical scholarship for lacking the rigour found in archaeological studies of sites without theological significance. He argued that the archaeological evidence suggested that the Bible was composed as late as the Persian era and that the stories of Abraham, the Exodus, David and Solomon were mythical inventions. I have begun to summarize the argument of Davies’ book, In Search of Ancient Israel.

Book details: Davies’ In search of ancient Israel (Sheffield, 1997)

Neil Godfrey


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