Sunday, 4 January 2015

Archaeology and the State of Israel

Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery has a transcript of a speech entitled The Connection Between Archaeology and Ideology in the Middle East up on the CounterPunch site. It's a brilliant introduction to the politically inspired deceit that surrounds much popular rhetoric on this subject.

 An excerpt:
"[W]ith the coming of the Zionists to Palestine, a frantic archeological search started. The country was combed for real, scientific proof that the Biblical story was not just a bunch of myths, but real honest-to-God history. (Pun intended.) Christian Zionists came even earlier.
There started a veritable attack on archeological sites. The upper layers of Ottoman and Mamelukes, Arabs and Crusaders, Byzantines and Romans and Greeks and Persians were uncovered and removed in order to lay bare the ancient layer of the Children of Israel and to prove the Bible right.
Huge efforts were made. David Ben-Gurion, a self-appointed Biblical scholar, led the effort. The Chief of Staff of the army, Yigael Yadin, the son of an archeologist, and himself a professional archeologist, searched ancient sites to prove that the Conquest of Canaan really happened. Alas, no proof.
When remnants of the bones of Bar Kochba’s fighters were discovered in Judean desert caves, they were buried on Ben-Gurion’s orders in a big military ceremony. The uncontested fact that Bar Kochba had caused perhaps the greatest catastrophe in Jewish history was glossed over.
And the result?
Incredible as it sounds, four generations of devoted archeologists, with a burning conviction and huge resources, did produce exactly:
From the beginning of the effort to this very day, not a single piece of evidence of the ancient history was found. Not a single indication that the exodus from Egypt, the basis of Jewish history, ever happened. Nor of the 40 years of wandering in the desert. No evidence of the conquest of Canaan, as described at length in the Book of Joshua. The mighty King David, whose kingdom extended – according to the Bible – from the Sinai peninsula to the north of Syria, did not leave a trace. (Lately an inscription with the name David was discovered, but with no indication that this David was a king.)
Israel appears for the first time in sound archeological findings in Assyrian inscriptions, which describe a coalition of local kingdoms which tried to stop the Assyrian advance into Syria. Among others, King Ahab of Israel is mentioned as the chief of a considerable military contingent. Ahab, who ruled today’s Samaria (in the north of the occupied West Bank) from 871 BC until 852 BC was not beloved by God, though the Bible describes him as a war hero. He marks the beginning of the entry of Israel into proven history.
(Tip of the fez to Jim West who drew attention to Avnery's article a couple of days ago.)


  1. It never ceases to amaze me how ready you always are to believe anything that purports to disprove the bible and the history of Israel. Are you asking sensible people to believe that the OT, which was written over a period 3,000 years, by several different men, who didn't know one another, was some kind of elaborate conspiracy to deceive the world? Well, if you and redactors of history are right, then I want to be part of the Jewish conspiracy, as they may also know how to establish an eternal kingdom, with the redactors and their supporters on the outside!

    1. Take a few deep breaths Tom. Nobody mentioned 'conspiracy'. Put the kettle on and make a nice cup of tea. If you want to believe that the Bible relates an accurate record of history right back to Eden, go right ahead.

    2. Avnery is a left-wing political activist who has founded a peace movement in Israel. While the seeking of peace is admirable, it has political coloration. From Wikipedia: "He is a secularist and strongly opposed to the Orthodox influence in religious and political life." No doubt Avnery sees any expression of Israeli nationalism, such as Judaism, to be an impediment to implementing his personal view of the world.

      -- Neo

    3. Actually, he is in agreement with the most orthodox of Judaism in Israel, at least with respect to Palestinians. The most orthodox of jews there are at odds with the Zionist machine that occupies Palestine -- and they suffer (not as badly) prejudice at the hands of fellow "jews" right along with their Arab brothers and sisters. Avnery's beef is not religious, but with murderous zealotry hiding behind alleged religious claims.

  2. I have not read much in this area. So I start with many questions. I noticed the following statement from The Roman Military Research Society regarding the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain:

    "Over the last two decades, the archaeology team’s investigation has produced an extraordinary account of continuous occupation from the Bronze Age into the 5th/6th century AD. Significantly, there is little - indeed no - evidence of an ‘Anglo-Saxon invasion'."

    I am wondering what archaeologists expect to find? Egyptian material (that might have been transported out of Egypt by Israelites in the Exodus) is found in Palestine but it is attributed to Egyptian political and commercial influence in Palestine. How does one sort this out? Artifacts do not speak to us about their context. Many times we are left to deduce based on very limited and ambiguous data.

    As there is the "God of the gaps" for the believers, there is a similar presumptive state for non-believers. In the area where I live, the Anasazi occupied this area for generations prior to the arrival of the Spanish and Anglos. Within a few miles of my home city, tens of thousands of Anasazi lived their lives and died over the centuries. In the Southwest, conditions are particularly good for preservation of ancient material. But archaeologists, who have probed this area for decades, have never found the Anasazi cemeteries. They have found a few skeletons at remote locations. What did the Anasazi do with their dead? Are we to assume they were mythological because they have not been found yet?

    Is Avnery really "brilliant"? Or is he just politically acceptable to some?

    -- Neo

  3. But, but, but... what about the New Testament? Wanting to be a part of the Jewish conspiracy means that you would be anti-Christ.

    And while we are on the topic, here's an off-topic that's hard to resist: After A Year Without God, Former Pastor Ryan Bell No Longer Believes. Perhaps the end is most significant: "I wish more Christians knew that atheists are not nihilists who have no meaning to their lives or people with no moral compass. They’re not stubbornly rejecting God. All the atheists I have met have seriously hit a brick wall while trying to know God."

    And for Christians, Jews not finding archeological evidence should be seriously hitting a brick wall while trying to know God.

    Faith without some tangible evidence is nothing more than fantasy -- you might as well be a muggle looking for Hogwarts.

    If you want to believe that demons are coming through a stargate at the bottom of the ocean, go right ahead, but be warned, the belief will do you no good (although it might get you the help you need from mental health professionals, depending....)

  4. In the long term scheme of things, I think the jury is still out. The zeitgeist seems to exist as a function of the latest discovery or theory. In Josephus' day, he reported the pillar of salt that had been Lot's wife as still existing. In more recent history, the world seemed to be operating on one premise until some really strange fossils began to turn up several centuries ago, and then there was the discovery of those pesky dead sea scrolls in the late 1940s. It wasn't too long ago when the best intellects were reporting that the world was at "zero oil", and needed to transition to new sources for fuel, and then new technologies came into play. One little discovery can often change everything, towards one pole or the other.

    There are many who don't even realize that scripture, manuscripts, were reviewed and revised at different points in Jewish history, possibly during the Babylonian exile, possibly during the intertestamental period. We still have the evidence, through doublets and the so-called Y and E documents, of redaction or revision in our current versions of the Bible. And, the very act of translating constitutes paraphrase.

    It would seem that one of the basic responsibilities of a human being would be to evaluate and to decide what to believe, and how much to believe. We can base this on factual materials, or we can base it on partisanship, or fabricated preconceived notions. Sometimes, recovery from the partisanship of our shared pasts can be a painful growth experience. At any given point in time, we simply do not have all of the answers. That's why we refer to the states of belief, or unbelief.


  5. Once again, I reiterate...."Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."