It appears that Eilat Mazar’s Jerusalem excavation is turning up more significant finds every year (see here for previous discoveries). The Jerusalem Post has an article in which it is claimed that a wall from the First Temple period was recently uncovered in Jerusalem’s City of David. Here is an excerpt:
A 20-meter-long section of the 7-meter-thick wall has now been uncovered. It indicates that the City of David once served as a major government center, Mazar said.
Mazar estimates less than a quarter of the entire wall has been uncovered so far, and says that it is the largest site from King David’s time ever to have been discovered.
This news piece hasn’t been picked up or expanded on yet. Among bloggers, Jim Davila and Jim West note it but that’s about it.
Just imagine King David, after a hard day cutting off Philistine foreskins, heads down his private tunnel to his spa for the full treatment: a nice aromatherapy massage, sauna, and steam bath. What better way is there for a king of a small chiefdom to recharge & rejuvenate?
Well, that’s scenario that came to mind when I read the title of Ofer Petersburg’s ynet news article: “Has King David’s spa been uncovered?” The subtitle is perhaps a bit more revealing: “Jerusalem digs reveal a tunnel possibly leading to the king’s pool” (italics mine). The “possibly” is the key here; basically they found a tunnel. They don’t know where it heads, nor do they know when to date it. Talk about spin in journalism!
I saw this a couple days ago, but didn’t have time to post: Richard Ostiling of the Associated Press (via PE.com) has a brief report on Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman’s (somewhat) new book, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition (Free Press, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). The news article, “Was King David legend or fiction?” raises a number of questions surrounding Finkelstein and Silberman’s views.
Here are some excerpts:
Some scholars are busily debunking the Bible’s account of the great King David, asking: Was he really all that great? Was he largely legendary, Judaism’s version of Britain’s legendary King Arthur, or totally fictional?
These matters are crucial not only for Jews but for Christians, since Jesus’ biblical identity as the messiah stems from David’s family line.
Though some scholars claimed David never existed, in 1993 archaeologists discovered a stone inscription from 835 B.C. that mentions “the house of David.” The authors say that established the existence of a dynastic founder named David and that shortly after his 10th-century era a line of kings “traced their legitimacy back to David.”
However, Finkelstein considers the Bible seriously distorted propaganda. He treats David as a minor bandit chieftain and Jerusalem as a hamlet, not an imperial capital. Supposedly, biblical authors concocted the grander David centuries afterward.
Finkelstein notes that archaeologists haven’t found monumental buildings from David’s era in Jerusalem. He dismisses links of David and Solomon with buildings unearthed at biblical Megiddo and Hazor. Ordinary readers might not grasp that this depends upon a disputed “low chronology” which would shift dates a century, just after these kings.
In the July-August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Michael Coogan of Stonehill College, editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, contends that Finkelstein and Silberman “move from the hypothetical to the improbable to the absurd.”
Finkelstein’s revised chronology is “not accepted by the majority of archaeologists and biblical scholars,” Coogan asserts, citing four scholarly anthologies from the past three years.
Coogan also thinks “David and Solomon” downplays the significance of the Amarna tablets, which include correspondence to Egypt’s pharaoh from a 14th-century Jerusalem king. Even if archaeological remains at Jerusalem are lacking, he writes, the tablets indicate that long before David, Jerusalem was the region’s chief city-state, with a court and sophisticated scribes.
Discovery of ancient remains in Jerusalem is problematic, due to the repeated reconstruction throughout the centuries and the modern inaccessibility of many sites.
Nonetheless, perhaps David’s palace has been found. So claims Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar. Finkelstein denies this, claiming Mazar inaccurately dated pottery from the site.
“Here, for the time being, matters rest,” summarizes Hillel Halkin in the July-August Commentary magazine.
I tend to agree more with Coogan than with Finkelstein and Silberman, though I wouldn’t go as far to say the biblical account has no embellishments since I also think that all historiography has fictive elements. One of the more significant points the article raises, IMHO, is the fact that archaeological excavation of Jerusalem is problematic for so many reasons. That is why digs such as Mazar‘s are so important.
As has been noted by a few blogs already, Eliat Mazar has published a short article on her city of David excavations — provocatively entitled “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” — in the most recent volume of Biblical Archaeology Review (available for free download here).
The article is definitely worth a read. Mazar based her decision of where to dig on the known topography of the city of David in conjunction with a close reading of the Samuel texts (e.g., David leaving his palace residence and “going down” to the fortress noted in 1 Samuel 5:17).
Here is a modified version of an image from the article that shows the location of the “large stone” structure (labeled as “David’s Palace?”):
In the article, Mazar describes her understanding of the relationship of archaeology to the biblical text as follows:
One of the many things I learned from my grandfather [Benjamin Mazar] was how to relate to the Biblical text: Pore over it again and again, for it contains within it descriptions of genuine historical reality. It is not a simple matter to differentiate the layers of textual sources that have been piled one atop the other over generations; we don’t always have the tools to do it. But it is clear that concealed within the Biblical text are grains of detailed historical truth (p. 20).
Her tentative conclusions are equally as provocative:
The Biblical narrative, I submit, better explains the archaeology we have uncovered than any other hypothesis that has been put forward. Indeed, the archaeological remains square perfectly with the Biblical description that tells us David went down from there to the citadel. So you decide whether or not we have found King David’s palace (p. 70).
Mazar’s method seems to be a throw-back to the Albright-Bright-Wright era where “Biblical archaeology” was concerned primarily to support the picture of history presented by the Bible. As such, biblical sites such as Jerusalem, Jericho, Ai, etc. were typically excavated, and the focus of the investigations tended to be on things like walls, religious centers, etc., rather than the broader material culture of the sites.
While I am by no means an archaeologist, I do know that most modern archaeologists take a broader and more interdisciplinary approach and attempt to retrieve more than simply architectural and ceramic phases or look for correlations between the biblical text and archaeological discoveries. While I think the separation of Biblical/Syro-Palestinian (or whatever we want to call it) archaeology from under auspices of biblical studies is ultimately a good and necessary thing, perhaps Mazar’s work illustrates that the “new” archaeology does not have to preclude considering the descriptions of geography found in the biblical narratives.
I had some very helpful comments by Robert Deutsch on the tracing of the letters on my Yehukal Seal blog entry. I have updated the image to reflect most of the recommendations, though I have to admit that I cannot make out some of the suggestions on the picture of the seal I am working with — even after magnifying the image and making changes to the contrast and colour balance, etc., with Photoshop. For instance, I just don’t see the upper half of the first lamed, but I think I do see part of the middle bar on the yod (the second letter). At any rate, I did make some of the suggested modifications. (A higher resolution picture would perhaps make it easier to trace).
As I noted in the comments thread to the original post, the (only) purpose of the tracing was to bring the letters — as best as I could discern them from a lo-resolution photograph — into sharper relief so that people who haven’t ever looked at a seal or other inscriptions can use the chart to read the seal. Thus, my purpose was pedagogical, not paleographical.
Robert Deutsch remains convinced that the bulla is from the late 8th or the first half of the 7th century BCE, while Peter van der Veen defends Mazar’s date of late 7th early 6th century BCE. Perhaps we’ll need to get them to debate their evidence to see if some consensus can be reached on the date.
Here is a pretty clear picture of the Yehukal bulla that was discovered by Eilat Mazar in her Jerusalem dig:
(Thanks to Joseph I. Lauer for the link; the picture was published in the Taipei Times)
Here is a tracing of the bulla I made to show the letters in greater relief; note that the first nun begins on the second line and is incomplete and the heh-vav at the end of the second line were difficult to make out in their entirety (Thanks to Ed Cook for the identification of the partial nun).
For those who may know Hebrew, but are unfamiliar with the archaic Hebrew alphabet, here is part of a handout I give to intermediate Hebrew students:
There are a number of good discussions of the seal on the web: Ed Cook perhaps has the best at Ralph the Sacred River. Jim West also has a number of posts on the subject at Biblical Theology blog: here and here. Duane Smith at Abnormal Interests has also posted a good discussion of the seal.
The International Herald Tribune has posted a story on the recent excavations and discoveries in Jerusalem: “King David’s fabled palace: Is this it?” (Also available at the New York Times). The find purportedly includes “the partial foundations of a sizable public building, constructed in the Phoenician style, dating from the 10th to 9th centuries B.C., the time of the united kingdom of David and Solomon.” (Picture of Mazur by Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times). Here is an excerpt:
Even Israeli archaeologists are not so sure that MS. Mazar has found the palace – the house that Hiram, king of Tyre, built for the victorious king, at least as Samuel 2:5 describes it. It may also be the Fortress of Zion that David conquered from the Jebusites, who ruled Jerusalem before him, or some other structure about which the Bible is silent.
Either way, they are impressed by its likely importance. “This is a very significant discovery, given that Jerusalem as the capital of the united kingdom is very much unknown,” said Gabriel Barkay, an archaeologist from Bar-Ilan University. “This is one of the first greetings we have from the Jerusalem of David and Solomon, a period which has played a kind of hide-and-seek with archaeologists for the last century.”
Based on the Bible and a century of archaeology in this spot, MS. Mazar, 48, speculated that a famous stepped-stone structure excavated previously was part of the fortress David conquered, and that his palace would have been built just outside the original walls of the cramped city, on the way to what his son, Solomon, built as the Temple Mount.
“When the Philistines came to fight, the Bible said that David went down from his house to the fortress,” she said, her eyes bright. “I wondered, down from where? Presumably from where he lived, his palace.”
“So I said, maybe there’s something here,” she added, referring to East Jerusalem.
While it is obviously too soon to know the significance of the find, it will be fun to see the “minimalists” do everything they can to deny a connection with David and the “maximalists” muster the evidence to “prove” that David existed just as the Bible says! (Gee, do I seem a bit skeptical of the nature and tone of the minimalist/maximalist debate?)
UPDATE: Jim West over at Biblical Theology blog has posted on this story as well. The battle for Middle Earth Jerusalem is about to begin…