City of David

8 Dec 2010

At ... Robert Draper in the December 2010 issue of National Geographic has an article on the controversy around David and Solomon - was Jerusalem the centre of a glorious empire or was it just a small scale early Iron Age affair? It begins with Eilat Mazar and her claim that a low stone wall abutting an ancient terraced retaining wall some 60 feet high, was the work of Hiram of Tyre in the time of David. She believes she has unearthed the palace of king David - and proved the historicity of the Bible. However, other archaeologists think she has unearthed an 8th or 9th century building - and many people question Mazar's motives. Finkestein thinks her claims are naive - but it seems Finkelstein's chronology is also under pressure, as excavation of a copper smelting complex in the lower Jordan valley, ancient Edom, and a fortress in the Elah Valley 20 miles SW of Jerusalem, have been dated to the early Iron Age - and the 9th or 10th centuries. Mazar's reasoning, of course, is that it is thought the early Iron Age coincides with the time of David and Solomon - therefore these sites are seen as proof of a kingdom of some kind, a kingdom that extended its influence as far as Edom. This sounds very much like a jump in the dark, a common wont of archaeology, as various revisions would realign the early Iron period to somewhat later in the grand scheme of things. Elah's casement walls have parallels at Hazor and Gezer, it is alleged. Later, arguments over the reliability of C14 dating emerge - especially in Edom. The problem is the margin of error - around 40 to 50 years, with the suggestion that different laboratories produce different dates. For example, one archaeologist dates a stratum at Tell Rehov (occupied in the Bronze and Iron periods) as Solomonic - and another dates it to the Omride era. Surprisingly, but not mentioned, if the latter was true Solomon and David could have lived in the Late Bronze period. However, while some archaeologists see the Bible as a reliable tool, others do not. Finkelstein says, look at it as a stratified archaeological site. Some of it was written in the 8th century, some in the 7th, and some of it somewhat later. It is the product of at least 600 years, he maintains. This does not mean it does not possess ancient information - but that information has been revamped by later reality. He accepts the reality of David - but not the golden city of Jerusalem or the great empire of Solomon. The problem with this view is that Finkelstein insists David and Solomon belong to the early Iron Age 1B period, an impoverished archaeological strata that might be better assigned to late 10th/early 9th or late 9th century BC (without beginning an analysis based on the work of Barry Curnock or Eric Aitchison). Finkestein's big problem which he stoutly ignores - a problem that restricts fluidity in the orthodox chronology in general - is that they still stick like glue to the hypothesis Shoshenk = Shishak. For example, if Finkelstein took seriously what he says and then the name of Shishak might clearly be a late interpolation - and not a fact of the 10th century BC. I find it really very peculiar that orthodox chronologists and historians insist on adhering to the Shoshenk = Shishak synchronism when otherwise they are at pains to distance themselves from Biblical chronology. It smacks of hypocrisy. In this view the Exodus, in which even the Bible preserves an ambiguous and obviously symbolically religious description, is said to have occurred as recently as the end of the Bronze Age - yet Finkelstein is at pains, elsewhere, to say that the story was actually written down in the 8th or 7th centuries, when the era of Ramses was a distant memory. Alternatively, in the Curnock and Aitchison schemes, it may have been written down in the time of the Rammesides who they suggest may have lived centuries after their orthodox positions in the 12th and 11th centuries. Whatever, there are obvious problems here and the orthodox position is by no means as certain as they like to pretend - egos very often getting in the way of movement in minds. If Finkelstein had been daring enough to place David, at least, within the Late Bronze period, somewhat before the advent of the early Iron Age, it might be possible to see the Solomonic Empire as a kind of folk memory, oral or written, of the Egyptian Empire in Asia - in which he may have been a part. The collapse of the Solomonic empire therefore might be viewed as the collapse of the Egyptian Empire which came under pressure, with regions such as Phoenicia and Edom, falling by the wayside before the final retreat sometime in the mid to late dynasty 20 period.