The Archeological Divide

The Smithsonian Magazine has an article on the extremes within Israeli archeology. At its most conservative is Adam Zertal, who is a Biblical literalist. Zertal believes he has found the altar Joshua built after crossing the Jordan river. But is Zertal an honest scientist or a propagandist? Let’s see:

[In these 28 years, Zertal] has yet to submit his Ebal finds to radiocarbon dating. And he professes a dislike for the common archaeological practice of establishing chronologies by radiocarbon dating potsherds, or pieces of broken pottery. “Others see things through the narrow keyhole of pottery,” he tells me as I join him on one of his Friday walkabouts. “I prefer to see things in a wider perspective: history, Bible, literature, poetry.”

People may disagree with Israel Finklestein and other archeologists who dismiss most of the Bible as literary myth. But Finklestein and these other archeologists use modern science to confirm their theories. Zertal and his fellow ideologues often do not, in large part because those findings will not support their literalism.

What we need now is less apologetics, and more honest searching for truth.

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Filed under Israel, Torah and Science

16 responses to “The Archeological Divide

  1. Yochanan Lavie

    I hate to sound like a fundamentalist, but if the Tanach is just a myth, then why be Jewish? (Because Zayde was Jewish? Zayde rode horses, so what!) Also, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Even if this thing doesn’t turn out to be Joshua’s, that doesn’t mean it isn’t out there somewhere.

  2. ***Preponderance*** of “absence of evidence” means a lot, especially when archeologists have looked for 125 for that evidence, and especially when the preponderance of found evidence holds against Sefer Yehoshua.

    Read “When They Separated Earth From Sky” for what is meant by myth:

  3. Yochanan Lavie

    With respect, Shmarya, I have a PhD in English Literature from New York University (1995). I understand Jung, Joseph Campbell, Freud, and the post-structuralists. I can accept that not everything in tanach is literally true. For reasons too numerous to mention, the Creation story is largely allegorical, for example. The torah is neither a science textbook, or a history textbook, as we understand science and history. But that doesn’t mean that God didn’t create the world, or that our lives are more than an accident. But if everything is just Near Eastern mythology, that can teach us great truths the way Homer and other great works of literature can teach us great truths, why bother being Jewish? Why follow a difficult, persecuted religion when you can glean whatever higher truths that fiction has to offer, and not be Jewish? That is why I despise the Reform Judaism I was raised in (but not Reform Jews). All it offered was a bland mixture of bible criticism and Fiddler-on-the-Roof sentimentality, mixed with liberal bromides. Furthermore, the current day bible minimalists have an ideological axe to grind, too. The subtitle of one of their books is “Recovering Palestinean History” (sorry, I forgot the name, and the main title). That same author is pro-Palestinean, and even dismissed the famous “Beit David” inscription as actually saying “Beit Dod” (sic). People of his ilk say that the Samaratans are the true Jews, and modern Jews are imposters who are either colonists sent by the Persians, or even later Khazars (although I am sure we have some Khazar blood, we are still predominately Semites, according to DNA tests). David Weiss-Halivni and other left-wing Orthodox rabbis say that we can accept some of what the bible critics say, but at the end of the day we still have to accept the core of the revelation as the word of God in a more or less literal sense. People like Neil Gillman don’t impress me. He also advocates a mythic understanding of the torah, and openly mocks the traditional idea of revelation. I would rather follow my briss than follow my bliss. I need a reason to wake up in the morning other than to maintain respairation. I need a reason to stay Jewish, and not accept competing truth claims. (Christianity and Islam are so obviously weak & derivative that I would never consider them. There is always Zen, I guess). I guess you can call me a fundaminimalist.

  4. YL –

    Please read the above-linked book. It’s published by a university press and it’s well-received. You’ll see there is a category that falls in between Homer and Literal Truth. You’ll agree with most, if not all, of what is written there.

  5. Neo-Conservaguy

    “I would rather follow my briss than follow my bliss.”

    Hee hee, that’s the best line I’ve seen this week. Is it borrowed from Aish or Chabad?

    Seriously, I’m not afraid of the truth, what ever it may be. Those that make a literal belief in Torah the foundation of their faith are at risk of losing everything as we learn more and more about the real facts of history. Don’t worry about how we got Torah and its user’s manual (Mishna), along with the technical support FAQS (Shulchan Aruch) and the user group discussion board (Gemara and commentaries). What matters is whether we use it, not how much of it is literal fact.

  6. Paul Freedman

    Let’s not forget that modern archeology indisputably supports Jewish monarchal settlement from the 9th century and onwards and that didn’t come out of nowhere. Basically, you get back to King David as being irrefutable historical fact (the minimalists may make him out to be a provincial rube but I don’t think the majority of them profess disbelief). Yes, post-Judges but whatever ultimate roots, mythopeic, Covenantal, or otherwise, Am Yisroel has been around a long time. Generally, at a certain point, skeptical academic secularists go off the rails into unfounded mockery.

  7. Neo-Conservaguy

    “Yes, post-Judges but whatever ultimate roots, mythopeic, Covenantal, or otherwise, Am Yisroel has been around a long time.”

    …which is a statement that few dispute, but has nothing whatsoever to do with supporting claims of Torah fundamentalists. The politics that influence the writing in Judges alone should make clear to one that every redactor, including Ezra, had an agenda that influenced their editorial decisions.

  8. Paul Freedman

    Neo-Conservaguy: a few fringe “minimalists”, noted by Yochanan join Palestinian historians in disputing this.

    Not being a fundamentalist, I think Judges itself is anti-fundamentalist in its literary structure–you may consider it a political (monarchal) document but I think it goes much deeper in examining how patriarchal virtues go off the rails: Judges 19 stands Lot’s response on its head, Judges 18 features the peaceful Laish taking it in the neck in the middle of a “traveling-Levite” shaggy-dog story, etc.

  9. Paul Freedman

    It’s the Stanley Kubrick re-write of Joshua.

  10. Paul Freedman

    Post-structuralists might compare it to Chretien De Troyes’ deconstruction of the medieval knight ethos in his often satiric take on the King Arthur mythos.

  11. Yochanan Lavie

    PF: reading tanach convinces me that theocracy is a terrible idea. Even our good kings were deeply flawed. Maybe it really is deconstruction.

  12. mazeartist

    If a secular archaelogist finds biblical ruins, he is credible. If a religious archaelogist such as Vendyl Joines finds biblical ruins- he’s a propagandist trying to prove the biblical events are real. Shmarya, I sense a double standard.

  13. Neo-Conservaguy

    “PF: reading tanach convinces me that theocracy is a terrible idea. Even our good kings were deeply flawed. Maybe it really is deconstruction.”

    At one point in Kings I, there is a sudden and unexpected pardon – or perhaps postponement – of God’s threatened punishment for not following His wishes as reported by two prophets. Evil King Ahab, who has previously ignored our hero Elijah’s warnings, suddenly puts on sackcloth and repents. Therefore, God tells Elijah, the punishment won’t fall upon Ahab but rather his sons.

    Say what??? Well, our author/editor may have felt obliged to “explain” why such an evil king ruled for 22 years. After all, if things work in a simple, linear way, the bad kings would have been punished early and often, and the good kinds would have lived long, great lives. The problem is, that’s not what seems to have happened, and therefore a tension exists between religious theory and real history. How can it be that God allowed evil Kings to prosper? The sudden turnabout in this example may be one attempt to resolve that tension.

  14. “If a secular archaelogist finds biblical ruins, he is credible. If a religious archaelogist such as Vendyl Joines finds biblical ruins- he’s a propagandist trying to prove the biblical events are real. Shmarya, I sense a double standard.”

    No. The religious acheologist in question refuses to submit his findings for standard scientific evaluation. Other religious acheologists do submit. Most often, the findings do not support religion.

    As for Vendyl, he’s a nice man. I hope he finds the Ark and everything else he’s looking for.

  15. Paul Freedman

    YL: well, America tried getting around kings AND theocracy.

    Hello GW.

  16. Paul Freedman

    Neo-Conservaguy: I wonder how the “editing” process would have worked–I mean physically. One guy, two guys, a committee? Passing around scrolls?

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