Boy, That’s A Right Stinging Slap to the Claims of Eilat Mazar

I can feel the burn all the way over here.

Benny Ziffer writes

A breathtaking Jewish archaeological discovery? Give me a break. That one little gold plate bearing Jewish symbols amid some sort of package that perhaps fell out of someone’s pocket in Jerusalem of the 7th century C.E. does not prove anything.

No news there to anyone who knows the subject. And then

… an obsessive pining for a glorious past serves as a form of therapeutic compensation for nations suffering from a problem of low self-esteem in the present.

So, now we come to us Israelis and to the invention of our past. It is unpleasant to admit that archaeology here contains far too many identifying signs of a science that has been enlisted on behalf of a national obsession. In the state’s early years, there was still something quaint about the so-called “enlisted” archaeology and the national enthusiasm over each new ancient finding. No more. That enthusiasm has become a caricature.

Interesting evaluation from an insider, isn’t it? But there’s more:

And there was indeed something utterly ridiculous about the naive excitement with which archaeologist Eilat Mazar recently presented to all and sundry a round, gold plate that had been discovered in excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount, which bears the symbol of a menorah. Dr. Mazar declared it “a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery.” This, of course, delighted our prime minister, who was quick to react with the comment: “This is historic testimony, of the highest order, to the Jewish people’s link to Jerusalem, to its land and to its heritage.” Blah, blah, blah.

And now the best part (and the bold print is mine for emphasis) –

In my opinion, a serious scientist ought to hang his head in shame when his findings are given a vulgar interpretation like that. But it turns out that the archaeologists excavating in East Jerusalem and the territories have already accustomed themselves to not being ashamed of tainting pure science with the dust of national-religious ideology. It brings them donations from right-wing organizations for additional excavations. It makes the public take an interest in archaeology. What’s wrong with that? Be happy for them.


I am not an archaeologist and not the son of an archaeologist. But I was not convinced in the least by what I saw. That one little gold plate bearing Jewish symbols amid some sort of package that perhaps fell out of someone’s pocket in Jerusalem of the 7th century C.E. does not prove anything: It is simply a little gold plate bearing Jewish symbols.

Indeed it does not.  Except that archaeology with little else than an eye for donations is alive and well.  And that’s really something to be ashamed of.

Keith Whitelam on the Spate of Recent Archaeological ‘Discoveries’

Keith writes (on FB)

The discovery of an inscribed neck of a jar in Jerusalem (An Inscribed Pithos from the Ophel, Jerusalem”, by Dr. Eilat Mazar, David Ben-Shlomo, and Prof. Shmuel Ahituv (63 IEJ no. 1, 2013, pp. 39-49)) has again led to some interesting claims. Although most of those who have pronounced on the inscription believe that it is possibly written in Canaanite, it is still seen as evidence for the monarchy of David:

“The archaeologists suspect the inscription specifies the jar’s contents or the name of its owner. Because the inscription is not in Hebrew, it is likely to have been written by one of the non-Israeli (sic!) residents of Jerusalem, perhaps Jebusites, who were part of the city population in the time of Kings David and Solomon.”

This interpretation follows the same pattern as the interpretation of the inscription at Tel Zayit : “The discovery during excavations at Tel Zayit in 2005 of a limestone boulder inscribed with the letters of the alphabet provides a useful illustration of this point. This stone with a few inscribed letters was found embedded in the wall of a building at this relatively small rural site. It was so difficult to see that it was spotted by one of the volunteers at the excavations sometime after the wall of the building had been excavated. However, on the basis of these few inscribed letters, it has been claimed that this is evidence of widespread literacy and the development of a centralized bureaucracy and political organization controlled from Jerusalem at the time of David. The political implications are so important that even the smallest item discovered in excavations is enlisted in the struggle to establish ‘facts on the ground’.” (Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past, chapter 7)

Since the model imposed on the past is one of Jerusalem as the capital of a Davidic kingdom, the evidence has to be fitted into this pattern. It is not allowed to challenge the standard view or, heaven forbid, give succour to the view that Jerusalem in the tenth century was a small highland town and that we do not know the ethnic makeup of its inhabitants.

Gershon Galil claims that “the Ophel inscription should be dated to the second half of the 10th century (it was absolutely not written in the 11th century). In the mid-late 10th century the house of David controlled Jerusalem, and I agree with Athas that:
“The language of the inscription is difficult to ascertain from so few letters, but there is good reason to think it is probably Hebrew” (although it is well known that the roots ḤLQ and NTN are clearly also attested in other West Semitic Languages).

Since it has to fit the model, it seems now that “there is good reason to think it is probably Hebrew”. What is the good reason? Apart from circular argument?

Thanks to Jim West for the various links.

You’re welcome.

Elad and The Manipulation of Facts in Silwan

An interesting essay today over on Art Info which contains this usefully instructive paragraph which so nicely encapsulates what Elad is all about:

A 2006 report by Ir Amim, a left-wing advocacy group focused on Jerusalem, described one instance in which Dr. Eilat Mazar, an archaeologist working at a dig funded by Elad, claimed to have found the pipe that David’s warriors traveled through when they conquered the city. This was despite the fact that many scholars — including Ronny Reich, an archaeologist at Haifa University who worked at the same site — were skeptical that David or Solomon had ever been there. On another occasion, Reich uncovered a Byzantine water pit and was instructed by Elad to present it as the cistern of Malkijah, the pit Jeremiah was thrown into by the son of Zedekiah, the king of Judah, according to the Old Testament. For weeks, the attribution was listed on the website and echoed by tour guides, even though Reich himself said that it was “nonsense.”

More scathing:

A Google search of the group’s founder, David Be’eri, leads to multiple stories about the day he passed through Silwan in a silver four-door sedan and was confronted by Palestinian youths throwing stones. He struck two of them with his car and drove off, later claiming he had felt he was in danger and was trying to flee. Though both boys avoided serious injury, the incident was broadcast on Al Jazeera as well as Israeli television, and in numerous clips on YouTube.

It’s hard to imagine how an organization whose leader is best known for running over Palestinian children with his car could invite itself into archaeology, a field in which professionals pride themselve in being almost tediously objective. In recent years, however, Elad has managed to do just that, funding public education projects in Silwan that would make viewers believe that politics was not Elad’s concern.

And then this:

Because of the drama of archaeology in Jerusalem, in addition to the sizable funds it provides for research areas like Silwan, researchers like Reich have frequently found themselves forced to answer difficult questions about cooperating with Elad. Israel Finkelstein, a professor of archaeology at TAU who is involved in the work at Silwan and is described among colleagues as “center-left,” gave a notably guarded answer when I asked him if he had qualms about doing archaeological work in which Elad was involved. “I have always kept distance from politics, so I am not going to answer this question,” he wrote in an email. “My only interest is to better understand archaeology and history. In order to make things clear, let me add that: 1) the Tel Aviv University dig will be carried out as a joint venture with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA); no other body will be involved in the dig; 2) Tel Aviv University and its Institute of Archaeology work according to law.”

I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that if Israel Finkelstein is involved everything done will be on the level.  Even if Elad attempts to exert influence.  Finkelstein is not the sort of person who can be pushed around.  This, I know.

And then this:

Rafael Greenberg, another professor of archaeology at TAU who has stood out for his opposition to the university’s involvement in Silwan, regularly expressed concerns about Elad’s involvement to his colleague Ronny Reich, who, recently, has become the head of the IAA’s archaeological council. “Whenever I told them he was being used by the settlers,” he told ARTINFO, “He’d say, ‘No, I’m using them.’”

Speaking over the phone last week, Greenberg repeated his feelings about Elad’s presence in the area, as well as the public relations concerns of TAU’s involvement. Part of what made him want to speak reporters, as it turned out, was how unconvincing he thought TAU’s message will be to Palestinian Silwanis, whose anxieties about losing their home might overlap with anxieties about being evicted from history. “No amount of spin or declarative sentences saying ‘we’re not being part of it,’ is going to change that, unless they actively dissociate themselves from that project,” he said. “It has to be a completely new concept, in order to carry out an excavation that is not associated with the settlers, with the Israeli view of history.”

Plus loads more which those interested in the subject will surely wish to read. I’ll only suggest, in conclusion, that Elad is agenda driven and that’s as plain as the nose on my face.

Eilat Mazar and ‘The City of David’: The Interview

From our friends at The Jerusalem Report:

Mazar insists therein that (among other things) –

“I am not trying to deal with what other people say,” she tells The Jerusalem Report. “I don’t care about politics when it is directly connected to our archaeological work. We who do archaeology in Jerusalem have to deal with the principle that it is important to reveal the remains of ancient Jerusalem in the most scientifically accurate way.”

Her backers though, clearly do care about politics.

The report continues

Mazar insists her discovery puts to rest Finkelstein’s claim that David was a minor figure.  “In light of our excavations, what he thinks has no basis,” she says. “The evidence is very strong that the regime was powerful enough to construct such a building, leading me to conclude that this was indeed David’s Palace. It is not that I am bothered when Finkelstein claims that David was marginal. I think it needs to bother him.”

It needn’t bother him at all actually given the absolutely paltry to non existent nature of any evidence of the great ‘Davidic Kingdom’.  Rather, it ought to bother those suggesting the evidence supports such a kingdom.  It just isn’t there.

Her critics, interpreting ancient relics differently from Mazar, suggest that the palace that she discovered is from 300 years later.  “She is a good archaeologist and does good work,” says David Ussishkin, emeritus professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, “but our view is that her palace belongs to a later period.”  That view, if correct, could unhinge all of Mazar’s claims regarding King David.

That view [i.e., the much later date for the structures Mazar has found], it seems abundantly clear in light of the evidence presently at hand, is correct.  Further, her ‘Bible and Spade’ methodology just doesn’t work.  It’s circular reasoning.

Working with the Bible in one hand and her excavation tools in the other, she remains open-minded about finding new archaeological treasures. “I try to consider everything,” she says.

Read the whole interview.  It’s sharply done.

‘Archaeology’s Rebel’? Christianity Today’s Worst Headline Ever

For Christianity Today to call Eilat Mazar an archaeological rebel is like calling Pat Robertson a left wing activist.  Mazar has a Bible in one hand and a spade in the other but, Christianity Today, that isn’t being a rebel, that’s being a throwback to a now long abandoned archaeological Sackgasse.

When the ribbon was cut to dedicate Jerusalem’s newest archaeological attraction last summer, Eilat Mazar stood among the dignitaries like a proud parent.  The 56 year-old Israeli archaeologist didn’t just direct the final excavation that prepared the Ophel City Wall site for visitors. She also linked the silent stones with one of the Bible’s most eminent and holy kings: Solomon.

There’s nothing of a rebel in Mazar’s work.  Her’s is conservatism in its most blatant form: archaeology to ‘prove’ the Bible, not archaeology for the sake of science.  But apparently the readers of Christianity Today can’t be expected to know just how inaccurate a headline the story’s been given.  Mazar’s fundamentalist claims provoke CT to opine

Such a bold biblical connection from a modern Israeli archaeologist is rare. It provokes other archaeologists (except for evangelical ones), but it also exposes how the discipline has changed over the past several decades. Biblical archaeology has become a field of scientists who are self-conscious about the biblical pursuits that guided—and sometimes misguided—the discipline during earlier years.

It’s rare among Israeli archaeologists because they know better.

In the July/August 2011 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), editor Hershel Shanks chided Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich for asserting that hypothetical biblical connections should be saved until after the archaeological evidence has been properly sorted out. Shanks believes that Mazar, in her willingness to make the biblical hypothesis sooner rather than later, is not wrong. Speaking of another excavation that Mazar suggests is King David’s palace, Shanks wrote that Mazar was simply following the scientific method: “Eilat had a hypothesis, and she wanted to test it by digging.”

That Shanks is among Mazar’s supporters says everything that needs to be said.  That Mazar has a hypothesis she wants to prove clearly colors her reading of the evidence she discovers.

Mazar calls the Bible a historical document. But she also says that it needs to be tested and examined. While evangelicals can appreciate her vigorous defense of the Bible as an independent narrative in the field of biblical archaeology, she does not view it as holy writ.  “I’m not religious,” she said. “The only interest we share is interest in historical sources, either the Old Testament or the New Testament. Everything [in the Bible] is important to me in order to be examined or studied.”

Maybe that’s her problem.  She thinks the Bible is historical in its interests.  It isn’t, it’s theological in its interests.  Read the rest if you want to.  I’m sure you already know what it says.

The “Large Stone Structure” in Jerusalem: Reality versus Yearning

Israel Finkelstein’s latest essay which has just appeared in ZDPV 127 (2011) 1, addresses the following:

Two opposing interpretations of recent finds in E. MAZAR’s excavations in the City of David have now been presented to the scholarly community. The first was published by the excavator herself and is fully supported by A. MAZAR. Much of the E. MAZAR/A. MAZAR analysis is now backed by A. FAUST.

The second interpretation of the finds, based on the results of the first season of excavation at the site in 2005, was presented by Z. HERZOG, L. SINGER-AVITZ, D. USSISHKIN and the present author.

Finkelstein discusses the differences between the vying viewpoints and concludes that Mazar et al’s interpretation of the data is simply wrong.

It’s a grand piece and worth reading.

Boy if that isn’t The Ideological Pot Calling the Archaeological Kettle Black!

PA Uses Archaeology ‘To Rewrite History of Palestine’. PA says archaeology dig in Shechem, which the Bible says was bought by Jacob, will help “writing or rewriting the history of Palestine.”

What’s wrong, doesn’t Israel National News know that Mazar has been doing exactly that in the putative ‘City of David’ (where she just keeps on finding things which justify Israeli national claims to the area)? Boy oh boy INN, talk about the pot calling the kettle black. If the Palestinians are using archaeology to make ideological claims they’ve only just learned how to do it from Zionists.

Via Antonio Lombatti on Facebook who laconically remarks Perché Eilat Mazar cosa fa?

Mazar’s Dating Blasted

Archaeologist Yoni Mizrachi of Emek Shaveh (Common Ground ) – a nonprofit opposing the political use of archaeology – blasts … [Mazar’s Ophel]  project.  “The Ophel excavations revealed a site whose many layers represent almost every period. Regrettably, again the emphasis is placed on a certain period of biblical Jerusalem. It’s a pity that instead of exhibiting a multilayered site that tells the story of the various cultures comprising the city’s past and present, they are once again focusing on the Israeli angle,” says Mizrachi.

As does Israel Finkelstein

Professor Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, one of the leading archaeologists who downplay the Bible’s importance in understanding archaeology, says Mazar erred in dating the findings.  “As far as I understand, if indeed this is a fortification, the findings indicate it was built in a later stage of the kingdom – after Solomon’s era,” says Finkelstein.

There’s more in a new essay in Ha’aretz which is worth a read.