Tag Archives: Keith Whitelam

Back In February I Mentioned This One…

The Politics of Israel’s Past
The Bible, Archaeology and Nation-Building
Edited by Emanuel Pfoh, Keith W. Whitelam

cov233It is not uncommon that historical images—presented as simply given, self-evident and even indisputable—are employed in political readings of the past and used as a legitimizing tool. For that reason, the authors of this volume, biblical scholars, archaeologists, anthropologists and historians, undertake a deconstruction of modern biblical discourses on the Bible’s production and the history of ancient Israel, enabling the exploration of critical approaches to ancient Palestine’s past, to the history of the peoples of the region, to the history of the biblical text(s) and, last but not least, to the modern political uses of biblical narratives as legitimizing land ownership and nationalisms.

Among the topics treated are the appearance of Judaism and its connection to the production of biblical literature, the politics of archaeological practice in Israel, the role of archaeology in the production of nationalist narratives of the past, the relationship between genetic studies and Jewish nationalism, and the prospects for writing critical histories of ancient Palestine beyond biblical images and religious and political aspirations.

Each article illustrates the close relationship between the Bible, archaeology and processes of nation-building in the State of Israel. The Politics of Israel’s Past concerns itself both with the ways in which contemporary politics affects the knowledge of the past and with the processes by which constructions of an ancient past legitimate modern political situations.

My copy arrived today!  It’s a very nicely done collection even if my saying so is an exhibition of bias (having lent a hand in its formalization).  I commend it to your attention and I congratulate Keith and Manu (and the many contributors) for a nice addition to the discussion.

Keith Whitelam: Further Reflection on the ‘Palace of David’ Discovery

On Facebook, Keith writes

The most sensational of all recent claims is the press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority that King David’s palace and storerooms have been found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. But within days of the announcement—eagerly picked up by those who see it as proof of the biblical picture of a Davidic kingdom and a decisive blow to the so-called minimalists—more sober assessments raise serious questions about the discoveries.

The claims fit the same pattern as we have seen with other announcements, such as the inscribed jar from Jerusalem, where all evidence is forced to fit into the dominant model of a Davidic kingdom. There is nothing to link the building to David, it is not clear that it is a ‘palace’, and the IAA release notes that “unfortunately, much of this palace was destroyed c. 1,400 years later when a fortified farmhouse was built there in the Byzantine period.” 

Even before this announcement, the site was being used to bolster the traditional claims about a centralized kingdom of David: “More recently, the excavation of a small, fortified town at Khirbet Qeiyafa, 20 miles from Jerusalem, has been interpreted as further proof that Jerusalem was the capital of a centralized state ruled by David. It is claimed that the town was inhabited by ‘Judaeans’. Yet there is nothing to link the site specifically to Jerusalem or other local towns. It is a prime example of the attempt to construct exclusive claims to the past, even when it is not clear what the make-up of the population was that inhabited the site or how it was connected to its local environment. Khirbet Qeiyafa looks like many small towns throughout the history of Palestine that have flourished for a short period of time and then disappeared from view.” (Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past, chapter 7).

Others have offered more sober reflections on the claims (thanks to Jim West for most of the links). In particular, Israel Finkelstein has raised the methodological problems involved in interpreting the site (http://www.academia.edu/1954502/Khirbet_Qeiyafa_An_Unsensational_Archaeological_and_Historical_Interpretation). Peter van der Veen points out that “we cannot possibly speak of proof as nowhere on any of the stones found in the “palace” (if this is what it was?) scribes engraved the sentence “made by King David”. If such inscriptions had been found, surely we would all know about it. It would be the 21st century sensation. But mute Syro-Palestine-Israelite archaeology hardly ever allows us to be that precise, even if I too would be very happy if indeed we could be more precise. Without such straightforward inscriptions found within the same level of occupation, which precisely tell us who was the builder king etc., we cannot possibly prove anything.” While David Willner has a much more scathing appraisal of the motivation behind such sensational claims (http://www.foundationstone.org/).

The political importance of the announcement should not be underestimated. Revealingly, the IAA states that “the exposure of the biblical city at Khirbet Qeiyafa and the importance of the finds discovered there have led the Israel Antiquities Authority to act together with the Nature and Parks Authority and the planning agencies to cancel the intended construction of a new neighborhood nearby and to promote declaring the area around the site a national park. This plan stems from the belief that the site will quickly become a place that will attract large numbers of visitors who will be greatly interested in it, and from it one will be able to learn about the culture of the country at the time of King David.” In true Orwellian style: ‘who controls the past
controls the future; who controls the present controls the past’.

“There is a long and continuing history of attempts to use archaeological discoveries—usually in the name of disinterested, academic scholarship—to bolster and shore up the Zionist foundation narrative. Invariably the interpretation of such discoveries ignores the rhythms of time.” (Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past, chapter 7).

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.

It’s Out!

Brilliant!  Get it!!!  Read it!!!!


‘Rhythms of Time’: An Update

timeAccording to the book’s author-

Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past has been delivered to the Kindle store. Available in 2-4 working days!

Keith Whitelam’s “Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past” Reviewed

timeMy review of Whitelam’s soon to appear book is uploaded (and downloadable) here.  I’ve mentioned it before and now having had the chance to work through it fairly carefully I can sincerely affirm that it is excellent.

Good News: Keith Whitelam’s Book Will Be Out In the Next Few Weeks

I’ve mentioned this before and now I’ve got a few more specific details:

whitelam_bookThe book is aimed at the general/interested reader rather than a specialist Biblical Studies market, though its author hopes that it is affordable and interesting for students. It is priced at $7.99 in the USA (the price will be converted for local currencies). Hopefully it will be available from 1 February 2013 (this will depend on different companies and how quickly they make it available on their electronic stores). It will be available on Amazon (for Kindle), Apple iBookstore (for iPad), Barnes and Noble (for Nook), Reader Store (for Sony Reader), Kobo (for Kobo Touch, Kobo Wi-Fi, Kobo Vox), Copia, Gardners, Baker and Taylor, eBookPie, and eSentral. The ISBN for the epub version is 978-0-9575406-1-3.

Visit your local e-publisher and pick up a copy soon as you can. I’ll be reviewing it in the next few weeks, so watch for that if you like.

Next At the University of Sheffield

Keith Whitelam on ‘Architectures of Enmity: The Abuse of Palestine’s Past‘ (Research Seminar, Biblical Studies, U of Sheffield, on Mon 4 Feb).  If you’re in the area be there.

Rhythyms of Time, by Keith Whitelam

timeFurther on the previously mentioned volume by Prof. Whitelam.  Also, check out Keith’s facebook page on the book and his twitter too.

An Excerpt From Keith Whitelam’s Forthcoming “Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past”

From Chapter 2,  A Land Built of Bones

whitelam_bookThe history of Palestine has been forged in the shadow of empire: the Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian from the ancient past to the Ottoman, British and American of the modern world. The so-called great men, monarchies, and imperial powers have followed on from one another in the region, attracting most attention like the froth of the waves breaking on the shoreline. Yet underlying this surface movement, as Braudel termed it, was a substratum that moved slowly to the rhythms of time absorbing and dissipating the effect of the waves. 
It is this story, an essential part of Palestine’s past, that was ignored by western visitors and scholars in favour of the events and characters described in the Bible. So these centuries that are associated with the biblical stories have become Israel’s past and have been denied to Palestine and the Palestinians. As Carlo Levi said of Gagliano in his evocative and moving Christ Stopped at Eboli: 
No one has come to this land except as an enemy, a conqueror, or a visitor devoid of understanding. The seasons pass today over the toil of the peasants, just as they did three thousand years before Christ…
The lives of the inhabitants of the tombs of Afula, Dothan and Silwan are part of the rich tapestry of Palestine’s history as it moves to the rhythms of the land, beguiled by its attractions, and reaping its rewards in return for loving care. For those close to the land, it was ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ in that time worn phrase coined by the biblical writers. Their hopes are summed up in the words of the psalmist, ‘May there be an abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon.’ Or more recently, Raja Shehadeh when walking in the hills near Ramallah describes the abundance of wild flowers—‘most were in miniature, blue iris only a few centimetres high, pink flax also very close to the ground and the slightly taller Maltese Cross and pyramid orchids, a colourful but thin carpet covering the vibrant land’, and the terraced gardens with olive trees and flowers’— while pondering the lives of its former inhabitants:
As I walked up I looked at the unterraced hill to my left.  What would it take to clear this and terrace it, I wondered. What a feat it must have been to look at the wild hill and plan the subdivisions. How did they know when to build the terrace wall in a straight line, when in a curve and when to be satisfied with a round enclave where only a single tree could be planted? They must have been very careful to follow the natural contours, memorizing the whole slope before deciding how to subdivide it…. Where once there was a steep hill there was now a series of gradually descending terraces. In this way my ancestors reclaimed the wild, possessed and domesticated it, making it their own.
We need to see the inhabitants of the graves of Afula, Dothan and Silwan as ourselves, or fail to understand how their hopes, aspirations and fears unite us in a common humanity. The rhythms of time are ignored in the search for that which separates, defines, and makes exclusive. Palestine is, to adapt the words of Levi, a land built on bones, where the dead are passed into the living.

“Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past”, by Keith Whitelam

Keith has written a new book soon to be released which will no doubt be both brilliantly written (as are all his works) and thoroughly engaging.  But first, the cover (which was produced by Keith’s daughter and I think she did an absolutely brilliant job):

whitelam_bookIn the next couple of days I’ll provide, courtesy the book’s author, the table of contents and a sample section.  For now, let this tease tease.

‘Crucify Him, Crucify Him’ – The Biblical Archaeology Review Cries for Zias’ Blood

I wasn’t at the trial so I don’t know what Joe Zias said on the stand.  I do know two things, though and they’re brief observations:

1- BAR hasn’t gone to such lengths to crucify someone (or at least destroy their reputation) since the 90’s when Hershel Shanks showed utter contempt for Keith Whitelam, Niels Peter Lemche, and Thomas Thompson.

2- I don’t really believe BAR is reporting all the facts or all the facts fairly.  I don’t trust BAR to do so as it has shown itself more than willing in the past to skew the evidence to its own advantage.

What this hatchet job shows, though, in my estimation, is that BAR and its editorial staff are a mean-spirited, vicious gang of thugs.  But I already knew that.  I’ve known that since the 90’s.

If, however, BAR has offered the facts as they really are two more things are worth saying:

1- I have been and will remain Joe’s friend.  I’m loyal to my friends and if they happen to fall beneath the weight of human frailty I don’t care- I remain loyal to them.


2- I still have absolutely NO respect for BAR, for Hershel Shanks, for his editorial staff, or for those who support their money-driven archaeology, and that won’t change either unless Shanks is fired and the magazine takes on a wholly new character by adopting a more scholarly and less greedy direction (which means ending advertisements for antiquities).

Keith Whitelam’s Latest

The following new publication from Sheffield Phoenix Press includes Sheffield contributions from Keith Whitelam on cartography and the construction of homeland and James Crossley on Enoch Powell’s idiosyncratic reconstruction of the Gospel tradition (he – Powell, that is –  doubted whether Jesus was crucified and thought he was more likely stoned to death).

Via the Sheffield Blog.