The Politics of Israel’s Past
The Bible, Archaeology and Nation-Building
Edited by Emanuel Pfoh, Keith W. Whitelam
It 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.
Posted by Jim on August 8, 2013
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.
Posted by Jim on July 23, 2013
Brilliant! Get it!!! Read it!!!!
Posted by Jim on February 1, 2013
According 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!
Posted by Jim on January 31, 2013
My 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.
Posted by Jim on January 25, 2013
I’ve mentioned this before and now I’ve got a few more specific details:
The 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.
Posted by Jim on January 23, 2013
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.
Posted by Jim on January 21, 2013
Posted by Jim on January 8, 2013
From Chapter 2, A Land Built of Bones
The 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.
Posted by Jim on December 5, 2012