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Eilat Mazar Uses Fundamentalist Christian Cult to Link Archaeological Finds to ‘King David’

Posted by NT Wrong on January 2, 2009

herbert_w_mazarI noticed this disturbing archaeological News on Otagosh, the biblioblog of Gavin Rumney, a one-man encyclopedia of all things to do with Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God.

As a bit of background: Biblical Archaeologist Eilat Mazar announced in October 2008 that the excavation of a tunnel she is supervising in Jerusalem is the tsinnor in the story of King David’s conquest of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5.6-8; 1 Chronicles 11.4-6). Earlier apologists had identified the tsinnor with a shaft near the Gihon Spring, in the attempt to make simplistic correlations between the Bible and archaeology. But when recent excavations showed that the Gihon Spring site wasn’t used in the tenth century BC (when David is alleged to have lived), the Biblical Archaeologists switched to Mazar’s tunnel, in a further desperate attempt to ‘prove’ the truth of the Bible. After all, Biblical Archaeologists such as Eilat Mazar actually boast that their ‘method’ comprises having a spade in one hand and a Bible in the other. Archaeology then becomes a childish game of joining the dots between the two, rather than a professional attempt to assess the context of the archaeological sites in their own right. No doubt, when problems arise with the correlation between this tunnel and the Bible, Mazar will pick up the Bible again (with her right hand) and use her left hand to dig for some new tunnel.

What Gavin Rumney draws attention to is that Mazar has handed over most of the archaeological dig to uber-fundamentalist Christians from the Church of God cult! That’s like handing over an archaeological dig for the original golden Book of Mormon to the Latter Day Saints, and then announcing that Joseph Smith was telling the truth!!

“A few days after the tunnel entrance was discovered, Mazar set out to excavate the tunnel, assigning Armstrong College students to the task. AC junior John Rambo, 22, from Oklahoma, and graduate Victor Vejil, 24, from Texas, spent nearly two months inside the tunnel, digging using small tools [a Bible?] under artificial light…”
– The Philadelphia Church of God, ‘AC students dig up 10th century B.C. tunnel in Israel’, December 15, 2008

Note: ‘Armstrong College’ is an unaccredited college. Well, it’s more of a fundie training-camp than a ‘college’.

“The tunnel was lost from world view after the Babylonians laid siege to the city in 585 B.C., until AC students stumbled upon it. While describing the student’s contribution, Mazar called the excavation an almost entirely “Armstrong College enterprise.” All the positions related to the tunnel were filled by the student volunteers, except for that of the artist who was responsible for mapping out the tunnel.”
– The Philadelphia Church of God, ‘AC students dig up 10th century B.C. tunnel in Israel’, December 15, 2008

Let’s see… the archaeology is being undertaken by Zionist extremists, the City of David Foundation and Christian Zionist students at an unaccredited college of the Church of God, under the leadership of Eilat Mazar, who holds a Bible in one hand while she digs with the other.

Is it any wonder that the excavation comes up with the oddball proclamations they do, when they involve such one-eyed zealots? Unfortunately, their utterly unfounded proclamations are then uncritically accepted by an ignorant and profit-driven mainstream media, a gullible Christian public, and an equally gullible and also nationalistic Israeli public.

Given such a widespread dissemination of misinformation, it is well worth pointing out the highly suspect groups behind the dig, the routine failure to apply accepted archaeological method, and the completely fanciful and wishful nature of their identifications of archaeological sites with biblical stories.

Posted in Archaeology, Historiography | 15 Comments »

La Bible: Le vrai et la légende – Finkelstein Interview

Posted by NT Wrong on December 26, 2008

Finkelstein Interview in Sciences et Avenir, December 2008. Extracts here.

Pourquoi alors ce mythe de la monarchie unifiée ?

Israël Finkelstein. Pour le royaume de Juda, la récupération des terres qui avaient été occupées par les Assyriens est fondamentale. Jérusalem considère que les terres du nord, c’est-à-dire les ex-territoires de l’ancien royaume d’Israël, lui appartiennent. C’est à ce moment-là qu’émerge l’idée du pan israélisme territorial et cette volonté farouche de vouloir créer un grand royaume unifié, en particulier après le retrait assyrien. Afin de donner à ces aspirations territoriales une légitimité, il fallait les lier idéologiquement aux grands rois David et Salomon… C’est alors que s’est faite la collecte des traditions orales, des histoires populaires, des prophéties, des chants épiques et des textes de propagande royale et que les traditions des deux royaumes du sud et du nord ont été combinées en une seule source écrite.

En quelques années à peine, les fouilles archéologiques nous montrent que la surface de Jérusalem passe de six à plus de soixante hectares ! Que les villages du royaume de Juda multiplient leur superficie par cinq ou six et que leur nombre s’accroît fortement. C’est très spectaculaire. Seule l’archéologie pouvait montrer l’ampleur de cette soudaine expansion! Confirmant une fois de plus que c’est seulement à partir de la fin du VIIIe siècle avant J.-C. que la Jérusalem prospère a existé, et pas dans des temps mythiques antérieurs.

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Evidence of The Flood – The Land of Israel bears witness to a Great Flood

Posted by NT Wrong on December 7, 2008

Dr Rochelle Altman recently emailed me some very interesting photographs from Wadi Tavya, which is at the intersection of the Southern Judean Hills and the Negev Highlands. These photographs provide geological evidence of a widespread flood in the region, from approximately 6,500+ years ago.

The main geological evidence consists of terraces which have been cut into the banks of the Wadi. The head of the Tavya is 690 meters above sea level. Rochelle explains the significance of such terraces:

“Water erosion on the sides of mountains appears in two forms: vertical striations and circular cuts. Vertical striations are caused by rain. Circular cuts are caused by circulating water. As the water evaporates, these circular cuts leave a stepped series of what are called [“terraces”.] The Great Salt Lake in Utah is surrounded by these [terraces, there referred to as “benches”], which have been cut by the circulating water.

The exceedingly dry climate at both the Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea preserves this ancient evidence of high flood waters.”
– Rochelle Altman

Also, the banks of the Wadi are so steep that they have not been affected by human settlement. In this photograph (“Figure 1”) the terraces are clearly visible:

Terraces on the north side of Wadi

Figure 1: Terraces on the north side of Wadi

“Figure 1 is part of the North side of the Wadi. In this photo we can see five different levels of arced benches cut into the side of the wadi wall by circulating water. In what bears a resemblance to raised eyebrows above the first level of benches, we can see where waves, probably caused by a violent storm, surged from side to side of the wadi. This “eyebrow” area above the series of benches and below the houses has never been “improved” by mankind. For one thing, the mountain side is far too steep. To climb over this portion of the hillside would require climbing equipment.”
– Rochelle Altman

There is also a debris layer above the terraces at Wadi Tavya, dated to ca. 6,500 years ago, which provides further evidence of this ancient shore-line. Rochelle Altman suspects that the head of the Wadi Tavya may have been a hanging lake before ca. 6,500 years ago, which became flooded and then ‘burst its banks’ before carving out a path down the Wadi. The terraces cease some 3-4 kms further down the Wadi, indicating what would be the end of the one-time hanging lake of ca. 6,500 years ago.

The flooding was a devastating event that Rochelle Altman believes “would have been carried down the centuries by the ‘memory men’ of each peoples.” The impact of the destruction resulted in stories such as the Sumerian flood story, Mesopotamian Gilgamesh, the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, and the Greek Deucalion – written between 5,000 and 2,000 years ago. And these are just the ones which have survived.

That the terraces were caused by flood waters is shown by the fact that the terraces are at the same levels on both sides of the Wadi. See Figure 2:


Figure 2: Terraces on both sides of Wadi

The terraces plausibly provide some of the present-day remains of one of the material factors involved in the production of the memory of flood stories, in the ancient Near East and Judea. An ancient age of flooding, some 6,500 to 10,000 years ago made such an impact on people that they told stories about it for thousands of years. And we still have the remains of recorded stories dating from 2,000 to 5,000 years ago. Thus, the ‘memory’ of the biblical flood story evolved from a combination of natural phenomenon (flooding during the first pluvial age) and oral/literary narrativity (the stories of the “memory men”).

Posted in Archaeology, Historiography, Pentateuch | Comments Off on Evidence of The Flood – The Land of Israel bears witness to a Great Flood

Kuttamuwa Inscription – Image, Transcription, Translation

Posted by NT Wrong on November 30, 2008

The University of Chicago’s high-resolution photo of the recently discovered Kattamuwa Inscription from Zincirli is here.

Dennis Pardee’s transcription of the Kattamuwa Inscription is here, via Jim Getz.

John Hobbins’ English translation of the Kattamuwa Inscription is in two parts: here (lines 1-5) and here (lines 6-13) — and each post reproduces Pardee’s transliteration.

Posted in Archaeology, Neo-Hittite | Comments Off on Kuttamuwa Inscription – Image, Transcription, Translation

The Kuttamuwa Inscription

Posted by NT Wrong on November 24, 2008

At SBL yesterday, Dennis Pardee delivered a paper on the 8th-century stone slab found recently during the new dig at Zincirli.

Jim Getz provides a copy of Pardee’s initial transcription of the mortuary slab — although note the difficulty in distinguishing dalet (/d/) and resh (/r/) in the words on the slab, particularly because there’s only a small amount of local vocabulary known. Here’s a Zincirli dalet and resh from one of Frank Cross’s tables, to illustrate the difficulty in distinguishing the two letters, even at the best of times:

dalet_zincirli resh_zincirli

The phrase bsyr/d.ʿlmy was being translated as “eternal chamber”. But on the basis of KAI 214, also from Zincirli, perhaps ‘lmy is spatial rather than temporal. In KAI 214, ‘lm means “tomb, grave” (“I erected this statue for Hadad in my tomb”; l. 1): so, “chamber of my grave”? Another comparison is Deir ‘alla ii 7: mškby ˁmlyk (“your eternal bedding”? or “the bed of your grave”?). I’m just wondering out loud.

The death/sleep extended metaphor is relevant for interpreting Og’s “bed”/”sarcophagus” (Deut 3.11).

Posted in Archaeology, Death, Neo-Hittite | Comments Off on The Kuttamuwa Inscription

Kispum Funerary Rites from Neo-Hittite Sam’al to Boston

Posted by NT Wrong on November 20, 2008

This 8th-century-BC stone slab was recently discovered on the Anatolian-Syrian border by archaeologists, at Zincirli, the site of the ancient city of Sam’al. Written on the slab, in a Northwest Semitic language and Phoenician script, is a declaration ‘by the deceased’ that his soul resides in the slab, and that he should be fed in a ‘feast’ (ḥgg), along with Hadad and Shamash.

“The inscription reads in part: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber(?) and established a feast at this chamber(?): a bull for [the storm-god] Hadad, … a ram for [the sun-god] Shamash, … and a ram for my soul that is in this stele. …” It was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and in a local West Semitic dialect similar to Aramaic and Hebrew. It is of keen interest to linguists as well as biblical scholars and religious historians because it comes from a kingdom contemporary with ancient Israel that shared a similar language and cultural features.”

This is fascinating — an institution of a kispum-like funerary ritual involving those two Levantine deities most associated with caring for the dead, Baal (Hadad) and Shamash/Shapash. Provision is made for both the deceased and the gods to be ritually fed together! Sam’al is a little further to the north of Ugarit, from which we get similar kispum-like funerary rituals such as those narrated in texts such as KTU 1.20-22, 1.161. For a biblical marzeaḥ, see Jer 16.5-8. The eighth-century dating establishes temporal continuity with the Cisjordan area, and some degree of continuity in funerary rites from Ugarit (1200 BC).

It is reported that Kuttamuwa is not himself a royal figure, but seems instead to be a royal official. Yet, he is pictured with seat and footstool and with a king’s hat. Is this Kulamuwa, the successor of Panamuwa? Or was he a separate figure, perhaps a priest? A similar kispum-like ritual is described in KAI 214 (‘The Hadad Inscription’), where the descendant of Panamuwa is instructed to provide food and drink for Panamuwa, along with El, Hadad, Shamash and Rakib-El.

But for those of us in Boston, there’s more, care of Dennis Pardee:

“Schloen will present the Kuttamuwa stele to a scholarly audience at the meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on Nov. 22 in Boston, the major annual conference for Middle Eastern archaeology. Dennis Pardee, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago, will present his translation of the stele’s 13-line inscription the following day at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, also in Boston, in a session on “Paleographical Studies in the Near East.”

I don’t think there is anything remarkable in the description of feeding Kuttamuwa’s “soul” — which is the focus of the News reports. It doesn’t even mean that Kuttamuwa is ‘disembodied’ — he may come for the food in another form from the underworld (perhaps as a bird).

Posted in Archaeology, Death, Neo-Hittite, Prophets, Ugaritic | 1 Comment »

Archaeological Atavism

Posted by NT Wrong on September 30, 2008

    “[Schliemann’s] archaeology had always seemed an intensely private crusade, conducted with the precious books of Homer in one hand and a spade in the other.”
    – Brian M. Fagan on Heinrich Schliemann’s archaeological method, AD 1871

    “as an archaeologist I cannot imagine a greater thrill than working with the Bible in one hand and a spade in the other.”
    – Yigael Yadin, Hazor, AD 1972

… The big risk, which Eilat Mazar seems to be overlooking, is that she might get dirt on her Bible.

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History in The Iliad

Posted by NT Wrong on September 30, 2008

In the Boston Globe, September 28, 2008, Jonathan Gottschall writes an interesting article about history and fiction in The Iliad, a work that purports to refer to events at the time of the Bronze Age – Iron Age transition, but which was in fact written down many centuries later. That scenario might sound familiar to readers of the Hebrew Bible.

Scholars have allowed that a kernel of historical truth might be tucked beneath the layers of heroic hyperbole and poetic embroidery, but only a small kernel. In the last 50 years, most scholars have sided with the great classicist Moses Finley, who argued that the epics were “a collection of fictions from beginning to end” and that – for all their majesty and drama – they were “no guide at all” to the civilization that may have fought the Trojan War.

The poor early archaeological methods pursued by Schliemann led to a dismissal of any ‘historical’ basis for the Trojan War. However, recent archaeology has uncovered a destruction layer that many would identify with the ‘Trojan War’:

Recent advances in archeology and linguistics offer the strongest support yet that the Trojan War did take place, with evidence coming from the large excavation at the likely site of Troy, as well as new analysis of cuneiform tablets from the dominant empire of the region… Using new tools, such as computer modeling and imaging technology that allows them to “see” into the earth before digging, [Manfred] Korfmann and his colleagues determined that this city’s borders were 10 to 15 times larger than previously thought, and that it supported a population of 5,000 to 10,000 – a big city for its time and place, with impressive defenses and an underground water system for surviving sieges. And, critically, the city bore signs of being pillaged and burned around 1200 BC, precisely the time when the Trojan War would have been fought.

So what does this mean? Do the new archaeological, along with the Hittite imperial records, now prove all the details contained in The Iliad? Has archaeology proved the existence of The Historical Zeus?

But if the Trojan War is looking more and more like a historical reality, there is still the question of whether the poems tell us anything about the motives and thinking of the people who actually fought it. Do the epic time machines actually take us back to the Greek culture of the Late Bronze Age?

It is almost certain that they do not. Homer’s epics are a culmination of a centuries-long tradition of oral storytelling, and extensive cross-cultural studies of oral literature have established that such tales are unreliable as history. Homeric scholars believe that the epics were finally written down sometime in the 8th century BC, which means that the stories of Achilles and Odysseus would have been passed by word of mouth for half a millennium before they were finally recorded in what was, by then, a vastly changed Greek culture. Facts about the war and the people who fought it would have been lost or grossly distorted, as in a centuries-long game of “telephone.” Scholars agree that the relatively simple and poor culture Homer describes in his epics is quite sharply at odds with the complex and comparatively rich Greek kingdoms of the Late Bronze Age, when the war would have taken place.

So what does the Iliad teach us? It teaches us about the culture in which it was written down.

But even if the epics make a bad history of Greece in 1200 BC – in the sense of transmitting names, dates, and accurate political details – scholars increasingly agree that they provide a precious window on Greek culture at about the time the poems were finally written down.

Reconstructing a prehistoric world from literary sources is rife with complications. But there are aspects of life in the Homeric era upon which most scholars agree. Homer paints a coherent picture of Greek attitudes, ideology, customs, manners, and mores that is consistent with the 8th century archeological record, and holds together based on anthropological knowledge about societies at similar levels of cultural development. For instance, we can trust that the Greeks’ political organization was loose but not chaotic – probably organized at the level of chiefdoms, not kingdoms or city-states. In the epics we can see the workings of an agrarian economy; we can see what animals they raised and what crops, how they mixed their wine, worshipped their gods, and treated their slaves and women. We can tell that theirs was a warlike world, with high rates of conflict within and between communities.

Read the whole article here.

Posted in Archaeology, Greek, Greek texts, Historiography | 1 Comment »

Rare Shot of William Dever

Posted by NT Wrong on September 15, 2008

Duane Smith provides a rare gem from his ancient slide collection – a shot of William Dever at work, in 1971:

Posted in Archaeology | Comments Off on Rare Shot of William Dever

The Reality: Archaeology Can, and Does, Disprove the Bible

Posted by NT Wrong on September 7, 2008

In a recent review of Lester Grabbe’s Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?, Brian B. Schmidt offers some compelling arguments for why archaeology can, and does, disprove the Bible:

“One issue that repeatedly comes up for mention in [Grabbe’s] Ancient Israel, and one that has proven to be a nagging point of ambivalence for the present reviewer, is the due recognition to be attributed to archaeology’s impact on recent historical investigations into early Israel. In the reams of secondary literature now available on the topic, one can find Grabbe’s shared sentiment that archaeology cannot ‘prove’ one scenario or another (23; somewhat surprisingly, such sentiment has been expressed in one form or another from several perspectives represented in the contemporary historical debates pertaining to early Israel, whether maximalist, minimalist, moderate, or otherwise). While the term ‘prove’ itself indeed proves to be rather elusive when left unqualified, it is often the case that under the same cover an author who disregards the provability of archaeology will (unwittingly?) demonstrate in another context, often by means of a survey of the historical or biblical or Syro-Palestinian archaeology or by offering the conclusion that archaeology has in fact been the deciding factor or linchpin in the transformation of how Israelite history is done in contemporary scholarship, that archaeology has indeed offered historians ‘proofs’ of one sort or another.

For example, Grabbe follows the general consensus that in a post-1975 historians’ world, the ‘patriarchal world’ is no longer interpreted historically by the vast majority (23; with the exception perhaps of the neo-fundamentalists and fundamentalists whom Grabbe describes on 21-23) and that the related biblical narratives themselves do not contain reliable, extensive historical recollections of the events or persons contained therein (yet, perhaps they contain isolated, and one might add, recontextualized, snippets of ancient historical data and/or memories?). Well, for all these winds of change which have decisively blown through the last three decades of scholarship on the patriarchal age, what did we come to know, and how did we come to know it? As Grabbe notes, we came to know that the patriarchal stories are comprised of a more pervasive legendary character, and we came to know that legendary character over the course of [the] latter half of the twentieth century by means of the growing archaeological data base accompanied by a newly emergent interpretive framework for that data base and one independent of the former, rather narrowly reconstructed, pseudo-biblical constraints. For the vast majority of historians, archaeology has presented us with the unavoidable conclusion that the world imagined in the biblical narratives pertaining to the patriarchs is not the second millennium BCE world of the ancient Near East, though the biblical text might preserve, whether inadvertently or by design, isolated relics of that age. Archaeology and the biblical text simply parted ways on matters of a broad historical orientation. The biblical texts were simply composed as something other than history.

This begs the question: Did not archaeology ‘prove’ something here — or at least make a compelling argument for overturning the traditional, rather restrictive imposition of the biblical framework on the interpretation of material cultural data? Did it not ‘prove’ that older notions regarding the generic affinities formerly attributed to the patriarchal narratives were inadequately based on the assumed historicity of those stories? Has archaeology not also ‘proven’ in some meaningful sense of the term that the issue when analyzing a biblical text should not be the text’s historical reliability or unreliability (as if those were our only two possible choices) but simply the text’s generic affinities (e.g. if a specific text possesses pronounced mythical or legendary elements as [one of?] its dominant literary generic affinities, why should the question of its historical reliability of unreliability even be raised)? If there remains a relevant question of a historical orientation for a particular text whose generic proclivities do not point in the direction of historiography, would it not be more appropriately one concerned with the potential ’embeddedness’ of isoated historical data?”

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