Skip to comments.ARCHAEOLOGY: Dates Boost Conventional Wisdom About Solomon's Splendor
Posted on 04/11/2003 6:13:20 PM PDT by Lessismore
Carbon-14 dates from Israel may help settle a scholarly debate that has raged over the past decade: whether David and his son Solomon, founders of the ancient kingdom of Israel, were the larger-than-life nation builders the Bible describes or largely mythical figures, as some recent historians have claimed. The new dates from Tel Rehov, a major Iron Age site in northern Israel, favor the traditional view that King Solomon was both real and powerful. "The implications are enormous for recreating the history of ancient Israel," says archaeologist Lawrence Stager of Harvard University.
Researchers led by Amihai Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem based their conclusions on olive pits and charred grain from one of Tel Rehov's three "destruction layers"--strata marking times when Rehov was ravaged before being rebuilt. The results, reported on page 315, place the layer between 940 and 900 B.C. Mazar and colleagues say the dates peg the devastation to a whirlwind plundering tour of Palestine by the Egyptian Pharoah Shoshenq, a well documented historical event that both Egyptian records and biblical writings date at about 925 B.C. The Bible adds another key detail: According to the books of I Kings and II Chronicles, the pharoah (whom the Israelites called Shishak) launched his invasion 5 years after Solomon's death.
If Mazar and colleagues are right, the destruction layer at Rehov--along with contemporary layers that archaeologists have identified at other sites--gives a definitive glimpse of Solomon's realm. That information may make clear which of two radically different versions of Solomon fits the facts. The mainstream view, Stager says, holds that the great leader Solomon transformed the "rather rustic" early 10th century B.C. Israel of his father David into a sophisticated kingdom, with architecture and material culture to match. In the mid-1990s, a handful of "revisionist" scholars rocked the establishment with an audacious alternative: that biblical accounts of Solomonic splendor were mostly hype.
According to archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, the temples, palaces, and political structures usually attributed to David and Solomon had nothing to do with those rulers at all (Science, 7 January 2000, p. 31). Finkelstein says his excavations of Megiddo, 40 kilometers west of Rehov, show that the so-called Solomonic palaces and gates there actually belonged to later, 9th century B.C. rulers known as the Omrides. In his alternative "Low Chronology," Solomon and his family were at best minor chieftains, not the great kings of biblical fame, and at worst myths.
The status of 3000-year-old monarchs is a politically charged issue in modern Israel, says archaeologist William Dever of the University of Arizona in Tucson. "In the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, people are increasingly invoking archaeology in support of their cause," he explains. "Some Israelis think that the very foundations of Zionism's claim to the land have been undermined" by the Low Chronology. For that and other reasons, he says, "we've all been waiting for science to come to our aid with carbon-14 dates."
That's where Tel Rehov comes in. If Finkelstein is right, Dever says, the 10th century B.C. Shoshenq was "laying waste to ephemeral ... settlements and not to the royal cities." Instead, the Rehov of Mazar's grain and olives was a well-planned 10-hectare urban center whose material culture connects it with sites of Solomonic ruins. The carbon-14 date, Dever says, strongly bolsters the case for "a historical Solomon and a real 'United Monarchy' in the 10th century." Stager says Mazar's study "puts the nail in the coffin" of Finkelstein's theory.
Undeterred, Finkelstein says he is collaborating with Tel Aviv University physicist Eliezer Piasetsky to reinterpret Mazar's new data. New, unpublished carbon-14 readings from Megiddo and elsewhere, he says, contradict the Rehov readings and show that the "Solomonic" layer was destroyed a century later by someone other than Shoshenq. "The diehards of the conventional dating are in a desperate situation," Finkelstein concludes. "The Low Chronology is as solid as ever, if not stronger now."
But most biblical archaeologists say Finkelstein is swimming against the tide. The Bible may well have overexalted Solomon, says archaeologist Steven Rosen of Ben Gurion University, a specialist in radiocarbon dating, but radical revisionism is not the answer. "Demythologizing Davidic and Solomonic glories does not require that we redate everything," Rosen says, "only that we put it in better perspective."
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Right on! They more they dig the more evidence is found.
What is even more amazing, is that there are today large stores of archeological discoveries from the middle east that sit in storage in various great museums in Europe.
It is my opinion that some great discoveries that would favor the Biblical identity and historical accuracy of the Israelite lineage are being left alone on purpose.
Thanks for that book reference. I saw the book years ago but lost track of it. Will chase it down again! (PS: I also feel the "scales will fall from their eyes" at the appropriate time.)
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