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viernes, 3 de diciembre de 2010

David and Salomon 2

But, adds Mazar, "you shouldn't seek to prove the text verbatim." And yet multitudes of archaeologists have made that very goal their life's work, beginning with the American scholar and godfather of biblical archaeology William Albright. Among Albright's protégés was the Israeli military titan, politician, and scholar Yigael Yadin. For Yadin and his contemporaries, the Bible was unassailable. As a result, when he uncovered the city gates at the biblical city of Hazor in the late 1950s, Yadin committed what would be a current-day archaeological no-no: Since carbon dating wasn't available, he used the Bible, along with the stratigraphy, to date the pottery found inside the gates. He attributed the gates to the exalted tenth-century B.C. empire of Solomon—because the First Book of Kings said so.

The problem with relying on this particular chapter of the Bible is that it was added long after Solomon died in 930 B.C., when Israel had split into two parts—Judah in the south and Israel in the north. "Gezer was the most southerly city in the northern kingdom of Israel, while Hazor was in the most northern realm, and Megiddo was an economic hub in the center," says Tel Aviv University archaeologist Norma Franklin. "So it would be important to the people writing this story to lay claim to all of this territory. To Yadin, the Bible said so and that was it. Three gates—they all have to be Solomon's."

Today, many scholars (including Franklin and her colleague Finkelstein) doubt that all three gates are Solomonic, while others (Amihai Mazar, for example) think they could be. But all of them reject Yadin's circular reasoning, which in the early 1980s helped spawn a backlash movement of "biblical minimalism," led by scholars at the University of Copenhagen. To the minimalists, David and Solomon were simply fictitious characters. The credibility of that position was undercut in 1993, when an excavation team in the northern Israel site of Tel Dan dug up a black basalt stela inscribed with the phrase "House of David." Solomon's existence, however, remains wholly unverified.

Absent more evidence, we're left with the decidedly drab tenth-century B.C. biblical world that Finkelstein first proposed in a 1996 paper—not a single great kingdom replete with monumental buildings but instead a scruffy landscape of disparate, slowly gelling powers: the Philistines to the south, Moabites to the east, Israelites to the north, Aramaeans farther north, and yes, perhaps, a Judaean insurgency led by a young shepherd in not-so-dazzling Jerusalem. Such an interpretation galls Israelis who regard David's capital as their bedrock. Many of the excavations undertaken in Jerusalem are financially backed by the City of David Foundation, whose director of international development, Doron Spielman, freely admits, "When we raise money for a dig, what inspires us is to uncover the Bible—and that's indelibly linked with sovereignty in Israel."
Unsurprisingly, this agenda does not sit well with the Jerusalem residents who happen to be Palestinian. Many excavations take place in the eastern part of the city, where their families have dwelled for generations but stand to be displaced if such projects morph into Israeli settlement claims. From the Palestinian perspective, the scurrying for archaeological evidence to justify a people's sense of belonging misses the point. As East Jerusalem resident and archaeology professor Hani Nur el-Din says, "When I see Palestinian women making the traditional pottery from the early Bronze Age, when I smell the taboon bread baked in the same tradition as the fourth or fifth millennium B.C., this is the cultural DNA. In Palestine there's no written document, no historicity—but still, it's history."

Most Israeli archaeologists would prefer that their work not be used as a political wedge. This, nonetheless, is the way of young nations. As Bar-Ilan University archaeology professor Avraham Faust observes, "The Norwegians relied on Viking sites to create a separate identity from their Swedish and Danish rulers. Zimbabwe is named after an archaeological site. Archaeology is a very convenient tool for creating national identities."

That is one way in which Israel differs from other countries. Its national identity came well before any digging. What's dug up can only confirm that identity … or not.

"This place was hell," says Tom Levy cheerfully as he stands over an open pit filled with ancient coal-black slag. Sprawling around him and his volunteer undergraduates from the University of California, San Diego is a 25-acre copper production site—and adjacent to it, a large fortress complex that includes the ruins of 3,000-year-old guardhouses. Apparently the sentinels lived practically on top of the smelting operations, while overseeing a presumably reluctant labor force. "When you have industrial production of this scale, you have to have a procurement system for food and water," Levy continues. "I can't prove it, but I think that the only people that are going to be working in this rather miserable environment are either slaves—or undergrads. The point is, simple tribal societies couldn't do something like this."
Levy, an anthropologist, first came to southern Jordan in 1997 to examine metallurgy's role in social evolution. The lowland district of Faynan, where the blue-green glitter of malachite can be seen from a distance, was an obvious place to study. It also happened to be where the American rabbi and archaeologist Nelson Glueck unabashedly proclaimed in 1940 that he had discovered the Edomite mines controlled by King Solomon. Subsequent British excavators believed they had found evidence that Glueck was off by some three centuries and that Edom actually dated to the seventh century B.C. But when Levy started probing the site known as Khirbat en Nahas (Arabic for "ruins of copper"), the samples he sent off to Oxford for radiocarbon dating confirmed that Glueck had been on the right track: This was a tenth-century copper-production site—and, Levy adds pointedly, "the closest copper source to Jerusalem."

The team headed by Levy and his Jordanian colleague Mohammad Najjar has uncovered a four-chambered gate similar to ones found at sites in Israel that might date to the tenth-century B.C. A few miles from the mines, they've excavated a cemetery of more than 3,500 tombs dating to the same period—perhaps filled with the remains of Iron Age mountain nomads known from ancient Egyptian sources as Shasu, who Levy thinks may have been "corralled at certain points in time and forced to work in the mines." Most work in the mines appears to have ceased by the end of the ninth century—and the so-called "disruption layer" uncovered by Levy's students may explain why.

They found in this layer 22 date pits, which they dated to the tenth century B.C., along with Egyptian artifacts such as a lion-headed amulet and a scarab, both from the time of the pharaoh Shoshenq I. That ruler's invasion of the region shortly after Solomon's death is chronicled in the Old Testament and at the Temple of Amun at Karnak. "I definitely believe that Shoshenq disrupted metal production here at the end of the tenth century," says Levy. "The Egyptians in the Third Intermediate Period weren't strong enough to field an occupying force, which is why you don't see Egyptian bread molds and other material culture here. But they could organize some pretty big military campaigns—strong enough to upset these petty kingdoms, to make sure they wouldn't be a threat to them. That's what I think Shoshenq did here."

The "hell" that Levy has unearthed at Khir­bat en Nahas could prove to be hell for the Finkelstein school of low chronology. Levy's copper mines may not be as sexy as King David's palace or the perch overlooking the battle of David and Goliath. But Levy's excavation work spans more time and area than those of Eilat Mazar and Yosef Garfinkel, with far more extensive use of radiocarbon analysis to determine the age of his site's stratigraphic layers. "All scholars dealing with Edom in the last two generations claimed that Edom didn't exist as a state before the eighth century B.C.," says Amihai Mazar. "But Levy's radiocarbon dates have their own story, and that story is related to the tenth to ninth century B.C., and no one can claim that they're incorrect."

In fact, that is precisely what Levy's critics are doing. Some deemed his first 46 datings insufficient to justify reordering an entire chronology for Edom. For his second round of C-14 analysis, Levy doubled the number of samples and meticulously selected charcoal from shrubs with verifiable outer growth rings.

Despite the high cost of C-14 analysis—more than $500 for a single olive pit—the technique isn't a silver bullet. "Carbon-14 doesn't help you solve all this controversy," says Eilat Mazar. "You have the plus or minus"—a margin of error of about 40 years. "You have different laboratories bringing different interpretations. You have debates about the whole C-14 issue." Indeed, Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar have been locked in an ongoing tussle over the dating of a single stratum at Tel Rehov, a Bronze and Iron Age city just west of the Jordan River. Mazar contends that the stratum could be Solomonic. Finkelstein says it's from the later Omride dynasty, named for Omri, Ahab's father. The gap between the two eras is about 40 years.

"Many of the radiocarbon dates for this period cover exactly the range that's under debate," Amihai Mazar says, chuckling wearily. "Not before and not after. It's been this way for 15 years."

"You can find evidence in radiocarbon for David being a villager in Norway in the sixth century A.D.!" declares Israel Finkelstein—exaggerating to make a point, as he is prone to doing. "But look, I enjoy reading everything Tom writes about Khirbat en Nahas. It has brought all sorts of ideas to me. I myself would never dig in such a place—too hot! For me, archaeology is about having a good time. You should come to Megiddo—we live in an air-conditioned B&B next to a nice swimming pool."
This is how Finkelstein begins his rebuttals, with amiable preambles that cannot conceal the Mephisto-like gleam in his eyes. For a scholar, the Tel Aviv archaeologist has a highly visceral manner—leaning his tall, bearded frame into a visitor's face, waving his large hands, modulating his baritone with Shakespearean agility.

Yet his charm wears thin for those who have felt the sting of his attacks. "If you want to attract attention, you behave like Finkelstein," says Eilat Mazar. Similarly unamused is Yosef Garfinkel, who says of Finkelstein's recent receipt of a four-million-dollar research grant, "He doesn't even use science—that's the irony. It's like giving Saddam Hussein the Nobel Peace Prize."

Still, Finkelstein's theories strike an intellectually appealing middle ground between biblical literalists and minimalists. "Think of the Bible the way you would a stratified archaeological site," he says. "Some of it was written in the eighth century B.C., some the seventh, and then going all the way to the second B.C. So 600 years of compilation. This doesn't mean that the story doesn't come from antiquity. But the reality presented in the story is a later reality. David, for example, is a historical figure. He did live in the tenth century B.C. I accept the descriptions of David as some sort of leader of an upheaval group, troublemakers who lived on the margins of society. But not the golden city of Jerusalem, not the description of a great empire in the time of Solomon. When the authors of the text describe that, they have in their eyes the reality of their own time, the Assyrian Empire.

"Now, Solomon," he continues with a sigh. "I think I destroyed Solomon, so to speak. Sorry for that! But take Solomon, dissect it. Take the great visit of the Queen of Sheba—an Arabian queen coming to visit, bringing all sorts of exotic commodities to Jerusalem. This is a story which is an impossibility to think about before 732 B.C., before the beginning of Arabian trade under Assyrian domination. Take the story of Solomon as the great, you know, trainer in horses and chariots and big armies and so on. The world behind Solomon is the world of the Assyrian century."

Of Levy's mining fortress, Finkelstein says, "I don't buy that it's from the tenth century B.C. There's no way people lived on this site during production. The fire, the toxic fumes—forget it! Instead, look at the fortress of En Hazeva on our side of the Jordan River, built by the Assyrians on the main road to Edom. I see Tom's building as an eighth-century Assyrian fortress parallel to the other one. And look, at the end of the day, his is a marginal site. It's not a stratified city with many eras, like Megiddo and Tel Rehov. Taking a pile of slag and making it the center of the discussion of biblical history—forget it, no way, I reject this absolutely!"

With greater venom, Finkelstein mocks Garfinkel's discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa: "Look, you'll never catch me saying, 'I've found one olive pit at a stratum in Megiddo, and this olive pit—which goes against hundreds of carbon-14 determinations—is going to decide the fate of Western civilization.' " He snickers. The lack of pig bones, suggesting it is a Judaean site? "A gun, but not a smoking gun." The rare inscription found at the site? Probably from Philistine Gath rather than the kingdom of Judah.

The irony is that biblical archaeology's enfant terrible has become the establishment, a Goliath fending off upstart assaults on his chronological order. The proposition that a complex tenth-century B.C. society may have existed on either side of the Jordan River has thrown Finkelstein's vision of the David and Solomon era squarely on the defensive. His many rebuttal papers and his sarcastic tone reflect that defensiveness, and his arguments at times seem a bit desperate. (The notion of living in a fortress next to a copper-smelting site would not seem ludicrous to West Virginia coal miners or residents near Three Mile Island, for example.)

Still, even if Garfinkel can prove that the Judah tribe that begat David dwelled in the fortress of Shaaraim, and Eilat Mazar can document that King David commissioned a palace in Jerusalem, and Tom Levy can successfully demonstrate that King Solomon oversaw copper mines in Edom, this does not a glorious biblical dynasty make. How much digging before the argument is settled?

Many archaeologists question whether the obsessive scramble to prove the biblical narrative is a healthy enterprise. One of them, Tel Aviv University's Raphael Greenberg, flatly states, "It's bad for archaeology. What we're supposed to contribute is a point of view that isn't available from texts or preconceived notions of history—an alternative vision of the past: relations between rich and poor, between men and women. Something richer, in other words, than just validating the Bible."

But does David, with all of his metaphorical power, cease to matter if his deeds and his empire are ultimately viewed as works of fiction? When I point out to Finkelstein that people all over the world are invested in the greatness of David, I am surprised by his response. "Look, when I'm doing research, I have to distinguish between the culture of David and the historical David. David is extremely important for my cultural identity. In the same way, I can cele­brate the Exodus without seeing it as a purely historic event. David for me is the David reflected in the later king Hezekiah, the David reflected in the later king Josiah, the David of Zacharias in the eschatological prophesies in which Jerusalem is burned but David is alive, the David who is the connection with the beginning of Christianity. In this sense, David is everything. If you want me to say it simplistically, I'm proud that this nobody from nowhere became the center of Western tradition.

"So for me," says Finkelstein, David's dethroner, "David is not a plaque on the wall, not even merely a leader of a tenth-century band. No. Much more than that."

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