Every summer for the past four years, Prof. Yosef Garfinkel leaves the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, puts on his cowboy hat and heads for a rocky hill in the Valley of Elah. From the bottom, the hill doesn't look special or impressive. But on reaching the top, Garfinkel examines the reactions of those who are seeing the settlement he is excavating for the first time.
At the excavation site of Khirbet Qeiyafa (Elah Fortress ), Garfinkel bounds from boulder to boulder almost as though he is a resident of the place. "This is the most photogenic site in the country," he declares. "We have here a fortified city with a wall that was six meters high and had a population of 500 to 600 people. You won't see houses, walls, stairs and standing gates like these at other sites in Israel." The impressive settlement is surrounded by a casemate wall - a double wall made of large boulders (in this case weighing seven to eight tons each ) with chambers between the walls. The fortifications still stand two to three meters tall and ring an area of 23 dunams (almost six acres ). Some 90 buildings line the wall, though only a few of them have been uncovered so far. Against the ruins, which have overlooked the verdant valley below for the past 3,000 years, Garfinkel speaks with a great rush of words. According to him, this site, which he has been excavating for the past four years, constitutes the definitive proof for the existence of a city that was part of the Kingdom of David in the 10th century BCE. "It is the first and last evidence," he says. "Until now nothing similar has been found anywhere in the country."
If he's right, his discovery is likely to have significant implications for a heated and prolonged dispute in Bible studies and in biblical archaeology. The genesis of the debate lies in the 19th century; it has reached a high point in the past two decades, when an important group of archaeologists and biblical scholars formed the view that in reality the kingdom of David and Solomon bore little resemblance to the biblical portrait of an extensive, powerful, united monarchy. This view derives primarily from the fact that no 10th century BCE archaeological finds exist that could corroborate claims of the existence of a magnificent biblical kingdom extending from Be'er Sheva in the south to Dan in the north.
Accordingly, these scholars and archaeologists conclude that the so-called kingdom was no more than a small tribal entity, meager in substance and sparse in population, which did not extend beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and its immediate surroundings. Now, however, Garfinkel maintains that the fortified settlement in the Valley of Elah, a day's walk from Jerusalem, was part of the Kingdom of David, refuting the minimalist approach.
According to Garfinkel, the kingdom that existed here in the 10th century BCE was something between the two versions: not tiny, but also not as large as the biblical account would suggest. It comprised at least three major cities: Jerusalem, Hebron and the settlement he is excavating. Even such a scale, he emphasizes, is larger than the humble village evoked by the minimalist archaeologists. At the same time, other archaeologists are recruiting Khirbet Qeiyafa in support of the claims for a large united kingdom.
"The site definitely reflects a capable government, which necessarily rested on a periphery," says Dr. Eilat Mazar from the Hebrew University, one of the salient members of the school that theorizes the existence of a large developed kingdom. "In light of these ruins, is it possible to assume that no broad periphery exists? That is unthinkable," she insists.
Garfinkel notes that before he began the Khirbet Qeiyafa dig he was not involved in the dispute over the united kingdom. His expertise lies in the Neolithic (New Stone Age ) period and in the Chalcolithic period, which followed it. The House of David and the United Monarchy of Israel are dated to the Iron Age, thousands of years later.
"I did not come here to look for David. I had no opinion in those debates; I was tabula rasa," he says - a clean slate. After many of the previous generation of biblical archaeologists had retired, he says, his department looked for researchers to conduct excavations relating to the Bronze and Iron Ages. "I had taught the archaeology of those periods, too," he explains. "I was ready professionally and I wanted to deal with the Iron Age in Judah." In the summer of 2007, Garfinkel arrived at the Khirbet Qeiyafa site with a small team to examine the fortifications. He found two archaeological layers, one from the time of Alexander the Great, the other from the Iron Age. In short order he decided that this was the place he wanted to excavate. "In the tels that contain layers of 20 cities, one on top of the other, each city digs into the earlier one and steals stones from it and things get chaotic. I prefer to excavate sites with one or two periods, where there is less damage from one layer to the next," he says.
Alsace-Lorraine in the Levant
Garfinkel may not have intended to join the years-long academic fray about the status of the Kingdom of David, but once in the arena he took up the cause with enthusiastic devotion. "This city is the sentry of the Kingdom of Judah," he says, pointing to the valley. "Look, you can see every person down there. The Elah Valley is the route that leads from the coastal plain to the hill region. On one side, in the plain, you have the five Philistine cities, and on the other side, in the east, the Kingdom of Judah is taking shape. Here is the crucial boundary, like Alsace-Lorraine, which the French and the Germans fought over for hundreds of years. That is the site's geopolitical importance."
Garfinkel identifies the settlement he is excavating with the city of Sha'arayim, which is mentioned in I Samuel. He identified two gates in the settlement's fortifications, in the west and in the south (Sha'arayim means "two gates" in Hebrew ). "You won't find another city in Israel or Judah with two gates," he notes, and adds, "In the Bible, Sha'arayim is mentioned only in the Davidic period, in the region of Elah Valley: when David kills Goliath, the Philistines escape via Sha'arayim. And where does David kill Goliath? In this region, between Socoh and Azekah."
The only thing archaeologists agree on is that the Khirbet Qeiyafa site is an extremely impressive and intriguing site. Apart from that, everything is open to debate. Prof. Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, who in the early 1990s was among the archaeologists who formulated the view that the Bible narratives have no significant historical foundation, says he is far from convinced that the site Garfinkel is excavating was part of the House of David in the Judean Hills rather than a Philistine or Canaanite settlement. Even if it did belong to the Kingdom of Judah, he says, he does not think it reinforces the notion of a developed kingdom in the Davidic period. His colleague from Tel Aviv University, the historian Prof. Nadav Na'aman, points out that although most of the data about the site have not yet been published, "the proposition that the site is related to the center in Jerusalem seems highly improbable."
Nevertheless, Garfinkel's thesis is not being propounded in a vacuum. Other archaeologists also argue that they have unearthed significant findings in recent years from the United Monarchy of Israel. Thus, the proponents of the biblical approach now feel they can hold their heads high after years of fighting a rearguard battle against Finkelstein and his colleagues.
Mazar claims to have found the ruins of David's palace at the City of David site outside the present-day wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. (Her dig was partly funded by two right-wing organizations, the Shalem Center and Elad. ) The structure she uncovered is located atop a hill in the northern section of the City of David, a little to the south of the Temple Mount, at the entrance to the contemporary Palestinian village of Silwan. At the foot of the structure are previously discovered massive terraces towering to a height of 16.5 meters, known as the "stepped stone structure."
According to Mazar, the terraces formed a supporting wall for the palace. This is Mazar's most impressive discovery, but her dating of it is controversial, since it is based on pottery shards that were found above and below the stratum she excavated but not in the stratum itself. Whereas Mazar dates the structure to the 10th century BCE, others are certain that it is of later construction. Even the City of David website is not asserting that this was David's palace.
In recent months, another archaeological find in which Mazar was involved made headlines: a large wall, 70 meters in length and 6 meters high, located in the same area. Mazar dates this to the period of King Solomon's reign. Once again, however, the dating has been sharply questioned, even by some in the conservative "biblical" camp.
"No one agrees with what I say," Mazar admits, though her confidence appears unshaken. "There is no doubt that the shallow statements to the effect that Jerusalem was a humble, nondescript village no longer hold water. There has been a revolution," she declares enthusiastically. "Jerusalem shows us royal construction of an extraordinary character, pointing to equally extraordinary scope and power."
Some scholars also cite finds made in Jordan to reinforce the notion of a highly developed kingdom. The American anthropologist Prof. Thomas Levy, from the University of California, San Diego, is currently excavating at Khirbat en-Nahas in southern Jordan, which was a large copper mining center in the Iron Age and is located in a region thought to have been under the control of the Edomites. Three years ago, Levy, using carbon-14 dating, dated the site to the end of the 10th century BCE, the Solomonic period. According to the conservative camp, the finds bolster the credibility of the biblical narrative, which tells of a developed entity in the region of Edom that was engaged in a struggle with the United Monarchy.
However, Prof. Finkelstein rejects this interpretation. "No inscription was found which could shed light on the Kingdom of Solomon," he says. "There are no impressive remnants from earlier periods in classic Edom. The findings are more closely related to the Assyrian hegemony and to Arab trade in the region."
Finkelstein is here alluding to another debate, one that touches on a fundamental issue in the historical understanding of the land of Israel. Scholars are divided on the question of when the region's peoples moved from a simple rural society to a more developed urban way of life. Finkelstein and his colleagues espouse a view known as "low chronology" or "late chronology." Its essence is that archaeological strata attesting to fortified settlements and traditionally dated to the reigns of David and Solomon in the 10th century BCE are actually from a period decades later, perhaps as much as a century. The low chronology method effectively rules out the existence of a developed united monarchy in the 11th and 10th centuries BCE.
Garfinkel, though, is convinced that the walls of his city are sturdy enough to stave off that approach. Whether the city was part of Judah or was Canaanite or Philistine, he says, Khirbet Qeiyafa already existed in all its glory in the 10th century BCE. "Our dating destroyed the low chronology," he says with satisfaction.
But Finkelstein is having none of it. "It will be very difficult to persuade me that four carbon-14 readings will change the picture in the face of 400 existing readings. The Khirbet Qeiyafa site is very important but is of no relevance in the dispute over chronology."
All or nothing
Together with the chronology controversy, the debate over the scope and status of the kingdoms of David and Solomon is one more chapter in a saga possessing deep theological, national and political roots and often compounded by interpersonal tensions and academic politics. In the Israeli context, some view the academic dispute as being part of an ongoing political debate concerned with the modern Jewish people's historic ties to the narrow strip of land lying between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (see box ). More broadly, the controversy is part of an almost two-century-long dispute over the historical validity of broad sections of the Holy Scriptures.
Its beginnings lie in the biblical criticism that crystallized mainly in Germany and Scandinavia in the 19th century, which raised significant questions about the historical elements underlying the biblical text. Already then, Finkelstein notes, critical scholars articulated viewpoints that are still accepted today, broadly speaking, "regarding the date of composition of the biblical text, its division into blocs, the authors' aims and the reality the text reflected."
The counter-reaction to Bible criticism first emerged in the 1920s and 1930s from the young field of biblical archaeology .At the forefront of this effort was a Chilean-born American scholar, William Albright. Though possessing encyclopedic knowledge, Albright specialized in archaeology, Bible research and philology and spent many years on digs in Palestine. The devout son of Protestant missionaries, he was the most prominent figure in a wave of British, French, German and American researchers, who at the end of the 19th century who crisscrossed the Levant in search of theological sources.
These scholars assumed, and also sought to prove, that the narratives of the patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan and the existence of a great kingdom were historical facts. They were ready to acknowledge that occasional biblical details might be incorrect or imprecise, but believed that the overall narrative was reliable and verifiable. Archaeology, they were certain, would tip the scales in their favor against the proponents of biblical criticism.
Upon Israel's establishment, they were reinforced by a new generation of Israeli archaeologists. Those at the forefront of Israeli biblical archaeology - Yigael Yadin and Benjamin Mazar (Eilat Mazar's grandfather ) - had nothing in common with Albright's Protestantism. They aimed to provide roots for the nation that was taking shape in Israel, though in essence they followed the same working method as Albright and the others: the Bible in one hand, a spade in the other.
"There was a deep need here to create a culture and to give roots to people of different nationalities who came from many different places, and archaeology was a potent tool for that purpose," Finkelstein says. "Everyone was mobilized in the effort on the basis of a deep inner conviction, and there is nothing wrong with that. Yadin saw history repeating itself: the conquest of the land then and now, and the glorious kingdom of David and Solomon then and now, this time taking the form of a democracy in the Middle East. The archaeologists played between past and present, and they cannot be criticized for that."
At the time, the Bible seemed to be a guide to impressive finds. The archaeologists looked for evidence of the United Monarchy at Hatzor, Megiddo and Gezer, which are mentioned in I Kings as Solomon's large-scale construction projects. Toward the end of the 1950s, Yadin unearthed a large six-chambered gate at Hatzor from the Iron Age. On the basis of the archaeological strata and the pottery at the site, Yadin and Yohanan Aharoni, another leading archaeologist and historical geographer, dated it to the Solomonic period in the 10th century BCE. Drawing on the biblical reference to the gates of Solomon, Yadin went on to Megiddo and Gezer, where he found gates possessing a similar structure. His conclusion, based on the finds, was that in the 10th century BCE a well-developed centralist ruling authority must have existed that was able to build monumental structures and draw up master plans that were implemented throughout the kingdom. The finds seemed to attest to the existence of a united monarchy reaching at least to Hatzor, north of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee ).
In the decades that followed, this approach spawned a dispute between the conservative camp and Finkelstein's camp, which questioned the dating. However, even before hand, in the 1970s and 1980s, a group of European scholars, most of them from Copenhagen and Sheffield, rejected the historical importance of the biblical narrative. In the face of the maximalist approach, which confers maximal historical validity on the biblical frame story, the minimalists argued that the biblical tales were composed and redacted in the Persian or Greek period - many hundreds of years after the events described - and therefore possess little historical value. The optimal way to verify the biblical account, they maintained, was by means of ancient extra-biblical documentation that was scarce.
According to the minimalists, the United Monarchy never split into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel, because it never existed in united form in the first place. Their account is that the two kingdoms developed side by side, with the Kingdom of Judah and its capital, Jerusalem, developing at a far later stage, after the consolidation of the Kingdom of Israel in the ninth and eighth centuries BCE. In this interpretation, David and Solomon are entirely fictional figures.
On July 21, 1993, a dramatic discovery made at the Tel Dan dig in northern Israel launched a new stage in the wars of the scholars. The excavation director, Prof. Avraham Biran, discovered, together with the researcher Gila Cook, a basalt stele with an Aramaic inscription which included the words "BeitDavid" (House of David ) as one word. In the inscription, which was dated to the ninth century BCE, one of the kings of Aram boasts of having killed 70 kings, among them Jehoram the son of Ahab king of Israel and another king, a descendant of the House of David. Biran was initially accused by some of forging the inscription, but it soon became clear that this was the first direct extra-biblical proof of the existence of a dynasty founded by David.
Manifestly, this discovery called for a reformulation of minimalism, and Finkelstein was one of the first to assume the task. In the mid-1990s, he published a series of articles in which he put forward his thesis, which integrated the minimalist critique in a more moderate version. In 2001, he and Neil Asher Silberman, a contributing editor to Archaeology Magazine, co-authored "The Bible Unearthed," in which they put forward their thesis concerning the historical validity of the Bible narrative.
Like the minimalists, Finkelstein and Silberman maintain that the two kingdoms sprang up concurrently from the local Canaanite peoples; they were not a united, crystallized nation that had been liberated from Egyptian bondage and conquered the land under the leadership of Yehoshua Bin Nun. According to this approach, there was no united monarchy in the 10th century BCE. It was not until a century later, in the ninth century BCE, that the Kingdom of Israel began to emerge and by the eighth century was flourishing, only to be conquered by the expanding Kingdom of Assyria. Judah, in contrast, was a small kingdom that did not become a significant centralized entity until the seventh century BCE. The first authorship of the biblical text is dated to this period, when populations from the northern kingdom (the so-called 10 tribes of the northern Kingdom of Israel were exiled and some of them reached the Kingdom of Judah under the rule of Josiah.
According to this approach, the story of the patriarchs and of the conquest of Canaan, as narrated in the Bible, constitutes an attempt to establish the existence of a common historical source for the northern Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. A "pan-Israelite" ideology of this sort could justify the territorial ambitions of Josiah, the king of Judah, who considered himself the heir to the ravaged Kingdom of Israel.
"Thanks to the writing skill, the potent theology and the creative outburst, this was the narrative that became dominant," Finkelstein says. With degrees of variation, this is also how he and his camp read - and dismiss - the other historical frame stories in the Bible.
Currently, there is broad agreement among archaeologists and Bible scholars that there is no historical basis for the narratives of the patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan, nor any archaeological evidence to make them think otherwise. Thus, according to Prof. Amihai Mazar (a nephew of Benjamin Mazar ), from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University, who terms himself a moderate conservative, "It is impossible to treat any of the episodes until the conquest of Canaan as historical." However, he adds, "Starting from the narratives of the judges, the social-economic-political-international background is very consistent with the archaeological reality. That holds also for the United Monarchy." It is indeed the issue of whether a united monarchy existed and if so, how large it was, that forms the dividing line between the two camps.
Finkelstein insists that a united monarchy in the 10th century BCE stretching from Dan to Be'er Sheva, let alone to the Euphrates, never existed. "Demographically and economically," he says, "it was something relatively humble and small. In the 10th century BCE we are talking about some 20 small sites across the Judean Hills. If we exaggerate, we reach a total of 5,000 souls and in Jerusalem itself barely a few hundred."
In that case, was Yadin wrong when he dated the gates at Megiddo, Gezer and Hatzor to the 10th century BCE and cited them as proof that the United Monarchy had existed? Those sites are outside the boundaries of the modest rural polity described by Finkelstein and Silberman. Indeed, they argue that the gates should be dated to the ninth and eighth centuries BCE, long after Solomon's death, and they affiliate them with the monarchs of the Northern Kingdom during its period of prosperity. Their conclusion is based in part on the pottery assemblage found in destroyed strata at Megiddo. Similarly, Finkelstein says, radiocarbon testing at Hatzor dates that site to the ninth century BCE.
In striking contrast, the archaeologist Amnon Ben-Tor, from the Hebrew University, who is presently directing the Hatzor excavations, passionately defends the dating of the finds at his site. "What can I say but that with our meager powers and our ceramic knowledge we determined that the gates do in fact belong to the 10th century?" Similarly, Amihai Mazar maintains, "There is a certain problem of dating at Megiddo. At Hatzor and at Gezer there is no problem at all. The gates can be dated to the 10th century BCE, not with certainty but with no little measure of probability."
Who is a Judahite?
Criticism of the earlier finds by Finkelstein and others may please Garfinkel. It enables him to claim that Khirbet Qeiyafa is different from all the sites hitherto investigated in that it is the first Judahite settlement that has been radiocarbon-dated to the 10th century BCE and also shows a highly developed level of construction. In other words, for Garfinkel this is the first site that attests saliently to the existence of an established kingdom in the 10th century and definitively rebuts the notion that David was "a sheikh in a Bedouin tent" - the viewpoint he attributes to Finkelstein.
Nevertheless, the proposition that Khirbet Qeiyafa was a Judahite site is not accepted by most researchers. This is effectively the big test now confronting Garfinkel. The most important discovery made at the site that allegedly backs Garfinkel's interpretation is an ostracon, a potsherd bearing an inscription, which, according to some scholars, is in ancient Hebrew. "At least three researchers in Israel said it is biblical Hebrew, but there are some researchers who are not quite certain about that, because the differences between Hebrew and Canaanite, from which it developed, are very great," Amihai Mazar notes.
However, Prof. Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa, who recently published a deciphering of the inscription, maintains that "30 major researchers accept our reading, which shows that the inscription is in Hebrew - the earliest Hebrew inscription discovered to date. Of the 18 words that appear in the inscription, eight appear only in the Bible."
Garfinkel also cites the city's structure as proof of its affiliation with the Kingdom of David. As Garfinkel notes on the excavation website, "The planning of Khirbet Qeiyafa includes a casemate city wall and a belt of houses abutting the casemates, incorporating them as part of the construction." This type of urban planning, he adds, "is known only in Judah and exists at four other sites, all of them in Judah. There is no casement wall in the Canaanite or Philistine culture. Nor are the homes integrated into a wall in the Kingdom of Israel; this is a Judahite fingerprint."
Further proof, Garfinkel says, lies in what was not found at the site: pig bones. Not one bone of the non-kosher animal was found by an archaeo-zoologist who examined over 3,000 bones found in the course of the excavations.
Garfinkel notes that other findings by him and his team, which are being made public here for the first time, also support the thesis that the city was part of the Davidic kingdom. In one of the rooms, a cultic altar was found along with libation vessels consisting of two chalices with two separate drinking spouts (see photo ). As in the case of the bones found at the site, Garfinkel is mostly impressed with what he did not find in or around the sanctuary.
"There is not one icon of a human being or an animal in this whole city, even in the sanctified area. The site is completely aniconic," he says, referring to the practice of shunning the concrete representation of divine beings or living creatures. "There is much controversy about when the monotheistic conception emerged in Israelite worship and when the aniconic approach evolved. Some argue that this development did not occur until the end of the Second Temple period or until the Persian or Hellenistic periods. But when one compares this room to cultic structures at Canaanite or Philistine sites, you find biblical taboos observed here: there are no pig bones and there is no iconic ritual."
If we add to these finds the two gates showing that this is the site of Sha'arayim, Garfinkel says, it is clear that it was a fortified city belonging to the Kingdom of David and that the kingdom was sufficiently developed to carry out the engineering and organizational project unearthed at Khirbet Qeiyafa. "The site is different from all the small villages that characterized settlement locales in the 12th-11th centuries BCE," he says.
However, Prof. Nadav Na'aman, who leans toward the minimalist approach, expresses many reservations about Garfinkel's conclusions. Item by item, he rebuts Garfinkel's arguments: "Not one of the finds cited by Garfinkel links Khirbet Qeiyafa to a center in Jerusalem or even to the hill region. Both the longtime inhabitants of the land and the inhabitants of the hill region in the first Iron Age refrained from eating meat, undoubtedly as a reaction to Philistines' eating habits. There is no city structure of this type in the Judean Hills in the period during which Khirbet Qeiyafa existed; all the examples Garfinkel cites are of later provenance.
"And what does the absence of figurines have to do with the site's belonging to the hill region? After all, such figurines appear in the hill region settlements throughout the entire Iron Age period. The carbon-14 date is neutral in regard to political affiliation, and the two gates (if there were two gates ) also tell us nothing about the site's affiliation. The fact that someone puts forward the same argument time and again and accustoms the listeners to the 'facts' he voices does not consolidate the 'facts' that are being voiced," Na'aman says. "We have to wait for the publication of the finds from the site and then consider its affiliation level-headedly."
Finkelstein raises similar objections to Garfinkel's thesis. He is particularly impatient with claims about the existence of two gates and the name that was ostensibly given the city in their wake. "There are not two gates there," he asserts. "There is one gate, the western gate. Ninety percent of what you see in the southern gate is a reconstruction. I intend to publish a photograph from the end of the dig and a photograph taken after the reconstruction, and every sensible person will see that there was no gate there." Responding to the claim that no figurines were found at the site, Finkelstein says, "Is Garfinkel saying that zealous monotheists lived in Khirbet Qeiyafa in the 10th century BCE? Is that what we have here?" Stifling laughter, he adds, "I dug at a certain site and did not find ritual objects, but it never occurred to me that the inhabitants were zealous monotheists."
As for the site's seemingly Judahite structure, he says, "In the 1980s I excavated a site northeast of Jerusalem, on the way to Ofra, from the exact same period. There was also a kind of wall around it. In visits to Moav we also saw fortified sites with extremely impressive casemate walls from the same period. So it's not as though this is something we never saw before."
Nevertheless, Finkelstein does not rule out completely the possibility that this is a Judahite city, and from this point of view he seems to be moderating views he has expressed in the past. "It's a possibility that cannot be ignored," he says. "But if it is a Judahite site, it doesn't make me fall off my chair and it will not change what we say in the research about the scope of the early monarchy. It would be immeasurably preferable if the dig were presented to the public in a more moderate form. In my opinion, presenting the results in the form of antagonism against modern research is not the right way."
A few days before meeting with Finkelstein, I was walking with Garfinkel through the rooms of the structures along the wall of the ancient settlement. As he was explaining his interpretation of the site he suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and turned to me. "The problem with Finkelstein," he said, "is that he never agrees with what anyone else says. He always has to be original. And he always has to have a different paradigm. If I say that your coat is gray, he will say it is dark brown." Garfinkel laughed, "If I had said this was a Philistine city he would say it is Judahite."
Finkelstein calls this a "paranoid attitude." But he too doesn't pass up the chance for a dig - of the personal kind. "There is no difference between Garfinkel and Yadin and Albright," he says. "The situation has only gotten worse." There are some scholars who, though hardly identified with Finkelstein's camp, would rather not decide at this stage about the ethnic identity of Khirbet Qeiyafa. According to Amihai Mazar, "The site is singular and exceptional. The question is whether Israelites lived there - it's very hard to prove that." Similarly, Prof. Avi Faust, from the Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, who affiliates himself with the conservative camp, says, "We do not yet fully understand Khirbet Qeiyafa. In my opinion, we have not yet succeeded in fitting it properly into the general picture of the southern region of the Land of Israel. I can say in general terms that it is not a Philistine site, but not with 100 percent certainty that it is a Judahite site."
Garfinkel, together with the co-director of the excavation, Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, is currently presenting the finds of the latest season of the dig at professional conferences and trying to promote his interpretation of the site. Despite the criticism leveled by the moderate minimalists, he is convinced he is right. "Qeiyafa is like a bone in the craw of all the minimalists," he says. "This city exists, how do you explain it? Gradually there will be more and more sites from this period."
Finkelstein, for his part, emphasizes the changes that biblical archaeology has been undergoing of late. "There is no doubt that we are now experiencing a powerful wave of criticism of the criticism, something we can call a counter-revolution. That's the way research works." Still, he is not about to reassess his thesis; the burden of proof, he says, lies with the conservative camp. "I once said to a friend: 'All these arguments between us are wonderful, because thanks to them we sleep well and get invited to terrific dinners - even though I am tired of that, too - and I suggest that you go to the Tel Aviv waterfront, sit yourself down opposite the sunset, order a good espresso and think quietly for five minutes about what you know about the ancient Near East,'" he says. "That will be enough to understand that there is a very deep problem here."
For decades the dispute over the status of biblical history and the Kingdom of David was influenced by efforts to consolidate or refute the Jews’ historical affiliation with the land on which the State of Israel and, more particularly, Jerusalem stand. Even now, says Prof. Aharon Meir, an archaeologist from Bar-Ilan University, “One of the problems is politics-related motivations.” An example, he says, is Eilat Mazar, who is conducting a dig in Jerusalem. “She will say that the work she is doing is not politically motivated, but you see where she gets her money [in part from the nationalist Elad association] and you see her worldview,” Meir says. Afterward he retracts and says that Mazar does not, after all, have a political agenda.
For veteran archaeologist Dr. Gabi Barkai, the United Monarchy “represents a genuine reality.” He says, “There is no doubt that some of the European researchers, and here and there others as well, are motivated by politics. It is impossible to ignore this. I have no doubt of it.”
Most of those in the field insist that the work of archaeologists and biblical scholars, across the whole range of their opinions, is void of ideological and political dimensions. Prof. Amihai Mazar maintains that the sociological and political background of the Israeli participants in the debate is largely homogeneous. “All those involved are mainly secular folk who come from similar educational frameworks and hold similar political views which are not extreme. You will not find people from the extreme right or from the extreme left, but people situated somewhere in the middle. I don’t think that considerations of political outlook are decisive.”
Along the same lines, Prof. Avi Faust, from Bar-Ilan University, notes, “We are all patterned by the landscape of our homeland and we are all part of our generation, and we cannot cut ourselves off from that. However, the archaeologists I know from both sides of the fence possess sufficient integrity not to inject bias into their work and not to follow some agenda blindly.”
Tel Aviv vs. Jerusalem
The tension and competition between archaeologists sometimes generates fierce mutual accusations that have nothing to do with events of 3,000 years ago. For example, Dr. Gabriel Barkai, who affiliates himself with the conservative camp, maintains that Finkelstein imposed “conceptual collectivism” during his tenure as department head at Tel Aviv University, which led Barkai to leave the institution in 1997, after 27 years. Barkai discerns a clear division between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University in regard to the Bible, largely because of Finkelstein’s presence in the latter institution. (Finkelstein declined to respond to these allegations.)
In contrast, Prof. Aharon Meir of Bar-Ilan University argues that this division has no basis today. Every university has researchers on both sides of the divide, he says. “In the 1960s and 1970s there was a dominant dispute between [Yigael] Yadin and [Yohanan] Aharoni, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. If Yadin said it was morning, Aharoni would say it was night. The two camps were militant. It is very convenient to talk in terms of such divisions, but these days there is no division.”
Recently, Haaretz correspondent Nir Hasson uncovered another episode that goes deeper than excavation sites. Two groups of archaeologists wanted to excavate at Tel Socoh, a mound near Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley: one side consisted of Prof. Yuval Goren and Prof. Oded Lipschits, from Tel Aviv University, the other of Prof. Garfinkel and his American colleague, Prof. Michael Hasel. Goren’s argument was largely of a technical nature: Garfinkel could not excavate at the site, he maintained, because the regulations of the Antiquities Authority forbid archaeologists from conducting two digs simultaneously.
Goren was granted the permit last month, but the episode itself swelled beyond its natural dimensions as a disagreement over an excavation permit. Prof. Lipschits says that Garfinkel breached the regulations by starting to dig at the site before receiving a permit. He sent his complaint to Dr. Gideon Avni, the head of the excavations and surveys unit of the Antiquities Authority, who rejected it.
“There are irregular and unclear relations between the Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University,” Lipschits says. “Avni teaches with Garfinkel at the Hebrew University and Yossi’s co-director at the [Khirbet Qeiyafa] site is Saar Ganor, the head of the unit for the prevention of antiquities thefts, and when the Antiquities Authority sees the excavations at Socoh and makes a phone call, the call is to Ganor.”
Garfinkel responds sharply: “If the distinguished Prof. Oded Lipschits is unable to distinguish between antiquities thefts and initiated excavations, he is at a substandard level. It is extremely grave that he is accusing us of antiquities thefts. That is slander.” He adds that since he started to excavate Khirbet Qeiyafa he has been harassed by Tel Aviv University researchers. “The Tel Aviv school of thought is trying to obstruct us. Don’t think that they have scientific freedom there. Finkelstein organizes them. Where does Yuval Goren have a budget for a dig if not from Finkelstein’s budgets?”
Finkelstein’s response: “I have nothing to do with this argument. All my research budgets, to the last cent, finance my research work exclusively."
The Israel Atiquities Authority declined to respond.
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