Sunday, September 13, 2009

So Ancient Jerusalem Really Was Important!?

In case you missed it, a massive fortification wall from the early/mid-second millennium B.C. was recently discovered in the City of David, the heart of ancient Jerusalem.

Why is this significant?

Recent decades have seen the rise of the "minimalist" school of ancient Israelite history. Several important scholars have argued that, although the Bible portrays Jerusalem as an important fortress city already from the time of Joshua, in fact it was a relatively small and unimportant site until, say, the reign of Hezekiah.

The full implications of the discovery of this wall will take a while to digest, but this much is clear--it doesn't help the minimalists' case.


David said...

Gentlemen, with regret I must reply that your enthusiasm is seriously misplaced. All they have found are a collection of walls, which may or may not be part of the same structure, which may or may not date from the time period of her focus. Because of their ideological prejudices, they interprets everything as supporting the identification of the site with David. This is bad science, bad archaeology, and abysmal scholarship.

For a more balanced assessment, see this article.

Beware, please, of jumping to conclusions which support your preferences without first taking a closer look at the "real" evidence.

J. L. Watts said...

Jumping to conclusions, such as that random and various walls has little or nothing to do with what the Bible actually says?

Frankly, I am in agreement with the authors of this post. While it may not be the most perfect conclusive evidence, it is a pretty telling sign that ancient Jerusalem matches somewhat with the biblical accounts.

Anonymous said...

Wait,I thought the wall dated back to the Canaanites? That's what I read in the news when it was first discovered.

David said...

The Canaanite wall is a different wall in a different location. In fact, the author of the article about this wall was careful to say that it is the only major wall found that can be dated before the time of Herod (1st century BCE). Which leaves out the City of David excavation!

The problem with the City of David excavation is that it lies in an area that has been partly excavated twice before, which means that the fill cannot be reliably used for dating by context. Also, it lies in an area that has been destroyed and built over numerous times, so it is nearly impossible to be sure which wall is related to which. Therefore, one cannot have any certainty what kind of structure is being recovered, if any.

Mr. Watts, no minimalist claims that Jerusalem did not exist, only that the size and relative important do not match our Cecille B. deMille imaqe of a Solomonic empire. To say that the existence of a few walls implies that "ancient Jerusalem matches somewhat with the biblical accounts" is a bit like saying that because there is one campfire site in the Sinai, this would constitute archaeological proof of the Exodus. A methodologically dangerous extrapolation.

In fact, the City of David excavation does not provide a nail in the minimalist's coffin. It actually buttresses their position. The "structure" that was found 3-4 years ago is consistent with a small, lightly defended, hill town, not the center of an empire.

One more thing. There is a distressing tendency to misuse the terms minimalist and maximalist. Originally these terms only applied to one's methodological approach. A Maximalist was someone who assumed the truth of Bible texts unless specific pieces were proven wrong, then discarded the few pieces. A Minimalist was someone who assumed nothing until specific things were proven true. Today, these terms have been allocated to the extreme positions in the culture wars, with maximalist meaning true believer and minimalist meaning non-believer. This has perverted the meaning of these terms, and using them this way merely indicates one's personal position within the culture war.

John Bergsma said...

I'm afraid I can't concur with "David's" assessment of my post as "enthusiasm" and "jumping to conclusions". The post was modestly and carefully worded. I said "the full implications of this wall will take a while to digest" and "it doesn't help the minimalist case." That much is true. The "nail in the coffin" language is "David's", not mine.

John Bergsma said...

In case it escaped anyone's notice, the headline of the post was hyperlinked to the CNN version of the subject report. The archaeologists responsible are Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, not E. Mazar, the subject of "David's" hyperlinked article above.

Rudy said...

If the Bible says that Jerusalem was the city of King David, I believe it. If a scholar tells me that Jersualem did not exist at that time or that it was an unimportant town and that David's Kingdom was a myth, I don't believe the scholar. Period.

Anonymous said...

One should point out here the parallel argument pitting written and supposedly "archaeological" evidence against each other, namely the evidence of the Amarna Letters for the existence of a Jerusalem city-state complete with a king in regular correspondance with Pharaoh, and the disappointing archaeological returns for LBA layers at Jerusalem. But of course because the Amarna Letters weren't written by evil intolerant oppressive misogynistic monotheists we don't use the archeaology to discredit them!

(I should say however to Rudy: be careful! One could rewrite your sstatement as follows: "if the Bible says that 2 + 2 = 5 then I believe it. If a scholar says that 2 + 2 = 4 then I don't believe the scholar. Period." Faith and Reason are one, at least in the divine ecstasy. Sancte Thoma de Aquino, ora pro nobis!)