The New York Times has apparently abandoned all pretense of representing
facts and events without editorial bias, at least when it comes to
Consider this story about the capital of an ancient kingdom, a city
where the king lived in a palace built of sumptuous materials imported from
distant lands. It is a tragic tale because the city was razed by a foreign
army and lay buried for centuries. But there is something of a happy
ending, since archaeologists have rediscovered the site, and, if permitted to
continue working, can be expected to unearth a great deal of new knowledge.
It is also the story of a dispute between those who wish to preserve the
remnants of ancient glory as an archaeological park and those who have built
their houses atop the ruins. The reporting, however, is anything but a
The Times can hardly find enough superlatives to describe this rediscovered
capital of a tenth century kingdom its long—ago glory:
"Teeming with treasures that dazzled the most jaded traveler or world—weary aristocrat...Pools of mercury could be shaken to spray beams of reflected sunlight across marble walls and ceilings of gold... Doors carved of ivory and ebony led to sprawling gardens full of exotic animals and sculptures made of amber and pearls..."
Appropriately, the Times has only harsh words for those who have illegally
built houses atop the site.
The city is Medina Azahara, tenth century capital of Al Andalus, a
celebrated city destroyed in 1010 CE when, according to the Times, it was
"sacked by Islamic purists from North Africa who considered the Muslim culture it represented far too liberal in its interpretation of the Koran."
Compare this to the Times recent treatment of an identical dispute over the
fate of illegal housing on the site of another tenth century archaeological
site — the tenth century BCE. Far from coming to the defense of the ruins
of the ancient City of David, the Times characterizes the controversy as,
"The prospect of the largest single destruction of Arab homes in East
Jerusalem in almost four decades..."
In its article on Medina Azahara, the Times not only interviews
archaeologists and historians, but goes beyond straight reporting to offer a
paean to the vanished glories of Al Andalus:
"Medina Azahara, also known as Madinat al—Zahra, was an Islamic metropolis built in the 10th century as a testament to Spain's proclamation in 929 that it was the true caliphate of the Muslim world.
"The construction of the city, which began around 940, was a singular moment in history, when the most vibrant intellectual and cultural force in Europe was rooted in Islam, and when the heart of Islam was in many ways rooted in Europe.
"Its destruction signaled the beginning of the end of the only Muslim
culture ever to flourish in Western Europe, and led to the decimation of a
unique branch of Islam that had taken root a continent away from the
influences of the Islamic centers of the Middle East."
The Times offers no parallel appreciation for ancient Jerusalem.
In one two recent articles on the City of David excavations, the
first authority quoted is a young Palestinian archaeologist, Hani Nur el—Din
of Al Quds University. Nur el—Din dismisses all Israeli digs at sites with
Biblical associations as an effort to "fit historical evidence into a biblical context."
This is a broad—brush slander of one of the world's most highly respected archaeological communities. Certainly, archaeologists working in Israel get a special thrill when they find something that matches an account in the Bible, just as they do when something dug from the ground matches an account in Josephus, or an account engraved on an ancient Assyrian stele. Just as archaeologists working around the Aegean get a thrill from finding something that matches the account in Homer.
Nor el—Din's complaint reads with special absurdity at the end of a summer
digging season when the news has been full of archaeological finds that
match Biblical accounts. The dig at Gath of the Philistines validates the
story of conquest by King Hazael of Aram as told in Second Kings. Workers
repairing a Jerusalem sewer last year discovered the site of the Biblical
Pool of Siloam, a scientific dig is now uncovering two ancient pools, one
from the Herodian period and the other dating to the fifth century BCE. And then there is the dig in the City of David, where Eilat Mazar has turned up two government seals bearing the names of officials mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah, and a well—dated, massive, tenth century, dressed—stone building where Biblical minimalists predicted, in the words of the respected Biblical minimalist Israel Finkelstein "perhaps not more than a typical hill—country village." Finds of this sort are making Nur el—Din's assertion that "The link between the historical evidence and the biblical narration, written much later, is largely missing," look more than a little silly.
All of which raises the question of why the New York Times is privileging
such unfounded allegations, and, worse, actually asserting that the question
of "whether the Jews have their origins here" is open to debate.
There is, of course, a lively archaeological debate about the size and power
both the Kingdom of David and of its capital city, and about whether David
other early kings existed or were legendary figures of the King Arthur sort.
There is, however, no scholarly doubt that the capital of an Israelite kingdom existed on the site known as the City of David from the tenth century until its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
In its reporting on the City of David and on Medina Azahara, the Times has
fallen into the post—modernist error of valuing facts according to its degree of approval for the narrative position that will benefit from their revelation. Preserving Medina Azahara as an archaeological park benefits those who maintain that Al Andalus was a model of convivencia, of a European Islam that was tolerant, open—minded, and peaceful. The corollary is that a tolerant, peaceful, open—minded, European Islam is likely to develop today.
That the Times finds this narrative congenial is apparent in the story of an ancient city treated with a tone of uncritical admiration and emphasis on its cultural achievements. Preserving the City of David as an archaeological park
benefits those who maintain that since the Jewish people are indigenous to Judea, they are entitled to live in a modern nation state on that land. The
derogatory tone of the Times' treatment of the story of the dig at the ancient capital of the Jews is persuasive evidence that the newspaper does
not find this position congenial.
There is no significant difference between the facts of the two cases. In Spain as in Israel, the question is whether an archaeological site should be preserved as an archaeological park, or whether the "rights" of illegal squatters should prevail over archaeological concerns. The difference lies entirely in the approach taken by New York Times reporters, and there the difference is like night and day. In the pair of stories on Jerusalem, we are told not only that to remove squatters who build illegally in archaeological preserves would be unjust and politically motivated, but that the well—documented discoveries of qualified archaeologists are no more reliable than politically—motivated lies.
When the New York Times states that the question of "whether the Jews have
their origins here" is open to debate, it is granting legitimacy to the position taken by "many Palestinians... including the late Yassir Arafat" that "the idea of a Jewish origin in Jerusalem is a myth used to justify conquest and occupation."
Steven Erlanger's article in the Times puts Arafat's political fable about an Arab
people who have lived since time immemorial in a land where no Jewish kingdom ever existed, on equal footing with the thoroughly—documented history of an Israelite ethnicity that arose in the Judean hills by about 1200 BCE, coalesced into a kingdom with its capital at Jerusalem around the tenth century BCE, and went on to become the Jewish people that we know today.
The New York Times has opted for the post—rational conceit that there are no
objective facts, only a range of narratives calculated to advance the interests of various partisan interests. So, when a monumental building is uncovered on the location and dated to the era where scholars would expect to find the palace of King David if it exists, the Times article asks 'Who benefits?,' and not 'What has been found?'
Erlanger gives the answer in his lead paragraph, the dig was funded by
"a conservative Israeli research institute financed by an American Jewish
investment banker who would like to prove that Jerusalem was indeed the capital of the Jewish kingdom described in the Bible."
There is no scholarly doubt that 'Jerusalem was indeed the capital of the Jewish kingdom,' this is a fact that requires no further proof. The scholarly debate is over the nature of that kingdom ans about which Biblical details are accurate. This information is given by the Times to support the premise that knowing the ideology of those funding the dig will yield more important information than the actual finds, and that the actual physical artifacts uncovered are not to be trusted because they support a narrative that the New York Times considers politically distasteful.
In her story about the controversy over the archaeological park in the City
of David, "Palestinians Feel Like Underdogs Against King David," Christine Hauser, assumes that Palestinian claims of being discriminated against for political ends must be granted equal standing with documentary evidence of decades—long violations of zoning codes and the reality of a threat to an archaeological site of international importance.
"Part of the plan is for a park on land where Palestinians have built homes, some dating back before 1967, when Israel captured East Jerusalem in the war...
"Over 1,000 Palestinians live in the 88 affected homes... One of the
residents, an elderly man named Hashim Jalajil, sat in his living room and
reminisced over coffee about his family history, tracing it back to the
original foundations of his old home.
"It was in that house that he was born 76 years ago, grew up and raised
seven children. Over the years, he put on additional floors and built two
houses next door for his sons, keeping the large, extended family nearby as is the tradition in Palestinian society.
''How can they build a garden for a man who died thousands of years ago?'' said Mr. Jalajil. ''What, is King David going to come here and drink coffee?''
''I now have 50 people to look after, aged from 2 to 51 years old,'' he
added. ''Where are we going to go?''
Although the precise location of Mr. Jalajil's house is not specified, 76 years ago, when he was born in Mandatory Palestine, the city of David area was already zoned by British authorities as open space for reasons of archaeological significance. Building a house there would have been as illegal as it is now.
No credence is given by the Times to the possibility that the archaeological authorities might actually want a park for the reasons they say they do, to preserve an ancient site, since the post—modern approach does not acknowledge the possibility of pure motives. This is both the great insight and the Achilles heel of post—modernism.
The great insight is that there are no absolutely pure scholarly motives, no
truth without some risk of taint by the scholar's fundamental values or
personal perspective. Are most Jewish and Christian archaeologists rather
pleased that the dig at the City of David has produced evidence that, in
fact, there actually was a city of David? Undoubtedly. Will many also be
glad that the creation of an archaeological park stakes a Jewish claim to
the city? Indubitably. Does this make the entire enterprise illegitimate,
as the Times would imply? No.
In must be obvious to any honest observer that the City of David, the capital of the Biblical Kingdom of Israel, ought to be preserved from the depredations of inhabitants digging basements, installing cesspools, or simply watering their gardens. Water and roots do irreparable damage to archaeological sites. Certainly, this will mean displacing the Jewish, Christian and Muslim families who live there. A rational discussion would be over where they should be relocated, not whether.
The bad faith of the New York Times in reporting the story is a separate and
more discreditable problem. By abandoning the striving toward objectivity
that has defined the core of the Western way of knowing in order to give
equal standing to Arab politicians who recognize no intrinsic value in objectivity, Steven Erlanger, Christine Hauser and their editors make common cause with Pravda, Al Jazeera, and other outlets committed to advocacy, not reliable reporting.