April 2, 2017
The Folly of Biblical Quote-Mining vs. the Good Things about Archaeological Fact-Finding
What gets lost in the din of competing narratives between Jewish and Arab claims to the land known as Israel is the historicity of the holy books these groups cite as evidence that God is on their side.
To this point, Israel's Communications Minister Tzachi Hanegbi recently made headlines by stating that Israel's right to the land comes from the Bible and is morally based.
The problem with such claims is that everyone, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Atheists and followers of Zeus base their beliefs on such moral imperatives. As such, perhaps a respite from the ceaseless quote-mining of holy texts that all too many people use as a basis for making a point about a contemporary issue is in order.
But what good is the Good Book if it can't be used to prove that God is pro-minimum wage, pro-life or pro-Israel?
Let's let archeology, a truly independent source of historical information, answer that one…
Indeed, it's been a great few months for biblical archaeology. Long before the establishment of modern Israel, the land was drenched in blood and the relics of human history. Archeologists, occasionally and inadvertently aided and abetted by greedy antiquities thieves, have been diligently examining fossils, physical remains, rock layers and even starlight across the Middle East. Their attempts to gauge the historical accuracy of the Bible have yielded a treasure trove of new discoveries.
On March 12, the Associated Press reported that Iraqi archaeologists believe that the recent inscriptions and engraved bulls and lions discovered under a destroyed shrine in Mosul, Iraq, have revealed part of the palace of an ancient Assyrian king with connections to the biblical account.
These treasures, found amidst a network of ISIS tunnels, are approximately 2,700 years old and were discovered under a site traditionally thought to hold the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah.
According to Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih, in the tunnels she discovered a 'marble cuneiform inscription of King Esarhaddon thought to date back to the Assyrian empire in 672 BCE.'
Chapters 18 and 19 of the biblical book of II Kings describe Sennacherib’s unsuccessful attempt to conquer Jerusalem. Upon his return to his palace he was murdered by two of his sons, who then fled, leaving Esarhaddon to take over the kingdom.
Sounds like a Game of Thrones prequel.
And here's something that former real estate mogul and current President of the United States Donald Trump could appreciate. In January, archeologists excavated a grand prehistoric structure dating back to King Solomon's era that affirmed Old Testament accounts of Israel. Identified as an advanced military fortification, this site, located in southern Israel, has long been associated with the legend of King Solomon’s mines. Dating techniques indicate that the structure is about 3,000 years old, exactly the period during which the stories attributed to King Solomon took place.
According to Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef, one of the research teams' leaders, this archeological find confirms the Old Testament accounts: 'Our new discoveries are in complete accordance with the description of military conflicts against a hierarchical and centralized society located south of the Dead Sea.'
While biblical texts contain no specific mention of mines in the context of King Solomon, it does boast of extraordinary wealth.
Chapter 10:14 of the biblical book of Kings I reads: “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold, Beside that he had of the merchantmen, and of the traffick of the spice merchants, and of all the kings of Arabia, and of the governors of the country.”
Trump Tower in New York looks like an abandoned horse stable in comparison.
Finally, as I am contractually obligated to keep this report shorter than the Dead Sea Scrolls, German and Egyptian archaeologists discovered a massive statue of what they believe is the Ramses II, the Pharaoh who ruled when God brought the Jews out of slavery.
Nearly 3,000 years after his great reign, parts of a massive 8-meter (26 foot) quartzite rock statue was found buried face down in the mud of suburban Cairo. The discovery was made near where a sun temple founded by Ramses II once stood.
Although it is a point of contention among historians and there's no actual physical evidence, many believe he could be the pharaoh in the Old Testament's Book of Exodus who enslaved the Israelites.
As you can see, archeology doesn't claim to corner the market on truth. Its great contribution, however, is to test, reject and revise theories and hypotheses, by way of experimentation and the discovery of new evidence.
In contrast, a purely faith-based approach to debating the Arab-Israeli conflict is a surefire way to ensure stale, unimaginative consensus. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: 'A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.'
Based on the last century or so of unremittent bloodshed, we may want to consider following the evidence, wherever it may lead, instead of continuing to follow our hearts, which has only led to pain, suffering and resignation.