Researchers in Israel found something wonderful
The Bible is a dynamic book, peopled with characters who have a tremendous immediacy. That immediacy just got a boost over the weekend when Israeli researchers announced that they'd found scraps of purple cloth dating back to the time of Kings David and Solomon.
I didn't grow up in a religious family, so I first read the Bible as a college freshman when I took a "Bible as Literature" class. For me, it sparked a lifelong fascination with Old Testament history. I've listed at the bottom of this post the books I've found most fascinating, as well as a video I recommend to anyone interested in the Exodus.
What's so wonderful about ancient history is that our fund of knowledge keeps growing. The Earth is constantly moving, whether from erosion or because modern people are always digging, and this movement invariably turns up amazing treasures, things that are fascinating and, quite often, beautiful.
Most importantly, these finds offer a window into the past. When we see a noblewoman's jewels, a warrior's sword, or a child's toys, it doesn't matter that these treasures are hundreds or thousands of years old. They tell us that humankind is unchanged. Sure, autres temps, autres mœurs, and all that, but the core of human nature is always the same: to play as a child; fight as a man; and acquire treasures throughout life, no matter our sex, caste, or wealth.
Every day, I check LiveScience's history page to see what the earth has turned up. In just the last few days, I've learned that a new eagle sculpture was uncovered at an Aztec temple in Mexico, a 1,500-year-old house in Turkey showed puppy paw prints, 6,500 medieval coins and some gold rings showed up in a Polish cornfield, an Anglo-Saxon burial site emerged in Northamptonshire, and archaeologists found evidence that conquistadors took a terrible vengeance against Acolhua people who sacrificed members of a Spanish caravan and then ate them.
But for me, the most exciting find in I don't know how long (maybe since King Richard III's skeleton was found in a parking lot) is the story that researchers found some 3,000-year-old fabric in Israel, which puts it at the time of David and Solomon:
Rare purple wool cloth scraps from the era dating back to the time of King David and King Solomon, approximately 3,000 years ago, have been discovered in Israel.
Researchers in southern Israel found the remnants of woven wool fabric that had been dyed the color of royal purple while examining textiles from the Timna valley, a copper production district of King Solomon's day.
In ancient times purple cloth was a luxury item, and those who wore it were associated with the nobility, priests, and royalty. The dye used to make the color was sourced from a few kinds of mollusks in the Mediterranean Sea. The dye was produced from a gland located within the body of the mollusk by way of a complex chemical process that took several days to occur.
If you go to the linked article, you can see photographs of the exquisitely preserved wool fabric, which is a lovely, warm purplish/mauve color.
There is nothing more immediate than fabric because it is so tactile. Even when it's royal purple, it's a homey item that people wear every day. Just as people in David's and Solomon's time did 3,000 years ago, we too wear purple woolens, although we can buy them anywhere, and, if we're not too fussy about quality and style, they're affordable, rather than being, literally, worth a king's ransom.
We live in unsettling times, and the news is often deeply depressing for those of us whose values are not aligned with the new government in Washington, D.C. Nevertheless, stories such as this one remind us that the world is full of wonders. We are connected by shared humanity with people who are not mythical at all but, instead, did exactly what we still do: got up in the morning, dressed for the day, and went about their business. There's something magical about that thought.
Old Testament history books I recommend:
- Werner Keller's classic The Bible as History
- Max Dimont's equally classic Jews, God, and History,
- Paul Johnson's A History of the Jews,
- Jonathan Kirsch's The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible.
- Dennis Prager's Rational Bible books, which meticulously discuss both religious doctrine and history.
I also can't recommend highly enough Timothy P. Mahoney's fascinating Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, which posits that those archaeologists and historians who deny that the Exodus really happened because, they say, there's no archaeological record have gotten the dates wrong. If you re-date the Exodus by a few hundred years, there turns out to be a surprising amount of archaeological evidence that matches the biblical story.
Image: The anointing of Solomon by Cornelis de Vos. Kunsthistorisches Museum. Public Domain.