A special history lesson in time for the holidays.
Today is Christmas, but it's also Hanukkah — the Jewish festival of lights. With its emphasis on present-giving, dreidel games and sweet treats, the holiday seems to be oriented towards kids. Even the story of Hanukkah has had its edges shaved down over time. Ostensibly, the holiday is a celebration of a victory against an oppressive Greek regime in Palestine over two thousand years ago, the miracle of oil that lit Jerusalem's holy temple for 8 days and nights, and the perseverance of the Jewish faith against all odds.
According to Rabbi James Ponet, Emeritus Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale University, the kid-friendly Hanukkah mythology has obscured the thorny historical details that offer deeper truths about what it means to be a Jew. In his 2005 Slate piece, "Hanukkah as Jewish Civil War," Ponet looked at the often-overlooked Jew-on-Jew violence that under-girds the Hanukkah story. In 2018, he and Brooke discussed how this civil war lives on in Jewish views on Israel, and how the tension between assimilation and tradition came to define the Jewish people. We're re-releasing it today in time for the holidays.
The Enuma Elish and the Atrahasis, in circulation 3,800 years ago, were Mesopotamia's creation and flood epics, making them 1,000 years older than Genesis.
Enuma Elish and Atrahasis are indeed not well known, but I’ve actually seen quite a bit about them as the result of reading within the area of Big History.
I’ll have to do some digging but I’m curious if any researcher(s) have done synoptic analyses of these books and the Book of Genesis from the Old Testament. I’m sure there aren’t as many as there are of the synoptic gospels from the New Testament, but it might be interesting to take a look at them.
The obvious quote of the day:
The gods became distraught at the destruction they had unleashed. The midwife goddess, Mami, who helped raise the first generations of mankind, was particularly saddened, and “The gods joined her in weeping for the vanished country / She was overcome with heartache, but could find no beer”. Yes, it really says that.
As a side note, fermented beverages like beer were more popular throughout history than they are in modern America, because unlike now, prior generations of humans didn’t have the public health ideals or levels of clean drinking water that we do today. Thus beer and other alcoholic drinks were more par for the course because they were less likely to make you sick or kill you to drink them. Naturally the Mesopotamian gods must have been healthier for drinking them as a result too!
So far a fascinating account of a multi-season excavation of a late 11th and early 10th centuries BCE city. They do an excellent job of teasing out of the biblical, mythical, and archaeological sources for setting the story of their work. They also lay out several alternate and competing contemporary theories surrounding their work.
For those who haven’t studied archaeology, they also do a great job of discussing the evolution of the topic and its application to their particular example, so you not only get the particular story they’re telling, but also a relatively firm framework for how archaeology is practiced in a modern setting.
This is a great example of science and humanities communication. I can’t wait to finish out the book.
Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia
The second tradition relating to the Sorek Valley tells of the Ark of the Covenant…
Traditions connected to the Elah Valley are preserved in the books of Samuel and Chronicles, which relate to Iron Age IIA.
Khirbet Qeiyafa is […] situated on the border between Judah and Philistia, […] The question then arises if and how the excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa contributes to our understanding of this tradition [of David and Goliath].
Hidden in the biblical story of the battle between David and Goliath is valuable geographical-historical information. […] Goliath the Gittite (from the city of Gath) […] Gath was destroyed at the end of the 9th century BCE by Hazael, the Aramean king of Damascus, and Ekron was destroyed in 603 BCE by the Babylonians. […] It is thus clear that the biblical author had access to historical information originating in the 10th and 9th centuries BCE.
However, the Elah Valley was an area of border conflicts only in the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, and after the destruction of Gath entirely lost its earlier geopolitical significance.
I’m curious about the insignia pictured on David’s right shoulder. Does it mean something specific or is it simply decoration?
No other person is mentioned more frequently throughout the Old and New Testaments [than King David]…
David began his reign around 1000 BCE in Hebron, where he remained for 7 years before conquering Jerusalem and establishing it as his capital. Solomon succeeded him in c. 970 or 960 BCE. […] According to the Old Testament, following Solomon’s death the kingdom split into two separate political units: the Kingdom of Israel in the north , with its capital at Samaria, and the Kingdom of Judah in the south, centered on Jerusalem. The northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians after several waves of military campaigns which resulted in the final destruction of Samaria in 722 BCE. The Kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians after a series of invasions, which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple in 586 BCE.
This was demonstrated on July 21, 1993, when the fragmentary Tel Dan stela was discovered in northern Israel. On it was carved an inscription, written in Aramaic, which refers to a battle and the subsequent defeat of the king of Israel and the king of the “House of David” at the hands of Hazael of Damascus.
Subsequent studies have shown that the same phrase, “House of David,” also appears on the Mesha inscription from ancient Moab.
…Jerusalem is a particularly difficult city for archaeological research for three main reasons. First, the modern city covers nearly all of [it]… Secondly, the nature of construction on such a hilly site meant that in many periods builders removed all previous structures when creating new ones and built directly upon bedrock, so that remains of buildings of certain periods are entirely absent. and thirdly, during the First Temple period of life in the city extended uninterrupted over a 400-year period until the Babylonian destruction, and buildings therefore remained in continuous use for a considerable time.
…several large architectural structures have been uncovered in Jerusalem [including] the “Stepped Stone Structure” [uncovered] as early as 1923-25 [in] an expedition headed by archaeologists R.A.S. Macalister and John G. Duncan exposed a portion of this impressive structure.
The date of these three monumental buildings in Jerusalem is very problematic, as they are not associated with settlement strata rich in the pottery finds that can enable the archaeologist to determine their time of use, and no organic finds appropriate for radiocarbon dating were discovered.
One proposal [for the chronology of the monarchy in Judah], known as the low chronology, maintains that urbanization, i.e., the transition from a rural society (the periods of the Settlement and Judges: iron Age I) to an urban society (the period of the monarchy: Iron Age II) occurred only at th end of the 10th century BCE, and only in the north, in the Kingdom of Israel. In this scenario, David must be regarded as a local tribal chief at most.
Tells consist of layers of settlement largely superimposed one upon the other […], so that it is often necessary to uncover finds from later periods first, in order to reach the earlier ones below, a time-consuming and costly undertaking.
Since archaeological techniques were then in their infancy, the methodologies used were often lacking in precision, and early excavators did not correctly differentiate between the various strata and attributed finds from different periods to the same one.
Alongside the large, stratified archaeological tell sites are so-called ruins (Arabic, knirbah; Hewbrew, horvah). Such sites were settled for limited periods of time and did not develop into deep, multi-layered tells.
Thus, for example, at Khirbet Qeiyafa we exposed 5,000 sq. m (54,000 sq. ft) or around 25 per cent of the settlement in seven seasons of excavation.
Interpreting the various finds from an excavation, such as pottery, stone vessels, metal tools, figurines, jewelry, and coins requires care: those from a particular layer of occupation reflect mainly the final phase of habitation in that layer–in other words, the final days, a moment before the destruction or abandonment of a settlement. But what if a settlement was established a hundred or two hundred years prior to the destruction? How can we ascertain that? This is a difficult problem and the result is that many excavators erroneously tend to compress periods of tens or hundreds of years into brief periods of a few years.
As a result, surveys will fail to identify the latter’s existence and a distorted picture of a “gap in settlement” will result; in other words, the surveyor will falsely conclude that during a certain period there was no settlement at a given site.
I’m enjoying the archaeological background that they describe in their extended example within the book. This book could almost be described as Archaeology 101: An applied example using an exploration of Khirbet Qeiyafa.
The conclusion based on such surveys that there were no settlements in Judah during the 10th century BCE and that a centralized kingdom did not exist at the time is therefore essentially flawed.
We must also remember that the dynamic hypotheses of identifying various sources, redactors, and editors of the biblical text are “constructions of modern scholarship” and that they continue to evolve and change.
One must accept, then, that modern scholarship has no clear and objective tool for dealing with the dating of the writing of the different biblical traditions. In the current stat of our knowledge, with the evidence available, the process of formation and transmission of the texts remains unresolved, as does the time and manner in which they took on their present form.
Perhaps information theory could be applied here to better tease out these questions?
According to the minimalist method [using Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar to study history] , two main conclusions may be drawn from this: first, that the Roman Empire should be dated to the 16th Century, and second that Julius Caesar is a purely literary character–both of which are patently absurd.
The weakest link in archaeological research […] is frequently the lengthy time that elapses between excavation and publication of the results. Archaeological excavation destroys what it excavates. It is therefore a scholarly and scientific obligation to publish all of the data on the excavation procedure and the findings for other scholars and the public at large.
In our view, archaeology finds should be independently dates; only then may attempts be made to connect them with historical/biblical figures, periods, or events.
This is the first site in Judah from the beginning of the monarchy to be dated using this scientific technique [radiocarbon dating]. The results unequivocally demonstrated that the city was established at the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 10th century BCE.
Scholars who attempt to apply findings from northern sites to the situation in Judah and Jerusalem are committing a methodological error. […] we refrain from using the term “United Monarchy,” which implies the existence of akingdom that also included the north of the country. Instead, we shall use here the term “Kingdom of Judah.”
The data are like pieces of a mosaic that can be combined in different ways to form different images; the pieces themselves do not change, but the images they form can be modified. Here we briefly summarize five of the conflicting paradigms regarding David’s kingdom, and their development.
* The biblical paradigm […]
* The mythological paradigm […]
* The chronological paradigm […]
* The ethnic paradigm […]
* The Kingdom of Judah paradigm […]
However the heavily fortified city of Khirbet Qeiyafa, with its planning and public spaces suggests a centralized urban social organization rather than a dispersed rural population.
We believe Khirbet Qeiyafa is a Judahite site for six main reasons, which we summarize briefly here […]
casemate wall [is] a wall built of two parallel walls with the space between them divided by perpendicular walls into long narrow rooms called casemates.
The term “Hebrew” is familiar from the Bible, where it is used to describe populations particularly during the Patriarchal period.
The term “Jew” entered into use only at the end of the First Temple period and appears primarily in the biblical books dealing with the Second Temple period. […] Therefore, in modern research it is customary to use this term only in describing populations from the Second Temple period onward.
To summarize: the mythological, chronological, and ethnic paradigms are in reality variations of the same minimalist approach.
The original minimalist approach, as expressed in the mythological paradigm, was a consistent worldview that maintained that the history of ancient Israel should only be based on extra-biblical data. Both of the approaches that followed, the low chronology paradigm and the ethnic paradigm, were variations that attempted to solve questions that the previous paradigm could not answer.
What about future possible paradigms?
ossuary [is] a small stone chest for holding the bones of a dead person
Christopher Rollston suggested therefore that there could be some connection between the Arabic name Khirbet Qeiyafa and the name of the family of priests, Caiaphas, known from the New Testament, and that perhaps the family had a rural estate in the area of the Elah Valley, a memory of which is preserved in the Arabic name of our site.
[…] in the Elah valley […] the soil is not terra rossa but rather a type known as rendzina.
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Orange–Vocabulary word; interesting and/or rare word
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