Monday, August 01, 2011

Editorial: Biblical Archaeology Today

From an op-ed by Alex Joffe in the Jerusalem Post:

Every summer, the Israel Antiquities Authority holds a reception at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem for foreign archeological teams excavating in Israel. This year’s reception was attended by over 200 archeologists from over 50 Israeli and foreign projects, who are investigating sites from the Paleolithic through the Islamic periods. It was another indication that, despite its many critics, the new biblical archeology is going strong.

But what’s “new” about the new biblical archeology?

Part of the answer lies in the field’s sophistication. The majority of archeological projects in Israel focus on sites outside the brief “biblical period,” 900 to 586 BCE. But all projects incorporate scientific field and lab techniques using geological sciences as well as satellite imagery to understand the changing physical landscapes and climates of their sites. At many projects, teams with computers and spectrographs analyze materials as they come out of the ground. At Tel Aviv University, one especially promising lab project will examine the rate at which pottery shards absorb moisture after being fired – a technique that promises the most accurate dating yet.

After almost 150 years of work, biblical archeology has thus moved from a supporting role in theological dramas to a fully scientific branch of world archeology. But for over two decades it has also been drawn directly into the Arab-Israeli and, increasingly, the Muslim-Jewish, conflict. At its extreme, biblical archeology has been falsely accused of being a handmaiden of Zionism, through the invention of finds as well as the destruction of Palestinian and Muslim remains. Israelis and Arabs alike have been bitterly critical of research projects, particularly in Jerusalem, which appear to upset the city’s delicate Jewish- Arab relations.

As a result, the impulse to use archeology to reconcile Israelis and Palestinians (for example, by bringing disadvantaged youths together to work on excavations) has been strong. Some local progress has been made, but overall, Palestinian attitudes have hardened thanks to their relentless propaganda denying any Jewish past.

The editorial continues with a look at excavations of three important sites: Khirbet Qeiyafa, Tell es-Safi (Gath), and Khirbet Summeily.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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