The Bible Unearthed
by Larry Saltzman – The Palestine Chronicle
A revolution is happening in Biblical Archaeology. Biblical Archaeology is critically examining the Bible against the archaeological record and is turning everything we thought we knew upside down. It may disturb many that hold strong political or highly conservative religious beliefs. This will be true of Christians, Muslims and Jews who interpret the Bible literally.
It will disturb many secular Zionists who justify modern Israel’s existence and the proposed annexation of “Judah and Samaria” based on the Biblical Texts. You can choose to believe this research or not. But it has profound implications for the Israeli Palestinian conflict. This article will review the theories of one of the foremost of these revolutionary Biblical archaeologists – Israel Finkelstein.
Professor Finkelstein is an Israeli and has received a lot of criticism in Israel for his work from conservative elements in the society that are aware of what it means for the Biblical underpinnings of Zionism. To read more about the research that lies behind this summary, I refer you to the writings of Israel Finkelstein. The most accessible book is The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, written with Neil Asher Silberman and published by The Free Press in 2001. Finkelstein is one of a group of radical archaeologists that is turning the field of biblical archaeology on its head.
Archaeologists live in a world of tells, strata, Carbon 14 dating, Jericho IV, The Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age, Iron Age I and Iron Age II and of course pottery shards and architectural styles. Slowly but surely as they excavate and date the significant Archaeological sites located in modern Israel and parts of Occupied Palestine the history of the region as recorded in the Bible is being re-written from what the Bible has told us. What follows is a very brief summary of that research and an analysis of its implications.
Professor Finkelstein has not attempted himself to interpret his research in the context of the contemporary political and diplomatic complexities of the Middle East. He has simply presented the facts that the archaeological record has revealed. Some archaeologists still disagree, but his is a mainstream scientific view and not the work of a fringe writer with a political or conspiracy axe to grind. And more and more prominent scholars in the field are moving to something like his viewpoint, even though they may disagree on the details.
Israel, Judah and Samaria were simply Canaanite States that arose out of indigenous Canaanite culture and not from the invasion of a mythical people called the Hebrews. Israel was a small Canaanite State that briefly achieved a golden age, reaching its’ height of power and glory in the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. The House of David never ruled in Israel, it ruled over the Canaanite State of Judah.
Finkelstein is convinced that the House of David did exist. David and Solomon were probably tribal chiefs in the hill country that became the Kingdom of Judah. Jerusalem was the Capital of Judah not of Israel. In the time of David and Solomon, Jerusalem was an unimportant very small town with no great Temple. The major cult centres were farther to the north in the cities of Israel. In fact the great cities of Canaan that were previously attributed to the Solomon were built by Israeli Kings like Ahab.
It was under King Josiah that the Bible was finally written and something resembling modern Judaism begins to take shape in the 7th and 8th centuries BC. It is a political document that is designed to glorify the Josiah and to connect him falsely with the golden era when the state of Israel briefly rose up as a powerful and advanced civilized centre. The Bible is essentially a work of propaganda, weaving historical fragments and myths of various Canaanite peoples into a powerful justification for Josiah’s rule and expansionist policies.
I personally draw a positive conclusion from this research. As an American-Jew, I have long struggled with the contradictions and problems of Zionism and the unjust policies of the State of Israel towards Palestinians. For those brave enough to seize this research in the right spirit, there is a solution in it for the problems of the Middle East. Simply stated, European Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, and Palestinians are brothers and sisters and share a common Canaanite ancestry. There were a small number of voices amongst the early Zionists who were against the creation of a separate Jewish state in the region. They lost out to the bigger faction lead by David Ben-Gurion, who suffered from the disease of European colonialism. Ben-Gurion and those in his camp saw the natives of the region as an obstacle to be eliminated. I believe Jews around the world need to take pride not in Israel as a modern colonialist State but in the entire region of Palestine as the homeland of Canaanite and Israelite culture that we are descended from. European Jews are simply Europeanized Canaanites; Palestinians, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish were simply Arabised Canaanites. Even modern genetic research is proving that we come from the same ancestry.
Think of Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans returning to their ancestral homelands to experience the culture and the people. They do not think they have the right to conquer the land and dispossess those who stayed behind. Rather they go back to re-connect with their cultural roots from those who are part of the living culture. Because of Zionism, Jews lost the chance to return to Palestine and re-connect with the Palestinians who are the people that have carried forward the culture of ancient Canaan. Viewed in that light, I see the fight against Zionism as being as much my fight as the Palestinians fight. It is the Zionists who created a rift between family, where there should have been friendship and cooperation. It is modern Zionism that disconnected me from my roots not connected me. It is that movement that even stole the spiritual base of Judaism and associated it for the first time in two thousand years with aggression and oppression of others. Whatever flaws my European ancestors had, they were not the ones starting wars and building colonial empires, as was the Christian majority in Europe.
It is the Zionists who through their acts of ethnic cleansing and on-going violence have made enemies out of people who share a common ancestry with me. The disease of European Colonialist thinking prevented them from seeing how much the Palestinians had to share with us of the ancient cultures and common heritage. Those who came from Europe may have had the advantage of European technology, but the Palestinians had something far more valuable that the Zionists treated with contempt and discarded.
My hope though, is that a new vision of the common ancestry of Jews and Palestinians can be shared and spread and used to defeat the discredited legacy of Zionism. The ancient Canaanites had a great culture. From their culture springs Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Their culture as expressed by the Canaanite civilizations of Judah and Israel exerts more influence on great portions of humanity than does that of far greater military powers and empires of the ancient world. Where the myths and religions of other ancient civilizations of the Middle East are no longer believed or practiced by many people, The religious heritage of Judah is practiced in the form of Christianity, Islam and Judaism by something approaching two billion people on every inhabited continent. When we can recognize and accept our profound common heritage, perhaps we can begin to overcome the suffering and warfare of the twentieth century and move towards lasting peace and justice in the Middle East.
Larry Saltzman is an American Jew who believes that the meaning of the Holocaust is that “never again” means that no people on the planet should be persecuted. He is deeply involved in organic gardening and has an orchard of some 60 fruit trees. He had been opposed to the Israeli occupation for some time, but when he learned of the wanton destruction of orchards and farmland by Israeli troops in the Palestinian Territories this past year, he decided to become active. He has a B.A. in Anthropology from UCLA but works as a computer programmer.