Professor Israel Finkelstein, Archaeologist, Tel Aviv University:
Professor Herzog is essentially correct. At the beginning of the present century, archaeology in the Land of Israel was carried out with a far more fundamentalistic approach Only at a later stage arose a more sober view and doubts about the reliability of the biblical account of the Patriarchal Period and the Conquest of the Land, and so forth. In some subjects, and with regard to some eras, local finds are unambiguous and make clear that the biblical account does not comport with the reality. In other subjects, everything is open to interpretation.
The leading edge of the dispute today is the question whether the United Monarchy of David and Solomon was a large and glorious kingdom. Confrontation with the archaeological finds raises argument whether one should read the Bible literally. When all is said and done, the biblical text is highly ideological, and so one must learn to read between the lines.
Most people just don’t want to hear all this and are not comfortable with it. For scholars the matters are clear enough, and they know where there is, and is not, agreement, but they cannot compel the public to listen. By and large modern research is respectful of religious faith and has no wish to compel anyone to change his or hers; for that reason they have not forced anyone to pay attention to our discoveries. Today more than 90% of scholars agree that there was no Exodus from Egypt, 80% feel that that the Conquest of the Land did not take place as described in the Bible, and about 50% agree that there was no powerful United Monarchy.
Professor Magen Broshi, Archaeologist at the Israel Museum:
The notion of the Conquest of the Land in the Book of Joshua is an epic, no more. In the twenties the German scholar Albrecht Alt took this position. But the genius of William [Foxwell] Albright was so dominant and his image so influential on research worldwide, that of his own accord he managed to put off the recognition that the Conquest never happened as described [in the Bible]. In reality Israeli scholars were not religious, but they were glad to have reasssurances that the received text of the Bible is to be relied on. Alt provided the assurance by uncovering internal contradictions in the Book of Joshua, whereas the archaeological surveys and exacavations showed that the picture on the ground is 180 degrees different from what is described in the various history books of the Bible. I think there is no serious scholar in Israel or in the world who does not accept this position.
Herzog represents a large group of Israeli scholars, and he stands squarely within the consensus. Twenty years ago even I wrote of the same matters and I was not an innovator. Archaeologists simply do not take the trouble of bringing their discoveries to public attention. Even the extreme leftists, avowedly secular, find it hard to accept the notion that the stories they grew up with are not true, that the greatness of David and Solomon is a matter of epic, not of history. I tried all this out on my friends, but they simply are not ready to hear it.
The Bible is a fundamental book of culture. The schools are not going to have an easy time contending with the undermining of biblical authority, but in the final analysis the idea will get through. Only when the educational establishment treats this all seriously will it have political influence, and then the screaming will start.
Professor Adam Zertal, Archaeologist, the University of Haif:
I have devoted my archaeological career to this problem. Since 1978 I’ve been conducting an archaeological survey, a full area mapping in Samaria, and this essentially is my life’s work. Herzog and others who air views like his have not been there at all. Though I respect him as an excellent archaeologist, I don’t understand what he has to do with this matter: that is, he has no connection to the beginnings of Israel. It’s as if you were to ask me to write an article on brain surgery.
According to the Bible, the Israelites crossed the Jordan between Bet She’an and Jericho and from there penetrated into the Land of Israel. I’ve dug for eight years at Mount Ebal and have been vexed by the question whether this is the site where Joshua’s altar was erected. We have found virtually certain proof that the story of the entrance into the Land is very accurate. The relevant material has been found on the site; one only has to look for it. The whole dispute about the accuracy of the biblical account begins with the entrance into the Land and the construction of the altar at Mount Ebal. Until very recently there was agreement on the era of David and Solomon, but now some people are beginning to finish that off as well. It’s their right to think that way, but I have found a well-dated cultic site that validates the most basic biblical tradition. The altar there is an archetype of all later sacrificial altars, and it furnishes incontrovertible proof of religious and national consolidation at so early an era.
I have no proof for the Exodus from Egypt, and I also think it’s too big a task to take 500 years of so complicated a history and try to prove it. The Bible has had enormous influence on all of humanity, and so in my view it is an affront to common sense to dismiss it casually, especially if one is not involved with it.
Professor Michal Artsi, biblical archaeologist, University of Haifa:
Some scholars think that the extent of Herzog’s relevance to the issue is not relevant. I have worked mainly in the coastal region. From the discoveries I’ve made there it’s hard for me to agree with the theories of Adam Zertal. I have not found proofs of the accuracy of the Biblical account. The principal corroboration of the story of the Settlement of the tribes of Israel comes from various discoveries of pottery, which the tribes presumably brought with them. When I exavated south of Itlit, I found pieces of pottery exactly like those, but datable to the 13th century BCE, well before the Israelites settled in the Land. I suffered a great deal when I revealed these discoveries, but in the end the other scholars had no choice but to accept them.
Back to Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho
Yitshak Ben Aharon:
These are very old arguments. What is the novelty? Herzog is not saying anything new. This thesis (e.g. the researches of the German scholar Wellhausen) can be found in dozens of university textbooks The evidence that everything written in the Bible is a collection of legends and stories drawn from other sources as well, many from Babylonian sources, has no meaning whatsoever for “our right to the land.
I am not familiar with this material, but it sounds interesting. I’m going to ask the chairman of the pedagogical authority, Professor Meishal Abitbol, to review the material, and since in the new era of the Ministry of Education we wish students to be exposed to all interpretations, then I don’t say any reason why, if this material is interesting, important, and well-founded, it should not be offered as one approach and as one option.
I am not competent in archaeology, but what does it matter if this issue exists or not? Let’s say that the Bible never actually existed, but was a fable: but this fable has proved to be more alive than all the stones.
Professor Herzog’s thesis sounds completely absurd. Dozens of archaeological discoveries validate what is written in the Bible. In the history of all ancient peoples there are legendary eras. Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus, who had been suckled by a she-wolf. Now a Roman archaeologist will come along and declare that no traces of the she-wolf’s tribe have been found. This all seems to me a cheap quest for sensationalism. I am a Ben-Gurionist and I stick to the Bible as our basic find. No other people in the world has a book like the Bible, so why is Professor Herzog confounding us?
Professor Yehoshua Porat:
I refer you to the important work of [Adolphe] Lods, The Prophets and the Rise of the Religion of Israel, which proves that everything began in the era of the prophets and crystallized in the Babylonian Exile. When I wrote about [Yonatan] Ratosh [prominent leader of the ‘Young Hebrews’ movement, dubbed the ‘Canaanites’ by their opponents, which ‘aimed for a national identity rooted in the Middle East and predating Judaism [Hana Wirth Nesher], I tried to understand the source of the Canaanites’ historiosophic theory, and I understood then that it drew upon the theores of Lods, which were prevalent in Paris during the thirties. I don’t see anything new or revolutionary in Herzog’s thesis; it’s a new wave of old ideas. What’s more, the researchers of the last 20 years base themselves on discoveries more imposing than the archaeologcal surveys they conducted after [the Six-Day War of] ’67 in Judea and Samaria.
If you ask me what the contemporary relevance of Herzog’s contentions is, you will find that it pertains only to the question of our self-identity. And in my view this is another staple in the phony Jewish consciousness whereby the Jewish religion has existed three thousand years, King David lived by Halacha [Jewish law] and the Torah was given at Mount Sinai.
The matter is not new. It’s a theory on which biblical scholars have been waffling for the last fifty years. Ben Gurion for his part delved deeply into it in order to prove that the Israelites had actually never left the Land of Israel. In my view, the whole matter is so much foolishness. Let Professor Herzog say what he will; I have no intention of reacting. The matter will disappear like foam on the water just as have many other theories that were later disproved.
Rabbi Yoel Ben Nun:
For two hundred years they’ve been saying these foolish things. Professor Herzog completely ignores the work of the archaeologist Adam Zertal, a secularist who does not live in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and is not bound by blind faith in the Bible. On the basis of archaeological research, Zertal has said exactly the opposite to what he says. Why is no one at Ha’aretz willing to contend with Zertal’s research? I am making the publication of my reaction conditional upon the reaction of Adam Zertal, a professor of archaeology whose views are exactly the opposite, and a proper reaction, not merely in a few sentences. On the basis of the research he has conducted for twenty years, in the survey of Samaria and of the eastern valleys, the finds he provides are the relevant ones. With due respect, Ze’ev Herzog has not worked in the relevant place. He has worked at Beer Sheba, and I am familiar with and have used his important work at Tel Sheva.
Knesset Member Rehoboam Ze’evi:
I am not an archaeologist, but I make the effort to visit all the current exavacations in Israel. I have been a member of the Israel Exploration Society for fifty years and I buy and read all its literature. My finding is 180 degrees opposite to that of the learned professor. In my view, whatever is uncovered, either in archaeological excavations or by other means, verifies and corroborates what we have been given in the Bible.
Archaeologists and historians who relied on the research of earlier scholars have already raised most of the contentions in question. Notwithstanding, the smaller the Hebrew political entity was likely to have beenl, the greater is the marvel of the Bible, one of the works of genius that humanity has produced.
Professor Yosef Ben-Shlomo:
I am no archaeologist, but I know well enough that archaeology, like biblical study, is not an exact science. What is decisive here, and what Mr. Herzog does not understand, because his narrow perspective apparently does not encompass a holistic vision of culture, is that the biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt, invented or not, has become one of the greatest symbols of humanity.
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