JERUSALEM –– There was no exodus from Egypt, Joshua didn’t bring down the walls of Jericho, and Solomon’s kingdom was a small, tribal dynasty, an Israeli archaeologist says in a new article.
Colleagues and critics accepted some of Zeev Herzog’s evidence, and questioned some of it – but warned that by targeting the accuracy of the Bible the research undermines the national myths that are the basis of Jewish claims to the land of Israel.
Archaeological findings do not support and in many cases directly contradict Biblical stories describing the birth of the Jewish people, Herzog of Tel Aviv University wrote in Thursday’s Haaretz daily.
He reviewed evidence now commonly accepted by most archaeologists showing that there was no exodus from Egypt at the time the Bible says Jews left Egypt en masse, and that Jericho fell in stages over an extended period – and not in a single raid led by Joshua.
More controversially, Herzog argues that the seeds of the Jewish state are to be found in the 9th century B.C. when groups of shepherds who had settled in hilltops established two rival states, Judah and Israel.
Excavations of cities from the supposedly majestic time of Kings David and Solomon a century earlier, he said, revealed that the “cities” consisted of scattered buildings and the kingdoms were small, provincial dynasties that exercised no real claim over the land.
Herzog said Jerusalem, the majestic capital built by King David to rule over an empire that spanned much of the Middle East, was at best a small fiefdom.
Fellow archaeologist Amnon Ben-Tor of the rival Hebrew University, a top critic of Herzog and his post-modernist school of thought, said Herzog uses archaeology to satisfy a political agenda, namely debunking the legends upon which the Jewish state was founded.
Ben-Tor agreed that “there is a large measure of glorification in the Bible,” but said that inscriptions and excavations from the 10th century B.C. show the ancient Hebrews had established a state ruled by David and Solomon, that was substantial if not magnificent.
Lawmaker Tommy Lapid, a secular rights champion who believes human authors wrote the Bible, accused Herzog of trying to undermine the educational and ideological basis of the state.
Herzog is “feeding propaganda to Israel’s enemies who want to negate our right to be here,” Lapid said.
He said the Bible contained many myths, but that its basic historical facts document Jewish claims on Israel and form the basis for Jewish history, culture, language and literature.
Herzog’s article addressed archaeological discoveries from the last few decades, when archaeologists in Israel broke away from seeking out physical evidence for Biblical events.
Their findings have not entered the public consciousness, said archaeologist Moshe Kochavi of Tel Aviv University, because Israelis are not ready to abandon their national myths.
Kochavi said books publishing these findings have met with particularly vehement opposition from the 30 percent of Israeli Jews who define themselves as in some way religious, many of whom believe the Bible is the word of God.
“The religious scream out when books like these, saying there was no conquest and that David’s period was not majestic, are written,” he said.
Israeli adults and schoolchildren regularly tour archaeological sites that guides say prove the Bible was right, and the state devotes substantial resources to excavations thought likely to reveal evidence of Biblical footsteps.
Liberal Education Minister Yossi Sarid, who recently stirred controversy by expunging from textbooks what he says are myths of modern Israeli history, said Herzog’s work deserved consideration.
“If it’s interesting and well-founded, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be presented in schools as an option,” he told Haaretz.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press