New Archaeology Find Threatens Minimalist View of Israel's History

Archaeologists in Israel, lead by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, report finding what is perhaps the oldest Hebrew text on a pottery shard at a site near Jerusalem. The site is an ancient fortress city in the valley were David slew Goliath. The shard and text are 3,000 years old. This would by far be the oldest discovered use of the Hebrew language. There is dispute over whether the language on the shard is "proto-Cannanite" -- used by people other than the Israelis, or Hebrew. One factor that Garfkinkel finds determinative is the presence of a common verb that is typical of Hebrew but not found in any proto-Cannanite writings (of which there is a fair amount).

Carbon dating places the shard in the reign of King David. The "minimalist" approach to Israeli history doubts that such a figure, or people, existed at this time. If the ceramic is Hebrew, it would be weighty evidence against this school of thought. The site is a fortress city indicative of a broader support system. As explained by the AP article:

Garfinkel believes building fortifications like those at Hirbet Qeiyafa could not have been a local initiative: The walls would have required moving 200,000 tons of stone, a task too big for the 500 or so people who lived there. Instead,it would have required an organized kingdom like the one the Bible says David ruled.

Sounds persuasive to me if it holds up. The study of the shard, however, is ongoing and no doubt further information will be forthcoming.

Dependably, Israel Finklestein, a leader of the minimalist school, warned against "a revival in the belief that what's written in the Bible is accurate like a newspaper." He has not been to the dig site but warned "[t]his can be seen as part of this phenomenon." Talk about the fallacy of the excluded middle! It is certainly possible that King David existed but the Bible is not a newspaper account of his actions. Yet his first inclination appears to be skepticism based in a fear that someone might take this find to add weight to the authority of the Bible.

One tangential point to all of this is how long these kinds of stories take to germinate. The announcement by Garfinkel was made today. But I heard Dr. William L. Craig discuss this find on a podcast I listened to several weeks ago. He knew someone connected with the dig who had reported the possible importance of the find. Yet the story just broke today in the main news outlets.


Anonymous said…
... And my guess is we'll never see it in mainline national news, while movies like Davinci Code brew a storm of journalistic credence given to gnostic gospels, conspiracy theories, and the like. Ugh.

Thanks for sharing the news.
BK said…
I agree that it would be a mistake to assume from this one find that the Old Testament is "accurate like a newspaper." I personally expect, based on my personal experience with newspapers, that the Old Testament is much more accurate.

slaveofone said…
I did not read anywhere that the link to Hebrew was suggested from a specific verb form unique among the NW Semitics... Any idea which verb form?

The task of constructing a fortress like that might ALSO be explained historically by appeal to the Philistines or even the Egyptian kingdom. Perhaps it is a combination of them (like a real king David, monarch of Israel, who built up several places like this with support from Egypt because his successful raids would have been a boon to Egypt, whose border was constantly threatened). It might even have been Ammonite! (It should would be a bummer though if your title was proved wrong and this find ended up threatening biblical information instead).

At any rate, I am hungry to see what the inscription says. Is it another Lachish letter? Is it an administrative document? Could it possibly be something completely out of left field like another Deir Alla (which gave us non-biblical evidence of Balaam son of Beor, the pagan seer from Numbers)?

On a side note, I think the purpose of the statement by Finkelstein about not being accurate like a newspaper was not to say that newspapers have any high degree of accuracy, but to say that newspapers are at least written from a world-view which operates according to a Modern perspective of history reporting, fact checking, and scientific method in contradistinction to a bunch of texts whose redacted wholes can be traced back only as far as, perhaps, the beginning of the Persian period. The struggle that we engage in when we approach the "otherness" of non-Modern "biblical" texts is quite different than the struggle we engage in when we read a news article. I believe it was this difference that he meant to convey.
Layman said…

From the linked article:

"Garfinkel bases his identification on a three-letter verb from the inscription meaning to do, a word he said existed only in Hebrew."

Also, I understand that the presence of a fortification does not necessarily mean that it was built by Hebrews or King David. It indeed is the combination of the two: occupation by Hebrews of a strong fortification site that suggests a broader support base that lends some support to the notion of a Davidic dynasty.

As for newspapers, I think BK was kidding though with a big grain of truth.
slaveofone said…
I wonder if that word is ASAH (to do/to make)... I sure wish they would release photos of the text!

Hmm, well, if I were to also kid then with a big grain of truth... I would have to say that in comparison with news articles, the texts of the HB generally are infinitely less accurate. (How many news articles can you read that have blatant literary and philological contradictions within a sentence of each other? And yet you can't even get passed the first chapter of Genesis without running into them). Certainly "biblical" texts are far less accurate than modern news articles.

On a different note, I do want to say that I am extremely pleased that the archaeological reporting on this site has vastly improved. Not long after the news went gone out, I knew it would be reported here and I figured that past history would be repeated here again with the propping up of unsupported conclusions in advance of critical information. But I was wrong. Congrats, BK. I think you're learning. Perhaps there is a tendency in apologetics to rush to a conclusion ahead of the evidence when one's opponents are so adept at it ;)
Layman said…

I am not sure what a "literary contradiction" is supposed to be, but have at it.

And although BK and Layman are Christians will brilliant legal minds, they are in act two different Christians with legal minds. Both BK and I have posted on archaeological finds on this site.
BK said…
Hey Slave,

I know what you are talking about, and I continue to disagree with your assessment of what I wrote before. I explained it at the time, but you apparently cling to your notions of what I meant.

Be that as it may -- the news here is actually just another bit of evidence that supports the view that the Bible is accurate. Does it prove it? No. But it does add credence to the idea.

And I was kidding about the newspapers, but I will say that I know for certain from stories that my clients were involved in how incredibly inaccurate newspapers can be.
Anonymous said…
Cool story you got here. I'd like to read more about that theme. Thanx for giving this info.
Joan Stepsen
Technology gadget

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