The Politics of Archaeology in Israel Part III

The Politics of Archaeology in Israel Part III

Status: Finished

Genre: Non-Fiction



Status: Finished

Genre: Non-Fiction



the following is a continuation of - The Politics of Archaeology in Israel - Part III.
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the following is a continuation of - The Politics of Archaeology in Israel - Part III.

Chapter1 (v.1) - The Politics of Archaeology in Israel Part III

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the following is a continuation of - The Politics of Archaeology in Israel - Part III.

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: February 02, 2010

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: February 02, 2010





During the 1870s many tourists visited Palestine by steamship. While under British rule, group tours to the Holy Land were promoted by companies such as Thomas Cook & Son.  Mandatory Palestine became an attractive place to visit. Religious pilgrims were the bulk of the country’s visitors, but an ever-growing stream of secular tourists visited the country as well.1 The first carriage road from Jaffa helped to bring wealthy tourists to their final destination – Jerusalem.2 Most of the travelers hailed from England, followed by other areas in Europe and America. The lure of the Holy Land for some tourists was the possibility of finding earth –shaking Biblical discoveries, along with the possibility of buying ancient remains in the antiquities market.3 Thus, as Silberman notes “Ancient pottery, coins, and figurines soon replaced the more traditional souvenirs of a trip to the Holy Land,”4 and so antiquities collecting emerged out of the colonialist encounter, together with a deep-set European Romanticism.

Tourism Before 1948

With tourism increasing, the locals, Jews and Arabs alike, began competing for the tourist business. Both groups had their own vision and history of Palestine.5 According to the Jerusalem based Zionist Trade and Industry Department, the Arabs attempted to deter anyone but themselves from profiting from the tourist trade.6 The documents note that “Arab tour-guides sent tourists only to non-Jewish stores, Jewish drivers did not receive work and even the Allenby Hotel, considered the best and largest hotel in the city, was boycotted by the Arab tour guides.”7 In the beginning of the tourist industry Arab tour guides outnumbered Jewish ones. That soon changed and guidebooks, tourist maps, advertisements, films and tour guides were all used to shape and present the Zionist take on Palestine.8  The foundation of the “Zionist Information Bureau for Tourists,” established by the World Zionist Organization on behalf of Palestine’s Jewish population, began to operate in 1925.9 The Tourist Bureau had three main objectives: to contact prospective tourists abroad interested in visiting Palestine; to keep close contact with the visiting tourists and aim to instill the importance of the Zionist enterprise; and to introduce these tourists to various local Zionist benefactors and charities upon their return home.10 In 1922, for example, the Zionist Trade and Industry Department published “Eretz Israel” for Jewish tourists. The guidebook focused primarily on Palestine’s distinctive Jewish aspects and its unique historical and religious association with the Jewish people. The large contribution by Jews to the construction of modern day Palestine was also covered in the guidebook. Furthermore, Jewish sites and institutions, old and new, particularly in Jerusalem, were the main highlights of the guidebook.11 After 1927, the Bureau began supporting an annual tour and publishing Hebrew guidebooks for the many Jews from the Diaspora who were interested in making aliyah – immigrating to Palestine. Other guidebooks tended to focus on Christian pilgrim sites.12 But the Hebrew guidebook helped provide a comprehensive image of “Eretz Israel that was being built on the soil of this historic, ancient land.”13

The film “To a New Life,” produced by the Zionist movement and aired in 1935 in Berlin, also helped to promote tourism to Palestine. The film portrays Jerusalem as the “center of the world’s three great monotheistic religions (as well as) accenting the fact that Judaism’s association with the Holy City antedated the other two by thousands of years.”14 The film also focused on the city’s holy sites, while presenting a very modern view of Jerusalem by displaying the Strauss Medical Center, Jewish Agency buildings and the Hebrew University.15

After the Zionist leadership announced that the Jews were ready to join the British war effort, thousands of local Palestinian Jews enlisted in the British armed forces. The relationship between British and Jewish forces intensified when “during the war some 210,000 soldiers enjoyed the Bureau’s services. They went on field trips organized by the Bureau, visiting various historic and religious sites, as well as Jewish agricultural settlements and industrial enterprises. They were also given the chance to stay in the country’s kibbutzim for three days of rest and recreation, free of charge. Some 60,000 soldiers took advantage of the attractive offer.”16 Thus Zionist tourism flourished and helped to cement the Zionist view in visitors’ minds as well as legitimize their “occupation” through guidebooks that helped script a new history of the area based on the Bible and Zionist independence theories. Biblical archaeological sites brought tourists to the ‘Holy Land’, while tour guides engraved their visions of Palestine on the visitors, consequently influencing the political future and events in the area.

Tourism After 1948

Archaeological sites excavated at the beginning of the nation state bore the risk of becoming national monuments, later transformed into lucrative tourist attractions. The artifacts excavated at such sites were of course, stored and displayed in national museums and formed an important aspect of the state’s national patrimony. Both sites and artifacts have been incorporated into “state regalia as symbols appearing on national flags, currency, and stamps or memorialized in patriotic songs and national anthems. Maps are compiled showing the distribution of sites identified ethnically and considered to be part of the state’s cultural patrimony; not infrequently, such sites are located beyond the state borders, their representation constituting an implicit ancestral claim on a neighboring state’s territories.”17 Thus national identity is created through the use of symbols that stem from the commemoration of the “remote, archaeologically ascertainable past.”18  This is nowhere clearer than at Masada where as we have seen, the connection of past to present was promoted. Masada helped cement the connection of lsrael’s present with Israel’s past, and even captivated rabbinical authorities. The graves of what were thought to be Masada’s Jewish defenders, were a concrete presence. Vigils and pilgrimages were held at Masada by visitors, tourists, and scouts.

Beginning with Masada, large numbers of foreign tourists and volunteers participated in Israeli excavations. Masada was followed by the American excavation at Gezer. These excavations helped bring a significant amount of American and European scholars and students in touch with Israeli society and culture, thus aiding in establishing trust, shared experiences and relatedness that aided Israel’s cause; something the Palestinians were not able to do.19There are more known ancient sites per square mile in Israel than in any other country. In 1997, according to official figures, some 250 excavations took place within Israel proper (plus more than fifty in the occupied territories).20 These excavations necessitated the rise of museums and with them promoted a clear bias.

The evolution of several Tel Aviv area museums into “Museum Haaretz” in the early 1960’s, and the establishment of the Israel Museum and the Shrine of’ the Book, in 1965, helped consolidate Israel’s identity for visitors and for the Israelis themselves. Even the Dead Sea Scrolls displayed in the ‘Shrine of the Book’ tell of nationalistic motivations. The monumentality of the museum inspires awe and the round altar where the main scroll is displayed lies “like the relic of a saint.”21 Anyone would easily be impressed by the monumental aspects of the building as well as by the content of the Shrine of the Book – the earliest documented account of the Hebrew Bible. The Shrine of the Book helps create a continuum of the ancient Hebrews to the modern Israelis, thus as Steven Dinero states: “The resulting decontextualisation of culture through the packaging and selling of the tourist product leads to a loss of communication or understanding between the host and tourist populations. Many tourists arrive with stereotypical images of their hosts and selectively perceive stimuli which will reinforce those images.”22

Loans of objects to museums overseas increased the importance of the museums in Israel. 23 Scholars and students visiting Israeli museums to attend international conferences all helped forge a sense of a culture that could be shared and understood, something that the Palestinian culture lacked. Thus, the contribution made by archaeology to tourism, and hence the economy, was increasingly understood. The “1980’s saw the beginnings of a European orientation toward ‘heritage management, attempts to maintain an explicit balance between the preservation of sites, economic development, and the potential economic viability of excavation and reconstruction.”24 This was most notably exhibited at Beth She’an and Caesaria in the initiation of archaeology as public works, a pattern that had originated with the establishment of the Israeli state.25During the 1970s and 1980s approximately 80 heritage museums were established in Israel.26 These museums specifically focused on the origins of nation building in Israel, especially the Israeli Socialist-Zionist era (1920-1930). Most of these museums focused on the early pioneering periods and some, for example, were even named after the pioneer projects, such as the Museum for the Beginning of Pioneer Settlement in the Land of Israel, located in khibbutz Yifat. Yifat was roughly the location of the now-destroyed Arab village of Mdjedel, whose inhabitants fled with the outbreak of the 1948.27

Heritage museums such as those located at kibbutzim at Yif’at and Ein Shemer emphasize themes such as territorial return and national renewal, which in turns promotes agricultural labor and communal living. The information in the display cases repeat allusions to the Biblical stories, while tools and implements on display carry Biblical names.28  According to Tamar Katriel, Arabs are presented “as unchanging, romantic figures whose lives follow the rhythms of natural and agricultural cycles; the tools and implements found in their villages are the same as those used in antiquity by the Jews, and they are simultaneously appreciated for their rootedness in the land and despised for their primitive ways and their ability to benefit from technological progress, unlike the Jews who developed new and more efficient forms of land cultivation, increasing productivity and minimizing physical labor.”29

Some archaeological sites in Israel are even financed by the tourist ministry, such as Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem.30 Ramat Rahel was excavated by Y. Aharoni in 1954-62. He “identified Ramat Rahel as the biblical Bet Hakerem and the construction of the palace to King Jehoiakim (608-597).31 The Ministry of Tourism not only funds certain archaeological sites, but also displays them on their home page. Furthermore, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Labor both have forged alliances with the Antiquities Authority to produce large scale excavations, at the Greco-Roman sites of Beth Shean, Caesarea and Banias .32 These sites, claims Silberman, “should be seen as part of an international trend toward the exploitation of monumental archaeological remains as income-gathering entertainment venues.”33

Over 7 million people visit the national parks in Israel each year.34 Since 1992 the government of Israel has funded initiatives to improve the infrastructure of tourist areas, which include, archaeological sites.35 For example, the Galilee area is being extensively surveyed and developed due to its appeal to Christian tourists, who see it as “rich in Jesus”.36 The ancient city of Zippori (Sephorus) is one of the main recipients of governmental funds. Although Zippori retains many Crusade and Roman elements (Crusader fortress, mosaics, a Roman villa and theater) it is described by tour guides as one of the most important Jewish cities. As Joel Bauman claims Zippori “suggests the conflicted, yet powerful and enduring, nature of modern Israeli nationalism as it both influences and is influenced by tourism practices.”37 Bauman tested the reactions of a significant amount of visitors at Zippori and noticed that while they selected most non-Jewish features such as the Crusader Palace or Roman theater as the most significant aspects of the site, the visitors still interpreted the site as a predominantly Jewish city. The visitor of Zippori is left with the notion of an ancient Jewish city, which, as at most other archaeological sites, legitimizes Israel’s presence in the area.

The intifada has had a disastrous effect upon archaeology and thus tourism. “Ancient remains and biblical history are the bedrock of Israel’s tourism industry, which has plummeted to almost nothing since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.”38  This situation is unprecedented since Israel’s foundation in 1948.39 Almost half of all excavations are co-sponsored by foreign universities and research groups working alone or with Israeli partners.40 Most of the foreign universities are in the U.S.. Harvard, for example canceled their excavation at Ashkelon, as did Penn State at Megiddo.  All of the archaeological excavations rely on unpaid volunteers who use pickaxes, brushes and dental tools to do the hard labor and time consuming work of excavation. Most of the volunteer are students. They pay as much as U.S. $2,500 to have the experience of working at a site.   Warnings by the U.S. State Department deter students and volunteers from travelling to the Middle East. In 2002, hardly any foreign archaeological expeditions took place during the summer excavation season. For example, of more than 25 scheduled university-sponsored excavations, all but three were canceled. American groups account for 80 percent of the 1,200 to 1,500 foreign volunteers who usually dig in Israel, but most Americans also changed their travel plans. Israel Finkelstein who directs the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv stated that “This is the worst season in 50 years.”41  2002 marked the cancellation of Finkelstein’s excavation at Megiddo for the first time since 1992.

The West Bank and Gaza also suffer from the lack of archaeological excavations, since security risks do not permit archaeological teams to work in the area.  Hamdan Taha, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Antiquities department in Ramallah, has stated that 10 excavations in the occupied territories were cancelled in 2002.42 Gaza and the West Bank both contain thousands of historical sites which apparently have been looted as a result of the disintegration of the Palestinian economy. Large numbers of ancient coins and artifacts end up in antiquities shops. “The level of destruction of archaeological sites has increased dramatically,” says Adel Yahya of the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange, a scholarly group in Ramallah.”43 

World tourism is larger than any other export industry. In 1999, tourism accounted for US $532 billion in world sales, compared with US $525 billion in auto exports and US $399 billion in computer exports. 44 In the first 7 months of 2004, 821, 800 tourists entered Israel, which was an increase of 58% compared to the same period in 2003, and 74% higher than in 2002.45 The Minister of Tourism Gidon Ezra predicted that a total of 1.4 million tourists would visit Israel in 2004.46 Part of the increase in tourists results from governmental initiatives to offer expense paid trips to the Holy Land.47 In the 1970’s the Israeli government began seeking evangelical leaders’ attention by hosting “Holy Land” tours for well-known preachers including Jerry Falwell and Bailey Smith of the Southern Baptist Convention. As McCalister notes, “Those connections only intensified under the right-wing Likud government elected in 1978 and they continue into the present.” In 2002, The Israeli Ministry of Tourism, for example, hired the Colorado Springs Company called Touch Point Solutions, to “target an estimated 98 million evangelicals and especially a subset of that group, the Christian Zionists.”48 Both Falwell and Pat Robertson fall into the category of Christian Zionists. In January 2002, the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., held the first of a series of meetings with conservative Christian leaders and launched a drive to encourage Christian tourism to Israel. Later in the year, 2002 Prime Minister Sharon “spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of thousands of evangelicals in Jerusalem.” 49 On October 9, 2003, 300 evangelicals from Canada went to Israel on a trip called “Together for Israel Mission,” and Jews and Christians celebrated Sukkot – the Feast of the Tabernacle – together. They also upheld a 20-year-old tradition by marching through Jerusalem to commemorate the capture of the city by Israel.50 Even the Pope himself, along with thousands of other pilgrims, planned to visit the Holy Land during March 2000, to celebrate the Annunciation in Nazareth on March 25th. . The Pope stated: “The great year 2,000 Jubilee, which is approaching fast, has prompted me to consider my wish to personally perform, God willing, a special pilgrimage on the occasion of the jubilee. Such a pilgrimage gives me the opportunity to visit the places linked to the history of the salvation, particularly in manifesting the word of God. I want to stress the purely religious and spiritual significance of such a pilgrimage.”51

Evangelicals and Archaeology

Literalist Christians not only have looked to substantiate the Bible through archaeology but they have also tried to influence foreign policy as well. As McAlister claims: “the conflict in Israel/Palestine has escalated in recent years, evangelical preachers and their communities have rushed to ‘Stand for Israel’ organizing support rallies, letter-writing campaigns, and tours of the “Holy Land” that are linked directly to the Israeli right.”52 The Christian right seem to be have a very strong influence on the Bush administration’s policies, especially in its ability to lobby and organize rallies to demand that the United States take favorable positions in favor of right-wing Israeli policies to fully subjugate Palestine. 53 U.S. evangelicals look to Biblical passages to support their claims on the “restoration” of the Jews to Palestine, and they also mark Israel as the area of God’s action in history. Thus, fundamentalists make Palestine and Palestinians literally invisible.54

In the fall of 2001, a novel titled “Left Behind” written by the conservative evangelists Tim LaHaye and writer Jerry Jenkins, hit the best-selling hardback list as “book of the year” supplanting even John Grisham.55 “Left Behind” and related novels are according to McAlister, “unabashedly fundamentalist fiction, based on literalist interpretations of the “end of time” as understood through the prophetic books of the Bible.”56  The novel basically describes “the ‘end of times,’ the rise of the Antichrist, and the final battle of Armageddon, all of which figure prominently in Christian apocalyptic theory.”57

In addition, the ‘Left Behind’ series has spawned two movies, five soundtracks, coffee mugs, calendars, screen savers and e-greetings. McAlister claims that “What we are seeing, then, is a remarkable main streaming of evangelical pop culture, one in which non evangelicals seem to be willing to read overtly proselytizing messages, as long as they are delivered in a readable genre.”58  The novels are also indicative of the re-energized political and cultural power of a Christian Right that in the late 1990’s had seemed to be in retreat. These novels display the evangelical religious commitments to a political agenda that increasingly is interested in Middle Eastern politics, and especially Israel, since Israel “is central to the unfolding of God’s plan for the end of time.”59 

During interviews, LaHaye, himself repeatedly states that Israel’s existence is one of the “super signs” that signal the coming of the end times.60 He constantly repeats Genesis verse 12:I: 3: “God promised he will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel.” 61 LaHaye is one of the founders of the Council for National Politics, a New Right network that has included among its members John Ashcroft, Pat Robertson and Joseph Coors. He is also married to Beverly LaHaye, “founder of the conservative Concerned Women for America, the anti-gay, antifeminist, antiabortion, and pro-creationist enterprise that currently claims to be the largest public policy women’s organization in the country.”62

The 1948 founding of Israel was seen by many Christians as the first sign in a chain of biblical events that would conclude with the return of Jesus and the “end of days” scenario. Many Christians who believe in the end of days idea view the Middle East peace negotiations in the following manner: “There’s only so much you can do diplomatically or militarily,” says James Hutchens of Christians for Israel. “There will be no peace until the Messiah comes.”63 Peace from the evangelical perspective only can come at the time when Jesus returns, and not before. Thus, as Timothy Weber states: “anyone who pushes for peace in such a manner is ignoring or defying God’s plan for the end of the age.”64 The Evangelical enthusiasm for the study of prophecy increased after the founding of Israel in 1948, but it increased to higher levels after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when Israel occupied all of Jerusalem.. For many evangelicals, having Israel bearing control over Jerusalem was a sign that the second coming of Christ was near.65

Representatives of Congress have also been partial to the politics of Israel, among them DickArmey (formerly R-Texas), Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) who stand out as the “most visible and hardliners of Israel’s Congressional supporters.”66 In an interview with MSNBC, for example, Armey “called for the transfer of the Palestinian population out of the West Bank, though he offered a half-hearted retraction the next day; Inhofe said on the House floor that Israel should keep the West Bank “because God said so.”67

Many Christian groups even fund the ‘repatriation’ of Jews to Israel. For example a network of the evangelical Christians who call themselves “Christian Zionists” and who see the resettlement of Jews in Israel as fulfilling Biblical prophecy, gave $2 million dollars in grant money for ‘repatriation’ in 2002.68 Other organizations with the same aims include the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which raised over $60 million while the group called Christians for Israel/USA, raised funds to help more than 65,000 Jews emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel since 1991.69 It should be noted that Jewish groups and the Israeli government significantly outspend these groups with their own aid to Jews who wish to immigrate to Israel.

Biblical literalists account for about 36 percent of American Christianity. However, after the events of September 11, 2001, “polls showed that 59 percent of Christians expected the events recounted in the Book of Revelation to come to pass.”70 Many Jews question the motives of the Christian groups, since according to the Christian scriptural perspective the Jews have to convert to Christianity to be ‘saved’. Thus, fulfilling Biblical prophecy is ultimately destructive for the Jews. Furthermore, some Jewish leaders state that,  “To associate Israel with more extremist religious and political views,” says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, “may jeopardize the allegiance of mainstream Americans. That would be dangerous.” 71

A bizarre aspect of the Christian Right is that they are not interested in aiding their Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters. There are 145,000 Palestinian Christians “who never make it on the premillennial list of concerns.”72 This is mainly because the Christians in Palestine are mostly either Orthodox (Coptic, Greek, Russian, Ethiopian, Syrian), or Roman Catholic. The number of Protestant Christians is minimal. According to Weber, “American dispensionalists would find only a small number of Palestinian Christians whose style and beliefs are similar to theirs.”73

The connections between the Christian right and Israel are thus apparent, and so when the U.S. government takes a stand against Israeli action, the Christian right leaps to Israel’s defense. For example, in the spring of 2002, when President Bush encouraged Prime Minister Sharon to withdraw Israeli tanks from Palestinian territory, Jerry Falwell and others organized the religious right “to send nearly 100,000 e-mails to the White House to protest the request.”74 Although there is a strong Israeli lobby in Washington to argue for policies favorable to Israel, the fact of the matter is that the large number of Christian supporters, especially Republican ones are instrumental in Israel’s partial position in Washington, a position supported by the Bush administration and its Christian right agenda.75

U.S. favoritism is not new. “For the past quarter-century, America has been giving Israel about 3 billion dollars a year.”76 On top of that, Israel also receives other hidden benefits, such as military support from the defense budget, forgiven loans, and special grants.77 The aid protects Israel both militarily and economically. The Palestinians, on the other hand, do not receive even half of what Israel receives. In a sense, then, the compulsion of Biblical scholars to legitimize the “right” of the Jews to Palestine through archaeology goes hand in hand, in the current political context, with American political and military support of the state of Israel. Both Biblical archaeology and American foreign aid have as their goal the validation and protection of the “ancient state” of Israel. Archaeology thus has helped to substantiate the Christian right beliefs as well as to legitimize Israel’s political position in the foreign arena.


The history of archaeology in its encounter with ‘Biblical artifacts’ has supported and indirectly aided the protection, recognition, and respect for the Holy land, while denying, and turning a blind eye to the desperate needs and negated rights of the Palestinians. The fact that much of the archaeological activity in Palestine has been carried out by Western scholars in search of evidence to support and illustrate the Bible has had significant ramifications. As Glock notes, “In effect the ‘archaeological record’ had been selectively used to document and sometimes defend the version of the past required by Judeo Christian beliefs to justify the present occupation of Palestine.”78 A consequence of the Western dominance of the archaeology of Palestine has been the alienation of the native Palestinians from their own cultural past. As a result, the contribution of Arab civilization to the cultural history of Palestine has been overlooked or underemphasized.79  

According to Glock, there are many reasons for the predominant Biblical version of the history of Palestine today. “First, the Biblical tradition, as interpreted by Western Christian nations, served to educate their youth in the Judeo-Christian heritage, which has shaped the canonical Palestine story for the Anglo-American and European world.”80 Through the extraction and interpretation of artifacts, the Western nation states have been able to legitimize its presence and occupation of Palestinian land. Furthermore, the appeal of Israel as the legitimate homeland of the Jews is a concept that is furthered by most Christians, especially the Christian right. Thus, even Biblical archaeology in its attempt to find Christ in the stratigraphical layers has highlighted and legitimized the Israeli state, while neglecting to acknowledge the same importance to the history of Palestinians.

The issues examined in this thesis are still relevant today. As recently as the 1980’s, membership in the Near Eastern Archaeological Society required accepting the Bible in its entirety as the written word of God.81 Although the Society is known for its accurate information gathering and data recording, topics that do not involve or support the Biblical interpretation are prohibited from publication in the Near Eastern Archaeological Society Bulletin. This type of fundamentalist attitude adopted by supposed “reputable” institutions has helped to keep the Biblical myth alive. It has been only recently that scholars of Near Eastern studies have begun to question whether studying archaeology from a Biblical standpoint may in fact be biased and harmful, since it neglects cultures that are not mentioned in the Scriptures. It was only in 1999/2000 that the distinguished American School of Oriental Research separated itself from the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, because of the skewed and prejudicial vision that these other societies fostered.82 Furthermore, the archaeological interpretation of the Bible has helped to foster and further political agendas and also turn the Holy Land into a tourist commodity.  

The driving force of Biblical studies, in short, has been the need to search for ancient Israel as the taproot of Judeo-Christian civilization. Christian theology in particular furthered this goal, as it sought its roots in the society that produced the Hebrew Bible.83 The emphasis on Biblical archaeology continues to this day. Since 1967 Jerusalem has become the center of Biblical archaeology. The first International Congress on Biblical Archaeology was held there in 1984, celebrating the anniversary of the Israel Exploration Society (formerly the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society). The “Bible as history” remains a controversial topic, however, even within Israel, where there remains a conflict between the Ultra-Orthodox and the Biblical archaeologists. The struggle over Biblical archaeology in Israel itself is essentially the struggle between religion and nationalism, and if and when a state of Palestine is created, there is no reason to doubt that similar conflicts will emerge there as well. As these pages have shown, from its beginning archaeology in Israel/Palestine has been shaped by the biases of colonialism and fundamentalist approaches to the Bible. Archaeological data have often been skewed to accord with the preconceptions of those who see in the Bible not a people’s narrative or “myth,” but an historical document. Repeatedly societies and governments have used archaeology to validate their own agendas rather than objectively consider that data as evidence for a range of possible interpretations. As a result, archaeology as it has been practiced in the Holy Land for the last century and more is an ambiguous and possibly unreliable guide to the great debate over the historicity of Biblical literature. Those who have used archaeology to document the Bible to achieve their specific ends have paradoxically undermined their own essential claims.


Table 1 THE HISTORICAL-ARCHAEOLOGICAL PERIODS (After Katharina Galor, “Archaeology of Jerusalem,” January 1999, p. 2)

Bronze Age (Canaanite Period) Early Bronze Age IA-B 3300-3000

BCE Early Bronze Age II 3000-2700

Early Bronze Age III 2700-2200

Middle Bronze Age I (EB IV-Intermediate Bronze) 2200-2000

Middle Bronze Age IIA 2000-1750

Middle Bronze Age IIB 1750-1550

Late Bronze Age I 1550-1400

Late Bronze Age IIA 1300-1200

Iron Age (Israelite Period) Iron Age IA 1200-1150

Iron Age IB 1150-1000

Iron Age IIA 1000-900

Iron Age IIB 900-700

Iron Age IIC 700-586

Hellenistic Period Early Hellenistic Period 332-167

Late Hellenistic Period 167-37

Roman and Byzantine Periods Early Roman Period 37 BCE-132 CE

(Herodian Period –37 BCE – 70 CE)

Late Roman Period 132-324

Byzantine Period 324-638

Early Arab to Ottoman Periods Early Arab Period (Umayyad and Abbasid) 638-1099

Crusader and Ayyubid Periods 1099-1291

Late Arab Period (Fatamid and Mameluke) 1291-1516

Ottoman Period 1516-1917



In the course of my research, particularly in my investigation of colonial attitudes in the Middle East, I was able to consult a limited range of primary sources. These include Flinders Petrie’s autobiography Seventy Years in Archaeology (1932), the Sykes-Picote Agreement of 1916, the Balfour Agreement (November 1917), the British White Paper of June 1922, Article Six of the League of Nations Mandate Charter (1922), and the Charter for the Palestinian Exploration Fund, which is mostly reprinted in R.A.F. Macalister’s book Century of Excavation in Palestine (1925). Other primary sources I have drawn on include the Stories of Jerusalem (1912) by C.M. Watson and The Immovable East (1913) by Philip Baldensperger. Lord Cromer’s letters are cited in Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978). Documents relating to the founding of the Jewish Palestinian Exploration Society are quoted in a large number of secondary sources (such as Abu-El Haj 2001, Silberman1997, Macalister 1925). Early U.S. relations with Palestine are highlighted in the report of the Anglo American Committee of Inquiry (1946). I have also routinely drawn upon excavation reports and summaries of excavations, such as Nahman Avigad’s articles in Archaeological Discovery in the Jewish Quarter (1976), Discovering Jerusalem (1983) and Jerusalem Revealed (1976); Benjamin Mazar’s reports in The Exploration in the Old City of Jerusalem (1969), and Bet Sha’arim Vol I (1957); Margaret Steiner’s reports in The Archaeology of Ancient Jerusalem” in Biblical Studies, Vol. 6 (1998); and Yigael Yadin’s Bar-Kokhba (1971) and Jerusalem Revealed (1976).

I have also relied significantly on the work of Dr. Nadia Abu El-Haj, Edward Glock, Amos Elon, Neil Silberman, and Baruch Kimmerling to name a few. These respected scholars have helped broaden and clarify the Israeli Palestinian situation with regards to archaeology, colonialism, state building and politics in general. These scholars tend to agree on the Biblical influences upon colonialist perspectives during the 19th/20th centuries in Palestine. They rely on the actual letters, commentaries, histories and laws written by the British. The attitude of the colonizers (an attitude that is fairly described as arrogant) is seen not only in their desire to claim the land of Palestine as the cradle of the Bible and civilization, but also in their maintenance of a superior position over the inhabitants of Palestine.

Abu El-Haj, for example specifically states that the Palestine Exploration Fund was interested in “finding” the Bible in the land of Israel. The evidence she provides are the P.E.F. Quarterly statements themselves. Although the Fund claims that it was to conduct its investigations on a strictly scientific level, and that it was not a religious organization, the first president of the Fund was in fact the Archbishop of York, later the Archbishop of Canterbury. The earliest articles in the Quarterly were written by reverends. I have checked the P.E.F. journals and have found that the charter and the articles support what Abu El-Haj concludes. So, too Abu El-Haj’s statements about the Mandate’s perspective on the “historical importance of Jerusalem for civilization” and the necessity to “maintain Jerusalem open for all religions” are drawn from the Anglo- American Committee of Inquiry report 1946. I checked the Charter and find that Abu El-Haj interpreted the Charter correctly. The following chapter’s VII and Chapter X follow El-Haj’s argument: “ The significance of Palestine since prehistoric times in the development of civilization cannot be overestimated. Nor should the interests of archaeology and history be forgotten. The maintenance of conditions under which such studies can be pursued is a genuine concern of civilization.” “ The lamentable fact that there is no single spokesman in Palestine for Christendom tends to obscure the legitimate Christian interest in the Holy Land, which must be safeguarded in any solution of the national problem. This interest demands not only freedom of access to the Holy Places, but also that tranquility should be achieved in a country all of which, from the Christian point of view, is a Holy Land.” “The religious importance of Palestine to Moslems, Jews and Christians alike makes it improper to treat it either as an Arab State or as exclusively designated to the fulfillment of Jewish national aspirations. A solution of the Palestine problem must not only heal political rivalries of Jew and Arab, but must also safeguard its unique religious values (Chapter VII).” And “Millions of people throughout the world take a fervent interest in Palestine and in its Holy Places (Chapter 10).”

Silberman states that foreign interest in Palestine was founded upon the search for religious monuments, in this case mainly Biblical sites, (Silberman 1982). Silberman relies on the work of R.A.S Macalister, a Biblical archaeologist who was director of the P.E.F. during 1890’s. R.A.S. Macalister states the following about the Bible “The Bible is the record of the gradual progress made by one favored community in the discovery of the Divine: beginning with the rudest and crudest savagery, and advancing thence in knowledge until the time was ripe for a fuller revelation, to be made by the mysterious Stranger in Israel who appeared in the lad of Palestine nearly two thousand years ago. The book …is thus a manual of the religious history of the people and which it is chiefly concerned; and its record can be illustrated by the results of excavation in the land which that people inherited.” (p.267) Silberman also draws on Petrie a variety of Petrie’s works. I have read parts of Petrie’s books and find that Petrie himself states that he thought he had found the city of Lachish, mentioned in the Bible. Silberman also relies on the work of Frederick Bliss. Bliss was the son of a reverend, a missionary turned archaeologist who eventually took over the excavations of Petrie at Lachish. Bliss baldly states that “ The Bible is the vast-store-house from which all travelers to Syria and Palestine have primarily derived the knowledge…”(p. 4) Silberman and Abu El-Haj both draw on C.M. Watson to demonstrate that the search for Biblical remains motivated many early archaeologists. For example, Watson attempts to prove the Bible is History in different parts of his book for example he states that “Abraham was living in Beersheba…which is believed to be the place now called Bir Es Seba, fifty miles south of Jerusalem. The distance agrees well with the length of the road by which Abraham traveled.” (p. 14) Overall Watson gives a general overview and history of the area as well as a travel guide section to the Holy land, but his views are shaped by the Bible, which he accepts at face value. Trying to find the Bible in the Palestine was a common urge for the majority of Christian Scholars of the time.

A. Glock comments on the prejudice of colonial powers towards the native Palestinians. He refers to books such as E.W. Lane’s Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians ( 1836), R.A.S. Macalister, The Palestine Exploration Fund’s Quarterly statements, and P.J. Baldensperger’s Immovable East. For example, Baldensperger writes that Arabs are “ignorant of modern astronomy and geology, history and geography, zoology and microbiology, in an Occidental sense.”(p. 8) and “he (the Bedouin) cares not a fig for progress..the whole desire is to keep the civilized world and the Government official in search of taxes away.” (p. 32) Just the title of P.J. Baldensperger’s book speaks of his ideas of the east as “Immovable” and stagnant. His views on the Arabs are another example of the superiority complex of the colonialists. Stereotypes of Arabs formed by the colonizers are quoted from Claremont-Ganneau and E. Finn “The Peasantry of Western Palestine published by the PEF in 1881. R.A.S Macalister, wrote that the Arabs were in his own words “untrustworthy.” I have checked these sources and find Glock cites these primary source in an accurate and precise manner. So too, Edward Said cites long passages of Lord Crommer’s letters of 1913 which mention the Arabs as a “subject race” and claim that “accuracy is abhorrent to the Oriental mind.” I have been unable to find the original letters, Said however, cites enough of the letters that allow me to believe that his citations are accurate. Although one may disagree with Said’s conclusions there is little doubt that E. Said cites his sources accurately.

Although it is true that the 19th and 20th explorers and archaeologists did not consider the natives as equals, some accounts view the natives in a more favorable manner. They tended to romanticize them as “noble primitives.” For example, Baldensperger remarks on the Arab austere lifestyle by stating that they “would be unable to understand if you told him that millions are annually expended in the Occident at cafes, public-houses and saloons. A single tiny cup of coffee is almost a luxury to him; his everyday meal consists of a simple plate of rice, with fresh meat.” (p. 8). Many explorers, such as Bliss, took the time to learn the language and customs of the natives of Palestine. While most Biblical archaeologists wanted to explore and know the land and culture of Palestine, the “difference” encountered in the natives however, was unfortunately viewed more negatively or romanticized into a caricature of a person.

With regard to land acquisitions, Baruch Kimmerling relies on a variety of original charts, maps and statistics which are reliable guides on land acquisition Palestine. These include the “Jewish Land Purchases in Palestine 1879-1936,” written by Granovsky (1952). The “Jewish and Arab Workers in the Five Large Colonies – 1933-1936” - source Haaliya (1937), the “Increase in Palestine’s Jewish Population chart 1914-1951” – by the Israel Statistical Annual (1952) and the “Census of the Settlement Department from 1967-1977” also by the Israel Statistical Annual (1978). Dan Rabinowitz supports Baruch Kimmerling with various census reports. These include “Israelis in Natzeret Illit 1961-89”, “Israelis in Natzeret Illit by country of origin, 1983”, and “Palestinians in Natzerat Illit 1963-87.” Both Forman and Kedar rely on Article Six of the Palestine Mandate 1922 to back up the acquisition of the land of the Arabs by the Jews. I have reviewed the Charter and find their interpretation and citation of the law, as it is stated to be correct: “The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.”(Article 6 Palestine Mandate) Glock also mentions data on the expropriation of land through antiquities. I checked the Israeli expropriation laws mentioned by Glock and consider his documentation of the laws to be accurate. I have checked and double checked their references and find them reliable guides to the attitudes of earlier commentators and scholars dealing with the political ramifications of archaeology in the Holy Land.

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