Monday, December 3, 2007

More on fake Archeology

A good piece was featured on Counterpunch, written by Eric Walberg, as he stifles through many reputable scholars of theology. In it, he shows the damning failure of Israel's archeologists of "unearthing" new breakthroughs that an ancient empire of Israel existed and hence laying claim to today's Jews that Palestine is solely their's because of the roots to this remnant of a mythical history. This claim has so much resonance that it ignores the centuries that Jews chose another place for a home and vast heritage of "Mohammedans" and Arabs that called Palestine their home.

"Biblical archaeology has expanded rapidly in the past half-century as a new academic field in search of both justification and funding...But it is now clear to the most respected Christian, Jewish, Muslim and/or secular archaeologists that this supposedly scholarly, rigorous and objective discipline, with its methodology of taking biblical passages and digging and poking away in likely places, looking for proof of what they say, has been a big failure, if not a hoax. While the financial benefits of tying the Bible to archaeology have increased, historical and intellectual benefits have just as rapidly diminished.

Two egregious flaws lie behind this. Firstly, it is somehow overlooked that both the Old and New Testaments were first written down only in the fourth c BC (mostly from the third c BC) to the first c AD by Hellenised Jews, i.e., over a relatively short historical period of approximately four centuries, the culmination of Hellenism as it flourished in the Middle East up to and including its manifestation under the Roman empire. The references to "old Israel" of the distant past are directed at the enlightenment of people living at that time, and have much more to do with events at that time than some distant, mythical history which was never recorded in stone, so to speak, but was rather passed down from generation to generation much like other peoples have passed down the legends of their origins -- orally, embellished by talented composers and poets. Furthermore, the OT and NT are closely integrated in structure, themes, and underlying philosophy, and to reject one part as heretical (as the Jews do the NT) or another part as a mere harmless introduction to the real text (as do the Christians concerning the OT) is not only unprofessional, but foolish and even subversive.

Secondly, the worldview of those recording the Biblical legends, stories, poems, philosophical essays, etc differs radically from ours. It was a product of Hellenism, where true reality is a Platonic ideal, recognising the ineffable quality of life, our overwhelming ignorance, and the fractured, shadowy nature of daily life as experienced by our senses. Our Aristotelian, materialist outlook, sees reality in hard, cold facts which we directly perceive and duly record, where the only truths are what can be physically demonstrated and/or refuted. This is quite alien to the mindset of the Biblical composers, writers and scribes. Taking the Bible literally, as a materialist recounting of "history" is a classic example of misplaced concreteness. To its credit, there is no word for history in ancient Hebrew, reflecting its origins in the pre- Aristotelian worldview.

To go a step further and assume that this bogus history is the "real" history of mankind, with the history of the thousands of other peoples taking a back seat, is just not on. The reality of the Bible is transcendent, universal, traditional, intuitive and emotional. To profit from it, we must rediscover this worldview, where myth is the "reality" and very essence of our lives, and the dunya is a lame, pale version of the sacred myths guiding us. Karen Armstrong, who has written widely on the monotheisms and the loss of myth as a vital part of our worldview, argues in The Bible: a biography (2007) that fundamentalist religion, be it Islamic, Christian or Jewish, is a response to and product of modern materialist culture, which undermines the role of myth as a vital element in the social matrix. Myth is reduced to its literal meaning, i.e., Jerusalem is a physical location at a fixed point in time, not a metaphor for the City of God, transcending the limitations of the physical world...

Whatever the true origin of the Jews, the Bible talks of an "old Israel" -- a United Monarchy which supposedly flourished from 1000-600 BC in present-day Palestine, with Saul, David and Solomon as great kings of a magnificent empire, and a spectacular temple, built by Solomon, as the centre of worship of the Jewish god Yahweh. What do archaeologists tell us? A century of sifting, scrubbing, sorting and debate has produced no evidence of Jerusalem as a large city, let alone the centre of an empire. It was at most a minor trading and olive growing town. No doubt a small state existed in the ninth c BC, one of several -- Moab, Edom, Ammon, even one we could call Israel, with Samaria as a likely "capital", and with the revival of Phoenician shipping, Palestine indeed began to flourish for the first time, but on a modest scale, as an inter-empire outpost, the home of many Semitic and non-Semitic tribes...

The flourishing of Palestine supposedly ended with God's punishment of Israel and the destruction of Samaria. The goodness of the Judean kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, delayed Yahweh's anger and Jerusalem's destruction. But the day of wrath, so it goes, brought the Babylonian army to destroy Jerusalem, marking the end of old Israel in the sixth c BC. What do archaeologists tell us? Again, there is no historical evidence for this lovely story -- Palestine was all the time just a backwater, subject to division between Assyria, Mesopotamia and Egypt as their empires ebbed and flowed...

Never was there an ethnically coherent Israel, and according to Thomson, neither Jerusalem nor Judah ever shared an identity with Israel before the rule of the Hasmoneans in the Hellenistic period of the 3rd-1st cc BC, coincidentally, when the legends were first written down. Ironically, the Samaritans, scorned by Ezra's (and today's) Jews, are the most likely Semitic ancestors of the historical Israel."

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