San Francisco Chronicle, via The Commercial Appeal, Apr. 19, 2003
By David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle
Deep in the ruins of a Hebrew town sacked nearly 3,000 years ago by an Egyptian pharaoh, scientists have discovered evidence for the existence of the Bible’s kingdoms of David and Solomon.
The evidence refutes recent claims by other researchers who insist that the Biblical monarchs were mythic characters created by scholars and scribes of antiquity who made up the tales long after the events to buttress their own morality lessons.
The debate is not likely to subside, for archeology is a field notable for lengthy quarrels among partisans, however scientific they may be.
The latest evidence comes from Israeli and Dutch archeologists and physicists after seven years of digging at a historic site called Tel Rehov. The site is in the Jordan valley of Israel, where successive settlements rose and fell over the centuries.
Using highly sophisticated techniques for establishing dates through the decay rate of radioactive carbon, the scientists have pinned down the time of a disputed moment in history, recorded in the Bible, when a pharaoh now known as Shoshenq I invaded Jeru salem.
As the book of Chronicles relates, Shoshenq (the Bible called him Shishak) came “with twelve hundred chariots and threescore thousand horsemen” and plundered Israel’s capital, as well as such towns and fortresses as Rehov, Megiddo and Hazor.
The pharaoh later listed those conquests on a monument in the temple of Amun at Karnak, where the Egyptian city of Luxor now stands.
The new timetable places Shoshenq’s rampage and looting at Rehov in the 10th Century rather than the Ninth, a highly significant difference. It sets the date at about 925 BC, some five years after Solomon was said to have died, and some 80 years earlier than other archeologists maintain.
Those scholars, known in the world of archeology as “minimalists,” insist that David and Solomon were little more than tribal chieftains, and certainly not the mighty monarchs of the Bible.
A report on the new evidence appears in the journal Science by Hendrik Bruins, a desert researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, Johannes van der Plicht of the Center for Isotope Research at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and Amihai Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the principal archeologist at Tel Rehov.
In a telephone interview, Mazar said that one specific “layer of destruction” at the site yielded a harvest of charred grain seeds and olive pits that enabled his colleagues to date them with an unusually high level of precision. The dates of both earlier and later layers showed clearly how the successive layers of occupation could be determined from the 12th through the Ninth centuries BC, he said.
“They provide a precise archeological anchor for the united monarchies of the time of David and Solomon,” Mazar said. “The pottery we found there also tells us that the conquest dates from the same period as Meggido, when its mighty gates and walls and temples were also destroyed by Shoshenq’s armies.”
More than 40 years ago, the late Yigael Yadin, who won fame as an army officer during Israel’s war for independence, turned to archeology, and after excavating the imposing ruins at Megiddo maintained that they were destroyed during the so-called Solomonic period.
Recently, a group of archeologists led by Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University working at Megiddo has insisted that the so-called Solomon’s gate there dates from a much later time – perhaps 100 or even 200 years after Solomon.
Finkelstein read a copy of the Mazar report that was sent him by E-mail. After replying that Mazar “is a fine scholar,” he insisted that “there are many problems with his archeological data” and that the samples of material used for the radiocarbon dating are at best questionable.
In the past, Finkelstein has accused Mazar of harboring a “sentimental, somewhat romantic approach to the archeology of the Iron Age,” according to an earlier account in Science.
One of the leaders in the archeology of Israel, professor Lawrence Stager, director of Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, dismissed the claims of Finkelstein and the other archeologists who share his views.
“Mazar and his colleagues have now put another nail in the coffin of Finkelstein’s theories,” Stager said. “There’s no question that Rehov and the other cities that Shoshenq conquered were indeed there at the time of Solomon.
“We don’t need to rely anymore only on the Bible or on Shoshenq’s inscriptions at Karnak to establish that Sol omon and his kingdom really existed, because we now have the superb evidence of the radiocarbon dates.”