|30 January 2005
Archeologist unearths biblical controversy
Canadian archeologist Russell Adams's interest is in Bronze Age and Iron Age copper production. He never intended to walk into archeology's vicious debate over the historical accuracy of the Old Testament. Yet by coincidence, Prof. Adams of Hamilton's McMaster University says, he and an international team of colleagues fit into place a significant piece of the puzzle of human history in the Middle East -- unearthing information that points to the existence of the Bible's vilified Kingdom of Edom at precisely the time the Bible says it existed, and contradicting widespread academic belief that it did not come into being until 200 years later.
The team led by Prof. Adams, Thomas Levy of the University of California at San Diego and Mohammad Najjar of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities was investigating copper mining and smelting at a site called Khirbat en-Nahas, by far the largest copper-production site in the region. They applied high-precision radiocarbon-dating methods to some of their finds, and as they say in the British journal Antiquities, "The results were spectacular."
They firmly established that occupation of the site began in the 11th century BCE and a monumental fortress was built in the 10th century BCE, supporting the argument for existence of an Edomite state at least 200 years earlier than had been assumed. What is particularly exciting about their find is that it implies the existence of an Edomite state at the time the Bible says King David and his son Solomon ruled over a powerful united kingdom of Israel and Judah.
Those scholars known as minimalists argue that the emergence of regional governments and kings did not take place in the area until the expansion of the Assyrian empire in the 8th century BCE, so David and Solomon, rather than being mighty monarchs, were mere petty chieftains.
In the biblical narrative, there is the account of David's war against the Edomites, in which David and his general, Joab, kill 18,000 Edomites and establish military control over them by "putting garrisons throughout all Edom." Irish scholar John Bartlett, one of the world's great experts on the Edomites, dates the battle at 990 to 980 BCE, precisely when Prof. Adams and his colleagues date the fortress.
Says Prof. Adams: "This battle between the Israelites and the Edomites, although not possible to document, is typical of the sort of border conflicts between Iron Age states. And the evidence of our new dates at least proves that it may, in fact, be possible to place the Edomites in the 10th century [BCE] or earlier, which now supports the chronology of the biblical accounts. It is intriguing that at Khirbat en-Nahas, our large Iron Age fort is dated to just this period, suggesting conflict as a central concern even at a remote copper-production site." He concludes: "We're not out to prove the Bible right or wrong. We're not trying to be controversial. We're just trying to be good anthropologists and scientists, and tell the story of our archeological site."
Source: The Globe and Mail (25 January 2005)
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