Memory in Ruins

By David Hazony

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or nearly a century, biblical archaeology has been a pillar of the Jewish national revival. Its professional approach, combined with its often dramatic capacity to reconstruct the history of ancient Israel, has done much to convince the world that the Bible is not mere myth, but a document that reflects the truth concerning central periods in Israel’s history.
Today, however, biblical archaeology has reached a crossroads. Seeking to reconstruct the historical record from scratch, a new school of Bible scholars, historians, and archaeologists has argued that nearly every major story of the Hebrew Bible is little more than a fabrication. Particular attention has focused on the kingdom of David and Solomon, whose authenticity was until recently considered substantiated beyond doubt. According to the new theory, this kingdom never existed.
The challenge to the historicity of the united Israelite kingdom is hardly a concern for academics alone. The era of David and Solomon is the classical, formative period in Jewish political history, analogous to that of Athenian democracy or the early Roman Republic in the history of the West. It is a symbol, of course; but like all important symbols, it also holds out hope for the future: The hope that the Jews may again become a politically and religiously united people, powerful and independent, yet at the same time morally and culturally elevated, at peace with man and God. The current claim that this kingdom is not historical at all, but was fabricated by later authors for political purposes, is therefore a matter of profound concern not only for Jews, but for all people who view the Hebrew Bible as a central part of their heritage.
It is, of course, true that academic research must never be distorted to serve the public interest. If there really was no kingdom of David and Solomon, then scholars ought to say so. Yet the quality of the work on which the new thinking is based leaves a great deal to be desired, and when this fact is combined with the timing of its publication—in the midst of a wave of historical revisionism that has left hardly a Jewish symbol unscathed—one cannot avoid the suspicion that in the new archaeology, as elsewhere in academia, the urge to smash myths has overtaken sound judgment, to the detriment of archaeological science and of the broader public, as well.

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