I've long been fascinated by the "new evidence" stories. These are the sensationalized religion stories about how, you know, Jesus walked on an ice floe (not water), that he wasn't crucified in the manner in which people think, that Jesus' father was a Roman soldier . . . named Pantera, and so on. Easter 2006 featured an unrelenting public relations offensive by the National Geographic Society and its National Geographic magazine that argued that Judas was unfairly maligned by Christians. The story was covered far and wide by all the major media outlets. A later debunking showing National Geo rushed the story and engaged in shoddy scholastic work received much less coverage, of course. There are other examples.
In that vein, I think the coverage of a recent archeological discover is worth noting. Hebrew University announced that archeologist Eilat Mazar conducted a dig just outside Jerusalem's Old City and uncovered a section of an ancient city wall, an inner gatehouse for entry into the royal quarter of the city, an additional royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse and a corner tower. They date to the 10th century before Christ. Here's
Here's how the Associated Press explained the significance:
An Israeli archaeologist said Monday that ancient fortifications recently excavated in Jerusalem date back 3,000 years to the time of King Solomon and support the biblical narrative about the era.
If the age of the wall is correct, the finding would be an indication that Jerusalem was home to a strong central government that had the resources and manpower needed to build massive fortifications in the 10th century B.C.
That's a key point of dispute among scholars, because it would match the Bible's account that the Hebrew kings David and Solomon ruled from Jerusalem around that time.
While some Holy Land archaeologists support that version of history -- including the archaeologist behind the dig, Eilat Mazar -- others posit that David's monarchy was largely mythical and that there was no strong government to speak of in that era.
The story hasn't been completely ignored, but it certainly hasn't gotten the coverage that one could expect if some archeologist had uncovered evidence that King Solomon wasn't a big deal.
Also, here's how CBS headlined the AP piece:
Scholar: Bible History May Be Correct
For some reason, that made me laugh. Also, it's not true. The scholar in question doesn't say that Bible history may be correct but that it is. But it's just a very different casting of the story than we normally get for "new evidence" pieces.
Anyway, the AP article is fine but one thing that I thought was missing was an explanation of the deeper significance of this story as it relates to current affairs. Perhaps I'm influenced by this Washington Post story ('God gap' impedes U.S. foreign policy, task force says) story, but this finding has a significant effect on Israeli-Palestine relations. So why aren't they mentioned at all in the AP story?
Jonathan Tobin writes in the Jewish magazine Commentary:
While finding ancient Jewish artifacts as well as the traces of Solomon's city in Jerusalem may seem nothing out of the ordinary, for the last century and a half, a great many academics and intellectuals have attempted to put down the existence of the ancient Jewish kingdom -- which has always served as a symbol of Jewish nationhood -- as a religiously inspired fiction.
He goes on to argue that this finding speaks to Jewish claims to Jerusalem. This UPI report claims Palestinian fury over the finding and says some experts think the Bible's claims are "mythical." Perhaps more mainstream accounts can include a bit of discussion about the significance of this find and how the news is being received.