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Unformatted text preview: ma Wfi EB” “E: a afim SH LOMO BUNIMOVITZ 1:7 he common romantic image of the archaeol- the jungle to explore ruined cities and tern- ancient gold and spells—belies reality, of course. Modern archaeology is about interpretation as much as discovery. True, the archaeologist’s prime tasks are excavation and collection of facts about the human past. But these facts are mute; they do not spealt for themselves; they must be interpreted. Only through interpretation is meaning assigned to the archaeologi— cal finds. \‘l/ithout interpretation, archaeology is no more than treasure hunting. Even trivial, routine archaeological statements like “this pottery vessel is a cooking pot” implicitly include a process of interpretation; we interpret a vessel as a cooking—pot because of the shape of the vessel, or soot- marks, or provenance, or ethnographic analogies, or all of the above. ‘ It is a truism that we cannot observe the past directly. Even the most exciting archaeological finds are only static material remains of a once dynamic sociopolitiv cal and cultural system—“the bric-a-brac washed up 'on the shore of modern times and left there as the social currents within which it was created have drained away.”I The archaeologist must decode the silent material configurations he excavates and translate them into mean— ingful statements about the dynamics of long—gone ways of life and the conditions that brought into being the detritus that has survived.2 Only since the i9603 and early 19705 has serious consideration been given to the nature of archaeolog— ical interpretation. At that time we began to see a sus- tained critique of the prevailing simplistic view of the archaeological record as self-evident. This new critique traveled under the name of the “New Archaeology.” “New Archaeology” offered an alternative to the traditional, supposedly self—evident principle of inter« pretation that had been based largely on professional authority. This new alternative relied instead on ethno- archaeological investigatiottsmtlie study of material cul- ture correlates of behavior in contemporary native soci— eties. Ethnoarchaeological investigations of such- societies provided a way to observe and study the rela— tionship between statics (that is, material remains) and dynamics (that is, behavior). Another strand of development in archaeological the- ory occurred at this same time. Some scholars claimed that all archaeological inferences, whatever their source, should be accepted only if validated scientifn cally, just as supposedly occurs in the natural sciences; that is, archaeology should proceed by the examina— tion of hypotheses through deductive reasoning and evaluation of explanations by their correspondence to universal cultural laws? - More recent developments in archaeological theory, MAKCHIAPRIL 1595 ogist—a discoverer clearing his way through, pies or crawling into mysterious tombs full of however, re'ect this ositivist hiloso h of science, l P Y based as it is on the supposition that material culture (as excavated by the archaeologist) merely reflects behavior. Indeed, it can be a reflection of much mote—of ideas, of beliefs and meanings, of attitudes to space, to dirt, to death, etc. A historically oriented, contextual approach to the archaeological record is therefore advocated, empha- sizing the role of symbols and ideology in culture and its material manifestations.4 A more radical relativistic theory of archaeological inter- pretation denies the very possibility of objective scien- tific research. All archaeological inferences, claim the pro— ponents of this approach, are subject to the researcher’s worldview and are determined by contemporary social, economic, political and ideological facrors. This relativistic viewpoint, an odshoot of intellectual trends such as neo— Marxist critical theory and postvmodern deconstruction theory, holds that we can never create a “true” record of “what actu— ally happened.” DiHErent people inevitably write different accounts of the past.5 Granted, all archaeology is written by people in given cultural and historical cir— cumstances. Nevertheless, this need not open the floodgates to total relativism. Archaeological interpretation can be scrutinized not only for its correspondence to the hard archaeological data but also to expose the values a particular inter— pretation embodies.6 How did these ideas influence inter: pretation in Biblical archaeology? Biblical archaeology, as traditionally practiced, had a great advantage over other branches of archaeology: Biblical archaeology possessed an invaluable “Rosetta Stone” for interpreting the archaeological record—the Bible. The material remains from excavated tells in the "land of the Bible" were usually “read” as direct reflections of ' the political and cultural history contained in the Biblew the deeds of ltings, the result of military campaigns, or the product of certain ethnic groups, all corresponding to Biblical narratives. As a result, Biblical archaeology for most of the past 150 years was an extremely prag- matic archaeology interested more in field methodol- ogy than in questions of interpretation. This impression, however, is only part of the story. Underlying the pragmatic attitude of most Biblical archae— ologists, we can discern several idiosyncratic frameworks of interpretation. An examination of these frameworks of interpretation allows us to recognize the subjective element in Biblical archaeology (as in other “archae— ologies”) and brings us to a more sober and critical attitude toward traditional explanations of the archae— ological record. A continuing methodological revolution has trans— formed Biblical archaeology "from one man riding on ways of life. 59 The archaeologist must decode the silent material configurations he excavates and trans- late them into meaning- ful statements about the dynamics 0! long—gone a donkey identifying ancient sites to today’s applica— tion of computer technology, statistical methods, pale— oethnobotany and anthropology.”7 Tine, but even this presents us with only a partial perspective of the his— tory of interpretation in Biblical archaeology. A com— plementary history of the divergent intellectual roots, worldviews and personal prejudices that lie behind borh methodology and interpretation in Biblical archaeol— ogy is emerging. And it is this that we shall explore.8 Archaeologists working in Palestine between the end of the 19th century and the First \Vorlcl \‘l’ar are gen- erally regarded as the "Founding Fathers” of Biblical archaeology. It was they who made the break away From antiquarianism and superstition; it was they who established a modern, scientific archaeology. This is the conventional wisdom and it is true as hit as it concerns the vast improvements in field techniques intro— duced at the turn of the century by professional archae- 5i! UNFH NOILVHO'MX] SNIL‘JJTVé THE FATHER OF PALESTINIAN ARCHAEOLOGY. Sir \Villiant Flindets Pettie (18534942) ushered in the era of modern scientific archaeology at Tell el-Hesi, 16 miles northeast of Gaza. There, the British archaeologist pioneered in Palestine the theory that archaeological deposits occur in strata and that pottery typologies could be used to date the strata. Although vastly refined, his stratigraphical ideas and pottery typologies remain basic. His racist theories, however, have tainted his legacy. Petrie interpreted changes in strata as evidence of successive periods of rule by increasingly abler races, and he attributed the downfall of ruling classes to their eventual degeneration due to inbreeding with their subjects. George A. Reisner at Samaria.9 Their contributions an less convincing, however, when it comes to interpret— ing the archaeological record, as becomes clear when we examine their intellectual roots.10 Less well known than Petrie’s introduction of stratigraphy and artifact typology to the archaeology of Palestine is his commitment to a racial [hCOI‘y‘gi’i eugenics, whichmiuiaiEly-‘TnHuenced his inter; tire—ration of the successive stratigraphical and pottery changes at'Tell el—Hcsi. in addition[til-distinguishing stratigraphic layers, Petrie also distinguished several peri ods of racial domination by successively abler races who conquered and colonized exhausted, racially dif— ferent societies. He identified successive cycles of rise— Horescence-decay in the creative vigor of conquering races and attributed their decline to inevitable inter« breeding with their subjects. Racist ideas, in the guise of an imperialistic world View legitimizing the domination of chosen races over stagnant ones and justifying an East/wrest racial con« Hict, were also at the root of the interpretative frame; work employed by the Irish archaeologist R. A. S. Macalisger, the pioneer excavator of "cl Gezer. Accbidihg to hilacalister, “The Semitic natives, Amorite, Hebrew, or Arab, never invented anything: they assim- ilated all the elements of their civilization From without. This principle is the key to the interpreta- tion of all remains of antiquity Found in the land of Palesrine.”” Against a background of millennia oi" alleged cultural stagnation, the past was conceived as a direct reflection of the wretched present. Thus, the ancient city of Gezer was envisaged as a reproduction of a contemporary Arab village with all its maladies: crooked, unclean streets infested with insects and evil— looking children, poor mud houses, unhealthy people and hungry dogs. For Macalister, even the ubiquitous sheikhs’ tombs dotting the landscape of Palestine seemed to carry on the tradition of primitive Semitic hilltop shrines.12 Since "from first to last there was not a native potter in Palestine who could so much as invent a new design to paint on his watcrpots... (neither) an armourer who could invent a new pattern of sword or arrowhead,” h'iacalister was sure that oriental Canaan had to wait for the first \‘Vesterners to arrive, bringing with them “the artistic instincts of their race...superior to an)“ thing that was to be met with among the worlts...0f the native Semitic craftsmen of the country.” These BIBLICAL ARCHAEDLOGY REVIEW cultural saviors were the Philistines, fleeing the col- iapsing high civilization ofCrete, and destined to become “the only cultured or artistic race who ever occupied the soil of Palestine.” According to such interpretative conceptions, the massive building projects and the rich material culture from the time of the Hebrew mortar— chy were the products of foreign masons and artists, a "crude and feeble degradation” of Aegean and Egyptian prototypes. Even the famous Siloam tunnel* was considered a “pathetically helpless piece of engi— neering" Clue to its random windings, which could have been avoided if an Egyptian engineer had been in charge of its COIIStI‘lICtht1.]‘l’ A vivid expression of the ethnocentric prejudices that bedeviied Palestinian archaeology in its early days is also reflected in the terminology used for chronologi— cal and cultural classification: Amorites, Canaanites, Israelites, Phoenicians, jews and Semites all gave their names to various strata in the tells.14 Pre-Semitic Rephaim or Anakim (Numbers 13:33; Deuteronomy 2:11, 3:1 1, 9:2) were postulated as the original excavators of the caves of the Shephelah, the low foothills between the central hill country of southern Palestine and the coastal plain on the h’lcclitet‘t'ztncan shore.15 Though such tet‘ minoiogy surely satisfied many of those in search of Biblical remains, it was clearly at odds with the new tral nomenclature of contemporaneous Europe anti its "Three Agesn—the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Anti—Semitism and racial myths provided a still dif— fer'EiifTit—le‘ological context of interpretation at the beginning of the century. Ernst Sellin, another “Founding Father" who excavatecTIt—Taanach with field methods primitive even by the standards of his time, interpreted cultic artifacts as proving the authenticity and historicity of cult practices condemned by the Israelite prophets. Determined to counter attacks on the Bible from other quarters, Sellin used his archaeological finds primarily to oppose German Higher Criticism, with its analysis of different authorial strands in the Pentateuch, and to disprove the alleged non-Semitic, Babylonian sources for Israelite faith.16 Because of its associated denigration of Israelite religion and society, this so—called Higher Criticism has sometimes been referred to as the Higher Anti—Semitism. In Frederic Delitzschfsfirrlze! rrzgrzl___Bi,b_eL all that was really valuable in Israelite culture was attributed to Babylon and the east. Delitzsch's theories were the source of a religious { bias that unfortunately led not only Sellin but other i early workers in the archaeology of Palestine to incor- ‘ rect interpretations. To name only one, they regarded E the pillars in Israelite buildings as Iron Age cultic mono» j liths (Jilrt;§€./}0f/J) instead of mere structural supports.” The "Golden Age" of Palestinian archaeology the period between the two \‘l/orld \Vars—was dominated by American—style “Biblical archaeology” as champi— oned by \‘Viiliam Poxwell Albright and his disciples. The intellectual igroundingiofthisipowerfitl school con— ‘See Dan Gill, “How The' Met"; Terence Kleven, “Up The Water Spout"; and Simon Parlier. “Siloam Inscription Memorializes Engineering Achievement,“ in BAR, July/August 1994. MARCHIAI’RIL 1995 R. A. S. MACALISTER’S portrait still hangs in Dublin’s Royal Irish Academy, over which he presided from 1926— I93l. Although Macalister established himself on digs in England and Ireland, he is best known as director between 1902 and 1909 of excavations at Gezer, the biblical city that Solomon received as a wedding gift from his Egyptian father—in—iaw. It was the largest dig in Palestine until that time. Macalister, too, allowed racist ideas to color his view of history. He attributed the massive building projects and rich material culture from the time of the Hebrew monarchy to foreign masons and artists: “The Semitic natives, Amorite, Hebrew or Arab, never invented anything: they assimilated all the elements of their civilization from without." Any innovations, Macalister wrote, came from the Philistines, “the only cultured or artistic race who ever occupied the soil of Palestine." tinned to cast its shadow over the archaeology of Palestine up to the early 19705 (especiain through the highly influential work of Albright’s foremost student, G. Ernesr \Vright). The Albright school was rooted in lategi9th— and eilrly-ZOth—century American religious life; its agenda was more akin to contemporaneous theologi- cal polemics than to archaeology. The leaders of the school, as well as most of its second generation pro- ponents, were almost exclusively Protestant Old Testament scholars and clerics trying to establish the essential historieiry of the Biblical narratives, particu— larly those of the Patriarchal Age and the conquest of the Promised Land.13 Aibright saw himself as an Orientalist; Biblical 61 .lal 'IVAOH NHBHO ‘AWBOVJV H \VILLIAM FOX\VELL ALBRIGHT dominated Biblical archaeology between the two \Vorld \Vars. Albright and the American school of archaeologists hoped to establish the general historical accuracy of the Bible, which had been undermined by German "higher criticism.” , Albright and his group of primarily Protestant scholars «- and clerics tried to use archaeological evidence to date the patriarchal narratives, but a later generation judged the effort a failure. archaeology was simply a subdiscipline ofAncient Near Eastern civilizations, and especially of Biblical stud- ies.19 The archaeologist’s main task was to provide new objective facts that would disprove the theoretical spec- ulation of the “higher” Biblical criticism of the \Vellhausen School in Germany, which had undermined much of the history portrayed in the Pentateuch. Archaeo- logical “external evidence” was therefore needed to authen— ticate Israel’s earliest traditions, to explain how the Israelites established themselves in Canaan and to place Israel in its proper place within the ideological history of the ancient Near East. Albright virtually revolutionized the archaeology of Palestine, introducing structure and coherence where anarchy and chaos had previously prevailed. Refinev ments in stratigraphy, pottery typology and the chronology of ancient Palestine, as well as the estab— 52 lishment of the area’s cultural sequence, were not regarded as goals for their own sakes. Rather, they were prag- matic tools to achieve an overall historical Framework ofinterpretation, integrating artifacts with Biblical and extra~Biblical texts. Albright was well aware that archaeological evidence is at times equivocal and that Biblical narratives are not always all they seem; nev- ertheless he, as well as many of his followers in suc- ceeding generations, considered both archaeology and the Bible as essentially trustworthy sources of histori- cal information. This optimistic but naive belief (rest- ing on empiricist and conservative foundations) soon led to a narrow interpretative framework that relierl exclusively on Biblical history and theology. A vicior, circle of reasoning was unavoidable: "If an archaeolol gist accepts uncritically the biblical evidence as a prin— ciple of explanation of archaeological finds, dates those finds from the biblical ‘evidence,’ or provides dates for the biblical events having first used such ‘evidencc’ for identification and explanation of archaeological features, it becomes utterly impossible after a while to unravel the arguments, to see what is concluded from which evidence, or to find out how much ofit is based on] a _ n20 a cucuiar reason. Numerous simplistic and uncritical interpretations of archaeological observations were proposed in the hey- day of American Biblical archaeology as answers to com- plex Biblical questions. For example, when Nelson Ghrec‘is’s pioneer surface surveys in Transjordan rEi'ealEd a steep reduction in settlements in the late third mil- lennium B.C.E., Glueck unhesitatingly “explained” this as the result of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as recorded in Genesis 1349. Later HUL‘ tuations in settlement patterns in the same region were attributed without reservation to events related in the Exodus and Conquest narratives.21 The same interpretative methodology lay behind Glueck’s excavations at Tell el—Kheleifeh. He interpreted the site as a Solomonic metalworking center, relying more on Bible-based preconceptions than on careful analysis of the archaeological data, as a recent critical study has shown.22 In an even more extreme case, James Kelso inexrri- cably mixed description and interpréi'atidiiwiii his exca- vation report on Bethel; preconception became con- firmation of interpretation. Thus, he connected Ber/Jr! (“house of El”) with the patriarchal religion of Biblical tradition; he then misinterpreted archaeological remains from various periods, mixing facts and fancy. A few Hintstones, some cup—marks and a standing field— stone easily became “an open air sacrificial shrine to the Canaanite god El,” “Abraham’s altar” and 3 nmgebrrb (standing stone)!23 Today, it is clear that Albright’s lifelong effort [0 demonstrate the historicity of the Patriarchal and lsraelite Conquest narratives, as well as his effort to demonstrate the uniqueness of lsrael’s cult, was doomed to failure, resulting from the same deficient interpretative preconceptions that used both archaeol— ogy and Biblical studies as “proof-texts” for historical and theological propositions. Although archaeology has i] T! I , BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVVILW KING SOLONlON'S MINES? Rabbi _ . I Nelson Glueck tended to attribute his finds to Biblical kings: He believed—incorrectly, as he later conceded—he had found Kin...
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