Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Iron Age Gate at Megiddo
There is an archaeological debate going on that is absolutely essential for the study of Hebrew Bible and, in some ways, it revolves around city gates.  

1 Kings 9:15 describes some of Solomon's building activities: 

This is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon conscripted to build the house of the Lord and his own house, the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer.
This text would lead one to expect that archaeologists would find contemporaneous construction at these sites.  In fact, this is exactly what we see there.  When excavating Tel Hazor in the 1950's, Israel's most famous archaeologist Yigael Yadin (who also happened to be the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force), noticed that the fortified gate was of the same style as the gates at Megiddo and Gezer.  

On the basis of the three similar gates and the passage in 1 Kings 9, Yadin identified the particular stratum on which these gates were found as Solomonic, somewhere in the mid-10th century.  Based on this conclusion, the pottery styles that were found there were established as mid-10th century; therefore, wherever these styles of pottery are found at other sites, those sites are understood to be 10th century. 

Some archaeologists have questioned the direct connection between these strata and the reign of Solomon.  Most prominently, Tel Aviv University archaeologists David Ussishkin and Israel Finkelstein, who are currently excavating Megiddo, argue that the strata in question belong to a later period, even into the 8th century.

This has resulted in a rivalry of sorts between the archaeologists of Tel Aviv and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Simplistically put, the conclusions of the archaeologists at Hebrew follow the biblical text more closely (e.g. there was a conquest, David and Solomon had a large kingdom) while TAU tends to down date the strata, thereby making some biblical accounts unlikely, particluarly with regard to the 10th to 8th centuries.

I bring this up because there is a brief explanation by Ussishkin on the ASOR blog as to why he concludes that the gate at Megiddo is not Solomonic.

This is a very important issue with regard to the study of the Bible, for it is, as biblical scholars of all stripes agree, important to understand the society, economics and politics in which these texts are set, and out of which they emerge. 

Isaac M. Alderman
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