Archaeology in the Service of Politics

People are political creatures. Unfortunately. Politics, as most honest observers of society admit, serve the interest of the ruling party over the good of the whole. This is a nearly universal human flaw; a glance at any newspaper will demonstrate its prevalence. Those who practice politics can hardly be blamed for using the system they’ve inherited, but the system leads to many instances of unfortunate posturing and suffering. Clearly seen in Middle Eastern current events, it is nonetheless no less so in the “western world.” Often in both political arenas the Bible is invoked.

An article in this morning’s New Jersey Star-Ledger bears the headline “Archaeologist links ancient wall to Bible and King Solomon.” The story goes on to describe how excavations in Jerusalem outside the Temple Mount have unearthed a stone wall that might have been part of the legendary temple of Solomon. Of course, putting biblical names to mute structures amounts to voicing ownership claims. Solomon is not a historically attested individual yet – the only source referencing him is the Bible – and claims to have found his temple are premature. As the story states, “Palestinian archaeologists have criticized their Israeli counterparts’ rush to link finds to the Bible.” Amen. So they have; the structure itself is used as a form of dominance. Eilat Mazar, the archaeologist named in the article, is quoted as having said that this wall, “testifies to a ruling presence.”

The Haram es-Sharif, or Temple Mount, is one of the most hotly contested pieces of real estate on the planet. Embedded within these claims are acclamations of ownership. This brief post does not offer the space to unfold the complex issues in any substantial way, but it is an opportunity to note how archaeology is often used to establish tenuous holds on a past that is too foggy to penetrate. Like the classic dystopias of the twentieth century, politically oriented individuals use the evidence to write their own versions of the past. Pasting the name of an uncertain Solomon on a building that the Bible states was built by Phoenicians is an ironic historical twist indeed.

Gnu Jerusalem from WikiCommons

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