This week I joined a group on a tour of the site given by Ronny Reich, the archeologist who has directed its excavation for over a decade, and Israel Finkelstein, chairman of the archeology department of Tel Aviv University, recent winner of the prestigious Dan David prize.
At one point in the tour, the group came upon a contemporary illustration of Jerusalem as the artist imagined it might have appeared in the time of David and Solomon; an impressive-looking walled city on a mount, complete with grand royal palace and topped by a towering First Temple.
"Is that how Jerusalem looked at that time?" I asked Reich.
"Well," he replied with a diplomatic smile, "let's just say I wasn't consulted when they made that picture."
Finkelstein, as is his style, was more blunt. "That drawing," he said, "is a hallucination."
Behind that remark lies what is probably the biggest controversy (and certainly the most publicized) in contemporary biblical archeology, and one in which Finkelstein is the central figure.
His citation for the Dan David Prize [my link - JRD] notes his "innovative research... revealing a revolutionary interpretation of the history and archeology of Israel in the Bronze and Iron ages."
That "revolutionary interpretation" is in essence his assertion that certain impressive ancient structures (such as the "Solomonic gates") found at sites throughout the Land of Israel (Meggido, Hatzor, Gezer) which previous archeologists had dated to the time of David and Solomon � roughly the 10th century CE � were actually built a century or so later. Since those structures were used as evidence that the Bible accurately described the grandeur of the united Israelite kingdom of David and Solomon, Finkelstein asserts that his "low chronology" calls that assumption into question.
As we walk about the City of David, the archeologist points out in the ruins further indications to back up his belief that the Jerusalem of David and Solomon was more a small, hillside village of 200-300 inhabitants, rather than the magnificent capital of the great Israelite kingdom described in the Old Testament, or even the regional urban center other archeologists believe it to have been.
Interesting. I haven't read Finkelstein's book yet, although I hope to get to it this summer. I may have more to say after that.
By the way, that annoying jamster.co.uk ad continues to make the Jerusalem Post virtually unusable for my Firefox browser. Safari lets through the obnoxious music but at least doesn't crash, which makes me considerably less enthusiastic about Firefox. A browser ought to be able to deal with such things.