Saturday, July 30, 2005

JIM WEST ON THE TEMPLE AND TEMPLE MOUNT: Further to the update on my post on the forthcoming Temple Mount blogburst, Jim West has posted a comment to his first post and then a later post as well. First, in response to my comment on his first post (JRD is in italics, JW in Roman type):
The Palestinians and the Arab world in general have for some years been taking the line that no Jewish temples ever existed on the Temple Mount.

Such notions are not to be taken seriously if one is talking about the Temple of Herod, for instance. But there is no archaeological evidence at all for any earlier temple on the site.

If "not to be taken seriously" means "bogus," I agree. But these bogus notions are coming from PA leaders and Muslim clerics employed by the PA. They seem to be mainstream positions among Palestinians and widely in the Arab world. They need to be replied to even though they are bogus. There's a "big lie" for you.

As for their being "no archaeological evidence at all for any earlier temple [than Herod's] on the site," as phrased, that's more or less correct. (I could dispute that point, but let it lie for now.) Herod's expansion of the Temple Platform seems to have obliterated the earlier architecture. Of course, the only way to find out if some of that earlier architecture survives is to excavate the site. Obviously that is politically impossible. I have expressed the hope that future technologies may someday allow us to do nonintrusive scans of the site.

But in any case, what is the implication you are drawing from this (current) lack of archaeological evidence? Are you seriously suggesting that there wasn't a Jewish Temple on the site before Herod built it? That would mean there must have been a massive conspiracy by Josephus, the (pre-Herodian!) Dead Sea Scrolls, etc., to convince someone or other that there was a pre-Herodian Temple on the (previously empty?) site. I can't parse this at all, so I'll just have to ask you what you do mean.
And the Waqf, under the oversight of the Palestinian Authority, has done horrible damage to the archaeological record through illicit construction on the Temple Mount.

Isn't that exactly what Ben-dov calls "the big lie"? See my latest posting on the issue here. And if you would kindly care to comment on any of its contents I would love to hear.

The main things I would say is that the article was written in 2001 and is now out of date and that in any case it oddly downplays the damage that the Waqf has done. Taking the second point first, I would say that digging out 10,000 tons of material in uncontrolled excavations from a site as important as the Temple Mount is horrendously irresponsible. We don't know what architecture might survive down there and even if most of it is fill from Herod's work, that fill could contain some tremendously important stuff and we don't know what layering might survive in it. Layering can survive sometimes in fill, depending on the circumstances of its deposit. Only painstaking archaeological excavation would be able to tell us all this. By the way, what authority do "police reports" have for an archaeological question? And since when is archaeological importance limited to "spectacular" finds? I thought "bits of buildings, ceramics, coins" were the mainstay of archaeology.

Regarding the first point, archaeologist Gabriel Barkay has been analyzing the rubble from the Waqf's excavation and I don't think the things he has found in it are trivial. They include, for example, Hebrew epigraphic material and artifacts from both the first and second temple periods. Until all the material is published (assuming he finds the funds to excavate it all), we won't know exactly what is there. And we will never know what was destroyed in the Waqf's bulldozing.

Jim also says:
Even today, the fear that archaeology may not prove what so many want proven lies beneath the apprehension. What if there were no Solomonic Temple? What if the arrival in the land of migrants from Babylon is as far back as Israel can trace its existence as a "nation-state"? Would that fact somehow mean that present day Israel had no right to exist? That seems to me an odd conclusion.

I'm not sure that ascribing unworthy motives to the people one disagrees with is a constructive approach here. And the merits of their position still remain to be weighed, whatever their motives. I'm sure there must be people with the motive Jim describes, but there are plenty of others who are simply horrified at the wanton destruction in a site of such historical importance. I'm one of the latter and I'm just as appalled by the loss of Islamic and Crusader-era data as I am about data on the earlier periods. I agree that the right of present-day Israel to exist is not predicated on the historical specifics of Judean and Israelite kingdoms in the Iron Age II.

I've read some of the "minimalist" research (sorry, I hate that term too, but I don't know of a better one) but certainly not all of it. I have not encountered anything by a minimalist scholar that forthrightly denied that there was any Judean temple on the Temple Mount at any time in Iron Age II and I think this would be pretty difficult to maintain. Whether there was a grand edifice in the time of Solomon as described in the Bible is quite another matter, as I said in my last post on this subject. If someone can point me to serious scholarly discussions that do deny there was a pre-exilic temple in Jerusalem, I would be grateful if you would point me to them. Ditto, if a "minimalist" scholar holds this position and would like to e-mail me and tell me why.

I've spent way too much of my Saturday morning on this and need to get on to other things. But I am working on a long post on the archaeological and historical evidence pertaining to Judean/Jewish temples on the Temple Mount for the Temple Mount blogburst and plan to post it just before. I will have more to say then.

UPDATE: Jim replies:
I don't believe I have ascribed any sort of motives, unworthy or otherwise, to anyone I disagree with. In fact, I've simply asked a question.

The statement I was referring to was the sentence "Even today, the fear that archaeology may not prove what so many want proven lies beneath the apprehension." The immediately preceding context was "But many religious and secular Zionists find cause for worry. "If anything is sacred to secular Zionists, it's archaeology," explains Gorenberg. "It provides an essential link between today's Israelis and the ancient Jews." That's really what its all about." The italics are the article and the Roman type is Jim's comment. I don't think that this sums up the reasons for concern over the damage to the Temple Mount by the Waqf. There are good archaeological and historical reasons to be mightily disturbed by the damage. Zionist ideology is not "really what it's all about," although I don't deny that that is the issue for some people.

Jim continues:
If there were no evidence (and note, that is the issue so far as I am concerned) for a Solomonic (First) temple what impact could that possibly have on the State of Israel's present claim to the land? What Jim and others seem to be suggesting is that until no proof of a Temple can be found, it must be presumed to have existed. And if the Waqf weren't wantonly destroying materials, said evidence would be found. That argument seems tenuous. It is as much as saying "there's evidence but we don't have it so that proves it's there to be found".

My point of view is that, archaeologically speaking, we cannot claim there was a First Temple until we have evidence that there was.

Okay, but any Jewish Temple at all is the issue for the Palestinians, which was one of my points. As to an Iron Age-II Temple, much here depends on what one does with the evidence of the Deuteronomistic History and other relevant texts from the Hebrew Bible, doesn't it? There's also some interesting (genuine, excavated) epigraphic evidence, although it's not conclusive. But all that is a discussion for another post, which I intend to get around to. As I said, I've not seen the position Jim is taking here in a specialist peer-reviewed publication, and I'm not inclined to put a lot of my time into debating positions that haven't passed that hurdle.

Meanwhile, the Waqf should still not be wantonly destroying materials.

UPDATE (31 July): Jim quotes my last two sentences above and concludes:
Hence, if a position isn't found in a "specialist peer reviewed publication" it has no merit and isn't worthy of the time it may involve to discuss it until it "passes that hurdle".

This, of course, is not what I said and, given the amount of time I've spent this weekend discussing his position, is rather ungracious. Jim either thinks there was no Iron Age II Temple or else wishes to act as devil's advocate for that idea. Fine. But so far he's given me no indication that he is anything but a congregation of one. I have asked for publications on this idea and so far have received no answer. The only argument Jim has produced in favor of the idea is the lack of archaeological evidence, which I have addressed above. Somehow this is transformed into "no evidence" and "no proof." I have pointed out the matter of the Deuteronomistic History. It's certainly a mainstream position (I'm not saying a consensus) that Dtr was published either in the time of Josiah or not long afterward, and this seems to me to be the most persuasive view. Not everyone would agree, and that's fine. It's worth discussing. But Dtr is not "no evidence" and "no proof."

I'm willing to spend some time discussing speculative ideas, but there's a limit to how much, which is what I said above. I did not say that such an idea "has no merit and isn't worthy of the time it may involve to discuss it." It depends on the idea and the context of the discussion, doesn't it? Jim is putting words in my mouth that I did not say. He did this to Judith Weiss as well and it is not an appealing rhetorical tactic.

Yes, of course peer-review publication is a very useful filter, because it makes sure that an idea has positive arguments in its favor that some other scholars have at least found worth moving forward for debate. If someone wants seriously to advance a position, that's the place to do it. Coincidentally, Yuval Goren has just made the same point on the ANE list.

As for the rubble already dug out by the Waqf, I never said I expected it to prove the existence of the First Temple. I think no such thing. I do think that precious historical evidence has been destroyed by the actions of the Waqf, and that's what I said.

Again, I plan to come back to the Temple Mount and its archaeology and history in a couple of weeks.

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