Saturday, July 23, 2011

Was "Palestine" Biblical?

This AP story about a a joint project of the Palestinian Tourism Ministry, the Dutch government and UNESCO, In Palestinian city, diggers uncover biblical ruin, provides much of media newspeak.

If one uncovers a "biblical site", does one discover "Palestine" or the Jewish national home?  Who is making use of archaeology?  Who is rewriting a historical narrative, or creating one?  And, also, the role of outsiders, external supporters of "Palestinian nationalism".

Some excerpts:-

Archaeologists unearthing a biblical ruin inside a Palestinian city in the West Bank are writing the latest chapter in a 100-year-old excavation that has been interrupted by two world wars and numerous rounds of Mideast upheaval.

...Dutch and Palestinian archaeologists are learning more about the ancient city of Shekhem..."The local population has started very well to understand the value of the site, not only the historical value, but also the value for their own identity," said Gerrit van der Kooij of Leiden University in the Netherlands, who co-directs the dig team (and note this and this book in his honor). "The local people have to feel responsible for the archaeological heritage in their neighborhood," he said.

Think: if Jews had not been ethnically cleansed from the city in 1929, would it still be only a "Palestinian city"?

And how is Shchem described?

The city of Shekhem, positioned in a pass between the mountains of Gerizim and Eibal and controlling the Askar Plains to the east, was an important regional center more than 3,500 years ago. As the existing remains show, it lay within fortifications of massive stones, was entered through monumental gates and centered on a temple with walls five yards (meters) thick. The king of Shekhem, Labaya, is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets of the Pharaonic archive found at Tel al-Amarna in Egypt, which are dated to the 14th century B.C. The king had rebelled against Egyptian domination, and soldiers were dispatched north to subdue him. They failed.

The city also appears often in the biblical narrative. The patriarch Abraham, for example, was passing near Shekhem when God promised to give the land of Canaan to his descendants in the Book of Genesis. Later, Abraham's grandson Jacob was camped outside the walls when a local Canaanite prince raped his daughter, Dinah. Jacob's sons sacked the city in vengeance. The body of Jacob's son Joseph was brought from Egypt hundreds of years later by the fleeing Israelites and buried at Shekhem.

At least the honor of Hebrew is preserved:-

Two millennia ago, the Romans abandoned the original site and built a new city to the west, calling it Flavius Neapolis. The Greek name Neapolis, or "new city," later became enshrined in Arabic as Nablus. In Hebrew, the city is still called Shekhem.

Let's go to the ground:

...the remains of the northwestern city gate in a curved wall built by skilled engineers around 1600 B.C. A visitor can walk through the gate, passing through two chambers before emerging inside the city. From there it is a short walk to the remains of the city's temple, with a stone stele on an outdoor platform overlooking the houses below.

The identity of the city's residents at the time remains unclear. One theory posits that they were Hyksos, people who came from northern Syria and were later expelled from Egypt. According to the Bible's account, the city was later Canaanite and still later ruled by Israelites, but archaeology has not corroborated that so far, van der Kooij said.

Not the danger here:

All of the periods in local history, including that of the biblical Israelites, are part of Palestinian history, Taha said.  Digs like the one in Nablus, he said, "give Palestinians the opportunity to participate in writing or rewriting the history of Palestine from its primary sources."


Biblical Jewish Roots Irrelevant, Says PA Activist

The Bible is an “ancient holy book” that is irrelevant in the Palestinian Authority aim for all of Judea and Samaria, a PA activist says.

...The Bible is full of “medieval” traditions that should not be considered or influence decisions on whether or not to create the Palestinian Authority as an independent state within Israel’s borders, Dr. Hussein Ibish, Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, said in the debate with David Ha’Ivri, director of the Shomron (Samaria) Liaison Office....Ibish, born in Lebanon and a self-described agnostic, has campaigned on American campuses as executive director of the American Task Force for Palestine...


The website of the excavations at Tell Balata (Shechem) is here.

From it:

There are ancient Egyptian and biblical (ancient Shechem) references to the site, indicating it as an important cultural and trade centre, due to its strategic location at the eastern end of a pass between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal.

...The aim of the project is to provide facilities for visitors, like a visitor centre, and to work on the long term preservation of the site. The site can already be visited all year, every day between 8 am - 3 pm.

Have fun visiting.


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