Monday, January 11, 2010


Why we are here

Cast your mind back to before Muhammad destroyed the Jewish tribes of Arabia; before Islam expanded beyond the Arabian Peninsula reaching Jerusalem in 638. Before the ancient Roman Empire and the emergence of Christianity; before the Greek empire; even before the Persians came onto the stage of history.

Consider the distant 10th century before the Common Era when the ancient Israelites were consolidating their kingdom under Saul and David.

Over the weekend came a report that an ancient inscription had been deciphered testifying - yet again - to the age-old connection between the people and land of Israel.

On what in ancient times was a main road from the coastal plain to the hill country, Hebrew University of Jerusalem archeologist Yosef Garfinkel, digging in the northern Judean hills at Khirbet Qeiyafa - which borders on the Eila Valley (off today's Route 38) - found a piece of pottery with ink writing which dates back to the Davidic era.

The discovery was made a year-and-a-half ago. A number of scholars are examining the text though Prof. Gershon Galil, a biblical studies expert at the University of Haifa, just made his conclusions public.

The inscriptions, he said, are undoubtedly ancient Hebrew, using words such as almana (widow) that would have been written differently in other local languages.

It is easy to get carried away by academic hoopla. Some bible scholars and archeologists may disagree with the tone of Galil's revelations and the assertion that new ground is being broken. Other scholars have yet to weigh in.

STILL, this much appears clear:

• There was an expansive Kingdom of David which extended well beyond the hill country.

• The Hebrew language was sufficiently developed in the 10th century. It reinforces what many scholars have long appreciated - that parts of the Bible are very, very old.

• During the reign of King David there were scribes who were able to compose complex literary texts such as the books of Judges and Samuel.

• The find establishes that scholarship was taking place away from kingdom's hub, implying that even greater learning was going on at its heart.

The text is equally significant because it shows that a key concern of the ancient Israelites was social justice:

You shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].

Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]

[and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]

the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.

Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

Galil told The Jerusalem Post he has no doubt that the inscription is ancient Hebrew and that only Jews, not Canaanites, could have authored it.

It is living - Carbon-14 dated - proof that in the 10th century Samuel could have written what traditionalists have ascribed to him all along. (Galil also remarked that ancient Hebrew was once written from left to right.)

IT MAY seem obvious that the Jewish connection to this land dates back thousands of years. "By the rivers of Babylon" - but also by the waters of the Danube, Volga, Dnieper and Rhine - "we sat down and cried as we remembered Zion."

The Jewish lament for Zion knew no bounds.

Yet since the Jewish return under the auspices of the modern Zionist movement, an elaborate industry of denial has sprung up.

Many reputable scholars never set out to deny the ancient connection between Jews and Israel, but simply emphasized the lack of contemporary confirmation that Bible figures such as David were anything like their scriptural portraits. Unfortunately, their work was quickly manipulated and exploited by anti-Zionists. All the while, the Palestinian Arab leadership has remained adamant that evidence of an ancient Jewish presence in this land is a figment of the Zionist imagination. It's unlikely that anything will sway Palestinians out of their obdurate denial.

Still, the work of a generation of bible scholars and archeologists - along with their vibrant debates - continues to uplift the Israeli spirit. It is gratifying to observe - from Eila Valley pottery writings and Dead Sea scrolls to Beit Guvrin tablets - ancient Jewish history falling ever more vividly into place, reminding us why we are here.

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