Thursday, December 16, 2010

Israeli Archeology - a Mess of Biblical Proportions?

[David - will the archaeologists get off his back?]

This month National Geographic magazine has published an interesting article about the heated disputes going on in Israeli archeology today.

In the beginning, there was William Albright and his pupil Yigael Yadin. Through the 1950s, 60s and 70s they defended the Bible as being basically historically accurate.

Next came Israel Finkelstein in the 1990's and 2000's. He regards the Bible as basically fictional.

Now a new generation of archaeologists are attacking him. People like Eilat Mazar, Thomas Levy and Yosef Garfinkel are claiming that significant parts of the Bible, regarding David and Solomon, are indeed historically accurate.

These discussions can be quite emotional. Finkelstein is described as "having a highly visceral manner—leaning his tall, bearded frame into a visitor's face, waving his large hands, modulating his baritone with Shakespearean agility." Likewise, when a passing tour guide contradicts her opinions, Mazar "jumps up from her bench and marches over to the tour guide. She chews him out in a staccato of Hebrew, while he stares passively at her. The gaping tourists watch her stalk off". Garfinkel says of Finkelstein's recent receipt of a four-million-dollar research grant, "He doesn't even use science—that's the irony. It's like giving Saddam Hussein the Nobel Peace Prize." Whatever.

Keep in mind as well that all archaeologists interpret their evidence with an atheistic bias, since that is the preferred religion of scientists.

The take home message for Orthodox Jews should be - ancient Palestinian archeology can prove anything or nothing. Very, very little has been preserved intact in Palestine over the past 3,000 years. Carbon 14 dating can be tricky, as this article mentions. Imaginary worlds are, in the minds of archaeologists, built and destroyed based on a few olive pits or a pottery fragment.

The fact is that because archaeology employs a wide range of different procedures, it can be considered to be both a science and a humanity. I would describe it as a "soft science" to the max.


NC said...

Believe it or not, I agree mostly, although atheism is not a "religion".

Lets take a religious Muslim, who comes to realize that his religion is a fabrication, and rejects it. He furthermore does not accept upon himself the truth of any other religion, either. Is his disbelief, a "religion"?

"Hard" findings like the Dead Sea Scrolls do shed some light about Palestine at the end of the second Temple era, but there is still a lot of speculation.

jewish philosopher said...

I define atheism as the belief that there is no Biblical God and evolution created us.

Atheists may argue that since they do not believe in a personal god and do not pray, atheism is not a religion, however the same is true of some Buddhists and Scientologists. Atheism is a belief system concerning spirituality, the afterlife, man’s origin and morality and therefore I believe it is a religion.

There is an Atheist Alliance International complete with all sorts of activities, awards, conventions, publications, etc. There is no "People Who Don't Believe in Leprechauns Alliance International". 

To me, it's almost impossible to conceive of a person who is truly "areligious" - he has no opinion about our origins, no opinion about how we should lead our lives and no opinion about the afterlife. Animals universally function that way, however I don't believe humans psychologically can. Our brain isn't wired that way. It's a little like clothing or language - no animals possess it but no humans lack it.

NC said...

"To me, it's almost impossible to conceive of a person who is truly "areligious" - he has no opinion about ....."

You're very confused, JP. Since when does an opinion constitute a religion?

Let's be clear. Your motive in claiming that atheism is a "religion" is an attempt to downgrade the scientific fact of evolution-- by classifying it as just a belief in one of the many "wrong" world religions (all religions except Judaism, of course).

So by using the language of religion, concepts that only exist in religion, such as afterlife, biblical god, "creation", to describe the opinions of atheists, you wrongly speak of atheism as a religion when it isn't.

Its like using the terminology of Star Trek--warp drive, cloak shields and phasers-- when describing NATO war doctrine.

And, BTW, even withing traditional Judaism there are many surprising views about the "afterlife". See for example, this excellent essay on the Rambam.

Your definition of religion, which is dichotomous, is very characteristic of your thinking as reflected in your posts.

jewish philosopher said...

If atheism isn't a religion, I'm not sure what is.

I would define it as a false, dangerous cult of death. No atheistic society has had a low level of violence and a replacement fertility rate. If mankind were to convert to atheism tomorrow one half would kill the other half, the survivors would not bother to have kids and that would be that.

Calling evolution science is like calling the gospels journalism.

NC said...

Man's salvation will probably come from his liberation of his God myths. Until then we'll probably have eternal war and suffering imposed by the defenders of god.

Only when we realize that we are in service of man and not god will people stop killing in the name of god and religion.

jewish philosopher said...

Of course, some religions are worse than others. I'm not a big fan of Islam for example.

The all time worst may have been the People's Temple

which ended in the Jonestown massacre. The cult's leader, Jim Jones, was an atheist. (No surprise there.)

Judaism is actually pretty much pascifist, as I explain here.

NC said...

I would agree that Judaism has been relatively pacifist since the destruction of the second temple. Not so before that. And militarist tendencies among nationalist religious Jews in Israel are not so pacifist either.

Its easy to be pacifist when you are powerless, defenseless and a dispersed minority.

The real challenge for any group is when it becomes powerful. And in that regard religion is no different than any other "ism", that resorts to primitive tribal instincts that are part of human nature (unfortunately).

I don't imagine that you would be very gentle and pacifist either, if you had the resources to control other people's lives.

jewish philosopher said...

The Zionist Orthodox represent about 15% of Orthodoxy. Zionism was founded by an atheist and denounced by nearly all Talmudic scholars.

And many times minorities turn to terrorism. Take the Basques, Chechens, Irish Republican Army,etc.