Monday, December 6, 2010

David is Dead, Long Live David

David is on the cover of the National Geographic, and in a box it says: “Despite decades of searching, archaeologists had found no solid evidence that David or Solomon ever built anything.” And, “Maybe Goliath never existed,” says Garfinkel as he drives across the bridge over the brook of Elah where the famous confrontation is said to have taken place. “The story is that Goliath came from a giant city, and in the telling of it over the centuries, he became a giant himself. It’s a metaphor.”

“Tel Aviv University’s contrarian-in-residence Israel Finkelstein, who has made a career out of merrily demolishing assumptions,” such as those of archaeologist Eilat Mazar who claims to have found David’s palace and whose work is funded by two organizations – the City of David Foundation and the Shalem Center – dedicated to the literal truth of the Bible. According to Finkelstein, and the vast preponderance of science and scholarship, during David’s time Jerusalem was little more than a “hill-country village,” and David himself a raggedy upstart akin to Pancho Villa, and his legion of followers more like “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting – not the stuff of great armies of chariots described in the text.”

“Many archaeologists question whether the obsessive scramble to prove the biblical narrative is a healthy enterprise,” say the Geographic. “One of them, Tel Aviv University’s Raphael Greenberg, flatly states, ‘It’s bad for archaeology. What we’re supposed to contribute is a point of view that isn’t available from texts or preconceived notions of history – an alternative vision of the past: relations between rich and poor, between men and women. Something richer, in other words, than just validating the Bible.’”

“But does David, with all his metaphorical power, cease to matter if his deeds and empire are ultimately fiction? ‘Look,’ says Finkelstein, David’s dethroner, ‘when I’m doing research, I have to distinguish between the culture of David and the historical David. David is extremely important for my cultural identity. In the same way, I can celebrate the Exodus without seeing it as a purely historic event. David is alive. David is not a plaque on the wall, not even merely a leader of a tenth-centruy BC band. No. Much more than that.”

For me, too, and I suspect for many people as well. See the story I’m writing about him, Devorah, Saul and Solomon at:

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