Mazar-small town, mighty citadel

I am writing about an article by Amihai Mazar (Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative: The Case of the United Monarchy) on the reality of a single kingdom the Hebrew Bible says was ruled over first by David and then by Solomon before it split into a northern and southern kingdom.

First let me say something about the Mazar family. Benjamin Mazar was an Israeli archeologist of note who has many descendents and relatives who have made their own contributions to the field. Eliat Mazar is his granddaughter. Amihai is his nephew.

The main part of the article concerns a find by Eliat Mazar announced in 2005. She claimed to have found David’s palace in Jerusalem. The Bible says that during a Philistine attack David “went down” to his stronghold (2 Samuel 5:17). She took this to mean that he left the village and went south. She dug there and did, in fact, find a large stone structure that she dated to the 10th century, David’s time.

Her claim was controversial. The fact that she had used the Bible first and then went digging violated one of the tenets of modern archeology which sees texts as secondary. Nevertheless, she did find a big, important building of some sort. She defends her original conclusion in an article from a few months ago here.

What she found is now called “the large stone structure” and it, along with the nearby “stepped structure” is the focus of much of Amihai’s paper. He says we should think of these as parts of single complex.

A prominent challenge to the idea that David’s palace had been found is from Israel Finkelstein. He had already been arguing that in the 10th century Jerusalem was such a small town that it could not have been the capital city of any important kingdom. He attacked the idea that the large stone structure was the palace of David from several stand points. He challenged the 10th century date. He challenged the unity of the structure.

Amihai Mazar goes into much technical detail in a point by point refutation of Finkelstein. My eyes tend to glaze over when archeologists start talking about how to date pots. So I have no basis for evaluating this part of the argument.

Amihai has a slightly different understanding of the large stone structure than Eliat’s idea that it is David’s palace. He thinks it might be the fortress of Zion mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:7 and 9. He thinks it might have been a Jebusite structure built on to by the Israelites. But he does think the structure shows that even though Jerusalem’s population was small, it had the major buildings of a governing center.

I think this is right. In the 14th century we know from the Amarna Letters that Jerusalem was the seat of a petty king. By virtue of being a strong fortress, kings may have favored it as a seat of government even though it could not accommodate a large population.

So Amihai Mazar thinks that “Jerusalem was a rather small town with a mighty citadel, which could have been a center of a substantial regional polity” (p. 46).


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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