Bible Was Right: Edom Thrived in Solomons Time
High-precision radiocarbon dates have confirmed that Biblical Edom was active with industrial-scale metal production in the 10th and 9th centuries. Archaeologists publishing in PNAS said,1 “The methodologies applied to the historical IA archaeology of the Levant have implications for other parts of the world where sacred and historical texts interface with the material record.” In other words, sacred and historical texts should sometimes be taken seriously – not dismissed out of hand.
The authors viewed their results as a challenge to recent “minimalist” re-interpretations of the Bible that try to relegate the stories of David and Solomon to myths and legends by saying that Israel was too tiny to support the wealth and power described in the Bible. They also challenge the ridicule that has been heaped on those who took the Bible as a reliable guide for archaeologists. Here’s how they started their paper:
In 1940, the American archaeologist Nelson Glueck summarized his extensive 1930s archaeological surveys in Transjordan in his book The Other Side of the Jordan, asserting that he had discovered King Solomon’s mines in the Faynan district (the northern part of biblical Edom), ~50 km south of the Dead Sea in what is now southern Jordan. The period between the First and Second World Wars has been called the “Golden Age” of biblical archaeology when this subfield was characterized by an almost literal interpretation of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible, HB) as historical fact. Archaeologists such as Glueck metaphorically carried the trowel in 1 hand and the Bible in the other, searching the archaeological landscape of the southern Levant for confirmation of the biblical narrative from the Patriarchs to the United Monarchy under David and Solomon to other personages, places, and events mentioned in the sacred text. Beginning in the 1980s, this paradigm came under severe attack, primarily by so-called biblical minimalist scholars who argued that as the HB was edited in its final form during the 5th century (c.)BC, any reference in the text to events earlier than ca. 500 BC were false. Accordingly, the events ascribed to the early Israelite and Judean kings from the 10th-9th c. BCE were viewed as concocted by elite 5th c. BCE editors of the HB who resided in postexilic times in Babylon and later in Jerusalem. Some of the casualities [sic] of the scholarly debate between the traditional biblical scholarship and biblical minimalists has been the historicity of David and Solomon—the latter of which is traditionally cross-dated by biblical text (1 Kings 11:40; 14:25; and 2 Chronicles 12:2�9) and the military topographic list of the Egyptian Pharaoh Sheshonq I (Shishak in the HB) found at the Temple of Amun in Thebes and dated to the early 10th c. BCE (5).
….The 14C dates associated with smelting debris layers from Faynan reported here demonstrate intensive 10th�9th c. BCE industrial metallurgical activities conducted by complex societies.
The analytical approach advocated here argues for an historical biblical archaeology rooted in the application of science-based methods that enables subcentury dating and the control of the spatial context of data through digital recording tools.
The researchers carefully dated carbon-bearing materials from the site discovered in 2005 (see 02/18/2005) as a candidate for the massive copper-mining operation of Edom described in the Bible. The paper describes in detail the methods they used: carbon dating charcoal pieces from the site with high precision equipment. Some of the dates stretch well before 1000 BCE – before David’s kingdom. The paper contains pictures and sketches of the complex smelting operation with its copper slag mounts found at the likely site of Biblical Edom across the Arabah from southern Israel.
The researchers concluded that the revisionist, minimalist dates of 7th century BCE are no longer tenable. What are the implications? “These new data indicate the need to revisit the relationship between the early IA history of the southern Levant [eastern Mediterranean]” among other things. Perhaps other minimalist dates will be falsified under the new scientific techniques used by this team – thus lending credibility once again to the practice of digging with a Bible in one hand, a trowel in the other, and a radiocarbon dating machine back in the lab. In their words, “the question of whether King Solomon’s copper mines have been discovered in Faynan returns to scholarly discourse.”
The day after our entry on the Levy et al paper appeared, Science Daily posted its report and other news sites followed. National Geographic News reported that some of the funding for the project came from the National Geographic Society. Todd Bolen’s Bible Places Blog contains pictures of the site and links for more information.
Update 10/29/2008: Bible Places Blog posted another report from an archaeological dig relating to the time of David and Solomon: Biblical Gath, home of Goliath. The team excavating Tell es-Safi used joint on-site analytical methods “unparalled at ANY excavation in Israel, and in fact, in the world,” Todd Bolen, a professor in Israel for 11 years, said. After reviewing the team’s report, he added, “For many reasons, this excavation looks like it will be extremely beneficial for archaeological and biblical studies.”
1. Levy et al, “High-precision radiocarbon dating and historical biblical archaeology in southern Jordan,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print October 27, 2008, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0804950105.
Bible scholars will surely find this paper interesting. There’s something satisfying about debunking the debunkers. Congratulations to National Geographic News, usually a Darwinist propaganda bullhorn, for giving a fair report on the story without disparaging the Bible in the process. Time to minimize minimalism in Biblical archaeology. Minimalists? Don’t need ’em in Edom.