The Bible Is Their Battlefield: Archaeology and Israel's Right to Be
Meyers, Nechemia, The World and I
Nechemia Meyers is a freelance writer based in Rehovot, Israel.
The battle for the legitimacy of Israel, even perhaps for its survival, is being fought by archaeologists in Jerusalem. And the Bible is their battlefield.
Can the Jewish presence in the holy city be traced back to the days of Solomon, the building of whose temple is described so precisely in First Kings? There we read: "And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord."
Perhaps, alternatively, it is all a myth, as claimed by Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the mufti of Jerusalem appointed by the Palestinian Authority. When interviewed by Die Welt in January 2001, Sabri declared: "There is not even the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish Temple on this place in the past. In the whole city, there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish history."
This was not always the Islamic viewpoint. Haram al-Sharif, the name given to the Temple Mount by Muslims, was described in a guidebook published by the Supreme Muslim Council in 1930 as a place "whose sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David built an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings."
The same guide also has something to say about Solomon's Stables, which the Wakf, the Islamic body that controls the area, converted into a new mosque in 1996. "Little is known," the 1930 publication notes, "about the early history of the chamber itself. It probably dates as far back as the construction of Solomon's Temple."
Today no Arab public figure would express such sentiments, no matter how embarrassed he might be by the claims of the Islamists in regard to Jewish links with the Temple Mount. At best, people like Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University, and Mohammad Dajani, the director of the university's American Studies Institute, will declare that archaeological excavations should be carried out on the Temple Mount only with the agreement of all concerned. This means, in effect, that there won't be any, because a Wakf veto can be counted upon.
Seeking to confirm biblical accounts
Israeli archaeologists have been barred from excavating on the Temple Mount since 1987. In the meantime, the Wakf has been carrying out various construction projects in the area, projects that often obliterate sites of great archaeological interest. This enrages Eilat Mazar. Her grandfather, Benjamin Mazar, was one of Israel's pioneering archaeologists and supervised digs in the area of the Temple Mount between 1967 and 1978. Mazar, who has followed in her grandfather's footsteps, describes the Temple Mount as "one of the most important archaeological sites in the world." Mazar finds it difficult to understand "how nothing has been done to stop the Islamic fundamentalists from carrying out their aim to transform it into one great mosque."
Mazar recalls how, in November 1999, the Wakf brought in hundreds of trucks that were used to carry out twelve thousand cubic meters of material, which were dumped into a nearby wadi. "The material included," she declares, "objects that could have been very significant if they had been found in a clear archaeological context, but lost much of their significance once they had been removed from where they had been lying for thousands of years."
She criticizes the Israeli government for failing to stop the vandalism for fear of Muslim reactions. Mazar also notes that the Western world as a whole, despite its biblical roots, has paid little or no attention to what is happening on the Temple Mount. Mazar attributes this in part to the fact that cameramen are not allowed in the area. …