Israel Finkelstein, Lily Singer-Avitz, Ze’ev Herzog, and David Ussishkin have written an article in the Tel Aviv journal entitled “Has King David’s Palace in Jerusalem Been Found?”  Jim West has posted the article in pdf format here (but after Jan 29 here).

The abstract:

Recent excavations at the City of David have revealed a set of massive walls constructed of large undressed stones. Excavator Eilat Mazar has presented them as the remains of a single building, which she labelled the ‘Large Stone Structure’. Mazar interpreted the ‘Large Stone Structure’ as part of a big construction complex, which had also included the ‘Stepped Stone Structure’ on the slope. She dated her ‘Large Stone Structure’ to ca. 1000 BCE and identified it as the palace of King David. We argue that: (1) the walls unearthed by Mazar do not belong to a single building; (2) the more elaborate walls may be associated with elements uncovered by Macalister and Duncan in the 1920s and should possibly be dated to the Hellenistic period; (3) the ‘Stepped Stone Structure’ represents at least two phases of construction— the lower (downslope) and earlier, possibly dating to the Iron IIA in the 9th century BCE, and the later (which connects to the Hasmonaean First Wall upslope) dating to the Hellenistic period.

Their brutal conclusion:

Eilat Mazar’s excavations in the City of David add several points of information to what we know about the history of this problematic site. Yet, the main find—the ‘Large Stone Structure’—was not properly interpreted and dated. First, it seems to consist of several elements, mainly a rectangular building in the west and the citywall in the east. Second, all one can safely say is that its various elements post-date the late Iron I/early Iron IIA and predate the Roman period. Circumstantial evidence seems to suggest the dating of most elements to the late Hellenistic period.
Beyond archaeology, one wonders about the interpretation of the finds. The biblical text dominates this field operation, not archaeology. Had it not been for Mazar’s literal reading of the biblical text, she never would have dated the remains to the 10th century BCE with such confidence. This is an excellent example of the weakness of the traditional, highly literal, biblical archaeology—a discipline that dominated research until the 1960s, that was weakened and almost disappeared from the scene in the later years of the 20th century, and that reemerged with all its attributes in the City of David in 2005.

Revising Mazar’s date from the 10th century to the 2nd-1st century is a huge correction (it reminds one of the 1000-year errors that Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister regularly made).  And this charge is made not in a casual conversation, but in a major journal. But the authors make no attempt to hide their own agenda: they hate “biblical archaeology.”  While Mazar is possibly guilty of finding what she is looking for, I have trouble imagining a scenario where Finkelstein would agree with any conclusion which supports the traditional biblical interpretation.  Perhaps herein lies a test: if every archaeological discovery of a certain excavator seems to be of a structure mentioned in the Bible, be suspicious.  But if an archaeologist is able to find a reason to reject every discovery with a biblical connection, he may not be worthy of your trust.

There’s another lesson in this debate: much in archaeology is ambiguous, and multiple conclusions are possible.  In most cases, a major issue is not at stake and the conclusion of the excavator is not carefully evaluated.  But there are many, many examples where a site, level, or subject is re-analyzed and a significantly different conclusion is reached.  For me it means one thing: thou shalt not trust in archaeology.  If certain conclusions are the primary support of one’s faith, it’s quite possible that one day those conclusions will be questioned (before, perhaps, being re-adopted).  Many today use archaeology in a similar way but for an opposite result: certain archaeological conclusions are their evidence that the Bible is not an accurate historical record.  To all amateurs, I suggest a careful consideration of the ambiguity of much of archaeological evidence.  In the hands of an interpreter (usually called an archaeologist), archaeology is no science.

In a blog comment, Aren Maier indicates that the debate is just beginning:

As someone who has seen the evidence and heard both Eilat Mazar present her case and Finkelstien, Ussishkin, Herzog and Singer-Avitz present their counterarguments, I believe that one can say that:
1) Eilat has overstated her case that she has found “David’s palace”. She HAS found a large building in the City of David, dating to the 10th or 9th cent. BCE.
2) From an archaeological point of view, the “Hellenistic” dating that Finkelstine et al. have suggested is to say the least, very unconvincing. This though is not the place to go in to details.

Sometime I’d like to post my own thoughts on Mazar’s “palace of David.”  I’m not competent to analyze the stratigraphical issues, but I do think that she’s made some significant mistakes in biblical interpretation.  And that’s from one who believes that David had a palace and the biblical record of it is reliable.

*The article is worth downloading for the bibliography alone, if you’re into that kind of thing.


BiblePlaces readers might be interested in the recent series “Digging the Bible” by David Plotz of Slate, who wrote the “Blogging the Bible” series last year.  Plotz writes well and has some good insights interspersed with inaccuracies.  Some things he says are disputed, while other things would be corrected if he bothered to run it by anyone knowledgeable.  But this is all too common, it seems to me: those who know often can’t write in a way that’s compelling, and those who can write usually are covering fields they don’t really know.

One paragraph of interest:

It’s a eureka moment for me. Suddenly, the wars of the Bible that made no sense on the page are perfectly comprehensible. The geography explains it all: On this side is the backward hill kingdom of Judah. On that side is the technologically advanced coastal kingdom of the Philistines. And here, in between them, is the fortress line that must not break. Standing on this ancient hilltop, looking over a landscape that has not changed much since the Book of Kings—well, discounting the Israeli army base a quarter-mile below—I can see the Bible more clearly than I read it. (Emphasis added.)

But this is what they all say after coming to Israel.  Unfortunately this guy blogged the Bible for a year before he went to Israel.  Perhaps now he should give it another try.