The on-going excavations of Megiddo are the subject of a report by Nir Hasson in Haaretz. The story focuses on the 10th-century debate but mentions a similar text-archaeology problem in the 15th century.
Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein is leading his sweating guests to a corner of Tel Megiddo. He points to a black stain on a rock, which on closer inspection turn out to be charred seeds. “This,” he says, “is the most important find at Tel Megiddo.”
In one of the four excavation areas on the mound, each marked by its own flag, we come back to the charred crumbs Finkelstein says were the mound’s most important find. Here, under a rainbow flag, we are told they are tiny seeds that Megiddo’s inhabitants collected around 3,000 years ago. They went up in flames when the city was destroyed.
They are important because of their location in relation to finds above and below them. Organic material like this is especially valuable because it can undergo carbon-14 testing, allowing the level where it was found to be dated.
One of the black layers indicates destruction in the 10th century. Finkelstein’s detractors say David destroyed this city – an idea that Finkelstein rejects because he says the carbon-14 dating rules out the possibility that the city was destroyed suddenly. It shows a gradual process.
The difficulties in reconciling text and archaeology are not limited to the Bible. Those who have great confidence in archaeology and their interpretation of the material remains tend to denigrate textual accounts.
Not far away, under a Jolly Roger, a group is excavating fortifications. Here, the finds also defy an ancient text. But this time it’s not the Bible, it’s the Egyptian record of the conquest of Megiddo by Pharaoh Thutmoses III in the 15th century BCE, describing a seven-month siege.
But the excavators discovered that the city walls at that time were meager. Finkelstein explains the discrepancy as he does with the Bible. The Thutmoses text was written to glorify the pharaoh’s vanquishing of a supposedly mighty city.
This proposal is less satisfying when considered more carefully. According to Thutmoses’ own records, his army surprised the Canaanite forces when they traveled through the Megiddo pass (Nahal Iron). With the Canaanite soldiers positioned near Jokneam and Taanach, Megiddo was an easy target. Yet the Egyptian soldiers pursued plunder and the Canaanites were able to escape into the safety of the city walls. A seven-month siege was required to take what could have been easily captured with some basic army discipline. While Thutmoses III certainly was glorified by his ultimate defeat of the Canaanite coalition, it is not easy to understand why he would have invented such an embarrassing story.
Some day I’ll explain why many scholars reject Finkelstein’s dating of 10th-century remains at Megiddo.
HT: Joseph Lauer