Monday, September 10, 2007

Archaeology in the Holy Land.

I've been sitting on a couple of these stories for a while, but with the addition of the most recent, I decided to combine them into one post.

Though I studied Classical Archaeology (Greek and Roman), I never got too interested in archaeology at the fringes of the Roman Empire. My interests lay mainly with the Etruscans and early Rome. Archaeology is archaeology however, and I learned early on that a general knowledge was essential before one could pursue one's chosen specialty, so I've always kept an eye on areas that I didn't particularly study, such as the Middle East and Egypt.

Since I became a Christian, however, I've naturally become more interested in the archaeology of the Holy Land, both Old and New Testament periods. In addition to contributing to our understanding of the Bible, recent stories can also illustrate some problems faced by archaeologists and history lovers in Israel.

The first two stories follow the former point of contributing to our understanding of the Bible and biblical times. Beehives have been found which indicate a lively honey producing operation, more than just 'artificial' honey made from figs. The hives were found in a room which could have accommodated 100 of them. The land of milk and honey indeed.

From a later period, archaeologists have discovered an underground tunnel used by the Jews fleeing from the Roman sacking of the Temple. The tunnel was built as a drainage channel for the temple complex, and ran under the main road into the city; it is also mentioned by Flavius Josephus in his work, War of the Jews, regarding the rebellion of 66-70AD. The bonus for the archaeologists is that by discovering the tunnel, they also know where to look for the road as well (which was their original intent - goes to show that Beloq was right in Raiders of the Lost Ark that 'archaeology is not an exact science').

The third article follows the latter point I made about problems faced by archaeologists, particularly because of local political or religious considerations. A construction project by the Waqf, the Muslim custodial group of the Temple mount, has uncovered what is believed to be part of the actual Temple, mentioned in the previous paragraph, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. This is the first physical evidence of the temple since its destruction, and since it is in the area of Muslim control, antiquities unearthed in the project are being destroyed. This is not surprising, since the Muslims contend there was never a Jewish presence in Jerusalem. Naturally they will not be keen to preserve any evidence to the contrary. Israel's Temple Institute has issued an open letter asking Christians and Christian leaders to put pressure on the Israeli government to allow archaeologists to go in and examine the finds. The article has all the ins and outs, and it is worth reading the whole thing.

But while the archaeologists wait for permission (which is not likely to come - any attempt by the Israelis to halt the project will bring a terrific howl from the Muslims), precious antiquities which could give us so much information are being wantonly destroyed. Sometimes I wonder if the old days of the 'treasure seekers' were better days.