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Israel's Myths

Israel's Own Archeology Isn't Helping Their Past Claims

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 27, 2002.

Israel is in the throes of an internal crisis, almost as bad as the one the Palestinians are in. Prime Minister Sharon is now utterly exposed – again - as a belligerent fat guy without a clue; he has a hammer, and that’s all he knows how to use. Arafat’s problem is that the very things that make him a doofus in the eyes of his people are the things that the international community knows he has to accomplish, like round up his primping self-and-vicinity assassins. Arafat is only popular when he goes to war, because Palestinians, like Americans, rally around their leader in times of physical stress. That is the conundrum of Palestine, an ethereal and historically questionable entity. The only hopeful sign is that the Clinton settlement proposals of two years ago are now reappearing under the Saudi flag, and Palestine – which idiotically turned them down because Arafat knows that an actual peace treaty is composed of his walking papers – and Israel – which almost immediately regretted its offer – are facing a grim reality.

But Israel may also be an ethereal and historically questionable entity; this has reverberations.

Cutting through the crap, Israel was wished into existence in 1948 almost solely as compensation for the Holocaust, itself a historical fact beyond intelligent question. Israel based its right to that section of land from the first five books of the Bible. Ever since the Zionist movement began in earnest in the last half of the nineteenth century, archaeology and historical studies had walked hand in hand with Israel towards a future based on verification of Biblical events.

Ironically, some of the most traditionally anti-Semitic elements – Protestant churches – provided some of the earliest and more compelling evidences for centering Israel’s belief in its ancient roots, probably because of their desire to fill the check list of events that would bring on the Book of Revelation’s nonsense. A terrific piece in a recent Harper’s magazine outlines this joint effort and traces the rise of new archeological studies. It doesn’t bolster Israel’s myth.

Turns out there is no evidence whatever for a Davidian empire, at least with David. No pottery, nor any elements of a great Imperial Jerusalem when David and Solomon lived. There is no evidence that Israel and Judah had much in common or were much or sporadically beyond rural dens of organized outlaws. The known great Empires of the day - Egypt, Hittite, Minoan, Persia – are devoid of any mention of the great kings of Israel, or its alleged Empire. There is no evidence for Abraham or Moses, the Egyptian slavery or Joshuan conquest. As Christ languishes in history solely by mention of Josephus and the hagiographies of his followers, his people’s ancestry is no more solid based on the work of their own archeologists.

The new theory, based on existing evidence, is that Yahwehism did not become coherent until about seven hundred to a thousand years after the Bible pretends it did, and can be explained by the motivations of all social climbers, even ancient ones, to root themselves into past glory. Why would Israel invent a mythology of a marshal past when they really were indigenous and rather peaceful? Because, according to the theory, indigenous rights are a recent invention. Till then, the fact that you conquered was all the reason you needed, and nobody argued. Indigenous rights are an open sore in Israel, which hosts western values in a world demanding ancient ones. Elsewhere in the Middle East, nobody is concerned with indigenous rights except their own. Nobody is champion for the Phoenicians, for example.

So Israel hosts in its violent midst the seeds of its un-founding: the scientific record of a fraudulent history in the archeology of Jerusalem and the disabusing of its offspring Christianity in the Dead Sea Scrolls. But I say, as an atheist, that if the Hebrews didn’t invent monotheism, they held it together through Millennia and for this alone they need be honored. Reflect: multiple gods reflect multiple human outlooks, and in the old religions the Gods went to war with men and against each other. The Trojan War is the best example. That was the template for ancient civilization. It may be that when a sole God is viewed fighting his wars internally or through a proxy to arrive at a solution to human trials, the template for a peaceful world was born. That is a vast psychological leap to vast good, and far more important than any flag, physical artifact, or national border.

That is our heritage from the House of David, whatever that was, and its apologists. Ironically, modern Israel may not be David’s descendent at all, and this arguably removes all previously professed reasons for its existence. Regardless, Israel is a far more solid and worthy entity than the posturing kingdoms, warlords, and psychologically damaged frauds who seek to destroy it. This is Dark Cloud.