Sat, Aug 06, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Digging up biblical dynamite

The supposed palace of King David has been uncovered in Jerusalem, but other scholars are saying the find is being used as a political tool

By Steven Erlanger  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , JERUSALEM

He says he believes that the building may be the Fortress of Zion that David is said to have conquered, which he renamed the City of David.

"What she found is fascinating, whatever it is," he said. Amihai Mazar is Eilat Mazar's second cousin, but he has his own reputation to protect. Archaeologists debate "to what extent Jerusalem was an important city or even a city in the time of David and Samuel," he said.

"Some believe it was tiny and the kingdom unimportant."

The site of ancient Jerusalem, stuck between two valleys on a ridge south of the Temple Mount, is very small, less than 10 acres. Israel Finkelstein, another renowned archaeologist, has suggested that without significant evidence, Jerusalem in this period was "perhaps not more than a typical hill-country village."

In his book, The Bible Unearthed, Finkelstein writes with Neil Silberman, "Not only was any sign of monumental architecture missing, but so were even simple pottery shards."

The building can be reasonably dated by the pottery found above and below it. Mazar found on the bedrock a large floor of crushed limestone, indicating a large public space. The floor and fill above it contain pottery from Iron Age I of the 12th to 11th centuries BC, just before David conquered Jerusalem. Above that, Mazar found the foundations for this monumental building, with large boulders for walls that are more than 1.8m thick and extend at least 30m. In one corner was pottery from Iron Age 2, the 10th to 9th centuries, roughly the time of the united kingdom. Unfortunately, Amihai Mazar said, she found no floor. It is clear the building was constructed after the pottery underneath it, but less clear exactly how much later.

The archaeological debate is also partly a debate over the roots of Zionism and the effort to find Jewish origins deep in the land. Eilat Mazar's latest dig, which has cost about US$500,000, has been sponsored by Roger Hertog, a New York financier who is vice chairman of Alliance Capital Management. Hertog, who owns a piece of The New York Sun and The New Republic, is also chairman of the board of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, where Mazar is a senior fellow.

The Shalem Center was founded as Israel's first "neoconservative think-tank," said William Kristol, who is also on the board, in an effort to give the Israeli right a better foundation in history, economics, archaeology and other topics. Hertog calls his investment in Mazar "venture philanthropy -- you have the opportunity for intellectual speculation, to fund something that is a work of great consequence." He said he hoped to show "that the Bible reflects Jewish history."

Mazar continues to dig, but right now, three families are living in houses where she would most like to explore. One family is Muslim, one Christian and one Jewish.

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