Box. Cox! (About to embrace – BOX stops, seizes COX’s hand, and looks eagerly in his face.) You’ll excuse the apparent insanity of the remark, but the more I gaze on your features, the more I’m convinced that you’re my long lost brother.
Cox. The very observation I was going to make to you!
Box. Ah – tell me – in mercy tell me – have you such a thing as a strawberry mark on your left arm?
Box. Then it is he! [They rush into each other’s arms.
From the farce Box and Cox
I’d meant to get around to commenting about this week’s non-Council winning post, Elder of Ziyon’s plaint about the removal of archaeological artifacts from the vicinity of the Al-Aqsa mosque, but somehow time just slipped away. The nexus of archaeology, history, religion, and politics is a subject I’ve touched on here from time to time and this particular issue is Exhibit 1. Here’s a good post on the subject to which I’ve linked before.
If you should travel to Egypt, the handiwork of the ancient Egyptians is not hard to find—it’s everywhere, in fact, it fills the world’s museums. The ruins of Greece and the hundreds of thousands or millions of works of ancient art bear witness to the civilization that the ancient Greeks built there. Nearly every week there are announcements of 2,000 and 3,000 year old discoveries of the ancient Britons, French, Chinese, Amerindians, and so on.
By comparison the archaeological and historical evidence of the ancient Jewish inhabitants of the land of Israel is extremely scanty. A relative handful of fragments and inscriptions. Ancient Greek historians do not mention the Jews. Practically all of the evidence is from the Bible and authors who used the Bible as a source.
There are all sorts of possible explanations for this. Most of the ancient Jews were rural. The society did not lend itself to the creation of artifacts. The land has been occupied for more than 2,500 years by Persians, Greeks, Romans, Franks, and Arabs who have looted and destroyed ancient works and replaced whatever might have been there with their own works.
And there’s the explanation presented by this post: Arabs have systematically removed the evidence.
The problem with this explanation is that it’s circular. Once the provenance of an artifact has been lost it has been lost. Unless there’s some way unambiguously and definitively to associate a particular artifact with a particular location, no conclusion about where it might have originally been found can be drawn. You cannot draw a conclusion about the source of an artifact from its presumed use.
In an attempt to discover presumed artifacts from their past Israeli scientists, scholars, and others are sifting the sands of the wilderness, citing their finds as proof of their historical (and political) claims.
I have no idea of the historicity of the claims of either the Israelis nor the Palestinians nor do I have a stake in the claims of either side. I think there’s every likelihood that the truth is, at this point, not discoverable.
The land of Israel is important to three of the world’s great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam whose adherents in total account for more than half of the world’s people. Under the circumstances I believe it behooves anyone undertaking remodeling, refurbishment, or renovation of any location of religious significance to proceed very, very cautiously and with the participation of representatives of the other faiths.
Do I think this is likely or even possible? No.
Archaeology is not a science; it is a vendetta.