Ze'ev Herzog: 'UNESCO's resolution is pure anti-Israeli propaganda and has no basis'

An Israeli archaeologist tells about a new representation of the events, written in the Holy Scripture, and about the study of the shrine of Holy Sepulcher

A publication in La Repubblica newspaper on the conclusions of Israeli archaeologists, who on the basis of excavations claim that many events in the Bible actually did not occur, has become a subject of heated discussions. Ze'ev Herzog, Professor of Archaeology at the Tel Aviv University, in an interview with Realnoe Vremya explains why he does not accept the Holy books as historical sources, where did the 12 tribes of Israel come from and condemns UNESCO for the recent resolution on the Temple Mount.

'Orthodox believer don't care about archaeology'

You have raised a touchy question for the believers and for the classical West historical studies. In fact, you contradict the assertion that the Bible is a historical document. What did your colleagues and believers receive that?

The Bible is a complex collection of books. Basically, it is a theological book and not historical one. I claim that archaeological and historical evaluation of the data force us to reconstruct differently the historical validity of the Patriarchs (Abraham Isaac and Jacob), the bondage in Egypt, the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan and the united Monarchy of David and Solomon. These are legends and not historical documents. Later stories of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel do contain solid historical elements.

Most of my archaeology and history colleagues share similar views and only a small minority keeps the old concepts. Orthodox believer don't care about archaeology, since the Torah is the word of god. For the National Religious sector the critical analysis cause serious problem and some scholars try to find compromises.

What is your radical revision of the world history based on?

Archeological data unearthed in numerous excavations in Israel, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Iraq.

Let's start with the Egyptian bondage. According to your research, it did not exist. But what was then? Besides, there are other written sources about the Egyptian captivity. For example, Aegyptiaca of Manetho, who is accused of antisemitism. He recognized the legends of Sacred history to be true, but he wrote that the Jews were banished from Egypt because they suffered from leprosy and were a danger to others, and the prophet Moshe (Moses) led them out of Egypt.

Manethon was an Egyptian priest in the mid-3rd Century BCE and based his history writing on the local legendary stories, including the Greek translation of the Old Testament. His important contribution was the scheme of 30 Egyptian dynasties, but as for the history of the Jews he is useless.

'During the period of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel the tribal affiliation got lost'

What is the ancient history of the twelve tribes of Israel in your interpretation? Do you agree with the division into the 12 tribes of Israel? Did this division exist? Many say about the 13th tribe that, according to one version, is somewhere in our region (Russia, the Volga region)?

The 12 tribes is an attempt of later writers to reconstruct the tribal structure of the pre-monarchy period. In different parts of the Bible the list contains different names. During the period of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel the tribal affiliation got lost and people are recognized by their city or village name.

Judging by your publications, you are quite critical about the existence of the United Kingdom of David and Solomon and their power. Besides the Bible, are there other sources about this Kingdom?

This is a debated case that depends on fine chronological analysis (14C). Most archaeologists today do not accept the Biblical description of the great Empire, ruling from the Euphrates to the River of Egypt. The character of archaeological remains assigned to the period (10th century BCE) are quite poor and do not support the notion of a United Kingdom. Some scholars tried to identify a palace in Jerusalem and a fortified city in Khirbet Qeiyafa, but their attribution to King David is questionable.

UNESCO's resolution is pure anti-Israeli propaganda and has no basis. A temple existed in Jerusalem, on top of the Temple Mount. Photo: dic.academic.ru

'Many are still believers, and for them my views are hard to accept'

What was Jerusalem at the time? Is it true that there was no temple? (Jerusalem was a big settlement, where there was no central temple or royal palace). After all, the existence of the temple of Solomon on the Temple Mount is very important to the Jewish faith. Suffice it to recall the latest scandal with the status of the Mount (the Executive Board of UNESCO has recently adopted a resolution, according to which the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is exclusively a Muslim shrine, not related to the Jews).

UNESCO's resolution is pure anti-Israeli propaganda and has no basis. The temple existed in Jerusalem, on top of the Temple Mount. The First temple was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Later, the Second temple was built in 515 BCE and it was replaced by the Third temple built by King Herod (1st century BCE). The Western Wall is part of the large retaining walls built by Herod, but not part of the temple itself. No remains of the Temple (nor any remains of the Second [and Third] temple) exist anymore, since they were totally destroyed and removed by the Romans. The natural rock of the hill is visible within the Dome of the Rock structure (a Muslim monument constructed in 691 CE).

Are you a believer? Has your faith changed during your life?

No change, I always believed that Men created God and not that God created Men.

How have the academic community received the results of your work?

Most scholars follow my views with minor alterations, mainly regarding the absolute date of some archaeological assemblages.

These results contradict all that people have believed for thousands of years. How is it possible that it is not true? Who invented and created this myth, for what purpose? And how did it happen that people believe this for so long?

For thousands of year all human beings were religious. Since the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century people started to think in critical view and were able to accept a new understanding of the Bible. Many are still believers, and for them my views are hard to accept.

So far Medieval Period stone slabs were uncovered. As far as I know, no new data was exposed. Photo: moya-planeta.ru

How do you see the future of your research?

I myself retired from teaching and continue advancing the full publication of excavations. Few month ago, there were published 3 volumes on Tel Beer-sheba, where I worked for many years. The young generation of archaeologists develop methods of analysis based on the exact- and life-sciences, and this is definitely the future of the research.

As you know, in Jerusalem, the archaeologists have recently began to study the shrine of the Holy Sepulcher. On October 26, for the first time in four and a half centuries, the marble covering has been pulled back that was mounted in the XVI century to protect the tomb from the numerous pilgrims who tried to break off a part of the relic. What data have they found?

The opening process is aimed at getting all the factual evidence from the site. So far Medieval Period stone slabs were uncovered. As far as I know, no new data was exposed.

By Ekaterina Danilova

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Ze'ev Herzog (born 1941) is an Israeli archeologist, professor of archaeology at The Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University specializing in social archaeology, ancient architecture and field archaeology. Ze'ev Herzog served as director of The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology from 2005 to 2010, and has served as archaeological advisor to the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority in the preservation and development of National Parks at Arad and Beer Sheba.

Herzog took part in the excavations of Tel Hazor and Tel Megiddo with Yigael Yadin and in excavations at Tel Arad and Tel Be'er Sheva with Yohanan Aharoni. He directed the excavations at Tel Beer Sheba, Tel Michal and Tel Gerisa and at Tel Yafo (ancient Jaffa) in 1997 and 1999.

Herzog is among Israeli archaeologists who say that 'biblical archaeology is not anymore the ruling paradigm in archaeology and that archaeology became an independent discipline with its own conclusions and own observations which indeed present us a picture of a reality of ancient Israel quite different from the one which is described in the biblical stories.'

In 1999 Herzog's cover page article in the weekly magazine Haaretz 'Deconstructing the walls of Jericho' attracted considerable public attention and debates. In this article Herzog cites evidence supporting that 'the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is the fact that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. And it will come as an unpleasant shock to many that the god of Israel, Jehovah, had a female consort and that the early Israelite religion adopted monotheism only in the waning period of the monarchy and not at Mount Sinai.'

Some of the publications:

  • Beer-Sheba II: The Early Iron Age Settlements (1984)
  • Excavations at Tel Michal, Israel (1989)
  • Archaeology of the City: Urban Planning in Ancient Israel and Its Social Implications (1997)
  • The Arad Fortresses (1997)
  • Redefining the centre: the emergence of state in Judah (2004)
  • Beer-Sheba III: The Early Iron IIA Enclosed Settlement and the Late Iron IIA-Iron IIB Cities. 3 volumes (2015)