In Their Own Words: David Ussishkin

**This article originally appeared as “Strata: In Their Own Words.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan/Feb 2013, 20.**

Now retired from teaching but not from digging, Tel-Aviv University’s David Ussishkin has directed a seminal excavation at Lachish and another at Jezreel, has surveyed tombs in Jerusalem and currently codirects (with Israel Finkelstein) a major excavation at Megiddo. He is also a world traveler. In the photograph below, he is shown with his wife, archaeologist Lily Singer-Avitz, in southern Argentina, not far from the South Pole. Not long before that, he traveled to Hong Kong to deliver the prestigious Chuen King Lectures, from which the following excerpt was taken.ons uncovered several phases of occupation from the Persian period through the Byzantine period, including conclusive evidence of a Samaritan temple built in the fifth century B.C.E.*

I always attempt to emphasize the distinction between the study of the material culture, on the one hand, and the study of the Biblical text and its interpretation, on the other. With the remains of the material culture being largely poorly preserved, mostly devoid of inscriptions and open to different interpretations by researchers, it is not easy to combine these material remains with the Biblical text, as would have been ideal. In many cases, the material remains aid in elucidating the text and its historical information; they aid in attempts to understand better the meaning of the texts and supply certain essential information on the background of the culture in which the text was composed. And vice versa, in other cases the text helps us understand the material culture …

Regarding Jerusalem, for example, the Biblical text gives detailed but largely difficult descriptions of the royal palace and the adjacent temple. Knowing the topography of the Temple Mount and possessing ample data on contemporary palaces and temples elsewhere, we are able to achieve a better idea of what was built in Jerusalem …

Some archaeologists argue that the description of Solomonic Jerusalem in the Biblical text is reliable and correct. They conclude that evidence of the Solomonic city has not yet been found, but they are sure the evidence is there, waiting to be discovered in future excavations. Other archaeologists argue that after 160 years of extensive archaeological investigations, we are now in possession of sufficient and reliable archaeological data, and that the present conclusions will hardly change in the future. It follows that the Biblical text should be interpreted in a different way. It is possible, for instance, that we have here [in the Bible] a description of Jerusalem at the time of the later kings of Judah in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. In any case, at present, we do not have an agreed solution to this baffling problem …
[Nevertheless] I have to acknowledge the inspiration which the Biblical text, its stories, descriptions and personae, give to the field archaeologist on Biblical sites … The archaeologist sees in front of him ruins, stones and earth, but he is inspired in his work by the text and by the great figures featured in it.


* David Ussishkin, On Biblical Jerusalem, Megiddo, Jezreel and Lachish (Hong Kong: Divinity School of Chung Chi College, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2011). The excerpt is from pp. 17, 116–118.

Read Full Articles from David Ussishkin

Exclusively for BAS Library Members: Read nine articles by David Ussishkin as they appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review

Jezreel—Where Jezebel Was Thrown to the Dogs, BAR 36:04, Jul/Aug 2010.

Another View: The Disappearance of Two Royal Burials BAR 33:06, Nov/Dec 2007.

Another View: Was the Earliest Philistine City of Ekron Fortified? BAR 32:05, Sep/Oct 2006.

Big City, Few People BAR 31:04, Jul/Aug 2005.

Back to Megiddo: A new expedition will explore the jewel in the crown of Canaan/Israel (co-written with Israel Finkelstein) BAR 20:01, Jan/Feb 1994

Restoring the Great Gate at Lachish BAR 14:02, Mar/Apr 1988.

Lachish—Key to the Israelite Conquest of Canaan? BAR 13:01, Jan/Feb 1987.

News from the Field: Defensive Judean Counter-Ramp Found at Lachish in 1983 Season BAR 10:02, Mar/Apr 1984.

Answers at Lachish BAR 5:06, Nov/Dec 1979.

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  • Rose says

    The impression from reading this article is that Solomon’s Temple was built in modern Jerusalem according to the Bible. But this is not the case as Ezra explicitly says the foundation for the Temple was not yet laid (Ezra 3:6). Ezra claims he laid the foundation for the Temple in Ezra 3:10.

    Solomon’s ‘first’ temple is just south of the Sepulchers of David. It’s where Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the temple and took the silver and gold back in the day. They’re still finding silver and gold even today. It’s where cedars were procured historically from Lebanon to restore temples.
    It’s still there today, anyone can see Solomon’s first temple. It matches the measurement of the first temple published in the National Geographic December 2008 map insert. Not only is the measurement accurate to within a few centimeters, but the porch feature is also in place at the front of the temple.

    This temple faces directly east so the Glory of the Lord illuminates the temple from the east on the Spring Equinox. This temple is unexcavated and lays in the middle of an unexcavated city. The Sepultures of David have been excavated since 1939 and are about 1 mile to the north of this temple. Since then, they’ve yielded nearly as much gold and jewelry as king Tuts tomb.

    Herodotus describes the people of this region as belonging to 12 kingdoms, they thought swine an abomination, and once a year they sacrificed an animal left at their door to the full moon (according to Herodotus).

    It’s all still there about 200 miles south west of modern Jerusalem. Scholars need to ask the critical question; “Why do you think modern Jerusalem was ancient Jerusalem?”

    Anyone can get on Google Earth and go to this exact coordinate
    30° 58′ 14″ N, 31° 53′ 10″ E

    You will see the foundation for the first temple, now get out your measuring reeds.

    Another critical question for scholars; “Where exactly was the border between Israel and Egypt in 1000 BCE or so?”


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