Rainey Defends Archaeologist Credentials
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In the July/August 2010 BAR, Bill Dever asserts that I am not an archaeologist (and therefore not qualified to oppose his pottery-based theory that the early Israelites came from the Mediterranean coast). This accusation has been repeated on several blogs. At the 2010 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Atlanta last November, Bill told me to my face that I am not an archaeologist. Once again, as usual, Bill speaks to something he knows nothing about. In true Albrightian fashion, Dever thinks that if he has the pottery, he has all the truth. But he does not have the pottery.
At the November 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research, also in Atlanta, there was a session in honor of David Usshiskin. At the end, Ussishkin expressed his long-held opinion that people who are not professional archaeologists (he did not mention my name in public, but he clearly meant language/history people like me) should not take part in excavations. I have also heard this from him personally. As usual, Ussishkin pronounces dictums on issues that are none of his business.
So, much against my natural inclination, I am forced to recount some of my experience as a “dirt archaeologist.” My mentors were Yohanan Aharoni and Moshe Kochavi (who taught me, among other things, how to draw sections). Our surveyor, Shmuel Moskovitz, worked closely with me on stratigraphic problems. These people are unfortunately no longer with us. The only living person who has firsthand knowledge of my skills at stratigraphic excavation is Ze’ev Herzog, who recently stated that I had more firsthand field experience than Dever.
I will start with Tel Beer Sheva, where I spent eight seasons in staff positions of responsibility. Among other tasks, I excavated Building 480, near the gate, where Yigael Yadin tried to create his pseudo-high place. With my own hands, I cleared the locus where the stone altar was said by him to have stood. Aharoni was looking over my shoulder. Later I wrote an article in honor of Phil King, showing how Yadin had falsified the dimensions of the altar (1/4 its real size) to fit his phony high place.
My main field efforts were from 1972 onward, when I excavated in the center of the mound of Beer Sheva. I established the sequence of the post-Iron Age II strata. Under the second-century Roman fort excavated by Volkmar Fritz, I found a robbed-out Herodian fort that survived only as a set of huge robber trenches. It was dated by a coin of Augustus. Also, in a drain from the fort that crossed the walls of the Hellenistic building below, there was an oil lamp with flared spout typical of the Herodian period. The next building below was a temple dated by silver coins in its foundation trench from 127–125 B.C.E. and by Nabatean coins on the courtyard floor from c. 90 B.C.E.
The big find in this area (my Area E) was an impressive building from our Stratum Israelite II, destroyed along with Lachish III. It had been built within a huge rectangular pit 3 meters below the current floor level. The builders started their walls on bedrock and filled in the room spaces with soil up to floor level. It had the typical “four-room house” plan, plus a fifth unit on the western side. There they did not fill in, but used the space, 3 meters deep, as a storeroom. They made a storeroom under the back room of the building as well, and there was an additional storeroom in the eastern courtyard.
To prove the stratigraphic situation of this unique structure (Building 32), I also excavated an adjacent slice of the local stratigraphy, uncovering houses of Levels III, IV, and especially V. Behind Building 32, I also made probes through the street levels down to stratum VI. I attach a picture of me showing Dame Kathleen Kenyon the results of our Wheeler/Kenyon probe.
She seemed convinced. My report on Area E was written in 2000 and, after some subsequent editing, is now awaiting publication in the forthcoming Tel Beer Sheba III under the editorship of Ze’ev Herzog.
After Aharoni’s untimely death our team moved to Tel Michal, overlooking the beach in southern Hertzliah. There I had Area A, the northern end of the mound. I demonstrated the erosion of the Middle Bronze and Late Bronze strata, but most important of all, I defined five strata of the Persian period. The bottom stratum was dated by East Greek ware of the late sixth/early fifth centuries B.C.E. The top stratum was dated by a coin of Alexander on a well-defined floor. The penultimate stratum was dated by a coin of ‘Abd-Astart, ruler of Sidon in the late fourth century B.C.E., also on a floor. It fell out while we were cleaning the balk. The intervening strata were dated by diagnostic pottery imports from the Athens area, so-called Attic ware. Our classicist dated these pieces by comparison with meticulous excavations in the Athenian agora. He was amazed that my Attic pottery, for which he gave me dates in time segments of about 30 years each, was so carefully stratified. So my careful stratigraphic digging had provided a comparative scale by which to date periods of occupation and intervening periods of abandonment. In a separate article, I coordinated these alternating phases with known data from the Greek sources to show the historical events that could explain each phase.
From Tel Michal we moved to Tel Gerisa, where E.L. Sukenik, Yadin’s father, had excavated before us. Sukenik had adopted Flinders Petrie’s theory of the mythical “Hyksos” who had supposedly come down from the north (thoroughly discredited today) and brought the technology of earthen ramparts south. The latter became dubbed as “Hyksos fortifications.” This was supposed to have happened in what we call today Middle Bronze II (older MB IIB). Yadin accepted his father’s explanation and henceforth all such ramparts were supposed to be MB II (=MB IIB), especially at Hazor.
When Yadin finally released Gerisa to our team, I was give Area A, the highest point on the mound. From the first, we had an MB II level with fortification wall and the remains of a substantial building. That might have confirmed Sukenik’s theory, but immediately below the MB II stratum were four strata of MB I (then called MB IIA). There were two successive fortification walls, each with two successive, clearly defined floor levels. Thus, I supported the contention of our colleagues at Tel Aphek that MB I (MB IIA) was much longer and more substantial than MB II (MB IIB). Yadin was furious with Kochavi, but he died too soon to see my final results at his father’s former site. My report was written in 1988 and is still on file, awaiting publication.
So I rest my case. I agree with Herzog that I have surely had more hands-on experience at stratigraphic digging than Dever, and I suspect that I have had more than Ussishkin as well (drawing and utilizing balks in particuler). Their opinions mean nothing to me alongside the opinions of Aharoni and especially Kochavi. It was my choice to spend many summers excavating. That great satisfaction can never be taken away from me. In all of my daily records and seasonal reports as well as my final summations, you will not find reference to a single Bible verse! So I do not qualify for the title “Biblical archaeologist.”
Anson F. Rainey
Emeritus Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics
Tel Aviv University
Ph.D in Mediterranean Studies, Brandeis University, 1962
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