King Solomon’s mines?

November 1, 2008

The interface between religion and science is always fascinating. On the other hand, it is a dangerous mix that deserves much scrutiny. This statement is especially valid with this recent article in Newsweek, with the misleading title “Found? King Solomon’s Mines”. The article is based on this paper authored by Thomas Levy and his co-workers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Some local web sites eagerly picked up the story, with less critical review that the story warrants.
Both the story and the original article try to make the case that the Bible might be a credible source of historical information, largely due to the confluence of other historical texts with it (i.e. Pharonic records from the period of Sheshonq I). The scholarly article simply provides evidence that copper extraction in southern Jordan took place at the time of Sheshonq I (10th century BC), with the assertion that Sheshonq I is the same as Shishaq in the Bible.

Now, it is well established that copper mining and smelting in southern Jordan began during the Chalcolithic period (~3000 BC), and continued into the Roman and Islamic periods (up to and beyond 1000 AD). Thus, the findings reported by Levy and his co-workers falls within the time frame where known copper mining and extraction occurred, and are not particularly surprising. The implication that somehow the scale of extraction increased during the Iron Age is not demonstrated, and no quantification is offered.

More importantly, none of the artifacts found at the site point to Israelite presence at the site. Pottery and other artifacts are clearly either Edomite or Egyptian. Thus, the article title, and it’s closing line “They hope to figure out who actually controlled the copper industry at Khirbat en-Nahas: David and Solomon, or Edomite leaders?” are really catchy but misleading.

It is clear that journalism is largely concerned with excitement and marketing, and so a generous interpretation is that the marketing of Biblical Archaeology benefits both the publication and the researcher, who is interested in keeping funding flowing. On the other hand, Zionists would love to prove that the Israelites had a presence here, even with no facts to back it up. This is a less generous but equally plausible explanation to how this issue is presented.

One comment

  1. Thanks for this. What is more dangerous is the cover story from the National Geographic magazine for December 2008 which portrays Palestinians as “looters” of ancient archaeological products in the holy land while the Israelis do their best to preserve them. One of the most biased and outrageous articles I have ever read in this respected magazine.

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