>Archaeology and Politics

>Raphael Greenberg, writing in the Jewish Quarterly, 208 (Winter 2007), has written an excellent article in which he deals with the history of excavation in Jerusalem and how politics have influenced excavation in the city. He begins his article with the following words:

Any intellectual practice in Israel entails both the representation of politics and the politics of representation. The ideological implications of practising archaeology in Jerusalem are as many-layered as the cultures that lie buried beneath the city’s surface. Archaeology has always been implicated in the conflict of claims to the contested land but now archaeologists find themselves increasingly in the pay of right-wing settler groups, who use their finds to write their own particular version of history.

His article begins discussing the first archaeological conference in Jerusalem following the Six-Day War. This conference, which was held in October 1967, brought together Yigael Yadin, Benjamin Mazar, and Nahman Avigad. The aim of the conference was to discuss the possibility of large-scale excavation of Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologists.

Greenberg’s article details how archaeology was influenced by politicians and religious leaders to affirm the Jewishness of Jerusalem. Greenberg wrote:

The history of Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem reached a remarkable turning point in 1992-3. The electoral success of Yitzhak Rabin and the Labor Party paved the way to the 1993 Oslo accords, yet the election of Ehud Olmert as mayor of Jerusalem a few months later signaled the victory of a religious and right-wing agenda in the city. Galvanized by the threat to their settlement program in the West Bank, the ideological right went into overdrive. In Jerusalem, a two-pronged campaign was pursued, aimed at suppressing Palestinian political activity in East Jerusalem while also establishing a Jewish presence in as many locations as possible around the Old City.

This activity marked the beginning of a hitherto-unknown intimacy between the non-governmental settlement movement and archaeology in the historic basin. The ultimate aim of the settlers was to create wedges of Jewish settlement in the interstices between Palestinian neighborhoods that would prevent any political division of the city, and eventually to dilute the entire Palestinian presence. Archaeology provided physical and symbolic capital for this project, in the form of a narrative emphasizing Jewish continuity and of relics that testify to such continuity.

Raphael Greenberg has served as a staff member in the Temple Mount and City of David excavations. He also served as the Senior Editor in the Israel Antiquities Authority from 1985 and 2000 . At the present he is a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Tel Aviv University.

Read the article in its entirety by visiting the official page of the Jewish Quarterly.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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