City of David

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

On another day in Jerusalem, Linda from Israel Parks and Nature and I went to an alternative archaeology tour of the City of David, where we learned about the area from Alphie Greenberg, an archaeologist based in Tel Aviv for many years.  Unlike many archaeologists who were getting the big bucks in the name of poor science by making assumptions that what they were finding was King David's Palace, among other things, Alphie by contrast described himself as secular and rational.

Much of the funding for archaeology on this famous ridgeline to the south of the Temple Mount now comes from the local NGO Elad.  One of Elad's main goals is to turn the area around the City of David into a Jewish settlement, and they are using archaeology to do that: by building tunnels under homes, by blocking main access points to the local mosque, and by separating the neighborhood from the process as well as the history.

The Alternative Archaeology website has a quote: "Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past."

It's George Orwell.

Alphie first talked about the local environment, the north-south trade routes just to the west, the watershed high point and the Gihon Spring, and the symbolism in the land.  In sum, Jerusalem was a larger town than its sustainable area, as very little arable land surrounded it, with dry rocky slopes, poor even for pastures.  And if a city was larger than its sustainable area, then it was important for some other reason.  In this case: religion.

Ancient Jerusalem could be seen as constructed along an axis mundi with the spring as the symbolic Low Point and the Mount as the High Point, perhaps ground that was worshipped long before it was seen as the Foundation Stone and Solomon built the First Temple. 

The Dome of the Rock shone above from the High Point, perhaps the most contentious spot on earth, but also one that could become a place that unites instead of dividing.  The shrine's inscriptions, in fact, speak often of Jesus.  This is the place where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac and the supposed location of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve came to be.

"Jerusalem needs lots of excuses because it's a very improbable town," Alphie responded to one woman who said that she heard Jerusalem has one of the highest cosmic wave concentrations on Earth.

Still, the "stuff we find doesn't live up to our expectations," he continued, referring to the many people who come hoping to find grandiose buildings or ancient inscriptions with the names of the Bible.

Jerusalem expanded during the Iron Age, reaching its maximum extent in 700 B.C.  Slowly Jerusalem decreased in size until 586 B.C. when the Babylonians destroyed it.  Much of this history is recorded in the Old Testament.

While the Israeli settlers are building on the site, above the law, they use archaeology at the same time to restrict Palestinian building, slowly changing the composition of the neighborhood to achieve Elad's goals of converting the neighborhood from Palestinian to Jewish. 

"Human beings are more important than stones," said one Palestinian elder, who met with us to conclude our tour.
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