web analytics
July 4, 2015 / 17 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

How Archaeology Boosted Jewish Nationalism


Collectors have long recognized that Israel uses archaeology on stamps, coins and currency to advance its political and nationalist goals. Actually, while archaeology in recent years has declined as a mechanism that helps shape Israeli national identity, it has, at the same time, grown both as a discipline and in the way it is practiced in Israel.

My new book illustrates this pervasive early use and recent decline and sheds light on how archaeology found its way – through stamps, coins and currency – into the daily lives of Israelis.

In the summer of 1997 I came to Israel to participate in the first season of excavations at Tel Rehov with Professor Amichai Mazar. Two years later I began studying archaeology with Professor Israel Finkelstein at Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology. During my studies at Tel Aviv University I participated as an excavator, assistant registrar, assistant area supervisor and area supervisor in a number of archaeological excavations including Tel Yaffo and Tel Megiddo.

While studying in Tel Aviv I benefited from the excellent archaeological methods and practices taught by the professors, as well as the theoretical or non-practical seminars they offered.

One of these seminars was Dr. David Ilan’s “Archaeology and the Public.” This seminar came for me at a perfect time in my education. I had taken a number of the theoretical classes and found them interesting and intellectually challenging. But I had a hard time making the connection from theory to what archaeology means for the average person.

I would ask myself: How can I explain the importance of archaeology; why is archaeology important and what is its connection to everyday life? Dr. Ilan’s seminar helped me find the answer.

That answer inhered in everyday objects such as stamps, coins and banknotes.

My book demonstrates some aspects of how and why symbols and motifs from archaeology have made their way onto everyday objects. It shows that archaeology has helped create a collective identity in modern Israel through the construction of a shared past.

Most of the archaeological excavations conducted in Israel are from the Byzantine or Islamic periods. These are usually rescue excavations administered by the Israel Antiquity Authority. The five major universities conduct the majority of the large multi-national excavations and many of these excavations are from the “biblical” periods, namely the Bronze Age through the Iron Age. At universities in Israel every student studying archaeology is required to take biblical archaeology courses, even if they focus their studies on other periods.

I learned in my research that archaeology helps to substantiate territorial claims. This is an important part of the discipline of historical geography. If we can identify the places mentioned in the Bible as places that exist today, and if the Bible is our history book, then we can better claim legitimate sovereignty over them. By excavating them and confirming their identifications, that claim is made stronger.

I also found the actual physical labor involved in a dig increases the sense of ownership, as illustrated by what Professor Avi Yonah said about the case of the excavations at Bet Alpha: “Its interest lay in the fact that a Jewish village once stood on the exact site of a modern Jewish settlement of some thirteen hundred years later, providing, as it were, a kind of unofficial title-deed to the land.”

I discovered that archaeology is an important part of the nation building process. National identity requires icons and cultural signifiers, which are embedded in the collective consciousness. Archaeology provides a highly sensual, visual array of such symbols on buildings, tools, weapons, jewelry, seals, coinage, and, perhaps most important of all, it reveals to us a written script of great antiquity that has been deciphered.

I found an early example of how all of these factors came into play in the excavations of the Byzantine period synagogue at Bet Alpha in 1929, directed by Eleazar Sukenik. The story has been recounted at some length by Amos Elon and Neil Silberman, who observed, “The colorful signs of the zodiac still visible, Sukenik quickly recruited volunteer workers from among the kibbutz members, and as the days passed and the entire mosaic was gradually revealed, the excitement among them grew…. All their work now had a different significance. Their history had been uncovered, and they could see it with their own eyes.”

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “How Archaeology Boosted Jewish Nationalism”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
UN Human Rights Council
UN HRC Condemns Israel (But Not Hamas) for War Crimes
Latest Indepth Stories
Jelgava Synagogue, Latvia

Latvia, July 4, 1941 they forced many Jews in the shul putting it on fire; everyone was burned alive

United Nations Building, New York City

There’s blood on the reporters’ hands AND New Israel Fund for funding groups feeding lies to the UN

Zuckerman-070315

Respect & appreciation for our country is not only a civic value but an essential Jewish one as well

wedding cake

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

Israel, like the non-radical Islamic world. will be happy see the ISIS beheaded for once.

Kids shouldn’t have “uninstructed” Internet access, better to train them how to use it responsibly

What if years from now, IS were to control substantial territory? What world havoc would that wreak?

Rambam writes the verse’s double term refers to 2 messiahs: first King David; 2nd the final Mashiach

The Gaza flotilla has been rightfully and legally blocked by Israel’s Navy, with greetings from Bibi

The president described the attack as “an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…”

“The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me,” said the 69-year-old Trump.

And whereas at the outset the plan was that Iran would have to surrender most of its centrifuges, it will now be able to retain several thousand.

Now oil independent, US no longer needs its former strategic alliances with Gulf States-or Israel

In addition to the palace’s tremendous size it was home to the “hanging gardens,” which were counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

More Articles from Jewish Press Staff
Nicholas Winton with one of the Jewish children he rescued.

Nicholas Winton saved hundreds of Jewish children from the gas chambers but said nothing for nearly 50 years.

Four Israelis hurt Monday night in a driveby terror attack by terrorists near Shvut Rachel.

Perhaps on a deeper level, the mitzvah of parah adumah at this junction was not just to purify the body, but the spirit as well.

A Smartphone app may be able to help prevent Parkinson’s disease patients from falling.

A shooting victim in Wadi Joz traveled for treatment all the way to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/how-archaeology-boosted-jewish-nationalism/2009/12/16/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: