web analytics
April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

How Archaeology Boosted Jewish Nationalism


Share Button

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.”

Share Button

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.

No Responses to “How Archaeology Boosted Jewish Nationalism”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
US Special Envoy Martin Indyk, Secy of State John Kerry, at a special briefing. (archive)
Indyk Returns to Raise the Dead (Israel-PA Talks)
Latest Indepth Stories
Haredim riot after draft-dodger is arrested.

The reporter simply reports the news, but it is greater to be inspired to better the situation.

Bitton-041814

The Big Bang theory marked the scientific community’s first sense of the universe having a beginning.

MK Moshe-Feiglin

Freeing convicted murderers returns the status of Jewish existence to something less than sanctified.

Dov Shurin

“The bigger they are the harder they fall” describes what God had in mind for Olmert.

We, soldiers of the IDF, who stand guard over the people and the land, fulfill the hopes of the millions of Jewish people across the generations who sought freedom.

How much is the human mind able to grasp of the Divine?

Jews have brought the baggage of the galut (exile) mentality to the modern state of Israel.

The Haggadah is an instruction manual on how to survive as strangers in strange lands.

It’s finally happened. New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan reported on her blog that “many readers…wrote to object to an [April 2] article…on the breakdown in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians,” claiming “[they] found the headline misleading and the article itself lacking in context.” Ms. Sullivan provided one such letter, quoted the […]

Nor did it seem relevant that according to widely circulated media reports, Rev. Sharpton was caught on an FBI surveillance video discussing possible drug sales with an FBI agent.

Jewish soldiers in the Polish forces often encountered anti-Semitic prejudice.

When the state was established, gedolim went to Ben-Gurion and asked him not to draft women and, later, yeshiva bachrim.

Perhaps worse than all the above is the acute lack of unity among Jews

At our seder we emulate the way it was celebrated in Temple times, as if the Temple still stood.

More Articles from Jewish Press Staff
Pesach in Hebron at Maarat HaMachpela

Hebron is proving to be a popular family tourist site during the Passover Holiday.

Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy sell the Chametz (food containing leavening) of the State of Israel to an Israeli-Arab Israeli, Mr. Jaber, before the upcoming Passover holiday.  

The prophecy in Joel, like most prophecies, is surreal, beautiful, and open to many interpretations.

More than Just a Building Standard

Two people were arrested last week, one of them a minor, for posting the following sign near the entrance to the Temple Mount. The police are considering charging them with a “nationalistic crime.” You are hereby requested to evacuate the Temple Mount compound by April 13, 2013- the 13 of Nissan, by 7 PM due […]

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

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: