Archaeology and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

As a historian, I'm kind of old fashioned. When I do my historical work I try to be objective and not force history to do political or even religious bidding. Of course it helps to be a historian of a movement (the Nonjurors) with whom I have no real sympathies.

I found an op-ed piece this morning in the LA Times to be most interesting. Walter Reich, the author of the piece entitled "King Herod's Return" is a professor of international affairs, ethics and human behavior at George Washington University, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (that's a lot of titles). He writes in the context of the recent discovery of King Herod the Great's apparent tomb. As Reich notes, nobody really likes King Herod, a Roman puppet king who did however build some nice buildings, but this like any discovery in the region has political overtones.

He notes the propensity on both sides to use history/archaeology to bolster claims, so that whenever a discovery supports the historical presence of Jews in the region Palestinians deny the validity of the discovery and many Jews hail it as confirmation of their claims to the land.

Reich makes two important statements -- the Palestinian claims concerning the Temple (or absence of it on the "Temple Mount" or Haram al Shariff -- that the Temple never existed there are simply and absolutely bogus! Palestinian attempts to remove material that support that fact are unconscionable. At the same time Reich notes that the claims of those Israelis who who deny that there was a large and long-indigenous population of Arabs in Palestine when the Zionist movement vastly expanded the number of Jews in the area more than 100 years ago." Reich believes that such denials have been discredited among "all Israelis." I'm not so certain that's true.
But I am in agreement here:

Only when each side recognizes the historical right of the other to live in the region will it be possible to begin to talk about peace and a fair reckoning on Jerusalem. And only then will it be possible to put Herod's vengeful ghost back into his haunted archaeological tomb.

Let's stop denying history and start talking about peace!


Anonymous said…
If you are an historian, why would you not say that Herod was a Jew. With ambitions, yes, but, Jewish. Pontius Pilate, was the Roman. Herod, was the son of Herod 'the Great', a certifiable psychopath, who indiscriminately slaughtered family members, rabbis, and other Jews, but, did build the 2nd Temple, whole wall, known as the "wailing wall", is supposed a good place for Jews to pray. Just how does a wall built by a mass murderer connect you to God?
I'm not sure I get your point. I never said one way or another about Herod's Jewishness. In reality he was Idumean and married into the Hasmonean family, which was Jewish. Thus, his four sons were at least half Jewish by birth.

Herod rebuilt the temple and expanded it, but it would be incorrect to say he built the 2nd Temple. The 2nd Temple was built after the end of the exile.

And, I really don't get the point of the final statement about the wall being built by a mass murderer. The wall is holy to Jews because it is a remnant of their temple, even if all that remains is a retaining wall.

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