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General Articles
Carbon dating backs Bible on Edom

Carbon dating backs Bible on Edom

FAITH

By RICHARD N. OSTLING
Associated Press Writer

The Mideast's latest archaeological sensation is all about Edom.

The Bible says Edom's kings interacted with ancient Israel, but some scholars have confidently declared that no Edomite state could have existed that early.

The latest archaeological work indicates the Bible got it right, those experts got it wrong and some write-ups need rewriting. The findings also could buttress disputed biblical reports about kings David and Solomon.

Edom was a rugged land south and east of the Dead Sea in present-day southern Jordan. The Bible reports that Edom had kings before Israel (Genesis 36:31, 1 Chronicles 1:43) and that they barred Moses' throng after the Exodus (Numbers 20:14-21) and later warred with David (2 Samuel 8:13-14, 1 Kings 11:15-16).

Traditional dating puts David's rule from 1012 B.C. to 972 B.C., followed by son Solomon through 932 B.C. By looser reckoning, their monarchy emerged around 1000 B.C. (The exodus came long before.)

The doubters figured the Bible erred because the earliest discovered remains from Edom and nonbiblical references dated back only to the eighth century B.C. Such thinking ignored the old archaeological warning that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

Sample skepticism:

  • The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992) says "Edom was probably not a political unity" in Moses' time, and for three or four centuries afterward, which also rule out war with David.

  • Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University contends in "The Bible Unearthed" (2001, co-authored with Neil Asher Silberman) that archaeology made it "clear" there were "no real kings and no state in Edom" before the eighth century because earlier large settlements and fortresses were lacking.

  • University of Arizona archaeologist William G. Dever states in "Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?" (2003) that the Edom region "remained largely nomadic" until perhaps the seventh century B.C. when a "semi-sedentary tribal state emerged."

    Dever, for one, acknowledges that the chronology has been thrown centuries earlier and thinks the "revolutionary" findings support the Bible's credibility concerning Edom and the kingdom of David and Solomon.

    (Dever remains dubious about the biblical history of the earlier Exodus, dismissing conservatives who cite the towns on Moses' route named in Egyptian records.)

    The Edom dig is described in Antiquity, a British archaeological quarterly, by Russell Adams of Canada's McMaster University; Thomas Levy of the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues in Britain, Israel, Germany and Jordan.

    They report that pottery and radiocarbon dating of organic materials from a major copper mill in Jordan show settlement in the 11th century B.C. and perhaps earlier. An impressive fortress site, 80 yards square, dates to the 10th-century era of David and Solomon.

    This doesn't explicitly support the Bible's references to Edom, Adams says, but does prove that the Edomites thrived in the 10th century, and that lends credibility to the biblical chronology. Dever has examined pottery from the site and is convinced that some is Israelite, indicating David's kingdom engaged in international trading.

    In addition, Adams says, early settlement in Edom corroborates archaeological work at the major Tel Rehov site in northern Israel by Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University and others. This team reported in Science magazine in 2003 that radiocarbon dating of olive pits and charred grain from the site dates between 940 B.C. and 900 B.C. That fits snugly with Solomon's biblical kingdom and the Pharaoh Shishak's invasion five years after Solomon died (1 Kings 14:25-6).

    Most senior archaeologists' dating relates various remains with Solomon's kingdom, but they have recently been challenged by Finkelstein's "low chronology," which seeks to shift dates downward by as much as a century. That would undercut the Bible on David and Solomon and support "minimalist" skeptics.

    Apparently, science cannot conclusively settle this dispute. At a radiocarbon summit in England last year, both sides stuck to their chronological schemes.

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