The Fall of Jerusalem in the Light of Archaeology -- By: Harry M. Orlinsky

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 04:2 (Spring 1975)
Article: The Fall of Jerusalem in the Light of Archaeology
Author: Harry M. Orlinsky

The Fall of Jerusalem in the Light of Archaeology

Harry M. Orlinsky

[Harry Orlinsky is a professor at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He is a leading Old Testament scholar, being one of the world’s authorities in biblical philology, Septuagint, and Bible translation.]

The destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the Babylonian Exile are two events that we all take for granted. You may wonder what there is about the Destruction and the Exile that we need archaeology for. Everyone knows about these events. Everyone knows that Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and that a Babylonian Captivity followed; so that archaeology can play but a relatively minor role here.

However, when I started out as a college student in Semitics, in the late twenties and the thirties, the Destruction and the Exile had come to be increasingly regarded by serious scholars as fictitious, and my teacher at the University of Toronto, Professor Theophile J. Meek, a person of very considerable knowledge and integrity, used to gloss over this period because he did not feel entirely secure with the data for it. The evidence for the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, the evidence for the Babylonian Captivity, and the evidence for the return to Judah and its Restoration were all rather unsubstantial. Simply because the Bible related these events was hardly enough assurance for a scholar that these events had actually taken place.

If Jerusalem and the Temple were captured and severely damaged, and if the country at large was devastated by the Babylonian army, one should expect archaeologists in the course of their work to unearth physical evidence of this catastrophic event. It is true that by

the end of the twenties, only a few Palestinian sites that were pertinent to our problem had been excavated and the reports on them published; so that the archaeological data for 586 B.C. were rather scant. Among these few sites, Beth-shemesh was the most prominent, and it contained a stratum of destruction. But according to its excavators, this level of occupation had been destroyed about 700 B.C., in the course of the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah; and thus a site such as Beth-shemesh — which lay some twenty-five miles west of Jerusalem, and which would have had to be neutralized by any enemy force which wanted to make certain that it would not be attacked from the rear while it made its way east toward Jerusalem — provided no evidence of Babylonian destruction of Judah.

Just a few decades ago, in the thirties, there had developed a group of scholars in this country and in Europe — for example, Charles Cutler Torrey of Yal...

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