fbpx
Wednesday, September 30, 2020

‘Digging Up Armageddon,’ Takes An Archaeological Look At Where The End Begins

Har-Megiddo, a Hebrew place name that translates as the Mount of Megiddo, is mentioned a dozen times in the Tanakh, but it is better known in Western tradition as Armageddon. Starting in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian scriptures, Armageddon is understood to be the site of the final battle between the forces of good and evil that will take place at the end of the world.

For that reason, the site is a favorite destination of Christian tourists, who “frequently burst into hymns or prayers, especially if they are on their way to Nazareth,” explains Eric H. Cline in “Digging Up Armageddon: The Search for the Lost City of Solomon” (Princeton University Press). However, Cline is quick to point out that Megiddo, located about 18 miles southeast of Haifa in the Jezreel Valley, has been the site of at least 25 ancient cities, and holds different meanings to many different peoples throughout different periods of history, “from the Canaanites to the Israelites, and then the neo-Assyrians, neo-Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, followed in turn by the Muslims, Crusaders, Mongols, Mamlukes, Ottomans, and, most recently, World War I and the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.”

Cline is a professor of classics and anthropology at George Washington University and director of its Capitol Archaeological Institute. His previous books include “Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology” and “1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.” For more than two decades, he has participated in the diggings at Megiddo, and his latest book is an account of the early and crucial era in the archaeological work that first started there more than a century ago.

Commanding in its scope and scholarship, and both chatty and charming in the stories Cline tells and the personalities whom we meet, “Digging Up Armageddon” is, itself, a treasured find.

Ironically, we discover Megiddo may be among the most misinterpreted and misunderstood archeological sites in history. In 1926, the field director of the dig insisted he had validated an account in the Book of Kings by finding the remains of King Solomon’s stables. Since then, Cline reports, “suspicions emerged that Solomon may not have built them and that they might not even be stables.” But, thanks to the “sales pitch” shopped around to various benefactors by renowned American archaeologist James Henry Breasted, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. agreed to fund the project in its entirety.

Then, too, the archaeologists who joined the dig were at odds with one another about more than the origins and significance of the artifacts they were finding. They argued about when to eat breakfast, when to start work, and whether to hold services every Sunday. One of them “grumbled quite specifically that they were there to do archaeology, not to run a religious mission.” Indeed, the remark reflects one of the great points of friction in what, until recently, has been called “biblical archaeology.” Archaeologists seek to find and understand what they dig out of the ground; by contrast, “biblical archaeologists” are inspired by what they read in the Bible and understandably aspire to corroborate the scriptures. Faith and science make uncomfortable bedfellows when it comes to archaeology.

Thus began what is known as the “Chicago Expedition,” a term referring to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, whose founder and director was Breasted himself. For example, Breasted rejoiced when he translated the Egyptian hieroglyphics on a fragment of stone found at the site precisely because they seemed to confirm “the familiar words of the Old Testament historian” he first read “as a lad in a country Sunday school” about the conquest of Megiddo by an Egyptian pharaoh in 930 B.C. But, as Breasted himself pointed out, the stone had been mishandled by the workmen who first dug it up, making it impossible to know when or when it was deposited at the site. “There were literally hordes of … local workmen, vastly outnumbering the members of the archaeological team, sometimes at a ratio of 100:1,” Cline reports. “The archaeologists and architects came around only when something exciting had been found.”

Still, there is something distinctly biblical about the afflictions the diggers endured – an infestation of mosquitoes, plagues of malaria and sand-fly fever, an earthquake in Jericho that caused jars to fall from shelves in Megiddo. One of the leading archaeologists was reported to suffer from “suicidal homosexual yearnings”; the 37-year-old woman who served as registrar was accused of making advances toward three younger staff members, who happened to be “the only single and available men at the dig during the spring of 1928.” The director told his staff “a story of intrigue, hintings and devious dealing which causes me to tell you that that I do not want Miss Woodley to remain at Megiddo any longer than can be helped.”

While the archaeological work continued, Jews and Arabs in Palestine were engaged in an ongoing and often violent struggle against each other. “Anti-Semitism had always been present at Megiddo to some degree,” Cline writes, and some of the administrators who came from abroad were quick to assert that “the Jew is to blame” while dismissing Arab violence against Jews as “all Jewish propaganda.” When P. L. O. (Philip Langstaffe Ord) Guy resumed the field directorship of Megiddo after a period of leave, however, “all anti-Jewish conversation … ceased,” and Guy’s Jewish wife was credited for the change of tone.

“Faith and science make uncomfortable bedfellows when it comes to archaeology.

One Jewish member of the archaeological staff, as it turns out, also was serving as a secret intelligence officer for the Haganah and after leaving the dig, went on to found its Arab department. “Archaeology, in general, has served, and is serving, as an excellent preparation for intelligence work,” Ukrainian-born architect and engineer Emmanuel Wilensky observed. “In both archaeology and intelligence, the researcher has to acquire an image of a distant reality, by piercing together patiently and slowly bits of information and hints, classifying and sifting them, and trying to bring them into an orderly system.”

The same description applies to Cline’s compelling book. He gives us more than one “image of a distant reality,” some dating back to distant antiquity, others focusing on the recent past, and a few that focus on Megiddo in the here and now.  “Digging Up Armageddon” perhaps is best summed up as a book about the time and place where all these realities can be seen at once.


Jonathan Kirsch, book editor of the Journal, is the author of “A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization.”

Did you enjoy this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Enjoyed this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Articles

How These Jewish Children Inspire Me to Be a Better Air Force Officer

Founded in 1980 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Tzivos Hashem (literally “Army of God”) is a youth group for children under the age of being bat or bar mitzvah that focuses on the education and cultivation of Torah values.

From Small Etrog, an Ancient Custom Grew

Far from merely being a fragrant, ornamental lemon to be cradled during the Hallel service, the etrog has a colorful, secret history that is as fascinating as its aroma is intoxicating.

Columbia BDS Referendum Passes

It passed with around 61% of the vote.

An Emergency Message to Wealthy Donors: Please Give More to Your Synagogues this Year—a Lot More

If our synagogue communities are going to survive, we have no choice but to step up in a big way.

Congress Members Join Global Task Force to Combat Online Anti-Semitism

Members of the national legislatures of Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States are part of the panel.

Thank God For Animation

I'm going to write a ridiculous "I'm grateful" piece, but I actually mean it seriously. So I'm a TV person in addition to a movie...

Pandemic Times Episode 91: Gaining Strength During Holidays

New David Suissa Podcast Every Tuesday and Friday. How Jewish holidays offer ideal "timeouts" for healing and growth. How do we manage our lives during the...

Israel Has More per Capita Deaths From the Coronavirus Each Day Than the U.S.

Israel’s daily rate over the last week has been an average of 3.5 deaths per million people. The U.S. rate was 2.2 deaths per million.

VIDEO: Skirball Cultural Center Hosts One Day Only Outdoor RBG Memorial

On Friday, Sept. 25 the Skirball Cultural Center held a socially distant RBG memorial display on its front steps, to honor the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Culture

From Small Etrog, an Ancient Custom Grew

Far from merely being a fragrant, ornamental lemon to be cradled during the Hallel service, the etrog has a colorful, secret history that is as fascinating as its aroma is intoxicating.

Break the Fast with Jonah and the Whale Placemats

After reading the story of Jonah on Yom Kippur, what better way to break the fast than with a meal featuring these Jonah and the Whale placemats? 

Lisa Edelstein Joins the Cast of ‘ 9-1-1 Lone Star’

Lisa Edelstein (“House,” “The Good Doctor”) has joined the cast of FOX’s “9-1-1 Lone Star” as the ex-wife of the fire captain played by...

Prosecutors Drop Solicitation Charges Against Patriots Owner Robert Kraft

They said they didn't have a case when they couldn't use a video for their case.

‘RBG’ Filmmaker Julie Cohen on Justice Ginsburg’s Death: ‘I Was Stunned’

Cohen made her comments during a Zoom event with Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival Executive Director Hilary Helstein on Sept. 24. 

Latest Articles
Latest

How These Jewish Children Inspire Me to Be a Better Air Force Officer

Founded in 1980 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Tzivos Hashem (literally “Army of God”) is a youth group for children under the age of being bat or bar mitzvah that focuses on the education and cultivation of Torah values.

From Small Etrog, an Ancient Custom Grew

Far from merely being a fragrant, ornamental lemon to be cradled during the Hallel service, the etrog has a colorful, secret history that is as fascinating as its aroma is intoxicating.

Columbia BDS Referendum Passes

It passed with around 61% of the vote.

An Emergency Message to Wealthy Donors: Please Give More to Your Synagogues this Year—a Lot More

If our synagogue communities are going to survive, we have no choice but to step up in a big way.

Congress Members Join Global Task Force to Combat Online Anti-Semitism

Members of the national legislatures of Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States are part of the panel.

Hollywood

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

Roy Moore’s Lawsuit Against Sacha Baron Cohen Over Being Pranked Can Proceed, Judge Rules

By the time the episode aired, it was widely known that Cohen was punking public figures.

Podcasts

Pandemic Times Episode 91: Gaining Strength During Holidays

New David Suissa Podcast Every Tuesday and Friday. How Jewish holidays offer ideal "timeouts" for healing and growth. How do we manage our lives during the...

Pandemic Times Episode 90: Yom Kippur in a Pandemic Can Be Our Most Meaningful

New David Suissa Podcast Every Tuesday and Friday. Reflections from Rabbi Mordecai Finley on going deep on Judaism's holiest day. How do we manage our lives...

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

x