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BAR Interviews Yigael Yadin, Hershel Shanks, BAR 9:01, Jan-Feb 1983.

Yigael YadinDoes archaeology prove the truth of the Bible? • Will an archive be found in Israel? • Where will Yadin dig next? • Advice to aspiring archaeologists • Yadin’s definition of Biblical archaeology

On July 22, 1982, BAR editor Hershel Shanks visited Yigael Yadin in his home in Jerusalem. Shanks spoke for several hours with Yadin, who had recently returned to full time archaeology after one of the many discursions that have marked his amazing life. Yadin has had a number of careers—soldier, scholar and politician among them. In 1948, he commanded the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state army, in that country’s War of Independence. Most recently, he served for four years as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister. Before and since, he has lived a life of the mind as an archaeologist, Biblical scholar and historian. But he also gets his hands dirty as a field archaeologist, having led a number of important expeditions—including one to Masada, Herod’s wilderness palace—fortress where Jewish fighters made their last stand in the First Revolt against Rome, and another to Hazor, a site Yadin believes was captured by Joshua. Yadin also figured prominently in the acquisition by Israel of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has recently published a three-volume edition of the Temple Scroll, the latest to be found and the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (A BAR article by Yadin on the Temple Scroll is scheduled for a future issue.) Yadin often writes for BAR; his most recent contribution was “Is the Biblical Account of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan Historically Reliable?” BAR 08-02.

Hershel Shanks- Professor Yadin, one of the things that we hear about most frequently from our readers, and which is somewhat puzzling to them, involves the relationship of archaeology to the historical accuracy of the Bible. We know that archaeology is not supposed to prove the truth of the Bible. Most of our readers are more sophisticated than that. But sometimes they get the feeling that archaeologists are too quick to accept archaeological evidence and find that it contradicts the Bible, too quick to conclude that therefore the Bible is inaccurate. Our readers often point out how uncertain archaeological evidence really is; how often archaeologists argue from silence, from the absence of evidence; and how often there are explanations other than that the Bible is wrong. After all, we know very little of the full archaeological picture. Most of it still lies underground. And even if it were all uncovered, there would still be enormous gaps in our knowledge of the ancient world. I wonder if you feel that archaeologists are sometimes too quick to reject the Bible in favor of limited archaeological evidence?

Yigael Yadin- I think your question is really a basic one. Our knowledge of the Bible as a historical document is not yet complete. It’s limited. And with all the advances in the archaeological discipline, including field archaeology with all that goes with it, it is far from providing 100% answers to many questions people would like to know about the Bible.

My definition of archaeology sounds a bit sophisticated—and incidentally I didn’t invent it. It was written by someone a hundred years ago. I don’t remember who wrote it, but I follow it, and that is that archaeology is the science that examines the mind of man to the extent it is reflected in material or has been expressed in material.

If the thoughts of Jeremiah or Isaiah were not written down, let’s say they were known only orally, or if the writings were lost, archaeology can never recover what was in their minds. It’s beyond archaeology’s realm.

On the other hand, if Jeremiah says that as a result of the onslaught of the Babylonians, only Lachish and Azekah remained undestroyed until the time that he was uttering his words [Jeremiah 34-7], here of course is a field day (double meaning) for archaeology. Because here I think archaeology can say, “Yes, Lachish and Azekah really were destroyed in 586 [B.C.].” We can say, “Yes, they were in the end destroyed by the Babylonians.” And if we excavate, as we have, an adjacent fort, let’s say 50 miles from there, we are in trouble again. Although it may seem very easy, we cannot prove that some fort, say Eglon, was destroyed five years before the other two sites. We cannot determine things so closely. If we didn’t have the Bible, an archaeologist who excavated Lachish, Azekah, and, let’s say, Tel Ira, would have come to the conclusion that they were all destroyed at the beginning of the sixth century. Does that disprove or prove what Jeremiah said? Jeremiah is saying that on the day that he was uttering his thoughts, only Lachish and Azekah remained [undestroyed], which means that a month before, five years before, twenty years before, the other sites had already fallen into the hands of the Edomites or Babylonians. We archaeologists cannot be so precise as to say that. But we can say for sure that these cities were destroyed at the beginning of the sixth century.

So to sum up I think that there are certain questions that the archaeologist can answer. Sometimes if the answer contradicts what the Bible says, then we have to accept it because, after all, the Bible itself was not composed as a historical book. Some of those historians who wrote it, or compiled it, perhaps didn’t know exactly what the historical facts were. But in many, many cases—and there are more of those cases than the others—archaeology, at the moment, cannot give a positive answer as to whether a historical statement in the Bible is true or not.

If there is a contradiction between a Biblical assertion and the archaeological evidence, I would be extremely reluctant to say that archaeology proved that the Bible was wrong. There are some cases like that, but they are fewer than most people think.

HS- The most well-known supposed contradiction concerns Jericho. At the time most scholars date the conquest of Canaan, there was no settlement at Jericho, according to Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated the city.

Or take Jerusalem, the City of David. Only yesterday, at the City of David excavations, Yigal Shiloh showed me the evidence he found in a very, very limited area for a 10th- and 11th-century occupation of Jerusalem. Now, if Shiloh had not dug in this particular area, there would not be archaeological evidence for the existence of Jerusalem in the 10th–11th century. But now Shiloh has the evidence.

Kathleen Kenyon’s Jericho excavations also involved opening only a very limited area, so can we really be sure that there was no city at Jericho at the time of the Israelite conquest?

YY- I think there is enough evidence, even in Kenyon’s excavations—and also in the earlier excavations of Garstang—to show that at Jericho there is no necessary contradiction to the Bible.

We shouldn’t forget that there were Jericho tombs to show that there must have been a Late Bronze 14th–13th century settlement in Jericho, even if we haven’t found the settlement itself. How large it was, unfortunately, we cannot say. I think the site has been absolutely mutilated, both by nature and by earlier archaeologists. But there is evidence that there was something there [in the late Bronze Age]. Now whether the walls fell the way the Bible describes it, that is another story.

HS- That’s beyond the realm of archaeology, isn’t it?

YY- That’s beyond the realm of archaeology, and I think it’s beyond the realm of history as well. It’s a matter of faith. The ancient people believed that this was the cause. Now if you want to believe it, you believe it; if you don’t believe it, don’t. But the fact is that there was a city there, in my opinion, and it was conquered. There can be no doubt. Maybe it was a small city. Maybe tradition then magnified it until it became larger than it was, but there must have been a core of history there.
I belong to a school of thought that thinks tradition must be used as a source for history, of course with caution. People don’t invent certain things. For example, you can’t deny that the Israelites were once in Egypt. What nation would invent such a crazy story, that they were slaves in Egypt and they left that country and came to this country, and then make that the kernel of all their history? There is a historical core. Even if you want to minimize it, there is a core of truth there. Maybe it did not happen exactly as it is recorded, down to the last detail. But there is a historical core.

So, what I’m trying to say is, in the case of Jericho, for example, I entirely agree that one has to be very careful. They didn’t find a Late Bronze Age wall. But when Kathleen Kenyon excavated Jericho, in fact even when the Germans excavated there, and then later, Garstang excavated, they found a Middle Bronze wall absolutely intact. Now, if the Middle Bronze wall was intact when the archaeologists found it in the 20th century, then it was surely intact in the Late Bronze Age. We archaeologists sometimes make a terrible mistake. We think that when a new king begins to reign, then a new level must be found in the city; when he dies, the city must die as well. When a new period comes, there must be a new city wall. But this isn’t true. Look, today, even today, you can see old city walls that have survived for 300, 400, 500 years. And I believe that the Middle Bronze city wall at Jericho was used in the Late Bronze Age.

I would go further, in fact I believe that most of the Canaanite cities in Canaan at the time of the conquest were rather weakly fortified. Not only in Jericho—in other cities too that the Bible claims were conquered, and in other cities that [Pharaoh] Ramesses II claims he conquered, and that [Pharaoh] Seti I claims he conquered. We acknowledge these Pharaonic conquests of Ramesses II and Seti I as accurately reported because there are reliefs and there are inscriptions as proof. Some scholars do not rely on the Bible [as you know, there is so much skepticism regarding its historical accuracy]. When we come to these cities conquered by the Egyptians, however, and we excavate, we don’t find any formidable new walls that Ramesses destroyed and that supposedly were built by the people of the 14th–13th century. We find walls that were built in an earlier period.

One of the reasons scholars are reluctant to believe that there is a kernel of truth in the Jericho story is that they say that there is no evidence from the Late Bronze Age at Jericho. But this is not true. There is evidence, even according to Kenyon. She had to admit that in one spot she did find one house. All right, if you find one house, there may be more. Secondly, that they didn’t find a city wall from the Late Bronze Age is not evidence. The Middle Bronze Age city wall could easily have been re-used in the Late Bronze Age.

HS- You mentioned that there are some cases in which archaeology does contradict the Bible. Now you say Jericho isn’t one of them. What is one of them?

YY- Well, I’ll tell you what. When I say contradict, I still qualify it a little bit, and I’ll tell you why.

Apparently there is a contradiction. But even this may not be true. Take the story of the second city occupied by the Israelites, the one after Jericho; that is Ai. Ai was excavated rather thoroughly by the late Judith Marquet-Krause and by Joseph Callaway. Neither found any evidence for a Late Bronze Age city. Of course there still can be room for doubt. It’s a huge site, and it’s still possible that in one quarter, evidence of a Late Bronze Age city will be found. If I were in court, I would say it’s still possible that in one area there may be a Late Bronze Age city. But from the evidence we have today, and there has been quite an extensive excavation, no Late Bronze Age city, not one Late Bronze Age sherd has been found at Ai. Now, if we believe that Joshua conquered Jericho in the 13th century, in the Late Bronze Age—and we do have evidence for this—and Ai was the second city occupied a few weeks or months after Jericho, and we can’t find evidence of a city at Ai, then there is here an apparent contradiction.

HS- Are there no other possibilities? For example, that we’ve incorrectly identified the city that Joshua conquered.

YY- That’s why I qualified my statement a bit. We identify this tel, et-Tel as it is in fact named which means literally the ruin—Ai also means the ruin—we identify this site as the Biblical Ai. There have been many surveys in this area and no other candidate for Biblical Ai has been found. But still I do qualify my funding of an apparent contradiction. Maybe we were looking all the time for a huge mound strongly fortified, as it is described in the Bible. The Bible has crystallized in writing what the Biblical writer imagined the city to be. But it may have been a much smaller place. That’s why I do qualify my statement.

Let’s sum it up. If we take the Biblical stories concerning the two cities you mentioned, Jericho and Ai, if we take these stories literally, and if people would like to know whether archaeology can say whether the trumpets caused the walls to fall or not, I say it is beyond archaeology anyhow. This is a matter of belief. I don’t believe it was the trumpets that caused it, but some people may believe it. This is not a matter of argument for us now—it has nothing to do with archaeology. But as a historical question, I think we have a problem. In the case of Jericho, I would say most probably archaeology does not contradict the Biblical story. In the case of Ai, I would say that at present our knowledge, our archeological knowledge, does contradict the Bible. But still I qualify it as I indicated.

HS- You said that you don’t believe the trumpets mentioned in the Bible caused the walls to fall down. Does that reflect your view of the Bible, you personal relationship to it as a matter of fact?

YY- Well, I think the Bible is composed of many, many elements, absolutely different from one another. For example, let’s take the first few chapters of Genesis. You cannot put the first few chapters of Genesis in the same category as the books of Kings. The books of Kings are based on the annals of the kings in which, more or less yearly, a scribe recorded the main events. If you believe that God created the world in seven days, or six days rather, to be more accurate, then you believe in that; if you don’t believe, you don’t believe. I, as a man who knows enough about geology, about the history of this planet, think that the way it is described there—I leave God out of the story for the moment—is contradicted by science. The early Genesis stories are more in the nature of mythology. They crystallized perhaps a certain knowledge. I think basically the stages of creation are perhaps correct as they are described in Genesis, stages that were telescoped in the tradition, in the faith, into short periods rather than much longer. Of course, people can say that the days referred to in the Bible meant actually millions of years and the years were billions of years. I don’t want to go into that. But I can’t put the first few chapters of Genesis in the same category as the books of Samuel or Kings. And therefore I cannot speak of the Bible as a whole, as it relates to archaeology or faith or belief.

HS- But even in the historical sections the Bible reflects a presence of God, a God acting in history. And even if you accept the historicity of the conquest of Jericho, you’ve indicated that you don’t accept the miraculous aspects of the trumpets causing the walls to fall down.

YY- When we study history, I think it’s very important not to project what we think onto what people thought at the time. Today there are millions of people who believe that events happened exactly as described in the Bible and I’m sure that in those days when the Israelites managed to conquer cities, and when their grandchildren saw that they, a desert people, were able to become masters of a land that had been owned by giants and had been fortified, the Israelites were absolutely convinced that it was not only their act of valor but it was mainly God’s wish and with God’s help that they were able to do this. Therefore, whatever they wrote is not a bluff. They really believed it. Now you can say that this doesn’t prove that God actually helped them, but it does prove one thing- it proves what motivated them, what moved them to do what they did; it was that belief. We have to understand that; otherwise we can’t understand why they built these temples and in fact why they behaved as they did. Whatever I think today is my own private view which I am free to believe. I don’t even have to tell anybody what I believe. It is not important. If, however, as a scholar, I have evidence that shows that something didn’t happen the way the Bible says, then it is my duty of course to present it. I gave you one example in which there are difficulties. There are also other difficulties that the editors and the compilers of the Bible knew about. They themselves knew that there were contradictions within the Bible.

But it is absolutely untrue that archaeology disproves the Bible. On the contrary, I think archaeology proves it, that is, that the great events—for example the conquest of Canaan by the children of Israel, which was a major event in the history of the people—cannot be thrown away and be explained by all sorts of sociological theories, as is sometimes attempted. First, archaeology proves that there was a conquest at that period, and second, the tradition is so strongly imbedded in the Bible, I don’t believe that it was invented.

I am reminded of the story about whether it was Joshua who conquered Canaan. Who would invent Joshua? It’s like the discussion about whether there was a Shakespeare; whether it was Shakespeare or somebody else by the name of Shakespeare. Was it Joshua or somebody else who was called Joshua? Why suddenly invent a Joshua? Now maybe he did less than is ascribed to him. But to deny completely the fact that there was a hero by the name of Joshua who led the tribes at a certain period and that they managed to conquer the land is, I think, to deny archaeology and the Bible at the same time.

HS- You mentioned that you would leave God out for the moment.

YY- Well, I don’t think God has anything to do with archaeology.

HS- You’ve been an archaeologist almost all your life.

YY- That’s true.

HS- Has that affected the way you think about God or feel about God?

YY- No, it hasn’t. Incidentally, I didn’t tell you what I believed before I was an archaeologist.

HS- And you haven’t told me what you believe now.

YY- I say it did not affect my beliefs. It did not affect my thinking about whether there is a God or not. This has nothing to do with archaeology.

HS- Has your career in archaeology affected your appreciation of the Bible?

YY- Oh, yes.

HS- Has it deepened your respect or made it more questionable?

YY- Well, let’s put it this way. My reaction to the Bible is very, very complex and subjective. I must be very, very careful to answer your questions as an archaeologist. After all, as a Jew, as an Israeli, I was brought up from childhood on the Bible as the history of my people, as the mandate for my being in this particular country. I still believe the Bible really records the main, the salient events in the history of my ancestors. If someone attacks the Bible, saying that it is not historical (I’m not talking about the early part of Genesis but the historical books), that it is nonsense and fiction, then I say that archaeology has increased my belief that basically the historical parts of the Bible are true.

No doubt of that. But if I say, okay, I’m not a Jew at the moment, I’m not an Israeli, I am only an archaeologist, I would still say yes, on the whole, archaeology has increased by belief in the historical parts of the Bible. In fact, I am amazed. I am amazed because the more we discover, the more we dig, we see—how shall we put it?—there is always a grain of truth and I minimize it, in any event the Bible actually describes. It is true that if you understand the Bible literally, there are apparent contradictions. But if you look at the more general sweep, it is accurate. I think archaeology has actually given me, if you ask me subjectively, a greater respect for the Bible.

You know the same kinds of questions are involved in other ancient documents. I wouldn’t put the Bible in the same category, but the same kinds of questions are involved. Take Josephus, for example [a first-century A.D. Jewish historian]. Before archaeological excavations, it was the vogue among historians—very serious historians—to argue that Josephus in many places relates sheer nonsense, that he is not historical, that he exaggerates, and so forth. But the more we dig in Jerusalem and at Masada and at Herodium and in [Herodian] Jericho, the greater respect we—both archaeologists and historians—have for the accuracy of Josephus. He is one of the greatest historians. Of course he had his own prejudices. But show me any historian without them. Josephus is accurate not only for his own period but for previous periods as well, for example, the Hellenistic period. Josephus had theories; of course he made mistakes in his theories—so we think—but basically as historian, he is much, much more respected as a result of archaeology.

Take Homer as another example. He was always considered and still is, but less so, like the Bible, as a kind of fiction writer recording myths and legends of a heroic period that is not really history. A whole feud went on in classical studies exactly as we have in Biblical studies between those who said that whatever is in Homer is nonsense and fiction that has no historical validity and the others who said the opposite. Slowly but surely, archaeology showed that basically the whole idea—the destruction of Troy and the Mycenaean might, and so on and so forth—was true. Of course Homer is a later recording of events that took place several hundred years before they were written down. I have a book here by Professor [Hilda Lockhart] Lorimer, which I cherish, Homer and the Monuments. Lorimer is one of the most serious classical scholars, and what she does is to show that all the excavations at Greek sites have proved that Homer actually was right, even in details, when he described the detail of a shield of Ajax, or the shape of an arch, or an arrow, or whatever.

To sum up, tradition is a very powerful historical instrument, provided we know how to understand it. We must not simply swallow it lock, stock and barrel, on the one hand, and we must not throw the baby out with the bath by saying the whole thing is nonsense. If we can sharpen our tools for understanding the recorded tradition, then, together with archaeology and other sources, we can understand much better what is described in the Bible.

HS- Is there a subject, an academic discipline of Biblical archaeology? As you know, some scholars believe that it’s not a real academic discipline, but simply a historical description of what certain scholars in the past have done and they believe that the term should be abandoned.

YY- Well, of course, as the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, you are touching on something very important to your readers. You’re touching a very vexing problem. I know, of course, about the views you refer to.

I think those who object to the term Biblical archaeology have absolutely misused it and therefore created confusion. You put in the mouths of those who object to the term a very mild description of their objections. Some of those who object say that Biblical archaeology is “coffee table archaeology,” for example. The truth of the matter is that unfortunately we are working in a country—let’s say Palestine, it’s the land of the Bible we’re talking about—which for a 2,000-year period [3000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.] left no substantial inscriptions or writings to enable us to understand what we excavate, unlike Egypt and Babylon which have left substantial inscriptions on monuments and written documents.

Now I wouldn’t like to be an archaeologist who is only a technician in dissections. Of course it’s important to know how to excavate, just as it is vital for a pathologist to know how to make a dissection. But if this is all he knows, then he’ll never be a doctor; he’ll never contribute to the understanding of the human body. So what are we to do. From 3000 B.C. to at least 1000 B.C., we have so little written material because our forefathers [unlike Babylonians] did not write much on clay; and papyrus, because of the humidity, did not stay well-preserved. We don’t have Egypt’s dry weather which preserved not only the pyramids but also papyrus. So our forefathers are silent in this respect. So today we can dig. We can know exactly the pottery, the fortifications, and stratification and relative chronology of sites and so on. And we shall be able to reconstruct a fair picture of the culture. But this is not enough. In order to understand the human mind, we have to know more. And we do have sources. We have the Bible, if we understand it correctly. We have Egyptian archaeology. We have Mesopotamian archaeology. We have philology. There are written documents from Mesopotamia and from Anatolia. Some of them are related to what happened here. Now why should we, as archaeologists who want to understand what happened in the minds of the people who lived here and built these skeletons of cities that we find, the ruins, why should we deprive ourselves of all these other sources of knowledge that I just listed.

This is Biblical archaeology. I wouldn’t say Biblical archaeology is a discipline as you put it. I think it is a multi-discipline. Or, if you like, an art.

It is necessary to control certain disciplines in order to achieve certain knowledge. Today it is true that you cannot be a master of all the many disciplines I mentioned. But if somebody’s studying archaeology today with the aim of understanding the minds of the ancient people in this part of the world and he’s being taught only pottery and the technique of digging, and typology, and fortifications, I would say that he is not going to be an archaeologist unless he also studies at least one or two other disciplines that will help him to understand what he is going to find, either the Bible or philology or Assyriology or history.

I really don’t understand why this objection to the term Biblical archaeology has arisen. Can you show me one archaeologist in Greece who has not pursued classical studies as a sine qua non of his education?

HS- That’s an interesting observation. I recently discussed this subject with a prominent scholar in Israel who noted that some scholars wanted to substitute Syro-Palestinian archaeology for Biblical archaeology as a technical term. This scholar asked me, would the same people want to substitute Balko-Aegean archaeology for Greek archaeology.

YY- I would like to comment afterwards about Syro-Palestinian archaeology, where we delineate the supposed geographical limits of our branch of archaeology. But I still want to finish the point I was making. If someone wants to excavate Knossos [on the island of Crete] and uncover materials from the beginning of the second millennium, or Mycenae [in Greece] from the third millennium, he would never be given a license, he would not even dare to go to Crete or Mycenae unless he first mastered classical studies, unless he knew Homer, unless he understood the literary sources. Similarly, no one would think of excavating in Mesopotamia who has not been trained in Assyriology. Perhaps one or two have not been trained, but they are the exception to the rule. Because in Mesopotamia, too, you cannot interpret bricks and pottery unless you understand and study a little about the history of the area from the written documents. This is also true about Egypt. All the great Egyptian archaeologists are Egyptologists too. In other words, it is a discipline which is more than just the technique of digging to discern the artifacts, to be able to reconstruct history based on typology. Impossible. This is only a skeleton without a soul. Biblical archaeology really is the complete thing. It’s like a human being. You have a skeleton; you have flesh; and you have a soul, so to say. For the periods, let’s say, from the Bronze Age to the Second Jewish Commonwealth [70 A.D.], it must be Biblical archaeology.

What used to be called in the good old days field archaeology, some people now would like to call archaeology, period. For them, archaeology is identical with field archaeology. It’s a technique, they say. But the real job of the archaeologist is to understand the human mind as expressed in the material, as I said before. And that’s why I think that Biblical archaeology should not be discussed, vis-a-vis archaeology itself, as something different.

Of course, the prehistoric periods are different. I wouldn’t call that Biblical archaeology in the same sense because unfortunately the prehistorical archaeologist hasn’t got the Bible to provide the background. But even there, if he studies the Paleolithic period of Palestine, of the Holy Land, I would still call him a Biblical archaeologist in that sense, as I would the Greek scholar, the Greek archaeologist who studies the Paleolithic period of Greece. After all, this is the land of the Bible. True, there is very little difference between the hand-axes that we find here [in Israel] and those that are found in France. But there is a difference. The difference is that they are found here. Therefore they add to the understanding of the history of the human being, of man and his history in the land of the Bible. So this is another aspect of Biblical archaeology. But it’s not the same as Biblical archaeology in the periods in which the Bible as such is a source of information.

I would make two circles. The inner circle of Biblical archaeology is the period in which the Biblical historical books are sources of information. We supplement this and enrich it with all the cognate studies I mentioned before. The outer circle is the history of the land of the Bible.

Now we come to your question, “What is the land of the Bible?” I don’t criticize those who use the term Syro-Palestinian. I think we should let it stand if they wish. It is a political term. But is has nothing to do with our discipline of archaeology. You can show that it is true that Syria and Palestine had a lot in common in certain periods of history. But today the term Syro-Palestinian is used by certain archaeologists in such a way that they will be able to roam about in Jordan, to roam about in Syria. You know Biblical archaeology has already become taboo there. The Bible is already not to be mentioned in certain areas. In Syria, for example, I’m sure Biblical archaeology is becoming a dirty word. But Syro-Palestinian is acceptable, particularly if you put Syro before Palestine, as it was phrased by the Roman conquerors and even before them. The Romans always saw Palestine as an offshoot of Syria. Well, that is wrong. It is not an offshoot.

Now where do we fix the geographical border of Biblical archaeology? That is a very difficult question.
I had an argument with a gentleman who always used the term Syro-Palestinian. I told him that I cannot teach the archaeology of Palestine unless I also teach at the same time the archaeology of Anatolia, of Mesopotamia, and of Egypt in certain periods. You cannot understand the archaeology of this country—particularly because it was a bridge country between these other countries and was always being conquered—unless you understand what happened there as well. I called my book on warfare “The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands.” War is something between two parties. Normally, it is between one party and another who comes from the outside. How can we understand what happened here unless we know exactly how the Hittites or the Egyptians or the Mesopotamians fought. So the whole book tried to present the way the Assyrians fought, the way the Egyptians fought, and so on, because how can I understand fortifications in this country unless I know what it was fortified against. This is clear.

We should project this same idea onto culture trade, all sorts of things, which are reactions and counter-reactions to things that happen around us. Syro-Palestine is definitely not a meaningful archaeological term in my opinion. For the ninth century, the eighth century, and the seventh century B.C., it is more vital to know what happened in Mesopotamia than in Syria. How can we understand the fortifications, the culture, the artifacts we find here unless we know Assyrian archaeology?

Therefore, if we’re talking about Biblical archaeology, obviously the land of the Bible is the center. If we’re talking about Homeric archaeology or Greek archaeology, then obviously Greece is the center. You have to draw circles around the center. Some giants, like [W. F.] Albright, managed to control many disciplines. Of course in those days we knew less. Today, when knowledge is accumulating, each of us is able to control fewer disciplines. But this is only because of our shortcomings, not because the discipline doesn’t need it. Therefore, we have to cooperate. I would say that a good Biblical archaeologist today is composed of at least five people. Albright could do it by himself. We can’t; so we are five.

For example, yesterday you and I attended a panel discussion about a statue found at Tell Fakhariyah in Syria, inscribed in both Aramaic and Assyrian. In that discussion there were two epigraphers, one Assyriologist, one specialist in Semitic languages, and one historian. Even this was not enough because archaeology proper was not represented. Neither was the history of art, the history of statues and so forth. So these five people yesterday were together, in a way, one Biblical archaeologist, if you like.

Because of the accumulation of knowledge, we cannot master everything. Because of that, I wouldn’t like to define Biblical archaeology in a limited way.

HS- You mentioned that there is very little extant written material in Palestine. This leads me to a personal question. Are you yourself going to go back into the field?

YY- Well, I will go back to Hazor and I think that I will find an archive there.

HS- Why?

YY- Well, we have some very simple evidence to begin with. For example, in famous archive from el-Amarna [in Egypt] from the beginning of the 14th century B.C., we have letters written by kings, or rather mayors we would call them today, of cities of Palestine. These letters [written in cuneiform on clay tablets] were written here [and sent to Egypt]. From these letters we know that there were archives here. I mean those people here must have kept copies of their letters. After all, there was a correspondence. And they had a bureaucracy in those days. So if we find letters in Egypt from the king of Hazor, there must have been an archive of that particular king in Hazor. This applies similarly to quite a number of Biblical cities. In Mari [in Mesopotamia], we found a letter written three hundred years, if not four or five hundred years earlier, saying that they are sending an ambassador to Hazor. And ambassadors from Hazor go to Mari. Some letters found at Mari concern shipments of precious metals to Hazor and vice versa, and so on and so forth. At Hazor, a young boy, not an archaeologist found a little broken piece of a tablet which contained a dictionary, a Sumero-Akkadian dictionary; this find shows there was a scribe at Hazor. This dictionary must have been made by a scribe for other scribes. So I think up to now we have simply been unlucky in many of the cities where we have dug in Israel. You know we excavate on a huge mound, and if you don’t hit the archive, you don’t even know it’s there. Even in Ebla [in Syria where a fabulous third-millennium archive was recently found] they had fantastic luck. They could have dug for another 50 years and not hit that one particular spot.

Personally, I still hope that I will be able to contribute to negating the statement I made at the beginning, that Palestine has no inscribed writings for two millennia. I still want to go back to Hazor. I worked there for five years, in the biggest excavation up to that time. That excavation was in fact the cradle and the school of Israeli archaeologists. It shaped the whole method of those Israeli archaeologists who were with us at the time. Now they are archaeologists in their own right.

I believe I know at least where the palace of Hazor was. That much I am sure of. I will bet that I know where the king’s palace was, just as I bet when I last dug there that I knew where the water tunnel was. [And I found the water tunnel.]

It is not just that I am a soothsayer. My belief about the palace is based on deductions, observations there at the site. We found a corner of a huge building, of such proportions that it could only be a palace. And these tablets I mentioned, the two fragments of tablets that were found by visitors, came from the debris not far from that spot.

Unfortunately, we hit only the corner. We went down 14 or 13 strata from the top, working our way for four years. And then we came to the corner. What I want to do now is to go down systematically, because every layer above it is important, although I only want to find the archive. I want to go down in the area between the two arms of the corner. And I know where it is.

I have two difficulties, which I would like to share with your readers. One is very simple. I have to go down first through a great many other layers. Nothing would deter me from doing that carefully and systematically, stratum by stratum. Each stratum might bring surprises of its own. I don’t know what might be uncovered. I have to go through Ahab’s period again, then Solomon’s period and so on.

The second difficulty is a real dilemma. In the area where I think the palace is I have already found very important monuments which I left on the site as they were excavated. These include the famous pillared building of Hazor from the time of King Ahab. There is also a very beautiful private house or mansion or villa, named in my book Yael’s House after the woman student who served as the area supervisor there. I left these buildings standing at that time because they were so rare. In order to go now to the palace where I believe the archive is, I would have to remove all this, to dig beneath. If I undertake this project, I think the Department of Antiquities will give me permission to remove the existing monuments. I may perhaps go first around the exposed buildings a little bit. But if I have to remove them, I would like to rebuild them exactly as they are a hundred yards away. It will not be a fake. Every visitor will know they are the exact buildings with their original stones, but they will stand 50 or 100 yards away. For example, in London when they found within the city a temple of Mithras where they intended to build a bank or a post office, they rebuilt the whole temple nearby.

Anyway, this is a problem for me. It is even possible that under the presently exposed buildings I will find something else I wouldn’t like to remove before I reach the palace. But that’s the risk.
It might take a good year, one season, just to reach the palace. I think we have a very good chance of finding the archive of Hazor—from the late Bronze period (more or less the time of Joshua), from the Amarna period [14th century B.C.], and the earlier one from the Mari period [18th to 17th centuries B.C.]. The archive from the Mari period might be as important as the Ebla archive and perhaps even more important because Hazor covered as big an area as Ebla and was definitely as important as Ebla. In all the Mari correspondence, Ebla is not mentioned but Hazor is. Ebla was perhaps in decline at this time. Perhaps Ebla was off the beaten track of the Mari correspondence that we have found so far.

I would like to come back to what I said earlier. Daily written material from our area, such as transactions and letters and even what the prophets wrote, has unfortunately been lost because most of it was written on papyrus. Even the Dead Sea Scrolls would have been lost were it not for the fact that they were, so to say, buried or hidden in caves in the Dead Sea area which is so dry. Otherwise, they would have been lost as most other scrolls either on papyrus or on leather have been lost everywhere else in the country. But I think there’s good chance that one day we shall have a surprise either from Hazor or from Aphek or from Lachish or from somewhere else in the country. And we will find these clay tablets from the Amarna period, even up to the eve of the conquest of Canaan.

HS- When are you going to start at Hazor?

YY- I don’t know yet. I have to finish preparation of the English translation of my Temple Scroll book. I must get that out. And I have other work. But I think at the moment it might be in the autumn of ’83. I can’t give you a firm date yet. I have to think about it very carefully. I do not want to start this dig before I push some other publications. You are one of those who are always harassing us for not publishing, and I think you are right. And I still have on my desk some publications that I must finish before I start with a new dig.

HS- Let me mention just one of them. The publication of Hazor.

YY- Well, Hazor, I can tell you that it’s not [being ignored]. First of all, I’ve already published three huge volumes; very few excavations even today have been that well reported. The fourth volume of Hazor, which is the complementary text to the plates in Volume III, is being worked on. I have an assistant, and I think it is in a very advanced stage now. In the future, I can’t say when’ but in the near future, I hope to see light. It is already on the right track.

HS- So that will be it for the publication of Hazor?

YY- Hazor, yes. But I still have the Masada material. The technical work hasn’t been finished, the mending and cleaning of the material. We have so much of it. But I also want to accelerate this. This doesn’t mean that I will have to wait until it is finished to go to the [new] dig, but before I go to a new dig I want to set up the apparatus and staff to prepare these publications. As you know, this [delay] is not only because of the scientific reasons. Maybe it’s my fault. But for five years I was out of circulation, trying to do something else which maybe archaeologists in 2,000 years or 3,000 years from now will discover. [Professor Yadin served as Deputy Prime Minister of Israel from 1977 to 1981]. This of course slowed down my archaeological work a bit.

HS- Would you tell me a little about the difference in the way of life and what it’s like to be an archaeologist as compared to a politician who’s a leader of his country and second in command, so to speak.

YY- It was quite a change from an archaeologist’s way of life. There is really a difference between a scholarly way of life and, as I learned, a political way of life. I always remembered, when I was being attacked and my life was not very happy, the answer your President Wilson gave when he was in trouble and being attacked and people asked him how did he find life in the White House compared to life as President of Princeton. He said, “It’s nothing compared to Princeton.”

My own personal view—and my political colleagues will, I am sure, try to discredit this—is that a scholar is raised to tell the truth. And not only the scholar. Every American is told the story about Washington and the cherry tree and is told to tell the truth. But for the scholar, it is in his blood. I mean he cannot present data, he cannot present material, unless he is sure that he is presenting it to the best of his knowledge. In politics, unfortunately, I discovered what I should have known before, that to tell a lie, some people want to euphemize it by calling them “white lies,” is considered all right. (When a treasurer cheats on the budget, that is a black lie. That is a sheer lie.) But I found that very difficult. I couldn’t play the game, by the rules of the game of the politician. That was, I think, my greatest weakness. I suddenly found myself in a jungle, if you like. And in the jungle, there are the rules of the jungle. If you can’t play by the rules of the jungle, then you are prey for other animals.

On the other hand, I don’t regret those five years. I thought the social programs of the country were in trouble, and they still are, and I managed to establish something that I think is the greatest social enterprise ever undertaken by the country and the fruits of which will be shown in the coming years.

HS- You’re referring to Project Renewal?

YY- I’m talking about Project Renewal, which is a giant enterprise of Jewry throughout the world working with the people of Israel to really change the social structure of the slums, not only the physical structure of the slums.

I was a part of the government that signed the peace treaty with Egypt. I really had great moments and hours of sitting with Sadat and in negotiation with his government.
So all told, I am very glad. After five years as a politician, I have something to go back to. And it’s good that it is in archaeology. All the things have not been discovered. They are just five years older than they were.

HS- Do you have any advice for a student interested in archaeology as to how he or she should pursue a career in archaeology?

YY- Yes, I think every student should do it the difficult way, the hard way and not the easy way. First of all, really master the techniques of archaeology. As everyone who starts to study medicine has to know anatomy, so a student of archaeology has to study the pottery and the stratigraphy and the technique of excavation and the typology and so on. But I would advise the student who wants to study the archaeology of this part of the world also to take a course in the history or in the literature or the philology of the country or the adjacent countries. Don’t limit yourself to becoming only a technician/archaeologist. My advice would be to do both. And remember it takes seven years, at least, to really become a qualified archaeologist. That is not a short time. Of course field experience is very important. It is like any practice. But don’t neglect the theoretical, the historical, the philological, the background of the area in which you want to dig. I think it’s vital to do this.

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