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Rejoinder to Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor

See Also: A Reply to R. Arav’s Review of Khirbet Qeiyafa Vol. 1

By Rami Arav
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Director, Bethsaida
August 2012

I hesitated whether to respond to this ad hominem reply or not. Each “point” in the “18 points” purports to say how flawless the report on Khirbet Qeiyafa is and how unqualified I am to review it. In addition to this, I find it odd not to reply in the same journal that published my book review.

However, with my humble skills, I would like to make some arguments.

My book review published in ASOR number 364 was as titled, a review on the book; it was neither a review on the site nor a review on the dig. I think that the excavators did the best they could under the circumstances, and I think that they have a wonderful site. However, in the book review, I tried to show the authors how they conveyed themselves to their readers and how their volume is received by readers with some archaeological background. Alas, their response reminds me of the claim of the hapless dancer that the floor is crooked.

The first point brought in the reply is interesting and asserts the following: “It is common knowledge that the titles of most major final excavation reports, for example, Gezer I–VIII, Hazor I–V, Jericho I–V, Megiddo I–III, Shechem I–III follow this format.” Historically this is not true. There is no connection between the number of the volumes and whether or not this is a final or a preliminary report (Hazor volumes, for example, are meant to be preliminary). It is the approach that makes the difference.

In the following paragraph, the authors provide a rather surprising reply to fact that the photographs in the book lack the conventional assisting details (meaning north arrow, scale, loci, and wall numbers that are supposed to facilitate the readers’ orientation and understanding of the photo). Here it is: “Photography is not merely a technical apparatus but also a reflection of aesthetic values” and “Addition of north arrows and boards with technical information in many cases results in crowded and unaesthetic photos.” Sure enough, albums are presented this way. Frankly I was expecting something like: “Oops, we forgot. It happens to many of us all the time.” But in a flawless book such as this, it never happens. We learn that the assisting means were deliberately not used for aesthetic reasons! But, now I am more perplexed; I not only wonder whether this is a final or preliminary report but I wonder whether it is not a coffee-table book, perhaps all three of them together?

Again, “Dr. Arav complains that “No north arrow is drawn on the sections…” (p. 97). This is a preposterous criticism: since when are north arrows placed on section drawings?” Of course, how dare I say such a thing regarding such a flawless book?

I will refer to this irony. If orientation should not appear on section drawing, why then does it appear in your report on page 79 but is missing in five pages of section drawings (pages 275 – 279), making these drawings unworkable. “Oops, we forgot” could have been an honest and better answer rather than this ad hominem sarcastic remark.

Furthermore, if their assertion, “Dr. Arav’s comments reflect a lack of familiarity with the pottery of the Iron Age” is true, then why did they use my books as reference for Iron Age pottery? So this is the paradox: either my lack of familiarity led them astray, and some of their pottery that was presented as Iron Age IIA is in fact not so, or I was correct in my observation and this is indeed an Iron Age IIA pottery and their above statement is false. Take your pick.

As a matter of fact, my comments were only suggestions for the excavators to consider carefully their assertions. As I said in the review article, any conclusion that claims to be pioneering, groundbreaking, revolutionary, or cutting-edge should be very carefully examined and should be presented only when it is clear and unequivocal. Charles Darwin set perhaps the best example. He published his On the Origin of Species in 1859, 16 years after he made his discoveries and only after another scientist named Alfred Russell Wallace independently came to the same conclusions. You do not have to wait 16 years, but you do need to be a little more careful.

The authors also claim that “Our own conclusions conform to these strict methodological guidelines” of “the founding father and mother of stratigraphic excavations… Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Dame Kathleen Kenyon.” Indeed pages 32-35 contain a clear stratigraphic numeration of the site:

Stratum I – the Ottoman period
Stratum II – five phases from the Early Islamic period to the Hellenistic period (spanning 800 years!)
Stratum III – Early Hellenistic
Stratum IV - Early Iron Age IIA
Stratum V – Middle Bronze Age II

How nice! But how does this comply with the statement: “In reality, however, one layer of occupation, which did not last more than one generation, is of utmost importance, that is, the Iron Age layer at Khirbet Qeiyafa.” In reality the BEST PRESERVED STRATA are III and IV(and perhaps I). Isn’t it a better description? Importance is a relative term. Let your readers decide what is important.

However, the diligent reader will look in vain in the rest of the book for any descriptions of the strata mentioned in pages 31-35. The description of the city gate, for example, is under “The Iron Age Stratum in Area B.” That this is STRATUM IV is never mentioned. Instead of presenting the evidence, in the Wheeler-Kenyon style, the reader will find a convoluted system of descriptions of phases of mixed strata. Is this the Wheeler-Kenyon method? One cannot avoid the feeling that it seems as if the authors, after page 35, tried to ignore the fact that their site has more than one stratum and instead of presenting the evidence, they chose to impel their opinion.

What I proposed was that before suggesting a far-reaching conclusion about the urban development in the 10th century BCE Judah, why not examine very carefully all the possibilities? For example, megalithic city walls are typical to the Middle Bronze Age II (MBII), and indeed there is MBII stratum at the site, the authors marked it as Stratum V. A reasonable conclusion would be that the megalithic walls could have been constructed in the MBII period and reused in the Iron Age IIA. The authors themselves realize that the megalithic walls were the earliest constructed. How early? They say shortly before the casemates and the gate were added. Why? My contention is that it suits their theory. But before jumping to conclusions, the reasonable possibility mentioned above needs to be eliminated by serious scrutiny. So how do the authors attempt to do this? They claim (here in the article but not in the book) that a rampart and glacis, typical to the MBII architecture, were not found in the eroded slope and no floor of MBII was found in the casemates. However, this is a weak claim. Why? The site is very much eroded, which makes this claim, learning from the absence of evidence, invalid. It has long been established that absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence! You need compelling, clear, and unequivocal evidence to eliminate a reasonable observation, particularly in an eroded site like Qeiyafa. For example, the southeastern slopes of the city seem to be less eroded. Why not, for the sake of removing any doubt, check this out?

How was the site destroyed? We now have a great theory. It was destroyed in a war during a rainstorm. How do we know that it was destroyed in a war? The Bible describes it. Why were no ashes found? There was a rainstorm. How do we know that there was a rainstorm? No ashes were found. So, the lack of ashes proves the rainstorm and the rainstorm proves the lack of ashes. Now isn’t it a classic case of circular evidence? Is this science? Do we have to believe in it?

What remains are still a few enigmas, almost ignored by the authors. First, is there any significance to the fact that no towers were built at this gate? Most Iron Age II city gates in Israel and in the ancient Near East had two towers flanking the entrance. Qeiyafa, for reasons unexplained, does not have this ubiquitous feature. Second, how was entry into the city from the gate possible when there is a two- meter cliff rising near and above the gate?

“…Tell Qeiyafa,” … turned into the site of biblical Efes Damim (a claim never made in our report).” Actually your report devotes 4 pages (53-56) to this question and suggests that Efes Damim “is either Qeiyafa or it is the name given to an area” with the conclusion that the latter is the better option.

Finally another funny claim: “Instead of looking at the general plan of the site’s architecture, the reviewer chooses to cut and fragment it into meaningless walls.”

Absolutely true; the devil, my friends, is in the details.