Why NOVA’s Peasant Revolt ‘Theory’ Is Wrong

I was the first commentator on this video. I also disliked it. The reasons for this are to be found in the comments section of the video. As I have described my explanation for the origin of the Israelites, similar to the ‘peasant revolt’ hypothesis, in the previous post, I would like to take a moment to describe why the peasant revolt explanation described in the NOVA program on the Bible’s origins is wrong.

The relevant part of the program:

A radical new theory based on archaeology suggests what happens next. As that oppressive social system declines [Hazor shown here], families and tribes of serfs, slaves and common Canaanites seize the opportunity.

[smashed idol here]

In search of a better way of life, they abandon the old city-states, and head for the hills. Free from the oppression of their past, they eventually emerge in a new place as a new people, the Israelites.

-Needless to say, no archaeologist is called upon to explain this theory. This is because it is not a ‘new’ theory (it is from the 1970s) and because it is not based on archaeology. Perhaps the most striking part of “The Bible’s Buried Secrets” is that it does not mention the Sea Peoples at all (except for the quotation of a single Bible verse mentioning them). This is inexcusable. The Philistines were the single most important contributor to the collapse of Egyptian rule in Canaan. The ‘oppressive social system’ of Canaan under New Kingdom rule could have theoretically been maintained for eternity, discounting the effects of Egyptian land grants to the Priesthood of Amun. The oppressive social system of Late Bronze II Greece could not have been maintained for eternity due to the fact there was no strong empire in the Aegean that could commit genocide and mass population movement or even patrol the seas. The fact is, the great turn from settlement to nomadism in Canaan was during the Late Bronze IB, when Egyptian rule over Canaan was just beginning. It was, as Israel Finkelstein says, a great settlement of long-existing nomads in Canaan that took place during the transition to Iron Age I. Of course, displaced lowland Canaanites also formed a good portion of the ‘proto-[monarchical] Israelite’ population, but they were driven by the Philistines and the social collapse in the lowlands the Philistines caused. Hazor is an unusual case; most cities in Canaan were long largely depleted of population by the Amarna era. Thus, though the words of the program are technically correct (except for the first ones), they ignore more important facts, and their combination with the scenes in the video leads the viewer to incorrect conclusions.

NOVA: Quest for Solomon’s Mines: Review

The PBS program “NOVA” had, in December(?) of 2010, shown a program called “The Quest for Solomon’s Mines”. As all know, “Nothing in the Levant which is called “Solomon’s” is Solomon’s“.

Now, as we know, not even the Bible mentions Solomon operating any mines. The whole “mines” thing came from the idea Solomon actually owned gold mines in Ophir, a baseless hypothesis in itself (division of labor!). The NOVA program, like most television (Frontline‘s program on Jesus excepted), has its flaws. The basic idea behind it (King Solomon has no evidence behind him, but those Nahas&Qeiyafa sure do illuminate the United Monarchy!) shows a startling misunderstanding of methods “we” can use to reconstruct the United Monarchy.  The most important part of it all is the dispute regarding when the Iron IIA (“Solomonic Gates” period, Megiddo gate possibly excluded) began, since this is key to interpreting what building projects mentioned in 1 Kings 9 (esp. vs. 15)  were actually done. The earlier NOVA Bible program tried to argue that the beginning of Iron IIA was sometime in David’s time, but this program assumes this to be in the later 10th century. This dispute can only be solved by radiocarbon dating. So far, it’s working against Solomon. The program, by adding music and inducing Petra, which was Nabataean Arab, not Edomite, romanticizes and sensationalizes Edom as a “mysterious land” something which only distracts from the main point of the program. Kh. en-Nahas  (30°40’51″N, 35°26’10″E) is not in the Wadi Feinan (Punon), nor is it in any way “mysterious”.

Tom Levy happens to be a Syro-Palestinian Archeologist, not a biblical one. He does not do archeology in the manner of the Albright school. The description of copper production was, however, one of the best parts of the show, explaining the process of copper manufacture quite well. The 3-D image of Khirbet en-Nahas was, by far, the best part of the show (but why the dark sky?). The description of site analysis was also done well. But why! Why use the term “Dead Sea Rift Valley” for the Aravah? Then, why remove the word “rift”, when you’ve already established the program’s word usage for the Aravah?

Also, one does not need a state to mine copper. Most of the copper mining at Nahas was probably done by the well established Iron IIa Tel Masos chiefdom (itself controlled by the Philistines). The Kingdom of Judah’s later fortresses (Lachish IV, Arad XI, Tel Beersheba V) were quite different, although Judah might have done some mining in the later stages of the 9th century BC, since the Bible mentions Jehoshaphat as ruling over Edom and, in 2 Kings 8:20, Edom revolting from Joram, even in 2 Kings 3, where Mesha of Moab is a well-attested king (he made a stele in Dibon, which might also support Judean conquests in the E. Dead Sea Region if it mentions the House of David). In any case, the copper certainly reached Jerusalem (what other functioning copper source was there, but Cyprus, which eventually destroyed the Tel Masos chiefdom)? The fortress was certainly built under Assyrian auspices.

As for Khirbet Qeiyafa, the Late Iron I probably Israelite (not early Iron IIa!) site was inhabited from after 1050 BC to sometime in the 10th century BC-when, we don’t know-anyway, it has little to do with David. The inscription, however, does provide a late 11th century “no-longer-missing link” of alphabetic script written in a Northwest Semitic language (like the one discovered at Izbet Sartah, 32° 6’16″N, 34°57’51″E).

The most funny part about the program was the delicious quote mining of Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar, making them switch roles from their actual positions (read the transcript)- the latter is usually taken as a “maximalist”, the former, a “minimalist”-even though they are both far from both the Baltimore and Copenhagen schools.

In short, the glory of the United Monarchy is not added to by either Nahas or Qeiyafa; however, both reveal things of great importance when reconstructing the history of the Near East between 1177 and 734 BC.