Clearly we were Left Behind

HomeAloneThe debate over whether the Bible is an authentic historical record has been going on for more than 200 years. And historians are not the primary people affected by debate, it’s archaeologists. Archaeology relying on the Bible has become a way to explore the Old Testament and its discoveries can have profound implications in world politics.

The significance of this A1 story in Friday’s Washington Post cannot be underestimated. Overall, it is a well-researched, thorough and relatively balanced article that I enjoyed reading. Here’s the gist:

She believes she has found the palace of King David, the poet-warrior who the Bible says consolidated the ancient Jewish kingdom around the 10th century B.C. and expanded its borders to encompass the Land of Israel. Others are doubtful.

“There is sometimes a reality, a very precise reality, though maybe not all true, described in the Bible,” Mazar said. “This is giving the Bible’s version a chance.”

Mazar’s find is emerging at the nexus of history, religion and politics, volatile forces that have guided building, biblical scholarship and war in this city for millennia. Even before the findings have been assembled in a scientific paper, the discovery is prompting new thinking about when Jerusalem rose to prominence, the nature of the early Jewish kingdom, and whether the Bible can be used as a reliable map to archaeological discovery.

This is a fascinating discovery, a solid article and a reporter knowledgeable of the facts, willing to dig (no pun intended) for precise insights, except for this one paragraph that seems to have a tense confused:

Finkelstein, who is in charge of the excavation in northern Israel where the Bible says the battle of Armageddon took place, visited Mazar’s dig a few months ago. The 56-year-old scholar, tall and voluble with a salt-and-pepper beard, has often argued with colleagues whose reliance on the Bible he finds misguided.

Am I missing something here? A co-worker of mine actually pointed this out to me Friday morning at work while reading it on my recommendation after I had skimmed it over while eating my breakfast. We were both quite confused.

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  • Scott

    Took place, will take place (according to the whackjobs) – not the biggest mistake in world history.

  • dilys

    Dibs on Pat Robertson’s horses.

  • Jonathan Foster

    Despite what Mr. Lahaye may say, one does have to interpret Revelation. The futurist, preterist, historicist, and idealist views all fall within orthodoxy.

  • Will

    There have been plenty of battles at har-Megiddo, including Deborah and Barak against Sisera, and Allenby against the Turks. Does that mean that “battle reservations” have been exhausted?

  • John Marlin

    Yes, there was a battle of “Armageddon” that took place in the ancient world. Actually, there were many battles at Megiddo (hence, “Armageddon”) because of its strategic location, but there was a major encounter of note.

    It was part of a military campaign between Pharaoh Tuthmosis III and the Mesopotamians, and it took place c. 1460 B.C. This clash of empires is perhaps the earliest we have on record.

    See J.F.C. Fuller’s “A Military History of the Western World.”

  • francis

    Actually no, there has been no battle of Armageddon yet, at least under that name – only some battles at Megiddo.

    But here’s another one:

    “consolidated the ancient Jewish kingdom around the 10th century B.C. and expanded its borders to encompass the Land of Israel”

  • John Marlin

    Francis, I’d say that you’re making a distinction without a difference.

    “Armegeddon” and “har-Megiddo” are transliterations from ancient languages with different alphabets than ours. Fuller and other military historians are perfectly comfortable calling the Egyptian battle “Armageddon” for that reason.

    If your point is that some apocalyptic battle hasn’t been fought yet, well, sure.

    But either way, it’s something of a quibble. :)

  • francis

    Sure “har-Megiddo” equals “Armageddon”, but was Megiddo actually called “har-M…” at the time of Thuthmose III or King Joshiah?

  • Stephen A.

    The past tense of the battle (obviously referring the supposed future battle at the end of history, taken from the Book of Revelation) was clearly a slip of the pen. But of course, historically, it’s true battles have been fought there.

    As journalistic errors go, it’s a minor theological one, but it is one, nonetheless, unless he was to write this in a historical journal.

  • dpulliam

    I appreciate the back and forth on this because my co-worker and I were truly confused. Glad to know that this was simply a typo and I hadn’t missed out on anything. :)

  • Bartholomew

    Hal Lindsey once wrote a book called The 1980′s: Countdown to Armageddon. Maybe we just didn’t notice…

  • DanUpBaby

    Look, the movie was good, harmless, mind-numbing fun, but to call the whole 1980s a countdown to it is a little much.

  • John Marlin

    Francis, since you asked, we really don’t know — my friends who are scholars of dead Middle Eastern languages (Hittite, Sumerian, &c) tell me we can translate them but really can’t speak them as we can only speculate at how they are pronounced. We can guess, working backwards from their living descendents (if there are any), but can’t know with much certainty. But the place has been called Meggido for time untold, so “The battle at har-Meggido” is a not unlikely moniker.

    I am curious though — you seem to be anxious that only one battle be called “Armageddon,” that battle being the ultimate battle envisioned in John’s Apocalypse. Why does that matter? Does having other battles of the same name detract from its dignity or significance? Is the substitution of “at” for “of” a linguistically significant marker?

    I’m not all that invested in this as it strikes me as a quibble or a very curious scruple. So at this point I’ll drop off.

  • webwalker

    IIRC, har-megiddo simply means ‘valley of megiddo’. I won’t fault the writer of the article for getting the tense wrong (its not unreasonable) but most of the popular usage of “Armageddon” is as a future event or “The end-all-be-all” of battles that leaves no pieces to pick up.

    Also, Napoleon referred to the valley of megiddo as “the greatest natural battlefield on earth.” No particular reason I throw this in; its just interesting.