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What's In A Name
Geisel in Other Guise
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Cross Purpose


May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2


May 2005
King David and the Edomites


The Bible relates that King David conquered Israel’s neighbor, the ancient kingdom of Edom: “He put garrisons in Edom and all the Edomites became servants to David.” (2 Samuel 8:14) But until results from an archeological project headed by UCSD Professor Thomas Levy were announced this winter, there had been no physical evidence that Edom even existed in the 10th century B.C., during the time of King David. Many secular scholars, especially from European universities, believe The Bible is just a collection of folklore and theology and assume many dates and statements are inconsistent. Some academicians and religious thinkers had declared that no Edomite state existed prior to the 8th century B.C.

In the summer of 2002, Levy, an anthropological archaeologist, joined up with Russell Adams (McMaster University) as co-principal investigator and Mohammad Najjar of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (DOAJ) as co-director, to excavate at the site of Khirat en-Nahas (or “ruins of copper,” in Arabic) in the rugged lowlands of southern Jordan. The work was carried out as part of the UCSD Middle Eastern Archaeological Field School with 40 undergraduate and graduate students and a crew of 30 local Bedouin workers. Khirat en-Nahas had been largely ignored by archaeologists because of the logistical difficulties of working in this hyper-arid region. Using high-precision radiocarbon dating, the new research demonstrates two major phases of copper production—during the 12th to 11th centuries B.C. and the 10th to 9th centuries B.C. The team found evidence of massive fortifications and industrial-scale metal production dating from these periods, as well as over 100 buildings. Egyptian scarabs of a walking sphinx and a hunting scene provided additional evidence of metal-working activities at the site.

The carbon dating was carried out in laboratories in Oxford, England, and Groningen, Netherlands. The results push back the beginnings of Edom 300 years earlier than the current scholarly consensus, and show the presence of complex societies, perhaps a kingdom, much earlier than experts thought. Previous investigations of Edom had been carried out in the Jordanian highlands and had put the rise of the Edomite kingdom during the 8th to 6th centuries B.C. The new work corroborates the Biblical account of Edom’s existence alongside ancient Israel.

“We were excavating at Khirbat en-Nahas, hoping to examine the role of metallurgy in the rise of the Edomite kingdom,” says Levy. “Little did we know we would be lending important data to a controversy rooted in the historical accuracy of the Hebrew Bible. Such is life.”

— Barry Jagoda


Archaeology at UCSD

Archaeology of the Levant

Thomas Levy bio

Cross Cultural Center