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More in Jerusalem

This has been a great trip.  One of the things I’ve liked about it is that it has been focused on Israel in a number of historical periods as well as in the present; it has not been entirely about Christian and Jewish Holy Sites.  And so, for example, today we did the City of David (that I’ll talk about below), had a grand overview of the Temple Mount (with the Dome of the Rock), walked through good chunks of the Jewish Quarter, had a very nice lunch outside the old city walls, went to the Jerusalem Market (outdoors, lots of food and spice merchants, etc.), and so on.   It wasn’t just one holy site after the other, but there was plenty of holy site time as well.

The City of David is in some sense the “original” Jerusalem, the place that King David allegedly conquered from the Jebusites and where he then set up his kingdom.  It is outside the “old” city walls, which in fact are (only!) from the 16th century, built when the Turkish Ottoman empire ruled this part of the world.   So “ancient Jerusalem” if you want to call it that, from David’s time, is about 2500 years older than “old Jerusalem,” as it is called today.

We had a local tour guide for the City of David, and it became crystal clear just now different different tour guides can be.  Our guide is the most amazing one I’ve ever had on any trip of any kind; he is only 26 and he knows *everything*.  I don’t mean everything about Jerusalem (he was born and raised here) and about Israel (he knows every tree, just about), but, well, seemingly everything.  He’s really quite astonishing.  He clearly has his views on things – who doesn’t here? – and my *sense* is that he is probably a bit to the right politically; but he never tells us his views or slants his presentations, in any discernible way, but is incredibly even-handed.

But the woman we had today for the City of David – an 18-year old with an American mother who was herself raised in an orthodox home here, and who is doing tour guiding instead of military service – was clearly right wing and explained the archaeology she was introducing very much from an extremely pro-Israeli slant and from the perspective that archaeology *proves* the Bible.   It’s good to have someone like that for a (short!) time to see the difference from what we’re getting otherwise.

In the past, my Israeli tour guides have all been more exactly like that.  And the way they described not only what is happening politically but also the relationship of Israel to the land and the relationship of archaeology to the Bible really shows the slant.   Today, for example, this young woman was showing us the excavations that have been claimed actually to have been David’s own palace, recently uncovered.   There are a lot of scholars who question whether David had anything like what we might think of as a “kingdom,” or whether he was more of a local chieftain of some kind; and some have suggested that he was more like a king Arthur figure, around whom later legends circulated.  But this woman both treated David as an unquestionable fact and this archaeological find as his palace.

She may be right!   But it’s always good to know where a person is coming from.

Tomorrow is for me the highlight of the tour.  I’m not sure how we’ll be able to do justice to everything, but it includes trips to Qumran and Masada, and then a chance to float along in the Dead Sea.   Matters of real interest, and a matter of real pleasure….

Qumran and Masada
Touring Jerusalem



  1. Avatar
    toddfrederick  May 9, 2013

    The tour guides on my ’62 trip took us on tours of the trinket shops they wanted us to patronize 😀 Enjoy your swim.

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    RonaldTaska  May 9, 2013

    Have a good swim.

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    Wilusa  May 10, 2013

    One thing I’ve wondered about…is there archaeological (or historical, outside the Bible) evidence for the existence of Solomon’s Temple? Or even of Solomon?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2013

      Great questions. I don’t know of any off hand. Maybe someone else on the blog knows?

    • Avatar
      RyanBrown  May 12, 2013

      Check out The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman.

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    ktn3654  May 10, 2013

    I’m not sure if it’s much help to compare King David and King Arthur! There’s considerable dispute about whether Arthur was historical or purely legendary. (And one theory is that he was historical, but wasn’t really a king.)

    Of course, most of the stories told about Arthur are legends–but is there a kernel of fact behind those legends? A lot of semi-legendary ancient monarchs seem to be in the same boat, from Tarquin the Proud to Agamemnon to Jimmu Tenno. I’m guessing that if historians ever make progress on this front, it will be by looking for cross-cultural patterns in how stories about real people can evolve over time. That wouldn’t be easy, but it might be doable.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2013

      Yes about King Arthur! But that was my point: some scholars think that David (like Arthur) really was a king, but that we have only legends about him and that he was a much, much smaller deal than the legends indicate (as with Arthur).

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    Adam0685  May 10, 2013

    This week the mythists published a book with American Atheist Press called “Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman s Did Jesus Exist?”


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    Wilusa  May 11, 2013

    A thought I’ve had about how legends can come into being without anyone’s having lied… A is talking to B about either the plot of a work of fiction, or a dream or “vision” someone has had. A and B understand perfectly what they’re talking about. But C overhears part of it, and thinks they’re referring to actual happenings. The more startling the content of, let’s say, the dream was, the more likely C will be to remember and repeat it!

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    dikelmm  May 12, 2013

    Since you are or were recently in Jerusalem, this may be an appropriate place for this question. In 1997 Bishop Spong wrote a book entitled Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes in which he argued that the Gospels are “a collection of Jewish midrashic stories written to convey the significance of Jesus.” What are your views on this concept?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2013

      I think it’s impossible to imagine the authors of Mark and Luke as Jewish; and I’m not comfortable relegating all the Gospel stories to midrash (and I’m not sure how much exegetical mileage that gives you in any event….)

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    RonaldTaska  May 12, 2013

    P.S. It’s also clear how different “Bible guides” can be. That is why we appreciate your work so much.

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    tcc  May 12, 2013

    Are archaeologists even sure King David existed to begin with?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2013

      Well there is a ninth century inscription from Tel Dan that mentions the House of David (just google House of David inscription).

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