Coin vs Narrative

Try as some may to erase Israel’s history, archeology continues to affirm the Jews’ connection to this land

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The peace activist archeologists of Emek Shaveh want us to move away from treating archeological findings as evidence of one’s faith and nationality, which basically means that they want Jews to forget about their particular past. 

Instead of focusing on Jewish history, Emek Shaveh wants to “reinstate the archaeological past as a universal human narrative.” The goal of all of this is to counter the claim of Israel’s historical right to this land.

Ancient artifacts, however, resist the idea of one universal narrative simply because they tell a particular story of a particular people. Though archeological sites and the findings therein need to be interpreted, the reconstruction of the past is still a science governed by evidences. In other words, archeological sites resist turning myths into narratives (the first is fact-based and the second is not). 

Some evidences, like coins, yield precise historical information. Others, like a wall, contain far less information. Evidences of varied qualities therefore enable a reasonable reconstruction of the past. 

Universal narrative, on the other hand, would have you believe that though Americans built the Hoover Dam on American soil, it should be regarded as a human narrative rather than American history. Sure, Americans are humans, but it is undeniably true that those humans who built the dam were Americans.

The sixteen silver and bronze coins found near the city of Modi’in last May represent one of countless evidences that refuse to yield to the universal narrative idea. These rare coins bear names like Yehohanan, Judah, Jonathan and Mattathias, all Hasmonean kings who ruled over Israel from 140-37 BCE. Other coins from the same cache are imprinted with the image of the Seleucid Greek king Antiochus IV, known also from the Book of Maccabees, and from the feast of Hanukkah. 

The Israel Antiquities Authority has determined that the coins were minted in Tyre between 135-126 BCE, so precise is the information that can be extracted from them.

Abraham Tendler, the head of the excavation, has said the dig site itself is most likely a Jewish estate and “the cache may have belonged to a Jew who hid his money in the hope of coming back to collect it, but he was unlucky and never did return.” 

Tendler, true to the demands of his discipline, leaves the reconstructed story undetermined. The coins’ imprints however confirm the known, that there were Hasmonean kings and a king named Antiochus. These coins testify once again to the bond which exists between the Land of Israel and the Jewish people which can’t be dissolved by some magic formula, be it a narrative or forgetfulness by design.


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