My guess is that the recent recognition of Beit She’arim as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will not change the minds of those who believe that the “Jewish people” is a modern invention concocted to solidify Western colonialism in the Middle East.
Fortunately, unlike people, stones are incapable of rewriting history. They can’t change the inscriptions engraved on them and they can’t move themselves to new, less sensitive places.
This is not to say that archeology is not used as a tool to support beliefs and political aspirations. Archeology was initiated by people who sought to find hard proofs for biblical history, and Israel has always used it to support the right of the Jews to return to their ancient homeland.
Beit She’arim was a first century AD Jewish town destroyed by the Romans in 352 AD. The site is located 20 km east of Haifa, in the southern foothills of the Lower Galilee. Its fame came from Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nasi, who lived there most of his life, and there he was buried.
Ha’Nasi was the compiler of the Mishna, the most important Jewish text after the Bible, which is why his burial site became a magnet for many Jews from Yemen to Antioch wishing to be buried by his side. With time, the town’s cemetery has become a Jewish necropolis that has documented “two centuries of historical and cultural achievement.”
UNESCO recognition of this site as a “Jewish cultural center” is not a political move in support of Israel. It is simply a statement of the obvious, just as the newly deciphered inscription is.
Similarly, while the reasons for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to publish a newly found inscription bearing the name Eshba’al Ben Beda on its webpage are quite obvious, the ceramic jar from the time of David with its ancient Hebrew script that bears the name doesn’t leave much room for manipulation.
According to Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is the first time that the name Eshba’al has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country … until about five years ago we knew of no inscriptions dating to the tenth century BCE from the Kingdom of Judah.”
Eshba’al was also the name of King Saul’s son (1 Ch. 8:33), who according to Jewish tradition is the same person named Mephiboshethin 2 Sa. 4:4. Whoever Eshba’al Ben Beda was, there seems to be no argument that he was a Judean who lived in the Valley of Ellah, the same place where David fought Goliath.
Stating the obvious is becoming increasingly necessary in an age when archeology is has become prey for those denying any Jewish links to the Land of Israel.
Most know of the systematic destruction of archeological findings by the Palestinian digging under the Temple Mount. Fewer know about the removal of any reference to Jewish life even from villages bearing Hebrew names, like Beitar (Batir), Anatot (Anata) and Tekoa (Tekua).
The Visitor Information Center of Bethlehem (Hebrew: Beit Lehem), for example, does not inform visitors at all regarding the history of nearby Batir at the time of the Great Jewish Revolt in 135 AD. Likewise, though the prophet Amos is mentioned in the history of Tekua, visitors are not told that he spoke Hebrew, not to Palestine, but to Israel and Judea.
As one Hebrew song puts it, “there are people with a heart of stone,” but there are also “stones with a human heart” that are speaking to us so that we may know, if only we had ears to hear.