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February 17, 2005

Controversial Dates Of Biblical Edom Reassessed
In Results From New Archeological Research

By Barry Jagoda

New archeological research from modern-day Jordan indicates the existence of the biblical nation of Edom at least as early as the 10th Century B.C., the era of kings David and Solomon, and adds to the controversy over the historical accuracy of the Old Testament. The full results of the 2002 excavation, by a team of international scholars, at the site of Khirat en-Nahas (or “ruins of copper,” in Arabic), are reported in the current issue of the British journal Antiquity.

The new study, under the direction of University of California, San Diego, Professor of Archeology Thomas Levy, contradicts much contemporary scholarship which had argued that, because there had been no physical evidence, no Edomite state had existed before the 8th Century B.C. Until the current discovery many scholars had said the Bible’s numerous references to ancient Israel’s interactions with Edom could not be valid.

Excavation at the gate of Khirbat en-Nahas ancient Edom

The Edomite lowlands, home to a large copper ore zone, have been ignored by archaeologists because of the logistical difficulties of working in this hyper-arid region. But with an anthropological perspective, and using high precision radiocarbon dating, this 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. In this period evidence was found of construction of massive fortifications and industrial scale metal production activities, as well as over 100 building complexes.

New Kingdom (19th - 20th Dynasties) ca. 1295 -1069 B.C. and Third Intermediate Period (21st - 22nd Dynasties) ca. 1069 - 715 B.C. Egyptian scarabs of a walking sphinx and a hunting scene provide additional evidence of metal-working activities at the site in the period around 1200 to 900 B.C.

Egyptian scarabs of a walking sphinx (no. 1) and a hunting scene (no. 2) found during the excavations at Khirbat en-Nahas

These 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 previously assumed. Previous investigations in Edom had been carried out in the Jordanian highland zone and had put the rise of the Edomite kingdom during the 8th to 6th centuries B.C. But the new work presents strong evidence for the involvement of Edom with neighboring ancient Israel as described in the Bible.

Excavations at Khirbat en-Nahas were part of the Jabal Hamrat Fidan Project and carried out under the auspices of the University of California, San Diego and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. In addition to Professor Levy, the international team includes Russell Adams, McMaster University, Canada; Mohammad Najjar, Department of Antiquities, Jordan and Professor Andreas Hauptmann, German Mining Museum. The 2002 excavation was funded by grants from the C. Paul Johnson Family Charitable Foundation and the University of California, San Diego.

Media Contact: Barry Jagoda (858) 534-8567
Comment: Professor Thomas Levy (858) 534-2765

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