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Dates of copper works renew Solomon debate

King’s existence has been in question

A massive copper smelting plant in the biblical land of Edom is at least three centuries older than researchers had believed previously, placing it firmly in the biblical timeline of King Solomon, the first ruler of a united Israel 3,000 years ago, researchers reported Monday.

The existence of the legendary king has been questioned by some scholars over the past two decades because of the paucity of archaeological evidence supporting the biblical record and the belief that there were no complex societies in Israel or Edom capable of building fortresses, monuments and other complex public works, such as large mines, in the 10th century B.C.

“This is the most hotly debated period in biblical archaeology today,” said archaeologist Thomas E. Levy of the University of California, San Diego, who reported new radiocarbon dates for the copper smelting operation in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We’re not answering the question” of whether Solomon existed, he said. “But we’ve brought empirical data that shows we have to re-evaluate those questions. We’re back in the ballgame now.”

Critics, however, charge that Levy is over-interpreting the importance of the radiocarbon dates because there is no evidence of habitation at the earliest dates to go with them. That suggests the site was operated periodically by nomads and was not associated with any city or kingdom, much less an empire, according to archaeologist Piotr Bienkowsky of the University of Manchester in England.

Without further evidence, “It is premature to start talking about links with a ‘biblical Solomon,’ ” he said.

Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University in Israel added: “Taking the biblical description of King Solomon literally means ignoring two centuries of biblical research.”

According to the Old Testament, Solomon was the son of King David and Bathsheba who brought Israel to its ancient fruition, ruling an empire that stretched from the Euphrates to the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. He built the First Temple in Jerusalem, amassed a fortune in gold and wrote the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs.

The legendary “King Solomon’s Mines” of book and movie fame, however, were mythical gold and diamond mines in Africa, according to experts.

He is said to have reigned for 40 years before dying in 931 B.C.


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