Ron Erickson

Progatonists in the debate concerning the Arad inscription. Seen here on site at Beersheva a few months after the controversial inscription “88” had been found are Yohanan Aharoni (left), Yigael Yadin (center) and Anson F. Rainey. Aharoni (and his colleague Rainey) believes the Arad inscription is a rescript of a letter from a Hebrew king. Yadin reconstructs the letter differently and suggests it probably came to Judah from an Assyrian king.

Aharoni died in 1976. Yadin is now Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister. Rainey still teaches at Tel Aviv University.

For many years before his death, Aharoni was the leader of Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology, while Yadin headed Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem.

The two men bitterly disagreed about a wide range of archaeological subjects, of which their differences over the Arad inscription is but one small example. Was the Israelite occupation a peaceful settlement or a military conquest? Aharoni took the former position, Yadin the latter. Pottery which Yadin dated to the divided monarchy, Aharoni placed in the time of King David. Aharoni attributed the destruction of Level III at Lachish to Sennacherib in 701 B.C.; Yadin dated it a century later to a Babylonian attack in 597 B.C.

Aharoni developed a theory of border temples which, he contended, spiritually protected Israel; Yadin rejected Aharoni’s archaeological evidence. Yadin, on the other hand, claimed he found a bama in the evidence from Aharoni’s excavations at Beersheva; Aharoni rejected the existence of the bama.

Since Aharoni’s death, many of the differences have persisted, although the debate is now somewhat muted.