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Archaeologist known for using Bible as historical text dies


Roman Yanushevsky/Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 06/01/21

Eilat Mazar discovered palace of City of David in Jerusalem.

Eilat Mazar, an Israeli archaeologist who came under criticism by colleagues for her reliance on the Bible as a historical text, died May 25 at age 64. 

“I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other,” Mazar once told the Jerusalem Post. “The Bible is the most important historical source and therefore deserves special attention.”

Mazar, the granddaughter of Russian Israeli immigrant and prominent archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, began getting her fingers dirty at age 11, as the elder Mazar tried to get as many family members as he could to assist on digs. She went on to get a bachelor’s degree in 1981, and later a doctorate, at Hebrew University. Her thesis on the biblical Phoenicians was based on her excavation of a Phoenician site in northern Israel.

Among her discoveries was King David’s Palace in the City of David in Jerusalem; a gate identified with King Solomon; a wall thought to have been built by Nehemiah; two clay seals that name the captors of the prophet Jeremiah; seals that name King Hezekiah, and a seal that may have belonged to the prophet Isaiah.

Although she was not religious, Mazar knew verses of the Bible by heart and would at times literally take directions from Sacred Scripture.

“In 1997, she wrote about how 2 Samuel 5:17 describes David going down from his palace to a fortification,” Christianity Today reported. “Assuming that was an accurate description and looking at the topography of Jerusalem, she identified the place where David’s palace should be. In 2005, she was able to start excavation at the site, and almost immediately discovered evidence she was right — and so was the Book of Samuel.”

Not everyone agreed with her giving the Good Book such credence. Israel Finkelstein, who maintained that David’s biblical kingdom was greatly exaggerated, said in 2006, “You cannot study biblical archeology with only a simple reading of the text. The Bible cannot be understood without a knowledge of the millennia of biblical criticism that has gone along with it. … The Bible is an important source, but we can’t take it seriously.”

But Mazar defended her methods. 

“Look,” she told Christianity Today in 2011, “when I’m excavating Jerusalem, and when I’m excavating at the city of David, and when I’m excavating near the Kidron Valley and near the Gihon Spring and at the Ophel — these are all biblical terms. So it’s not like I’m here because it’s some anonymous place. This is Jerusalem, which we know best from the Bible.”

CT said Mazar would pore over the Bible, reading it repeatedly, “for it contains within it descriptions of genuine historical reality.”

“I [can’t] believe these archaeologists who ignore the Bible,” Mazar told CT. “To ignore the written sources, especially the Bible — I don’t believe any serious scholar anywhere would do this. It doesn’t make any sense.”

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