DIGGING FOR GOD AND COUNTRY: Exploration, Archeology, and the Secret Struggle for the Holy Land 1799-1917 by Neil Asher Silberman

DIGGING FOR GOD AND COUNTRY: Exploration, Archeology, and the Secret Struggle for the Holy Land 1799-1917

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Silberman seeks to put the rise of Biblical archaeology in its cultural and historical context--but the result is merely a lumbering, if serviceable, account of the flamboyant figures who first sought to identify Biblical landmarks. Though Palestine was host to the same mix of characters as other countries of the ancient world, the desire for fame and treasure was largely replaced by religious fervor and missionary zeal. Against the background of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, with its Byzantine bureaucracy and local pashas, we see the Americans, French, Swiss, Germans, and especially the British vie for footholds and influence in Jerusalem and its environs. Slowly the divine inspiration of a Lady Hester Stanhope and the clairvoyant directives of a Montague Brownslow Parker yield to the more orderly topographical studies of the British Royal Engineers and the ""scientific"" excavations of a William Matthew Flinders Petrie--both sponsored by the British Palestine Exploration Fund. Although some of Silberman's stories (the Moabite stone and the putative Dead Sea scroll of Moses Wilhelm Shapira) do entertain, he frequently fails to follow through with pertinent information--and of real Gods, Graves, and Scholars drama there is none. Neither does he ""turn the techniques of modern archaeology upon a branch of modern archeology itself."" Rather, he follows in the footsteps (a favorite phrase) of our most ancient historians by focusing--less inspiredly--on the dramatis personae.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1982
Publisher: Knopf