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What archaeology tells us about the Bible

A contentious dig in Israel delves into the kingdoms of David and Solomon, stirring a debate over the veracity of the biblical record. 

Staff writer Christa Case Bryant talks about her Israeli archaeology story with the Monitor's Pat Murphy.
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The workday is just beginning in Jerusalem, 20 miles to the northeast over folded ridges and misty valleys, but the sound of clinking trowels and creaking wheelbarrows has been echoing across this hillside since dawn. Dust billows up in the morning sun as a worker sweeps away a section of the excavation, where Hebrew mingles with American accents and yarmulkes with wide-brimmed hats.

Clad in soggy T-shirts, the crew sifts through the ruins of a city that some archaeologists believe was part of the biblical realm of King David 3,000 years ago. At 8:30 a.m., Yosef Garfinkel, the codirector of the dig, arrives to survey the project, one of the most prominent and politically sensitive in a country rife with historical excavations.

He grabs diagrams and maps from a trailer and barely settles in under a canopy when a coin specialist, Yoav Farhi, approaches him expectantly. Mr. Farhi extracts a tiny white envelope from his pocket and, with dirt-encrusted fingers, pries open the stiff paper to reveal the treasure inside – a coin from the era of Alexander the Great, imprinted with the visage of the Greek goddess Athena.

"This is the dollar of the ancient world," Farhi tells a visitor. "Mid-4th century BC."

(Editor's note: The original version misstated the date of the coin.)

Mr. Garfinkel, a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, examines the coin, the size of a thick quarter. He smiles. Each discovery delights Garfinkel, but it is more than ancient currency that has drawn the world's attention to this serene hilltop overlooking Israel's Valley of Elah, where David felled Goliath with a sling.

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