Hanson, associate professor of Judaic Studies, University of Central Florida, has written an unusual defense of biblical archaeology and its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, concentrating on biblical sites such as Hebron, Shechem, Shiloh, and Jericho, and the most intractable site of all, Jerusalem. In doing so, he unintentionally reiterates the key arguments of biblical archaeology's critics, namely that it is designed to "prove" the antiquity of Jews in the southern Levant and thereby "legitimize" the existence of the modern State of Israel.
One of his goals is to assault claims by Palestinians and Arabs that they predate Jews in the Holy Land and that Jewish history in the region is invented. This is an important task, but Hanson does so by means of potted history derived from often outdated secondary sources, repeating assertions that specialists no longer accept.
Hanson elides such problems as the Israelis turning over the area of the City of David to a private group for research and presentation. He lauds the conjoined but contradictory tasks of archaeological research and building Jewish neighborhoods. He similarly praises the excavation of the Western Wall tunnels, subsequently converted into privately controlled prayer spaces.
Throughout, he takes Palestinian criticism and denialism and international condemnation as validating the necessity and indeed the wisdom of Israeli actions. Hanson dismisses controversy within the Israeli archaeology community regarding methods and interpretations as "political correctness" while praising the wisdom of the Israeli Right taking matters into its own hands.
Hanson takes side journeys through a thwarted Jewish conspiracy to blow up mosques on the Temple Mount; the Temple Institute's efforts to prepare for a future Third Temple, including breeding a red heifer; the history of Jews in Hebron; the plans for a casino in Jericho, and the destruction of Canaanite Shechem. He bounces the reader back and forth between fragments of Biblical and other ancient texts, the sketchiest outline of archaeological finds, and modern geopolitics.
Hanson correctly notes that scholars and politicians routinely support indigenous peoples discovering their pasts through archaeology, with the singular exception of Jews. But such hypocrisy does not obviate the need for states to manage archaeology and heritage with an eye towards scholarship. Israelis seriously debate these matters endlessly in ways that Hanson caricatures. Ultimately, Hanson's polemics do biblical archaeology and Israel no favor.