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Digging History

Find from era of King David may confirm Old Testament text -- if politics don't interfere

  • Tropper-pillar-1.jpg

    Binyamin Tropper/ Kfar Etzion Field School

  • Tropper-piller-2.jpg

    Binyamin Tropper/ Kfar Etzion Field School

A carved pillar discovered near Bethlehem may be linked to the Biblical King of Kings, David himself, or perhaps validate the scope of wise Solomon's majestic kingdom.

If they ever get around to digging it up, that is.

Israeli tour guide Binyamin Tropper, who thought he was the first to discover the major historical artifact, was astonished to find out that authorities had known about the pillar for decades -- and had been keeping it a secret all that time.

'The Israeli Antiquities Authority told him, that's great, now shut up.'

- Binyamin Tropper

"When I realized the significance of the pillar, I told my boss who spoke with the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA)," Tropper, who works at the educational field school at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, told FoxNews.com. "The IAA then told him, 'that's great, now shut up.'"

Tropper may have stumbled across further proof of the real-life world behind the Biblical stories related in the Old Testament. The 2,800-year-old stone pillar could help locate those legends on a map, archaeologists say, and connect the modern country of Israel with the historical roots of Judaism.

But due to the complexities of Arab-Israeli relations, the find is being ignored, experts say, hushed up to avoid a major political battle over centuries of debate concerning who has the more legitimate claim to the Holy Land.

"As the site is located in the West Bank, not within the official borders of Israel, it is more problematic to excavate there than inside Israel," Yosef Garfinkel, a professor of archeology at Hebrew University who inspected the site, explained to FoxNews.com.

In a carefully worded statement to FoxNews.com, the IAA acknowledged the discovery of the pillar but would not discuss the matter further, expressing concern over the unavoidable relationship between archeology and the Middle East conflict.

"The complex reality in Israel sometimes brings the scholarly discipline of archaeology in contact with political issues regarding the subject of historical roots and rights," the IAA told FoxNews.com in an email. "When a significant archaeological discovery requires additional research, the IAA sees that this is carried out. Such is the case in this issue: the IAA is operating in effort to carry out a full excavation of the site, which will enable thorough study of the findings and their disclosure in both popular and scholarly publications."

Tropper defied the IAA's request to stay mum on his discovery, however; he believes it's worth the political headache a proper excavation would provoke.

Tropper explained that in the last 20-30 years, an internal debate in Israel has ensued over the size and importance of King David's kingdom as described in the Bible. This pillar's design, he says, is consistent with the time period of the First Temple and would help provide concrete evidence of the Judean king's existence in Israel.

"This pillar weighs (approximately) five tons, so you can't move it," Tropper said. "Because it is so big, we know it must belong to this location."

King Solomon is credited with building the First Temple as detailed in the Old Testament. A place of worship for biblical Jews, it was said to be destroyed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 BCE.

Garfinkel told the Times of Israel that the pillar marks the entrance to a water tunnel of the First Temple period. The similar Siloam Tunnel in Jerusalem is near the modern-day Arab neighborhood of Silwan and is thought to be a project of the biblical king Hezekiah, used as a way to channel water into the city before the Assyrian siege in the 8th century, according to the Book of Kings.

While Tropper is reluctant to reveal the exact location of the pillar in order to prevent attracting antiquity thieves, he admits the find is all the more controversial as it currently rests on privately owned land belonging to a Palestinian.

"I think the (Arabs in the nearby town) know of the find, but they do not know how important it is," Tropper told FoxNews.com. He said opening up the site for excavation would benefit the nearby Arab-owned orchard tremendously.

"There is a spring there that if we excavate will open up and the Arabs would have the water back and it will bring them money," explained Tropper.

Tropper hopes that with time, the IAA will realize the importance of the pillar and order an excavation.

"We understand that it is problematic and a little complicated," Tropper said. "This is an important place and it is our story so we need to dig."

Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.