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Even in modern Israel - the most history-minded land in the world - there is not a single lecture chair devoted to chronology. Nobody is teaching how the existing chronology was construed. No aspiring young historian or archaeologist can study the works of scholars of the past whose chronological decisions we simply consider to be valid for ever. All mainstream historians and archaeologists take the chronology as much for granted as the air they breathe. It may well be that chronology is the only dogma accepted by really everybody in these fields. Chronology is holy.

AD Chronology and 8th Century Palestine
by Gunnar Heinsohn

Written for debates with Israeli scholars specializing in the archaeology (Dan Urman [27-11-1999]) and history (Moshe Gil [29-11-1999]) of Jewish life in early medieval Palestine


In 1991 the German scholar Heribert Illig triggered a heated – often vitriolic - debate about the very existence of the Early Middle Ages between the 7th  and 10th centuries CE (cf. H. Illig; (i)84Die christliche Zeitrechnung ist zu lang", in: Vorzeit – Fr. Chzeit - Gegenwart, vol. III, no. 3/4, 1991; (ii) Das erfundene Mittelalter, M. Cchen-D. Casseldorf: Econ, 1998 (revised pocket edition, 19921, 19942, 19963; (iii) Wer hat an der Uhr gedreht? Wie 300 Jahre Geschichte erfunden wurden, M. Cnchen: Econ & List, 1999).

The most scandalous result of Illig’s research was his description of Charlemagne (768-814) as a fictitious character. No less irritating was his idea that the addition of some 300 years to Christian chronology was brought about in the time of Emperor Otto III (983-1002) to allow for the fulfillment of apocalyptic expectations by giving him the year1000.   Illig - as well as collaborators not named here - drew conclusions from obvious and undisputed flaws in historiographical works devoted to the dark period of Europe’s Early Middle Ages.

Making mistakes in the writing of history usually derives from a biased interpretation of documents and artifacts. It may also derive from fake documents and fake artifacts. Books on European medieval history, e.g., are flooded with fake documents dealing with the legal assignment of land - mostly to monasteries. They are, since the 1980’s, in the process of being withdrawn by the hundreds. Yet, the experts believe that they are merely scratching the tip of the iceberg. An undisputedly genuine document of the Early Middle Ages still has to be presented.  This is a painful experience for those scholars who have based their works - often of a lifetime - on the fake documents. In comparison, the problem of fake artifacts appears much less severe.

Making mistakes in the writing of history quite frequently has to do with the recycling of stories. If historians decide not to test a given chronology but simply to confirm it they may use stories that are descriptions of one and the same event by different observers coming from different cultures and using different languages. This may result in a duplication of events and rulers allowing for a doubling of chronological time. Einhard’s supposedly 9th century story about Charlemagne’s bloody Frankish wars against the Saxons of 782 to 785 CE, e.g., turned out to be the recycled genuine story of Clothar’s bloody Fankish wars against the Saxons in 555 and 556 CE as reported by Gregory of Tours. (The cross - one meter high - worn by Charlemagne against the Saxons turned out to be made around 1060/1080). Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni - the most important work of European medieval historiography - is dated to 836 CE. Everybody agrees that Sueton’s Life of the Caesar’s served as the model for Einhard’s style and concept. The earliest available manuscripts of Sueton, however, date to 1100. Thus, the work assigned to some Einhard belongs to the 12th but not to the 9th century.

Making mistakes in the writing of history - last, but not least - derives from taking genuine artifacts out of their stratigraphical context. Books on European history of the Early Middle Ages (7th to 10th c.), e.g., use material from late antiquity strata (up to 7th c.) as well as Ottonian strata (10th c. onwards) to furnish the period in between which - for enigmatic reasons - does not have strata of its own.  The same shifting of hard evidence is done with small finds like statues, illustrated manuscripts, cloth, coins, tools etc. They are also used to provide evidence for the bewilderingly empty period of the 7th to 10th century.

Only recently, a scientific analysis of small finds taken out of their actual context to fill up the Early Middle Ages has begun. This work has already forced the deletion of many a prominent item from the books on Carolingian history. It did not leave untouched the masterpiece of Carolingian sculpture. The removable rider of the famous equestrian bronze statue of Charlemagne, e.g., does not come from the early 9th century but is the product of a 16th century Renaissance workshop. The horse has pieces from the 15th century but they may come from the same 16th century workshop.

The famous breast cross taken by Otto III, in the year 1000 CE, out of Charlemagne’s sarcophagus at Aachen is considered as the outstanding piece of sacral early medieval metal work. It was dated to 814 CE but turned out to belong to the 11th or even 12th century.

Of all the pieces of Carolingian art, the richly and masterfully illustrated "Lorscher Evangeliar" stands out. It supposedly was commissioned by Charlemagne himself and is dated to around 800 CE. Its largest section now belongs to the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana. The evangeliar impressed later book illustrators so much that parts of it - e.g., the portrait of John the Evangelist - were copied around 960 CE in the so-called Gero-codex. In 1999, it was shown that John the Evangelist of the evangeliar of 800 CE was a copy of John the Evangelist of the codex of 960 CE. This brought the supposedly finest proof for Charlemagne’s art renaissance from the 8th/9th to the 10th/11th century.

It is easier to recognize the chronological displacement of entire buildings or strata than the misplacement of small finds. Thus, e.g., in Italian Spelt the Clitumno temple as well as the Salvator church of the 4th c. CE were brought - by 20th century historians - into the 8th century to furnish legends dealing with Langobardians as predecessors of Carolingians.

Charlemagne’s famous “Pfalzen" (imperial palaces) as well as the accompanying churches could either not be verified at all or were identified as Ottonian buildings of the 10th century. This was even true for his core residences in Aachen, Ingelheim, Paderborn and Saint-Denis.

The postulated hundreds of westworks of Carolingian churches had to be reduced - in a longer process of research - to just one: the marvelous cloister Church of Corvey in Westphalia. However, the weeding did not end there. Most recently, in 1997, Corvey’s supposedly Carolingian parts were shown to date from early Imperial Roman Antiquity. The same was true for Corvey’s wall paintings. Their pagan motifs - Ulysses, Scylla, Sphinx, and erotic figures riding on dolphins - belonged to Augustean Rome but not the 9th century of some pious Charlemagne. Thus, the undisputed Ottonian westworks of the 10th century were modeled after Roman Imperial buildings still standing in late Antiquity (5th/6th c.).  The three centuries of Europe’s Early Middle Ages were, consequently, left without anything even in the most solid and durable field of construction - the westworks of stone churches.

Papal Rome had some 200 churches, monasteries and other sacral Catholic buildings erected between the 4th and the 6th century CE. In Pope Hadrian’s period (772-795) not a single sacral building was added.  Yet, all the existing ones were supposedly renovated. Pope Leo III. (795- 816) - after his eyes (later regrown) and tongue were cut out by assailants - could travel for a thousand miles to Paderborn. There, he met with Charlemagne in 799 to discuss (with his tongue not regrown) the latter’s coronation in Rome a year later (800). Leo III has 117 Roman sacral buildings assigned to him. Yet, other than the churches of 400-600 CE, little if anything of Leo’s magnificent construction boom has ever been found.

The erection of secular buildings in 7th and 8th century Rome is not even postulated. Two buildings excavated at the Nerva Forum, however, are dated to Rome’s 9th century. Yet, it is admitted that these buildings cannot be distinguished from 10th or 11th century buildings in Rome. Thus, Eternal Rome, capital of Catholic Christendom and spiritual heart of the Early Middle Ages, so far needs convincing proof for her very existence during the Early Middle Ages.


Early medieval European Jewry for the period in question is without synagogues or new writings. Christian anti-Semitism of the same period is even more surprising by the absence of adversus Judaeos texts. In Eternal Jerusalem the Holy Sepulchre of the 4th century CE surprises by its unaltered appearance over some 600 years whereas changes became more frequent later.

To refute Heribert Illig's shortening of textbook chronology by three centuries between the 7th and 10th century CE, it was proposed to test the assumption of some 300 phantom years with the hard evidence for Palestinian Jewry within that period. It fell on the author of these pages to try that. In his research of the history of European anti-Semitism he already had come across the as yet unexplained lack of evidence for the period in question. Moreover, in his work on Near Eastern stratigraphy and chronology he was surprised by the coastal tell of Byblos where the Early Middle Ages are as dark as in Europe:

Stratigraphy of Byblos since Hellenism


21st period Ottomans +1516 to +1918 rich finds


20th period Mameluks +1291 to +1516 rich finds


19th period Crusaders +1098 to +1291 rich finds


18th period Omaijjads and Abassids +636 to +1098 no finds


17th period Byzantines +330 to +636 rich finds


16th period Romans -63 to +330 rich finds


15th period Hellenism -332 to -63 rich finds


This author had his reputation challenged for his readiness to consider Illig’s thesis.  It was  a serious challenge that deserves a no less serious reply. This author was asked to consult Moshe Gil’s seminal study, A History of Palestine 634-1099 (Hebrew 1983) [Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.]  The author was told that the massive hard evidence of Jewish life in 8th to 11th century Palestine presented in Gil’s masterful and voluminous work would undo Illig's hypothesis right away.

What does the Israeli medieval expert and emeritus have to say about (i) Jewish evidence for the period in question , and (ii) Charlemagne’s splendid encounter with Harun al Rashid - commonly identified with "Aron, King of Persia" mentioned in Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni?

(i) "Were it not for these documents [11th to 14th century texts of the Fostat/Cairo-Geniza] and the dedicated work of these researchers, we would know very little about the Jews of Palestine during this [634-1099] period" (Gil 1992, XVI).

(ii) "A chapter to which western scholars have given much attention is that of the relations between the Abbasid caliphate and the Frankish kingdom. This relationship is not mentioned in eastern sources at all and one is attempted to ask to what extent the western sources are faithful to events or whether they were not inclined to exaggerate.  The reports on the connections between Charlemagne and Harun al-Rashid gradually assumed the proportions of a myth, at the heart of which stood Charlemagne's status vis-a-vis Jerusalem and its holy places. Toward the end of the eleventh century, the monk Benedictus recorded a story according to which Charlemagne went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and visited the Holy Sepulchre together with Harun al-Rashid. He adorned everything in gold and Harun al-Rashid then decided that all the places would be inscribed in Charlemagne's name and that he would have the right of possession (potestas eius). The two returned together to Alexandria, and the brotherhood between the Arabs and the Franks rose sky-high, as if the were each other's flesh and blood.  This myth developed a long time after the Crusaders’ campaigns, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and grew out of an inclination to view Charlemagne as the first of the Crusaders" (Gil 1992, 285/287/288).

Since there was not much to be found on "Judaism in Stone" (Hershel Shanks), i.e. the archaeology of Synagogues in Palestine from the 8th to the 11th century, in Moshe Gil’s work, this author has outlined a paper devoted to this question. It brought the following results (cf. in detail ZEITENSPRUNGE, 3/1999): There are no Jewish documents written in Palestine relating to Jews of Palestine and found in Palestine between ca 750 and 1099 CE.

Yet, there is a rich treasure of Jewish documents originating in Palestine and dated to the 11th century onwards found in the Geniza of the Fostat synagogue in ancient Cairo. No other people in the world has left more first hand written medieval sources. Some early 11th c. Geniza documents refer to events in the late 10th c.. However, there are – as far as I can see - no undisputed Jewish documents written in Palestine and relating to Jews of Palestine from the 10th c. itself in the Fostat-Geniza.

Much of the Geniza material is written in Arabic using Hebrew characters indicating a true Arab-Jewish symbiosis in the late 10th and the 11th century. A rich body of texts belongs to the period of ca. 1000 to 1099 CE. This is the century right before the crusaders' lethal attack of 1099. This attack had the most disastrous consequences Judaism ever suffered in its homeland - the Land of Israel: "For the Jewish population, the Crusaders’ conquest was a mortal blow; it was almost completely uprooted and this marked an end of an uninterrupted history of a continuous Israelite and Jewish entity in Palestine for a period of some hundred generations, starting from Joshua bin Nun" (Moshe Gil 1992, 826).

None of the synagogues closed or destroyed by the crusaders has so far been found though no other territory in the world was and is better excavated than Palestine or the Land of Israel respectively. Yet, the archaeologists found a rich synagogue culture - altogether more than 200 buildings - going through its last blossoming from 640 CE to ca. 750 CE. Because small items found in the synagogues - like lamps and pots - carried engravings in Arabic this period most probably was a time of Arab-Jewish symbiosis too.

To this day it is not really clear who wiped out this teeming Jewish culture in 8th century CE Palestine. No chronicles, no cries of pain or boastings of victory ever surfaced. And yet, from an archaeological point of view, the synagogues - "Judaism in Stone" (Hershel Shanks) - vanished for good around 750 CE.

by Gunnar Heinsohn  (part 2)




I. Destruction of the synagogue culture by crusaders   1099 CE.

The elimination of the synagogue culture by crusaders is confirmed by written documents (Genisa/Fostat) as well as by Jewish, Arab and Christian chronicles.  But not a single Jewish synagogue that was demolished or deserted at this time has ever been found. The Crusader culprit is definitely there beyond doubt but the smoking gun - or better: the cutting sword – is still missing.


II. Archaeological absence of synagogues   Ca. 750 to 1099 CE.

Yet, there are excellent written sources indicating a rich synagogue life in the 11th - and even the late 10th - century from the geniza of Fostat/Ancient-Cairo.


III. Teeming synagogues in Palestine   Ca. 50 to ca. 750 CE.

After a century of Arab-Jewish symbiosis in the 7th/8th century the synagogues vanished for good. No convincing culprit for this elimination of Palestinian Judaism has been found so far. Nobody from this time can be seriously blamed. Nobody boasted victory. Moreover, an eliminatory hatred of Jews by Abbassid Arabs - as suspected perpetrators - cannot be confirmed.  Obvious sympathy for Islam is attested for the Jewish side: “One can assume that great messianic hopes were aroused among the Jews of Palestine. [...]  The Muslims certainly did not appear to them as the instruments of salvation, but only as its harbinger. The Muslim conquests were perceived as an essential stage determined in advance by Providence for the coming of the Messiah" (Gil 1992, 61). Moreover, if one wants to blame Arabs for the elimination of Palestinian Judaism in the 8th c., one has to explain the Arab-Jewish symbiosis of the 10th/11th c.


Moshe Gil, who has studied - as well as published - 11th century documents from the Fostat-geniza, was convinced that Palestine of the 11th century was a Jewish dominated country with all the synagogues necessary up to the crusaders' onslaught in 1099. For this view, some of his colleagues have criticized him. He even was painted as an Israeli nationalist (cf. S. Bendkover, „Juden, Christen und Muslime zwischen 634 und 1099 in Palästina: Zum Erscheinen einer hervorragenden historischen Arbeit“, in Neue Zürcher Zeitung, May 9, 1985, pp. 37 f.). After all, the critics point out, there was no Jewish archaeology from the 2nd half of the 8th to the end of the 11th century to underpin Gil's textual sources and conclusions.

However, Gil, as well as his opponents, also have something in common. They shared - and still share - a belief in mainstream chronology to which Jewish documents and buildings have to be subjugated.

If - for the sake of the argument [this, after all, is a work in progress] - one deletes for a moment some three centuries from Jewish-Palestinian chronology, Gil wins the 7th/8th century Arab- Jewish symbiosis in stone – in synagogues - as the foundation for his teeming 11th century Jewish-Arab symbiosis on paper. The Israeli archaeologists opposed to Gil, on the other hand, should not be dismissed for the stubbornness with which they insist that the Jewish-Palestinian history in stone and strata is at least three centuries shorter than the history found in modern books. Moreover, they deserve praise for having resisted the European practice of shifting hard items and entire strata around to meet the demands of a longer chronology.

Jewish history in Palestine of the Early Middle Ages would not pose a problem for Illig's shortening of textbook chronology. On the contrary, this shortening would allow the solution of a major enigma in that very history.  It even could clear the most eminent Israeli scholar devoted to the study of Palestine in the Middle Ages, Moshe Gil, of accusations of nationalism.

Moshe Gil’s statement that the “Crusaders’ conquest was a mortal blow“ for Palestinian Jewry was contradicted by Dan Urman with the site of Meroth. In this village on the Golan plateau - today located in a military compound of the Israeli army - a tiny Jewish community had survived. Its material remains were excavated by the late Zvi Ilan and Emanuel Damati. The following stratigraphy was published in 1987:

Stratigraphy of Meroth / Golan

Phase 7       1400-1600

Phase 6       1250-1400

Phase 5 [covering the period of 300 years doubted by Illig] 620 - 1190

Phase 4       500 - 620

Phase 3       450 - 500

Phases 1/2       400 - 450

When this author asked Dan Urman if the extreme length of phase 5 – covering nearly 600 years against 50 - 200 years in the other phases - was justified by an outstanding thickness and material wealth of the corresponding stratum, he replied in the negative. It was the existing chronology that forced the excavators to stretch what they had found over an unbelievable length of time. However, they had found so-called Arab potsherds which are datable to 800-900 -- a period doubted by Illig. Urman was quick to add that the same potsherds could also be dated from 900 to 1000 or from 1000 to 1100. Thus, if three centuries of phase 5 (620 - 1190 CE) were deleted it could still easily accommodate the potsherds in question. Finally, Urman pointed to Arab coins from Meroth confirming the time challenged by Illig.  Yet, he also told the author how Israeli archaeologists deal with excavated coins. They take the big catalogues of the late 19th and early 20th century, look for a similar specimen and assign to it the date found in the book. Stratigraphy is not allowed for checking the book dates of coins. He fully understood that an AD chronology to which the coins were fitted in the first place cannot confirm independently the AD date of a coin found in the ground.

Appendix I:

Two territories farthest away from Palestine but subject to the same chronological scheme for the Early Middle Ages

Iceland/Vestmannaeyjar - Farthest Northwest

(Excavations since 1980-s. Excavated was a single stratum)

Finds within that single stratum


New finds and end of settlement of ca.          1000/1050 CE

Strangely few finds to fill the period of           650 - 1000/1050 CE
for which several strata had been expected

European village (similar to Norwegian)     7th c. CE


Java/Indonesia - Farthest Southeast

West-Java                                            East-Java

[only some 300 years of                        [only some 300 years of
history from 640-1222 CE]                   history from 640-1222 CE]


No history from 927 to 1222 CE           Well recorded history up to 1222

End of recorded history in 927 CE         Onset of recorded history in 927 CE

Onset of recorded history ca. 640 CE     No history from ca. 640 to 927 CE


Appendix II:

Two closest and most powerful neighbors of Palestine subject to the same
chronological scheme for the Early Middle Ages

A. Iran/Persia

Firdausi (939 - 1020) is Iran’s historian for the Early Middle Ages with the 60.000 double verses of Schahname (“Book of Kings“; finished around 1010 CE. The oldest preserved manuscript is written in Arabic characters and dates from 1217 CE)


Iran’s history written after some 350 years of Islam in       ca. 1010 CE

Firdausi does neither mention Allah nor Muhammad the prophet nor 350 years of Iranian Islam. His Schahname of 1010 CE ends with the last Sassanian ruler, King Yesdegerd III (632-651 CE). Iran is rich with poems and chronicles up to 651 CE. Then, however follows an absence of these literary genres up to 950 CE. The religion described and praised by Firdausi is “pagan“ Zoroastrianism. The historian’s lord as well as commissioner of the Schahname, King Mahmud of Gasna („Lord of Iran, Turan and Hind“), around 1003 CE, establishes relations with the caliphate at Baghdad whose territory is described by Firdausi as a domain of darkness and demons. Mahmud of Gasna ’s father, Subuktegin, claims descent from pagan Sassanian Yesdegerd III dead since 300 years. Last, but not least, Firdausi’s Persian (Pahlavi or “New Persian“) is hardly distinguishable from  6th c. “Middle Persian“. Only the characters are changed to Arabic. This process, however, does not require three centuries. It appears that 10/11th c. Iran is just beginning its conversion to Islam.

Iran conquered and Islamized by Arabs in        651 CE


B. Byzantine Empire

(i) Chronicles


900 CE

For the 200 years from 600 to 800 CE, chronicles are neither found nor postulated. For the century between 800 and 900 chronicles are claimed to have been written. Yet, the originals of the 9th c. are 100% lost. Only later copies exist.

600 CE


(ii) Architecture


900 CE

After research in some 1.500 Byzantine cities, towns and villages no architecture was found for some 220 years (611 - 829 CE) of the Byzantine Empire. Yet, a Byzantine emperor is supposed to have sent craftsmen to decorate the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in 691/92 CE.  It is not known where the Byzantine artisans could have learnt their craft in the Byzantine Empire proper. (Even more of an enigma is the Dome of the Rock’s striking resemblance with the Byzantine cathedral of Bosra built nearly 200 years earlier in 512/13 CE.).  New construction for the Byzantines is mentioned between 829 and 886 CE in building catalogues. However, these catalogues do not originate in the 9th century but date from the 10th century CE. Moreover, hard evidence for the catalogue-buildings is difficult to come by. Just one substructure is assigned to the period 829 to 842 CE. This stands in stark contrast to the period 580 to 611 CE which has Byzantine surface structures from West-Anatolia to Syria and Jordan.

611 CE


ILLUSTRATIONS (not shown in this text)

Byzantine Cathedral of Bosra [512/513 CE]

Islamic Dome of The Rock / Jerusalem [691/692 CE] partly built by Byzantine craftsmen in a period when the Byzantine Empire itself did not leave a single building

Appendix III:

Arab-Jewish Symbiosis in Spain

"A peculiar historiographical problem presents Arab Spain. Neither Arab nor Jewish chronicles give us any precise information about the situation of the Jews since the time of the conquest of this land by the Arabs [711 CE ff.] as well as in the following one and a half centuries [actually 218 years] up to the caliphate of Córdova [929 CE ff.]. Therefore, there is a hiatus in the chain of events that cannot be filled. It appears as if the important Jewish cultural center on the Pyrenaean peninsula arises out of nothing in the first half of the 10th c., in the time of Caliph Abd er-Rahman III and Chasdai ibn Shaprut. The Arab-Jewish Renaissance begins already in the 11th century.“ (Simon Dubnow 1926).

Islamic Buildings in Early Medieval Islamic Spain


Beginning of the Caliphate of Córdova     929 CE

Though hundreds of Islamic settlements and sacral buildings were expected for early Islamic Spain, today the existence of Islamic buildings is not even postulated any more for the period between 711 and ca. 830 CE. For Balaguer, Cordoba, Huesca and Madrid it is claimed that sections of the city fortifications were begun as early as the later part of the 9th century. Yet, these fortifications lack peculiar Islamic features. Mosques - as the Leitfossil of Islamic states - are missing altogether. Only the mosque of Guardamar, which was not completed before the middle of the 10th century (944 CE), supposedly had an earlier basement in the 9th century. The most famous Islamic city of Arab Spain was Córdova. The city is remembered - although not before the 12th and 13th century - to have housed half a million inhabitants already in the 9th century. Yet, for Córdova’s 9th century hardly a single clearcut Islamic potsherd could be unearthed so far. The splendid mosque of Córdova was begun in the 10th century after the conquest of Abd er-Rahman III’s of the Umayyads who, strangely enough, had already disappeared around 750 CE in the Arab heartland including Palestine. To fill the time backwards it is assumed that some interior features of the Umaiyad mosque were already begun in 8th century.

Arab conquest of Spain       711 CE

Appendix IV:

The Umayyads (634 - 750) and the early Abbassids (750 -900)

Architecture: Palaces, mausoleums etc.

Umayyads                                            Abbassids

(Syria, Lebanon, Jordan Palestine)        (Iraq)

744 (Quasr al-Mshatta)                        907 (Bukhara Mausoleum)

        836 (Samarra)

705 (Uzaiz near Damascus)                  760 (Taris-Khana/Damghan)

The buildings of Umayydas and early Abbassids are seen as mysterious “recreations“ or epigonal imitations of the buildings of the Sassanians (208-642) that are dated after 640. At the same time, excavators are stunned by the mysterious absence of Sassanian buildings in their Arab territories (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq). If the Umayyad and Abbassid buildings in Sassanian style are the Sassanian buildings in their Arab territories both mysteries disappear.


Umayyads      Abbassids

Umayyads and early Abbassids - for mysterious reasons - use Sassanian icononography including portraits of Sassanian kings (e.g., Chosrow II at Quasair Amra/Jordan). The Islamic prohibition of animal and human images is - for no less mysterious reasons - not followed in the period of the Umayyads and early Abbassids. It only begins to be adhered to in the 10th century. Both mysteries disappear if Umayyad and early Abbassid works of iconography are identified as the so far missing Sassanian works of iconography in the Arab territories of the Sassanian Empire.

Postscriptum after the return from Israel [November 27-30, 1999]

The discussions in Israel ended in a telling contradiction between archaeology and history. The archaeologist - Dan Urman - was optimistic that with enough time and money to excavate some 30 medieval synagogues he eventually would find the so far missing strata. The historian -  Moshe Gil - was convinced that nobody will ever find the synagogues for 750 to 1100 CE. He believed that the caliphs ruling from 750 to 1100 CE only allowed repairs of existing synagogues but no new construction. The Jews, then, were so intent not to provoke their Arab rulers that they even abstained from repairs between 750 and 1100. Gil suggested that for the centuries in question the Jews only prayed in their private homes which, however, are missing too.

The visit to Israel once again confirmed a peculiar experience the author has made with excavators all over the world. Never in his life has he met an archaeologist - and he may have spoken to more than fifty - who had started or was going to start a dig in order to use his scholarly expertise as a tool to test the chronology he has learned in school. All of them - with no exception - start with the intention to divide whatever they will find over the existing chronology. They may accept settlement gaps but they cannot even imagine fictitious periods. Even in modern Israel - the most history-minded land in the world - there is not a single lecture chair devoted to chronology. Nobody is teaching how the existing chronology was construed. No aspiring young historian or archaeologist can study the works of scholars of the past whose chronological decisions we simply consider to be valid for ever. All mainstream historians and archaeologists take the chronology as much for granted as the air they breathe. It may well be that chronology is the only dogma accepted by really everybody in these fields. Chronology is holy.

In his discussion with Dan Urman the author has proposed an experiment. Let us send a team to the field and let it excavate a site in Palestine covering the AD period. Then, let us order them to bring whatever they find in the ground into the periods before 750 and/or after 1100. If, after that procedure, they are left with plenty of material that makes them literally yearn for some three centuries - the very years just taken away from them - to accommodate this wealth of finds, Illig will be refuted.

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