Three Debates about Bible and Archaeology
For almost twenty-five years, three significant, enmeshed and
confusingly lengthy debates bearing on the accuracy and truthfulness of
historical narratives in the Hebrew Bible have resounded in universities and
denominational seminaries. Other than the most religiously conservative scholars
who may be uninformed or who chose to ignore these goings-on in the academic
study of ancient Israel, few who study or teach or preach on the topics lack an
opinion. The Biblical Archaeology debate, the Minimalist-Maximalist debate, and
the Tenth Century debate, have kept scholars busy correcting history lectures,
writing articles and trying to keep their theology attuned with their
understanding of history.
In academic circles and then through the press and many
publications in the popular, widely circulated Biblical Archaeology Review,
each debate came to be associated with an individual: first, the "Biblical
Archaeology" debate with W.G. Dever of the University of Arizona in the United
States; second, the "minimalist-maximalist" debate with P.R. Davies of
Sheffield University in England; and finally, the "Tenth Century" with I.
Finkelstein of Tel-Aviv University in Israel. Each of these individuals is known
as a competent scholar, an energetic and voluminous writer, an engaging speaker,
and a skillful rhetorician.
Liverani"s dispassionate description of the issues raised
in the debates illustrates well the pall that they have cast over the study of
what he calls "the history of Biblical Israel". Questioning both theoretical
and practical issues in the historiographic enterprise, some scholars have
successfully undermined confidence in the validity of most historical
interpretations as well as in the ability of historians to even determine what
constitutes a datum or an event relevant to that past the historians must
explain1. Liverani"s article suggests to me that their effectiveness has been
due largely, or partially, to the confluence of the three into a single Bible
and Archaeology debate. My objectives in this article are to disentangle issues
beclouded by fuzzy terminology by considering each of the three in its unique intellectual context, and to indicate how this approach promotes an intellectually healthy climate within which historical research may advance.
I. The "Biblical Archaeology" Debate
The "Biblical Archaeology" debate, provoked by Dever in
the 1970"s, was about whether "Biblical Archaeology" might be better
termed "Syro-Palestinian Archaeology"2. Good reasons were elicited in favor
of the change and it had much support among professional archaeologists and
(1) Archeologists generally use adjectives referring to a
period (e.g., Chalcolithic, Middle Bronze) and/or geographical region (e.g.,
Babylonian, Egyptian) and/or culture (e.g., Hittite, Roman) to describe the
focus of their work; never an adjectivized book title. There is neither "Beowulf
Archeology" nor "Illiadic Archaeology". In archaeological parlance, "Biblical"
was a vacuous word.
(2) Individuals employing the expression intended "Biblical"
to refer primarily to the historical periods during which personages mentioned
in the Bible lived in the "Biblical world". This latter term, became widely
used in American scholarship under the influence of W.F. Albright, broadly
recognized as the founding scholar of scientific Biblical archaeology in the
land of Israel. As Albright used "Biblical Archaeology", it encompassed all
countries and cultures of the Middle East mentioned in the Bible or relevant to
events portrayed there. Excavations in Spain and Syria, Tunisia and Arabia could
be classified under its rubric. Used this way, "Biblical" blanketed too much
territory and was, as a result, not informative.
(3) "Biblical" refers to nothing that archaeologists do
as archaeologists, i.e., as experts in excavating, cataloguing finds, tracing
the development and evolution of material culture.
In view of these sound reasons, it appears puzzling that
Dever"s reasonable case failed to carry the day. There were three major types
of objections to it: the first, institutional, reflecting enlightened
self-interest; the second, semantic; and the third, by far the most complex,
Institutional objections: Most full-time archaeologists
from the United States and virtually all from Europe and Israel were inclined to
favor Dever"s suggestion; Biblicists and theologians, however, were divided.
Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of excavators interested in Biblical
periods who work in Israel and Jordan were not full-time archaeologists. Most
are employed at seminaries or denominational institutions where they teach Bible
or courses with names like "Ancient Israelite Civilization" and the like.
They were reluctant to adopt and promote terminology suggesting that archaeology
was irrelevant to their work as Biblicists. Furthermore, the terminology
proposed by Dever might have fostered perceptions of archaeology inimical to
their tasks of procuring financial support from generous patrons and granting
institutions and of recruiting individual volunteers for digs.
Semantic objections (or justifications): Among those who
recognized the essential validity of Dever"s concerns, many wished to maintain
the term "Biblical Archaeology". They argued on Albrightian grounds that it
was both useful and meaningful when referring to Iron Age archaeology in Israel
and Jordan. "Biblical archaeology" was appropriate because although it
alluded to canonical scripture, the collocation was commonly understood as
referring to a particular people in a particular place and time: Israelites in
the Land of Israel from the Iron Age until the days of Ezra and Nehemiah in the
Persian period which followed the Iron Age, i.e., c. 1200-332 BCE (when the
referent of "Biblical" was the Hebrew Bible). It could even cover Jesus,
Paul and the early church (when the referent was the New Testament). With this
sense, it resembled terms such as "Roman" or "Greek" applied as
adjectives to branches of classical archaeology. Consequently, the debate was
just so much semantic quibbling. Finally, there was no valid reason to eliminate
the adjective "Biblical". Just as ancient written sources are used by
classical archaeologists when interpreting their finds, the Bible is used in
interpreting finds from Iron Age Israel.
Theological objections I: Complicating this delicate
situation was the fact, generally unknown to people who came of age after the
1950"s, that "Biblical Archaeology" was an old term, well established in
Biblical studies since the early nineteenth century, whose general sense was
transparent to all. For example, in 1839, Jahn"s Biblical Archaeology
began to provide generations of American seminarians and clergy the following
Archaeology ... considered subjectively ... is the
knowledge of whatever in antiquity is worthy of remembrance, but objectively
is that knowledge reduced to a system ... in a limited sense has special
reference to religious and civil institutions, to opinions, manners and
customs and the like 3.
Jahn"s book, first published in German in 1802, assumed
this archaeological agenda and illustrated what it could accomplish using the
Bible itself as its primary source and resource, but also ancient monuments,
coins, the writings of Philo, Josephus, Rabbinic and some Patristic literature,
and journals of travelers. For Jahn, archaeology could be done in the scholar"s
study. It was simply a matter of word study and philological analysis.
The conservative exegete Keil noted that Jahn had simply
borrowed his comprehension of "archaeology" from Greek usage attested in
sources as diverse as Plato, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Josephus and
applied it to the Bible4. For his own Handbuch der biblischen Archäologie
published in 1858, Keil adopted a somewhat different definition:
By Biblical archaeology or knowledge of antiquity we mean
the scientific representation of the way of life of the Israelite people as
the only nation of antiquity that God had selected as bearer of revelations
recorded in the Bible.
This knowledge, according to Keil, excluded history per se,
but included physical geography, religious institutions such as places of
worship, personnel, rituals, and calendar; social institutions such as houses,
food, clothing; family institutions and organizations and concerns, and civil
organizations such as law, courts, army, etc. The significance of this
archaeology was to set forth the objective distinctiveness of Israel as a
witness to revelation, but "the method of description must be historical in
keeping with the historical character of Biblical revelation"5.
In 1896, Lansing published a slim book, Outlines of the
Archaeology of the Old Testament in which he listed archaeology as a branch
of exegetical theology. He wrote: "Biblical Archaeology is the science of
sacred things as over against sacred words" (emphasis in the original).
The "things" included the same subjects treated by Keil along with the
antiquities of other nations "so far as these have any direct bearing on any
passage of Scripture"6. In this volume, the direct connection between "thing"
and exegesis is emphasized, history in general left somewhat aside.
Even as the first volume of Jahn"s first German edition was
being published, other European scholars were engaged in activities about to
expand the meaning of "archaeology". In 1801, E. Clark set out to travel in
the Holy Land in order to discover ancient cities and holy sites. He was
followed by U.J. Seetzen in 1802, J.L. Burckhardt in 1809, and a host of others.
The most famous of these, E. Robinson, Professor of Bible at Union Theological
Seminary in New York, first traveled there in 1839.
Basing himself on geographical lists and casual references to
places in the Bible, blessed with a gifted ear for discerning ancient Hebrew and
Greek place names in local Arabic guise, and possessed of a fine sense of
topography, Robinson, travelling with his former student Eli Smith, an
Arabic-speaking missionary, discovered, recorded, and mapped hundreds of sites,
many uninhabited for more than 2000 years. His literate, engaging three volume
book published in 1841, Biblical Researches in Palestine, the Sinai, Petrae
and Adjacent Regions became a widely read best-seller7. Robinson
demonstrated the possibility of identifying many of the sites mentioned in the
Bible, and by implication the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible. His
work was taken as indicating that scientific research, the same research that
could discover extinct animals, cavemen, and distant planets could verify
In 1890, Petrie, an English scholar with more than 20 years
of experience excavating in Egypt, launched the first scientific excavation in
the Holy Land at Tell el-Hesi. Soon after, excavations were undertaken at Gezer,
Jericho, and in Shechem. In 1906, German excavations were undertaken at Megiddo,
the site of Armageddon.
Between 1870 and the 1930"s, after Schliemann excavated
Troy and with a publicist"s sure sense of audience claimed to have
authenticated Homer"s stories, an excited popular audience hungered for
additional historical conclusions from excavations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and
In perusing books and booklets with titles approximating "Biblical
Archaeology" written from the late nineteenth through the early twentieth
century, I noticed how their contents differed from Jahn"s, reflecting a
semantic drift in the term "archaeology" over 50 years8. In these, the
difference between "archaeology" and "history" seems to have been that
"history" referred to knowledge of past political events, in accord with the
Rankian program for history writing that evolved in Germany c. 1825-1850. "Archaeology"
referred more to the realia and processes of daily life9. Knowledge
gained from "dirt archaeology" was included with the realia. It
produced information that clarified philological archaeology and was applied
likewise to illustrate and background Biblical historical narratives, all of
which were considered accurate descriptions. To the extent that I am able to
discern, the twenty-five or so books examined were all written by Biblicists,
individuals involved in the study, exegesis and theological explication of
What changed over 170 years, from the time that Jahn
published his first volume until the emergence of the debate, was the content of
the term "archaeology". The new meaning replaced the old in popular
parlance, but continued to coexist with it in denominational settings in
the frozen term "Biblical Archeology" along with the understanding of how
such "Biblical Archeology" was to be used in Bible study.
Although unremarked upon in scholarly literature and in
public discussions, some of Dever"s critics were simply unwilling to ignore
part of the semantic field of "archaeology". Considering "Biblical
archaeology" a perfectly good term with a long tradition in Biblical studies,
ministerial training, and Christian education, they were not particularly
bothered by issues raised by Dever and may have considered his call for change
much ado about little.
Theological Objections II: By the 1950"s, under the
influence of Albright, "Biblical Archaeology" had come to include under its
rubric studies of the Ugaritic literary texts as well as the newly discovered
Dead Sea Scrolls among which were the oldest known biblical manuscripts. These
two discoveries from the chronological limits of the Biblical period shed
crucial light on the cultural background and literary history of ancient Israel
and on the textual history of the Bible; consequently, they were thought to
illustrate the Bible"s historical accuracy in some vague, undefined way.
Similarly, the physical presence of excavated objects, such as small altars
similar to the tabernacle altar described in the Bible, figurines taken to be
examples of images prohibited in Biblical legislation, and material evidence for
sequences of events such as the destruction of a Canaanite city at the beginning
of the Iron Age, were taken as mute testimony to the accuracy of what the Bible
"said" about them in Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges.
Conservative scholars in particular, but liberal scholars as
well, assumed that if archeology could demonstrate that something might have
occurred, that was proof sufficient that it had occurred if the Bible so
indicated10. The halo effect of such "Bible is true" thinking in combination
with the conception of "Biblical Archaeology" as a handmaiden of exegesis
continued to extend the authenticating implications of dirt archaeology from
particular details about realia to features of non-material culture such
as history, historiography, and theology11.
This testimony became grist for the mills of the liberal,
positivistic "Biblical Theology" movement that achieved great popularity
starting in the 1950"s and has had a profound influence on what has been
taught subsequently in both Christian and non-Orthodox, Jewish settings since
then. What distinguished this movement from more conservative approaches was its
ability to discern a difference between the reliability and accuracy of the
Bible"s historical descriptions as tested by archaeological investigations and
the theological predications of the text12. Predications were raised to
prominence as "proclamation" while events tested and not found wanting were
esteemed as witnesses to the proclamation. Events found wanting, such as the
enslavement of Israelites in Egypt, were classified as "myth", their lack of
historicity ignored, and they were milked for their kerygmatic predications
In proposing the term "Syro-Palestinian archaeology",
Dever explicitly declared that he had given up on the term with its associative
links to exegesis and theological explication. He may have been perceived as
attacking religion. He certainly was perceived correctly as attacking those
arguing from denominationally normative (or Biblical) theology to archaeological
interpretation. But, to the best of my knowledge, he did not raise this as a
general issue in public presentations.
Dever lost the debate. It was almost inevitable. There are
many more teachers of Bible in the world than there are archaeologists working
in the Iron Age period, and the overwhelming majority of these teachers work in
denominational settings with explicit and implicit theological programs that are
a priori to whatever archaeologists might discover. The call for a change
in terminology was intended to sever the connection between the archaeological
and the theological, to disallow any claims that archaeology of the physical had
implications for the metaphysical, and to delegitimize any interpretative
authority that theologically driven Biblicists might claim over archaeological
By the late 1980"s, after the decline of Bible Theology as
a dynamic and aggressive movement, the situation sorted itself out in the
following manner. "Syro-Palestinian" archaeology became a broadly accepted
term referring to a discipline that usually requires either a combination of
postgraduate training and a few seasons of field and lab experience or many
seasons of field and lab experience and relevant publications. It remains
restricted to professional circles and has become the term of preference in
departments of archaeology, anthropology and history. "Biblical Archaeology"
evolved into a term used primarily in popular culture, in titles of public
lecture, magazine articles, books, and undergraduate or seminary courses. The
term came to signal that both textual and archaeological matters would be dealt
with in presentations with this title, but not the proportion of archaeology to
text and not the professional orientation of the author or lecturer. Considering
that all Syro-Palestinian archaeologists working in certain historical periods
must of needs exploit information in the Bible when interpreting some of their
finds, they are ipso facto Biblical archaeologists; but, not all
Biblicists using archeological information who may fashion themselves "Biblical
archaeologists" can claim to be "Syro-Palestinian archaeologists". Even
Dever made his peace with this situation13.
As imperceptible as it was in the 1980"s, the debate had
precipitated changes beyond professional terminology. It had disseminated the
notion that the Albrightian synthesis of Biblical studies and archaeology no
longer maintained its integrity: Biblicists could go it alone as could
archaeologists. In Biblical studies there was a turning away from historical
analyses to literary ones; in Iron Age archaeology, a turning from historical
explanations of excavation data based Biblical historiography toward
political-economic interpretations based on social-anthropological theories.
Some Biblicists accepting Dever"s distinction undertook social histories of
Israel based on a mix of archaeological data and social-anthropological theory.
II. The Minimalist-Maximalist Debate
The Minimalist-Maximalist debate was fomented in 1992 when
Davies published a small, widely read polemic, In Search of Ancient Israel,
propounding a particularly stingy evaluation of the historical worth of
information in the Bible about ancient Israel14. The same year Thompson
published a book reaching similar conclusions15, and the debate ensued.
As a group, minimalists are associated with the University of
Sheffield in England and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, but they
appear to be more influential in the United States than in England and on the
Continent. Although Davies is the best known, there are only about a half-dozen
productive scholars advancing minimalist arguments regularly in papers and
articles, and about two or three times that many doing so infrequently. Much
maligned by Biblicists and historians, I consider minimalists to be engaged in a
legitimate historical undertaking up to a point.
Contemporary historians, minimalists included, distinguish
(1) between a past world where things happened and the narrative representation
of that world in ancient writings and (2), between elements in the
historiosophical view that contributed to the formation of a particular
narrative about the past, the descriptive adequacy of the same narrative in its
original literary and historical contexts, and its adequacy for the work of a
contemporary historian. The launch point for minimalist positions is determined
by their answers to questions that all (good) historians are trained to ask
about any written documents: What is the nature of this document? Who wrote it?
Who benefits from this document? When was it written and why? Where was it
Minimalists allow that the Hebrew Bible is a constitutional
document for the Jewish people and that the earliest time when features
characteristic of that which is recognizably late Second Temple Judaism, such as
the importance of reading the Torah publicly and observing its charges
faithfully, abstention from work and commerce on the Sabbath, avoiding
intermarriage, tithing, maintaining Temple sacrifice through a self-imposed tax
(cf. Neh 10,30-40), appear is during the Persian period. Then, Ezra and Nehemiah
— both Jewish, both empowered by the Persian court at different times during
the fifth century BCE to determine civil and religious policy — wielded power
in Jerusalem. They also determine, on the basis of their reading of Ezra and
Nehemiah, that the population of Yehud, the Persian province centered around
Jerusalem, contained a large admixture of foreigners, forcibly settled in the
area as a result of ancient Near Eastern politics.
Posing the abovementioned historian"s questions about the
Bible in this socio-historical setting, minimalists conclude that the books of
the Hebrew Bible were written during the Persian (or Hellenistic) period. The
historical books actually contain made-up stories (that may have exploited some
vague, ancient legends) through which the local organized refugee population
provided itself with a mythic cover-(hi)story that linked it to the land and to
a religion. This conclusion has two important corollaries: (1) Bible narratives
about the political, social, and intellectual world of ancient Israel from
Abraham to the temple"s destruction lack probative value. (2) Any narrative
about what actually happened to the real people living in the central mountain
areas of ancient Israel during what archaeologists call the Iron Age must,
accordingly, be based on archaeological data alone. No other authentic sources
for their history are available.
Lending credulity to minimalists is a broad consensus among
liberal students of the Bible and archaeologists that no archaeological data or
any data external to the Bible itself confirm the patriarchal or exodus stories
as narrated in Genesis and Exodus. The same consensus recognizes that only with
some fine tweaking and very qualified explanations can archaeological data be
drafted to support some elements in the Joshua-Judges narratives.
Finally, the consensus maintains that the proto-historical and the epic
exodus-conquest narratives, whether truthful or not, were first set down in
writing between the ninth and sixth centuries BCE on the basis of oral
traditions, ancient but unverifiable. For narratives about events that occurred
after the ninth century, however, Israelite writers had access to court and
temple records so that more credibility adheres to their contents. There is no
consensus, however, about the time of the final editing of the historical
books. Some argue for the late exilic period c. 600-580 BCE; others for the exilic, Neo-Babylonian period,
586-538 BCE; and still others for the post-exilic, Persian period, 538-332 BCE.
Thus, so far as these different periods are concerned, the
only differences between the minimalists and most other historians is the date
assigned for the composition of the stories and narratives and their
evaluation of the amount of "real history" embedded in them16. These
differences have far reaching implications.
Minimalists go beyond the historical-critical consensus in
arguing that the complete history, from Abraham to Moses to Joshua to David and
Solomon and the other kings is all cut from the same cloth for the same reason.
The people Israel, its leaders and heroes are literary fictions or inventions or
constructs. Stories about them, their victories, defeats, religious policies are
all late concoctions written at the earliest in the Persian period. Historical
Israel, the actual flesh and blood people who dwelt in the central mountains
during the Iron Ages, didn"t come from Egypt. They were descendents of
earlier, Bronze Age inhabitants of the places where they lived. Their culture
and religion was a slightly evolved form of the earlier, Bronze Age Canaanite
This set of axioms and derivative corollaries is encapsulated
in the minimalist distinction between a "Biblical Israel", created by
literati of the Persian period and preserved in the Hebrew Bible, a "historical
Israel", that actually lived in the central hill country of the Land of Israel
during the Iron Age about which very little is knowable, and an "ancient
Israel", the scholarly "construct" of people enthralled by Bible stories,
hamstrung by theological teachings based on the combination of the first two,
and by individuals overly involved with "Biblical Archaeology"18.
After commenting on the deficiencies of all non-minimalist
scholarship, Lemche who has assumed the role of philosophical and methodological
spokesperson for minimalism writes:
The conclusion that historical-critical scholarship is
based on a false methodology and leads to false conclusions simply means
that we can disregard 200 years of bible scholarship and commit it to the
dustbin. It is hardly worth the paper on which it is printed 19.
Contrary to what their detractors believe, minimalists take
the historical writings seriously. Given their conclusions concerning the late
date of authorship and the lack of historicity, their attempts to explain why
the stories were written as they appear and to what purpose constitute a valid
and necessary undertaking. Maximalists, however, disparage the minimalist
narrative, arguing that its base conclusions remain undemonstrated assertions
and that sufficient evidence disproves the hypotheses underlying them.
Minimalism has at least five sets of intellectual roots: (1)
conclusions about when most books were written that were accepted by liberal
Protestant scholars at the end of the nineteenth century20; (2) the employment
of socio-anthropological models of how societies evolve and tell stories about
themselves that were popularized in Biblical studies during the 1970"s by
Gottwald"s studies of Israelite society in general and the emergence of
ancient Israel from Canaanite groups resident in the central hill country in
particular21; (3) evaluations of archaeological data that since the 1950"s
question, qualify or deny the historicity of the exodus and conquest narratives
and that since the 1970"s-80"s deny that of the patriarchal traditions22;
(4) a strategy for reading Biblical historical narrative against the grain
similar to the Deconstruction strategies developed by J. Derrida emulated widely
in departments of literature and history during the 1970"s and 1980"s; (5)
the climate of extreme skepticism, a skepticism sometimes bordering on cynicism
characteristic of much Western historical analysis since the late 1960"s23.
Although minimalist claims are derived through reasoning
processes practiced by contemporary historians, they shocked Biblical
scholarship by their boldness and in their assignment of Biblical historiography
to the genre of apologetic mythmaking and "big lie" history writing. In
addition, Davies inflamed non-academic passions by attacking potential
detractors in politically strategic "anti-political" moves. For example,
anticipating disagreement over his understanding of the intent of ancient
authors in writing texts, Davies opined that his opponents introduce theological
concerns to their analyses, arguing that for them reconstructing "ancient
Israel" is not a historical undertaking but an affirming theological one, and
with regard to the way they set about engaging in their work that "religious
commitments should not parade as scholarly methods"24. Davies thus challenged
his readers to decide if they were truly historians or believers masquerading as
historians. In other words, everybody who might disagree with him was either a
literary fundamentalist at worst or an unsophisticated reader at best.
Furthermore, the statement suggests that the book, in some way, was written as
an attack on certain types of Christian beliefs.
Anticipating that his reconstruction of history would not win
favor and that regnant views about historical Israel would prevail, he cast
himself as an intellectual martyr and explained the conditions which would
defeat his challenge: "The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, fiction
mightier than truth, and belief more important to human motivation than
knowledge"25. Davies" statements comprise an attack on the intellectual
integrity of those who might disagree with him. His polemical tone, assumed also
by some other minimalists, induced visceral responses that were equally
apodictic and largely beside the point.
Minimalism continues an element of the "Biblical
Archaeology" debate in Dever"s advocacy of unblindered scholarly objectivity
when analyzing data bearing on ancient Israel. It has reconstructed a past
historical world on the basis of Biblical texts alone. Its major independent
involvement with archaeology has been to discount, on non-archaeological
grounds, the importance of any archaeological data that might contradict its
findings. No minimalist has appropriated what little is known about the Persian
period from archaeological excavation and archaeological surveys conducted in
Israel since the late 1960s to support any of its particular arguments.
This tendency to deny contradictory evidence reached a
sour-noted crescendo when archaeologists were accused of manufacturing
inscriptions whose contents undermined minimalist assertions. At Tel Dan,
fragments of a ninth century BCE Aramaic victory inscription were discovered
that mentioned the "House of David". The find embarrassed minimalists
because of their claim that David and Solomon most likely never existed, but in
the event that they had indeed existed, could not have been much more than a
local tribal chiefs in Jerusalem. Reference to the "House of David" in the
Dan inscription suggested that the Davidic dynasty was so well known and
powerful that an Aramean king considered bragging about his success against its
army worthwhile. Some minimalists accused A. Biran, director of the Hebrew Union
College excavations at Dan, of having forged and planted the inscription.
Likewise, an inscription found in the Philistine city, Ekron,
mentioned the names Achish, a Philistine name, Padi, a name uniquely associated
with Ekron in the Bible, and the name Ekron itself. This inscription was awkward
for the minimalist narrative because it supported the historical connectedness
between these three names as reported in biblical historiography. Since it was
hardly likely that people concocting a fictional history during the Persian
period, as maintained by most minimalists, could have been aware of this trivial
onomastic information, the existence of the inscription undermined minimalist
claims about the absence of facticity in historical narratives. This time, the
accusation of forgery was hurled at the two directors of the Ekron expedition:
S. Gitin of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeology and T. Dothan of the
Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University.
The misnamed "maximalist" side in this debate consists of
the overwhelming majority of scholars from both sides of the "Biblical
archaeology" debate on both sides of the Atlantic26. Most maximalists do not
maintain that every event recorded in the Hebrew Bible occurred. They differ
among themselves as to what in Biblical historiography reflects actual events
and as to how relevant information from other disciplines bearing on the
different periods of Israelite history should be used. They concur, however,
that all contemporaneous extra-Biblical sources must be included in discussions
of Israelite history, that minimalist super-skepticism is unwarranted, and that
its descriptions of Israelite history and historiography are overly general,
descriptively inadequate and often incorrect factually.
Most scholars maintain, on the basis of (1) comparative
ancient Near Eastern literature and (2) comparative ancient Near Eastern
historiography from more than a millennium before the Persian period, from (3)
inscriptions found in Israel and in neighboring countries dated to the Iron Ages
that relate to specific historical events, some even mentioning people named in
the Bible, (4) from the attested evolution of the vocabulary and grammar of the
Hebrew language, and (5) from a critical historical comprehension of the Persian
period in Yehud, as well as on the basis of (6) archaeological data, that
although most of the historical books from Joshua through Kings were written or
edited at the latest in the exilic or early pre-exilic period, they do contain
earlier and much earlier materials and, consequently, reflect authentic,
archaic, Israelite traditions from the late monarchy, c. 922-586 BCE27. This
position allows that knowledge of "historical Israel" and "ancient Israel",
as defined by minimalists, owes its discovery to the research of scholars, but
not that these modern scholars have composed a theological fiction.
Recently, Lemche felt constrained to defend minimalism and
(specific) minimalist scholars against two sets of charges: the first, that its
general claims and specific interpretations of data are driven by ideological
— Marxist, anti-Christian establishment, anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian,
anti-Semitic — positions; the second, that many of its strongest claims
involving ancient Near Eastern languages and cultures, sociological and
archaeological data are advanced by underqualified individuals. Lemche, allowing
that some minimalist scholars do have their own private programs, argued that
the term "ideological" in the published accusations is vague, but that no
matter how the term is used, there is nothing "ideological" about concluding
that the Persian period is the single period that best explains the "mental
matrix" for most Old Testament literature and "probably all of its
historiography"28. I consider this a valid rebuttal29.
Regarding qualifications. Although he presented his own
credentials as one long acquainted and working with anthropological data, he did
not defend minimalism against the second group of charges.
Insofar as minimalists advance their position primarily on
the basis of inferences about data from Biblical texts filtered through
analytical tools developed for the literary study of the "fiction" genre,
and only secondarily on the basis of a perceived absence of contradictory
data from archaeology, the Minimalist-Maximalist debate is between Biblicists30.
No Syro-Palestinian archaeologist espouses a historical position vis-à-vis
the origins of Biblical literature faintly resembling that of the minimalists
— a position which, in any event, would have nothing to do with archaeology per
se — and none have supported their particular interpretations for the
absence of archaeological data.
III. The "Tenth Century" Debate
The "Tenth Century" debate was precipitated by Israel
Finkelstein. Since the early 1990s he has charged that archaeological data
interpreted as indicating the presence of a strong centralized kingdom in Israel
and Judah during the tenth century BCE have been dated incorrectly. Materially,
the debate focuses on whether or not excavations at a number of major Iron Age
sites such as Beersheba, Dan, Hazor, Jerusalem, and Megiddo allow concluding
that (1) there was no monumental architecture, i.e., water works, city walls,
palaces or temples, during the tenth century; and (2) that the earliest evidence
for these types of construction projects dates from the middle of the ninth
In Syro-Palestinian archaeology, dates are regularly
established through the use of pottery found in an excavation checked against a
ceramic chronology. The basis of this chronology lies in the discovery made at
the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century that the
types of pottery, shapes, styles, manner of manufacture and design favored by
people changed slowly but perceptibly over time within all regions of the
ancient Near East. It is akin to dating an old photograph by the clothing,
hairstyle, furniture, radios, and even the types of poses assumed by the people
in it. On the basis of these clues, the photograph might be dated to 1915 in
Rome but to 1950 in Romania. Both content and context determine the correct
Writing in 1891 about what is now considered the first
scientific excavation in the Holy Land, Petrie stated: "The excavations at
Tell el-Hesy (sic!) proved to be an ideal place for determining the
history of pottery in Palestine. And once settle the pottery of a country, and
the key is in our hands for all future explorations"31. Since Petrie published
his gross categorizations and sequencing of pottery types and shapes
chronologically, the relative ceramic chronology of the Land of Israel has been
worked out with painstaking care. In the absence of more definite evidence, this
chronology is used to determine the general dates of adjacent structures.
Some efforts to achieve (almost) absolute dating have been
made by determining connections between the Palestinian ceramic repertoire and
the chronologies of Syria and Egypt where pottery is sometimes found with
datable written or inscribed finds, as well as by focusing on certain local
assemblages — aggregates of different types of vessels from a single locus or
stratum — that can be dated absolutely either by written materials or by
definite association with a historical event. For example, at a site such as
Lachish known to have been captured and destroyed by the Assyrians in 701 BCE on
the basis of Assyrian records and palace reliefs, assemblages excavated on
floors immediately beneath obvious destruction debris are assigned confidently
to 701 BCE. The use of each particular type of vessel in the assemblage may,
however, have started much earlier and continued much later32. Each has its own
history, like the clothing, hairstyles, and radios in the photograph mentioned
Archaeologists have drafted carbon-14 technology to aid their
attempt in delimiting the chronological horizons of individual assemblages and
of the individual types within them. Used to date organic substances recovered
in digs, it was hoped that by coordinating ceramics with recovered organic
finds, the parameters of ceramic chronology could be tightened. Results,
however, have been disappointingly inconclusive33.
Two levels of confidence are invested in ceramic chronology
today: medium range and high range. Medium range confidence is reflected by
those arguing that this body of refined knowledge is such that in
Syro-Palestinian archaeology any given assemblage can be dated to within about
40 years, plus or minus 40. High range confidence, such as that expressed by
Finkelstein, is reflected by those arguing that an assemblage may be dated to
within 25 years, plus or minus 25. In addition, however, Finkelstein, challenges
the general soundness of the conventional chronology from twelfth through the
end of the ninth centuries BCE, lowering the dates of some types of pottery and
whole assemblages by more than 100 years34.
Since monumental projects are attested in the archaeological
record at major Iron Age sites, Finkelstein"s case rests on his ability a) to
create a new ceramic chronology for what heretofore have been considered typical
Iron Age I and IIA types of pottery in associated assemblages, not only in
Israel but also at other sites in the Levant; and b) to bring order to sites
where the consensus acknowledges that the stratigraphic sequencing for the tenth
century is unclear, but without creating disorder at sites where it is clear.
He propounds a complex argument based on hand burnished red
slip ware, i.e., a type dipped in a red clay wash and then buffed by hand with a
piece of ceramic to give at least parts of it a shiny patina. At Jezreel, it was
found only in the ninth century stratum and not in spotty, earlier tenth century
material recovered at the site. Combining Jezreel data with those from his
excavations at Megiddo, he concludes that this pottery is to be dated
exclusively to the ninth century. Since, according to his dating, the pottery is
associated with monumental architecture, he extrapolates that all such
construction should be assigned to the ninth century, at the earliest.
Consequently, attested construction projects assigned to David, Solomon,
Rehoboam and Jeroboam in the tenth century on the basis of the established
chronology and on the strength of Biblical accounts of their building
activities, projects that infer the presence of significant economic resources,
a labor pool supportable by an economy greater than subsistence level, and an
organized, central administration, are dated incorrectly. The projects could
only have been undertaken by kings living no less than 50 years after the death
At a theoretical level, at issue is whether or not
Finkelstein has isolated a significant factual discrepancy in ceramic
chronology of such moment that it requires the changes for which he calls.
The archaeological community as a whole rejects Finkelstein"s
ceramic chronology on well argued archaeological grounds35. The consensus
maintains that published, and reported but still unpublished, archaeological
evidence supports both a tenth and ninth century dates for the tell-tale pottery
as well as for the construction of monumental projects at the above-mentioned
sites36. In the few places where
evidence for such projects is unaccountably
missing, the absence may be attributed in part to erosion, ancient robbing, and,
in the case of Jerusalem, to Roman engineers who preferred building on stable,
hard, flat, surfaces. They shaved large areas almost to bedrock, removing the
debris of earlier construction, in order to create uncluttered platforms for
their own structures37. It has been suggested orally at a few archaeological
meetings that since no clear tenth century BCE stratum was found at Jezreel, the
absence of the burnished red slip ware in what was found sealed under the ninth
century stratum may be due to Ahab who ordered a similar clearing of the site
prior to constructing a palace and administrative center38. In any event, the
absence of evidence may not be interpreted facilely as evidence of absence39.
Since the archaeological record, as interpreted by
Finkelstein, indicates that no major building projects were undertaken during
the tenth century, his conclusions bolster minimalist claims about the fictional
nature of Biblical narratives about David, Solomon, Rehoboam and Jeroboam.
Because of this connection, the "tenth century" debate has been confused
with the "minimalist-maximalist" one and has led to Finkelstein being
labeled a "minimalist" incorrectly. Despite their adoption of his conclusion
to further their argument, Finkelstein is not a participant in the
minimalist-maximalist debate. That debate, however, has influenced some marginal
elements in the archeological discourse, confusing matters a bit more.
Finkelstein cites minimalist conclusions favorably as a secondary or tertiary
explanation for the "missing" tenth century, but does not participate in
their Biblical discussion per se40.
Much historical information in Kings about events
after the ninth century has been corroborated by extra-biblical sources,
primarily from Mesopotamia. This information is necessary for Finkelstein in
interpreting his own data from Megiddo, so he does not jettison it. Ultimately,
as minimalists seem not to have understood, all archaeological data from
historical periods are interpreted through texts.
He argues, in a recent book co-authored with the
archaeological journalist Silberman, that the combination of local traditions
into a narrative glorifying Judah and the first tendentious history writing by
the Deuteronomistic writer began in the sixth century BCE under the influence of
Josiah"s court. The ancient Judahite historian had access to some authentic
information of a historical nature from his own kingdom as well as from the
northern kingdom, Israel, that had been destroyed by the Assyrians more than a
century earlier41. This clear articulation puts him somewhere in the maximalist
Finkelstein has succumbed, however, to the appeal of a
minimalist rhetorical ploy, that of describing an opponent as taking the
position of "the custodian of the ideal, harmonic picture of Bible
archaeology, which argues for a glorious Solomonic state, against an intruder
who threatens to shatter the sentimental images"42. This sentence alludes to
the Rabbinic midrash of a young Abraham who, after discerning the truth of
monotheism through reasoned analysis, destroyed the idols in the workshop of his
idolater father, Terah. The term "Bible archaeology" in the above citation
is intended to evoke the dispute of two decades ago from a completely secular
Notwithstanding this crossover of rhetoric, the "minimalist-maximalist"
debate is unlike the "tenth century" one with regard to the training of the
disputants, the nature of the evidence, the quality of the evidence, and the
type of the rhetoric. The former involves Biblicists, linguists, and
epigraphers; the latter archaeologists. Furthermore, in this debate, the issue
of competency has not been raised, only that of conclusions.
If anti-religious sentiment lies in the background of the
minimalists, and pro-religious sentiment or nostalgia in that of the different
maximalists, something else informs the tenth century debate. None of the
protagonists identify themselves as religious.
For the last fifteen years or so, there has existed in Israel
a penchant among young historians for radical revisionism of Israeli and Jewish
history in general and Israeli socio-political history in particular.
Revisionism of pre- and post-1948 history, which is regularly reported and
discussed in the press and on television talk and debate shows, may be
characterized by its willingness to attack the consensus frontally, aggressively
and often publicly with new evidence, even when the evidence is ambiguous or
inconclusive or incomplete. It is somewhat reminiscent of the revisionism in
European and American history that characterized the 1960"s. This supportive
atmosphere may have encouraged Finkelstein to push his case as hard as he
has. In any event, his efforts have expanded the front of such revisionism so
that it includes ancient Israel as well.
The preceding analyses have considered the three debates as
individual conversations within the "history of Israel" research paradigm.
As such, they have occupied members of the scholarly community for many years
and merit a constructive analysis.
The "Biblical Archaeology" debate exposed both practical
and ideological fissures between different approaches to the source materials
out of which such a history may be constructed. It led to the recognition that
dirt archaeology is not a handmaiden for theologically driven Biblical exegesis
and helped eliminate the expectation that the correct interpretation of
excavations should result in evidence corroborating Biblical historical
accounts. Although it settled matters for professional archaeologists and
historians, it left some theological matters unresolved for Biblicists.
The importance of the "Minimalist-Maximalist" debate,
still ongoing among Biblicists, is threefold. First, minimalist claims to have
exposed the overt influences of a priori ideologies in the interpretation
of Biblical literature heightened the sensitivity to Foucauldian concerns.
Second, rejected minimalist claims about the Persian period setting for Biblical
historiography compelled disagreeing scholars to review the results of literary
and holistic interpretations within alternative historical and social settings.
Third, it led scholars to reconsider the history of record keeping, chronicling,
and history writing in the ancient Near East. As a consequence of this debate,
the rehistoricization of different types of Biblical literature has become a
more sophisticated and nuanced undertaking.
The "Tenth-Century" debate, an in-house methodological
dispute in Syro-Palestinian archaeology, contributes to ongoing historical
research by making Biblicists aware that the interpretation of archaeological
data, let alone its application in historical interpretation, is a complicated
matter about which acknowledged experts sometimes disagree. It demonstrates
also, beyond cavil, that archaeological data, understood as attesting to dynamic
events, contribute to historical understanding even as historical texts
contribute to their interpretation.
These by-products of the three debates indicate that the
malaise surrounding research into the history of ancient Israel is unwarranted.
If the last two debates have not demonstrated to most Biblicists and historians
what is correct, they have suggested which ideas have been tested and found
wanting; in doing so, they have generated opportunities for experimentation with
new ideas and with new methods.
1 M. LIVERANI, "Nuovi sviluppi nello studio della
storia dell"Israele biblico", Bib 80 (1999) 490-492, 497-500,
2 W.G. DEVER, Archaeology and Biblical Studies.
Retrospects and Prospects (Archeologia 4.1; Evanston 1974) 17-25, 34-43; ID.,
"Retrospects and Prospects in Biblical and Syro-Palestinian Archaeology",
BA 45 (1982) 103-107; H. SHANKS, "Should the Term "Biblical
Archaeology" Be Abandoned?" BARe 7/3 (1981) 54-57; E.F. CAMPBELL,
"Letter to Readers", BA 45 (1982) 68; H.D. LANCE,
"American Biblical Archaeology in Perspective", BA 45 (1982)
97-101. Dever first introduced the term as referring to an "independent,
secular discipline ... pursued by cultural historians for its own sake" in the
"Introduction" to Biblical Archaeology (ed. S.M. PAUL – W.G.
DEVER) (Library of Jewish knowledge; Jerusalem 1973) ix. (I thank Prof. Paul for
3 J. Jahn (1750-1816) published an original five volume Biblische
Archäologie in 1802. He abridged this publication into a one vo in 1802. He abridged this publication into a one volume J.
JAHN, Archaeologia biblica in Epitomen redacta (Vienna 1814), latter
translated as ID., Archæologia Biblica. A manual of biblical antiquities
(Andover 1823) by the the American poet and translator T.C. Upham from the
Latin. His translation was reprinted with additions and corrections under the
shorter title Jahn"s Biblical Archaeology until 1853. The quotation is
from an 1839 edition published in New York.
4 K.F. KEIL, Handbuch der biblischen Archäologie
(Frankfort a. M. – Erlangen 1858-1859) 2. This book came out in a second
German edition in 1875 that was translated with Keil"s additions and
corrections and published as ID., Manual of Biblical Archaeology
(Edinburgh 1887-1888) I-II.
5 KEIL, Handbuch, 1-5.
6 J.G. LANSING, Outlines of the Archaeology of the Old
Testament (New Brunswick 1896) 4-5.
7 P.J. KING, American Archaeology in the Mideast. A
History of the American Schools of Oriental Research (Philadelphia 1983) 3-4;
C.C. LAMBERG-KARLOVSKY, Beyond the Tigris and Euphrates (Beersheba 1996)
26-29. Indeed, most of the travelers published either popular or scientific
accounts of their travels, so that information about the Holy Land and the Bible
was widely circulated in English, French, and German.
8 I observed what was available in the stacks of the library
at Princeton Theological Seminary in August and November, 2000. Due to a
shortage of books with the required two words, I included books whose titles
indicated that they were dealing with similar types of data.
9 Cf. E. KALT, Biblische Archäologie (Freiburg
1924), a short volume focusing on political, religious and social institutions
in their geographical setting. Although written more than 60 years after Keil
— it could be considered an updated abridgement of the earlier work — Kalt
did not incorporate findings from dirt archaeology into his discussions.
10 Cf. KING, American Archaeology in the Mideast, 83,
regarding the approach of M. Kyle, a conservative Biblicist long associated with
W.F. Albright and American archaeology in the Holy Land.
11 See J.C. MEYER – V.H. MATTHEWS, "The Use and Abuse
of Archaeology in Current Bible Handbooks", BA 48 (1985) 149-159;
ID., "The Use and Abuse of Archaeology in Current One-volume Bible
Dictionaries", BA 48 (1985) 222-237. Many of the abuses sighted and
cited by these authors address the older, traditional use of archaeological
material in denominational settings.
12 This description is borrowed from Weaver who used it to
suggest how the historical impasse caused by archaeology might be addressed
theologically in the 1990"s; cf. W.P. WEAVER, "The Archaeology of
Palestine and the Archaeology of Faith: Between a Rock and a Hard Place", What
has Archaeology to do with Faith? (eds. J.H. CHARLESWORTH – W P.
WEAVER) (Faith and Scholarship Colloquies; Philadelphia 1992) 89-105
("The Failure of Archaeology as an Apologetic Strategy").
13 W.G. DEVER, "What Archaeology Can Contribute to an
Understanding of the Bible", BARe 7/5 (1981) 40-41; ID.,
"Archaeology and the Bible. Understanding Their Special Relationship",
BARe 16/3 (1990) 52-58, 62.
14 P.R. DAVIES, In Search of Ancient Israel (JSOTSS
266; Sheffield 1992). Actually, Davies was partially anticipated by N.P LEMCHE,
Early Israel. Anthropological and Historical Studies on the Israelite
Society Before the Monarchy (VTS 37; Leiden 1985). Lemche"s book, however, did
not generate the furor and spark the debate. Subsequent to the characterization
of these scholars as "minimalists", he was associated and associated himself
with them. G. GARBINI, History and Ideology in Ancient Israel (New York
1988) 1-20, 125-126, 132, 154-169, anticipated the minimalists in attacking
theological interpretations of history that countenanced the theologizing
historiography of the Biblical texts as historical statements and in dating
Biblical compositions to the Persian and Hellenistic periods. His pugnacious
essays, published in English translation two years after appearing in Italian,
have not become part of the minimalist conversation.
15 T.L. THOMPSON, Early History of the Israelite People.
From the Written and Archaeological Sources (SHNE 4; Leiden 1992).
16 P.R. DAVIES, "What Separates a Minimalist from a
Maximalist? Not Much", BARe 26/2 (2000) 24-27, 72-73.
17 Models of cultural evolution and diffusion became popular
in much historical and archaeological explanation during the 1970s and remains
so. Their application reflects the trend to reject explanations of change in
ancient populations through recourse to theories of invasions and migrations.
Scholars felt that the changes might be better explained as due to ordered
socio-archaeological processes operating on the indigenous, local population.
Cf. J. CHAPMAN – H. HAMEROW, "On the Move Again — Migrations and
Invasions in Archaeological Explanations", Migrations and Invasions in
Archaeological Explanation (eds. J. CHAPMAN – H. HAMEROW) (BAR.IS
664; Oxford 1997) 1; and the new migration research presented in Migration,
Migration History, History. Old Paradigms and New Perspectives (eds. J.
LUCASSEN – L. LUCASSEN) (Bern 1999).
18 DAVIES, In Search of Ancient Israel, 11-14.
19 N.P. LEMCHE, "On the Problems of Reconstructing
Pre-Hellenistic Israelite (Palestinian) History", Journal of Hebrew
Scriptures (http://purl.org/jhs) 3 (2000) pars. 4.2.
20 Arguments dating the final edition of the Pentateuch, most
historical writings, the final edition of the Prophetic literature, psalms, and
proverbs of the Hebrew Bible to different parts of the Persian and Hellenistic
periods were prominent at the end of the nineteenth century. They were
influenced greatly by judgments of Kuenen and Wellhausen after K.H. Graf
presented what were then considered strong sound arguments for the post-exilic
dating of the Priestly source; cf. A. KUENEN, An Historico-Critical Inquiry
into the Origin and Composition of the Hexateuch (London 1886 [trans.
from the 2nd Dutch ed. of 1885]) 313-321; J. WELLHAUSEN, Prolegomena to the
History of Ancient Israel (New York 1957 [repr. of 1885; transl.
from the 2nd German ed. of 1883]) 13. These 19th century comprehensions
maintained themselves in Continental scholarship with increasing sophistication,
but appear to have had little influence on English or American scholars; cf. H.
BOUILLLARD-BONRAISON, "Les livres bibliques d"époque perse", La
Palestine à l"époque perse (ed. E.M. LAPERROUSAZ) (Études
annexes de la Bible de Jérusalem; Paris 1994) 157-188; B. GOSSE, Structuration
des grands ensembles bibliques et intertextualité à l"époque perse. De
la rédaction sacerdotale du livre d"Isaïe à la contestation de la Sagesse
(BZAW 246; Berlin 1997).
21 Cf. his summary study, N.K. GOTTWALD, The Tribes of
Yahweh. A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel, 1250-1050 B.C.E.
(Maryknoll 1979). Gottwald himself refined ideas initially introduced by G.
MENDENHALL, "The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine", BA 25 (1962)
66-87, providing them with a theoretical basis in socio-anthropological models.
22 Concerning the conquest and settlement, see G.E. WRIGHT,
"The Literary and Historical Problem of Josh 10 and Ju 1", JNES
5 (1946) 105-114; J. BRIGHT, A History of Israel (Philadelphia 1959)
110-127, presented an Albrightian-Wrightian synthesis of data even as the
archaeological evidence for the conquest and settlement is described muddily as
"not at all points unambiguous" (ibid., 118). More recent work that
minimalists, but not only minimalists, consider to have solved the problem
adequately contends that there was no conquest and no settlement. It gives up
completely on employing Biblical narratives in any meaningful way for a
historical synthesis because they are felt to be incompatible with the hard
archaeological evidence. Cf. I. FINKELSTEIN, The Archaeology of the Israelite
Settlement (Jerusalem 1988); ID., "The Emergence of Early Israel:
Anthropology, Environment, and Archaeology", JAOS 110 (1990)
Concerning the Patriarchs, see T.L. THOMPSON, The
Historicity of the Patriarchal Period (BZAW 113; Berlin 1974); and J. VAN
SETERS, Abraham in History and Tradition (New Haven 1975). Claims that
extra-biblical data supported the historicity of the patriarchal period in the
Middle Bronze II or Late Bronze periods popular in the 1950"s were dispatched
by these two individuals working independently. Few scholars, if any, have
challenged the specific conclusions of their important books. The consensus,
however, may change eventually as a consequence of new data and new analyses of
old data from Mari on the middle Euphrates; cf. D. FLEMING, "Mari and the
Possibilities of Biblical Memory", RA 92 (1998) 42, 46-51, 58-59,
23 This intellectual phenomenon is described and analyzed in
chap. I of my book, Z. ZEVIT, The Religions of Ancient Israel. A
Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches (London 2001) 49-68.
24 DAVIES, In Search of Ancient Israel, 46-47 and 19,
n. 4. Although this particular statement seems to distinguish Davies from
elements of postmodern discourse that maintain that there are no objective
truths, only subjective ideologies, within the context of discussions between
Biblicists, it is a rhetorical foil that renders defense of his arguments
unnecessary. His opponents are describing what minimalists call "historical
25 DAVIES, In Search of Ancient Israel, 161. His
anticipation of rejection was realistic, given that he addressed himself to
Biblicists and attacked the same audience that preserved the "Biblical
archaeology". N.P. LEMCHE, "Ideology and the History of Ancient
Israel", SJOT 14 (2000) 165-166, also describes anticipating the
rejection of his ideas at the very beginning of his career for much the same
reason but resolving to plunge into the fray nevertheless.
26 The term "maximalist" creates the false impression
that this group consists of literary fundamentalists. Minimalists ended up with
a better label than their opponents.
27 W.G. DEVER, "Save Us from Postmodern Malarkey", BARe
26/2 (2000) 28-35, 68-69; J. HACKETT, "Spelling Differences and Letter
Shapes Are Telltale Signs", BARe 23/2 (1997) 42-44; R. HENDEL,
"The Date of the Siloam Inscription: A Rejoinder to Rogerson and
Davies", BA 59 (1996) 233-237; S. NORIN, "The Age of the Siloam
Inscription and Hezekiah"s Tunnel", VT 48 (1998) 37-48; A.
HURVITZ, "The historical quest for "ancient Israel" and the linguistic
evidence of the Hebrew Bible: some methodological considerations", VT
47 (1997) 301-315; S. JAPHET, "Can the Persian Period Bear the Burden?
Reflections on the Origins of Biblical History", Proceedings of the
Twelfth World Congress of Jewish Studies Jerusalem, July 29 – August 5, 1997.
Division A. The Bible and Its World (ed. R. MARGOLIN) (Jerusalem 1999) 35-43.
Lemche"s response to these types of criticism is to minimize the significance
of any objective, empirical extra-biblical evidence by allowing that only a
smidgen of veracity may be found in the historical narratives. For example,
commenting on extra-biblical inscriptions mentioning Israelite and Judahite
kings in connection with international events referred to also in the Bible, he
writes that they show only that biblical evidence on the succession of kings and
synchronisms "are not totally misleading", and that after biblical and
extra-biblical data are compared one may conclude that the history of the
biblical historians "is not totally devoid of historical information".
Surprisingly and strangely, Lemche writes about the period most crucial to most
minimalists, but, apparently, no longer to him, "the Persian period is,
finally, a dark spot on the historical map of Palestine. We know nothing about
this period. Ezra, the great hero of post-exilic Judaism is probably a late
invention (by Pharisaic authors?)"; cf. LEMCHE, "On the Problems of
Reconstructing Pre-Hellenistic Israelite (Palestinian) History", 5.5; 8.9.
28 N.P. LEMCHE, "Ideology and the History of Ancient
Israel", SJOT 14 (2000) 169-173, 190-193. The contradiction between
his assessment of the Persian period in this statement and that cited in the
previous footnote, both published the same year, has not yet been clarified in
29 For this reason the controversial book by K.W. WHITELAM, The
Invention of Ancient Israel. The Silencing of Palestinian History (London
1996) has had no significant ongoing role in minimalist discussions. It is
beside the point. A minimalist, Whitelam adopts the anti-Orientalist stance of
the literary critic E. Said in critiquing both maximalists and minimalists. All
are faulted for being Anglo-European scholars and for writing in the etic
terminology of western scholarship (ibid., 393-370, 119-121, 203-222, 234, 236).
The book, a cleverly written rhetorical polemic, is all negative criticism. It
presents neither a positive agenda nor any "how to" formulae of its own nor
does it even suggest how unsuppressed history might look. Astonishingly,
Whitelam reveals only in the last sentences on the last page of his book that
throughout he only assumed the existence of the history that he claimed was
suppressed. It has not yet been "(re)discovered" (ibid., 237). There is no
historical revisionism here, only a preference for silence.
30 For example, minimalists assume the large non-indigenous
population in Yehud whose anxious comprehension of its own circumstances
precipitated the creative process generating what became Biblical literature. In
fact, although information from both Biblical and extra-Biblical written sources
attest the settlement of foreign populations around Samaria in the
eighth-seventh centuries BCE by the Assyrians, no such evidence supports a
similar scenario for the areas around Jerusalem after the Babylonians exiled
parts of the local population in the sixth-fifth centuries BCE. No evidence,
however, contradicts the assumption.
31 F. PETRIE, Tell el-Hesy (Lachish) ( London 1891)
32 I thank Profs. A. Mazar of the Hebrew University and S.
Gitin, Director of the W.F. Albright Institute for Archaeological Research in
Jerusalem, for discussing this problem with me briefly in January, 2001.
33 Problems using dates provided by carbon-14 analyses are
apparent in the fact that different laboratories in Europe, Israel, and the
United States working with similar samples provide different B(efore) P(resent)
dates as do the same laboratories with the same samples. Among the sources for
the discrepancies are the types of samples provided, their quality of
preservation, and the problem of contamination before and after being submitted
to the laboratory for analysis. Despite this, carbon-14 dating of grain and wood
samples from well defined Iron Age strata at sites such as Bethsaida by the Sea
of Galilee, Dor by the Mediterranean coast, and Tel Rehov south of Bethshean
and, of course, Megiddo have now become part of the debate because the range of
dates obtained have been interpreted as providing relevant limits. Dates
provided by samples from Dor reportedly support some of Finkelstein"s low
chronology dates while those from Bethsaida contradict them completely.
Complicating this picture is the fact that archaeologists do not always publish
the dates of all samples reported back to them by the laboratories, only those
which appear useful. This matter is now being engaged by an important project,
conducted by Drs. I. Sharon and A. Gilboa at the Hebrew University Institute of
Archaeology. Their project coordinates all carbon-14 data in the hope that
patterns in the discrepancies can be discerned that will help work out the bugs
so that this and other high-tech approaches will be able to provide absolute
dates independent of pottery chronology. Its success will depend on
archaeologists providing them with all information about all
34 I. FINKELSTEIN, "The Date of the Settlement of the
Philistines in Canaan", TA 22 (1995) 218-225, 229-233; S. BUNIMOVITZ
– A. FAUST, "Chronological Separation, Geographical Segregation, or
Ethnic Demarcation? Ethnography and the Iron Age Low Chronology", BASOR
322 (2001) 1-3.
35 E.g. A. MAZAR – J. CAMP, "Will Tel Rehov Save the
United Monarchy?", BARe 26/2 (2000) 48-50. FINKELSTEIN"S
presentation of his case appears in the following essential studies: "The
Archaeology of the United Monarchy: An Alternative View", Levant 28
(1996) 177-187; "The Stratigraphy and Chronology of Megiddo and Beth-Shan
in the 12th-11th Centuries B.C.E.", TA 23 (1996) 170-184;
"Bible Archaeology or Archaeology of Palestine in the Iron Age? A
Rejoinder", Levant 30 (1998) 167-173; "Hazor and the North in
the Iron Age: A Low Chronology Perspective", BASOR 314 (1999) 55-70;
"Hazor XII-XI with an Addendum on Ben-Tor"s Dating of Hazor X-VII",
TA 27 (2000) 231-247.
36 Aside from qualified acceptance of some of his positions
by two colleagues at Tel-Aviv University, D. Ussishkin and Z. Herzog, I am
unaware of Syro-Palestinian archaeologists, including those with no vested
interest in Iron Age archaeology, who accept his overall thesis. Most rebuttals
have been in scholarly presentations in Israel and the U.S.A., and many were
repeated in public lectures. Fewer have been made in print, and these are by
archaeologists whose sites Finkelstein re-evaluated in print in order to bolster
his case: A. MAZAR, "Iron Age Chronology: A Reply to I. Finkelstein", Levant
29 (1997) 157-167; A. BEN-TOR – D. BEN-AMI, "Hazor and the Archaeology of
the Tenth Century B.C.E.", IEJ 48 (1998) 1-37; A. BEN-TOR,
"Hazor and the Chronology of Northern Israel: A Reply to Israel
Finkelstein", BASOR 317 (2000) 9-15; MAZAR – CAMP, "Will Tel
Rehov", 48-50. On Jan 10, 2001, a one day conference "The Question of
the Tenth and Ninth Centuries BCE at Sites in the Land of Israel", jointly
sponsored by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Center for the Study of
the Land of Israel and Its Settlement, was held in Jerusalem. All reports
presented there, from peripheral sites in the north, Horbat Rosh Zayit
(identified as biblical Cabul), Rehob, Bethshean to southern sites such as Tel
Hamid, Tel Batash (identified as biblical Timnah), Tel Safit (identified with
biblical Gath), Lachish, and even from excavations in Jerusalem provided clear
stratigraphical evidence for tenth century BCE strata and pottery assemblages.
37 In Jerusalem, the only area where intensive, large-scale
excavations that might bear on this problem is in the City of David. There,
however, the excavations were restricted to non-damaged parts of the steep
eastern slope and no monumental structures datable to this period identified.
38 An apologetic but low rhetoric rebuttal to this analysis
is found in D. USSISHKIN, "The Credibility of the Tel Jezreel Excavations:
A Rejoinder to Amnon Ben-Tor", TA 27 (2000) 248-256.
39 Another element in argumentation supporting what is called
the "low chronology" was Finkelstein"s observation that tall collared-rim
jars, characteristic of the twelfth-eleventh centuries are completely absent
from stratum VI A at Megiddo, a stratum excavated both by the Oriental Institute
of the University of Chicago and by the Tel-Aviv University Institute of
Archaeology. In an intensive reinvestigation of records, photographs, and
materials from the Chicago Oriental Institute"s excavations of the early
twentieth century, Timothy P. Harrison of the University of Toronto uncovered
evidence for the presence of such jars (in what is now called stratum VI A).
Furthermore, Finkelstein informed me that in Summer 2000, his team discovered a
restorable, whole collared-rim jar in the same stratum. Harrison"s work and
the corroborating new discovery present data inconvenient for the proposed
40 FINKELSTEIN, "The Archaeology of the United
41 I. FINKELSTEIN – N.A. SILBERMAN, The Bible Unearthed.
Archaeology"s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origins of its Sacred
Texts (New York 2001) 45, 65, 68, 92-96, 284, 301-305. The book presents
Finkelstein"s positions — the "New Vision" of the title — on a number
of key and minor issues in Israelite history, not only the tenth century debate,
but it does so without comment as to their status in the field (ibid., 114-118,
141,142). In doing so, it misleads its intended audience which will include
Biblicists unfamiliar with details of the archaeological debate. The book
presents hypotheses as facts, not informing readers what is disputed and why,
and it does not indicate that there are difficulties or uncertainties about the
new vision, not of "archaeology", but of a single archaeologist.
42 FINKELSTEIN, "Bible Archaeology or Archaeology of
Palestine", 167. Similarly, commenting on why the late Y. Yadin and Y.
Aharoni dated Iron Age I at Hazor to the twelfth-eleventh centuries BCE, he
writes: "... it is obvious that their dating was influenced by their
historio-biblical bias more than by a thorough typological investigation. Yadin
was eager to see his early Israelites settle on the ruins of the city which they
had vanquished" (ID., "Hazor XII-XI with an Addendum on Ben-Tor"s
Dating of Hazor X-VII", TA 27  237). The Hazor excavations
were concluded in 1958. Yadin and Aharoni, both deceased, are faulted for not
having reached conclusions similar to those of Finkelstein.