Ziony Zevit, «Three Debates about Bible and Archaeology», Vol. 83 (2002) 1-27
Three significant debates affecting perceptions of Israelite history, the Bible’s historiography, the relationship between this historiography and archaeology, and the dating of parts of the Bible’s literature have occupied Biblicists and archaeologists for the last 25 years. This article distinguishes the debates by analyzing the issues involved, the terminologies employed, as well as the professions of the protagonists engaged in each. It considers each within its own intellectual context. In light of these analyses, the article proposes a positive assessment of the contribution of these debates to the study ancient Israel’s history.
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