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.
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 ones17.
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.