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.
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