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.
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 interpretation.
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 above.
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