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 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 Biblical facts.
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 Palestine.
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 scripture.
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