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.
As a group, minimalists are associated with the University of Sheffield in England and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, but they appear to be more influential in the United States than in England and on the Continent. Although Davies is the best known, there are only about a half-dozen productive scholars advancing minimalist arguments regularly in papers and articles, and about two or three times that many doing so infrequently. Much maligned by Biblicists and historians, I consider minimalists to be engaged in a legitimate historical undertaking up to a point.
Contemporary historians, minimalists included, distinguish (1) between a past world where things happened and the narrative representation of that world in ancient writings and (2), between elements in the historiosophical view that contributed to the formation of a particular narrative about the past, the descriptive adequacy of the same narrative in its original literary and historical contexts, and its adequacy for the work of a contemporary historian. The launch point for minimalist positions is determined by their answers to questions that all (good) historians are trained to ask about any written documents: What is the nature of this document? Who wrote it? Who benefits from this document? When was it written and why? Where was it written?
Minimalists allow that the Hebrew Bible is a constitutional document for the Jewish people and that the earliest time when features characteristic of that which is recognizably late Second