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.
parlance, but continued to coexist with it in denominational settings in the frozen term ‘Biblical Archeology’ along with the understanding of how such ‘Biblical Archeology’ was to be used in Bible study.
Although unremarked upon in scholarly literature and in public discussions, some of Dever’s critics were simply unwilling to ignore part of the semantic field of ‘archaeology’. Considering ‘Biblical archaeology’ a perfectly good term with a long tradition in Biblical studies, ministerial training, and Christian education, they were not particularly bothered by issues raised by Dever and may have considered his call for change much ado about little.
Theological Objections II: By the 1950’s, under the influence of Albright, ‘Biblical Archaeology’ had come to include under its rubric studies of the Ugaritic literary texts as well as the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls among which were the oldest known biblical manuscripts. These two discoveries from the chronological limits of the Biblical period shed crucial light on the cultural background and literary history of ancient Israel and on the textual history of the Bible; consequently, they were thought to illustrate the Bible’s historical accuracy in some vague, undefined way. Similarly, the physical presence of excavated objects, such as small altars similar to the tabernacle altar described in the Bible, figurines taken to be examples of images prohibited in Biblical legislation, and material evidence for sequences of events such as the destruction of a Canaanite city at the beginning of the Iron Age, were taken as mute testimony to the accuracy of what the Bible ‘said’ about them in Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges.
Conservative scholars in particular, but liberal scholars as well, assumed that if archeology could demonstrate that something might have occurred, that was proof sufficient that it had occurred if the Bible so indicated10. The halo effect of such ‘Bible is true’ thinking in combination with the conception of ‘Biblical Archaeology’ as a handmaiden of exegesis continued to extend the authenticating implications of dirt archaeology from particular details about realia to features of non-material culture such as history, historiography, and theology11.