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.
By the late 1980’s, after the decline of Bible Theology as a dynamic and aggressive movement, the situation sorted itself out in the following manner. ‘Syro-Palestinian’ archaeology became a broadly accepted term referring to a discipline that usually requires either a combination of postgraduate training and a few seasons of field and lab experience or many seasons of field and lab experience and relevant publications. It remains restricted to professional circles and has become the term of preference in departments of archaeology, anthropology and history. ‘Biblical Archaeology’ evolved into a term used primarily in popular culture, in titles of public lecture, magazine articles, books, and undergraduate or seminary courses. The term came to signal that both textual and archaeological matters would be dealt with in presentations with this title, but not the proportion of archaeology to text and not the professional orientation of the author or lecturer. Considering that all Syro-Palestinian archaeologists working in certain historical periods must of needs exploit information in the Bible when interpreting some of their finds, they are ipso facto Biblical archaeologists; but, not all Biblicists using archeological information who may fashion themselves ‘Biblical archaeologists’ can claim to be ‘Syro-Palestinian archaeologists’. Even Dever made his peace with this situation13.
As imperceptible as it was in the 1980’s, the debate had precipitated changes beyond professional terminology. It had disseminated the notion that the Albrightian synthesis of Biblical studies and archaeology no longer maintained its integrity: Biblicists could go it alone as could archaeologists. In Biblical studies there was a turning away from historical analyses to literary ones; in Iron Age archaeology, a turning from historical explanations of excavation data based Biblical historiography toward political-economic interpretations based on social-anthropological theories. Some Biblicists accepting Dever’s distinction undertook social histories of Israel based on a mix of archaeological data and social-anthropological theory.
II. The Minimalist-Maximalist Debate
The Minimalist-Maximalist debate was fomented in 1992 when Davies published a small, widely read polemic, In Search of Ancient Israel, propounding a particularly stingy evaluation of the historical