Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research (Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies) Paperback by William G. Dever (University of Washington Press)

William G. Dever is an American archaeologist, specialising in the history of Israel and the Near East in Biblical times. He has written many other books on this subject (such as Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? and What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel).

This 1990 book begins by noting, "I am a Syro-Palestinian archaeologist, but I began, like most of my generation, as a seminarian and clergyman. Although I retain a keep interest in Biblical studies, I cannot claim to make any original contribution in these lectures; indeed, I only hope that my assessment of the current situation in Biblical studies represents a consensus among specialists."

He writes, "It was really (William Foxwell) Albright who deserves credit for the establishment, albeit a brief one, of Biblical archaeology as a respectable academic discipline.... The agenda in these formative years of Biblical archaeology was fixed by Albright's own primary research concerns, which remained remarkably consistent over a fifty-year career. In retrospect, it is clear that Albright was largely reacting against the still prevailing extremes of nineteenth-century European-style literary criticism."

He surveys the work of G.E. Wright and others, and summarizes, "I would contend that the Biblical archaeology movement in its classic form, which dominated the American scene up until about 1970, was really not so much a branch of Near Eastern archaeology as it was a subsidiary of Biblical and theological studies.... This school drew its agenda not from archaeology but from problems of Biblical research."

He states that archaeology "has not brought to light any direct evidence to substantiate the story that an Abraham lived, that he migrated from Mesopotamia to Canaan, or that there was a Joseph who found his way to Egypt and rose to power there. The point is not that archaeology has disproved the historicity of the Patriarchs, but simply that it has not gotten beyond the literary tradition that we had all along in the Hebrew Bible. The tradition is made up of legends that still may be regarded as containing moral truths, but until now they have been of uncertain historical provenance."

Here are other observations of Dever:

"One still occasionally sees the fifteenth century B.C. date of the Exodus defended by Fundamentalists, but other scholars have long since given it up."
"it is obvious that there was a sizeable influx of new people into the highland zone of Canaan, beginning in the early twelfth century B.C. I believe that we may tentatively identify these necomers as 'Israelites,' as a few archaeologists and Biblical historians have suggested."
"The similarities of Israelite religion to the religions of greater Canaan have long been known, and indeed are assumed by one strand of the tradition in the Hebrew Bible. But the degree of affinity and of actual continuity with Canaan have been minimized by scholars, both Jewish and Christian, to emphasize the uniqueness of ancient Israel. Recent archaeological discoveries redress the balance by showing that in terms of material culture and the behavior it reflects, there was very little distinction between Canaanite and Israelite religion, at least in practice."

This book, even for those of us who have read Dever's earlier books, is still of interest to anyone interested in biblical archaeology or the history of ancient Israel.

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