>Archaeology and the History of Israel

>Over the weekend I finished reading one of the books I bought while I was in Boston attending the annual meeting of the SBL. One of the good things about attending the SBL is that we can examine newly published books and then buy the ones we want at a good discount.

The book I just finished reading is The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007). The book is a compilation of a series of lectures presented by Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar and edited by Brian B. Schmidt. The lectures were delivered at the Sixth Biennial Colloquium of the International Institute for Humanistic Judaism, Detroit, October 2005.

The book is fascinating because in it we read the work of two eminent Israeli archaeologists who look at the same archaeological record and come up with different interpretations on almost everything. There are some areas in which they agree, but in general, they are almost always on the opposite side of every issue.

In a future post, I will discuss how Finkelstein and Mazar look at the Tenth Century and discuss their conclusions about the existence of a United Monarchy and the role David and Solomon played in the formation of the state of Judah. Today, I just want to review how Finkelstein and Mazar classify scholars writing on the history of Israel.

Finkelstein and Mazar mention four different approaches taken by writers of the history of Israel. These approaches are: the Ultra-Conservative Approach, the Conservative Approach, the Moderate-Critical Approach, and the Revisionist Approach.

The following writers and books are classified according to these four approaches:

The Ultra-Conservative Approach

Kitchen, K. A., On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans,

Hoffmeier, J. K., and Millard, A., eds., The Future of Biblical Archaeology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004.

The Conservative Approach

Aharoni, Y., The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography. Trans. A. F. Rainey. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979.

Mazar, B., The Early Biblical Period: Historical Studies. Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, 1986.

Mazar, B., ed., The Patriarchs. Volume II of The World History of the Jewish People. Jerusalem: Masada Press, 1971.

Mazar, B., ed., The Judges. Volume III of The World History of the Jewish People. Jerusalem: Masada Press, 1971.

Malamat, A., ed., The Age of the Monarchies. Volume IV of The World History of the Jewish People. Jerusalem: Masada Press, 1979.

Malamat, A., History of Biblical Israel: Major Problems and Minor Issues. Leiden: Brill, 2001.

Rainey, E. and Notley, R. S., The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World. Jerusalem: Carta, 2006.

Dever, W. G., What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology and the Bible Can Tell Us about Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001.

Shanks, H. ed., Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple. 2nd rev. ed. Washington: Biblical Archaeology Society; 1999.

The Moderate-Critical Approach

Ahlström, G., The History of Ancient Palestine from the Palaeolithic Period to Alexander’s Conquest. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement 146. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.

Finkelstein, I., and Silberman, N. A., The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York Free Press, 2001.

Liverani, M., Israel’s History and the History of Israel. London: Equinox, 2005.

Miller, J. M., and Hayes, J. H., A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. Second revised edition. Louisville., Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

Na’aman, N. Ancient Israel’s History and Historiography. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2006.

The Revisionist Approach

Davies, P. R., In Search of “Ancient Israel.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement 148. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.

Garbini, G., Myth and History in the Bible. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement 362. London: Sheffield Academic, 2003.

Lemche, N. P., The Israelites in History and Tradition. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.

Thompson, T. L., The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past. London: J.Cape, 1999.

This division is very interesting because of what it says about the writers and their approach to the history of Israel. I would classify Liverani among the revisionists because he writes about “the invented history of Israel,” a history written in the post-exilic period in order to give legitimacy to those who were returning back to the land of Canaan.

Miller and Hays were included with those historians who take the moderate-critical approach. Their history is not a revisionist history like Liverani’s; they rewrite the history of Israel to fit the archaeological realia. Finkelstein views himself as a centrist, to the left of the conservatives but to the right of the revisionists. Mazar views himself as a conservative, but between Finkelstein and the other conservatives.

Confronted with these different approaches, Mazar asked an important question. He wrote: “At this point, the reader might ask, how does it happen that archaeologists arrive at such contradicting conclusions? The answer lies in part in the different archaeological chronologies used, as well as in the vastly different interpretations of the same archaeological data.”

And this is the crux of the problem. The archaeological data is the same; the problem is one of interpretation. Those scholars who have a skeptical view of the biblical text interpret the archaeological data in light of their view that the text does not reflect historical events. Those who have a high view of the biblical text interpret the archaeological data with the understanding that the text is based on historical events.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Tags: , , ,

Bookmark and Share var addthis_pub = ‘claude mariottini’;

This entry was posted in Archaeology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to >Archaeology and the History of Israel

  1. Neil Parille says:

    >Is there a good “history of Israel” that you would recommend?


  2. >Neil,When it comes to the history of Israel, I take the conservative side because I have a high view of Scripture.The History of Israel that I use in my classes with my students and recommend to pastors is John Bright, A History of Israel. To me, Bright’s book offers the best explanation of Israel’s history and deals with many of the difficult issues present in the Old Testament.If you take the time and make the effort to read this book from cover to cover, you will gain a very good understanding of the Old Testament.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini


  3. goulablogger says:

    >Interesting and useful post. Thanks, as usual.


  4. >Chuck,Thank you for your words. I am glad you enjoyed the post.Claude Mariottini


  5. Phil Sumpter says:

    >Dear Dr. Mariottini, do you have any opinions on Eugene Merrill's Kingdom of Priests?Thanks for the helpful post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.