Biblical Archaeology Review 26:2, March/April 2000
The Search for History in the Bible

Save Us from Postmodern Malarkey

By William G. Dever

There are some who claim that the Bible contains little or no historical information about ancient Israel. I want to combat these “minimalist” or “revisionist” views of the history of ancient Israel by showing how archaeology can and does illuminate a historical Israel in the Iron Age of ancient Palestine (roughly 1200–600 B.C.E.). I will, however, concentrate on one period only—the earliest and most controversial period, Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.E.), when Israel emerges in Canaan.

Until the last generation or so, our only source for writing any reliable history of this (or any other) period in Israelite history was, of course, the Hebrew Bible. Yet in the past decade, the Hebrew Bible has come under sustained and often violent attack as a historical source for any but a literary and largely fictive Israel, supposedly contrived by Jews in the Persian (sixth to fourth century B.C.E.) or even the Hellenistic (fourth to second century B.C.E.) era as a tortuous exercise in self-justification. If that were the case, the archaeology of ancient Palestine or Canaan would be our only remaining source for writing a history of ancient Israel. Yet the revisionists generally ignore or discredit archaeology, characterizing it as “mute.”

Such a scenario would leave us with no history, no Israel. According to the revisionists, the Hebrew Bible and its portrait of ancient Israel are the product of a perfervid literary imagination—a late Hellenistic phantasmagoria. It is precisely this view that I challenge.

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