A deep fissure runs through Biblical studies today. On one side are those who maintain that the Bible contains much reliable history; on the other side are those who say the Biblical texts were written much later than the events they describe and have little or no historical value. Some, like Israel Finkelstein, the co-excavator of Megiddo and the subject of an interview in our previous issue, portray themselves as centrists; Finkelstein thinks many key Biblical texts date to about the seventh century B.C. and he is dubious about texts that claim to report on earlier events.
Another scholar we interviewed recently is Avraham Malamat, long associated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Malamat believes we can recover much about the earliest periods of Biblical history—in its broad outlines if not in detail. Unlike those of his colleagues who never get past the minutiae of history, Malamat is interested in what Goethe called die Grossen Zuege, the grand sweep of matters. Malamat is particularly well known for his expertise on the many thousands of inscribed cuneiform tablets from ancient Mari, a second millennium B.C. kingdom on the Euphrates River in modern Syria. The tablets reveal a culture with striking similarities in language and customs to ancient Israel. For Malamat, Mari provides an important source for what he calls the “protohistory” of Israel.