Biblical Archaeology Review 42:3, May/June 2016

Queries & Comments

The Bible vs. Archaeology—Colliding Viewpoints: The Backstory

This issue of BAR contains an extraordinary exchange of letters among giants of the profession that may have no precedent.

It all began quite innocently. In each issue of BAR, we publish a short quotation from the work of a major archaeological or Biblical scholar in a department called “In Their Own Words.” In the January/February 2016 issue, this department consisted of six lines by Peter Machinist of Harvard University. In his quotation, Machinist examines whether the Bible should be considered in a search for Israel’s origins in Palestine. His answer is yes.

This evoked a heated response from the famed excavator of Gezer, William G. Dever. Peter is a “friend and colleague” of nearly 50 years, wrote Dever, but “absolutely no archaeologist today” regards the Bible as historically valuable in understanding Israel’s emergence in Canaan. “Precisely the opposite” is the case.

Dever bolstered his case by citing the work of several leading archaeologists, including Ann Killebrew, Ami Mazar and Larry Stager.

But Dever did not get much comfort from the scholars he cites, to whom we sent Dever’s response. For example, Harvard’s Larry Stager wrote us, “My view on the relationship of the Bible and archaeology is much closer to Machinist’s than to Dever’s, as anyone would know who has read my articles and books over the last 45 years.”

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