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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:4, Winter 2022

Milestone: Norman Gottwald (1926–2022)

Norman Gottwald, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, passed away on March 11, at the age of 95. Gottwald was a Hebrew Bible scholar who pioneered the use of social theory in biblical studies. He was perhaps best known for his seminal work, The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel, 1250–1050 B.C.E. (1979).

Gottwald received his doctorate in biblical literature from Columbia University and taught at several renowned institutions across a career that spanned more than four decades, including Columbia, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley School of Theology, and New York Theological Seminary. He also served as President of the Society of Biblical Literature.

In The Tribes of Yahweh, Gottwald put forth a revolutionary theory that would become one of the leading models for ancient Israel’s origins. Archaeologists and biblical scholars had long debated whether Israel entered the land of Canaan through conquest (as described in the Book of Joshua) or by peaceful infiltration (as described in the Book of Judges). Gottwald, building off the earlier work of George Mendenhall, developed a third view: Israel emerged as a result of a “peasant’s revolt” by a Canaanite underclass. Although most scholars now believe that Israel’s emergence was a complex and multifaceted process, aspects of Gottwald’s theory have remained essential to most scholarly interpretations.

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