The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Book 1. The Crisis of Sacred History
I think that the minimalists… are good scholars, and they are important scholars, and they have contributed a lot to historical and Biblical scholarship. We have to listen to them carefully, even when they are wrong. Sometimes they are right. It depends on what, it depends on where; but they have steered this debate—which is a positive debate, an important one. Whatever the verdict is, the debate is important, and the debate is there, thanks to their publications. So we have to be very grateful for their publications. This has nothing to do with whether I agree or disagree with them, but I respect them and I respect their scholarship in the same way that I respect good scholarship from the conservative side…
Tel Aviv Archaeologist, I Finkelstein, Interview in BAR
To judge from the ranting heard in from the religious right, the wrong-headed critics of the Jewish scriptures “can be safely ignored” but are simultaneously “a danger to western civilization”. God’s big liars do not have to be coherent. So, who are these subversive scholars endangering our lives?
They are the biblical minimalists, called the “gang of four” by their detractors: T L Thompson, N P Lemche, P Davies and K W Whitelam. Obviously, to be called a “gang of four” is part of the smear campaign, gangs of four being underhand plotters, however good their motives might have been among those who have had the name. There are many more than four minimalists, but these four are among the most prominent.
The disagreements began over a century ago with Wellhausen, but have sharpened in the last quarter of a century, and now are associated with many scholars, not all of whom can be called a minimalist, or agree on everything. John Van Seters, Gösta Ahlström, David Ussishkin, Ze’ev Herzog, Israel Finkelstein, Giovanni Garbini, Mario Liverani, Carlo Zaccagnini, and Pietro Fronzaroli and Axel Knauf in historical linguistics, Robert Carroll and David Gunn in literary readings, Rainer Albertz, Etienne Nodet, Graham Auld and Herbert Niehr in the history of religion and tradition-history, not to mention others from universities in various countries including Israel, Italy, Denmark, UK and the US have all contributed to the belated Enlightenment approach to the history of the Levant.
These scholars are not an isolated wing of malcontents—the discourse is international. They oppose the synthetic biblical archaeology of William Albright, Rabbi Nelson Glueck, Benjamin Mazar, Roland de Vaux, and even Kathleen Kenyon in favour of examining historical evidence independently of classical historiographies like Manetho, the bible and Josephus. They also reject the tradition-history of Martin Noth and the “salvation history” of Gerhard von Rad, the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule of Sigmund Mowinckel and Hermann Gunkel and even the source criticism of Julius Wellhausen and Otto Eissfeldt. Thompson says:
It is a generational shift, an ordinary process in scholarship.
In the Copenhagen school, Fred Cryer has worked primarily in linguistics and sociology and Tilde Binger, Allan Rosengren and Hans Jørgen Lundager Jensen in the history of religion. In archaeology, Margreet Steiner and Terje Oestigaard, in history Margit Sjeggestad, Diana Edelman and Flemming Nielsen, in biblical exegesis, the history of religion and intertestamental literature, Thomas Bolin, Ingrid Hjelm and Greg Doudna, all belong to the new generation of scholars. These must be the ones called “nihilists” by Hershel Shanks—editor of BAR, a biblical archaeology popular magazine—and William G Dever. The most productive academic side of this discussion has often been due to many of these scholars engaging in disagreement with each other more than with a supposed “mainstream” of scholarship.
Their detractors are the maximalists, biblicists who argue that the bible is an accurate guide to the history and culture of ancient Israel. Minimalists are those who argue that the bible is actually a record of what later generations mythologized about their history. Maximalists think the bible is mostly true history while the minimalists think it is hard to know what is true history in it, but biblicists are fond of calling anyone who criticises the bible at all as minimalists.
The maximalist side’s bulldog is Dever. He seems to feel personally threatened by the minimalist position, is shrill in his invective and sets up straw dolls to attack rather than debating the issues. He will present what he calls a “summary” of the minimalist position—even though he admits that minimalism is not a monolithic position—and tilts at this effigy.
The general public is unaware of all this. Many still think that the bible is much more historically accurate than even conservative scholars are usually willing to admit, and part of the reason is that the clergy keep quiet about it. The more people realize just how little of the bible is historical, the less basis for wrangling and murdering among Christian sects there will be.
Professor Philip Davies is one of the biblical minimalists—some say the leader. One of the world’s leading scholars of the ancient world, professor Davies has been carrying out textual analysis of the bible for over thirty years. Challenging biblical texts is still a controversial and even dangerous business when careers are taken into account, and Davies is no stranger to controversy. Biblical criticism brings vitriolic and censorious attacks from those who will accept nothing other than that the bible, being divine revelation, is beyond reproach.
In 1992, ignoring any political controversy that his book, In Search of “Ancient Israel”, might arouse, Davies argued that no archaeological or historical evidence supports the existence of the Old Testament kings David and his son Solomon, upon whose dynasties the ancient Israelite kingdom was based, with its capital in Jerusalem. The David and Solomon story is a literary text produced by biblical authors writing hundreds of years after the purported events, to be seen more as a work by Shakespeare than purely as a religious icon. Reprinted since, the book continues to attract attention on both sides of the Atlantic, with coverage in the leading American journal, Science and the Times Higher Education Supplement.
His refusal to conform to a dogmatic view of what can and cannot be published about the bible led to the formation of Sheffield Academic Press:
An academic press editor told us that the material we were producing was not marketable and we became angry and decided that scholars should be deciding what texts were appropriate, not editors. Our solution was to start a journal, which published articles by younger, unconventional scholars. Within a few years we had moved on to publishing books. What started off as an anti-establishment activity is now a large company with shareholders, but it is still about good manuscripts.
His published views which put together archaeology and the biblical account continue to raise eyebrows. SAP has now passed into new ownership. Davies supports the view that the Old Testament represents a narrow slice of the ancient world—maybe a few hundred years before Christ—rather than the 1500 years that biblical theologians consider it to be. However, he also feels that today’s shocking view quickly becomes tomorrow’s commonplace:
I feel the general consensus has shifted. I think this book will probably be regarded as terribly conservative in about 15 years. Its impact has been slow but it has filtered into mainstream debate and the controversy in the scholarly world has more or less died down.
Davies says the difference between minimalists and maximalists is less than it once seemed to be. Maximalists have abandoned much of the historicity of the bible they once held, through the evidence presented by minimalists over the last 30 years. The minimalist position is that the stories in the bible are largely mythical in nature. Although they take place in real places and may sometimes be loosely based on real people or events, the stories themselves serve a mythical rather than historical function. They are an attempt of later generations to lay claim to an identity, not an attempt at disinterested historical reporting. Curiously, the “biblical maximalists” accept that as being an accurate assessment of much of the bible up until the “United Monarchy” at the time of David and Solomon, when Israel and Judah were still part of one kingdom.
His deeper concern is that a focus on the bible as theological revelation, rather than as a literary text, leads scholars to search for some stories while ignoring others.
My concern is that the Bible is an unreliable field guide for archaeologists. They should stop trying to correlate what they dig up in excavations with biblical texts. So long as biblical scholarship remains theological, there will be no search for the history that no one thinks is missing. Instead, there will persist that great reluctance to look hard for “ancient Israel” in the life of Iron Age Palestine, for fear that it might not be there.
This awareness of what a specific bias may conceal is a wider trend in literary criticism and other academic disciplines.
Feminism has encouraged us to be aware of this in recent years, and it represents a major break from the dogma of the Bible. This is just one example—the texts cannot be taken too literally, they need to be questioned.
For reasons like this, Dever spends a lot of time attacking postmodernism without ever really establishing that biblical minimalism is a postmodernist position or that it relies upon postmodernism for its premises. The Sheffield Academic Press publishes papers which take a postmodern stance, but also publishes many of orthodox scholarship. Sometimes the use of postmodernist language like textual “deconstruction” means little more than a fashionable way of saying textual “criticism” or textual “analysis”. So, Dever wastes a lot of time striking out at an easy but ultimately irrelevant target and fails to offer rebuttals of minimalist arguments. Although, in an attempt to save Israel and the United Monarchy, Dever offers evidence that a culturally distinct group was developing in the Palestinian hills by the tenth century BC, he does nothing to rebut the idea that the biblical stories are themselves later cultural products set earlier in time.
The whole subject is absurdly sensitive in the modern day. The study of history benefits enormously from divorcing the bible from it, and viewing the bible from the literary perspective that is more appropriate. Throughout Britain and the United States, the bible is mostly taught on the basis of theology. Theologically is however not the only way to teach it. The study of the bible is also a legitimate humanities discipline, examining its contemporary relevance and its academic validity.
George Athas of the University of Sidney is one of those strange people who think they can be biblical archaeologists and Christian, and remain honest! He tries to pretend, in a university lecture (ATHAS, George, Minimalism: The Copenhagen School of Thought In Biblical Studies, Edited Transcript of Lecture, 3rd Ed, University of Sydney, 1999) he was so proud of he published it on the web, that he is fair to critics of the biblicists (the minimalists), but predictably finishes up apologizing for the biblicists.
When this initial criticism of his piece was published here in 2000, Athas complained bitterly, unable to understand that God would allow someone to criticize such a devout evangelist. In several e-mails, he promised to set the whole of the University of Sidney, if not the Australian nation on to us, if we did not desist from criticizing him. So as not to ruffle his feathers unnecessarily, he seemed so upset, references to him were removed, leaving the piece seeming to attack an anonymous source. Two years on, Athas still has his tendentious paper on the web. He wants to be invisible to his critics and visible only to his admirers.
His lecture transcript begins with a decent review of the Copenhagen (modern) school of biblical investigation then continues with his critique of it. Here we summarize and criticize his critique.
The Copenhagen School
The modern archaeology of ancient Israel has taught us many things. The historical Israel was just like any other nation or people in the Levant. Their houses, cities, products, gods, rites, temples and shrines were essentially the same. Despite our preconceptions from religious studies, the Israelites were no different from other Canaanites.
The bible shows how Moses led the Israelite tribes out of Egypt, they wandered 40 years in the deserts around Sinai, and then Joshua led them into the land of Canaan—the Promised Land. Modern archaeologists can find no evidence of any new group, the newly arrived Israelites. At the time (c 1220 BC), there appears to be hardly anyone living in Canaan at all. The people that do emerge seem no different from those there before. They are farmers who are natives of the land, not immigrant shepherds from Egypt as the bible says.
The modern school allows us to evaluate the bible more objectively. If the artefacts and the bible just do not match up, then the artefacts help us construct a history of ancient Israel from which we can judge the sufficiency of the bible.
The bible emerges as a work of literature not history, so archaeology and the bible will conflict. The bible is a religious narrative that does not have to be true history. If there is history in the bible, it is incidental. Discrepancies with history are to be expected in literary work. The bible was not meant to be history and so should not be scorned as history but appreciated as religious literature.
The biblical texts are all late, written centuries after the events they portray. Form criticism and textual criticism made scholars suspect that the biblical literature was addressed to a small group of people who, under the Persians, were deported and resettled in the land of Judah in the fifth century BC. Archaeology confirms that biblical texts were not written close to the events they describe. Archaeology also showed many biblical events had not happened in history!
If Moses had written the creation accounts as he is said to have done, Egyptian ideas of creation should prevail since Moses was from Egypt. The two Genesis creation accounts are similar to Babylonian creation accounts. Genesis also mentions the “Tower of Babel” and “Ur of the Chaldees”. Yet Moses, the supposed author, lived hundreds of years before and in Egypt, a thousand miles from Babylon and Chaldaea. These accounts must reflect a time Babylon influenced Israel—after 587 BC and in the succeeding Persian period when both Babylon and Israel were under Persian rulership.
The content of the bible is most compatible with it being written in the Persian period, and afterwards. Today, few scholars argue for a pre-exilic dating of the Jewish scriptures. Scholars now argue for their late composition. The late dates reflect a time when the people of Judah were under Persian dominion, from the 5th century and later. Some passages date from the Hellenistic era, post-Alexander, after 333 BC.
Archaeology not Bible
So, we should not use the bible to interpret archaeology because it is story—not a history. The artefacts, not the bible, should firstly inform us about the history of the people who lived in the Levant between 1250 BC onwards. Discrepancies can be attributed to the bible being documents specifically of the Persian era and later—not earlier! The biblical literature reflects a particular ideology. The creation accounts in Genesis are Babylonian creation myths rewritten to make the Jewish God, Yehouah, the god of creation. They promote the ideals of exclusive Yehouism. The God Yehouah ruled over all things.
The modern school uses anthropology, the study of human life and culture, to explain the artefacts, by considering how people adapt to their surroundings. The bible says the tribes of Israel became a fully fledged state under King David c 1000 BC. Letting the artefacts speak on their own, archaeologists could find no evidence for such a fully fledged state.
Archaeologists looking for an empire like David’s, and particularly Solomon’s, expect to find monumental public works like palaces, city walls, roads and inscriptions with written bills of exchange and legal entitlement amongst the ruins. They are not found until the strata are hundreds of years later than the putative empire.
Nor did anthropological studies suggest evidence for any state in northern Israel until c 870 BC, and for a state in Judah until c 750 BC, quite contradicting the bible. In 1000 BC, the southern hill country of Israel, the region of Judah, was devoid of population—not more than three thousand people were there. In the northern hill country, people lived amongst ruins, in detached villages, in a subsistence economy. There are no archaeological or anthropological signs of any state at all.
Treating the bible as literature relieves a lot of the waste of effort of trying to confirm it as historically accurate. It provides answers for the discrepancies between the bible and archaeology. Biblicists had taken the bible to be the prime source, as the word of God, and increasingly were distorting history to force it into a biblical straitjacket. By ignoring the bible, other scientific disciplines like anthropology could usefully be deployed, as it would have been on any other modern archaeological investigation.
Our lecturer praises these ideas as keeping scholars alert, making them look carefully at their scholarship in biblical studies, making them reassess their methods and identify their assumptions and biases. In truth, biblicists are intentionally sloppy in their work, methods, argumentation and conclusions. For long they never expected any challenge and seemed to think that God expected them to make the bible into history or lose their immortal souls. They were therefore more likely to obscure some controversial finding that contradicted the bible than to reveal it.
The Failings of Archaeology
Now, our exponent of biblical bias turns to criticisms of the modern school. He says it has many weaknesses, “but they are subtle,” and “not gapingly obvious,” meaning they are of little practical consequence but are a great relief to biblicists. He even has the nerve to say, “in Biblical Studies, nothing is sacred!” That after biblicists even in modern times have cheated like cardsharps to keep their false belief in the bible alive.
Our expert tries to find some hope by undermining his own discipline of archaeology, proving that Christians will still happily put their faith before their livelihood. The technique he uses is a common one of all apologists, to patronize his opponents hoping to give a non-committed reader the impression that critics are uneducated dunces. When the readers are not dunces, it exposes the apologists as fools themselves, but they expect that their readers will be Christians and will believe anything said by another Christian, especially those that claim some authority. It should not need to be said that many of the critics themselves are Christians, but they are Christians who do not think God needs defending by liars.
So, he tells us archaeology is not an exact science. Oh! You mean it is not like mathematics, or even engineering! Goodness! This witless man actually says:
We cannot dig up an ancient city, take it into a laboratory, put it in a beaker, perform an experiment on it and come up with the history of ancient Israel. The nature of what we are dealing with does not allow this.
Was this really a university lecture, or was it to a local Sunday School of five year olds? Are university students in Australia so thick? Anyway, the job of archaeologists is to see if they can somehow piece together how the artefacts and the ruins got into the state that the archaeologists found them in. Historians reach conclusions by looking at the data the archaeologists find. Go on! You mean they are not digging up DVDs of Ben Hur and the Exodus! How disappointing.
Conquered cities are expected to show signs of the conquest, like burnt debris from fires, bones strewn here and there, some walls knocked down, and so on. One of the points that actually led many scholars to claim that there was no such thing as an Israelite Conquest of Canaan under Joshua, is that no evidence for it exists—no debris, no bones, no broken walls. He wants us to believe the modernists have not considered that a conquest can occur without such debris, and he tells us all about William the Conqueror in 1066 AD who left no traces of broken walls and so on. He ignores here other concomitant signs of conquest such as changes in material culture which certainly happened in England with the Norman conquest but did not happen in Israel with Joshua’s.
He thinks modernists need to know that when destruction occurred in an ancient city, and no one was living there afterwards, there are other explanations besides conquest—earthquakes, plague or disease, or fire. It is biblicists who needed reminding of these simple matters because they have been in the habit of attributing all such broken cities in Palestine to the tribes of Israel, when any of Athas’s other explanations would have been more true, not to mention defeats by other more likely candidates like the Egyptians and the Philistines.
The lecturer then starts to warn us of other matters that his biblicist training makes him throughly familar with. He says many things in archaeology are relative and depend on circular arguments, notably dating, which depends mainly on pottery. Of course, done properly there would be nothing circular about it, but as he admits, “scholars forget that these dates are relative to other things and often treat them as though the dates are absolute when they are not”. Now, it is again biblicists like the notorious schools set up by William Foxwell Albright and his cliques that have made a habit of confusing the picture by doing what our authority pretends to be warning biblicist critics about. Either this man is a fool or he takes his audience to be fools.
Yet he speaks as if those of his ilk are reasonable people seeking honest truth when he says “quite often, new discoveries mean we have to reassess the dating of certain items, just like we did for Solomon’s stables. New discoveries showed us that we had to redate the tripartite structure we thought was Solomon’s stable to a century later”. Quite so, but it was the absurd expectations of biblicists that misdated Solomon’s stables in the first place, it is pressure from modernists that forces reviews of matters like this, and there are people still who prefer to keep them as Solomon’s stables, usually Christian commentators, despite all the contrary evidence. “Quite often,” says this lecturer, “there is an inertia in this process of re-evaluation.” Remember, he is supposed to be telling of the weaknesses of the revisionists’ case but keeps reverting to blatant examples of biblicist cheating. He expects his audience not to know the difference.
One of the most prominent archaeologists in Israel is Israel Finkelstein who is proposing redating all chronologies for tenth and ninth century BC Israel down by one century to the ninth and eighth centuries BC. If this redating were to solve any problems of Palestinian history at the expense of biblical tradition, it will be resisted tooth and nail by the biblicists.
Moving from banality to empty banality, all meant to be criticism of the biblicist critics, he now tells us, “Our picture from archaeology is incomplete.” Oh! We thought archaeologists were really digging for gold! You mean they still have things to discover? Well! Wha’d’ya know! “Our picture of ancient Israel is incomplete and therefore biased.” This is actually desperation. He is hoping that something will turn up. After over a hundred years of digging in Palestine, biblicist are now praying that God will give them a break. If they dig a bit further, they will find Solomon’s palace.
Our expert gets more honest when he says it is a lottery which archaeologist digs up which site. He wants us to think this is quite natural “bias” when it is the biblicist loonies seeing God in every shovelful, versus the modern archaeologists who see no more than they unearth.
In interpretation, there are the two main camps of those who will see nothing other than whatever the artefacts show, and those who will interpret them as broadly as they can to encompass their biblical prejudices. Archaeologists have dug in Jerusalem and found no evidence for a capital city of David. Most think this shows Jerusalem was uninhabited in the tenth century BC, but some think it means Jerusalem flourishing. The reader will guess which is which.
Evidence of Absence?
Biblicists hate this, and so this one pleads the old apologetic stand-by—absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There is no scientist who is not fully aware of this popular saying among the faithful. It is obviously true, but becomes perverse when the absence of evidence is profound—when many searches over one hundred years, in the places where evidence is expected, reveal… nothing!
He shows his desperation: “One day it could happen.” Certainly, tomorrow, the very evidence the biblicists have been seeking could turn up. That is their prayer. But scientists, unable to do determinative experiments, work on the basis of probabilities. The probability is very high, when a great deal of digging over many years in prime sites has revealed nothing, that there is nothing there. Since many, perhaps most, biblicist critics are Christians or Jews, they too would like to see genuine evidence for Solomon or the Conquest, but modernists are honest! They will not twist evidence to fit, and when it does not fit, they say so. Why will those who pretend that they are righteous, because they love God, not do the same? Because they have sinecures to defend, not God.
From correspondence in the Amarna Letters, 14th century BC Jerusalem was ruled by someone called Abdi-Hepa. Otherwise, there is not much other evidence for it, and, from the evidence, a historian might conclude that Jerusalem was only a village. He fatuously warns us that our conclusion—that Jerusalem was unimportant, presumably—does not mean Abdi-Hepa never existed. Quite what he is getting at is anybody’s guess.
The Egyptians had no reason we know of for inventing correspondence with fictitious cities, but our lecturer has no idea whether the “Jerusalem” of the Armarna letters is the Jerusalem of the bible. The quotation marks here show that the Amarna letters do not actually write “Jerusalem”, and in any case, the bible says Jerusalem was not called Jerusalem until David gave it that name in the tenth century. It had been called Salem. This is a typical case of a biblicist eating his sweetie and wanting another one as well—in other words double standards… OK, lying! It also throws up another example of biblicism—it will ignore the bible when it suits.
Instead of even noticing this (or perhaps he noticed all right but it was his intention to deceive), he pretends that the revisionists are opposed to documentary evidence in general, not just the bible. He tells us, “The only reason we know of Abdi-Hepa is because of the actual written documents. If it was not for some of the written documents that we have in our possession now, we would have incomplete and therefore distorted pictures of history and what actually happened.” He adds elsewhere, “Take away all written documents from history, and we just about obliterate 90% of history.” Documents have to be assessed just as pottery has. If there is no reason for thinking documents are tendentious, then they can freely be accepted. That applies to 90 percent of historical documents, but does not apply to the bible. It does apply to the Amarna letters!
Now he proves his total incompetence. He says that we would not have known that William conquered England in 1066 AD if we had not had written documents. It is a stupid surmise, but shows what a dunce he is—and he claims to be an expert lecturing university undergraduates, maybe even postgraduates. Well, they do say standards are falling. This is so stupid, it does not need refuting. The totality of evidence of a conquest in England is so great even without documents that it does not have to be recounted.
Kernel or Nut?
The biblicists are “kernelists” (“nutters”, for short) because, as this man says, biblical literature must reflect some “kernel” of history. The kernel might as well have been a “straw” because that is what he is grasping at. The revisionists are not saying what he says they are, that the bible contains no history, they are saying no one knows what it is. He fails, from his elevated academic position, to notice that no one knows what bits of the bible are true, until they are confirmed externally. Revisionists are pointing out that those who have used the bible to condition their thoughts about Palestinian history, have made a pig’s ear of it. A better method is to ignore the bible and approach the external evidence without a biblical prejudice. That is what he and other Christians cannot do, and that is why they should be excluded from any valuable biblical site and restricted to pulpits.
He now tries to turn this on its head by claiming that the bible is often correct and is confirmed externally. “Archaeologists have found things that are mentioned in the bible.” This is true but he has to come into the later part of the biblical period—when great nations like the Assyrians were keeping reliable records—to find it. He cites the annals of Sennacherib, king of Assyria c 700 BC, just a hundred years before ancient Judah died, as mentioning the King of Judah, King Hezekiah, who was obliged to pay a large amount of tribute to escape with an intact city. An elaborated version of this appears in the bible. The bible shows Hezekiah being saved by God for his faith. God kills off a load of Assyrian soldiers with a nasty angel.
This shows a kernel of real history embedded in the bible, he tells us. It shows a kernel, sure enough, but without the external evidence of the Assyrian tablets who would know what the kernel was? Did Hezekiah pay a ransome to stop Sennacherib or did God send an angel to kill all his soldiers? Since the tribute had been paid and is mentioned in both sources, we can take it to be the historical reason. The part that is unhistoric is the part that shows God in action to save the king and his city. Our man will believe it, but it was unnecessary for God to kill 185,000 soldiers if Sennacherib had been satisified by the payment. Ancient kings did not destroy rich cities out of malice but to punish the inhabitants and to remove a potential problem. They preferred rich cities to pay tribute and become vassals. Hezekiah became a vassal of Sennacherib, but from the bible, we might have thought a murderous angel caused an ignominious retreat.
He relates the fact that there is a tunnel under Jerusalem to allow water to be brought in to the city. The bible and tradition ascribes it to Hezekiah, a king who is also confirmed by signature seals of some Kings of Judah. He does not seem to consider that the tunnel was well known when the bible was written later. That means that the story of Hezekiah could be a later tradition or could have been invented to explain the tunnel. An inscription in the tunnel may or may not be original. That too could have been inscribed in later times, perhaps the time of the Maccabees precisely to confirm the scriptures. Religious forgery is well established, though religious people do not speak about it. He admits that the stories about Hezekiah in the bible were probably written down 150 or 200 years after the events.
Athas summarises with, “we have to constantly review our conclusions in light of new evidence.” Quite so! Why then are the biblicists so reluctant to do it? He seems to answer, “we just do not know what we will discover next. We could find something that turns all our old conclusions on their heads.” To which we say, “So what?” It is another commonplace sentiment, but meanwhile we have the evidence that we have and must base our opinions honestly on that. When something new turns up, we shall assess it in context and revise our conclusions. Only biblicists, who already have conclusions, can wait and pray for something to turn up to confirm them.
He harks back to his theme in more desperation. It is getting a bit weak, though! “The bible is reliable to some extent.” He also has to keep accusing critics of the biblicists as “biased”. It is biased to say that the United Monarchy is a myth, when we have found nothing to show it never existed. Honest! That is what he is trying to say! Listen!
How can we judge whether any incident for which we have not found anything never did happen? Just because we cannot corroborate it here and now does not mean it never happened.
The man’s a Christian. He would say it is biased to say that demons do not exist when we have no evidence to show they do not! Or angels. Or fairies. Or Santa Claus. Or Mother Goose…
He concludes by saying that this revisionism “is just one model or framework with which to do history”, and “it is a biased model, just like any other model that scholars care to use.” After spending all of this repetitive lecture explaining the modern archaeological approach to biblical history, he suddenly tells us there are lots of other models. Well, if these alternative models are that good, why is no one using them, and why does our expert have to waste his students’ time telling them about a model that is no better than lots of others.
The answer is that he is caught in a bind. He cannot deny the effectiveness of the modern approach but he does not like it because it proves that he and other biblicists like him are bigoted dolts. He reviews it apparently fairly then produces a parody of argumentation to refute what he has already praised. In so doing he uses the very abuses of the system that a previous generation of biblicists like himself have used to confuse biblical archaeology to uphold their biblical obsessions.
He says modernism claims to eliminate many of the biases of the old school of biblicist historians, but it just creates new ones, and scholars must judge what they will choose. It proves that he never had any idea about scientific methodology, or if he ever did, he has subsumed it to his Christian dogmatism. Either way, he is not a scientist and should not be let loose on any archaeological site or sample.
No model or method can claim to be completely objective and watertight at the same time.
No model can claim to be unequivocally either separately, but scientists should choose the best one going, not the one they prefer based on their whims. If natural scientists had done that we should still be discussing the merits of phlogiston. This man is doing what earlier and far more senior biblical archaeologists who hold to Judaism or Christianity have done. He is trying his best to keep the waters cloudy as other more principled people try to clear them.
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