The Bible and history

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[neutrality disputed]

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The historicity of the Bible addresses in what ways the Bible is historically accurate; the extent to which it can be used as a historic source and what qualifications should be applied, from the academic viewpoint.


[edit] About

[edit] Manuscripts and canons: What is the Bible?

The Bible exists in multiple manuscripts, none of them original, and multiple canons, none of which completely agree on which books have authority.

To determine the textual accuracy of a copied manuscript, textual critics scrutinize the way the transcripts have passed through history to their later forms. There are no original documents. The higher the volume of the earliest texts (and their parallels to each other), the greater the textual reliability and the less chance that the transcript's content has been changed over the years. Still there are families of texts, see New Testament text types. There are more than minor (copyist errors, spelling, etc.) differences. These problems also arise in the earliest surviving texts of the Old Testament books, as shown by the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (the two are almost, but not exactly, the same canon of books) was written largely in Hebrew with a few exceptions in Aramaic. Today it exists in several traditions, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint (a Greek translation widely used in the period from the 3rd century BC to roughly the 5th century AD, and still regarded as authoritative by the Orthodox Christian churches), the Samaritan Torah, and others. Variations between these traditions are useful for reconstructing the most likely original text, and for tracing the intellectual histories of various Jewish and Christian communities. The "original" text itself is not available to us except through these reconstructions - the very oldest fragment resembling part of the text of the Hebrew Bible so far discovered is a small silver amulet, dating from approximately 600 BCE, and containing a version of the Priestly Blessing ("May God make his face to shine upon you...").

The New Testament was originally written in Greek, of which 5,650 handwritten copies have survived[citation needed]. When other languages are included, the total of ancient copies approaches 25,000. The next "ancient" text to come close to rivaling that number is Homer's Iliad which is thought to have survived in 643 ancient copies[citation needed]. Recognizing this, F. E. Peters remarked that "on the basis of manuscript tradition alone, the works that make up the Christians' New Testament texts were the most frequently copied and widely circulated [surviving] books of antiquity". (This may be due to their preservation, popularity, and distribution brought about by the ease of seaborne travel and the many roads constructed during the time of the Roman Empire). When a comparison is made between the seven major critical editions of the Greek NT verse-by-verse namely Tischendorf, Westcott-Hort, von Soden, Vogels, Merk, Bover, and Nestle-Aland, only 62.9% come up variant free[1]. Still at the time of Constantine the Great, only perhaps 10% of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire were Christian. By the authority of a list written by Irenaeus in the first part of the second century, the Church, under the Eastern Roman Empire, selected four gospels deemed to have preserved the authentic tradition. Irenaeus invoked a curious logic: there are four corners to the earth, there are four winds, there are four beasts of the apocalypse.[2]. The many other gospels that then existed were deemed non-canonical (see Biblical canon) and suppressed (see Gospel of Thomas). The collection of books, known as the Biblical Canon, was promulgated in 382 at the Council of Rome, and in 1543-1565 at the Council of Trent. The gospels and many of the New Testament epistles are now widely regarded by modern scholars as anonymous or pseudonymous(see Higher criticism).

The archaeologist William Dever, discussing the role of his discipline in interpreting the Biblical record, has pointed out that there are in fact multiple histories within the Bible, including the history of theology (the relationship between God and believers), political history (usually the account of "Great Men"), narrative history (the chronology of events), intellectual history (ideas and their development, context and evolution), socio-cultural history (institutions, including their social underpinnings in family, clan, tribe and social class and the state), cultural history (overall cultural evolution, demography, socio-economic and political structure and ethnicity), technological history (the techniques by which humans adapt to, exploit and make use of the resources of their environment), natural history (how humans discover and adapt to the ecological facts of their natural environment), and material history (artefacts as correlates of changes in human behaviour). Dever notes that the role of archaeology increases as one goes down this list, and that archaeologist's interpretations of the written record can differ markedly from the record itself.

Most importantly for the historian, the authors were not engaged in writing what we would now recognise as an objective and balanced history, but rather they were engaged in writing subjective accounts in awe of a personal experience, though often of the view held by a literate group of followers of Judaism. Within these documents, the history of humankind is seen as an ongoing relationship of humans in the Middle East to the God of the Hebrew tradition, known as Yahweh.

Many—though not all—of the events, names of monarchs, and identification of places can be found confirmed by non Biblical Iron Age sources, texts found through archaeological excavations in neighbouring states, and by archaeological surveys and excavations within the area of historic Judah and Israel, though materials dating to the previous Bronze Age are very few. But there have been, even within this material, major discussions, debates and arguments. Conservative religious historians, as seen below, are accused by liberal religious historians, of pressing the interpretation of historical facts to fit specific Biblical interpretation, while liberal historians are criticised by conservative historians for not placing greater faith in the Biblical record as a reliable source for history.

[edit] Overview of academic views

Within the academic community, the main discussion revolves around how much weight to give the text of the Bible against counter-evidence or lack of evidence. Generally those giving more weight to the text of the Bible, assuming its correctness unless proven otherwise, and tending to interpret it literally, are called Biblical maximalists, while the opposing view is Biblical minimalism. The debate between the two sides is inextricably tied to how one views historiography: they disagree over how much weight documentary and indirect evidence should be given. Biblical maximalists view the Biblical narrative as a starting point for constructing the history, and correct or reinterpret it where it is contradicted by archaeological evidence. Biblical minimalists start purely from the archaeological evidence, and only consider Biblical accounts of value if they are corroborated by the archaeological evidence.

One of the reasons for the conflict between the maximalist and minimalist schools of thought is the amount of archaeological data found and the estimates of the potential amount of archaeological material found and worked on. Conservatives estimate that only about 2% of the potential archeological material has been found and worked on. [3] [4] The Biblical conservative historian, Edwin M. Yamauchi in his work The Stones and the Scriptures summed up the conservative point of view when he wrote, "Historians of antiquity in using the archeological evidence have very often failed to realize how slight is the evidence at our disposal. It would not be exaggerating to point out that what we have is but one fraction of a second fraction of a third fraction of a fourth fraction of a fifth fraction of the possible evidence". Yamauchi estimated in The Stones and the Scriptures that a generous estimate would be that 1/1000 of the archaeological material that once existed has actually been published. Minimalists, on the other hand, argue that what has been found so far is an unselected and fairly typical representative sample of what remains to be discovered, and argue a higher amount of archaeological material would more likely contradict the literal inerrant interpretation of the Biblical evidence, than would confirm it. They argue that Biblical conservatives argue from the point of view of the absence of evidence. Conservatives argue that this does not mean evidence of absence. (Egyptologists excavating the Port city of Mendes, the village of Deir al-Medinah and the Valley of Kings estimate around 10% of sites have been excavated. In Israel, sites excavated greatly outnumber those in any other region of the ancient Near East). Such low figures indicate minimalist and maximalists basing their arguments on the "final evidence," rather than on the "focus", of archaeology are both arriving at very hasty conclusions. Minimalist and maximalist both agree, however, that although the number of parties interested in Biblical archaeology has increased, the political instability and commercial development of the Biblical lands is hampering the collection of relevant archaeological material.

As for any other written source, an educated weighting of the Biblical text requires knowledge of when it was written, by whom, and for what purpose. For example, most academics of both persuasions would agree that the Pentateuch was in existence some time shortly after the 6th century BCE. One popular hypothesis points to the reign of Josiah (7th century BCE). This topic is expanded upon in dating the Bible. This means that the events of, for example, Exodus happened centuries before they were finally edited.

Finally, an important point to keep in mind is the documentary hypothesis, which using the Biblical evidence itself, can demonstrate that our current version was based on older written sources that were lost. (See documentary hypothesis for details.) Although it has been modified heavily over the years, most scholars accept some form of this hypothesis (the Vatican estimates 90% of scholars). There have also been and are a number of scholars who reject it, for example Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen and the late Umberto Cassuto and Gleason Archer.

[edit] Maximalist - Minimalist Dichotomy

The splitting of Biblical Scholarship into two opposing schools is strongly resisted by non-fundamentalist Biblical scholars, as being an attempt by so-called "conservative" Christians to portray the field as a bipolar argument, of which only one side is correct[5]. Examination of the so-called "liberal/secular" views in detail shows many differences of opinion, clearly demonstrating that to portray Biblical scholarship in such "us" against "them" terms reflects a particular sectarian point of view, not supported by the evidence.

The recently published work, "The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel" by Israel Finkelstein, Amihai Mazar, and Brian B. Schmidt[6], argues that Post-processual archaeology enables us to recognise the existence of a middle ground between Minimalism and Maximalism, and that both these extremes need to be rejected. Archaeology offers both confirmation of parts of the Biblical record and also poses challenges to the naive interpretations made by some. The careful examination of the evidence demonstrates that the historical accuracy of the first part of the Old Testament is greatest during the reign of Josiah and that the accuracy diminishes, the further backwards one proceeds from this date. The authors claim that this would confirm that a major redaction of the texts seems to have occurred at about that date. This is not to claim that there are no earlier survivals drawn either from oral traditions or earlier archives, but that these materials are less and less accurate the earlier the period that is examined.

[edit] Hebrew bible

[edit] The history books of the Hebrew bible

The Hebrew bible is not a single book but rather a collection of texts, most of them anonymous, and most of them the product of more or less extensive editing prior to reaching their modern form. These texts are in many different genres, but three distinct blocks approximating modern narrative history can be made out, namely the Deuteronomic history, [7] the Chronicler's History, comprising Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah,[8] and the Pentateuch (or Torah, to give its Hebrew title), made up of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

[edit] Chronicler's History

The Books of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah were the last of the three histories to be composed, and date from the post-Exilic period (approximately the 5th and 4th centuries BC). In the 19th century it was believed that they came from a single author, but modern scholars recognize that they contain significant differences which make this impossible. Nevertheless, they do have great similarities, and are still frequently treated as a unit.

Chronicles begins with a genealogy of Adam, but devotes most of its pages to the history of Judah from David onwards. It ends with the Judahites in exile in Babylon, Babylon's conquest by the Persians under Cyrus, and Cyrus' call for the exiles to return to their land, c.540 BCE. The last words of Chronicles are repeated as the first words of Ezra-Nehemiah, which takes the story a little further forward to about 450 BCE.

[edit] Pentateuch

[edit] Genesis 1-11, the "Primeval Narrative"

Until the 18th century the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were largely accepted as reliable history, dictated by God to Moses: among both scholars and laypeople, few if any doubted that the earth was created some 4,000 thousand years before the birth of Christ, and that the Garden of Eden, the Flood and the Tower of babel, Abraham and the Exodus, and all subsequent narrative, were real history. The growth of the sciences in the 18th century - notably geology and the Theory of Evolution, - threw the first few chapters of Genesis into doubt, and by the end of the 19th century few scientists, and not many lay-people, saw the first eleven chapters of Genesis as representing real events. The general opinion among non-creationist bible scholars today is that Genesis 1-11, taking in the cycle of stories from the Creation to the "generations of Terah", is a highly schematic literary work representing theology rather than history.[9]

[edit] Genesis 1-12 to Deuteronomy

The position of the remainder of the Pentateuch is more complex. By the end of the 19th century the consensus view among biblical scholars was that the Pentateuch as whole was the work of many authors over many centuries, but that that those centuries stretched from the 10th BC (the time of David) to the 5th (the time of Ezra), and that the history it contained was polemical rather than strictly factual. By the first half of the 20th century Hermann Gunkel had drawn attention to the mythic aspects of the Pentateuch, and Albrecht Alt, Martin Noth and the tradition history school argued that although its core traditions had genuinely ancient roots, the narratives were fictional framing devices and were not intended as history in the modern sense. In America the biblical archaeology movement, under the influence of William F. Albright, argued that the broad outline within the framing narratives was also true, so that while scholars could not realistically expect to prove or disprove individual episodes from the life of Abraham, Abraham himself was a real individual who could be placed in a context proven from the archaeological record.

In the second half of the century there came a growing recognition that archaeology did not in fact support the claims made by Albright and his followers, and that the critical methodologies of source criticism and form criticism are highly subjective. Today, while a minority of ultra-conservative scholars continue to work within the old framework, the mainstream sees Albright's views as problematic[10][11]and the Pentateuch as a product of the latter half of the 1st millennium BCE.[12][13]

[edit] Deuteronomic history

The scholarly history of the Deuteronomic history parallels that of the Pentateuch: the European tradition history school argued that the narrative was untrustworthy and could not be used to construct a narrative history, while the American biblical archaeology school argued that it could when tested against the archaeological record. The test case was the book of Joshua and its account of a rapid, destructive conquest of the Canaanite cities: but by the 1960s it had become clear that the archaeological record did not, in fact, support the account of the conquest given in Joshua: the cities which the bible records as having been destroyed by the Israelites were either uninhabited at the time, or, if destroyed, were destroyed at widely different times, not in one brief period.

Thomas L. Thompson, a leading minimalist scholar for example has written

"There is no evidence of a United Monarchy, no evidence of a capital in Jerusalem or of any coherent, unified political force that dominated western Palestine, let alone an empire of the size the legends describe. We do not have evidence for the existence of kings named Saul, David or Solomon; nor do we have evidence for any temple at Jerusalem in this early period. What we do know of Israel and Judah of the tenth century does not allow us to interpret this lack of evidence as a gap in our knowledge and information about the past, a result merely of the accidental nature of archeology. There is neither room nor context, no artifact or archive that points to such historical realities in Palestine's tenth century. One cannot speak historically of a state without a population. Nor can one speak of a capital without a town. Stories are not enough."

Proponents of this theory also point to the fact that the division of the land into two entities, centered at Jerusalem and Shechem, goes back to the Egyptian rule of Israel in the New Kingdom. Solomon's empire is said to have stretched from the Euphrates in the north to the Red Sea in the south; it would have required a large commitment of men and arms and a high level of organization to conquer, subdue, and govern this area. But there is little archaeological evidence of Jerusalem being a sufficiently large city in the 10th century BCE (although a still controversial recent discovery might change that), and Judah seems to be sparsely settled in that time period. Since Jerusalem has been destroyed and then subsequently rebuilt approximately 15 to 20 times since the time of David and Solomon, fundamentalists argue much of the evidence could easily have been destroyed; still, evidence from the Middle Bronze Age and later in the Iron Age has been found in the city, only that of David and Solomon seems missing. The conquests of David and Solomon are also not mentioned in contemporary histories (which are rather meager, since other empires were in decline at the time), which admittedly is an argument from silence. Culturally, the Bronze Age collapse is otherwise a period of general cultural impoverishment of the whole Levantine region, making it difficult to consider the existence of any large territorial unit such as the Davidic kingdom, whose cultural features rather seem to resemble the later kingdom of Hezekiah or Josiah than the political and economic conditions of the 11th century. Moreover the Biblical account makes no claim that they directly governed the areas included in their empires which are portrayed instead as tributaries[citation needed]. However, since the discovery of a 9th century BC inscription at Tel Dan at the north of Israel, referring to the "house of David" as a monarchic dynasty, it is more common to assume David was a real historical figure, who's reign stretched further northern than thought before. This is still hotly disputed, as well as a heated debate extends as to whether the united monarchy, the vast empire of King Solomon, and the rebellion of Jeroboam ever existed, or whether they are a late fabrication.

Once again there is a problem here with the sources for this period of history. There are no contemporary independent documents other than the claimed accounts of the Books of Samuel, which clearly shows too many anachronisms to have been a contemporary account. For example there is mention of coined money (1 Samuel 13:21), late armor (1 Samuel 17-4-7, 38-39; 25:13), use of camels (1 Samuel 30:17) and cavalry (as distinct from chariotry) (1 Samuel 13:5, 2 Samuel 1:6), iron picks and axes (as though they were common, 2 Samuel 12:31), sophisticated siege techniques (2 Samuel 20:15), there is a gargantuan troop (2 Samuel 17:1), a battle with 20,000 casualties (2 Samuel 18:7), and refer to Kushite paramilitary and servants, clearly giving evidence of a date in which Kushites were common, after the 26th Dynasty of Egypt, the period of the last quarter of the eighth century.[14]

It is generally assumed that the Biblical account of the history of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, as presented in the Books of Kings, is largely historical, even if not unbiased. Archeological evidence and chronologies of neighboring countries have corroborated the general picture presented in the Bible, although not every detail. For example, the existence of King Ahab is corroborated in Assyrian chronology, where he is mentioned as having participated in the Battle of Karkar. King Omri of Israel is mentioned in the Mesha Stele. The Biblical account says nothing of Mesha's revolt, while Mesha in his turn says nothing of the campaign described in 2 Kings 3. Neither document implies that the events described in the other did not occur; the two are written from two different points of view and their authors selected the events which suited the purpose of the respective writers.[15] Some later kings who paid tribute to Assyria are mentioned in Assyrian records, although these same records claim Jehu was a king of the House of Omri, suggesting that he may have been related in some way to Ahab.

[edit] New Testament

[edit] Historicity of Jesus

The historicity, teachings, and nature of Jesus are currently debated among Biblical scholars. The "quest for the historical Jesus" began as early as the 18th century, and has continued to this day. The most notable recent scholarship came in the 1980s and 90's with the work of J.D. Crossan[16], James D.G. Dunn[17], John P. Meier[18], E.P. Sanders[19] and N.T. Wright [20] being the most widely read and discussed. The earliest New Testament texts which refer to Jesus, Paul's letters, are usually dated in the 50s CE. Since Paul records very little of Jesus' life and activities, these are of little help in determining facts about the life of Jesus, although they may contain references to information given to Paul from the eyewitnesses of Jesus.[21]

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, too, has had a major effect undermining some of the uniqueness of the early message of the Jesus movement, through showing that 1st century Judaism was in fact far more diverse than a reading of Josephus suggests. For example the expectation of the coming messiah, the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount and much else of the early Christian movement are found to have existed within apocalyptic Judaism of the period. This has had the effect of centering early Christianity much more within its Jewish roots than was previously the case. It is now recognised that Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity are only two of the many strands which survived the Jewish revolt of 66 to 70 CE.[22][23]

Many modern scholars hold that the canonical Gospel accounts were written between 70 and 110 CE, four to six decades after the crucifixion, although based on earlier traditions and texts, such as "Q," sayings gospels, the passion account or other earlier literature (See List of Gospels). Some argue that these accounts were compiled by non-witnesses,[24] although this view is disputed by Christian apologists.[25] There are also secular references to the life of Jesus, although they are few and quite late. Almost all historical critics agree, however, that a historical figure named Jesus taught throughout the Galilean countryside c. 30 CE, was believed by his followers to have performed supernatural acts, and was sentenced to death by the Romans possibly for insurrection.[26]

The absence of evidence of Jesus' life before his meeting with John the Baptist has led to many speculations. It would seem that part of the explanation may lie in the early conflict between Paul and the Desposyni Ebionim, led by James the Just, supposedly the brother of Jesus, that led to Gospel passages critical of Jesus' family[27]

[edit] Historicity of the Gospels

For the historicity of New Testament stories, see:

[edit] Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea until 44 CE. According to the Gospels and Josephus, Pilate sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion for insurrection. The first physical evidence relating to Pilate was discovered in 1961, when a block of black limestone was found in the Roman theatre at Caesarea Maritima, a port city in the province of Iudaea, bearing a damaged dedication by Pilate of a Tiberieum.[28] This dedication states that he was [...]ECTVS IUDA[...] (usually read as praefectus iudaeae), that is, prefect/governor of Iudaea.

[edit] Marginal views

Popular writers such as Immanuel Velikovsky, Donovan Courville and others believe that the lack of archeological attestation of biblical figures is due to errors in the traditional chronology or the dating of archaeological strata. Velikovsky's theories were rejected outright by the scientific community and refuted in detail (see Immanuel Velikovsky). More recent theories, notably those of Egyptologists David Rohl and Peter James are viewed with cautious interest by the scientific community but have not gained widespread acceptance. Indeed, a re-dating on the order of 300 years, as they proposed, is strongly rejected by leading Egyptologists and Assyriologists, notably Prof. Kenneth Kitchen. (see Chronology of the Ancient Near East).

[edit] Christ myth theory

The Christ myth theory is that the Jesus we know from the Bible today has many elements that come from the mystery cults. They suggest that this process of assimilation is similar to the way in which peoples in Latin America and Africa have often incorporated elements of their traditional faiths into their newly-adopted Christianity. The New Testament (written in Greek) indicates that the largest number of early Christians came from the conversion of adherents to Judaism. Within a short time after the Resurrection, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and converted Gentiles of various religious backgrounds. They retained many of their religious practices: singing, the playing of music, art, etc.

They also point out that even in European traditions, the celebration of the date of Jesus' birth (midnight 24 December) is taken from a pre-existing pagan practice (the winter solstice). Still, the birth of Jesus was not adopted or known to be practiced by Christians until the second century.[citation needed]

[edit] Schools of archaeological and historical thought

There are two loosely defined historical schools of thought with regard to the historicity of the Bible, biblical minimalism and biblical maximalism, as well as a non-historical method of reading the Bible, the traditional religious reading of the Bible.

Note that historical opinions fall on a spectrum, rather than in two tightly defined camps. Since there is a wide range of opinions regarding the historicity of the Bible, it should not be surprising that any given scholar may have views that fall anywhere between these two loosely defined camps.

[edit] Biblical minimalism

Biblical minimalists generally hold that the Bible is principally a theological and apologetic work, and all stories within it are of an aetiological character. The early stories are held to have a historical basis that was reconstructed centuries later, and the stories possess at most only a few tiny fragments of genuine historical memory—which by their definition are only those points which are supported by archaeological discoveries. In this view, all of the stories about the Biblical patriarchs are fictional, and the patriarchs mere legendary eponyms to describe later historical realities. Further, Biblical minimalists hold that the twelve tribes of Israel were a later construction, the stories of King David and King Saul were modeled upon later Irano-Hellenistic examples, and that there is no archaeological evidence that the united kingdom of Israel, which the Bible says that David and Solomon ruled over an empire from the Euphrates to Eilath, ever existed.

"It is hard to pinpoint when the movement started but 1968 seems to be a reasonable date. During this year, two prize winning essays were written in Copenhagen; one by Niels Peter Lemche, the other by Heike Friis, which advocated a complete rethinking of the way we approach the Bible and attempt to draw historical conclusions from it"[29]

In published books, one of the early advocates of the current school of thought known as Biblical minimalism is Giovanni Garbini, Storia e ideologia nell'Israele antico (1986), translated into English as History and Ideology in Ancient Israel (1988). In his footsteps followed Thomas L. Thompson with his lengthy Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written & Archaeological Sources (1992) and, building explicitly on Thompson's book, P. R. Davies' shorter work, In Search of 'Ancient Israel' (1992). In the latter, Davies finds historical Israel only in archaeological remains, Biblical Israel only in Scripture, and recent reconstructions of "ancient Israel" are an unacceptable amalgam of the two. Thompson and Davies see the entire Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as the imaginative creation of a small community of Jews at Jerusalem during the period which the Bible assigns to after the return from the Babylonian exile, from 539 BCE onward. Niels Peter Lemche, Thompson's fellow faculty member at the University of Copenhagen, also followed with several titles that show Thompson's influence, including The Israelites in history and tradition (1998). The presence of both Thompson and Lemche at the same institution has led to the use of the term "Copenhagen school".

[edit] Biblical maximalism

The term "maximalism" is something of a misnomer, and many people incorrectly relate this to Biblical inerrancy. Most maximalists, however, are not Biblical inerrantists.

Most Biblical maximalists accept many findings of modern historical studies and archaeology and agree that one needs to be cautious in teasing out the true from the false in the Bible. However, maximalists hold that the core stories of the Bible indeed tell us about actual historical events, and that the later books of the Bible are more historically based than the earlier books.

Archaeology tells us about historical eras and kingdoms, ways of life and commerce, beliefs and societal structures; however only in extremely rare cases does archaeological research provide information on individual families. Thus, archaeology was not expected to, and indeed has not, provided any evidence to confirm or deny the existence of the Biblical patriarchs. As such, Biblical maximalists are divided on this issue. Some hold that many or all of these patriarchs were real historical figures, but that we should not take the Bible's stories about them as historically accurate, even in broad strokes. Others hold that it is likely that some or all of these patriarchs are better classified as fictional creations, with only the slightest relation to any real historical persons in the distant past.

Biblical maximalists agree that the twelve tribes of Israel did indeed exist, even though they do not necessarily believe the Biblical description of their origin. Biblical maximalists are in agreement that important biblical figures, such as King David and King Saul did exist, that the Biblical kingdoms of Israel also existed, and that Jesus was a historical figure.

Note, however, there is a wide array of positions that one can hold within this school, and some in this school overlap with biblical minimalists. As noted above, historical opinions fall on a spectrum, rather than in two tightly defined camps.

[edit] Decreasing conflict between the maximalist and minimalist schools

In 2001, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman published the book The Bible Unearthed. Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts which advocated a view midway toward Biblical minimalism and caused an uproar among many conservatives. The 25th anniversary issue of Biblical Archeological Review (March/April 2001 edition), editor Hershel Shanks quoted several biblical scholars who insisted that minimalism was dying, [4] although leading minimalists deny this and a claim has been made "We are all minimalists now"[30]. In 2003, Kenneth Kitchen, a scholar who adopts a more maximalist point of view, authored the book On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Kitchen advocated the reliability of many (though not all) parts of the Torah and in no uncertain terms criticizes the work of Finkelstein and Silberman, to which Finkelstein has since responded.

Writing about scholars who 'are completely deaf and blind to clear evidence', Jennifer Wallace describes the view of archaeologist Israel Finkelstein in her article Shifting Ground in the Holy Land, appearing in Smithsonian Magazine, May 2006:

He [Finkelstein] cites the fact – now accepted by most archaeologists – that many of the cities Joshua is supposed to have sacked in the late 13th century B.C. had ceased to exist by that time. Hazor was destroyed in the middle of that century, Ai was abandoned before 2000 B.C. Even Jericho, where Joshua is said to have brought the walls tumbling down by circling the city seven times with blaring trumpets, was destroyed in 1500 B.C. Now controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the Jericho site consists of crumbling pits and trenches that testify to a century of fruitless digging.

However, despite problems with the archaeological record, some maximalists place Joshua in the mid second millennium, at about the time the Egyptian Empire came to rule over Canaan, and not the 13th century as Finkelstein or Kitchen claim, and view the destruction layers of the period as corroboration of the Biblical account. The destruction of Hazor in the mid 13th century is seen as corroboration of the Biblical account of the later destruction carried out by Deborah and Barak as recorded in the Book of Judges. The location that Finkelstein refers to as "Ai" is generally dismissed as the Biblical Ai as it was destroyed and buried in the 3rd millennium. The prominent site has been known by that name since at least Hellenistic times, if not before. Minimalists all hold that dating these events as contemporary are etiological explanations written centuries after the events they claim to report.

David Ussishkin argues that those who follow the biblical depiction of a united monarchy do so on the basis of limited evidence while hoping to uncover real archaeological proof in the future[31]. Gunnar Lehmann suggests that there is still a possibility that David and Solomon were able to become local chieftains of some importance, but he shows that Jerusalem at the time was at best a small town in a sparsely populated area in which alliances of tribal kinship groups formed the basis of society. Jerusalem was at best a small regional centre, one of three to four in the territory of Judah and neither David nor Solomon had the manpower or the requisite social/political/administrative structure to rule the kind of empire described in the Bible[32].

Recently Finkelstein has joined with the more conservative Ahimai Mazar, to explore the areas of agreement and disagreement and there are signs the intensity of the debate between the so-called minimalist and maximalist scholars is diminishing[33]. This view is also taken by Richard S. Hess,[34] which shows there is in fact a plurality of views, not the simple schematic, favoured by conservatives, between maximalists and minimalists. Jack Cargil[35]has recently shown that popular textbooks not only fail to give readers the up to date archaeological evidence, but that they also fail to correctly represent the diversity of views present on the subject.

[edit] Archaeology and modern Israeli politics

Biblical archaeology is sometimes politically controversial, especially when it touches on the United Monarchy period, as some Israelis seek to use the existence of the Kingdom as support for a Greater Israel today. Arguments against the historicity of the Kingdom (or perhaps an existence in a smaller and less impressive form), or against the historicity of a recognisable Exodus, has led to charges of anti-Semitism from Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review.[citation needed]

[edit] See also

Historicity of Biblical stories

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ K. Aland and B. Aland, The Text Of The New Testament: An Introduction To The Critical Editions & To The Theory & Practice Of Modern Text Criticism, 1995, op. cit., p. 29.
  2. ^ The emergence of the Canon
  3. ^ "Archaeology and the Old Testament"
  4. ^ "Archaeology And The Legitimacy Of The Bible"
  5. ^ Spong, John Shelby (1992) "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism" (Harper)
  6. ^ Schmidt, Brian J (Ed)(2007)"The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel" (Bible Society Press)
  7. ^ Noth's Uberlieferungsgeschichtliche Studien was translated into English as The Deuteronomic History (1981) and The Chronicler's History (1987). For a brief overview, see David M. Howard, review of The History of Israel's Traditions: The Heritage of Martin Noth, 1997.
  8. ^ For a comprehensive overview of the Chronicler's History, see Ralph Klein, "Chronicles, Books of", in his "The Old Testament and the Ancient Near East; see also Barry Bandstra, "Chronicler's History as a whole".
  9. ^ Gordon Wenham, "Exploring the Old Testament: Vol. 1, The Pentateuch", ch.2, Genesis 1-11, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003.
  10. ^ Mazar, Amihai(1993), "Archaeology of the Lands of the Bible" (Lutterworth Press)
  11. ^ Devers, William (2006)"Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?" (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
  12. ^ Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil Asher (2001), The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (Free Press)
  13. ^ Alberto Soggin, J. (1985), "A History of Ancient Israel: From the Beginnings to the Bar Kochba Revolt, A.D. 135" (Westminister Press) and (1989), "Introduction to the Old Testament" (Presbyterian Publishing Corporation)
  14. ^ Redford, Donald, op cit, p.305
  15. ^ George A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible, American Sunday-School Union, 7th ed., 1937: 461-462
  16. ^ J.D. Crossan, "The Historical Jesus: A Mediterranean Jewish Peasant," HarperOne, 1993
  17. ^ James D.G. Dunn, "Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1, Eerdmans, 2003"
  18. ^ John P. Meier, "A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, 3 vols., the most recent volume from Yale University Press, 2001"
  19. ^ E.P. Sanders, "The Historical Figure of Jesus," Penguin, 1996
  20. ^ N.T. Wright, "Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 2, Augsburg Fortress Press, 1997"
  21. ^ John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew Volume I, Doubleday, 1991.
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ Hershel Shanks, (1993) "Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader From the Biblical Archaeology Review", (Vintage Press)
  24. ^ Bart Ehrman in a debate with William Lane Craig here
  25. ^ Richard Bauckham, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses," Eerdmans, 2006, see also Samuel Byrskog, "Story as History,; History as Story," Brill, 2002
  26. ^ John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew Volume II, Doubleday, 1994.
  27. ^ [2]
  28. ^ Clayton Miles Lehmann and Kenneth G. Holum, _The Greek and Latin Inscriptions of Caesarea Maritima_, in the book series The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima: Excavation Reports, no. 5, series editors Robert J. Bull, Edgar Krentz, and Olin J. Storvick, ASOR editor Larry G. Herr (Boston, Mass.: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2000), pp. 67-70, item 43, "Pontius Pilate Dedicates a Building for Tiberius," with a photograph labelled plate XXXVI; the end-notes to pages 67-71 are on p. 249. The word Tiberieum is otherwise unknown: some scholars speculate that it was some kind of structure, perhaps a temple, built to honor the emperor Tiberius.
  29. ^ George Athas, 'Minimalism': The Copenhagen School of Thought in Biblical Studies, edited transcript of lecture, 3rd ed., University of Sydney, April 29, 1999.
  30. ^
  31. ^ Ussishkin, David, "Solomon's Jerusalem: The Texts and the Facts on the Ground" in Vaughn Andrew G. and Killebrew, Ann E. eds. (2003), "Jerusalem in Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period" (SBL Symposium Series 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature)
  32. ^ Lehrmann, Gunnar, "The United Monarchy in the Countryside: Jerusalem, Judah, and the Shephelah during the Tenth Century BCE", in Vaughn Andrew G. and Killebrew, Ann E. eds. (2003), "Jerusalem in Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period" (SBL Symposium Series 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature)
  33. ^ Finkelstein, Israel; Mazar, Ahimai and Schmidt, Brian *2007), "The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel" (Society of Biblical Literature)
  34. ^ Hess, Richard S. (2007)"Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey" (Baker Academic)
  35. ^ [3]

[edit] References

  • Biran, Avraham. "'David' Found at Dan." Biblical Archaeology Review 20:2 (1994): 26-39.
  • Cassuto, Umberto. The documentary hypothesis and the composition of the Pentateuch: eight lectures by U. Cassuto. Translated from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams. Pp. xii, 117. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1961
  • Coogan, Michael D. "Canaanites: Who Were They and Where Did They Live?" Bible Review 9:3 (1993): 44ff.
  • Davies, Philip R. 1992, 2nd edition 1995, reprinted 2004.In Search of 'Ancient Israel' . Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
  • Dawood, N.J. 1978. Tales from the Arabian Nights, Doubleday, A delightful children's version translated from the original Arabic.
  • Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil A. 2001 The Bible Unearthed. New York: Simon and Schuster
  • Garbini, Giovanni. 1988. History and Ideology in Ancient Israel. Translated by John Bowden from the original Italian edition. New York: Crossroad.
  • Harpur, Tom. 2004. "The Pagan Christ. Recovering the Lost Light" Thomas Allen Publishers, Toronto.
  • Kitchen, Kenneth A. 2003 On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
  • Lemche, Niels P. 1998. The Israelites in History and Tradition London : SPCK ; Louisville, Ky. : Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Na'aman, Nadav. 1996 ."The Contribution of the Amarna Letters to the Debate on Jerusalem's Political Position in the Tenth Century B.C.E." BASOR. 304: 17-27.
  • Na'aman, Nadav. 1997 "Cow Town or Royal Capital: Evidence for Iron Age Jerusalem." Biblical Archaeology Review. 23, no. 4: 43-47, 67.
  • Noth, Martin, "Uberlieferungsgeschichtliche Studien", 1943; English translation as "The Deuteronomistic History", Sheffield, 1981, and "The Chronicler's History", Sheffield, 1987.
  • Mazar, Amihai. 1992. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible: 10,000-586 B.C.E. New York: Doubleday.
  • Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies. Manchester U. Press, 1975.
  • Shanks, Hershel. 1995. Jerusalem: An Archaeological Biography. New York: Random House.
  • Shanks, Hershel. 1997 "Face to Face: Biblical Minimalists Meet Their Challengers." Biblical Archaeology Review. 23, no. 4: 26-42, 66.
  • Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God, Eerdmans, 2002 (1st edition 1990)
  • Steiner, Margareet and Jane Cahill. "David's Jerusalem: Fiction or Reality?" Biblical Archaeology Review 24:4 (1998): 25-33, 62-63; 34-41, 63. This article presents a debate between a Biblical minimalist and a Biblical maximalist.
  • Thomas L. Thompson. 1999. The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past. London.
  • ________. 1992. The Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written and Archaeological Sources. Leiden and New York: Brill.
  • William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2001
  • Wood, Bryant G., "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence," Biblical Archaeological Review 16(2) (March/April 1990): 44-58.
  • Yamauchi, Edwin, The Stones and the Scriptures. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1972.

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