‘Minimalism’ The Copenhagen School of Thought in Biblical Studies :
The following is an edited transcript of a lecture given by George Athas to students at the University of Sydney in the first year course “Biblical Studies” on April 29th, 1999. Since this paper is a transcript note, it is not to be read as a literary article, but as the notes used by George Athas in the giving of the lecture. However, much of the text of this lecture has been reworked for greater ease in reading (rather than listening).This paper may be freely quoted for the purposes of research, but it must be referenced in the following way: ATHAS, George, ‘Minimalism': The Copenhagen School of Thought In Biblical Studies, Edited Transcript of Lecture, 3rd Ed, University of Sydney, 1999 (http://members.xoom.com/gathas/copensch.htm).
Abstract: The Copenhagen School of Thought, popularly known ‘Minimalsim,’ is an identifiable method of scholarship within biblical studies. It arose out of the need for scholars to account for the discrepanices between the biblical texts and the discoveries of archaeologists. It proposes seeing the biblical literature as purely story rather than as historiographical literature which can shed light on actual history. The ‘Minimalist’ method proposes using archaeology alone for the purpose of reconstructing history. This approach has many attractive features but fails to present a method of investigation which is entirely free of problems, including bias. It is just one paradigm among others which can be used to investigate the history of Syria-Palestine. ______________________________ ‘Minimalism’ is becoming more popular. It is a term used by many scholars to describe a particular school of thought which advocates a particular approach to the Bible and to the reconstruction of Ancient Israel’s history. In short, ‘Minimalism’ says that the Bible is very close to irrelevant for reconstructing the history of Ancient Palestine, especially of the people we know as the Ancient Israelites.
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 Lemche, the other by Friis, which advocated a complete rethinking of the way we approach the Bible and attempt to draw historical conclusions from it. “Minimalism” and “Minimalists” are a seen by some people as derogatory terms, but it has become the term used to describe this School of Thought and it has lost its pejorative edge in my opinion. So most of the time, I’ll be refering to “Minimalists” and “Minimalism”. I don’t intend its use to be taken as pejorative in any way, but as a strictly neutral label. The other term we may use is the ‘School of Copenhagen’ because that is where the movement started and has its main advocates. It is, however, a cumbersome label.
Now, essentially, Minimalism arose out of the need to account for some of the major discrepancies between the Bible and what archaeologists have dug up in Israel and Palestine. Or rather, what archaeologists have failed to dig up in Israel and Palestine. For decades, before biblical scholarship started to sharpen its approach, scholars interpreted archaeology in light of what the Bible said. Everything was seen through the Bible’s window. That is, scholars took for granted that what the Bible said, was true – not just morally and religiously, but historically and scientifically. So, as an archaeologist back in the 19th century, you would pick up your Bible and expect to find Noah’s Ark somewhere on top of Mount Ararat in Turkey, just as the Bible said; or that you could dig in Jerusalem and find the remains of David’s and Solomon’s palace. The idea was not even entertained that the Bible could be wrong, or that archaeologists would not be able to find these sorts of things.
And indeed, the first discoveries of archaeologists in the Middle East just seemed to confirm what the Bible said. Archaeologists found King Mesha of Moab’s inscription on the Moabite stone, mentioning Omri the King of Israel and the Israelite tribe of Gad. The Bible in II Kings recounts a story of how this man, Mesha king of Moab, rebelled against his Israelite overlords and how the Kings of Israel and Judah marched out to war against him. It recounts how Mesha sacrificed his own son to his god, Kemosh, and in the Mesha Stele we read Mesha boasting of how he defeats Israel, recaptures territory and always boasts about his close relationship with his god, Kemosh. That was in the Bible. They found the dedicatory inscription for King Hezekiah’s tunnel under Jerusalem. That was in the Bible too. They found a cache of clay tablets at places like Ugarit on the Syrian coast and at Mari on the Euphrates River which seemed to inform us about the customs of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They found the Code of Hammurabi which contained certain laws that were very similar, if not the same, to those found in the Pentateuch. John Garstang found the walls of Jericho which crumbled at the war cry of Joshua and the Israelites. Solomon’ s stables were found at Megiddo. Everything just seemed to fall neatly into place. It was just like picking up the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which just seemed to slip into place automatically.
So we can see how historians and archaeologists decades ago simply assumed that the biblical record was historically correct. If they had not found a piece of evidence, it was only a matter of time before it was found. There was no plausible reason to suggest that things would not be found.
But then, historians and archaeologists started to encounter difficulties. The evidence they were looking for to confirm various aspects of the biblical records just simply were not turning up. What made the problem worse was that archaeologists were refining their techniques, honing and sharpening their skills, so that methods were becoming more accurate, more precise. So suddenly, the old conclusions had to be reassessed. In the process, the fallen walls of Jericho that Garstang found suddenly disappeared. The superior methods and expertise of Dame Kathleen Kenyon had found that Garstang’s wall dated to another era altogether and couldn’t possibly have been standing in Joshua’s time. In fact, during the era that was being ascribed to Joshua and his conquest of the land of Israel, Jericho didn’t even have a wall. It probably didn’t even have any residents. Kenyon began to use the superior technique of digging in squares of 5 metres each, leaving walls of debris between each square. This allowed her to view the stratification of the ruins she was digging and how each successive phase of occupation was built over the preceding phase. With this technique, Kenyon was able to date the various strata more accurately than her predecessor, Garstang. Yet, with this more accurate technique, the famous walls of Jericho were lost.
So how could this situation stand? On the one hand, we had the book of Joshua telling us that the Israelites raised the war cry and “the walls came a-tumblin’ down”. On the other hand, Kenyon was telling us that there was no Jericho for Joshua to conquer. It was these types of discrepancies between what the Bible said and what archaeologists said that started the ball rolling towards what we today know as the Copenhagen School of thought, or colloquially as “Minimalism”.
On top of this, scholars started to appreciate the Bible in new ways. Various strands of “criticism” developed which were particular ways of approaching the biblical text. We saw approaches like “Form Criticism” which identified various genres within the biblical literature and sought to analyze the texts in terms of their structure, the purposes each of these texts served, and the setting behind it which gave rise to the text. Essentially, it identified various categories or styles of literature within the Bible. You also got “Textual Criticism” which basically was about tracing the history of the text itself – how it was transmitted, how scribes treated it, how the text was emended or changed, how it was edited and put together, how certain errors arose. This movement gained great momentum when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1948, because suddenly scholars had a heap of copies of biblical texts in the original languages which they could compare with what had been handed down to us through the ravages of time. We started getting these methods which started appreciating the Bible as literature – as written documents that had a history of their own and which could be appreciated without any reference to archaeology or history or anything like that. It could be appreciated as poetry with literary features like puns, aliteration, extended metaphor, or as narrative with characters that were shaped and developed by a plot.
So, we have these two different types of investigation. We have archaeology on the one hand, and on the other, we have the Bible as a corpus of literary texts which have a right to exist in their own right as literature. Logically, then, the quest to find Ancient Israel – to find the history of the people who lived in Syria-Palestine some 3000 years ago – was to see how much archaeology and the literary texts of the Bible overlapped. If they overlapped, then we could come to one firm conclusion: The biblical texts are historically reliable and accurate. What the Bible talked about actually happened – perhaps not in every minute detail, but it happened as the Bible says things happened. This could lead to 2 other conclusions:
(i) It meant that either the Biblical texts were written very close to the events they describe; or (ii) The memory of these events was transmitted through history orally with a remarkable accuracy, and then written down faithfully. Now that would be astonishing accuracy. Yet, we have already seen that archaeology and the literary texts of the Bible did not overlap completely. We saw that with the example of the walls of Jericho. Yet, we’ve also seen that there is a fair bit of overlap. We found Mesha’s stele and it gives us an account that we can corroborate to a great extent with the Bible. So, scholars’ task in reconstructing Ancient Israel became snagged on trying to account for the discrepancies – for the parts where archaeology and the texts did not overlap. They had to ask “Why did they not overlap?” “Why can’t we find the walls of Jericho?” “Why can’t we find the palaces of King David and King Solomon?” “If they overlap in some areas, why do they not overlap in others?” The School of Copenhagen (or ‘Minimalism’) attacks these questions. It wants these questions answered and it comes up with a possible answer. Now, these are the names of some prominent scholars who belong to the Copenhagen School of thought:
� Philip R. Davies (University of Sheffield)
� Thomas L. Thompson (University of Copenhagen)
� Niels Peter Lemche (University of Copenhagen)
� Frederick Cryer (University of Copenhagen)
� Giovanni Garbini (University of Rome)
These men are all ordinary human beings like all of us. Yet, these able scholars are seen by the wider community of scholars as arch-fiends, villains, because they just want to throw the Bible out the window. They do not want to use it for reconstructing the history of Ancient Palestine. Or rather, they use the Bible very differently to the way most scholars use it. So what exactly is their approach? How do Minimalists do history? Firstly, we have to understand their framework – their basis for doing things the way they do.
(1) The Bible is a corpus of literary texts, first and foremost. They have to be treated as texts – as stories with characters and plots. It is a mistake, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, to claim that they are historiography. That is, that they record history or that the biblical literature is like a history book. No, ‘Minimalists’ say that the Bible must firstly be treated as story, not history, because the authors of the biblical texts created stories – they did not write objective history. The texts were not written as historiography, not as newspaper articles. They were written as story, much like a novel today. There may be persons in the story that actually existed at some point in time, but that is irrelevant. What actually happened back in Syria-Palestine 3000 years ago is irrelevant to the story. What matters is the characters and what happens to them in the story.
Let us look at a more up-to date example: the play Julius Caesar by Shakespeare. It is a play. It is a story. It is not historiography. It contains characters, not people. Julius Caesar, in the play, is the creation of William Shakespeare – he is a character; he is not the real Julius Caesar. It portrays a plot, not actual happenings. Shakespeare has crafted his events and dialogue to suit his own themes, his own dramatic intentions, what he wants you to see and hear – not what actually happened to the real historical Julius Caesar. That is irrelevant to Shakespeare. He is interested in portraying a tragic play, not giving you a report of what we know about the real historical Caesar. Any resemblance to real persons is coincidental. We may say the same about the recent film Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett. That movie is not about telling you what the real Queen Elizabeth I of England did; it is about what the director and the writers of the script want to portray and want you to see. It is what they want you to understand. It is a movie, not a documentary.
We have to treat the Bible in the same way, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars. So whether things happened the way they are portrayed in the Bible is completely irrelevant. The Bible is story, not a history encyclopedia. It has characters, it has plots, it has irony, it has drama, it has comedy. It tells us what the authors want to say, not what actually happened. In this way, ‘Minimalist’ scholars say the Bible is fiction. That does not mean that it is not fact. Both the play Julius Caesar and the film Elizabeth are fiction, not historiography. The Bible, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, is fiction because it is firstly story, not historiography. Philip Davies goes into this idea in his book, In Search of Ancient Israel (Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1995).
(2) ‘Minimalist’ scholars say that the majority of academics have been unfairly biased in their work and that the bias falls on the side of the Bible. Now, remember our quest was to see how much Archaeology and the Bible overlapped. ‘Minimalist’ scholars say that most other scholars have tended to put the Bible above archaeology when looking at the overlap. That is, they are still looking at the archaeological evidence from the perspective of people trying to justify the Bible as an historical document. ‘Minimalists’ charge scholars with the crime of letting their religious convictions and preferences get in the way of unbiased, objective historical research. That is, they accuse scholars of having a hidden, usually subconscious agenda of wanting to prove that the Bible is right, and that this bias affects the way they do history.
For example, archaeologists were digging around the mound of Ancient Megiddo in north-central Israel earlier this century. They happened to dig up a huge complex that was divided up into rooms of regular size with a large corridor down the middle. This is known as a tripartite structure. Now instead of appraising the evidence as they found it and trying to work out what this building could possibly be, scholars went for their Bibles. And the Bible told them that in the 10th century B.C.E., King Solomon built stables at Megiddo. So scholars went back and had a look at this strange building and found that it did look a lot like stables. It resembled a large, well organised barn. So, scholars concluded that this building was erected by King Solomon of Israel to accomodate his horses, which the Bible tells us he imported from various surrounding regions. Thus, archaeology confirmed the Bible. There was clear overlap.
‘Minimalist’ scholars say that these scholars should never have gone for their Bibles – they should have assessed the ruins of the building independently because the Bible coloured their perspective and influenced them to conclude that the tripartite structure was built by Solomon. As it turns out, the scholars were wrong. We are now almost certain that this building was not built by Solomon. It was built by someone completely different over a century later, perhaps Omri or Ahab, and that it was probably a warehouse – not a stable. One recent theory is that it may even be a type of marketplace.
One of the favourite past-times of ‘Minimalist’ scholars is to ask (and this is an all-important question), “What would we conclude about these artifacts that we find, if we did not have the Bible?” Would we make the same conclusions? In the case of Solomon’s stables at Megiddo, the scholars looked at their Bible first and then made conclusions – and the conclusion was actually wrong. ‘Minimalist’ scholars say this is not the way we do history because the Bible is not a history book. It is not historiography; it is fiction, it is story, it is art. Looking at the Bible to interpret archaeological evidence is bit like trying to find the historical Julius Caesar in the works of Shakespeare, or the real historical Queen Elizabeth I of England at the cinema. It is not the way you go about things, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars. It is wrong and misleading.
So, say people like Philip Davies, scholars have created a false Ancient Israel. The Ancient Israel that scholars have reconstructed, says Davies, is false – it is not the real historical Ancient Israel from Syria-Palestine. The scholarly Ancient Israel is a figment of scholars’ imaginations. They have taken the Bible and illegitimately used it to interpret archaeology and the result is an illegitimate Ancient Israel – illegetimate because the Bible was not intended to be historiography; it was intended to be story or art. Thus, we cannot use it to interpret the archaeological evidence. It is very dangerous to do this and the only reason, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, that we would reconstruct history by using the Bible is if we have a hidden agenda, conscious or subconscious. It is biased to use the Bible in this way to interpret archaeology and it is a wrong bias to have. It is illegitimate, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars.
(3) This is why ‘Minimalist’ scholars advocate the reverse approach. Thomas Thompson, among others, says that we should not be using the Bible to enlighten us about our archaeological discoveries. Rather, we should be using our archaeological discoveries to enlighten us about the Bible. It is the artifacts we should be looking to – the real material remains of the people in question that should be telling us about who they were and what they did. So whereas scholars used to see the artifacts and the ruins through the window of the Bible, ‘Minimalist’ scholars argue that we should be seeing the Bible through the window of archaeology.
And what they do is appeal to the nature of both the Bible and archaeology to back themselves up. First of all, as we have seen, the Bible is a corpus of literary texts that should be treated as literature, not historiography. This notion brings with it a heap of baggage. Foremost among the baggage is the notion of bias. The authors of the biblical literature wrote with their own particular bias and we can very easily pick this bias as we read some of the texts. For example, some of bias we can pick up is an almost exclusive reverence for the deity known as Yahweh. In fact, this ‘little’ bit of bias runs throughout the entire Bible. It is one of the Ten Commandments, one of the central tenets of biblical literature and biblical thought – “You are not to have any gods other than me (Yahweh).” It is perhaps the most obvious bias of the biblical literature. You do not find it anywhere else. Mesha, the king of Moab, has a personal bias towards his own deity, Kemosh. You do not find an anti-Yahweh, pro-Kemosh bias in the Bible.
Now, that may strike us as fairly obvious about the Bible – that it has this bias. Yet the issue of bias is critical for ‘Minimalist’ schlars. Because, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, bias represents subjectivity. Bias represents one person’s view or one group’s view. If we want to give it another name, we could call it ‘propoganda’, although that carries with it a heap of negative connotations. We just want to highlight the issue of bias.
Now, we might think, “So what?” There is bias in everything. There is bias in newspapers, in movies, in books, in everything literary. However that is exactly the point that ‘Minimalist’ scholars grab onto. No literature is free of bias. Not even historiography, the recounting of historical events, is free of bias. People will pick and choose what to recount. But we are not even dealing with historiography in the Bible, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, we are dealing with story. So, when we examine an archaeological artifact or the ruins of an ancient city using the Bible as our microscope, we will come up with biased results whether we like it or not. And, as with the example of Solomon’s stables at Megiddo, we might come up with the wrong result. So why go down that avenue? Why use the Bible in this way?
Archaeological artifacts, though, do not carry an author’s bias, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars. When we dig up an ancient city, we don’t find bias. We find objective artifacts, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars. Whereas the biblical texts have a voice – they speak, they portray, they argue, they develop, they deliberately influence and are written for this express purpose – archaeological artifacts are mute. They do not have the ideology of a literate elite written all over them, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars. We are digging up primary sources which went through history – that were history. These were the material things, the tangible culture that formed history. The biblical texts, on the other hand, are not primary sources. They are secondary at very best. They are the results of people who lived through history that decided to write down some stories because they were meaningful to them, and because they wanted to influence others with these stories. The biblical literature is the ideology of one small group. The artifacts and ruins from Syria-Palestine are not ideology; they are primary sources that we can appraise to shed direct light on real history. So, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, it is absurd to consider the Bible before considering archaeology. That is working backwards, they would claim. It is illogical and illegitimate. If either the Bible or the artifacts are to be given preference as to their reliability for reconstructing history, then, ‘Minimalist’ scholars would argue, the preference must firmly be given to archaeology. So, logically, where archaeology and the Bible differ, more weight has to be given to the archaeology and the artifacts, because they are the primary source and they are by nature more objective than written texts that have a purpose of influencing a reader. Artifacts are more reliable than the biblical texts, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars.
Once this method of “Artifacts first, Bible last” is established, ‘Minimalist’ scholars say we can then start reconstructing the real history of Ancient Israel. Davies, in In Search of Ancient Israel, goes into this quest a little bit. He says there are three Ancient Israels:
(i) the real historical Ancient Israel – the real people who lived 3000 years ago in Syria-Palestine who left behind the ruins of their settlements and their culture. (ii) the literary Ancient Israel – the Israel that is portrayed in the literary texts on the pages of the Bible, that exists within the stories on the page and the in the minds of the Bible’s authors.
(iii) the scholarls’ Ancient Israel – the Israel that scholars have made up by imposing the biblical literature on the archaeological evidence – that Israel which Davies says is illegitimate and a figment of scholars’ imaginations, the result of bad methods and scholarship.
Davies says we can get rid of the scholars’ Ancient Israel. For the purpose of reconstructing history, we have only to deal with the Ancient Israel of archaeology. Now, the archaeology of Ancient Israel (and by that we primarily mean the archaeology of the sites in modern Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, dating between ca.1250 – 587 B.C.E.) teaches us many things about the real historical Israel: (i) The archaeological evidence shows us that Ancient Israel was just like any other nation or people in the region. The material culture, the things these people used in every day life – the houses they lived in, the cities they built, the things they produced and traded, the gods they worshipped, the sacred rites they observed, the temples and shrines they revered – were all just like those of any other culture in the Levant. We in modern Western society with Judaeo-Christian values and mindsets have come to think of Ancient Israel as a unique entity, as a special people, different from all the other peoples and states around them in the Middle East. We’ve come to think of Israel as the “Chosen nation”, lifted above the standards and practises of the nations around them – the “pagan” nations. Well, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, that is the result of looking at things through the window of the Bible. What the archaeological record has shown us is that Ancient Israel was in fact very similar to the nations around them. In fact, ‘Minimalist’ scholars and many others argue that Ancient Israel is just about indistinguishable from their predecessors, the Canaanites. Once again, Davies asks the famous ‘Minimalist’ question: “If we did not have the Bible, how would we interpret the archaeological evidence?” Davies says that if it was not for the Bible, we would probably have had a lot of trouble even finding an Israel in the ruins.
For example, the Bible talks about how Moses led the Israelite tribes out of Egypt, they wandered 40 years in the deserts around Sinai, and then Joshua led them in one blitzkrieg into the land of Canaan – the Promised Land. Well, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars and now most archaeologists, we cannot really find any evidence of a new group, the newly arrived Israelites. In fact, at the time we think this Conquest of Canaan is supposed to have happened (ca. 1220 B.C.E.), there appears to be hardly anyone living in Canaan at all. And the people that do emerge eventually seem to be no different from those who were there before. Their culture seems very much the same. In fact, says Thompson, they even appear to be farmers who are natives of the land, not immigrant shepherds from Egypt as the Bible says they were.
Another thing that this policy of “Artifacts first, Bible last” achieves, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, is that it allows us to evaluate the Bible in new objective light. If the artifacts and the Bible just do not match up, then ‘Minimalist’ scholars say we must choose the artifacts to help us reconstruct history. Once we have used the artifacts to reconstruct our history of Ancient Israel, we can then say things about the Bible. We can start to understand why there are discrepancies between the archaeological evidence and the biblical literature. We can start to answer the question of “Why do the discrepancies exist?” And ‘Minimalist’ scholars provide an answer in 3 parts. “Why are there discrepancies between archaeology and the biblical texts?”
(a) The first answer we have already looked at. It is because the biblical texts are works of literature, not historiography. Archaeology just confirms this fact. So, we should not be surprised if archaeology and the biblical texts conflict. After all, the biblical texts are story, they are art, the work of authors – just like we should not be surprised if Shakespeare’s tragic play Julius Caesar conflicts with the real historical events of the real Julius Caesar. One is the product of a playwrite from Elizabethan England, the other is a person of history. You have to expect differences, perhaps even wide discrepancies. It comes as a surprise to some people to learn that Judah Ben Hur was never a real historical person in 1st century Judea. Ben Hur never existed. Ben Hur is a fictitious character of Lew Wallace’s making. Sure, Ben Hur is put into a real place in a real time, but he is a fictitious character. Lew Wallace, the author of Ben Hur, was not writing a report of history. He was not doing historiography. As the subtitle to Ben Hur says, he was writing a ‘Tale of the Christ’ – a story, a ‘very good yarn’. So, between Ben Hur and actual history there are huge discrepancies and we will never dig up anything bearing the initials of Judah Ben Hur. Why? Because Ben Hur is a story. The same goes for the Bible, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars. If there are echoes of history in the Bible, they are coincidental. If there a discrepancies with history, well it is only to be expected. It is not to be scorned at, it is to be appreciated in its own right. Ben Hur, the movie, won its oscars as a fiction film, not a documentary. If it was judged as a documentary, we would say it was terrible and all wrong. The same applies with the Bible. We should not, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, treat it as historiography.
(b) The second reason, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, for why we find discrepancies between history and the Bible is that the biblical texts are all late documents, written many years, probably centuries after the events they are supposed to portray. We earlier mentioned some various types of scholarly criticism – form criticism, textual criticism, etc. These types of criticism started the ball rolling for many scholars to start thinking that the biblical texts were actually written down much later than what we thought. It started scholars down the path to thinking that Moses was not the actual author of the first five books (as tradition held him to be), but that they were actually the result of many different authors from many different eras with different purposes and aims in writing. These forms of scholarly criticism lent us the suspicion that the biblical literature was addressed to a small group of people who had been deported by the Babylonians from the small Kingdom of Judah to Babylon in 587 B.C.E. – the event we know as the Exile – or that the texts were written for their descendants who, under the Persians, were allowed to return and resettle in the land of Judah 50 years later. We had a suspicion when the first few chapters of Genesis mention the ‘Tower of Babel’ (ie., Babylon) and when it mentions the town of Ur of the ‘Chaldees’ (a term used to describe the Babylonians and used in these later centuries). These little hints gave rise to the suspicions. Archaeology came along and confirmed to us that the biblical texts were almost definitely not written when we thought, at close proximity to the events they describe. In fact, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, archaeology confirmed for us that many of these events did not even happen in history, so how could they have been written about at close proximity in time to them? But what archaeology did do is confirm that the Post-Exilic era was a very good context for the writing of the biblical texts.
For example, the Genesis creation accounts (of which there are clearly two), are very similar to Babylonian creation accounts. This being the case, it seems logical to argue that there is some sharing of ideas going on. If Moses had written the creation accounts, we might expect to find some Egyptian ideas of Creation (since Moses is said to have been from Egypt), or some new innovative account of Creation. Instead, the imagery that’s used is very Babylonian (similar to Atra Hasis and the Gilgamesh myths). It could be coincidental, but the connection is so strong, it is implausible to suggest that. We should be looking to a time when either Babylon was under the influence of Israel (and no such time ever existed), or a time when Babylon had an active influence over the literate people of Israel. The best time is the time of the Exile, after 587 B.C.E. when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar deported the elite of Judah to Babylon. It fits perfectly.
(c) Now we can take this idea a step further and see the third reason why ‘Minimalist’ scholars say there are discrepancies between the Bible and archaeology – and that is, ideology. That is, the biblical literature reflects a particular ideology. Let us consider the Creation accounts again. We have seen how ‘Minimalist’ scholars say that we should treat the biblical literature as literature, and that we should evaluate them as late documents, dating to the Post-Exilic Era (after 587 B.C.E.). With this as our framework, we can look at the Creation accounts in Genesis, note the strong connections with Babylonian Creation myths, and perceive the ideology of the author(s) of the Creation accounts in the Bible. The Genesis creation accounts seem to be a reaction against the ideals of Babylon. The accounts were written for deportees of Judah to preserve their identity as people of Judah, as people of the deity Yahweh, not as subjects of the Babylonian gods. They are a thesis written to counter the pro-Babylonian values into which these deportees were being immersed, and to promote the ideals of Judah, the ideals of exclusive Yahwism. They show that it was the God of Judah who created the universe, not the gods of Babylon. That it was the God Yahweh who ruled over all things, and not the seemingly powerful gods of the mighty conquering Babylon Empire. And to do this, the writers of the Creation accounts took the ideologies that were being fired at them and reshaped them to promote a pro-Judean, pro-Yahwistic ideology.
So, nowadays, we find very few scholars arguing for a pre-Exilic dating of biblical texts. Those scholars are now in the minority. What we find, though, is ‘Minimalist’ scholars arguing for a very late composition of the biblical texts. This is one of the hallmarks of ‘Minimalism’. They argue for very late dates and that the biblical texts reflect a time when the people of Judah are under Persian dominion, from the 5th century and later. Davies would say that the literature is the ideology or propoganda of the ruling elite of the Persian province of Yehud (Judah), and that some of the biblical texts date from the Hellenistic era, post-Alexander. That is, after 333 B.C.E.. And we find many people agreeing with these ‘Minimalist’ scholars, too.
So, let us just summarise what we have said so far. ‘Minimalist’ scholars say that we cannot use the Bible to interpret archaeology because it is story, a work of art – not a historiography. We have to allow the artifacts, not the Bible, to inform us about the history of the people who lived in Syria-Palestine between 1250 B.C.E. onwards. And what that process does is allow us to appreciate the Bible better as literature. It also allows us to identify and account for the discrepancies with the archaeological record – discrepancies we can attribute to the Bible being a series of late documents filled with an ideology that belongs to this late Post-Exilic era. A result of all this is that by separating archaeology and the biblical literature into different categories, ‘Minimalist’ scholars free us up to use other scientific tools in our examination of the archaeological record. The discipline of anthropology, the study of how man lives in his environment, is being used more and more to shed light on the artifacts we now dig up. By looking at how man adapts to his surrounds, scholars have been able to apply various types of anthropological models to the ruins and artifacts we find in Syria-Palestine. “If we know that this is how man works and that this is how he behaves in these particular circumstances, then what can we say about the artifacts we find?”
When scholars looked at archaeology under the microscope of the Bible, they found that the tribes of Ancient Israel became a fully fledged state under King David ca.1000 B.C.E.. Doing away with the Bible and letting the artifacts speak on their own, archaeologists began saying “We cannot find any evidence for such a fully fledged state.” So, scholars brought along anthropological studies and said, “Well, knowing how man reacts to his environment, what can we say about Ancient Israel with the artifacts?” The result was that the archaeologists could find no evidence for a state in northern Israel until ca.870 B.C.E., and nothing for a state in Judah (southern Israel) until ca.750 B.C.E. – centuries after what the Bible had led people to believe. If there was a fully fledged state called Israel in 1000 B.C.E., as the Bible had said (and it talked about more than just a state – it talked about a quasi-empire), then we would expect to find evidence of this state. We should expect to find monumental public works like palaces, city walls, roads and written documents amongst the ruins. But we do not find those types of things until hundreds of years later. In 1000 B.C.E., the southern highlands of Israel, the region of Judah, was just about devoid of population. Thompson says we are lucky if we have even three thousand people there. As for the northern highlands, they are populated by people who are living amongst ruins, in tiny detached villages, living in a subsistence economy. There are not many of them and there does not appear to be any type of state whatsoever. So, one of the conclusions that ‘Minimalist ‘ scholars have reached is that there was no real historical Israel until ca.870 B.C.E. – a vastly different picture to what the Bible paints. Yet, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, that is the way the Bible is. It is not giving us an historically accurate picture; it is giving us a story, an ideology that finds its root some four centuries later in the Post Exilic era.
This is a brief summary on the ‘Minimalist’ position, or the Copenhagen School of Thought. Now we must as what this school of thought has going for it, and what against it – the pro’s and con’s of ‘Minimalism’. Some of the strong points we have already looked at, so let us consider a few more.
(1) ‘Minimalist’ scholars have succeeded in keeping us on our toes as scholars. They have succeeded in making us look very carefully at the way we do our scholarship in biblical studies. They have made us reassess our methods and identify the assumptions and biases that we start with, those things, those ideas that fuel us as we go about our task of examining the history of Syria-Palestine. The good thing about this is that, hopefully, it should keep us from getting sloppy in our work – sloppy in our methods, sloppy in our argumentation, sloppy in our conclusions. ‘Minimalist’ scholars have made us think about all that we have held sacred in biblical scholarship and reassess them. This type of intellectual purge can only be good. They have given us some exercise to do to keep us fit as biblical scholars.
(2) The second thing that ‘Minimalist’ scholars have going for them is the way they treat the Bible as literature. The various forms of scholarly criticism that have been available to us steered us into this direction but never really followed through with it completely. And, in fact, these various types of scholarly criticism often come up with conflicting conclusions. The ‘Minimalist’ approach, or the approach of the School of Copenhagen, gives us a good overall approach, an holistic approach. It gives us a big picture first and then allows us to examine the individual brush strokes, rather than the other way around. And the way it does this is by allowing us to look at the Bible for what it is, not as something it is not. It allows us to look at the Bible as story, as literature, not as historiography. In doing this, it releaves a lot of the tension that scholars have had in trying to confirm the Bible as an historically accurate account of happenings in Ancient Syria-Palestine. Instead, it allows us to extract meaning from the biblical texts, not historical occurrences.
(3) The third thing the ‘Minimalist’ approach has going for it is that it provides logical solutions. It provides answers for why there are discrepancies between the Bible and archaeology. This was one of the most frustrating things for historians when trying to account for why the Bible, a great corpus of texts, was not in line with many of our archaeological findings. The ‘Minimalist’ approach fills in that gap by giving us the reasons of literature, late dating, and ideology to understand it.
(4) The fourth thing the ‘Minimalist’ approach does is it allows us to bring in other scientific tools, most notably, anthropology. Now, let us look at the weaknesses – what the ‘Minimalist’ approach has against it. What are the chinks in its armour, if any? The answer is that it has many chinks, but they are subtle. Most of them are not gapingly obvious. Yet, just as ‘Minimalist’ scholars say that previous methods of scholarship have flaws in them, so does the ‘Minimalist’ approach. This serves to highlight that, in Biblical Studies, nothing is sacred. There is no foolproof, watertight method of doing scholarship and trying to reconstruct the history of Ancient Israel. So then, what are the chinks in the armour of the Minimalists?
(1) Firstly, since ‘Minimalist’ scholars have put all their eggs in one basket, namely archaeology, if there are any faults with archaeology, then we have to say that many ‘Minimalist’ eggs will get smashed. And, indeed, there are many problems with archaeology so this is where we find most of the chinks.
(i) Firstly, it is a fundamental mistake to think that archaeology is an exact science. It is not. It is an inexact science. 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. One of the catchcries of ‘Minimalist’ scholars, we will remember, is that biblical texts are biased and subjective, whereas artifacts are mute, unbiased, and objective. It is somehow assumed that what an archaeologist digs up is objective history, firm history. The truth of it, though, is that an archaeologist is just digging up something that exists in the here and now. The only real firm concrete conclusion that an archaeologist can arrive at, is to say, “This is the way we found the ruins”. The job of archaeologists is to see if they can somehow piece together how the artifacts and the ruins got into the state that the archaeologists found them in. Archaeologists are digging up yesterday and only trying to figure out how things looked 3000 years ago from these items. In that way, archaeologists are not digging up the history of ancient Israel; they are digging up yesterday and hoping that it will lead them to what happened 3000 years ago.
(ii) That is a very philosophical point, but then we start getting into just how inexact archaeology is. Historians reach conclusions by looking at the data the archaeologists find and applying certain logical equations to them. For example, if a city was conquered, we should expect to find some evidence of this, 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 in about 1220 B.C.E., is that we do not find any evidence for it – no debris, no bones, no broken walls. How could it possibly have happened, this mammoth blitzkrieg, if we do not have the signs of one? This led to some scholars looking to other interpretations. Perhaps the Israelites came into Canaan peacefully and not with war? Perhaps they did not come in at all – maybe they were there all along as the Canaanites. Yet now, thanks to ‘Minimalist’ methods, more and more scholars are coming to the conclusion that there was no Israelite Conquest of Canaan under Joshua and that it is just epic myth or legend. But what ‘Minimalist’ scholars and those they have influenced have not considered is the possibility that a conquest can occur without debris, strewn bones, and broken walls.
In 1066, William the Conqueror conquered England. There are very few doubts about it. Yet there is no debris, no strewn bones, no broken walls to show us that that is indeed what he did. However, no one doubts it. In about 539 B.C.E., the Babylonian Empire which spanned a huge area, the biggest of its day, ceased to exist. The empire was conquered by another, that of the Persians, but we do not find any rubble or debris amongst the ruins of Babylon to show it. In fact, if the ruins are all we had to go by, we’d be forgiven for thinking that Babylon never was conquered because it continued to flourish as a city with hardly any change. Yet, it was conquered. It was conquered by Cyrus, king of Persia.
A note of caution is needed here. These equations that are used to extract meaning from the mute artifacts are actually very good. We have just picked on one very simple equation. But if we find so many problems and different possibilities with such a simple equation, imagine what can happen if the artifacts and the equations are complex. These equations can often have their limitations and these limitations might make an historian completely misconstrue what actually happened. If we apply ‘Minimalist’ scholars’ own principle – “What would we say about the artifacts if we did not have the literary texts?” – to the example of Ancient Babylon or Medieval England, what would we come up with? We would probably never come up with the idea that either of them were conquered.
Sometimes the equations come undone the other way. We say that if a city was conquered, we expect to find debris, bones, and broken walls. So when we do find those things in an ancient city, we say, “Someone must have come past and conquered this city. And look, no one was living there afterwards, all the people are gone.” However, perhaps there are other explanations for the debris? Maybe such a scenario was actually caused by an earthquake? Perhaps all the people died off because of some plague or disease, and in the anarchy which followed, things got destroyed? Or maybe the two kids living near the city gate started a fire and it got out of control?
So, we see that there are a heap of explanations for the way the artifacts get into the shape that archaeologists find them in. ‘Minimalist’ scholars have a tendency to opt for the ‘minimal approach’ which will yield results different to what the Bible says.
(iii) Many things in archaeology are relative and dependent on circular arguments. One of the biggest areas that we can see this in, is dating. Most dating in archaeology is done by examining the pottery. We look at a pot, observe certain features and say, “These features are datable to this particular people at this particular time.” Yet quite often, the pottery is inconclusive. And quite often, the date of pottery in one area is dependent on the pottery of another area whose dating is not fixed, making the whole dating for both areas unstable. However, this situation quite often becomes lost in the volumes and volumes of work written by archaeologists and historians. Scholars forget that these dates are relative to other things and often treat them as though the dates are absolute when they are not. And 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. Yet quite often there is an inertia in this process of re-evaluation. Quite often we just interpret new evidence with the conclusions we formed 10 years ago, instead of reassessing all the evidence to incorporate new findings. We say, “But we found this 10 years ago, so how can you say this new thing?” And quite often, the conclusions we reached 10 years ago were based on relative datings, not absolutes. Yet we often forget that. One of the most prominent archaeologist in Israel is Israel Finkelstein. At the moment, Finkelstein is proposing redating all our chronologies for 10th and 9th century BCE Israel down by one century to the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. Other scholars, though, equally prominent and good at what they do (eg., Amihai Mazar), completely disagree with Finkelstein. It serves to demonstrate that nothing in archaeology is fixed. Not all dates are set in concrete.
(iv) This brings us to another point. One of the limitations of archaeology is that it is always finding new things. Usually these new discoveries are in line with what we had already thought, but sometimes they are not. ‘Minimalist’ scholars are not immune from this. They say we must rely on archaeology to give us an objective picture of Ancient Israel, but archaeology has not dug up everything yet. In fact, most sites in Israel today have only been excavated to an extent between about 5-30% of what is there. There is still an awful lot of digging to do. Our picture from archaeology is very incomplete. We do not have all the information we could have. That means that our picture of Ancient Israel, even if we are painting it from the artifacts and ruins as ‘Minimalist’ scholars want us to do, is incomplete and therefore biased. If we say that a written document, even historiography, is biased because it is selective in its material, then so is archaeology. It is biased because we do not have all that there is to have. On top of this, the artifacts are subject to the forces of time and nature, as well as the minds of archaeologists, historians, anthropologists and scholars, all of whom are subjective. Just as a written document is subject to an author’s mind as well as a reader’s, so artifacts are subject to the minds of archaeologists and historians. This means that reagrding the one artifact we might find ten different opinions.
Jerusalem is a prime example. What has been dug up is open to very different interpretations. Some say the excavations prove that Jerusalem was uninhabited in the 10th century B.C.E.. Others look at the evidence and say there is a flourishing town there at the time – without any recourse to their Bibles. Who is right? Who knows? Artifacts are subject to peoples’ bias. Plus it is a lottery of which archaeologist digs up which site. ‘Professor Smith’ digs at ‘Ruinsville’ and says he finds no evidence of occupation while ‘Professor Jones’ comes along the following summer and says there is a huge city there. The moral of the story is, there is no getting rid of bias. There is no such thing as objective history, not even objective artifacts. There is bias in everything.
So, because there is still so much digging to do, we have to be cautious about the conclusions we make. We have to constantly review our conclusions in light of new evidence. We cannot review new evidence in light of our old conclusions. It works the other way around. We mention this because we just do not know what we will discover next. We could find something that turns all our old conclusions on their heads. This is unlikely, but possible. Plus, we have not dug up all that much of what there is to dig. So there is a huge whole in our picture. If we have read any of the Bible, we will clearly see that the city of Jerusalem is critical to the authors. They love Jerusalem and it is very important to them. Yet, Jerusalem is probably the hardest place of all to dig. There are so many people living there now and so many people have lived there for centuries. We cannot just go in with our spades, ask families to up and leave so we can knock down their house and start digging. In addition, we cannot just dig under the Temple Mount, one of the most important places that we could dig. We cannot do it. There are religious shrines there – the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall. Chances are, we ill probably never dig there and that has to leave a huge gap in our evidence. Yet, it is an unfortunate fact that we must realise and come to terms with as archaeologists and historians.
(v) We mention Jerusalem in particular because ‘Minimalist’ scholars grab onto Jerusalem as one of the prime examples of having found nothing. The Bible says that David conquered Jerusalem and ruled a state from the city. Yet, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, archaeologists have dug in Jerusalem and found no evidence for such a capital city. There is nothing there, they say. However others look at the evidence from Jerusalem and claim that there is a thriving town there. This debate was recently featured in the popular magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR). It is very much a hot topic – was there a Davidic Jerusalem or not?
Yet regardless of whether there was and how we can interpret the evidence, we can see the equation that ‘Minimalist’ scholars make. ‘Minimalist’ scholars often say that because we do not find the evidence for ‘X’, there probably never was an ‘X’. They do not say things in such black and white language, but that is what they imply. We did not dig up ‘X’, therefore ‘X’ did not exist.
The problems with this are numerous. Firstly, we have not dug up everything. The elusive ‘X’ could turn up in another excavation next year. Secondly, and this goes hand in hand with the first point, silent evidence is not necessarily absent evidence. Just because we have not found ‘X’ does not mean ‘X’ did not exist. Perhaps ‘X’ was destroyed? Perhaps ‘X’ was reused by people centuries later? ‘Minimalist’ scholars would say that such speculation has no place in serious scholarship. They would claim that as scholars they are dealing with reality, not hypotheticals. Yet, there are always clouds hanging over their heads threatening to spoil their parade. One day it could happen. ‘Minimalist’ scholars would say that they are dealing with the evidence, but they are making their conclusions based on their own bias. They claim other scholars exhibit bias in their conclusions, but so do ‘Minimalist’ scholars. In fact, everyone does. There is no escaping bias. The only reason why someone would conclude that because we did not find ‘X’ so ‘X’ never existed, is bias. Of course, it is also bias to conclude that perhaps we just have not found ‘X’ yet. However, it serves to highlight that there is no getting rid of bias. We will just have to choose whose bias we want to go with. And that is a subjective decision that we will make anyway.
An example is Jerusalem in the early 14th century B.C.E., before the Israelites came onto the scene. From correspondence in the Amarna Letters from Egypt, we know that Jerusalem was ruled by someone called Abdi-Hepa, and that he was considered by some of the other rulers in the region to be a trouble maker. However, there is not much evidence for a 14th century BCE Jerusalem. If we did not have the Amarna Letters, we probably would have said that Jerusalem was un unimportant village in the 14th century BCE, if it was inhabited at all. Yet, just because we have not found much in the way of 14th century BCE Jerusalem does not mean Abdi-Hepa never existed and never lived to cause trouble.
(2) This brings us to another chink in ‘Minimalist’ scholars’ armour and it is very close to their heart. The only reason we know of Abdi-Hepa is because of the actual written documents. The very question that ‘Minimalist’ scholars ask – “What would we say if we had no Bible?” – is perhaps their biggest chink. If it was not for some of the written documents that we have in our possession now, we would have very incomplete and therefore distorted pictures of history and what actually happened. This distorted image is in addition to the incomplete distorted picture we get from archaeology.
Let us go back to 1066 in England. If we did not have the written texts to tell us that William conquered England, we would not have known about it. So the written texts are indispensible. Similarly, if it was not for the written texts, we would not have known that Cyrus walked into Babylon in 539 B.C.E. in a bloodless conquest. The written documents are indispensible. We just cannot do away with the Bible as ‘Minimalist’ scholars want us to in one fell swoop. Yet, say ‘Minimalist’ scholars, the Bible is not historiography. It is not intended to give us history, it is intended to give us ideology, story. However, that fact does not stop the biblical literature from reflecting some kernel of history along the way to that ideology. ‘Minimalist’ scholars say that if the Bible and archaeology somehow match up, that is just interesting and nice. We can smile at how the Bible got that right. Yet it is not that simple. Fristly, take away all written documents from history, and we just about obliterate 90% of history. Secondly, even though the Bible was not written as historiography does not mean we cannot extract any history from it. After all, even historiography is biased and subjective. The Greeks did not have one word for story and another for history – it was the same word. There was no real distinction in ancient times between story and history. So, it is a mistake not to use the Bible for the reconstruction of history. Even ideologies are firmly connected with real history and have their place within history.
This is further confirmed by the fact that quite often the Bible gets it right. Archaeologists have found things that are mentioned in the Bible. For example, archaeologists dug up the annals of Sennacherib, king of Assyria ca.700 B.C.E.. Sennacherib boasts about how he stormed off to chastise the King of Judah (King Hezekiah) for meddling in the balance of power in the region of Syria-Palestine. On the way, Sennacherib decided to destroy a few towns. We have found the destroyed ruins of these places. Sennacherib boasts of having re-established the balance of power and having knocked Hezekiah about, caging him up like a bird in Jerusalem and eating away all his territory.
The Bible mentions Sennacherib’s campaign, too. It talks about how he rampaged through the country and put Hezekiah into a dilemma: submit to Sennacherib and live, or continue to defy him and risk annihilation. Now, the Bible’s intention in relating this story to us is to show that Hezekiah was faithful to his God, Yahweh. The Bible never mentions the fact that Hezekiah meddled in the balance of power in the region because it is unimportant to the authors. The authors want to show us that Hezekiah was faithful to Yahweh who wanted him not to give in to Sennacherib. Thus, Yahweh rewarded Hezekiah by sending his angel through Sennacherib’s camp as he was besieging Jerusalem and killing off his men. Sennacherib never mentions any of his men dying, let alone an angel of death, because in Sennacherib’s mind, he won. Or, he does not want us to know that he could not fully defeat Hezekiah.
This little incident, regardless of who won (it appears that neither Sennacherib nor Hezekiah had complete victory), shows us that there are kernels of real history embedded within the Bible. We have found the signature seals of some Kings of Judah, Hezekiah being one of the most. The Bible relates how Hezekiah got his men to carve a tunnel underneath Jerusalem to bring the waters of a particular spring inside the city walls. We have found that tunnel and you can walk through it today. We even found an inscription there that further confirmed this.
Yet, the biblical texts are documents that were written hundreds of years after the events they mention. The little bit about Hezekiah was probably written down 150 or 200 years after the events happened. Yet, there is still some verifiable history there. The Bible claims to have used sources. It mentions the annals of kings, the writings of prophets, and so on. Despite the Bible not being a collection of historiographical texts does not prevent it from telling us something about history.
This is well and good. We know that the Bible got something right about history here because archaeology confirmed it for us. And ‘Minimalist’ scholars are telling us we need to consider archaeology before the Bible. However, the Bible is reliable to some extent. Remember the question that the Minimalists asked? They asked, “What would we say if we didn’t have the Bible?” That is a good question to ask because it makes us examine the archaeological record closely for history. However, we will write an overly biased and distorted history of Ancient Israel if we do not balance our reconstruction by also asking, “What would we have said if we did not have archaeology?” Unfortunately, it seems that ‘Minimalist’ scholars would answer, “We would have no history!”
‘Minimalist’ scholars generally take the approach that if we ca not confirm a story in the Bible with archaeology, then we can probably conclude that it did not happen in history. They take this stance especially for the period we call the United Monarchy, the time when David and Solomon are said to have reigned in the 10th century B.C.E.. Yet, if the Bible does contain some real history in it, then 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. It is a value judgment stemming from bias to say that it did or it did not happen.
So, let us tie all these threads together. The Copenhagen School of Though, or ‘Minimalism’, and its principles are a real force in biblical scholarship. ‘Minimalism’ is nothing to get huffed up about, though. It represents just one school of thought. It has its pluses, like a neat methodology; an ordering of the sources; a clear perspective from which to see the Bible as literature; an ordered framework from which to try and extract history; and the attempt to provide corroboration of sources. It also has its minuses, like it being dependant in many ways on silent evidence and archaeological equations which really could have a multitude of different answers; and it relegates the biblical literature to a lower level even though it could quite legitimately assume a much higher level.
‘Minimalism’ is just one model or framework with which to do history. It is one among many models. It is a biased model, just like any other model that scholars care to use. It claims to eliminate many of the biases, but it just creates new ones. It is just one model and scholars must make a value judgment, a decision based on their own bias and their own perspective, as to whether they will use it or not. It has its pro’s and con’s like other models. No model or method can claim to be completely objective and watertight at the same time. The ‘Minimalist’ approach is no different. It offers just one of many possible solutions to our problem of reconstructing the history of Ancient Israel.
By George Athas April 29th, 1999 University of Sydney (Dept of Semitic Studies).
References for further study on the Copenhagen School of Thought:
� Davies, Philip R., In Search Of Ancient Israel, 1992 or 1995 (depending on the edition). � Davies, Philip R., “Method and Madness: Some Remarks on Doing History With the Bible”, Journal of Biblical Literature, 114/4 (1995), p699-705 (a response to the article by Iain W. Provan – below)
� Davies, Philip R., Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures, 1998.
� Finkelstein, Israel, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement, 1988
� Garbini, Giovanni, History and Ideology in Ancient Israel, 1988 (trans from Italian).
� Halpern, Baruch, “Erasing History: The Minimalist Assault on Ancient Israel”, BR, Dec 1995, p26 – 35, 47.
� Lemche, Niels Peter, Early Israel, 1985. � Lemche, Niels Peter, Israel in History and Tradition, 1998.
� Provan, Iain W., “Ideologies, Literary and Critical Reflections on Recent Writing on the History of Israel”, Journal of Biblical Literature 114/4 (1995), p585-606. (a critique of the Copenhagen School of Thought – with responses by Davies (above) and Thompson (below))
� Thompson, Thomas L., Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives, 1974. � Thompson, Thomas L., Early History of the Israelite People, 1992. � Thompson, Thomas L., “A Neo-Albrightean School in History and Biblical Scholarship?” Journal of Biblical Literature 114/4 (1995), p683-698. (a response to the article by Iain W. Provan – above)
� Thompson, Thomas L., The Mythic Past, 1999.
� Van Seter, John, Abraham in History and Tradition, 1975.
This is based on a lecture By Mr Athas…
I enjoyed the article but thought that the term bias was used
inappropriately in reference to the minimalists (though not in respect to
the biblical text historians).
The failure of archaeologists to have excavated all possible sites or
objects will lead to error but should not be interpretaed as bias – the
latter is a particular type of error that systematically misleads in one
direction. Whereas the incompleteness of archeology’s discoveries is
really a kind of sampling error, and would likely be random in nature e.g. one find leads to a late dating, another to an early dating and so on.
Sampling error reduces as more data comes to hand but bias may not if the
method systematically predisposes one to an particular outcome (eg in
favour of a biblical narrative).
These two types of error, sampling and bias lead to total error (I am a
retired statistician). I think the lecture would benefit by distinguishing
between these two errors in the case of each methodology because they lead to differenct understandings and concerns.
I do see value in using both biblical (and other cultural) texts and
archeology to look into history but we need to be on the look out for
cultural bias in texts and for the kinds of “random” sampling error
associated with archeolgy which could see, as you say, revisions to
conclusions over time.
There could also be bias in a particlar archeological method but that
doesn’t seem to be what your article is saying. (An example might be to
draw conclusions about historical Israel as a whole from sites clustered in
only one small region, say, near Egypt).
A good read, though.
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.