BAR 26:02, Mar/Apr 2000
The Search for History in the Bible
Save Us from Postmodern Malarkey
There are some who claim that the Bible contains little or no historical information about ancient Israel. I want to combat these minimalist or revisionist views of the history of ancient Israel by showing how archaeology can and does illuminate a historical Israel in the Iron Age of ancient Palestine (roughly 1200600 B.C.E.). I will, however, concentrate on one period onlythe earliest and most controversial period, Iron Age I (12001000 B.C.E.), when Israel emerges in Canaan.
Until the last generation or so, our only source for writing any reliable history of this (or any other) period in Israelite history was, of course, the Hebrew Bible. Yet in the past decade, the Hebrew Bible has come under sustained and often violent attack as a historical source for any but a literary and largely fictive Israel, supposedly contrived by Jews in the Persian (sixth to fourth century B.C.E.) or even the Hellenistic (fourth to second century B.C.E.) era as a tortuous exercise in self-justification. If that were the case, the archaeology of ancient Palestine or Canaan would be our only remaining source for writing a history of ancient Israel. Yet the revisionists generally ignore or discredit archaeology, characterizing it as mute.