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Archaeology and the Biblical Texts
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by William G Dever
What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?:  What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2001.  313p.)

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The author, an archaeologist with background in biblical studies, investigates the historical backgrounds of the culture and times of the various biblical writings, from the point of view of archaeology.  He addresses recent "revisionist" scholars who have declared that there was no real historical Israel and that the ancient Hebrew literature now collected in what we call the Bible (different number of books included by Jews and Christians) are just fictional literature.

He investigates various biblical themes and events in light of the culture of the periods mentioned in the texts.  The author does not write as an apologist for a faith-tradition.  Though himself an agnostic, he defends the integrity of the biblical texts from a scientific position.  His analysis of the self-styled post-modernist revisionist school presents some good worldview analysis, including a summary discussion of western thought and approaches to biblical interpretation.

He especially reveals the self-contradiction of post-modern history, which claims there is no objective history, yet writes what Dever calls "non-histories" in a dogmatic and authoritative tone.  The amazing thing about this is the extensive quotes from the post-modernists, which really offer no evidence for claims, but only polemic and reassertion of the unproven claims, which reject extensive archaeological evidence that must be taken account of in Middle Eastern history.

He is very conversant with related disciplines and competently discusses the cross-disciplinary implications of history and archaeology, comparing and criticizing various schools of Biblical interpretation, archaeology and history.  In evaluating the integrity of the biblical texts, Dever notes that their style and format differ from modern writing.

You would think this was an obvious fact, yet it is facilly overlooked by modern writers who simplistically apply modern standards and requirements to ancient literature.  It has often seemed to me that they apply inapplicable criteria to the ancient texts form a recent historical concept of history or literature.  This precludes the texts speaking to us on their own grounds.

I appreciate Dever's honest attempt to deal with the ancient texts on their own grounds within the assumptions of the Hebrew world view of the ancient Fertile Crescent.  Dever concludes that the texts as we now have them include source information from oral or written sources contemporary to the pre-monarchial and monarchial periods in ancient Israel and Judah, making them reliable sources of actual history, in the modern rationalist sense of that word.

He concludes  that the content of the biblical writings finds extensive corroboration in archaeology.  He also discusses less commonly-known information actually available in the biblical texts which differs from the common "received" and normative summary traditions more familiar to Christians.  This ignored information in the biblical texts also coincides with findings of Archaeology concerning ancient Israel's culture and faith.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[Review] Bringing Deuteronomy to Life
[Review] Refreshing Current Outlook on the Old Testament

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Notes first writen November 2005
This review written 27 December 2006
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 28 December 2006
Last edited 8 February 2009
Posted on Amazon 2 March 2009

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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