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The Bible and history addresses the value of the Bible as a source for history-writing.


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. To date, 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 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 in Greek, over 10,000 in Latin. 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. 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. 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.. The many other gospels that then existed were deemed non-canonical (seeBiblical 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 trust in the biblical record as a reliable source for history.

Overview of academic views

Within the academic community the two poles of the discussion over the correct approach to the Bible as history are represented by "maximalism" and "minimalism" - the two terms represent points on a continuum rather than coherent parties, and the middle ground holds much in common. Biblical maximalism assumes that the biblical story is more or less correct, unless archaeologists prove that it is not; biblical minimalism believes that the biblical story must be read as theologically motivated fiction, and that history should be based on archaeology. "Minimalism" and "maximalism" are, therefore, methods, approaches, or theoretical concepts.

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. 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 Mendesmarker, the village of Deir al-Medinahmarker and the Valley of Kingsmarker 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, but they disagree about when it was written. Proposed dates vary from the 15th century to the 6th century BCE. One popular hypothesis points to the reign of Josiah (7th century BCE). In this hypothesis, the events of, for example, Exodus would have happened centuries before they were finally edited. This topic is expanded upon in dating the Bible.

Finally, an important point to keep in mind is the documentary hypothesis, which using the biblical evidence itself, claims to 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.

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, the Chronicler's History, comprising Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah, and the Pentateuch (or Torah, to give its Hebrew title), made up of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.


The following is a summary of the history narrative of the Hebrew Bible: it is not meant to imply acceptance or rejection of the historical accuracy of that narrative)

Torah: Genesis to Deuteronomy

God creates the world; the world God creates is good, but it becomes corrupted with violence. God destroys it in a deluge, but accepts thereafter that mankind is inherently inclined to wickedness. God selects Abraham to inherit the land of Canaan (i.e., Palestine). The children of Israel, Abraham's grandson, go into Egypt, where their descendants are enslaved. The Israelites are led out of Egypt by Moses and receive the laws of God, who renews the promise of the land of Canaan.

Deuteronomic history: Joshua to 2 Kings

The Israelites conquer the land of Canaan under Joshua, successor to Moses. Under the Judges they live in a state of constant conflict and insecurity, until the prophet Samuel anoints Saul as king over them. Saul proves unworthy, and God selects David as his successor. Under David the Israelites are united and conquer their enemies, and under Solomon his son they live in peace and prosperity. But the kingdom is divided under Solomon's successors, Israel in the north and Judah in the south, and the kings of Israel fall away from God and eventually the people of the north are taken into captivity by outsiders. Judah, unlike Israel, has some kings who follow God, but others do not, and eventually it too is taken into captivity, and the Temple of God built by Solomon is destroyed.

Chonicler's history: Chonicles and Ezra/Nehemiah

(Chronicles begins by reprising the history of the Torah and the Deuteronomistic history, with some differences over details. It introduces new material following its account of the fall of Jerusalem, the event which concludes the Deuteronomic history). The Babylonians, who had destroyed the Temple and taken the people into captivity, are themselves defeated by the Persians under their king Cyrus. Cyrus permits the exiles to return to Jerusalem. The Temple is rebuilt, and the Laws of Moses are read to the people.


(Several other books of the Hebrew bible are set in a historical context or otherwise give information which can be regarded as historical, although these books do not present themselves as histories).

The prophets Amos and Hosea write of events during the 8th century kingdom of Israel; the prophet Jeremiah writes of events preceding and following the fall of Judah; Ezekiel writes of events during and preceding the exile in Babylon; and other prophets similarly touch on various periods, usually those in which they write.

Several books are included in some canons but not in others. Among these, Maccabees is a purely historical work that treats of the events of the 2nd century BC. Others are not historical in orientation but are set in historical contexts or reprise earlier histories, such as Enoch, an apocalyptic work of the 2nd century BC.

Historical accuracy

Until the 18th century, the general belief in Christendom was that the earth was created some 4,000 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. Then the growth of the sciences in the 18th and 19th centuries — notably geology and the Theory of Evolution — threw the first few chapters of Genesis into doubt, and by the end of the 19th century the view that the first eleven chapters of Genesis represented actual historical events was being widely questioned. 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.

At the same time traditional ideas about the composition of the books were being undermined. At the end of the 17th century few Bible scholars would have questioned that the Pentateuch was the work of Moses, Joshua was by Joshua, and so on. But in the late 18th century scholars began to question these traditional authorships, and by the end of the 19th century the consensus view among biblical scholars was that the Pentateuch as a whole was the work of many more authors over many centuries from 1000 BCE (the time of David) to 500 BCE (the time of Ezra), and that the history it contained was often more 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 and the Pentateuch as a product of the latter half of the 1st millennium BCE.

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 Shechemmarker, 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, 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, some argue much of the evidence could easily have been eliminated.

The conquests of David and Solomon are also not mentioned in contemporary histories. 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 . However, since the discovery of a 9th century BCE inscription at Tel Danmarker 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, whose 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 8th century BCE.

New Testament



Jesus is born to Joseph and Mary; he is baptised by John the Baptist and begins a preaching and healing mission in Galilee; he comes up to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, is arrested, tried, condemned, and crucified. He is raised from the dead by God, appears before his followers, issuing the Great Commission, and ascends to Heaven, with a promise to return. The followers of Jesus, who had been fearful following the Crucifixion, are encouraged by Jesus' resurrection and continue to practice and to preach his teachings. The Apostle Paul preaches throughout the eastern Mediterranean, is arrested, and appeals. He is sent to Rome for trial, and the narrative breaks off.


The epistles (literally "letters") are largely concerned with theology, but the theological arguments they present form a "history of theology". Revelation deals with the last judgement and the end of the world.

Historical Accuracy

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 '90s with the work of J.D. Crossan, James D.G. Dunn, John P. Meier, E.P. Sanders and N.T. Wright 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.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls 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, see also List of events in early Christianity.

Most 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). Christian apologists argue that these accounts were compiled by witnesses although this view is disputed by critical scholars. 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.

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

Schools of archaeological and historical thought

There are two loosely defined historical schools of thought with regard to the historical accuracy 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 historical accuracy of the Bible, it should not be surprising that any given scholar may have views that fall anywhere between these two loosely defined camps.

Maximalist - Minimalist Dichotomy

The major split of biblical Scholarship into two opposing schools is strongly disapproved 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. 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.

Recently the difference between the Maximalist and Minimalist has reduced, however a new school started with a work, "The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel" by Israel Finkelstein, Amihai Mazar, and Brian B. Schmidt. This schools 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. Some feel that the accuracy diminishes, the further backwards one proceeds from this date. This they claim would confirm that a major redaction of the texts seems to have occurred at about that date. This middle school has little support.

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"

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 Copenhagenmarker, 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".

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.

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, [25106] although leading minimalists deny this and a claim has been made "We are all minimalists now". 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.

Jennifer Wallace describes archaeologist Israel Finkelstein's view 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 Jerichomarker, 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 Jerichomarker 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.

For the united monarchy both Finkelstein and Silberman do accept that David and Solomon were real kings of Judah about the 10th century BC others such as David Ussishkin argue 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. Gunnar Lehmann suggests that there is still a possibility that David and Solomon were able to become local chieftains of some importance and claims 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. He goes on further to claim that it 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.

These views are strongly criticized by William G. Dever, Helga Weippert, Amihai Mazar and Amnon Ben-Tor.

André Lemaire states in Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple that the principal points of the biblical tradition with Solomon as generally trustworthy, as does Kenneth Kitchen, who argue that Solomon ruled over a comparatively wealthy "mini-empire", rather than a small city-state.

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. This view is also taken by Richard S. Hess, which shows there is in fact a plurality of views between maximalists and minimalists. Jack Cargil 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.

See also



  • 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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