Biblical Minimalism and Maximalism in Scholarship

The legacy of BAR’s founding editor, Hershel Shanks

bar-ja-97-cover

Very early on in the Biblical minimalism-maximalism debate, Hershel Shanks moderated at the 1996 ASOR Annual Meeting a face-to-face interchange between the prominent protagonists of both camps. Printed in the July/August 1997 issue of BAR, the published debate prefigured a series of articles and interviews that not only introduced the issue to the broader public, but also advanced the discussion among scholars.

Few topics have enjoyed as much coverage in the pages of Biblical Archaeology Review as the Biblical minimalism-maximalism debate. Centered on the Hebrew Bible as a(n) (un)reliable source for the earliest history of ancient Israel, the Biblical minimalism-maximalism debate encapsulates the passion and style of the BAR’s recently retired founder and long-time editor, Hershel Shanks.

During his incredible tenure of 43 years, Hershel introduced in BAR countless archaeological, historical, and literary topics that cover the Bible and the ancient Near East. But only a few stories amounted to what we can call media holy wars—major causes in which Hershel got especially involved, following and furthering the debate relentlessly over several decades.

To honor the veteran editor and his contribution to Biblical scholarship, the March/April May/June 2018 issue of BAR highlights his “crusades”—including the Biblical minimalism-maximalism controversy. Titled “For King and Country: Chronology and Minimalism,” the article is written by William G. Dever, who in the past weighed in several times on the subject to oppose the radically skeptical view of the historicity of central Biblical narratives, such as the Patriarchal/Matriarchal histories and the United Monarchy under the Biblical King David.

Unlike Biblical “minimalists,” who dismiss those histories as myths about a distant past (because the Biblical texts were composed too late after the fact to be true), Dever is a seasoned archaeologist. One may perhaps expect that archaeology would rebut the Biblical narratives concerning the Patriarchs and the Davidic dynasty, but Dever argues that his rigorous reading of archaeologically obtained data actually supports the more optimistic view of the historicity of the Patriarchal/Matriarchal era and the United Monarchy under the Biblical King David.1
 


 
Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.
 


 
met-biblical-king-david

This head once belonged to a limestone statue of the Biblical King David, originally displayed on the west, main-entrance façade of the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Created in the mid-12th century as part of the rich decorative program illustrating the genealogy of Jesus, King David was decapitated during the French Revolution, together with the statues of France’s ancient kings that decorated the cathedral—a doom not dissimilar to the fate of the then-ruling elites. Rehabilitated ever since, the surviving head is now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1938; no. 38.180). The jury is still out on the case of the historical King David. Photo: The picture is licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

A champion of archaeology’s crucial role in the study of ancient Israel, Dever says in an earlier BAR article, “By now the Biblical texts have yielded all the information, all they wish to tell us, about any ‘real-life’ Israel,” adding that compared to the Biblical canon, which is closed, “the archaeological data are more varied, more detailed and more dynamic, by constantly expanding.”2

In his latest BAR article, Dever took on the task of summarizing the Biblical minimalism-maximalism debate, which originated in Europe in the early 1990s. One more time, Dever introduces the general public to the crucial arguments about what Biblical scholars or archaeologists would consider a fact or a construct; what may have been an early historical reality or later myth; how the so-called low chronology (now mostly abandoned) moved all the archaeological evidence from the tenth to the ninth century B.C.E. stripping thus the figures of Saul, David, and Solomon of any historicity. Dever even hints that archaeological digs at Khirbet Qeiyafa and Tel Rehov have since provided a solid evidence for advanced culture and centralized government as early as the tenth century, the time of the Biblical King David.

In recollecting the milestones of the Biblical minimalism-maximalism controversy, Dever inevitably highlights the critical contribution by Hershel Shanks and BAR. To learn more about the long-debated issues of the historicity of the Bible and the role played in that heated debate by Hershel Shanks and BAR, read the full article “Hershel’s Crusade No. 2: For King and Country: Chronology and Minimalism” by William G. Dever, in the special 2018 tribute issue of BAR.

——————

Subscribers: Read the full article “Hershel’s Crusade No. 2: For King and Country: Chronology and Minimalism” by William G. Dever in the March/April May/June 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a subscriber yet? Join today.
 


 
Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.
 


 

Notes:

1. Dever’s latest book is an archaeologically based history of ancient Israel and Juda, from the emergence of Israelites in the Canaan around 1200 B.C.E. to the disappearance of both kingdoms by the early sixth century B.C.E.: William G. Dever, Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2017).

2. William G. Dever, “Whom Do You Believe—the Bible or Archaeology?” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2017, p. 45.
 


 
For more on minimalists and maximalists, check out the feature Scholar’s Study: The Great Minimalist Debate in Bible History Daily.
 


 

Posted in Biblical Archaeology Topics.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Add Your Comments

4 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  • Veli says

    I have suggested before, and put also here now, that the key is chronology. Looks like before the Assyrian influence in 750 BC, the Israelites used an equinox year (6 months long). That would put David to the mid 9th century and exodus to mid 11th century and the patriarchs to the 14th century.

    • Helen says

      Respectfully disagree. The patriarchs are much older. Abraham probably predates the domestication of camels.

  • Dan says

    Correction: The above should read “Tens of thousands of people have been UNABLE to refute what the prophecy says about modern Jerusalem and about the transcendent nature of the biblical text.”

  • Dan says

    Here’s something that the minimalists can’t explain about Bible chronology, nor can anyone else who denies the accuracy and authority of the Bible. What happened on June 7, 1967 in Jerusalem was foretold in a 2,000-plus year-old prophecy recorded in manuscripts of the Book of Daniel scientifically dated to be at least that old by using Carbon 14 analysis. Millions watched that scientifically-dated ancient prophecy being fulfilled in 1967 exactly when and where it was predicted to happen. Tens of thousands of people have been able to refute what the prophecy says about modern Jerusalem and about the transcendent nature of the biblical text. For anyone interested in knowing more, you can download a free file in PDF format that explains the prophecy in detail at http://www.prophecysociety.org/PDF/Jerusalem_Liberation.pdf


  • Some HTML is OK

    or, reply to this post via trackback.


Send this to a friend

Hello! Your friend thought you might be interested in reading this post from https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org:
Biblical Minimalism and Maximalism in Scholarship!
Here is the link: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/archaeology-today/biblical-archaeology-topics/biblical-minimalism-maximalism-scholarship/
Enter Your Log In Credentials...

Change Password

×