Saturday, September 26, 2015

David, Jerusalem, and Biblical Minimalism

In light of the recent post on archaeology and the book of Joshua, I thought I would expand the discussion a bit to focus on the period that I find to be most central in the minimalist-maximalist debate about archaeology and biblical history: the tenth century BCE, the time of the United Kingdom, the reigns of David and Solomon.

First, look at this definition of minimalism and maximalism:

The labels "maximalism" and "minimalism" were coined in the debate about the historical reliability of the Bible. For more than a century, archaeologists have been digging in the Near East, and inevitably, they found contradictions between the archaeological record and the story told in the Bible. This is neither unique nor problematic. Information about Antiquity is always fragmentary, and the scholars studying ancient Rome, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Persia, or Babylonia often have to cope with contradictory evidence. For example, Julius Caesar claims to have subjected the Belgians, but this has so far not been confirmed archaeologically. Although contradictory evidence can be frustrating, it is preferable to having only one source: in that case, we can not establish whether it is correct or not; if the evidence is inconsistent, we can at least evaluate its quality.

When we are dealing with the history of the Jews, there is, after the sixth or fifth century BCE, no real contradiction between the main written source (the Bible) and the archaeological record. No one denies that the Jews returned from their Babylonian Captivity: archaeologists have identified the new villages, although it is not entirely clear when the return took place exactly. Moving backward, the discrepancy increases: in the age of the two kingdoms (Judah and Israel), the Biblical account is sometimes at odds with the results of archaeology, and if we look at the events before, say, king David, the fragmentary nature of our evidence is even more striking.

"Minimalism" and "maximalism" are two principles to cope with this situation. Maximalist scholars assume that the Biblical story is more or less correct, unless archaeologists prove that it is not; minimalists assume that the Biblical story must be read as fiction, unless it can be confirmed archaeologically. "Minimalism" and "maximalism" are, therefore, methods, approaches, or theoretical concepts. (
The minimalists are often associated with the University of Copenhagen (in particular, Thomas Thompson and Niels Peter Lemche) although many others like John van Seters, Keith Whitelam, and Philip Davies contribute to this view.

The maximalists are often dubbed "neo-Albrightians" (followers of the famous biblical archaeologist, William Foxwell Albright). The Biblical Archaeological Review represents this view and is the most consistent opponent of the new minimalism, along with archaeologists and writers like William Dever, Iain Provan, and Kenneth Kitchen.

I strongly recommend the following online article that introduces the minimalist-maximalist debate and the main issues at its center.

Three Debates about Bible and Archaeology (Ziony Zevit)

The following online articles might also prove helpful.

Did David and Solomon Exist? (Eric H. Cline)

The Debate over the Chronology of the Iron Age in the Southern Levant (Amihai Mazar)

The United Monarchy Under David and Solomon

Find of Ancient City Could Alter Notions of Biblical David

Has King David's Palace in Jerusalem Been Found? (Israel Finkelstein)

Finally, see these online articles for a broader perspective on the entire debate.

The collected "Essays on Minimalism from Bible and Interpretation" from The Bible and Interpretation web site, featuring articles from many of the major players in the current debate.

 A (Very, Very) Short History of Minimalism: From The Chronicler to the Present (Jim West) which offers a refreshing breath of common sense and historical perspective to the minimalist debate.

1 comment:

  1. Really good references, Joe, for further exploration of minimalism and maximalism. I doubt if Bill Hallo of Yale had any idea his coined words "minimalism" and "maximalism" would have become the defining parameters for such a vigorous debate, not only among Christians, but also among Jews.