ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE
With the beginning of a new millennium the field of biblical archaeology finds itself striving to achieve a social archaeology of Syria-Palestine which moves away from the particular events mentioned in textual data, to the explanation of the more general processes responsible for cultural change. For years biblical archaeologists have been loath to experiment with theoretical perspectives that took them far from the confines of the biblical text. This is because the Bible was the primary lens through which all archaeological data had to be scrutinized. Until recently biblical archaeology was the epitome of a historical discipline obsessed with the particular events and peoples mentioned in the text. However, some schools of historical thought have also been influenced by the social sciences that place greater emphasis on the general and long term of historical processes rather than specific short-term events.
Geography, especially historical geography, has played a key role in the archaeology of the Holy Land since the early 19th century. Interdisciplinary approaches are particularly appropriate for archaeology, which by definition deals with an expansive amount of data — both material culture and textual. It is important to conceptualize long-term factors, such as those concerning physical geography, which work together to structure history, the “enabling and constraining” factors which created opportunities for societies to develop and change in Palestine.
The evolution of societies in Palestine, from the beginning more than 1.5 million years ago, has been shaped by its geographic location, which in turn has created a unique climate, topography, hydrology, and other natural resources. For all its mention in the Bible and contemporary media, the Holy Land (a less politically charged term than Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Autonomous Palestinian territories) is a very small place — generally most of the southern Levant. The Holy Land is only 410 km. (256 mi.) long from the Lebanon border to the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba. It is ca. 80 km. (50 mi.) wide from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. When Jordan is included, the width of the region is ca. 325 km. (225 mi.). The borders of ancient Israel, “from Dan to Beersheba,” coincide with the Mediterranean and semi-arid zones where permanent settlement is facilitated by adequate rainfall for farming. The Mediterranean and semi-arid zone in Jordan forms a narrow strip running north-south which is only some 40 km. (25 mi.) wide. Taking together the fertile land of the Mediterranean zone and the semi-arid zones of the Negeb and Transjordan, the region includes some 20,000 sq. km. (7725 sq. mi.) — an area nearly the size of New Jersey.
The Holy Land’s location on the land bridge connecting two major continents, Africa and Asia, has determined its role in the history of the ancient Near East. This unique location placed Palestine on the periphery of the great ancient powers in Egypt and Mesopotamia. There were no great civilizations that evolved in Palestine, but in many respects the legacy of the Bible that evolved in this peripheral area has outlasted anything that Egypt and Mesopotamia produced. Palestine lacked the great rivers such as the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates, which provided important sources of water for highly productive farming systems that evolved in the Near East at the beginning of the Bronze Age. More than any other region in the ancient Near East, Palestine was always directly or indirectly connected with other parts of the Near East and eastern Mediterranean.
In the world of international academic archaeology, until recently little was heard about the archaeology of Israel and Jordan except sensational discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Archaeology in this part of the eastern Mediterranean has been dominated by an obsession to find material proof of the events and peoples mentioned in the Bible and to verify or contradict aspects of the biblical texts. It has been “historical particular” in view. An important corrective is the French Annales school’s emphasis on how societies and their respective economies change in relation to different scales of time. Developed as an alternative paradigm for European history, their stress on the dialectic between three different time scales which influence change makes it particularly appropriate for archaeology. The temporal scales include the “long term,” which represents the unchanging or slowly changing conditions of physical geography and how humans respond to them. The long-term forces focus on the natural environment with geological, climatic, and geomorphological constraints and oscillations. This is followed by “middle-term” temporal dimensions, which relate to faster changing social and economic processes characterized by cycles of socio-political, agrarian, and demographic change. Finally, there are “short-term” processes, which are fast-paced events in history.
This paradigm posits a move away from the study of the unique and particular to achieve wider insights of human history. It explicitly calls for interdisciplinary research with all the disciplines concerned with human society, seeking to adapt data and concepts for the study of history from a wide range of fields including economics, linguistics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and the natural sciences. One advantage is the notion that different historical processes operate at different temporal levels. Often, Syro-Palestinian archaeologists have worked according to the notion that archaeologists recover the remains of a once-living community, stopped at a particular point in time. In fact, archaeologists rarely encounter “instantaneous occurrences” fossilized in archaeological deposits. Instead, the archaeological record is usually a compound of repeated activities carried out in the same place through time, with little evidence of the individual. Thus the problem of the perception of time by archaeologists lies at the heart of recent efforts to make Syro-Palestinian archaeology a “secular” discipline removed from the historical particularism which until recently characterized biblical archaeology.
Both the “long” and “middle term” are beyond the perception of past individuals. They act as “structures” which form constraining and enabling frameworks for human life, both communal and individual. Concentration on these structures of time make the “long” and “middle term” of particular importance to archaeological researchers where the individual frequently escapes recognition in the archaeological record. These multiple, hierarchical time scales represent aspects of a continuum and provide archaeology with a heuristic tool for conceptualizing time and change in prehistoric, protohistoric, and historic societies.
Dissatisfaction with its contempt for history and its science-based quest for timeless “laws of cultural behavior” led most archaeologists working in Israel and Jordan virtually to ignore the “new” or “processual” archaeology, which developed in the U.S. in the late 1960s through 1980s. This school has since evolved to an attempt to integrate the cognitive and symbolic dimensions of ancient culture with environmental factors and to explore the role of ideology as an active organizational force. Perhaps most important is its stress on interdisciplinary projects involving specialists in archaeolozoology, archaeolobotany, geology, physical anthropology, archaeology, epigraphy, and other fields.
Examination of the more general aspects of a society, such as the domestic dimensions of ancient cultures, including religion, can illuminate the dynamic nature of ancient societies. The renewed concern with history advocated by “post-processual” European and American archaeology demands reconsideration of how to integrate the vast quantities of accumulated archaeological and ethnohistorical data into more synthetic views of the past. For example, in his studies of Canaanite and early Israelite religion, which combine textual and archaeological data, William G. Dever has shown how Israelite religion, which the OT proclaims as supposedly Yahwistic, was somewhat more syncretistic than previously assumed.
Foundations: Politics, Prestige, and Power
From the outset, as late as 1800, the Bible stood unchallenged at the center of intellectual and religious life throughout Europe and America. With the advent of 19th-century “scientific consciousness,” its literal accuracy was challenged. The growth of biblical archaeology was an effort to defend the “truth” of the Bible and develop a new understanding of the roots of its birthplace. In many respects this still characterizes the hidden agenda of many biblical archaeologists.
Perhaps the main catalyst for Western interest in the Holy Land was the political agendas of the 19th-century European superpowers. By the end of the 18th century when the Ottoman Empire based in Turkey still held sway over much of the Middle East, including Palestine, the world was on the eve of change. Since the mid-1500s, the Ottoman Turks controlled a huge empire that incorporated not only the Middle East but also North Africa and Eastern Europe. With the weakening of this empire, Western European powers made plans to take over the Ottoman territory, especially those areas critical to ensuring smooth operation of the European “world system.”
As the shore of the eastern Mediterranean was the Ottomans’ weakest link, both the French and British were interested in controlling the Isthmus of Suez and thus the trade routes from India and the Far East to Europe. In addition to siege equipment and heavy artillery, Napoleon commissioned an elite corps of scientists, engineers, naturalists, orientalists, and antiquarians to survey every facet of contemporary Egypt and propose the best means for its restoration. Thus, Napoleon was instrumental in promoting the nascent discipline of archaeology and European interest in the ancient Near East. One of the most important discoveries during the Napoleonic expedition was the Rosetta Stone, which eventually served as the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics. For the first time it was possible to roughly date archaeological materials in Palestine by comparing them with securely dated objects from Egypt. This was to form the cornerstone for a methodology used by later scholars to date the different layers of mounds in Palestine by the association of local materials with Egyptian imports.
Some of the early explorers who contributed to the European goal of gaining control of Ottoman territory in conjunction with research in antiquities included Johan Lewis Burckhard, who in 1812 discovered the ruins of Petra. Other adventurers included the dilettante Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope, who, informed of a marvelous treasure buried beneath the mound of Ashkelon, uncovered a headless statue of a Roman emperor, reputed to be the first archaeological artifact discovered in Palestine.
Beginning of Scientific Exploration
The beginning of scientific archaeological research in Palestine can be traced to Edward Robinson in the early 19th century. Unlike previous explorers to Palestine, Robinson was uniquely qualified to study the ancient sites based on his knowledge of biblical history and Biblical Hebrew. By 1838 he and Eli Smith were able to identify more than 100 major sites mentioned in the Bible, partly because Smith was fluent in Arabic and many of the villages retain traces of the ancient Hebrew names (e.g., Gezer/Tell Jezer).
However, archaeology was Robinson’s weakest tool, on account of his own lack of experience in a field that itself was still unsophisticated. Robinson seems not to have understood even the nature of a tell, taking the thousands of ancient mounds scattered across the landscape to be natural formations and thus failing to recognize such important sites as Lachish and Jericho. Nevertheless, he pioneered the discipline of historical geography that is still an important facet of biblical archaeology research.
Early National Agendas
As a result of his travels and publications, especially Biblical Researches in Palestine (1841), Robinson revolutionized biblical research. In response, the British established the Palestine Exploration Fund, which sponsored several of the great geographical surveys of western Palestine and Transjordan as well as excavations at a number of major sites.
On the basis of Robinson and Smith’s pioneering work in the historical geography of the Holy Land, the PEF in 1865–66 sent Charles W. Wilson, an officer of the Royal Engineers, to oversee the first scientific mapping of Jerusalem. Wilson discovered an arch leading to the temple mount which still bears his name, but when he experienced numerous technical problems with the survey the PEF dispatched another explorer, Charles Warren, whose mission ostensibly was to plan a modern sewer system for Jerusalem. Warren made a series of intricate shafts through the thick refuse layers of the Old City, effectively cutting through the town’s stratigraphy, resulting in a complete lack of accurate dates with which to evaluate such discoveries as the subterranean cisterns associated with the Haram ash-Sharif, the entrance to the Herodian temple, and other finds. Perhaps the most ambitious project carried out under the auspices of the PEF was the 19th-century survey of Lieutenants Charles R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener, who later helped “conquer” the Sudan. Between 1872–1878 the two carried out a much more sophisticated geographical survey than that of Robinson, recording 10 thousand sites covering 15,500 sq. km. (6000 sq. mi.) and publishing seven volumes with remarkably accurate large-scale topographic maps of the Holy Land.
Some 10 years later an American, Navy Lt. William F. Lynch, conducted the first scientific survey of the Dead Sea, producing numerous maps, drawings, and reports on the flora, fauna, and geology of the region. A fundamentalist thinker, Lynch believed the Dead Sea valley to echo the biblical descriptions, and he sought to find the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.
The French explorer Charles Clermont-Ganneau. who began working under the auspices of the PEF in 1873, is associated with several outstanding discoveries which serve as benchmarks for Syro-Palestinian archaeology. Included are the Gezer boundary marker bearing the Canaanite name of the site, a 1st-century b.c.e. Greek inscription warning Gentiles not to enter the temple court, and the Moabite Stone.
The eve of World War I saw the beginnings of systematic and controlled archaeological excavations in Palestine. Prior to the 1890s, the PEF had concentrated most of its work within the boundaries of the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1890 they embarked on a major excavation in the Negeb, an area close to the Sinai Peninsula with access to the strategic Isthmus of Suez, in hope of providing the first scientific evidence for the rise of biblical civilization. For this task they chose the British Egyptologist Sir William Flinders Petrie, who became the first biblical archaeologist to understand the significance of tells as artificial mounds made up of superimposed debris which represent different ancient civilizations. This he learned from Heinrich Schliemann, excavator of Homeric Troy, who demonstrated how, through observing stratigraphy, changes in material culture could be ordered in sequence, with the earliest material at the bottom and the latest at the top. Working in Egypt from 1880, Petrie developed the scientific method of pottery dating, so that a detailed chronology could be devised based on stylistic changes in common Egyptian ceramic forms. It was the prospect of linking his Egyptian chronology with that of neighboring southern Palestine that led Petrie to accept the offer to direct the first systematic excavations in the Holy Land. On the basis of a survey of sites in southern Palestine, Petrie chose Tell el-Ḥesi for his pioneer excavations in 1890. Methodically recording and dating archaeological materials, Petrie introduced a truly scientific method of replicating observations and interpretations. In six weeks of excavations at Tell el-Ḥesi he discovered 11 successive towns dating back to the Middle Bronze Age. Using Egyptian artifacts found in each layer as chronological anchors, he was able to date objectively local pottery and other remains. While this relative dating would be honed and clarified by later scholars, Petrie moved Palestinian archaeology out of the realm of purely biblical studies and helped to fit Palestinian antiquities into the cultural context of the entire Middle East.
Honing Excavation Methods
When Petrie returned to work in Egypt, the PEF chose an American, Frederick J. Bliss, as his successor at Tell el-Ḥesi from 1891–1894. There he excavated a giant, wedge-shaped trench now referred to as “Bliss’ Cut.” Although many British scholars castigate him for digging almost one third of the mound and using artificial “layers” cut arbitrarily through the site, Americans consider Bliss an excellent stratigrapher who refined Petrie’s concepts. In 1892 he discovered the first cuneiform tablet found in Palestine, contemporary with those from Tell el-Amarna and mentioning Lachish. From 1894–1897 Bliss continued Warren’s work at Jerusalem. He then joined R. A. S. Macalister in the first regional archaeological project, excavating four major tells in the Shephelah: Tell eṣ-Ŝafi/Tel Ẓafit, Tell Zakariyeh/Tel Azekah, Tell el-Judeideh, and Tell Ŝandaĥanna. This was the first time a complete sequence, spanning from the Bronze Age to the Crusader period, was uncovered.
The Rise of Biblical City Excavations
To help establish a significant British presence in the archaeology of the region, the PEF initiated a major long-term project led by Macalister, who in 1902–8 dug at Tell Jezer/el-Jazari (Gezer). Despite his great potential, Macalister’s Gezer excavations reflect some of the worst practices of the time. He worked his way across the mound, digging a single trench some 12 m. (40 ft.) wide, reaching bedrock, then digging another behind it and filling the first with the back-dirt. There was no control over stratigraphy, and the interrelation between artifacts and layers was ignored. Yet despite these faults, Macalister’s three-volume The Excavation of Gezer (1912) endures as one of the major contributions to this early phase of excavation in Palestine.
A Permanent American Presence
By 1900 the Americans also desired to play a decisive role in the exploration of Palestine, and so formed the American Schools of Oriental Research, a consortium of universities interested in the archaeology, biblical history, and anthropology of the Holy Land, headquartered in Jerusalem (now the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research). Although American institutions had excavated elsewhere in the Middle East, they lacked experience in Palestine. Determined to conduct excavations on a scale comparable to British and Austrian efforts, they enlisted the renowned American Egyptologist George Andrew Reisner under the sponsorship of the new Harvard Semitic Museum to direct their first major campaign at Sebaste (Samaria). The dual role of the site as capital of the northern Israelite kingdom and the later city rebuilt by Herod the Great made it especially appealing. The fantastic palaces and public buildings built by Omri and his son Ahab would make the site one of the most important excavations in the country.
Reisner’s greatest contribution to Syro-Palestinian archaeology was the introduction of the “debris-layer” technique of digging, which consists of separating the occupation layers of superimposed strata while carefully mapping the location of important artifacts. Reisner combined this method with a detailed recording system, including photo records, a daily written report or diary, maps, architectural plans, find-spots, and a registry of finds. Reisner’s impact was diminished by the outbreak of World War I, which delayed publication of his report until 1924.
Lawrence and Musil
Prior to World War I the only region in western Palestine the PEF had yet to investigate was the Negeb desert in the south, adjacent to the strategic Suez Canal. For this they enlisted two young archaeologists, C. Leonard Woolley, excavator of the Mesopotamian city of Ur, and T. E. Lawrence, later known as Lawrence of Arabia for his role in the Arab revolt against the Ottomans. Because of the obvious significance of the region should hostilities break out between Britain and the Ottoman Empire, Lawrence was to use his archaeological research as a cover for military reconnaissance. Woolley and Lawrence’s primary research was in the arid central Negeb desert, where they recorded such impressive Nabatean sites as Oboda (˓Avdat), Sobata (Shivta), and Elusa (Ḥaluẓa).
Of much greater significance to scholarship and early exploration is the lesser known Czech orientalist Alois Musil (1868–1944). Musil is known to Western anthropologists for his seminal study, The Manners and Customs of the Rwala Bedouin (1928), still the standard ethnography of the North Arabian Bedouin. In addition to this ethnographic work, he published Arabia Petraea (1917–18), a series of reports on his topographical-cultural surveys of the Negeb, Transjordan, and Arabia that are still reliable. Musil was instrumental in recording hundreds of archaeological sites, inscriptions, and monuments, including many of the “desert castles” in Jordan dating to the early Islamic period.
Orientalist Tradition Par Excellence
The American scholar William F. Albright represents what may be regarded as the “Golden Age of Biblical Archaeology” (1925–1948). For almost 50 years after his first visit to Palestine in 1919, Albright produced an amazing corpus of writings touching on history, archaeology, ancient Near Eastern studies, epigraphy, and more that helped link the general disciplines of archaeology and biblical research. In the years before Albright, the archaeology of Palestine played little or no part in the biblical/historical controversies generated by Julius Wellhausen and the school of higher criticism. Albright became the most important archaeological player in the debate by enlisting new data, primarily from texts found in excavations in other Near Eastern countries. He used the broadest definition of “biblical archaeology,” encompassing all lands mentioned in the Bible and thus coextensive with the “cradle of civilization.” For Albright, excavations in every part of this broad region shed light, directly or indirectly, on the Bible.
During this period, the public, particularly in the English-speaking world, became fascinated with how archaeology could authenticate or “prove” the earliest history of Israel. By examining the internal evidence of the biblical text, German biblical scholars such as Albrecht Alt and Martin Noth tried to identify the “originating” historical events that were the source of OT narratives. Albright too was involved in the quest for ancient Israel, but he employed the external (nonbiblical) evidence provided by archaeology in Palestine and neighboring lands rather than the history of tradition in the Bible alone. As an “orientalist” he aimed at placing Israel and its traditions within those of the greater ancient Near East by examining the Bible in the light of ancient Near Eastern textual data and material culture.
Albright’s training was in Assyriology and historical/biblical studies rooted in German scholarship. As a self-taught archaeologist, he quickly linked this field with historical geography. During his formative years in Palestine he developed not as a biblical archaeologist but rather a cultural historian, seeking to transform biblical archaeology into the history of the Eastern Mediterranean, understanding biblical literature as belonging to an environment of cultures.
The power of Albright’s intellect as reflected in his prolific writings had an enormous impact on scholarly discourse from the early 1920s until his death in 1971. Surprisingly, he had little archaeological field experience. His reputation as an archaeologist is based on his important excavations at Tell Beit Mirsim, a small tell in the southern Shephelah. His analysis of the pottery and stratigraphy from the site clarified the chronology of the MB, LB, and Iron Ages — those periods most closely linked with the OT — and represents one of the pillars on which relative archaeological dating in Palestine rests. Albright’s command of so many disciplines gave his voice an authority which few questioned during his lifetime. His expertise in such diverse fields as Akkadian, Hebrew, the OT, Near Eastern studies, history, religion, historical geography, and archaeology provided a model for the first generation of Israeli scholars of what should constitute a thorough grounding in biblical archaeology.
Rise of “Biblical Archaeology”
Another prominent orientalist was Roland de Vaux, O.P., a master of ancient Near Eastern history, the OT, and the archaeology of Syro-Palestine. In addition to writing lasting histories of ancient Israel, de Vaux excavated (1946–1960) the northern Tell el-Far˓ah (identified as the site of Tirzah, capital of the northern kingdom before Omri transferred the capital to Samaria) and Khirbet Qumran. However, if scholars such as Albright, Musil, and de Vaux are distinguished by their breadth, a number of Albright’s students went on to narrow biblical archaeology into a parochial field aimed at “proving” the Bible.
Perhaps more than any other, Nelson Glueck represents the archetypal “Biblical Archaeologist.” His view of archaeology in the Holy Land focused more narrowly on two sets of data — the Bible and surface surveys of sites in eastern and western Palestine. Nevertheless, Glueck’s contribution to the field, particularly the study of settlement patterns, cannot be minimized. From 1932 to 1947 he undertook a series of incredible one-man archaeological surveys in Transjordan, mostly in the regions of Ammon, Edom, and Moab, traveling on foot, by camel, or horseback, mapping, collecting pottery sherds, and photographing sites. He constructed maps of settlement distributions, period by period, based on characteristic types of pottery collected on the surface. Denied access to Jordan following the establishment of the state of Israel, Glueck conducted a series of similar surveys in the Negeb desert. However, Glueck had relatively little experience as an excavator, working only two significant sites, the Nabatean temple at Khirbet et-Tannur (1937) and Tell el-Kheleifeh (1938–1940), which he accepted as Solomon’s port city Ezion-geber and which he dated to the 10th-5th centuries. Glueck also identified a large building complex containing thick deposits of ash, soot, and evidence of fire as a sophisticated copper smelting installation. Later research has shown the earliest pottery remains to be no earlier than the 8th century, nor do the remains indicate metalworking at the site. Rather, this represents an overly subjective application of archaeology for biblical research.
Another student of Albright, George Ernest Wright, went on to carry the mantle of “Biblical Archaeology” from the early 1950s to the 1970s. Although his early work was rooted in archaeology, having written an important thesis offering the first systematic pottery typology for Palestine (1937), Wright’s greater interest in theology characterized his later career and made significant impact on American scholars’ understanding of Palestinian archaeology. For Wright, the role of archaeology was to expose the historical basis of the Judeo-Christian faith and to demonstrate how revelation had come through history. To this end, he founded the journal Biblical Archaeologist, in part to raise popular support for archaeology in Syro-Palestine. Wright’s greatest contribution as an excavator was his work at Shechem (Tell Balâtah), regarded as a watershed in American archaeology for introducing a pedagogic method of field school and data recording that influenced a generation of American archaeologists and subsequently Israeli scholars as well.
Towards a Secular Archaeology
British archaeology in Palestine never had the strong links to theology that characterized the post-Albright period of research among American scholars. Beginning in the late 1920s, British archaeology became linked to prehistory with the work of Dorothy Garrod at the Stone Age cave site of Wadi Mughara in the Carmel Mountains. From 1920–26 John Garstang served as the founding director of the British Mandatory Department of Antiquities of Palestine. In 1930–36 he carried out major excavations at Jericho, where he delved into problems related to the Exodus and revealed the existence of Pre-pottery Neolithic cultures in the Levant. A major contribution was Kathleen M. Kenyon’s use of the “debris-layer” method of excavation employed in Britain by Sir Mortimer Wheeler.
Growing dissatisfaction with the theological orientation of “Biblical Archaeology” can be seen in a number of Wright’s students. Like many of them a member of the Tell Balâtah excavation team, Paul W. Lapp focused on the ceramic typology of the later periods (200 b.c.e.–70 c.e.). Based on well-stratified sites, his detailed study presented the most complete ceramic corpus then possible and represented a significant breakthrough. Before he died at age 39, he had carried out major field projects spanning a wide range of sites including Bab edh-Dhra˓ (EB), ˓Araq el-Emir (Hellenistic), Taanach (Canaanite), and the Wadi ed-Daliyeh caves (containing Aramaic documents dating to ca. 375–335). Lapp also introduced the practice of preparing daily top plans, plotting on a three-dimensional map the exact location of each artifact discovered that day.
Emergence of Israeli Archaeology
The emergence and development of the state of Israel has had a profound effect on the archaeology of the Holy Land. In many respects, the sheer number of researchers and extensive local infrastructure will have significant implications for the future of the field. While the history of the Jewish people, particularly of the First and Second Temple periods, has provided considerable motivation for research, interpretation and analysis have been far from dogmatic. Many of the younger scholars concerned with the Bronze and Iron ages are proponents of the broader views of Syro-Palestinian archaeology linked to interpretive frameworks such as cultural ecology.
The roots of Israeli archaeology go back to the beginnings of the Zionist movement and the founding of the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society in 1914. Among the pioneers of archaeology in Israel were Nahman Avigad, Michael Avi-Yonah, Ruth Amiran, Immanuel Ben-Dor, Avraham Biran, Benjamin Mazar, E. L. Sukenik, and Shmuel Yeivin. Most were trained abroad in ancient Near Eastern languages, biblical studies, and classics, and they learned to excavate through foreign expeditions in their country in the 1920s and 1930s. In these early years the limited number of excavations carried out by Jewish Palestinian scholars were at sites related to the Bible and ancient Jewish history: the Philistine sites of ˓Afulah (Jezreel Valley) and Nahariya (Sharon coast) by Moshe Dothan and Tell Qasile by Mazar; the 2nd-4th-century village of Beth She˓arim by Mazar, Pesah Bar-Adon, Imanuel Dunayevsky, Moshe Jaffe, and Jacob Kaplan; and the synagogue at Beth Alpha by Sukenik and Avigad.
What catapulted young Israeli archaeological scholarship onto equal footing with American and European efforts was Yigael Yadin’s work at Hazor initiated in 1955. This large-scale excavation of a key biblical site shaped Israeli field archaeology by making its major focus periods related to the OT. Yadin’s excavations of Hazor were modelled as a training ground for a whole generation of Israeli archaeologists. His scholarship was rooted in a literal interpretation of the Bible with clear links to the archaeological record. However, Yadin’s knowledge of ancient Near Eastern history and culture made his views more synthetic than those of Glueck or Wright. His work at Masada in the 1960s dove-tailed with the aspirations of a young nation searching for its roots.
Yadin selected Hazor, which is referred to several times in extrabiblical sources, because of its central role in the history of ancient Israel. He followed the Reisner-Fisher method of excavation, which involved the careful exposure of large areas to trace the architectural plan and urban development of the site, in many respects foreshadowing the methodology of scholars now interested in social archaeology. Yadin’s approach engendered a debate between the Israeli school of archaeology, which concentrated on large aerial exposures, and the American method, which focused on smaller areas with tighter stratigraphic control. This often acrimonious debate in the 1970s was generated because Americans were re-excavating large sites such as Gezer, Ai, and Tell el-Ḥesi, with the aim of “correcting” the errors of earlier scholars.
In Israel, a rivalry developed focusing not on the philosophy of how one should do archaeology, but rather on historical interpretation. On the basis of his excavations at Hazor, Yadin argued that Israelite settlement began only after the destruction of Hazor as described in Josh. 11:10–14. Yohanan Aharoni’s survey of the Upper Galilee, however, showed many unwalled Iron Age settlements in a relatively inhospitable area which had been almost uninhabited in the LB Age. These data flew in the face of Yadin’s strict interpretation of the Bible and supported the views of Alt, who argued against the literal conquest depicted in Joshua. In many respects, this clash stifled collaboration among Israeli scholars, the effect of which is felt even today.
Ruth Amiran, of the newly founded Israel Museum, introduced a systemization of Palestinian pottery based on both typology and chronology in her classic Ancient Pottery of the Holy Land (1963). Her excavation of an EB town at Tel Arad in the northern Negeb is remarkable for the picture it provides of one of the earliest walled towns in the southern Levant.
Israeli scholars have assembled significant collections for comparative studies in archaeology. Naomi Porat and Yuval Goren have an extensive petrographic slide collection of pottery from the southern Levant at the Geological Survey of Israel and Tel Aviv University. Patricia Smith, Baruch Arensburg, and Israel Hershkovitz have amassed large collections of human remains spanning the full range of prehistoric and historic periods. Mordechai Kislev at Bar Ilan University has a copious collection of macrobotanical materials from archaeological sites in the Levant, and Eitan Tchernov has built a comprehensive collection of archaeozoological and recent fauna remains at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. These collections serve as important reference points for specialists associated with archaeological fieldwork in the southern Levant.
Israeli scholars have played a central role in revitalizing debate concerning the processes of Israelite settlement in Canaan. The discourse focuses on four general models of settlement: a literal interpretation of a military conquest as portrayed in the book of Joshua; a more peaceful “infiltration” as seen in Judges; a “peasant revolt”; and a symbiosis model. The Israeli contribution has been spearheaded by comprehensive archaeological field surveys by Israel Finkelstein, Adam Zertal, Ram Gophna, and others. This huge settlement pattern database has made it possible to evaluate carefully these and other models with hard empirical data previously unavailable, providing an additional source of extrabiblical data to examine the historicity of the biblical accounts. Finally, there have been a number of large-scale excavations at sites including Acco, Aphek, Beth-shean, Dan, Megiddo, Tel Qasile, Tel Mevorakh, Tel Sera˓, and Yoqne˓am which provide additional data for testing archaeological models.
Since the later 1970s scholars using the methodology of literary criticism and critical theory (developed by the German “Frankfurt School,” an approach emphasizing that all historical knowledge is biased by the political views of the investigator) have viewed the Bible as pure literature lacking any historical fact. By “deconstructing” the text much as literary scholars tease apart great works of literature, they contend that the editing of the OT was completed no earlier than the 2nd-1st centuries b.c.e. and that David, Solomon, and other biblical figures are merely a part of Israelite foundation myths. If correct, these views have profound effect on interpretation of the archaeological record, especially for the Iron Age when such important events as the Israelite settlement, the formation of the state, and other social processes are dated. The political agenda of the revisionists themselves is of issue, as in Philip R. Davies’ book In Search of Ancient Israel (1992), which charges that biblical scholars and archaeologists have created a fictitious early (13th century–586) history of the Israelites in the land.
In deconstructing ancient Israel, these scholars go to great lengths to explain away many of the benchmarks of Syro-Palestinian archaeology. For example, they deny any connection between the people called “Israel” in the Merneptah stela (ca. 1208) and the Israel of David and Solomon. They further reject the validity of source-critical analysis in demonstrating older materials such as the Song of Deborah as being embedded in the Bible or extrabiblical materials. Some revisionists claim that the Siloam inscription commemorating completion of Hezekiah’s tunnel does not date to the late 8th century, as universally accepted by epigraphers, but rather to the 2nd century, which ignores the evidence of syntax and lexicography. Other minimalists have gone so far as to label the “House of David” inscription discovered at Tell Dan a forgery planted by the excavator and to claim that, likewise, a 7th-century Philistine inscription discovered at Ekron is a forgery promulgated by archaeologists. Like denials of the Holocaust, these revisionist claims are in danger of being accepted by an ill-informed public, obligating objective scholars to confront and expose these falsehoods.
The influence of the Annales approach to historiography has much to do with biblical archaeology’s need to integrate historical data with archaeology yet work with the constraints of the textual and material culture data to produce a social history of the Holy Land. The result is a move away from the historical-particularist orientation of the field which had crystallized with Wright and Glueck. As noted, the search for a political history of Israel, with its emphasis on confirming events associated with personalities mentioned in the Bible, had been dominated in the United States by Protestant scholars steeped in the Bible and in Israel by scholars brought up on the OT and influenced by the teachings of Albright. During the 1960s professional archaeologists in the U.S. increasingly regarded biblical archaeologists as unscientific amateurs.
In 1975 William G. Dever first proposed a new secular Syro-Palestinian archaeology, dissociated entirely from what he saw as a theologically-driven, deterministic biblical archaeology. The “new archaeology” that had come to dominate other branches of archaeology in the 1960s was viewed as an explicitly scientific approach for which history was of little consequence, and Dever demonstrated value in focusing on environment, economy, and social issues.
A less outspoken critic of the traditional biblical archaeology, Lawrence E. Stager has carefully blended concepts drawn from anthropology and sociology, as well as ecology, ethnoarchaeology, biblical studies, and ancient history to interpret traditional source materials provided by the OT and “dirt” archaeology. In reconstructing the social organization of the Israelite household, he melds biblical accounts with the hard archaeological facts of settlement plans to show how the extended Israelite family lived in antiquity. Elsewhere he looks at the early phase of Israelite settlement to determine why not all the tribes answered Deborah’s call to battle in Judg. 4–5. By studying the local ecology of where the various tribes lived, the archaeology of these areas, and biblical data concerning variations in economy among the tribes, Stager provides innovative insights into the social dynamics of early Israel. Similarly, he uses this broader perspective to examine the processes of Philistine settlement as well as how an “archaeology of destruction” (i.e., the Babylonian conquest of Philistia) can be established at the site of Ashkelon.
Bibliography. W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine and the Bible (Cambridge, Mass., 1932); W. G. Dever, “The Contribution of Archaeology to the Study of Canaanite and Early Israelite Religion,” in Ancient Israelite Religion, ed. P. D. Miller, P. D. Hanson, and S. D. McBride (Philadelphia, 1987), 209–47; P. J. King, American Archaeology in the Mideast (Philadelphia, 1985); T. E. Levy, ed., The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land, 2nd ed. (London, 1998); A. Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 10,000–586 b.c.e. (New York, 1990); P. R. S. Moorey, A Century of Biblical Archaeology (Louisville, 1991); N. A. Silberman, Digging for God and Country: Exploration, Archaeology, and the Secret Struggle for the Holy Land, 1799–1917 (1982, repr. New York, 1990); L. E. Stager, “The Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel,” BASOR 260 (1985): 1–35.
Thomas E. Levy