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What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel Paperback – May 10, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dever, professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona, has excavated in the Near East for the past 35 years. In this book, he gives readers a cross-section of the world of Syro-Palestinian archaeology. As in an archaeological dig, there are some items here that nonexperts will find fascinating, but much of little interest. The book's title and subtitle are misleading: while the text does contain a helpful survey of the ways in which archaeology can (and cannot) illuminate the historicity of the Bible, this amounts to less than half of the total content. Most of the book is a lengthy argument with a group of scholars Dever calls "the Revisionists," who dismiss the idea that archaeological investigation of the Near East can provide any objectively useful data for reconstructing a history of the region. Dever is understandably opposed to such a view. This book therefore contains two different works: one is a helpful introduction to the world of Syro-Palestinian archaeology and its possible interaction with biblical studies, while the other is a diatribe against a certain cadre of scholars and the philosophical background they represent. It will be rare to find a nonspecialist reader who has interest in the former but is also willing to dig through the latter.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Dever (archaeology and anthropology, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson) rigorously challenges revisionists who deny any historical basis for an "ancient Israel" as portrayed in the Old Testament. This minimalist school of thought, which Dever sees as an outgrowth of various postmodern social agendas, has swelled over the past decade, and Dever here compares its pseudo "quest for the historical Israel" to similar reductionist approaches found in the search for the historical Jesus. In contrast to such revisionists, who discredit even the most reliable archaeological evidence such as the ninth-century inscription from northern Israel mentioning the "house of David" and a "king of Israel" Dever provides a judicious analysis of archaeological data and shows how it squares with what much of the biblical text tells us. For instance, a comparison of texts from Judges and Samuel with archaeological remains from highland villages in the Iron Age are found to coincide remarkably. Highly polemical (and for good reason), this book attempts to correct various recent assertions based more on feelings for the modern Israeli-Palestinian question than on any concern for honest history. Alongside the magisterial collection of essays edited by Hershel Shanks, Ancient Israel (Biblical Archaeology Society, 1999), Dever's accessible book offers a sound critical examination of Israel's origins. An advisable purchase for all academic and most public libraries. Loren Rosson III, Nashua P.L., NH
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 327 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (May 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080282126X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802821263
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #885,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

173 of 185 people found the following review helpful By Ploni Almoni on June 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Two books in one, this awkwardly titled volume contains (i) the best introduction to the archaeology of Iron Age Palestine (biblical Israel) yet written, and (ii) a devastatingly trenchant critique of the scholarship and methodology of the "biblical minimalist" school.
William Dever is perhaps the preeminent American Syro-Palestinian archaeologist of his generation. He has extensive field experience (Shechem, Khirbet el-Qom, Tell el-Hayyat, Beth Shean, and especially Gezer), has served on the editorial board of several major journals, has received several prestigious awards and grants, has a remarkable publication record, and is an accomplished teacher. He also has written many articles for nonspecialists in journals such as "Biblical Archaeology Review". He writes with great force and clarity.
In "What did the Biblical Writers know and When did they know it?", Dever skewers biblical minimalists who insist that the Hebrew Bible is essentially a postexilic fabrication devoid of historical validity. At times Dever's polemic is so bitter it is difficult to reconcile with his reputation as a first magnitude scholar. To those who are unfamiliar with the challenges posed by the minimalist camp (e.g. Thompson, Lemche, Davies, Whitelam, Vikander-Edelman, et al.), Dever's acidity may seem bewildering and even off-putting. The cognoscenti who are familiar with the current debate no doubt will expect a wild ride, and those who are not embarrassed by Dever's diatribe will likely be delighted by his pyrotechnics.
Ensconced in the central chapters of this book, however, is an outstanding introduction to the archaeology of the "land of the Bible" during the Iron Age (1200 - 586 BCE). The Late Bronze (ca.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Atheen on August 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is not a book about religion or one about the authors of the bible specifically. What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? is a critique of traditional biblical, which he finds biased and slipshod, and "new" archaeology, which he feels is almost nihilist-you can't know anything so everything means whatever you want it to and so nothing about it even matters--with neither of which the author is in accord. It is also the author's attempt to write a philosophical treatise, a mission statement of sorts, for field archaeology. He outlines-he seems very fond of outlines-various issues that can be resolved by research into the material remains of humans living in the Levant and points out the limitations that are inherent to field. The work is so clearly written and well organized that it would make a good text on archaeological theory. His discussion of "meaning (p. 70)" and "proof (p. 71)" in archaeological interpretation are especially good, since I don't think that these points are all that apparent to the average person. He writes of the former, "Facts may be assumed to `speak,' but until meaning-a uniquely human quality-is supplied, there is no message....These inherent limitations of the facts brought to light by archaeology must always be kept in mind (p. 70)." And again, "I suggest that archaeologists ought rarely to use the word `proof,' because the kind of verification that is possible in sciences that investigate the physical world is simply not obtainable for material-culture remains, even though they are also physical objects....Ultimately... [archaeologists] are dealing with human behavior, and behavior cannot be replicated in the laboratory, nor is it predictable (p. 71)."
I found the book somewhat hostile at times.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Jaime Andrews on May 9, 2014
Format: Paperback
There has been an ongoing debate for many years over how much of the Bible is based in historical fact and how much is fiction crafted with the purpose of supporting the overall message found therein. There is also a division between those who focus their biblical studies on historical data (such as texts) and those who focus on archeological discoveries.

In What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, William G. Dever delves into how archaeology can shed light on the historicity of the Bible. It is clear that he is a supporter of the archaeological perspective and has a great deal to say against Revisionists (like John Van Seters of Abraham in History and Tradition) although he is respectful about it.

If you are interested in gaining new knowledge on the historical basis of the Bible, there are some interesting chapters here and many intriguing questions are addressed: Is the Bible worth studying? What is the modern relevance? However, at times it can read as sort of a political commentary as Dever's passionate feelings become increasingly evident, so be prepared to do a bit of sifting as you read.

It might have been nice to have a little more of the focus placed on the archaeological aspects of study and less on the arguments against postmodern historians. But if this is a debate that interests you, then this will be right up your alley.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on August 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Dever deserves a blue ribbon for the most cumbersome title in many years. He should also garner an award for his blistering assessment of "postmodern" historians. While he has contested "minimalist" academics elsewhere, this book is an excellent compendium of the issues and evidence regarding the historical validity of the Hebrew Bible. Although the arena of biblical history is small, the issues dealt with are important. His conclusions will have lasting impact not only in biblical history, but archaeology and other disciplines. Although a serious subject, Dever's piercing wit keeps this book a lively and captivating read.

For generations, Dever tells us, the history and archaeology of Palestine have been restrained by biblical texts. Instead of scholars seeking for what is "there", they spent energy trying to verify what the Hebrew Bible related. A shift in attitude brought more detachment in reporting finds. In parallel with new textual analyses, field reseachers uncovered evidence that places and people named in the Hebrew Bible likely existed, but within a different context than related in "The Book". Regrettably, the "different context" attracted the attention of yet another academic element - the "postmodernist, deconstructionist nihilists" who simply abandoned any notion of historical veracity of biblical accounts.

Dever turns his scholarly attention and biting prose to counter this group of "critics". Apart from refuting slanderous charges of fabricating and destroying evidence, Dever shows how the postmodernists have little or no foundation for their judgements. They fail to recognise archaeological data. They dismiss or ignore history, and they make pronouncements based on misconceived notions.
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