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170 of 181 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars trenchant, informative, and remarkably broad in scope
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...
Published on June 20, 2001 by ploni_almoni

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Role of Archaeological Evidence in Biblical Studies
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.

Published 3 months ago by Jaime Andrews

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5.0 out of 5 stars Another phenomenal book by William Dever, May 27, 2014
Deborah (Jerusalem, Israel) - See all my reviews
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Like all Dr. Dever's books this is fantastic. Not only full of facts and fascianting information, but extremely well written and easy even for the lay public to read. He has me convinced!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Informative archaelogical survey mixed with scathing antipostmodern polemic, April 20, 2014
No-holds-barred indictment of postmodernist approaches to Biblical scholarship. Dever spends chapter after chapter eviscerating (by name) a variety of scholars who variously claim that ancient Israel is a fiction, an insignificant band of slaves, or a wholly modern construct. This ideological beatdown is interspersed with a thoughtful, comprehensive survey of our archaeological understanding of ancient Israel - among the best available to the interested layman. Dever lets the archaeological evidence do the talking and walks the reader through the various types of evidence that point to the emergence of Israel in early first millennium B.C.E.

But if you've come looking for an archaeologist to "prove" the Bible you've come to the wrong place. Dever's clear conclusion is that the archaeological facts don't always match the Biblical accounts. He makes a strong case for the historicity of Israel without the same case for the inerrancy of the Biblical record. Dever's indictment of ideologically-motivated biblical archaeology uses words less strong than the ones chosen against the postmodernists, but he accuses them post of picking and choosing facts to match a particular worldview.

All in all, Dever comes across as a passionate moderate who sees his chosen field of study threatened by politically motivated amateurs who ought to know better. The final chapters expand the scope of his accusations to all of modern academia, who conflate scholarship with politics or social change losing facts, evidence, and compelling truth in the process. His indignation is righteous and often entertaining.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What Does the Archaeological Record Show, February 4, 2014
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Claims about the historical accuracy of the Old Testament as the Hebrew Scriptures are known in the Christian Bible vary from purely mythical to absolutely verbatim historical. The truth of course lies somewhere between these extremes, in so far as Archaeology can determine. The Archaeological record reveals the history of a Bronze Age to Iron Age occupation of the lands by a people and their religious development, but a history that will be disappointing to both the atheist and the evangelical. That the United Kingdom of David and Solomon existed, as well as the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah is on safe archaeological grounds, but The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, at least, appear to be fables with little evidence.

The evidence from Scripture is a story told only from the Priestly side. How religion played out in daily life of the poor, the farmer, is revealed mostly from the archaeological record in conjunction with what the priestly story condemns. The people worshiped The Lord and His Asherah, His consort or wife. We see the condemnation most clearly of the kings of the Northern kingdom by the priests of the Southern kingdom, which confirms that the practice was common enough to be an irritant to the priestly class.

But details that would have only been know by the authors living in the times they wrote date scriptures to the periods claimed, not hundreds of years later - as claimed by some modern denialists - when daily life had changed sufficiently in countless details that authors hundreds of years later could not have gotten right.

If Biblical history of the Middle East interests you, Professor Dever will not disappoint. If you start from a position that the Old Testament is either all myth or all divinely inspired, your assumptions will be vigorously challenged. Read with an open but skeptical balance and allow yourself to be persuaded as to what archaeology can teach you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dever logically analizes the biblical writers, December 12, 2013
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This review is from: What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel (Paperback)
Dever is a great archaeologist and logically explains the basis of his conclusions of what the biblical writers knew and when they knew it
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars So much fluff for so little substance..., February 6, 2003
Although many might find this book very helpful (just look at some of the reviews), one wonders exactly why did Dever, a self proclaimed "secularist", write such a thinly veiled attack on those scholars whom he happens to have several 'perfessional disagreements' with.
For the simple fact that he does provide a very (and I mean very) elementary introduction to archaeology in the Levant, I gave him a couple of stars. If, however, he had concentrated on "what the bible writers knew, and when they knew it" rather than making such an obviuos theological, and more revealing, his prolonged ideological attack on some of the "big" players in the field of Israelite history (i.e., Thompson, Lemche and Davies), I may have given him some more. He simply can't stand that these "scholars", and they have the PhD's and years in the University and in the field (for some) to prove that, simply disagree with him!! The days of figures such as Albright and Wright, who could command an entire generation of research, are over and Dever has been left pinning for days gone by.
I suggest, rather than taking his arguments at face value, a face that is so red with rage and annoyance at the work that this demolition crew has carried out on his beloved "proto-Israelites", one actally read the works that he simply writes off as being, ironically, ideologically motivated. One might come away with a much more nuanced perspecitve of the region than Dever permits.
All in all, while he does provide some rather interesting points about history in the region, his presentation , or better yet, his interpretation, is sorely lacking the methodological accumen he derides in those he rather harshly maligns. Simply put, he has taken off the field garb of a professional archaeologist, and has instead don the vestments of an ideologue; it is so sad when authors promises go unkept.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just stick to the facts please, July 25, 2009
This review is from: What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel (Paperback)
Dever begins in the Forward stating a three-fold purpose: 'to counter the "revisionists" abuse of show how modern archaeology brilliantly illuminates a real "Israel" in the Iron Age, and also to help foster the dialogue between archaeology and biblical studies'.

This is all unevenly balanced throughout the work, however, and deducts from all this book potentially could've been. There is no need for me to write at length on my frustration of Dever's repetitive preoccupation with scorning the so-called revisionists given the several other reviews venting on this shortcoming. It's enough to say that it comprises most of the content of the book, opening up with it in the first 2 chapters (the 1st chapter was enough), interspersed with occasional popshots at the revisionists throughout the middle, and climaxing with the lengthy chapter 6 repeating everything in the first 2 chapters, only this time with a number of tedious accompanying citations from Dever's conversancy with social science literature. One is impressed to wonder if Dever's true purpose was to showcase this conversancy while loosing his indignation on his opponents on the pretext of elucidating the archaeology of ancient Israel and a desire for intercourse between two disciplines, which are truly secondary and tertiary issues in the book. The third is almost completely neglected as the book proceeds.

There are some apparent inconsistencies as well. It is curious that he first characterizes his opponents as 'well-meaning friends' of the bible (3) and yet never ceases to objurgate them and their handling of it, calling them even 'anti-biblical' (44). The final chapter also excursions mid-invective on a rather pathetic attempt at the easing of tensions between a critically sound history of Israel and theology, which he elsewhere, even in this very chapter, wishes to keep separate! (see, e.g., 265 [theology should 'reclaim history'] and cf. 288 ['separation of inquiries'!]). It didn't help that he would've derided believers from the get-go, remarking that they should discard their 'spiritual blinders' (2). Further, he tries placating devotional readers of the bible by recognizing inordinately subjective transcendent meanings in the biblical text and so engaging a little in the 'revisionism' he denounces (286: 'the text is not static but dynamic'!), although he denies it (see 283-4). His defense of the Hebrew bible's relevance for Western tradition no doubt hints at his own personal biases (he states in Foreword that 'the Jewish tradition suits me in many ways'), and is another indication that the book's focus is not the central issue the title would purport.

The best chapters are 3-5, which, in order: 1) explain the history, methods, and aims of Palestinian archaeology; 2) Establish the existence of an Iron Age Israel in Canaan (rejected by revisionists) with artifacts; 3) Illuminate the religion of Israel during the monarchy with artifacts. The latter two also bring to light significant instances of consilience between the Hebrew bible and artifacts. He repeats several times that he had to stint his artifactual revelations and could not go into further detail on many finds and their correspondences with the Hebrew bible. Unfortunately, more of that would have made the book well worthwhile and merited it at least 4 stars. I give it 3 for the middle 3 chapters.
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26 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Adequate archeology introduction, but not highly recommended, September 20, 2001
As other reviewers note correctly, Dever skewers the minimalists in general. He also gives a good introduction to a variety of archeological finds in the Levant. It is a quick, easy read and I often enjoyed it, though often I was perturbed at the author and here's why:
Dever is an arrogant condescending writer, constantly referring to his own works as basically the authoritative and last word on any given subject. It is hubris and puffery, and a reader is suspect when reading such claims. Secondly, he insults the intelligence of the reader when constantly making claims of what the "modern reader" does and does not believe when reading the Bible. Incredible arrogance. Am I an 'ancient' reader if I don't buy what Dever is selling? Dever claims he converted to Judaism, yet he is an atheist. It is so hypocritical to do such a thing (who converted him?) when Judaism's fundamental principle is belief in one God. It also colours his scholarship. At one point he says archeology can not say anything about Solomon's gold, wisdom, wives etc. but then says most of the biblical narrative 'without question' is unhistorical. The bible is mostly, according to Dever, embellishments, fanciful and fantastic, but since he is an atheist (as are many archeologists and biblical critics), he does not believe a priori in anything connected to God. So stripping out God from the Bible (which is obviously the majority) he basically condemns it, except for his convoluted mumbo jumbo 'secular humanist' appeal to its values, which is hypocritical and fails any standard of logic. According to his worldview, 'modern readers' should also not believe anything written about God, miracles etc. So in Dever's world, the 'modern reader' doesn't include about 98% of the western world's population. Well, Bill Dever, if you are reading this, I believe in God and miracles (see also "In The Beginning - Biblical Creation and Science by Prof. Nathan Aviezer), and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm as modern and educated as you are (though I'm not employed at a university).
Dever purports to write a book for the layman (in addition to students). Then he overuses words which a layman would never use and find highly difficult to understand. He is also obsessed with using German expressions where the English ones are sufficient. And what does "prolegomenon" mean? Sheesh, a professor of mine once said that colleagues of his who were hiding their inadequacies (intellectually and personally) always used language which others would have difficulty understanding in order to cover up. Briefly, there is sloppy editorship, for instance p.154 a temple is labeled as 8-9th century, whereas on p.155 he writes it is 9-10th century. Pp. 142-157 Dever writes he will describe cities north to south, yet he only describes two cities, unless one includes Jerusalem (described last), but on p.141 Beth Shemesh is south (!!) of Jerusalem.
P.119, Dever claims that 'one and all' archeologists accepted the 'overwhelming' evidence of indigenous origins. While I won't say Dever is an outright fabricator, he must have forgotten to tell James K. Hoffmeier and John Currid to name a couple of archeologists who don't buy what Dever claims is a foregone conclusion. Hoffmeier, in "Israel in Egypt" correctly states that Dever misreads Joshua, since only 3 cities were burnt. Nothing in Joshua precludes Israel from settling on the highlands and establishing new settlements as the surveys show. Dever misreads the Bible frequently (see below), and he acknowledges in one footnote his inadequacy in conjugating Hebrew.
Dever states as a fact many things which people disagree with. For instance, he state that D's composition couldn't have been earlier than Josiah. Sheer arrogance on Dever's part when the issue is not settled (nor will it likely be). I am a lawyer by profession. I applaud Dever's attempt to set out 'legal' rules for assessing evidence. Yet he fails his own standards time and again. He rules out Egyptian perspectives of the Exodus based on his perceived 'fact' of indigenous origins, which I have shown above is not a 'fact'. When speaking of the female figurines (and stumping for a 'people's non-monotheistic religion' which clearly agrees, not disagrees as Dever claims, with the texts and their descriptions and warnings against idol worship - a perversion of the texts repeated by many biblical 'scholars'), Dever incredibly calls for 'imagination', dumping his legal principles. OK, Mr. Dever, I think the many female figurines are the pinups of yesteryear, erotic images used by men and boys, as human inclinations haven't changed much.
Lastly, though I can go on and on, I can't leave Dever's abominable and vulgar misreading of the second commandment. He claims that Israelites shouldn't have had any images at all. He clearly can't understand that the prohibition is of images to worship only. Didn't Moses put up a bronze snake on a pole? Wasn't Solomon's temple adorned with images, as Dever notes? When was this alleged prohibition lifted, as Jews and Christians all can own paintings? When I read this, I questioned Dever's level of scholarship in general, and view him skeptically. I also wonder if Dever is unaware of the Kohanic DNA scientific study. That's real science, not 'imagination' or wannabe archeological 'science'. Still, the book is worth the read, though please read James K.Hoffmeier, John Currid, and Kenneth Kitchen for other views.
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27 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More of the Same, November 1, 2001
Virgil Brown (White Oak, Texas USA) - See all my reviews
Who would want to read this book? It is certainly not for someone who wants to know what the title suggests. It is not about what the biblical writers knew and when did they know it. Rather Dever writes *yet again* about what he calls the attack upon the attack upon the "biblical tradition" by "a small but vocal group of scholars" whom he calls Revisionists.
Dever mentions several scholars by name as being Revisionists and discusses them at some length in his second chapter. They are Philip Davies, Thomas L Thompson, Keith Whitelam, Niels Peter Lemche, and Israel Finkelstein. I mention them by name because anyone who has read much of William Dever's recent writings might agree with me that he spends too much time writing *against* the Revisionists/ Minimalists/ Copenhagen School and too little time *on the topic* suggested by his titles.
In this book, Dever describes the Revisionists as "menacing" because they do not intend to merely rewrite the history of ancient Israel, they intend to abolish it alto-gether. This is an ironic description by Dever as his own point of view is that the history of ancient Israel can begin only with the monarchy. For Dever not all of the Deuteronomistic History is historical. There was no Conquest, for example. So is not Dever himself revising or even abolishing Israel's history?
The focal point of this ongoing debate is the historicity of the Davidic monarchy. Dever's opponents say that there is no evidence for the Davidic monarchy. Dever says there is and accuses his opponents of too much skepticism and of not being archaeologists. Yet it is Dever himself who makes explanations for the lack of Assyrian references to Judah. Moreover one of the five mentioned above is an archaeologist.
Who would want to read this book? Perhaps only those who have the notion that Dever is arguing for them.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More then Minimal, March 1, 2009
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This review is from: What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel (Paperback)
The author, an archaeologist with background in biblical studies, investigates the historical backgrounds of the culture and times of the various biblical writings, from the point of view of archaeology. He addresses recent "revisionist" or "minimalist" scholars who have declared that there was no real historical Israel and that the ancient Hebrew literature now collected in what we call the Bible (different number of books included by Jews and Christians) are just fictional literature.

He investigates various biblical themes and events in light of the culture of the periods mentioned in the texts. The author does not write as an apologist for a faith-tradition. Though himself an agnostic, he defends the integrity of the biblical texts from a scientific position. His analysis of the self-styled post-modernist revisionist school presents some good worldview analysis, including a summary discussion of western thought and approaches to biblical interpretation.

He especially reveals the self-contradiction of post-modern history, which claims there is no objective history, yet writes what Dever calls "non-histories" in a dogmatic and authoritative tone. The amazing thing about this is the extensive quotes from the post-modernists, which really offer no evidence for claims, but only polemic and reassertion of the unproven claims, which reject extensive archaeological evidence that must be taken account of in Middle Eastern history.

He is very conversant with related disciplines and competently discusses the cross-disciplinary implications of history and archaeology, comparing and criticizing various schools of Biblical interpretation, archaeology and history. In evaluating the integrity of the biblical texts, Dever notes that their style and format differ from modern writing.

You would think this was an obvious fact, yet it is facilly overlooked by modern writers who simplistically apply modern standards and requirements to ancient literature. It has often seemed to me that they apply inapplicable criteria to the ancient texts form a recent historical concept of history or literature. This precludes the texts speaking to us on their own grounds.

I appreciate Dever's honest attempt to deal with the ancient texts on their own grounds within the assumptions of the Hebrew world view of the ancient Fertile Crescent. Dever concludes that the texts as we now have them include source information from oral or written sources contemporary to the pre-monarchial and monarchial periods in ancient Israel and Judah, making them reliable sources of actual history, in the modern rationalist sense of that word.

He concludes that the content of the biblical writings finds extensive corroboration in archaeology. He also discusses less commonly-known information actually available in the biblical texts which differs from the common "received" and normative summary traditions more familiar to Christians. This ignored information in the biblical texts also coincides with findings of Archaeology concerning ancient Israel's culture and faith.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The case for a real Israel..., July 30, 2001
Thomas J. Brucia "Tom B" (Houston, TX United States) - See all my reviews
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It is frustrating when one is enthused about a book -- and one discovers that someone else has already written an almost perfect review. I refer to ploni_almoni 's work, of course! My only quibble is disagreement with almoni's statement: "I am conflicted in giving this book a five star rating. On a first reading, I was disappointed by the extreme polemic in the opening chapters." I found Dever's polemic, while extreme, fascinating... Both David Noel Freedman and Baruch Halpern have praised this book (I'm being precise in my choice of wording!) and I'm indebted to reviewer Ken Sperry in provoking me to buy and read this book... I hope everyone else enjoys it as much as I did!
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