- Hardcover: 192 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press (March 4, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195167104
- ISBN-13: 978-0195167108
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1 x 6.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,226,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology Hardcover – March 4, 2004
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Thomas Daviss Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology could not be more timely. The long-standing question of the historicity, the truth, of the Bible; understanding the role that it has played in the now-beleaguered Western cultural tradition; seeing how archaeology is being employed today in the Middle East by all parties to create a past (or invent it) that may well shape all our futures-these are burning issues. Daviss well told story of archaeology in the region, his balanced judgments, and his cautious optimism for an honest dialogue between archaeology and biblical studies, free of theological and nationalistic biases, offer some hope at a time when skepticism prevails. --William G. Dever, Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology emeritus, University of Arizona
"Davis perceptively traces the history of biblical archaeology and the issues underlying its rise and demise. In recent years self-criticism within the discipline has strengthened it to face the new challenges posed by historical minimalists. Davis lays out the current debate between minimalists and maximalists with tremendous clarity. This book is necessary reading for anyone interested in the discipline and will become a standard text."--James K. Hoffmeier, Professor of Old Testament and Near Eastern Archaeology, Trinity International University
Lucid, systematic, comprehensive: an illuminating guide to the growth and practice of Syro-Palestinian archaeology since the 19th century and its complex relationship to the study of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israelite history. --Peter Machinist, Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages, Harvard University
About the Author
Thomas W. Davis is Director of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute. He has more than twenty-five years of archaeological experience, having excavated in Cyprus, Jordan, Egypt, and the United States.
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Davis's 2004 book is a very helpful general overview of the subject; Davis is personally most aligned with the perspective of his teacher and friend William Dever (see books such as What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel), and thus with the "maximalist" perspective (i.e., that the biblical literature CAN tell us some substantial information about these periods of time) rather than the "minimalist" perspective (see books like The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, and The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology And The Myth Of Israel). Nevertheless, he is relatively fair and objective in his summary.
Davis states quite bluntly that "Today, biblical archaeology has been weighed in the balance and found wanting," and "Biblical archaeology as understood by Albright and (G. Ernest) Wright is no more." In other words, the days of archaeologists examining the landscape with a spade in one hand, and a Bible in the other are no more. Davis points out the theological presuppositions of many who came to the archaeological data (such as Wright), which colored their interpretation of the evidence. He also admits the lack of archaeological evidence for the patriarchs, the Exodus, etc. Nevertheless, he rejects the views of the "minimalists" who suggest that the Bible is virtually useless as a source of historical information.
Davis's book is only a brief SURVEY, so don't expect more from it than it promises; but it's more up-to-date than a lot of the "apologetic" material floating around out there, and can make a useful counterbalance to it.
People who read this book will assume they will be learning the truth behind the Hebrew scriptures. Actually much of the slim book discusses more prosaic matters. There is a discussion of the origins of modern Palestinian archaeology since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Davis discusses a laundry list of archaeological institutions, collegial squabbles, financial troubles, and problems over the French and British mandates in the interwar period. There is also a history of archeaological techniques. Modern Palestinian archaeology requires the mastery of three techniques: intense recording of archaeological detail, complex understanding of pottery evolution as a guide to dating, and subtle understanding of stratigraphic principles. Albright was a master of the first two techniques, but had problems with the third. Davis goes to some length to argue that Albright was not a crude fundamentalist. He presented himself as a "moderate" between biblical literalists and theological liberals. Indeed, his wife converted to Catholicism, he readily agreed that archaeological dating trumped biblical chronology, and did not waste his life looking for the remains of Noah Ark.
On the other hand his theological parti pris and his intense opposition to the Wellhausen thesis clearly led him to commit a number of striking non-sequiturs. Early in his career he found the remains of urbanization in the area of the fabled "cities of the plains." After exploring the cemetery and finding objects whose ceremonial purpose was unknown, Albright announced that he had found Sodom, no doubt with its licentious practices. Later on Albright sought to vindicate the truth of Abraham. Since he could not prove his existence directly, Albright sought to argue that phenomenon in the patriarchal narratives, like nomadism and certain legal customs, were present at the time in question. But this involved misdating things by several centuries. His discussion of the conquest focused on several destroyed sites that could be dated to the thirteenth century BCE. This would imply that those areas had been destroyed by Joshua and his armies. That did not actually follow. Moreover, it ignored the fact that there were other sites of destruction before and after this period, while later archaeological research found more continuity than the conquest thesis suggested. There was also the fact that there were no such signs of destruction at two of Joshua's most prominent victories, Jericho and Ai. As Davis admits "The archaeology was used to correct the biblical record, which was used to interpet the archaeology, a circular trap."
On the whole though, this book is too slim a discussion of its subject. The debates between maximalists and minimalists are discussed rather cursorily. Certainly if one wanted a thorough discussion of the Exodus, the Conquest, and the United Monarchy one would have to go elsewhere. Except to underplay it, there is little account of Albright's theological beliefs. There is nothing here like Keith Whitelaw's acidulous criticism of Albright for blanding accepting the barbarities of the conquest. Considering this is a book about the history of Israel, there is little discussion of Israeli archaeology and its possible nationalist biases. And although Albright called himself an orientalist, there is no discussion of orientalism. There is however a mention of Thomas Kuhn's theory of paradigm shift, the sort of thing one expects to find to pad a reheated doctoral dissertation, which is what this book essentially is.