Hebron—A Tale of Biblical Scholarship and Archaeology

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It’s no surprise that if there are no rocks that have been dug up then modernity’s skeptical approach wants to relegate Biblical narratives as a myth. The one aspect that needs to be stressed from an academic bias is that there is no unbiased scholarship—none; it doesn’t exist. For example, many skeptics will put forth Archaeologists such as Israel Finkelstein as a non-bias scholar, not motivated by religion, that can be trusted. At this point, it should be understood that many are motivated against religion and how they conduct their research reflects that bias.

Here’s an example, William Dever, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Archaeology writes:

“Hershel pitted me against Philip Davies as the other principal antagonist. He added an article by the noted Israeli archaeologist Amihai Mazar of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (with reporter and sponsor John Camp) on his dig at Tel Rehov with a defense of the conventional 10th-century B.C.E. date for the United Monarchy, contradicting the recently proposed “low chronology” of Tel Aviv University’s Israel Finkelstein.c
In effect, the idiosyncratic “low chronology” that was put forward in the 1990s would rob the United Monarchy—Saul, David, and Solomon, in the 10th century B.C.E.—of any historical reality. All the archaeological evidence would be moved down to the ninth century B.C.E. Thus the revisionists gladly embraced Finkelstein’s research from the beginning.”[1]

 

When it comes to the discipline of Archaeology, it’s an unwritten rule that one should be skeptical of those who seek out for a specific discovery and somehow find it. The best finds are those that are discovered on accident. The point that Dever is making is that Revisionists by the above quote are that many historians, archaeologists, and general people accepted Finkelstein’s non-consensus dating simply because they wanted it to be true not because it was accurate. They wanted to wipe Saul, David, and Solomon from existence and thus the entirety of Abrahamic religions with one swoop.

The above conflict within academic scholarship on the Bible has been dubbed the minimalist-maximalist controversy. Dever, in the same article, explains that the controversy has led to serious consequences in biblical scholarship in archaeology, history, and theological. Dever writes, “Biblical scholars are now mostly preoccupied with a new fad called “cultural memory.” This approach really means that since we don’t think we have reliable sources for writing any realhistory of events, we’ll fall back on how supposed “events” were remembered—the story or the tradition. In that case, factual history is no longer the goal, nor is it essential to scholarship. Then, by definition, archaeology and its new facts are also irrelevant.”[2]

Naturally, the consequences given by Dever have resulted in the dated historical research presented by Fr. Casey in his video “Did the Exodus Really Happen?” in an attempt to parrot what Dever points out is a fad. Finally, the pseudo-intellectual theological position of Catholic theologians post-Vatican II via the Pontific Biblical Commission in the attempt to save face in the world is concerning. The new position of limited inerrancy that has been taken up after Dei Verbum is a walk back on prior statements made by Popes, such as Pope Leo XIII’s Providentissimus Deus that asserted a more orthodox and historically-minded approach to Sacred Scripture—as they want to keep pretending there’s a continuity of hermeneutics. (Read more on the need to get back to Authentic Christian Biblical Scholarship).

First off, what I want to stress to theologians is to do the work to understand the discipline of historical research. Do not take an ‘experts’ word for it but rather become the expert. What’s at stake here? As I’ve been reading through 2 Samuel, the historian kicked in and I said, “I want to know what we know about Hebron. It keeps getting repeated and repeated in the Old Testament. If there’s anything to find it’s there!”

Surprise, Surprise, scholars disagree on what has occurred at Hebron and there is still a lot of work to be done at that ancient location. Archaeologist Avi Ofer concluded that there was no Late Bronze Age activity found at Hebron. He concluded as much by ignoring some pottery evidence and wasn’t aware of discoveries made at six different locations by an American Archaeologist from the 60s by the name of Philip Hammond. Hammond’s work had been interrupted by the 6-day War and the Hebron site passed between different nations and he wasn’t able to continue his work at that location.[3] Of course, during this period is when the events of Joshua would have occurred in the Biblical narrative. Jeffrey Chadwick notes, “All in all, the evidence is strong that Hebron was a thriving city in the Late Bronze Age just before the time the Bible says the Israelites captured it.”[4] The point of which is that Youtube video which will be viewable by thousands of people by a Catholic personality who doesn’t do his due diligence say on the developments of the Exodus, as I explained in my previous post, and this post that has been researched examining the newest articles on the subject written by the experts on the ground will be read by twenty people.

Now, when it comes to Archaeology in the Near East, and if we’re being more specifically Jerusalem. The city is built upon rubble upon more rubble. Naturally, this is what intrigued me about Hebron. Could there be a greater chance to discover something at a different location such as Hebron? As it turns out, the places at Hebron are built upon other parts and what could tell us something about David and his first capital has something built right on top of it. Chadwick writes, “ The remains of his residence—if there are any—probably lie beneath the summit of Tell Rumeide. It is covered, however, by a medieval structure (originally a Byzantine monastery) that local Arabs call Deir Arbain. Hammond carefully surveyed the Deir, but due to an unlikely tradition linking the ruin to the burial of David’s father Jesse and grandmother Ruth, the Israel Antiquities Authority would not authorize Hammond and his successors to excavate in or around it. As a result we can conclude almost nothing archaeologically concerning David’s reign at Hebron.”[5]

So, one of two things can occur at this juncture. One can conclude: “The Bible is inerrant in the matters for the sake of salvation because there’s no evidence for such and such.” Or rather, “The matter is still being studied let’s read the text as a matter of being historical until indicating otherwise.” And yet, faithful Biblical scholars are so timid and in need to be accepted by secular academia that retreat ground all the while trying to claim, “we still hold to the essentials of faith and salvation.” It begs the question… until when?

[1] Dever, William G. “Hershel’s Crusade, No. 2: For King and Country: Chronology and Minimalism,” Biblical Archaeology Review 44, no. 2 (2018): 31–36.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chadwick, Jeffrey R. “Discovering Hebron,” Biblical Archaeology Review 31, no. 5 (2005): 24–33, 70.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

7 thoughts on “Hebron—A Tale of Biblical Scholarship and Archaeology

  1. Here’s the key quote from Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus:

    “There has arisen, to the great detriment of religion, an inept method, dignified by the name of the “higher criticism,” which pretends to judge of the origin, integrity and authority of each Book from internal indications alone. It is clear, on the other hand, that in historical questions, such as the origin and the handing down of writings, the witness of history is of primary importance, and that historical investigation should be made with the utmost care; and that in this matter internal evidence is seldom of great value, except as confirmation. To look upon it in any other light will be to open the door to many evil consequences. It will make the enemies of religion much more bold and confident in attacking and mangling the Sacred Books; and this vaunted “higher criticism” will resolve itself into the reflection of the bias and the prejudice of the critics.”

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  2. Nicholas

    I am personally of the view that the Late Bronze Age ended just following Solomon’s reign (but that his conventional date of c 1000 BC is correct). In other words, the Bronze Age in Israel ended later than we think. The archaeology and text of the Bible point much more in the direction of Solomon being Bronze Age than Iron Age. Centuries of Darkness, though a very involved read, is really worth your time on this point. We’ve been screwed over by the Egyptian chronology. I’m not saying the Rohl is correct (although Centuries of Darkness makes similar points), but the fact is we can’t really be as certain as we would like about pre-Iron Age chronology. We ought to be open-minded, though – and clearly a lot of these detractors are not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s two point of contention with Fr. Casey.

      #1 There’s a fairly weak analysis of the historical record on the ground of what has been discovered in Egypt. Let me give another example, in the video he mentions no evidence of the Israelites, but then mentions evidence of Asiatics in the region–as if the Egyptians made thsoe distinctions. Of course, this fits nicely into his “I don’t know what happened, but something happened.” analysis. It also disregards evidence like Brooklyn Papyrus which names Hebrew names that are also used in the Bible in various places: Menahem, Issachar, Ahser, Shiphrah. And if the Brooklyn papyrus is typical of most Egyptian estates over half of the slave population would be Syro-Palestinian.

      #2 I’ve made the case in my latest post is that Fr. Casey acts as though Catholicism started in the 1960s after Vatican II and nothing before it matters, and nothing that was said prior has any bearing on how we treat newer documents in the faith. It’s sort of the reverse of the Catholic Church started in the 16th century at the Council of Trent with some traditionally minded Catholics.

      The issue with me and Rohl’s chronology is that it fits too smoothly and from a historcal prespective I’m weary when things fit too nicely.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nicholas

        I suppose it is possible. It may be right. When I did Aegean Prehistory, we looked at Santorini and the problems with chronology there. If we go with an early Exodus, then 1400 is about right for the Minoans still being independent (but as I say, chronology is difficult). The Mycenaean control of Knossos/Crete is supposedly later – if I remember correctly.

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      2. Nicholas

        http://www.naclhv.com/2019/12/interpreting-genesis-creation-story.html#Adam_and_Eve_were_historical_persons_Who_were_they_Part_1

        This link is useful as it pretty well describes the reconciling of Genesis and biology to which I subscribe. Main take-aways:

        (1) All humans today are descended from Adam and Eve;
        (2) Adam and Eve are direct creations of God, but are not the first biological human beings;
        (3) The children of Adam and Even married into other human populations.

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