Sunday, March 06, 2005

Here are some further thoughts on William Dever's What Did the Bible Writers Know and When Did they Know It?

The bulk of the book is in the fifth chapter that deals with the period from the death of Solomon until the fall of Judah to the Babylonians in 586BC. For this period, Dever can point to loads of archaeological information that have convergences in the Bible. Most famously, there are events like the raid of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishank around 925BC, the mention of Israel’s kings in Assyrian records and the unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem in 701AD. Shishank’s raid is commemorated in an inscription in Egypt which match destruction layers in Palestine and the Biblical record. Likewise, evidence of Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem in 701BC is found in the famous inscription by Hezekiah in his water tunnel, Assyrian inscriptions and the biblical record, not to mention royal storage urns dating to exactly that campaign. As far as Dever is concerned, it is simply bad scholarship to ignore all this evidence coming together. Another point he is keen to make is that there are countless Hebrew inscriptions dating from before the Exile that show the Hebrew language existed long before the Persian period when the Bible reached its final form. Here, through no fault of his own, Dever comes a bit unstuck. Some of the inscriptions that he mentions form part of the present forgery indictments in Jerusalem and Dever does make light of the idea that they might be fakes. Some of his opponents have claimed that the Baruch bulla, for instance, is forged, which Dever declares a ridiculous idea. Sadly it is no such thing and archaeologists are probably now unable to trust anything not found in situ. This leaves a great deal of trustworthy archaeological evidence but not as much as Dever thought at the time of writing this book. Certainly declaring anything that destroys your theories is a forgery, as Dever hints some have been doing, is bad methodology.

The final chapter is a bit if a rehash of the rest of the book but contains one more killer point against the Bible being written very late in its entirety. Dever points out that the reason that most scholars now date the Book of Daniel to the Hellenistic period is precisely because it contains many references to the political situation at that time. This kind of anachronism, Dever rightly says, is a good reason to date a text late. Contrasting the position of the Deuteronomincal History, Dever explains how the fact that it contains none of the anachronisms you would expect if it had been originally written in the post-exilic period is a good reason to date it early. If you add to this how it is uncannily accurate about matters of detail about life in the united and divided monarchy period, now confirmed by archaeology, we have little choice but to accept it contains genuine history which can be extracted using critical methods.

1 comment:

Joel "Celsus" Ng said...

Hello Bede,

I've written a reply of sorts here.