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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Archaeology, Bible, and History

Morton Smith observed in his 1968 Presidential Address to the Society of Biblical Literature that ‘for a correct history of the Israelites we must have the archaeological facts determined quite objectively and independently by competent archaeologists, and the biblical texts likewise by competent philologians, and then we can begin to compare them’ (Smith 1969: 34). Similarly, Dever has recently concluded, arguing for dialogue between texts and artefacts (and those who interpret them), that these two sources ‘must be interpreted separately and similarly, and then compared’ (2001: 79; cf. Bartlett 1997: 14).

The main problem of ‘biblical archaeology’ was that it was one-sided, attempting to fit archaeological evidence into the mould set by biblical historians. ‘Syro-Palestinian archaeology’ was in equal danger of subordinating biblical evidence to an archaeological framework. Dialogue is necessary; the resources of texts and artefacts must be combined. However, there are difficulties here, because ‘literature and archaeology just do not meet’ (Knauf 1991: 39). Knauf also reminds us that ‘facts’ are theoretical constructs (a point which surely applies to archaeological ‘facts’ as much as to written information). What the archaeologist offers the historian is interpretation of artefacts; similarly, what the biblical scholar offers the historian is interpretation of texts. Knauf reminds us that ‘history’ is always ‘someone's history of something’ (1991: 37), that ‘every history is the creation of a human mind’ (1991: 27); that ‘we do not find knowledge, we make it’ (1991: 29); and he warns us that ‘only ideologists are always right; scholars know that everything they say is potentially wrong’ (1991: 31). Such words are important for archaeologists and biblical historians alike.

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