The open access Journal of Hebrew Scriptures has just published an essay by Israel Finkelstein in which he reacts to Nadav Na’aman’s “Does Archaeology Really Deserve the Status of A ‘High Court’ in Biblical and Historical Research?” Na’aman was concerned about how one should deal with negative archaeological evidence. Unsurprisingly Finkelstein’s answer to Na’anman’s question is, “Yes” or more accurately, “Yes, but.” The “but” is that extrabiblical texts also sit at the same high court.
As in every discipline, archaeological evidence can be fragmentary and may be misinterpreted. Yet, when solid data from wellexcavated sites is compared to assumptions regarding the nature of biblical texts and their date of compilation, the former should prevail, at least until tested by new archaeological evidence or extrabiblical texts.
Relying heavily on some of his earlier work, Finkelstein’s takes on the issues of Gibeah, Bethel, Jerusalem and the question of what one can glean from Amarna letters. I think he is generally correct concerning the archaeological remains from Gibeah and Bethel. In most regards, I think he is also correct about evidence from Jerusalem. I do think he gives the archaeological evidence for the Late Bronze southern Levant, when viewed in the light of the Amarna letters, more merit than it deserves, but perhaps only a little more.
That said, I have my concerns but before I express them I need to reread Na’aman’s essay and look at some other stuff to make sure I don’t say something too stupid. With all the other things I have going, that may take a week or so to get to.
In the meantime, read Finkelstein’s essay and Na’aman’s essay if you have it handy (I need to get it from the library). If you read these essays and consider the possibility of a positive role for interpolation in historical reconstruction and the (negative?) role of a desire for mythological certainty, you may understand the sources of my worry.
Na’aman, Nadav, “Does Archaeology Really Deserve the Status of A ‘High Court’ in Biblical and Historical Research?” in Bob Becking and Lester Grabbe, eds., Between Evidence and Ideology (Oudtestamentische Studiën 59). Leiden: Brill, 2010 165–183.