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Minimalist vs Maximalist Biblical Archaeology

Israel Today, Tsvi Sadan, June 16, 2019

Researching and uncovering Israel’s past can’t help but be influenced by Israel’s present

On April 30, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem hosted the first in a series of lectures by archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel under the title “Revisiting the Bible.” It came shortly after Garfinkel’s discovery of a fortified wall at Tel Lachish that was dated to the 10th century BC.

The date of the wall, determined by olive pits found at its base, was pinpointed to 920 BC, the time when Rehoboam ruled the Kingdom of Judah. According to Garfinkel, this new finding confirms 2 Chronicles 11:5-12, stating that Rehoboam “built cities for defense in Judah… Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah…and made them very strong.”

Garfinkel, who serves as Head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, earned international recognition following his 2007-2012 excavations of Khirbet Qeiyafa. He identified the site as a Judean city, most likely Sha’arayim mentioned in 2 Samuel 17:52. The findings, including an inscription with the name Ishbaal son of Beda, indicated that Judah was an established kingdom, which contradicts the Minimalist notion of nomads living in tents.

Garfinkel’s findings ignited a fierce debate between Minimalist and so-called Maximalist archaeologists. The first believe that the Bible contains mere stories, rather than historical accounts. The second believe that what archaeologists call “biblical tradition” accounts for real places, people and events.

The leading Minimalist archaeologist is Tel Aviv University Prof. Israel Finkelstein, who not long ago insisted that King David was at best a peripheral Bedouin sheikh, and not the ruler of an established regional power, as indicated in the Bible. By claiming that the biblical “Israel” is an ideological construct created by ancient Jews to justify their religious particularism, the Minimalist school has no problem accepting non-biblical historical accounts, making it inherently political from the get-go.

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