In 1988, the Biblical Archaeology Society published (with Prentice-Hall)
Ancient Israel, subtitled From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Its eight authors (in eight chapters) were among the leading scholars in their fields: Kyle McCarter, Nahum Sarna, André Lemaire, Siegried Horn, James Purvis, Lee Levine and Shaye Cohen. Ancient Israelproved to be one of the most popular texts in colleges, universities and seminaries across the country. After more than a decade, however, it needed updating. A second edition was published in 1999, with each of the eight chapters either revised by the original author or by a new contributor. The new authors included Ronald Hendel, Max Miller, Eric Meyers, Michael Satlow—and me (Hershel Shanks). This revised edition was reviewed in the highly regarded Journal of Near Eastern Studies in the April 2002 issue by Alexander H. Joffe, now at Purchase College, State University of New York. It is a damning review.
We print it below for several reasons. First, our readers should know when we are criticized as well as when we are praised.
Just as important, however, the review raises some extremely interesting issues that should be discussed in our pages. Comments, both pro and con, are welcome from lay and scholarly readers alike.
I confess I really don’t understand Professor Joffe’s review. Perhaps some of our readers can help me. I certainly recognize Professor Joffe as a scholar in the forefront of modern archaeologists. But there seems to be a deep divide between what is considered in this review old-fashioned Biblical archaeology and the newer, allegedly more sophisticated, form that Professor Joffe practices. And I’m not sure what defines that difference.
Professor Joffe says that we can no longer discuss the patriarchs, or Israel in Egypt, or the settlement in Israel from a historical perspective. I hear him, but I don’t know why he says this. I often say that there are no illegitimate questions, only illegitimate answers. Why is it illegitimate to ask whether there is a historical core to the narratives in the Bible? Why is it illegitimate to be interested in the Bible from a historical perspective? Is Professor Joffe saying that such a question is illegitimate, or that we—the authors of
Ancient Israel—answer it illegitimately? Is he saying that we are afraid to reach negative historical conclusions or that we skew the evidence? I have the feeling he wants us to ask only historiographical questions, not historical questions. But I’m not sure he says that, and if he does, I don’t know why.
Professor Joffe concludes his review with the judgment “Albright lives.” My problem is this: I don’t know whether we should be proud or ashamed of this. Somehow, the name Albright has become a derogatory term. We welcome your views.—H.S.
This book is a curious throwback to the days of high classical, biblical archaeology, when the Bible, extrabiblical texts and archaeological evidence all played nicely together, for the betterment of Christians and Jews alike, or perhaps better, postclassical, since in this updated edition, a number of references are made to recent scholarship that has, in fact, completely overthrown the once happy and confident synthesis. But the authors and their redactors soldier on, bravely asserting the plausibility of biblical accounts.
The problem is categorical. Are the
Lemaire’s chapter on the
For whom is this volume intended? Scholars will find nothing new, and students and lay people will be ill-served by the conflation of categories and regress to approaching ancient Israel overwhelmingly through theological texts. As a whole the volume is like an updated version of Chester McCown’s Ladder of Progress in Palestine (New York, 1943). The irony is that the difference between neo-Albrightian scholarship such as this and explicitly noncritical, evangelical work such as Albert Hoerth’s Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998) is more in tone than content or approach, basically the spin put on the Patriarchs and the Exodus. A far more useful contribution is B.S.J. Isserlin’s The Israelites (London, 1998), a thoughtful and level-headed book that keeps theology, history and archaeology for the most part separate, and when it does combine them, does so cautiously, skeptically and judiciously.
In 988, the Biblical Archaeology Society published (with Prentice-Hall) Ancient Israel, subtitled From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Its eight authors (in eight chapters) were among the leading scholars in their fields: Kyle McCarter, Nahum Sarna, André Lemaire, Siegried Horn, James Purvis, Lee Levine and Shaye Cohen. Ancient Israel proved to be one of the most popular texts in colleges, universities and seminaries across the country. After more than a decade, however, it needed updating. A second edition was published in 1999, with each of the eight chapters either revised by the original author or by […]