With a grant of more than $4 million, the project described at the end of Israel Finkelstein’s interview will be a unique scientific effort to reconstruct the history of ancient Israel. Never before has a project of this complexity been undertaken with such substantial funding and such an array of scientific researchers.

The grant proposal notes that we have “very few real-time historical records” relating to the history of ancient Israel. Moreover, the proposal notes, “the biblical testimony [was] written a long time after the events described (if not mythical) took place.” The proposal also recognizes “the strong theological agenda of both the original authors [of the Biblical text] and many modern scholars.”

While Biblical archaeology has “provided critical evidence for the material culture of Ancient Israel … until recently it has been dominated by a conservative interpretation of the biblical text and was not given a true independent role in constructing Ancient Israel’s history,” the grant proposal explains.

In contrast, “The exact and life sciences are not restricted by these preconceptions … Archaeological science,” the proposal asserts, “is the wave of the future.”

The 15-page, single-spaced grant proposal describes this enormously complex project using scientific methodologies that most of us have never heard of, like morphometry, palynology and the examination of polished thin sections illuminated with polarizers. The project will apply “algorithms from the domain of artificial intelligence to the study of epigraphy.” The project will study food deposits left in pottery, using “gas chromatography with either flame ionization or mass spectrometer detectors.” The project will thus “deploy an arsenal of disciplines from the exact and life sciences.”

The researchers will “concentrate on the micro-archaeology of Ancient Israel diachronically and synchronically.”

It is not clear from the proposal to what extent purely Biblical scholars will be part of the project. They are not mentioned. Presumably they will be consulted at various junctures. Certainly this will be required when the project explores “a possible connection between the Hebrew Bible and Homeric literature,” one of the subjects to be studied.

Unlike so many past efforts, this project, we are told, aims to provide a “bias-free history of Ancient Israel” that is expected to “revolutionize the study of Ancient Israel.”

This prodigious project of course represents a marvelous opportunity. It is not without its dangers, however. A major question is whether the plan is simply too complex to be accomplished. Four million dollars sounds like a lot of money until you begin to apply it to the vastness of this project as envisioned in the proposal.

I do have one recommendation—the inclusion of an experienced, high-level management consultant with sufficient authority who will strictly supervise budgets and time schedules of each subproject and review their interconnections. He must have constant access to the principal investigators (Israel Finkelstein and Stephen Weiner) and enjoy their confidence. Of one thing I am sure: Undreamt-of complexities and problems will tax the abilities of even the greatest scholars.—H.S.