Quote of the Day (Israel Finkelstein)

“[C]ollecting stories is one thing and preserving their older meanings and contexts is another. The underlying idea in many Biblical studies of the conservative camp, that old memories were orally transmitted, unchanged through the centuries, is unrealistic and somewhat naive. Old stories must have absorbed different layers of realities on their way down through the centuries until they were put in writing.”

— Israel Finkelstein, “Digging for the Truth: Archaeology and the Bible” in Brian B. Schmidt (ed.), The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007) p.18.
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  • Thanks, James.Finkelstein is a class act. To be sure, it’s important to compare his results with others who stand in the “radical center” of the debate, such as Avraham Faust and Amihai Mazar. It’s not just maximalists that err on the side of naivete. Minimalists are guilty of the same.Go here for details:http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2009/05/resetting-the-discipline-of-biblical-archaeology.html

  • Thanks for the comment, and for your post, which those interested in this subject should definitely take a look at. One thing that makes the volume the quote is from so valuable is that it has two main contributors, each of whom occupies a different point along the spectrum in the middle, but both of whom agree that the evidence is incompatible with either minimalist or maximalist extremes.The reason I chose that particular quote was my current interest in oral tradition and memory.

  • James:Indeed, thanks for the quotation. I take a somewhat critical (although very interested) view in archaeology. It isn’t my traditional MO, and thus I often find the multiplicity of interpretations and diverse descriptions confusing and frustrating. That said, I read The Quest for the Historical Israel beginning to end, and I share your sentiments–it is a fine, fine volume with two different voices from the ‘middle’ (although I think Finkelstein sounds quite a bit like a minimalist at many points, an observation which Aren Maeir both shared yet cautioned against when I met him). I think this volume is a very important one for laying out, plainly, the ‘state of the discipline’ for those in the academy who are neither maximalists nor minimalists, which I’m guessing would be most of us. On a related note, one of my first blog posts dealt with the tenth century debate, which is well-represented in the Quest volume. Here is the link if you wanted to take a peek: http://hesedweemet.wordpress.com/2009/03/17/the-tenth-century-question-or-finkelstein-vs-everyone-else/On the tenth century issue, now about 14 years removed from Finkelstein’s initial publications on the issue of Philistine pottery and settlement and Iron Age chronology (1995 and 1996), it is fascinating to see how both he and Mazar have altered their respective views, each time getting closer and closer to one another. But despite tremendous criticism (and some very harsh, simply dismissals, such as in a footnote in Ziony Zevit’s 2001 tome on Israelite religion), Finkelstein has continued to advance his case. If anything, he is persistent.

  • John,Thanks for citing your post, which I had not read. Finkelstein appears to be all wet when it comes to the question of the United Monarchy and the corresponding archaeological record. This is close to incontrovertible now, given the finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa and in Edom. It now makes sense archaeologically, quite apart from the Bible, to imagine rival (city-)state formation going on in Philistia, Israel, and Edom in the time period one expects given what we have in the Bible. But it is a grave mistake to think of Finkelstein in terms of this hypothesis alone. Quite apart from that hypothesis, he continues to make signal contributions to the field, sometimes to the “right” and sometimes to the “left” of other scholars. It is a mistake to class him with the minimalists.

  • I know Finkelstein is not a minimalist based upon his other works, certainly. At times, though, especially in the Quest volume (and most often in his scathing attacks on Dever) he sounds closer to a minimalist. I’m sure it is a line we all tread.I agree that Finkelstein’s original articulation of the tenth century issue has not held; this is evidenced by the fact he has changed his view since. But at the same time, in the Quest volume Mazar also notes that the conventional chronology of Yadin is in need of some altering, and thus Mazar proposes the MCC (modified conventional chronology). I’m not taken away with it, given that it seems to me to be a bit of a cop-out on some points, but at present, it may also be the most honest assessment of the evidence we have. In conversation with Aren Maeir on these issues, he noted that it is quite clear the conventional chronology is in need of some modification. I, of course, cannot quibble. But whether that modification involves a wholesale downdating by 50-100 years I do not think can be sustained. But Mazar and Finkelstein continue to hone their views, and for this continued fidelity to the question I am grateful.

  • John,I’m sure you’re right. I need to link to this discussion in my post.There’s a fair chance the chronological issues will be clarified as excavations at Kh. Qeiyafa continue.That’s because it does not matter whether the site is Philistine or Israelite (though the evidence so far points to the latter).In any case, to borrow a page from Thomas E. Levy, the emergence of the Israelite state would occur as a result of local peer polity interaction with neighboring statelets such as Philistia, Edom, Moab, and others.