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William Dever: ‘The Bad Boy of Archaeology’

Posted by NT Wrong on May 14, 2008

Tom Levy introduces William Dever as “The Bad Boy of Archaeology”, in this interview on UCTV’s Dig This, February 2008. Dever gives an overview of Palestinian/Israeli archaeology:

“There has grown up in Europe, particularly, a new school of biblical scholars – they call themselves ‘revisionists’ – who think the Hebrew Bible is a collection of fairy tales, basically – there’s no history at all to be derived from it. I wouldn’t go to that extreme. The Bible is not history in the modern sense, doesn’t purport to be, but I think the Bible contains a lot of historical information about the Iron Age of ancient Palestine or ancient Israel.”

On those, unnamed minimalists, who suggest the Tell Dan inscription may have been a fraud:

“What kind of scholarship is it that discredits the inconvenient evidence? This is the extent to which extremists will go to argue that there was no ancient Israel. And if you think perhaps there is an ideological agenda there, you’re quite right … There are some people who – let’s put it gently – are not friends of Israel, ancient or modern, some people who believe that archaeology can be used to settle competing clams between Israelis and Palestinians today … And there are always people who don’t like the Bible, and enjoy Bible-bashing. I don’t think that’s honest scholarship.”

I should add, there’s nothing new here (it’s a general overview interview), but I was amused by the description of Dever as “The Bad Boy of Archaeology”. Very Indiana Jones. William Dever seemed chuffed.


6 Responses to “William Dever: ‘The Bad Boy of Archaeology’”

  1. Jim said

    Dever is a closet minimalist himself. He plays to whatever audience he is speaking to.

  2. ntwrong said

    When all’s said and done, the self-described ‘centrist’ position doesn’t find very much that is historical in the Bible. So, I agree that it’s ‘minimalist’. Didn’t Davies write an article on this point in some publication?

    I have read evangelical publications which quote Dever’s complaints against ‘minimalists’ (by which Dever means Davies, Lemche, Thompson, etc) and which think that Dever’s one of them, on their side. He’s not at all. He’s much closer to Copenhagen than Albright.

    Does Dever play down his own minimalism in front of evangelical audiences?

  3. Jim said

    Absolutely, which is why I find him so – well – reprehensible.

  4. Niels Peter Lemche said

    I like one line: “they call themselves ‘revisionists’”. That was new to me. Otherwise a poor example of a person who missed the train.


  5. Bob Schillaci said

    On page 30 of the 2007 book “The Quest for the Historical Israel” even Amihai Mazar says:

    “I imagine the historical perspective in the Hebrew Bible as a telescope looking back in time: the farther in time we go back, the more dim the picture becomes. Considering that the supposed telescope stood somewhere in the late-eighth or seventh centuries BCE, it gives us a more accurate picture when we look at the ninth century than when we view the tenth century and so forth.”

    On page 31, Mazar concludes:

    “In spite of these dangers the working hypothesis of the view that I represent is that information in the Deuteronomistic History and other biblical texts may have historical value, in spite of the distortions, exaggerations, theological disposition and literary creativity of the biblical authors and editors.”

    I think that is fairly close to where Dever has ended up but it must be remembered that Dever has spent 50 years digging through this stuff and it transformed him from a preacher to an agnostic. Nonetheless, his older writings are still out there to be used and mis-used by whoever so desires.

    I seem to recall him saying: “I started writing in 2000 to refute the minimalists and ended up becoming one of them.” I applaud his ability to look at evidence and change his mind. We need a lot more of that in science.

  6. “Bad boy of archaeology”- Dever and Simcha may end up on professional wrestling thumbwrestling over that moniker.

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