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Critical Issues in Early Israelite History
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Critical Issues in Early Israelite History

Edited by Richard S. Hess, Gerald A. Klingbeil, and Paul J. Ray Jr.

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The origin of the Israelites is one of the most frequently discussed issues among archaeologists and biblical scholars. Only a few decades ago, biblical stories such as the Conquest were heralded as confirmed by archaeology. But in the 1970s, Thomas L. Thompson and John Van Seters were in the vanguard of a movement among scholars that was intent on reassessing the historical reliability of the biblical narratives. This reassessment gained momentum during the 1980s and 1990s; today, the mainstream opinion is that there was no Conquest, and the Israelites, if they can be identified as a national entity or as a people, did not arrive in Canaan by means of a military conquest.

For three days in March 2004, a group of scholars met to consider the state of the question and to provide a response to the predominant academic skepticism, a response that considers the biblical text to be an important datum in the construction of the history of the people of Israel. To do so, the authors of the papers read at the conference take into account both biblical and extrabiblical literary evidence, as well as the contributions of archaeology, to describe as completely as possible what may be known about the early history of Israel.  Critical Issues in Early Israelite History publishes the papers read at this conference in the hope that the result will be a balanced portrayal of this watershed event based on all of the currently available evidence.

Product Details

Publisher: Eisenbrauns
Publication date: 2008
Bibliographic info: xvi + 336 pages
Language(s): English


Cover: Cloth
Trim Size: 6 x 9



"Within the last few decades there has been a debate within both archaeological and biblical studies over the emergence of early Israel. Hence, a book produced by scholars who believe the proper and respectful joining of archaeological and biblical studies "forms an essential foundation for the study of early Israel" (p. xvi) is a daring venture. Such an undertaking, however, gives Critical Issues in Early Israelite History a fresh and powerful appeal to the many who have confidence in both archaeology and the Bible. This volume is a compilation of essays originating from an Andrews University conference held in 2004 and is somewhat of a sequel to The Future of Biblical Archaeology (Hoffmeier and Millard 2004).

The book is divided into three sections, each with four essays, followed by a reference section and two indexes. . . . One of the more interesting articles in Critical Issues in Early Israelite History is The Search for Joshua's Ai, by Wood. Wood is the leading scholar of the Associates for Biblical Research whose most prominent dig is Khirbet el-Maqatir. Wood began the excavation in 1995 and chose to dig at Khirbet el-Maqatir because he believed the site was the only one that meets the "complete matrix of biblical and extrabiblical requirements" (p. 205) to be Joshua's city of Ai. This, of course, is in opposition to the generally accepted location of Ai at et-Tell. If Wood is correct, there must be a reversal of many long-standing assumptions. First, one must reject et-Tell as Ai. Second, one must agree that el-Bira is Bethel and finally, that Beitin is Beth Aven, not Bethel. All are crucial to understanding Wood's promotion of Khirbet el-Maqatir as Ai and hinge upon one another. While Wood give sa very meticulous argument, one he has previously discussed elsewhere (Wood 1999, 2000), he has had very little success in convincing other archaeologists in the field. Outside of the Associates of Biblical Research, this writer knows of no others who are, as of yet, willing to advocate Wood's radical shuffling of the accepted site locations. This is not to say that Wood is either right or wrong. His arguments are detailed and thought provoking.

The article by Richard S. Hess also deals with "The Jericho and Ai of the Book of Joshua," but addresses textual issues, and in contrast to Wood's article, focuses primarily on Jericho with only minor attention given to Ai. Two articles which augment one another are Paul Ray's "Classical Models for the Appearance of Israel in Palestine" and Patrick Mazani's "The Appearance of Israel in Canaan in Recent Scholarship." Ray's article demonstrates that if one approaches Joshua and Judges as "complementary, describing two different phases" (p. 93), a certain measure of agreement between the classical models and the biblical text is evident. Mazani, meanwhile, points out the shifting and dissatisfying nature of recent scholarship concerning Israel's presence. He correctly argues that the recent theoretical models are too selective, narrow, and "lacking a healthy respect for the biblical tradition itself" (p. 109). As a result, they "have failed to give a satisfactory explanation of the origin of Israel" (p. 109). The pair of authors point out that the classical models and recent scholarship have given the Bible too little historical value in the debate over Israel's presence in Palestine.

As is true for any collection of essays, Critical Issues in Early Israelite History contains articles of varying strength, depth, and interest. Yet, throughout the entirety of the book, the authors' unified trust in archaeological and biblical studies is evident. This volume demonstrates that when both disciplines are given proper respect and attention, a realistic understanding of Israel's presence in Palestine is attainable. Therefore, one can enthusiastically recommend the book to all who have studied, questioned, and pondered Israel's presence in Palestine. Perhaps Critical Issues in Early Israelite History can serve as an example for future writing endeavors in biblical archaeology."—Chet Roden, Liberty University Seminary, in Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin 54.

"The volume is an impressive production of scholars working in Africa, Asia, South American, and North America. Although clearly having an agenda to refute the minimalists, the essays reflect critical and careful study of textual and archaeological evidence with cautious conclusions. It is a welcome addition to the debate on the origin of Israel in Canaan."—Jeffrey K. Kuan, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA, in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 72 (2010).

"Collectively, the contributors to this volume have provided a helpful reference tool for the history of ancient Israel. Students and scholars will benefit from the diverse collection of essays as well as the copious bibliography. For this reason, the present volume is a commendable contribution to the study of ancient Israel."—adam miglio, Wheaton College in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 71.2 (2012)

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