How to Chase a White WhaleThis essay is in response to Thomas Thompson's essay Biblical Archaeology: The Hydra of Palestine’s History, which was published in Bible and Interpretation in October of 2015 and which I noted here. Thomas responds to Joffe in the comments section. I am very happy for the most part to leave it to others who are better informed than I to debate the relationship of the Bible to the archaeology, epigraphic remains, and history of the Iron Age II in this region. I do step in with a comment once in a while if I think I have something useful to say.
A Response to “Biblical Archaeology: The Hydra of Palestine’s History.”
But what bothers Thompson of course is that the Bible is, for some, scripture, and Jewish scripture at that. There has always been a self-evident quality to his biblical antipathy. There is simply too much, well, Jewish stuff, in there, that connects, for better or worse, the past and present. His entire oeuvre has been a concerted effort to sever the Bible from the Jews and their Iron Age ancestors. This forces special pleading and head standing; hence such odd statements as “there is in Israel today, no political room for a post 722 BCE Israel.”
By Alex Joffe
Editor, The Ancient Near East Today
Archaeologist and Historian
The texts in the Bible — both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — were not written with our archaeological and historical questions in mind and very frequently are not of much use for answering those questions. We are, of course, ever tempted to try to extract such answers from the texts, and not entirely without success. But ultimately the texts had their own concerns— ones we often do not understand very well — and were indifferent to ours, and that should make us cautious about our historical conclusions. The lack of scholarly consensus about Iron Age II Israel is, I think, symptomatic of this problem and the question of the historical Jesus runs up against it as well.