Biblical Archaeology and Identity: Israel Finkelstein and his Rivals

During the 1990s and in the early 21st century, a new current in biblical archaeology became dominant. A new school from Tel Aviv University, led by Israel Finkelstein, Ze'ev Herzog and Nadav Na'aman, rejected the circular reasoning of traditional archaeology and presented a more mature and critical approach.

By Shimon Amit
History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science
May 2016

Click here for article.

Comments (12)

Instead of speaking of people as being Pro- Palestinian or Pro-Zionist, perhaps Pro-humanity would be more beneficial and constructive...

#1 - Sean Moran - 05/10/2016 - 18:38

Sean Moran: Very sweet but hardly adequate.

No problems with the article, which also reflects very well the Copenhagen people's oponion about Finkelstein's position in the middle, a place where also Avi Mazar places himself -- a rather crowded place!

However, one thing should be noted: How the biblical agenda is surviving in the differentiation in ancient Palestine between 'Canaanites' and 'Judahites' if not Israelites. This is no more than a continuation of the biblical narrative. There were no 'Canaanites' in Palestine in the biblical sense. We know very little about Palestinian ethnicities of the Iron Age. We do not know in which way people from, say Lachish, distinguished themselves from people living in Jerusalem, or for that matter from people living in Ashdod og Gezer. A break with the biblical master-narrative will have to be thorough, not allowing for such spills to survive.

Reference: My The Canaanites in History and Tradition from 1992. Na'aman only helped to show that I was right about the Canaanites of the Bible being an 'invented' people.


#2 - Niels Lemche - 05/11/2016 - 15:18

Niels Lemche,
You probably meant: "Ami Mazar"

#3 - Shimon Amit - 05/11/2016 - 17:31

Niels Lemche,
You probably meant: "Ami Mazar"

#4 - Shimon Amit - 05/12/2016 - 20:41

The minimalists may endanger the “ Zionist and Jewish identities” , but worse they are endangering the essence of scientific unbiased research.

#5 - Mumcuoglu - 05/13/2016 - 08:31

This article is an excellent proof that every written document, article and even a receipt contains biases.
For example, the use here of the terms "Zionists" versus "Palestinians". This is mixing oranges and apples. Check the definition of these two to see that they are two different entities and not always contradicting. Golda Meir for example, was a Zionist and had a Palestinian passport. So were many others. The Palestinian Philharmonic Orchestra, which is today known as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, had zero Arab musicians and consisted of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.
The terms Jews and Arabs are better fitting here since they are two different ethnicities. (They speak different languages, have different religions, cultures and histories and myths. For example, all the Jews relate to Exodus whether it was a myth of history. Arabs see themselves as descendants of Ismail.

There are many other mistakes. For Example: The Zionist movement during the 19 century and in fact until the 1920's did not show any interest in archaeology.
Prof. Aharoni followed Alt and Noth in his researches, contrary to the claims in this article.

#6 - Rami Arav - 05/20/2016 - 06:48

Shimon Amit claims: Thompson’s view and work are clearly proPalestinians.
For example, he was a director of the Toponomie
Palestinienne project, which “criticized the Israelis for de-Arabicizing
Palestinian toponomy and doing damage to this region’s cultural
heritage” (Thompson, 2011).

If Shimon Amit would look at the report Toponomie Palestinienne 1988 (sic!), he would conclude with me that the conclusion regarding to the dearibicization of Palestinienne toponomie is not tendentiously "pro-Palestinian at all but a very conservative conclusion based on evidence. I would ask that he read the report before criticizing it.

Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

#7 - Thomas L. Thompson - 05/20/2016 - 20:39

An answer to Rami Arav,
(1) Indeed, "every written document, article and even a receipt contains biases." That was one of the points in the article. I have used the terms "Zionists" and "Palestinians" in their current socio-political meaning and context. The meanings of terms change, as you know. Generally, "Zionist Israelis", or "Israeli Jews", do not see themselves as "Palestinians". You are referring to the state of affairs before the establishment of Israel. Moreover, not all Jews share the Zionist view! Therefore, to use the term "Jews" in this context would be completely inaccurate. "Zionist Archaeology" is not my definition regarding the work of the previous generation of archaeologists, but a well accepted term used even by their disciples, i.e. the current generation of archaeologists. Yes, even Garfinkel! See Garfinkel, 2012-2013: Lecture 6:

(2) Where did I write anything about "Zionist archaeology" in the 19th century? I have only referred to Christian archaeologists. In a following paragraph, I have mentioned that the Zionist Archaeologists were influenced and followed Christian archaeologists.

(3) Where did I write anything about Aharoni in regard to Alt and Noth? I have just mentioned that the rivalry between the departments of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University had begun with Yadin and Aharoni. Furthermore, I have added that "despite the rivalry, both Yadin and Aharoni were determined to protect the biblical narrative, i.e. the foundation of the national ethos. In this sense, they represented the entire generation."

#8 - Shimon Amit - 05/20/2016 - 23:08

Shimon Amit wrote: Archaeologists, such as William Foxwell Albright (1968) and Roland de
Vaux (1965), assumed that the sacred texts cannot be doubted. Their aim
was to affirm the biblical narrative using archaeological finds, while
interpreting these finds according to the biblical narrative.

Neither Albright nor de Vaux were fundamentalists and neither considered the Bible as without error. Albright consistently used archaeology to correct the biblical narrative; not least in his 1968 book Amit cites, in which Albright argues that, in fact, Abraham was a caravaneer. De Vaux, though he argued for the historicity of the patriarchal narratives, was even less oriented to a biblicistic interpretation of archaeology, but rather took a middle position between Albright and Albrecht Alt.
See my: The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives, 1974.

Thomas L. Thompson
professor emeritus,
University of Copenhagen

#9 - Thomas L. Thompson - 05/27/2016 - 09:53

An Answer to Thomas L. Thompson:
You are correct. The wording was inaccurate. I meant to write that Albright and de Vaux had tried to protect the biblical narrative.

#10 - Shimon Amit - 05/30/2016 - 13:23

This is an answer to the comment of Thomas L. Thompson from 05/20/2016 (the comment was probably posted long after it was submitted by Thompson, so I did not see it until now):

First, the fact that things are political, or have a political context, does not make them erroneous. For instance, we can agree that democracy is better than dictatorship, but it does not make this agreement apolitical. Plainly, I do not accept the underlying assumption that truth is unbiased, objective and beyond any techno-cultural and socio-political contexts. Truth is much more complicated, in Biblical archaeology, as well as in Biology or any other field.

Second, I did not intend to argue that your report on Palestinienne toponomie is illegitimate or erroneous. Yet, the context of the work and your motivation (at least partially) are political, i.e., pro-Palestinian. I have mentioned your work and the responses to your work in order to show your pro-Palestinian agenda and how it relates to current political issues beyond Biblical Archaeology.

Third, dearibicization of Palestinienne toponomie in Israel is a well known phenomenon. For instance, in Jerusalem we do not use the official Hebrew names of the neighborhoods Geulim and Komemiyut, but instead we continue to use the Arabic names Baka and Talbiya (see Wikipedia). By the way, many Arabic names of places and sites in Israel/Palestine preserve ancient Hebrew names.

#11 - Shimon Amit - 07/16/2016 - 21:13

Dear all,

I think we should realize that the original Zionists that actually created the State of Israel were mainly Russian born communists. The driving force was anti-semitism, not religious messianism. The present settlement policy may be driven by messianic ideals, but that is true only after 1967. The ultra-orthodox community never supported Zionism.

Is there any evidence indicating that the Palestinians are the descendants of the Canaanites? If not, it is not relevant to "Biblical Archeology". The present day political problems should have no effect on the scholarship concerning "Biblical archeology".

#12 - Stefan - 11/08/2017 - 08:01

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