Minimizing the Minimalists

There’s a remarkable article in the current issue of BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review. You can access this article at the BAR website free by clicking here). It’s entitled “The Birth and Death of Biblical Minimalism.” For a number of years, a variety of scholars have sought to undercut the historical accuracy of the Old Testament text. They claimed for example, that King David was likely not a historical figure, since his name had not been found on any monuments or inscriptions from antiquity. He was perhaps a mythical character along the lines of King Arthur of British lore. They claimed that the kingdom of David and Solomon weren’t actual kingdoms, and that Israel wasn’t really a nation. The story of the United Kingdom under David and Solomon, they claimed, was the result of an invented history created much later, during the Hellenistic period.

As the article says: “Hardly had the minimalist argument been developed than it was profoundly undermined by an archaeological discovery. In 1993 and 1994, several fragments of an Aramaic stela were found at the long-running excavation of Tel Dan.”

Dating from the 9th century B.C., the text specifically mentions a king of Israel and a king of the “House of David.”

This discovery led to a reexamination of the Mesha Stela, which now resides in the Louvre in Paris. Inscribed on that ancient monument is another reference to the House of David.

“Thus, there is at least one, and possibly two, clean references to the dynasty of David in the ninth century B.C.E., only 100-120 years after his reign. This is clear evidence that David was indeed a historical figure and the founding father of a dynasty.”

The Minimalists then reinterpreted the data regarding whether Judah was an Iron Age I or an Iron Age 2 society. They asserted that while David was a real figure, he was only a tribal chief and the real kingdom-age of Judah occurred later.

But recent excavations at the Judahite fortress of Khirbet Qeiyafa have “blown to smithereens” this new attempt by Minimalists to discredit the biblical narrative.

Moreover, a written passage inscribed in ink on a 6-by-6-inch pottery shard from Qeiyafa has been logged as the earliest known Hebrew inscription ever discovered. It indicates: “…that the Judahite state, even during the reign of King David, was already using trained and literate scribes to record the day-to-day affairs of the kingdom’s villages and outposts.”

To their consternation, the Minimalists are themselves being minimalized by each new archaeological discovery.

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