Archaeology, for much of the past few centuries, has set out to 'prove' the Bible. More recently the pendulum has swung the other way, in which some scholars have attempted to 'disprove' the Bible. Much archaeology and historical research is still biased, but fortunately it has become scholarly practice to at least admit one's biases as a prelude to making assertions and posing theories. Also, a greater objectivity in many regards has been infused into historical research, so that those texts that seem to be predominantly slanted in one direction or the other tend to be given less credibility (particularly as, for instance, if someone sets out 'to prove' the Bible, what they are usually doing is attempting to do is to prove their interpretation or specific reading of the Bible, rather than the Bible itself).
All of this is preamble to my review of this latest work. Volumes can be (and have been) written in discussion of the effect of biased research on scholarship. This is discussed in the preface. `Within the last decade, some scholars have adopted what has come to be called a minimalist approach to ancient Israel. In its most extreme form, this approach discounts the Bible as a credible witness because of the ideological bias of its historical narratives and because they were written centuries after the times they purport to describe.'
Michael Coogan, editor of this volume, disapproves of the dominance of extreme minimalism, and strives with his contributors to take account carefully and critically the Biblical accounts along with all other data.
This is a well-researched book. The contributors include Wayne Pitard, Carol Redmount, Lawrence Stager, Jo Ann Hackett, Carol Meyers, Edward Campbell, Jr., Mordechai Cogan, Mary Joan Winn Leith, Leonard Greenspoon, Amy-Jill Levine, Daniel Schowalter, and Barbara Geller. As Coogan says in his introduction,
Coogan's analysis begins with the pre-history of the Syro-Palestinian region (something often neglected in such studies); from there, it expands to include Egypt and the fertile crescent. The historic timeline includes the pre-history, Bronze Age, Egyptian influences, the eras of Judges and early monarchy, the divided kingdoms, the conquest and exile, the Persian period, the Hellenistic period, the time of the Roman occupation, and finally the emergence of Christianity and the differing trajectories of Christianity and Judaism in the Roman Empire.
By academic standards, this text is generous with photographs, drawings, and maps (but it is by no means the high-gloss, coffee-table sort of book).
This is an important recent contribution to the important task of providing context for the Bible and the development of the three great Middle Eastern religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. `The Bible is one of the foundational texts of our culture of of the three major monotheistic traditions... It is a complex document--a set of anthologies, in fact. Thus, to fully understand the Bible requires a knowledge of the contexts in which it was produced, the many cultures of the ancient Near East and the ancient Mediterranean--the biblical world.'
The scope is vast and wide-ranging, covering thousands of years and a wide geographical area, incorporating several different cultures and languages. Each chapter in this volume can be read as a stand-alone article, but each is best served in relation to the others. Each also contains a selected bibliography for further reading and research. In addition to covering more traditional topics of historical and archaeological interest, articles address social concerns, the role of women, urban/rural tensions, and incorporate many of the latest discoveries.
Worthy of the Oxford Press.