Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bookshelf: William S. Dever (Archaeology)

I'm going to try to post once a week a recommendation of books bearing on Old Testament study and in particular on our class.  This is the first.

Archaeology has a lot to say about the history of ancient Israel; most of what it has to say is ignored by Biblical scholars, who are mostly really literary analysts, and nearly all of it is ignored by Sunday Schools.  Partly, this is archaeologists' fault -- the way they generally write is even drier and more inaccessible than the output of the literary guys.

William Dever is an exception.  He's punchy and readable, he sees the gap between Biblical criticism and archaeology and tries to fill it, and he knows what he's talking about.  Because he's engaged in a fierce running debate with a group of dogmatic historians who claim there was no ancient Israel as we think about (he calls them "revisionists"), sometimes he takes detours into issues I don't care very much about.  Still, I give all these books five stars and recommend you take a crack at one or two.  In that they touch on issues relating to Deuteronomy and the editing of the Bible, the origin of the Israelites, the alteration of Israel's temple religion, and the ancient suppression of Mother in Heaven (see 1 Nephi 11 and 13), they are relevant to important themes we'll talk about in class.

In Did God Have a Wife?, Dever looks at what archaeology has to say about Mother in Heaven (my words, not his).  It turns out, a lot.  Israel had a female divinity, She was different from the goddesses of the nations around Israel, and there were parties in Israel who hated Her.

In Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?, Dever examines Israel's origins.  The archaeological record gives us reason to be skeptical about some aspects of Israel's origin story (in Exodus and Joshua in particular), but confirms other aspects, including the likelihood that a "House of Joseph" group was part of Israel's ancestry and brought with it Egyptian knowledge and traditions (see, ahem, the Book of Mormon).

Others: What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? is also good, though it gets more than the others into Dever's debate with the revisionists.  The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel is another of his, and also excellent.

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