William Dever is to Old Testament what Lampe is to – what? What is it that Lampe studies again? David fails to complete the connection. Nevertheless he presses ahead from this posture of unsupported innuendo:
The trilogy of books pictured above from the pen of William G. Dever represents a solid consensus of recent critical scholarship that works under the premise that archeology and secular history must take precedence over Old Testament Biblical historicity. The results undermine much of the Old Testament’s historical and theological witness. Dever, and the consensus of critical OT archeologists and historians, like Lampe (as John pointed out above), “have seemingly examined each and every scrap of paper from that era, each and every inscription, each and every available public record, in order to come to his conclusions”, and his conclusions include: a pre-monarchy group of “Israelites” is a myth; an exodus of a large group “Israelites” out of Egypt to Palestine is a myth; Moses is not an historical figure; monotheism did not exist until after the Babylonian captivity; the pre-monotheistic Yahweh had a wife (and possibly wives—Mormon apologists love this kind of stuff). Once again, this is what happens when a scholar begins with the premise that archeology and secular history must take precedence over Biblical historicity.This analogy again shows me that David Waltz really isn’t thinking in terms of specific applications here; rather, he is making generalizations (“reliance on archaeology”) without really considering the granular details of what’s being studied. And it’s in his failure to consider the details that his analogy breaks down.
In this post I'll place Dever's work into the context of Old Testament studies, and provide a brief comparison with Lampe's work within the time frame that he studies. And in a future post, I'll deal with some David's other contentions from this and previous posts.
A crash course on contemporary Old Testament studies
Jeffrey Niehaus (Ph.D., Harvard University and Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), in his Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2008), notes that “there are three possible sources of parallels between the Old Testament (and the Bible as a whole) and the ancient Near East: The mutual recollection of major events that actually did occur (e.g., Creation, the Flood), the use by biblical writers of literary and legal forms already current in the ancient Near East (e.g., poetic parallelism with its stock word pairs, the second millennium B.C. International treaty/covenant form), and finally, the activity of deceiving, demonic spirits (producing parallels between supposed acts of pagan gods and the acts of God as they appear in the Bible (177).
Niehaus notes the irony that, in our day, theology is often practiced more as an academic discipline than a spiritual one. It is the case that Dever himself admits “I am not even a theist,” clarifying his beliefs: “My view all along—and especially in the recent books—is first that the biblical narratives are indeed “stories,” often fictional and almost always propagandistic, but that here and there they contain some valid historical information.”
Niehaus puts this posture into perspective:
There are almost always two ways of looking at the data. The first way is to consider them to be part of an ancient Near Eastern worldview. In that case, the biblical authors are just couching things in terms familiar to them from their contemporary thought world. The second way is to consider the parallels as rooted in truth: revealed truth in the Old Testament and the Bible, and distorted truth in the ancient Near East. We prefer the second approach because it is consistent with the claims made by the biblical writers and speakers themselves (177-178).Thus Waltke can point to the types of “discoveries” and “consensus” that Dever is talking about, and put them into perspective:
The common idea of an evolutionary development of biblical monotheism emerging from within Canaanite religion contradicts the Bible’s own claim for the historical otherness of the true faith, including a monotheism that goes back to the patriarchs. The evolutionary model of the religion of Yahweh in the last decades has found support in recently discovered inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (in northeast Sinai, 800 BC) and from Khirbet el-Qom (near Hebron, 725 BC), which show that Yahweh had Asherah, a Canaanite fertility deity, as his consort. … On this and other evidence, the writings of even some senior scholars in the field reflect a growing consensus that true monotheism emerged only late in Israel’s history, probably in the exile as represented in Isaiah 40-55. … But this inscriptional evidence can better be interpreted to validate the biblical testimony that Israel constantly whored after the Canaanite fertility gods (cf. Deut. 16:21-22). Professors of the history of Israel’s religion who seek to topple the biblical account that Yahwistic monotheism reaches back to patriarchal times and to replace it with an evolutionary model developing from polytheism to monotheism do so with a broken reed of ambiguous textual and artifactual evidence (Waltke, An Old Testament Theology,Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2007).This is an important distinction. So while both Lampe and Dever may appear similar methodically, to have “have seemingly examined each and every scrap of paper from that era, each and every inscription, each and every available public record, in order to come to his conclusions,” there is a vast difference between the worlds that they are studying, as well as a huge difference in the result of their work.
While Lampe relied on perhaps hundreds of inscriptions and thousands of primary source documents, and thus was able to reconstruct a remarkably complete and multi-faceted picture of the world he was studying, Dever and those like him are forced to work with “ambiguous” evidence and, because of the nature of Old Testament studies, they inevitably use their “evidence” in only one of two categories: that of either validating the Old Testament testimony, in which case their conclusions contradict the one reliable literary source that exists for that era (i.e., the Old Testament), or of coming to an opposite conclusion, which runs clearly counter to the literary testimony (i.e. the Old Testament).
There is another key difference. I’ll pick that up (and others) in another post.