Rethinking Israel: Studies in the History and Archaeology of Ancient Israel in Honor of Israel Finkelstein, ed. O. Lipschits, Y. Gadot, and M. J. Adams (Eisenbrauns, 2017)

I first was exposed to some of the new ideas and archaeological analyses of Israel Finkelstein as a young graduate student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and ever since then I have enjoyed repeated opportunity to engage with his voluminous and wide-ranging work and come to realize the highly significant role he has played in advancing archaeological and historical research on the Late Bronze-Iron Age southern Levant. It is no exaggeration to say that his contributions have decisively and irreversibly changed the field, not simply with regard to particular hypotheses and interpretations but also because of his elevation of critical methodology in placing the primary evidence of archaeological data before the secondary evidence of the biblical text. Few scholars have been so impactful and yet consistently original and thought-provoking.

I can do no better than the editors, “Finkelstein’s relentless innovation and big-picture thinking continues to propel the field forward. Sometimes this is done with valid new insights and field-changing revisions, and sometimes with ideas that do not catch on but which scholars cannot ignore, thereby forcing reconsiderations that lead other scholars to new insights. The term ‘revisionist’ has often been wielded by his opponents in a negative sense against Finkelstein’s attempts to reconsider orthodox positions on Ancient Israel. But this is a sad misuse of one of the most important components of historiography and epistemology. Good scholarship will always challenge orthodox positions with new data and new interpretations” (p. xi).

Rethinking Israel, published by Eisenbrauns, celebrates Finkelstein at the height of his career through a collection of articles that respond to or interact in some way with his work. Some articles deal with Bible related issues or themes, while others are purely archaeological in focus. The diversity of contributions is a fitting tribute to a scholar whose interests have been similarly diverse.

I can mention only a few of the contributions I found to be particularly interesting and creative:

P. R. Davies (pp. 71-86) offers some methodological reflections on literary-historical criticism of the Bible, pleading that greater attention be given to the social and political dimensions of ancient text production. He then presents a three stage reconstruction for how the political name “Israel” came to be applied to Judah/Judean people. (My main criticism of Davies here is that he fails to consider the possibility that an ethnic-tribal concept of “Israel” inclusive of Judah may have preceded its political use by the Northern Kingdom, see Weingart 2014; 2015)

E. A. Knauf (pp. 159-72) argues against the theory of a mass Israelite migration to Judah in the 8th-7th century. After noting that biblical texts with their roots in this period are silent on the topic, he weighs the arguments for mass migration and finds them wanting, preferring natural population growth, trickle migration, and gradual cultural and technological transfer. He also suggests that the dialectal evidence of the Hebrew language is inconsistent with mass migration from the north.

O. Lipschits (233-46) critically assesses the argument for downgrading the importance of Bethel as a cultic site from the late Iron Age through the Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenistic periods. He raises various methodological problems with Finkelstein and Singer-Avitz’s research and concludes that the available archaeological evidence is insufficient to warrant dismissing the biblical textual data regarding the site’s activity.

A. M. Maeir and L. A. Hitchcock (247-66) provide a review of the state of the art in archaeological investigation of the Philistines. They problematize and deconstruct earlier scholarly assumptions about Philistine origins and relations to other Levantine peoples, and assess the reliability of the information provided about the Philistines in the Bible.

T. Römer (329-39) argues for a minimal cult reform under the reign of Josiah, limited to Jerusalem and focused on YHWH as the only god and the elimination of Assyrian-inspired cult objects. While a first edition of 2 Kgs 22-23 and Deuteronomy may stem from this period, the story of the discovered book in 22:8 and the law of the king in Deut 17 are later additions. (A significant problem with this reconstruction of the reform, in my mind, is that it overlooks the degree to which the cult described in the reform account is native Judahite rather than Assyrian-inspired—Baal, Asherah, and the heavenly host were certainly indigenous aspects of the cult)

O. Sergi (371-88) presents a new reconstruction of the relation of the kingdom of Saul to later Israel and Judah, associating the territory of Benjamin primarily with the polity located in Jerusalem from the 10th century and situating the development of Saul traditions within Judah. Saul and David were both “Israelite” in an ethnic-tribal sense. (I was surprised not to see any discussion of Gibeon here and its complicated relationship to the polity in Jerusalem)

[Note: I received a free review copy from the publisher]

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