Yosi Garfinkel: Heat and Light on Dating Ancient Biblical Sites
by James Tabor
Yosi Garfinkel has a not-to-be-missed essay just up at Bible & Interpretation, the premier web site in our field covering issues related to the Bible, archaeology, and interpretation. The title alone is classic and Garfinkel has much to protest: Data, Paradigms, and Paradigm-Collapse Trauma: from Biblical Archaeology to Brutal Biblical Archaeology.
With few scientific arguments to buttress their position, they [minimalists] proposed an imaginary, alternative history of biblical Israel and Judah. Instead of fostering a discussion between two competing paradigms based on the interpretation of data, the minimalists resorted to rhetoric and demagoguery, ignoring both the relevant archaeological data and the Bible.
Garfinkel’s challenge is a bold one:
Today, however, in some circles the paradigm has become more important than the data: when new data clearly show that an old paradigm is wrong, the scholars who created the flawed paradigm sometimes reject the new data and desperately attempt to keep the old paradigm alive. Articles reflecting such thinking are symptomatic of “paradigm-collapse trauma” and consist of groundless arguments, masquerading as scientific writing through footnotes, references and publication in professional journals.
His focus is on the early dating of the Iron Age site Khirbet Qeiyafa, in the Elah Valley, to the late 11th and early 10th century BCE. I have previously posted some of the spectacular finds here, and just this past May Garfinkel captured world headlines with his announcement that he had found objects related to early Judean cult worship. Last summer when Shimon Gibson and I were digging at the “John the Baptist cave” at Suba with a group of our students, Yosi visited our site and we in turn were invited to Khirbet Qeiyafa, where we were honored to be given a personal tour. Garfinkel argues that:
The cumulative weight of the data indicate that the population of the site was not Philistine, Canaanite or people from the northern Kingdom of Israel. With its dating and location in the Elah Valley, the site marks the beginning of a new era: the establishment of the biblical Kingdom of Judah.
This particular article summarizes the data to support his conclusion but more than that it protests the ugly manner in which controversial issues are vetted and differing opinions are exchanged in the every heated field we call “Biblical Archaeology.”