Biblical Minimalism - Reception and Influence

Reception and Influence

The ideas of the minimalists generated considerable controversy during the 1990s and the early part of the 21st century. Some conservative scholars - motivated, according to the minimalists, by their evangelical Christian background - reacted defensively, attempting to show that the details of the Bible were in fact consistent with having been written by contemporaries (against the minimalist claim that they were largely the work of the Persian or Hellenistic periods). A notable work in this camp was Kenneth Kitchen's On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Taking a different approach, A Biblical History of Israel, by Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III, argued that criterion of distrust set by the minimalsts (the Bible should be regarded as unreliable unless directly confirmed by external sources) was unreasonable, and that it should be regarded as reliable unless directly falsified. Avi Hurvitz compared biblical Hebrew with the Hebrew from ancient inscriptions and found it consistent with the period before the Persian period, thus questioning the key minimalist contention that the biblical books were written several centuries after the events they describe.

In the scholarly mainstream a growing number see significant, even radical, contradictions between the Bible's version of history and the reality, while even some who continue to take the Bible for their framework see it as having less and less reliability as the level of detail increases. In consequence the study of Israel's past has now moved beyond the minimalist/maximalist debate, and historians of ancient Israel have adapted their methodologies by relying less on the Bible and more on sociological models and archaeological evidence. Scholars such as Lester Grabbe (Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know IT?, 2007), Vitctor Matthews (Studying the Ancient Israelites: A Guide to Sources and Methods, 2007), and Hans Barstad (History and the Hebrew Bible, 2008) simply put the evidence before the reader and explain the issues, rather than attempt to write histories; others such as K.L. Knoll (Canaan and Israel in Antiquity, 2001) attempt to include Israel in a broader treatment of ancient Palestine. This is not to say that the ideas of the minimalists are completely adopted in modern study of ancient Israel: Mario Liverani, for example (Israel's History and the History of Israel, 2005), accepts that the biblical sources are from the Persian period, but believes that the minimalists have not truly understood that context nor recognised the importance of the ancient sources used by the authors. Thus positions that do not fit either a minimalist or a maximalist position are now being expressed.

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