Reviewing James Hoffmeier’s "Israel in Egypt": Part 3

My review of the first chapter:

In his opening chapter, Dr. Hoffmeier marvels (and mourns) that just within the span of a couple of decades biblical archeology went from assumed fact to suspect fiction.  Hoffmeier quotes scholar John Bright who in 1981 said that no scholar at that time questioned that the ancestors of Israel were slaves in Egypt who were delivered in a miraculous manner.  However, within that very decade, “faith” in the historicity of the Exodus and Conquest of Canaan collapsed.

Hoffmeier gives four reasons for this new found skepticism in the historicity of the biblical stories found in the Pentateuch:

1.  The collapse of the Albright-Wright Synthesis of the “conquest” of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites.

2.  The demise of the traditional-source critical certainties regarding the composition of the Pentateuch and the traditional dating of those sources.

3.  The redefining of the historiography of the Bible resulting in the spurning of biblical writings for reconstructing Israel’s early history.

4.  The emergence of a new skepticism towards the historical reliability of the biblical text, what might be called a hermeneutic of suspicion.

Gary:  Hoffmeier goes on to explain each of these four points.  He starts off with Dame Kenyon’s revision of the dates of the fire at Jericho, calling into question any possible link to Joshua.  This discovery seriously damaged the credibility of earlier maximalist archeologists such as Albright. The same is true for later excavations at Ai.  Whereas archeologists such as Albright were certain that the excavations at both Jericho and Ai confirmed the biblical accounts, newer excavations cast serious doubt on the maximalist’s datings. 

How does Dr. Hoffmeier deal with this devastating loss of credibility for the Bible’s historical accuracy?  Answer:  He states that there are some archeologists today who are beginning to question the dating of Kenyon and others, suggesting that the dating of Albright and other earlier maximalists were possibly correct, thereby making it plausible for the evidence at both Jericho and Ai to be consistent with the biblical account.

However, Hoffmeier never states that the tide of scholarly opinion has returned to the maximalist position of the days of Albright.   By naming a few modern Near East archeologists who hold his shared maximalist view, Hoffmeier seems to suggest that the plausibility of the maximalist position is at least tenable (and therefore, respectable scholarship).

He then makes a statement that I find shocking:  “Many historians and biblical scholars now maintain that a text’s claims must be corroborated before they can be considered historical.  This expectation is the opposite of the Western legal tradition of “innocent until proven guilty”

What?

So we are to accept the claims of any ancient text as historically accurate until we find evidence that proves it false??  If that is the case, then I guess we must assume as fact that Mohammad really did fly on a winged horse to Jerusalem.  Good luck finding evidence that proves that claim false.

Hoffmeier closes the chapter with this statement:  “Simply put, the widespread skepticism of the 80’s and 90’s reflects the ideology of the modern historian.”  In other words, Dr. Hoffmeier believes that all scholars who disagree with his position (which would be the majority of scholars) are biased.  So if the majority of Near East scholars and archeologists are biased, doesn’t that infer that their research is not to be trusted??

So what does the poor layperson do when he has both sides of the argument doing biased research; the majority of scholars on the subject being biased liberals, if Dr. Hoffmeier and conservative Christians are correct in their accusations of a liberal/secular bias, and too Dr. Hoffmeier, who admits in the preface of his book and in interviews available on the internet, that he too has an agenda:  to prove the Biblical account historical.  How do we laypersons sift through the propaganda of both sides and find the historical evidence?  Here’s my suggestion:  look for actual evidence for each side’s claims!  (Hint:  Dr. Hoffmeier has already admitted in the preface to “Israel in Egypt” that there is no direct historical or archeological evidence for the Exodus, the Forty Years in the Sinai, nor the Conquest of Canaan, which so happens to be exactly the position of the minimalist scholars whom Dr. Hoffmeier labels as biased!!)

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