A mixture of academic rivalry, journalistic sensationalism and religious concerns is changing the field of biblical archeology, reports the Chronicle Review (June 22).
For decades, biblical archeology has been driven by debates over discoveries in the Holy Land, but more recently the field has been split by “maximalist” and “minimalist” camps. The maximalists tend to see the biblical account as a reference helping to explain recent finds, such as the recent unearthing of shrines and other cultic objects that are said by proponents to show that biblical references to King David have some basis in history. The minimalists charge that the “traditional” account is marked by religious and nationalist (Israeli) bias, as they argue that such biblical figures as David, Solomon, Moses and Abraham are mythical figures, throwing doubt on the existence of a historic land of Israel.
Even beyond this debate is the turmoil surrounding and challenges to the credibility of biblical archeology created by a wave of mass media interest in the latest archeological finds. Docudramas and movies on spectacular biblical discoveries, often funded by moguls such as director James Cameron and aired on cable channels like Discovery, have created a new market for “holy relics” that often sidesteps credible scholarship, writes Matthew Kalman.
One of the most well-known practitioners of the popularized biblical archeology is Simcha Jacobovici, who has claimed such controversial discoveries as unearthing Jesus’s tomb and, more recently, finding the nails used in his crucifixion. Critics have sought to challenge such media claims of momentous discoveries, but find few opportunities for intellectual exchange. Jacobovici and other commentators charge that their scholarly critics are ordained ministers and have a religious agenda in delegitimizing “Jesus scholarship.”