There’s been a bit of curfuffle lately about the (as yet unverified) ‘decyphering’ of an inscription on a pottery shard from Khirbet Qeiyafa by Prof Gershon Galil. I’ve written about my thoughts on the overblown press at Sabio’s blog (which he graciously incorporated into his post). I won’t go back over that.
Reactions to the decyphering are disappointing. Those favoring a minimalist historical view of the Hebrew Bible crying foul on Galil’s conclusions. Those favoring a maximalist view even going so far as to claim this is proof of the story of David and Golliath (though clearly no reasonable scholar is saying that)! Then there are those who buy into Finkelstein‘s middle way that try to balance both extremes.
I’m not a fan of either of these three approaches. I think we simply don’t have enough information to come to any of these conclusions. We have very scant documentary and archaeological evidence. The best we can do is to try to constrain the realms of possibility. It seems clear to me that the extremes are unlikely: the Hebrew bible isn’t accurate in every historical detail, neither it is the case that it was created from whole cloth at a much later date. If verified, this discovery helps to pull in those error bars somewhat. It helps us understand the evolution of the canaanite languages and to understand that people of C10 BCE at least had the notion of a king.
It would be refreshing to hear from more people willing to make clear that the range of scenarios that match the evidence is huge. There’s enough information to make hypotheses and give predictions, but nowhere near enough to determine where the truth lies.