[b-hebrew] minimalist/maximalist

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Fri Jun 30 05:29:04 EDT 2006


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "JAMES CHRISTIAN READ" <JCR128 at student.apu.ac.uk>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, June 30, 2006 2:19 AM
Subject: [b-hebrew] minimalist/maximalist


> At the risk of sounding like the only ignorant one around
> here, what exactly is a minimalist or a maximalist?

Dear James,

In very broad terms, a minimalist is someone who thinks that the Bible is of 
minimal value in reconstructing the "real" history of Iron Age Israel, and 
that any "facts" stated by the Bible that are not specifically corroborated 
by archaeological and/or epigraphic evidence should be considered suspect. 
This view is generally based on: a. the ideological/theological/literary 
character of the biblical text, b. the uncertainty about the process of 
transmission of the text and its sources, and c. a view of the Bible as 
having been composed very late, making its preserving a lot of authentic 
information very unlikely.
In the same very broad terms, a maximalist is one who considers the Bible to 
be of great value in reconstructing the "real" history of Iron Age Israel, 
basically that any "facts" stated by the Bible can be considered to 
represent "history", unless either very unlikely or unless specifically 
disproved by archaeological and/or epigraphic evidence. This view is 
generally based on: a. the view that many of the books of the Bible were 
originally written much closer to the events that they describe, making it 
more likely that they preserve real historical memories, b. a view that the 
biblical story, at least in general terms, is basically consistent with both 
the known outlines of the history and culture of the Ancient Near East and 
of the archaeological evidence, and c. a view that the biblical story, at 
least in general terms, is also internally consistent and logical.
I do make a distinction between this type of "maximalist", who does 
recognize that a lot of the details of biblical history are NOT corroborated 
by archaeological and/or epigraphic evidence and DOES recognize the 
ideological/theological/literary character of the biblical text, and what I 
would call "fundamentalists", who, whether they admit it or not, base their 
belief in the historicity of the Bible on their religious faith.
Obviously, there is a lot of ground in between. The most extreme minimalists 
claim that the Bible is a Hellenistic composition with (almost) no 
historical value, and that the entire "history" of Israel, from the 
patriarchs, through the exodus, the conquest, the monarchy and the exile and 
restoration, never happened, at least not in any way close to the way the 
Bible describes it. The Bible is a Hellenistic-period Jewish manifesto, 
written in order to justify the Jews' conquest of "Palestine".
Less extreme minimalists realize that a lot of what the Bible says about the 
later monarchy is corroborated by archaeological and epigraphic evidence, 
which shows that the writers, whatever their ideology might have been, did 
make use of archival sources from the pre-exilic period. The descriptions of 
the "golden age" of Joshua, David and Solomon, however, are mostly myth.
The most extreme maximalists (remember, I'm not including 
religiously-motivated fundamentalists) consider the patriarchal narratives, 
the exodus, the conquest and all the rest to be based on "historical 
memories", even if many of the specifics have become garbled. Less extreme, 
is the view that the patriarchs and exodus, and maybe the conquest, are 
"foundation myths", but that the story of the foundation of the Israelite 
state, the united monarchy and later history, are indeed based on archival 
sources and historical memories, all the while not ignoring the 
ideological/theological/literary character of the biblical text.

The "hot" debate between the two camps over the past few decades has been 
the United Monarchy - history of myth? But this is largely a matter of fads. 
Often, the views which were once considered minimalist later become 
maximalist - then the pendulum swings back.

Hope that helped.

Yigal Levin




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