William G. Dever
William Gwinn Dever (born November 27, 1933, Louisville, Kentucky) is an American archaeologist, Old Testament scholar, and historian, specialized in the history of the Ancient Near East and the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah in biblical times. He was Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson from 1975 to 2002. He is a Distinguished Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania.
Dever received his B.A. from Milligan College in 1955, an M.A. from Butler University in 1959, and a B.D. from the Christian Theological Seminary in 1959. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1966. He describes himself as "an unreconstructed traditionalist by temperament and training."
Dever was director of the Harvard Semitic Museum–Hebrew Union College excavations at Gezer in 1966–1971, 1984, and 1990; director of the dig at Khirbet el-Kôm and Jebel Qacaqir (West Bank) 1967–1971; principal investigator at Tell el-Hayyat excavations (Jordan) 1981–1985, and assistant director, University of Arizona Expedition to Idalion, Cyprus, 1991, among other excavations.
He used his background in Near Eastern field archaeology to argue, in Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (2005), for the persistence of the veneration of Asherah in the everyday religion of 'ordinary people' in ancient Israel and Judah. Discussing extensive archaeological evidence from a range of Israelite sites, largely dated between the 12th and the 8th centuries BCE, Dever argued that this 'folk' religion, with its local altars and cultic objects, amulets and votive offerings, was representative of the outlook of the majority of the population, and that the Jerusalem-centred 'book religion' of the Deuteronomist circle set out in the Hebrew Bible was only ever the preserve of an elite, a 'largely impractical' religious ideal.
Dever's views on the worship of Asherah are based to a significant extent on inscriptions at Khirbet el-Qom and Kuntillet Ajrud (though see also his discussion of the significance of a cultic stand from Taanach), as well as thousands of Asherah figurines that archaeologists have found in various Israel locations, including a dump near the First Temple (a dump he attributes to Josiah's iconoclastic reform efforts). His views on worship of the goddess as expressed in this book have been criticised by some. On his methodological approach more generally, Francesca Stavrakopoulou has suggested that his use of the term 'folk religion' 'ultimately endorses the old stereotype of 'popular' or 'folk' religion as the simplistic practices of rural communities', so perpetuating existing 'derogatory assumptions' that more recent discourses on the topic have sought to counter. Others, however, praise Dever's contributions to understanding the history of Israel and Judah in the Iron Age.
On the historicity of the Bible
In retirement, Dever has become a frequent author on questions relating to the historicity of the Bible. He has been critical of scholars who deny any historical value to the biblical accounts. However he is far from being a supporter of biblical literalism either. Instead he has written:
I am not reading the Bible as Scripture… I am in fact not even a theist. My view all along—and especially in the recent books—is first that the biblical narratives are indeed 'stories,' often fictional and almost always propagandistic, but that here and there they contain some valid historical information. That hardly makes me a 'maximalist.'
Archaeology as it is practiced today must be able to challenge, as well as confirm, the Bible stories. Some things described there really did happen, but others did not. The Biblical narratives about Abraham, Moses, Joshua and Solomon probably reflect some historical memories of people and places, but the 'larger than life' portraits of the Bible are unrealistic and contradicted by the archaeological evidence.
However, Dever is also clear that his historical field should be seen on a much broader canvas than merely how it relates to the Bible:
The most naïve misconception about Syro-Palestinian archaeology is that the rationale and purpose of 'biblical archaeology' (and, by extrapolation, Syro-Palestinian archaeology) is simply to elucidate the Bible, or the lands of the Bible
Because of these positions, Dever can be considered a centrist in the biblical field: while he is far more skeptical on the historicity of the Bible than biblical maximalists (whom he often accuses of fundamentalism), he is also vigourously critical of biblical minimalists like Philip R. Davies, Thomas L. Thompson and Niels Peter Lemche (whom he accuses of postmodernism and nihilism). Dever also has a long and bitter feud with fellow archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, whom he has described as "idiosyncratic and doctrinaire" and "a magician and a showman", to which Finkelstein answered by calling Dever "a jealous academic parasite" and "a biblical literalist disguised as a liberal".
In his books What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? and Has Archeology Buried the Bible? Dever denies the historicity of much of the Pentateuch (while admitting that its content may contain some historical kernels) and the Book of Joshua, but states that historical materials can be found from the Book of Judges and onwards.
At Lycoming College (since 2008)
Dever's views have been criticized by some of his fellow scholars, both on the minimalist and maximalist field. Minimalist scholar Philip R. Davies, who is often criticized by Dever in the book, chided his inability to distance himself from his obsessions:
"[Dever's] agendas are that (a) a coordinated team of 'minimalists'/'revisionist' biblical historians are conspiring to deny the existence of ancient Israel (and even of historical 'facts' at all!); (b) Dever has been, and remains, the guardian of truth in matters archaeological; and (c) archaeology can confirm the reliability of Biblical history. The first two of these issues obscure the central thesis."
Peter James, writing on the Palestine Exploration Quarterly, was critical of Dever, accusing him of dismissing contrary evidence without argument and failing to engage with detail as against wider cultural context:
"If Dever’s attempts to link narrative biblical history and archaeology represent mainstream thinking (as he claims), then the field is indeed in deep trouble. It is the kind of blind acceptance of traditional (unsubstantiated) 'synchronisms' espoused by Dever that has provided the very fuel for the minimalists’ criticisms. In short, Dever may prove to be his own worst enemy."
In his book On the Reliability of the Old Testament, evangelical scholar Kenneth Kitchen criticizes Dever for not supporting the historicity of the Pentateuch and of the Book of Joshua, but praises him for his defence of the Bible from the Book of Judges onward:
"In his What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, we have a robust and very valuable reply to minimalists, ruthlessly exposing their suspect agendas and sham "scholarship", following on from his refutations of Finkelstein's archaeological revisionism. It should be read and appreciated (from the period 1200 B.C. onward) for his firsthand contribution on the archaeological aspects, as well in conjunction with this book. There is much solid rock here, and all of us may rejoice in that fact".
Dever also has a long and bitter feud with fellow archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, whom he has described as "idiosyncratic and doctrinaire" and "a magician and a showman", to which Finkelstein answered by calling Dever "a jealous academic parasite" and "a biblical literalist disguised as a liberal". A 2004 debate between Finkelstein and William G. Dever, mediated by Hershel Shanks (editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review), quickly degenerated into insults, forcing Shanks to halt the debate. Shanks described the exchange between the two as "embarassing".
- A 2013 lecture by Dever on the Exodus is available on YouTube. He argues for existence of a historical Israel in the Iron Age, contrary to "revisionists" and "minimalists" such as Niels Peter Lemche. He concludes, however, in this lecture that in the much greater part the Exodus is a myth or "pseudo-history," and that the early Israelites were mostly indigenous Canaanites, while stating that a group of a few thousand migrants from Egypt probably joined Israel in the 13th century BCE or later.
- A 2013 lecture by Dever on whether God had a wife (Asherah) is available on YouTube. In this lecture, he characterizes the Bible as a selective version of Israelite religion told by a right-wing clique of elites, and he argues that the majority of ordinary people were not monotheistic Yahwists and they venerated the "Great Goddess Asherah." He concludes by equating Asherah with the Shekhinah in subsequent Judaism.
- A similar 2014 lecture by Dever at Emory is available on YouTube.
Dever is the son of an evangelical pastor, was raised as an evangelical Christian, and became an evangelical preacher as well. He later rejected Christianity and converted to Reform Judaism, although he now identifies as a secular humanist and a non-believer. He is married to Pamela Gaber, professor of Old Testament and Judaic Studies at Lycoming College.
- Recent archaeological discoveries and biblical research. University of Washington Press. 1990. ISBN 978-0295965888.
- What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel. Eerdmans. 2001. ISBN 0-8028-4794-3.
- Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come from?. Eerdmans. 2003. ISBN 0-8028-0975-8.
- Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. Eerdmans. 2005. ISBN 0-8028-2852-3.
- The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel: Where Archaeology and the Bible Intersect. Eerdmans. 2012. ISBN 978-0-8028-6701-8.
- Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah. SBL Press. 2017. ASIN B076FRSWSC.
- Has archaeology Buried the Bible?. Eerdmans. 2020. ASIN B089LY4LBP.
- My Nine Lives: Sixty Years in Israeli and Biblical Archaeology. SBL. 2020. ASIN B08P3V94PT.
- Confronting the Past: Archaeological and William G. Dever, et al., Historical Essays on Ancient Israel in Honor of William G. Dever (Eisenbrauns, 2006) p ix
- Dever, William (2001). What did the biblical writers know and when did they know it? What archeology can tell us about the reality of ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 16.
- "CURRICULUM VITAE (Abbreviated Version 2/5/02)". University of Arizona, Department of Near Eastern Studies. Archived from the original on 2010-06-27. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
- Dever, William G. (2008) Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel(paperback edition). Cambridge: Eerdmans, page 314.
- Dever, William G. (2008) Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (paperback edition). Cambridge: Eerdmans, pages 110 - 175
- Dever, William G. (2008) Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (paperback edition). Cambridge: Eerdmans, page 90
- Dever, William G. (2008) Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (paperback edition). Cambridge: Eerdmans, pages 153-54, 219-21.
- An example of one of the Asherah figures that Dever discusses as illustrative of his thesis is illustrated here.
- Stavrakopoulou, Francesca (2010) 'Popular' Religion and 'Official' Religion: Practice, Perception, Portrayal. In Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah (Stavrakopoulou, Francesca and John Barton (editors)). London: T&T Clark, pages 43-44.
- E.g., Aren M. Maeir, Oren Ackermann, and Hendrik J. Bruins, The Ecological Consequences of a Siege in Confronting the Past: Archaeological and Historical Essays on Ancient Israel in Honor of William G. Dever, p. 239, Eisenbrauns (January 1, 2006) ISBN 978-1575061177 ("many seminal contributions to the field", "provided important insights"); Suzanne Richards, op. cit., p. 119 ("done more to advance our knowledge of the EB IV period than any other"); Jake R. McCarty and Eugene H. Merrill, Biblotheca Sacra, January–March 2004, vol. 161, no. 1 ("vast and detailed knowledge").
- Dever, William G. (January 2003). "Contra Davies". The Bible and Interpretation. Retrieved 2007-02-12.
- Dever, William G. (March–April 2006). "The Western Cultural Tradition Is at Risk". Biblical Archaeology Review. 32 (2): 26 & 76.
- Dever, William G. "Archaeology". The Anchor Bible Dictionary. p. 358.
- "Save Us from Postmodern Malarkey". The BAS Library. 2015-08-24. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
- "Debate: In This Corner: William Dever and Israel Finkelstein Debate the Early History of Israel". The BAS Library. 2015-08-24. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
- "Divided Kingdom, United Critics". Biblical Archaeology Society. 2014-07-02. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
- Dever, William G. (2002). What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel: What Archeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
- Announcement of appointment, Lycoming College.
- Davies, Philip R. (2002). "What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel [review]". Shofar. 21 (1): 158–160. ISSN 0882-8539.
- Review by Peter James, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 134, 2 (2002).
- Kitchen, K. A. (2006-06-09). On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 468. ISBN 978-0-8028-0396-2.
- "Debate: In This Corner: William Dever and Israel Finkelstein Debate the Early History of Israel". The BAS Library. 2015-08-24. Retrieved 2021-07-22.
- Nast, Condé (2020-06-18). "In Search of King David's Lost Empire". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2021-07-22.
- See the article Asherah#In Israel and Judah.
- Shanks, Hershel, ed. (April 2007). "Losing Faith: Who Did and Who Didn't - How Scholarship Affects Scholars". Biblical Archaeology Review. Biblical Archaeology Society. 33 (2). Archived from the original on 26 January 2021. Retrieved 8 August 2021.
- Dever, William G.: "Archaeology, Ideology, and the Quest for an Ancient or Biblical Israel", NEA 1998, page 46.