Archaeological Issues: Biblical Minimalists Vs. Biblical Maximalists


Biblical minimalists limit the historicity of biblical accounts while biblical maximalists do not limit the historicity of a biblical account[1]. These two camps dominate the current field of archaeology and the possibility of archaeology bringing historical content and a degree of understanding to the Bible, however archaeology cannot proved of disprove the Bible[2]. Minimalists criticize maximalists as being unprofessional and seek to replace the term “biblical archaeology” with “Syro-Palestinian archaeology” to classify it as a general branch of archaeology[3]. Randall Price notes that this division did not always occur and that twenty years ago “The Bible was accepted as a reliable guide for archaeological excavation and archaeological excavation in turn served to confirm the historical reliability of the Bible.”[4]


There are some very compelling arguments on both sides of the fence, but they do agree on a few things. For the biblical minimalists, Niels Lemche argues for the biblical writer using the historical framework of their time when they composed the Bible and uses Pithom and Raamses as an example, to which biblical maximalist William Dever agrees[5]. He states: “Take Pithom and Raamses [built by Israelite slaves in Egypt, according to Exodus 1:11] Pithom was founded by Pharaoh Neco in the late seventh century B.C.E. So it’s out of place in the Bible.”[6] What he is arguing here is that the author who wrote this story was looking through the lenses of what he saw during his day, not necessarily what things were called in the past.


These views share differences and similarities. To begin with, both sides clearly believe the Bible is the Word of God.  Where they differ is the degree to which the Bible speaks to historical occurrences. Minimalists are critical of maximalists because they see many stories in the Old Testament as theological stories. Yosef Garfinkel states: “In the mid-1980s the principal argument involved the dating of the final writing of the text of the Hebrew Bible. The minimalist school claimed then that it had been written only in the Hellenistic period, nearly 700 years after the time of David and Solomon, and that the Biblical descriptions were therefore purely literary.”[7]  Price notes of biblical minimalists: “They object to attempts to demonstrate the historicity of the patriarchal or Exodus-Conquest narratives through archaeological methodology because, as they view these accounts, they are theological, not historical, in nature.”[8] However, there are references to David in texts from the 9th Century BC which indicate that he was a historical figure that actually existed which minimalists have been unable to respond to fruitfully[9].


Price makes a compelling argument for studying archaeology apart from the Bible. He states: “Theological statements include historical or scientific data, but to use history or science to establish theology is wrong, since God cannot be confined to the realm of history and science.”[10] I agree with Price’s assessment here. God exists outside of time itself and so, really, does His plan for redemption and Christ’s Second Coming. It is important that believers acknowledge that the Bible is valid because God said it was and is[11]. Archaeology can go a great way in deepening the faith of a believer, but the Bible should always be the source for definitive occurrences in history. If God is the same now as He has always been, then what we consider to be history is very much the present to Him.

[1] Price, Randall.  The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the

Bible. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1997. p. 322.

[2] Ibid. pp. 328-329.

[3] Idid. pp. 322-323.

[4] Ibid. p. 323.

[5] Lemche, Niels P., Thomas L. Thompson, William G. Dever, and P. Kyle McCarter Jr., “Face to face: Biblical minimalists meet their challenge,” Biblical Archaeology Review 23, no. 1 (July–Aug 1997).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Garfinkel, Yoseff, “The Birth & Death of Biblical Minimalism,” Biblical Archaeology Review 37, no. 3 (May-June 2011).

[8] Price, Randall.  p. 326.

[9] Garfinkel, Yoseff.

[10] Price, Randall.  p. 329.

[11] Through Paul, 2 Timothy 3:16


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My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. I post theology and have leaned towards an emphasis on domestic violence and forgiveness. I serve as Ambassador for the state of Virginia in the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. I hold a Masters of Divinity from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor from Liberty University. I have studied in the two “major fields” of theological thought. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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