Zusammenfassung / Summary
Twenty years have passed since Philip Davies published In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ (1992), and it is time to take stock. To this aim, Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spano and Florian Lippke organised and chaired a session entitled “What have we learned from the Minimalists?” at the joint SBL / EABS conference in Berlin, on August 2017. The session included five papers, and two responses. The death of Philip Davies caused the dispersal of some papers to be published in a memorial volume to honour his memory.
The other papers are from core members of the European Seminar in Historical Methodology, which, after seventeen years has accomplished what this volume brings to light. The volume includes additional responses from Athalya Brenner-Idan and Ernst Axel Knauf.
The aim was to evaluate the impact of the Minimalists in biblical studies, if any. The response to the initial question – whether we have learnt anything from the Minimalists – varies greatly. The maximum impact is granted by Lester Grabbe who fears not to assert that every biblical scholar is now a Minimalist, including self-proclaimed Maximalists. Instead, of either-or claims, Yigal Levine proposes to abandon the Maximalist-Minimalist dichotomy, replacing it with “positive” versus “negative” approaches, on the one hand scholars who accept the possibility of historical value of given biblical texts, while the others are less willing to accept it if they are not supported by any extra biblical source.
Ehud Ben Zvi focuses on the frenzy that surrounded the Minimalist versus Maximalist war and concludes that the main question today, a question that was not at the centre of the ‘maximalist-minimalist’ heated war is ‘what to do when one has only one text claiming something about the past that can neither be corroborated nor contradicted by any other source’.
Minimalist champion Thomas L. Thompson compares his own work with that of the most prominent self-proclaimed maximalist, William Dever. Athalia Brenner-Idan’s witty response broadens the horizon with a discussion of the designation of the subject matter of the Hebrew Bible as ‘Israel’ or ‘Palestine’.
Baruch Halpern advocates a ‘Thick Minimalism’, one that goes beyond Minimalist Idealism to move from debating facts to causal sequencing so that we learn to navigate by hints, sense and intuition when we have next to no evidence, as is often the case in biblical studies. Finally, Axel Knauf wields Occam’s razor and advises giving up the absolute best and make every effort to attain the relative best.
The dust has now settled and there are so many minimalists around that the term itself has become obsolete. The new generations are unsuspecting minimalists – a significant legacy of the debate that sometimes turned in a war, but has now become history too. Hence the chance offered to those scholars who were in the fray or stood on the margins to write first-hand accounts to retrace its origins and developments.