A Good Book? Well, I'm not sure, and I'm not sure what BTW readers will think either. But let me go ahead. This week's book is What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did they Know it? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

2001) by W.G. Dever, professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona, a specialist in Syro-Palestinian archaeology. Dever has written extensively on Palestinian archaeology and its implications for the history of ancient Israel. Most recently he has been engaged in debate with a group of radical biblical scholars (sometimes referred to as 'minimalists') who have argued that the Old Testament was virtually all produced in the Persian or Hellenistic Periods (6th to 2nd centuries BC) and can tell us almost nothing reliable about Israel's earlier history: 'Ancient Israel', according to these scholars, is an 'invention' of a later period. Dever is passionately opposed to this approach, and in this book engages in a forthright polemic against the 'minimalists'. It is a remarkably outspoken book.
What are Dever's charges against the minimalists? In essence, that they are incompetent: they simply do not know enough about the archaeology of Palestine. If they did, they would realise that the biblical account of Israel from the time of the judges down to the exile often converges with the picture emerging from Palestinian archaeology. As Dever puts it, 'Ancient Israel is there, a reality perhaps often hidden in the idealistic portraits of the Hebrew Bible or obscured by its overriding theocratic version of history, and also hidden in the dirt awaiting the discoveries of the archaeologist… these people, this Israel, must not be written out of history' (p. 298).
This quotation gives a fair impression of where Dever is 'coming from'. He does not believe that the Old Testament is accurate at all points, indeed he essentially dismisses the accounts of the Patriarchs, the Exodus and the Conquest as largely fictitious. For him the books of Judges and Samuel are the first OT books that begin to give a historically plausible picture of early Israel. When he moves outside his field to discuss the interpretation of biblical texts he is often (to my mind) rather uncritical in accepting many of the conclusions of traditional 'historical-critical' biblical scholarship. He is also given to sweeping statements, e.g., about matters of faith and history, or about the value of Western civilisation, which must give any thoughtful reader pause for thought.
Why read the book at all, then? Read it because it offers an introduction to the aims and methods of modern archaeology, as set out by one of the most distinguished practitioners in the field. Read it because many of the pot-shots he takes at the minimalists, a vocal and unfortunately high-profile group, are on target (and this may be an area where you need some ammunition). Read the book above all for the long central chapters on Israel at the time of the judges, at the time of Solomon, and during the period of the divided monarchy. Here you will find a clear and up-to-date presentation of the findings of archaeology relating to a variety of topics: the population of Palestine at various periods; the rise of the Israelite state (monarchy); the design of the Jerusalem temple; Solomon's fortifications at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer; the evidence for quite widespread literacy in Israel from an early period; religious practices in Israel, both orthodox and unorthodox; pottery and what we can learn from it; weights and measures in Israel. Dever's conclusion: the details of the OT account are at many points in agreement with the findings of archaeology, and they could not have been invented centuries later, as the minimalists claim, because society had changed by then (e.g., the same weights and measures were no longer used) or because the things described would have been destroyed by then (the evidence relating to temples and buildings). That is, the writers of the OT knew a lot more, and they knew it a lot earlier, than they have recently been given credit for. The OT is not a late invention. This affirmation at least should be welcomed by BTW readers! (PES)

ast Wednesday's chapel consisted of a series of readings taken from both secular and Christian sources, focussed on the theme of identity and choice.
The meeting began with a rendition of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken."  It is a poem that invites listeners to reflect upon our own attempt at rationalising decisions we have taken, no matter how inconsequential those decisions might have been.  Do Christians practise similar self-justification, and do these attempts betray our concern for self-authentication rather than a concern for the truth?
Then follows a Scripture reading - the story of the beheading of John the Baptist (Mark 6:17-29).  King Herod, driven wild by Salome's dance, promised her anything she wanted, and she asked for the head of John the Baptist.  It was a decision Herod did not have the moral fibre to reverse, and it was a dilemma with more devastating consequences than that of Frost's.  Do we wrestle with inconsequential things like Frost's character, and lose ground in the face of real moral challenges?
Or do we, like Dr Faustus, ignore moral and spiritual issues to our eternal peril?  The third reading, from Scene 13 of Christopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus, focusses upon Dr Faustus' remorse over his contract with the devil.  There is some ambiguity about this expressed remorse.  Did Marlowe intend his audience to sympathise with Faustus' remorse, or to admire his courage at making the supreme sacrifice in his pursuit of "knowledge"?  Either way, the play does highlight this temptation to go beyond the bounds of reason and sanity in the quest for self-authentication.
Sometimes, though, that quest for personal identity is masked.  It is disguised as a pursuit of something more noble - like "love."  H.G. Wells' short story, "The Country of the Blind," as summarised and interpreted by E.M. Blaiklock, carries precisely that point.  A mountaineer, stumbling upon a blind community, was willing to sacrifice his sight for the love of a girl.  He barely escaped, led by an instinctive impulse.  Are we likely to be as foolish - sacrificing everything - for what may in fact be an illusive ideal?
In summary, choices are multiple, and incredibly taxing.  In reality, we never decide for anything - only for either ourselves (a narcissistic self-authentication), or for the greater glory of God, hinted at by James R. Lowell's "Once to Every Man and Nation," which served as the closing hymn.

The Chapel Speaker for this Wednesday is Mr Mickey Chiang

Course Offerings for Semester 1, Year 2002
The flyer is now available! Get your copy from the Admin Office or Library. Better still, we hope you will help us by giving copies to friends whom you think would benefit from our courses.

Bible Lands Study Tour - Last Call for Registration
Dr Quek will be leading a group to Turkey (5-15 Dec) and/or Israel (14 Dec to 21 Dec). If you are interested, please register with Serene before the end of this week.

The Stork Has Been Visiting Again
7th September 2001, 1:10am, marks the  special arrival of Samuel Lim into the family of Mr & Mrs Lim Kee Oon. Kee Oon says that most of the time he has been wonderful, seems to be quiet, even tempered, peace-loving and noise-hating. Does that not sound like every parent's ideal of a new bundle of joy? Congratulations and may the good Lord bless Kee Onn and wife a wonderful journey of parenting!

Wishing you God's richest blessings, Happy Birthday !

Mr Ho Wing Onn Freddie  10/01, Dr Ling Moi Lin  10/02
Mr Tan Hang Leng Gordon  10/02, Mr Kwek Khee Leng  10/03
Mr Yue Fah Yong  10/03, Mr Leong Kwok Hoong  10/04
Mdm Lai Mui Fong 10/05, Mr Yong Tze Hin Frederick  10/05
Ms Ang Poh Geok Linda  10/06, Mr Mangentang Matheus  10/06

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