Re-Membering the Past: Biblical Archaeology Between Secularization and Religionization

Monday, July 14, 2014: 6:45 PM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Distributed Paper
Hanna HERZOG , Sociology, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Ze'ev HERZOG , Tel Aviv University, Israel
Secularization and religionization are concepts that continue to arouse much debate. This paper focuses on the societal level mainly in terms of institutions and norms. Our theoretical presumption is that both “religion” and “the secular” are not universal nor essentialist entities, but rather contingent dimensions of social life that are embedded in time, place, and changing historical circumstances.  Moreover, they are based on continuing social processes of separation and hybridity between these social categories. This mandates examination of religious and secular institutions (such as state, science, nationality) as relative dispositions and strategies for action in historical perspective.  Our case study is the changing attitudes toward the Old Testament that reveal the pendulum between secularization and religionization and, at the same time, unveil the hybrid nature of the categories of religion, secularity and nationalism. 

Traditional religious appreciation of the Old Testament by the three monotheistic religions was disrupted by the secular school of biblical criticism that flourished in Germany from the mid-19th century and challenged the historicity of the biblical narrative.  

 A counter movement of biblical archaeology rose at American Divinity Schools in the early 1920s aimed at refuting the secular biblical criticism claims by excavating sites mentioned in the Old Testament and thereby testifying to the historicity of the biblical events. This approach was enthusiastically adopted by secular Israeli archaeologists in the newly established State of Israel. The collective memory of the religious biblical stories strengthened national cohesion.

Since the 1990s, the pendulum has swung toward a critical view of the archaeological data. Secular scientific archaeology rejected the shackles of religion and national concerns.

Nonetheless, since the 2000s, national religious perspectives that dominate Israeli politics have again been filtering into the archaeological discourse by attempting to revive traditional biblical interpretation.