In an article that discusses the supposed conflict between Biblical theology and Israelite religion, William Dever berates a number of his predecessors for their lack of professionalism. He laments that flotation analysis was not used in more places. He argues for a more scientific approach to cataloging and analysis. Furthermore, he argues that Syro-Palestine Archaeology has been compromised by its reliance on the Bible. Dever concludes,
“Instead, I propose, as a working hypothesis, that early Israelite religion developed gradually out of the Late Bronze and early Iron Age fertility cults of greater Canaan, and that despite the growth of a royal/priestly cultus and its theology in Jerusalem, local cults continued to flourish and some of them reflected a highly syncretistic blend of Yahwism and pagan practice until the end of the Monarchy. “Normative Judaism,” as portrayed in the Deuteronomic and Priestly literature, is a construct of the late Judean Monarchy and in particular of the exilic period.
So ‘normative Judaism’, as Dever calls it, was the construct of an elite faction in Jerusalem; an idea that never really took root in the Iron Age. What is so surprising about this statement is that it comes on the heels of a very helpful summary of Israelite material culture in which Dever acknowledges that there is a marked lack of pagan religious artifacts in strata belonging to the time of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
“no monumental Israelite art survives. No Israelite statuary or sculpture, large-scale iconographic representations, or paintings are known to us, save two 10th century cultic stands from Taanach… It may be significant that no representations of a male deity in terracotta, metal, or stone have ever been found in clear Iron Age contexts, except possibly for al El statuette in bronze from 12th century Hazor and a depiction of an El-like stick figure on a miniature chalk altar from 10th-century Gezer, and neither is necessarily Israelite.” (Dever, 574)
Go ahead and tabulate bones and seeds. It will not change the overall picture. We have uncovered vast portions of Iron II cities and found no metal deities. We have many, many Late Bronze Canaanite temples and only one (debatable) Israelite temple. We have a fairly exhaustive onomasticon of 8th-6th century BC Israelite names and found none that incorporate the name of a goddess and very few that are overtly pagan. This evidence suggests that normative Judaism was established early in the Iron Age. The fact that Dever is unable to draw reasonable conclusions from the data is due to his dogmatic reliance on 19th century theories of ‘higher’ criticism.
Meyers, C. L., et al. (1983). The Word of the Lord shall go forth : essays in honor of David Noel Freedman in celebration of his sixtieth birthday. Winona Lake, IN, Eisenbrauns.