Photo: Biblical period pottery

Below is the English abstract of this article. It is available in the Hebrew entirety here.

By Yigal Levin

This article describes the dramatic decline in the study of the history of the biblical period in Israel over the past few decades, among the general public, in the educational system and in Israeli universities. This decline is partially connected to the radical regression in the status of the Bible among the Israeli public, from its former position as a foundational text of the Zionist movement to its present status as a barely-tolerated compulsory subject in the schools, but there are additional factors as well: social, cultural and political. The article describes the distancing of part of Israeli society from its former interest in the geography, history and archaeology of the Land of Israel and the abandonment of those parts of the land most identified with the Bible by certain sectors of society. In its description of the study of biblical-period history in the school system, the article points out that such study does not exist: there is no study of the history and cultures of the Ancient Near East. The study of the Bible itself, once a key subject in the secular-Zionist education system, has declined drastically and tends to focus on literary issues rather than on historical ones. Within the State-Religious education system, in which the Bible does have a central place, most study focuses on the traditional commentaries, and again shies away from historical issues. These trends are also true for the colleges of education that train teachers for both sectors: they do not teach the history of the Ancient Near East, and Bible studies focus on literary issues, and in the religious colleges on traditional commentaries. The main exceptions are the few colleges that offer “Land of Israel Studies”, which include the archaeology and history of that land in antiquity as well.

All of the “general” universities in Israel do offer programs in the history, languages and archaeology of the Ancient Near East, although the details differ from institution to institution. However here the academic problems of the use of the Bible as a historical source are a major source of discussion and dispute. The article surveys the development of the “minimalist” school and its consequences. Beyond this, all of these programs suffer from the same problems as do all the humanities and Judaic Studies in general, especially that of dwindling enrollment, which casts doubt on the programs’ viability in the future. The article ends by commenting on the danger posed by these trends to the future of Jewish identity in the State of Israel. An addendum to the article surveys the relevant academic programs in colleges and university, as of late 2011.