William G. Dever

American archaeologist

Encyclopedia from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Gwinn Dever (born November 27, 1933, Louisville, Kentucky)[1] is an American archaeologist, specialising in the history of Israel and the Near East in biblical times. He was Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson from 1975 to 2002. He is a Distinguished Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania. He is married to Pamela Gaber, professor of Old Testament and Judaic Studies at Lycoming College. He identifies as a secular humanist.[2]


Dever received his BA from Milligan College in 1955, an MA from Butler University in 1959, and a BD from Christian Theological Seminary in 1959. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 1966. He describes himself as "an unreconstructed traditionalist by temperament and training."[3]



Dever was director of the Harvard Semitic MuseumHebrew Union College excavations at Gezer in 1966–1971, 1984 and 1990; director of the dig at Khirbet el-Kôm and Jebel Qacaqir (West Bank) 1967–1971; principal investigator at Tell el-Hayyat excavations (Jordan) 1981–1985, and assistant director, University of Arizona Expedition to Idalion, Cyprus, 1991, among other excavations.[4]


He used his background in Near Eastern field archaeology to argue, in Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (2005), for the persistence of the veneration of Asherah in the everyday religion of 'ordinary people'[5] in ancient Israel and Judah. Discussing extensive archaeological evidence from a range of Israelite sites, largely dated between the 12th and the 8th centuries BCE,[6] Dever argued that this 'folk' religion, with its local altars and cultic objects, amulets and votive offerings, was representative of the outlook of the majority of the population, and that the Jerusalem-centred 'book religion' of the Deuteronomist circle set out in the Hebrew Bible was only ever the preserve of an elite, a 'largely impractical' religious ideal.[7]

Dever's views on the worship of Asherah are based to a significant extent on inscriptions at Khirbet el-Qom and Kuntillet Ajrud (though see also his discussion of the significance of a cultic stand from Taanach[8]), as well as thousands of Asherah figurines that archaeologists have found in various Israel locations, including a dump near the First Temple (a dump he attributes to Josiah's iconoclastic reform efforts).[9] His views on worship of the goddess as expressed in this book have been criticised by some. On his methodological approach more generally, Francesca Stavrakopoulou has suggested that his use of the term 'folk religion' 'ultimately endorses the old stereotype of 'popular' or 'folk' religion as the simplistic practices of rural communities', so perpetuating existing 'derogatory assumptions' that more recent discourses on the topic have sought to counter.[10] Others, however, praise Dever's contributions to understanding the history of Israel and Judah in the Iron Age.[11]

On the historicity of the Bible

In retirement, Dever has become a frequent author on questions relating to the historicity of the Bible. He has been critical of "Biblical minimalists" who deny any historical value to the biblical accounts. However he is far from being a supporter of biblical literalism either. Instead he has written:

I am not reading the Bible as Scripture… I am in fact not even a theist. My view all along—and especially in the recent books—is first that the biblical narratives are indeed 'stories,' often fictional and almost always propagandistic, but that here and there they contain some valid historical information. That hardly makes me a 'maximalist.'[12]


Archaeology as it is practiced today must be able to challenge, as well as confirm, the Bible stories. Some things described there really did happen, but others did not. The Biblical narratives about Abraham, Moses, Joshua and Solomon probably reflect some historical memories of people and places, but the 'larger than life' portraits of the Bible are unrealistic and contradicted by the archaeological evidence.[13]

However, Dever is also clear that his historical field should be seen on a much broader canvas than merely how it relates to the Bible:

The most naïve misconception about Syro-Palestinian archaeology is that the rationale and purpose of 'biblical archaeology' (and, by extrapolation, Syro-Palestinian archaeology) is simply to elucidate the Bible, or the lands of the Bible[14]

At Lycoming College (since 2008)

Dever joined the faculty at Lycoming College in autumn 2008. He was appointed Distinguished Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology.[15]

Video lectures

  • A 2013 lecture by Dever on the Exodus is available on YouTube. He argues for existence of a historical Israel in the Iron Age, contrary to "revisionists" and "minimalists" such as Niels Peter Lemche. He concludes, however, in this lecture that in the much greater part the Exodus is a myth or "pseudo-history," and that the early Israelites were mostly indigenous Canaanites.
  • A 2013 lecture by Dever on whether God had a wife (Asherah) is available on YouTube. In this lecture, he characterizes the Bible as a selective version of Israelite religion told by a right-wing clique of elites, and he argues that the majority of ordinary people were not monotheistic Yahwists and they venerated the "Great Goddess Asherah."[16] He concludes by equating Asherah with the Shekhinah in subsequent Judaism.
  • A similar 2014 lecture by Dever at Emory is available on YouTube.

Selected publications

  • What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel. Eerdmans. 2001. ISBN 0-8028-4794-3.
  • Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come from?. Eerdmans. 2003. ISBN 0-8028-0975-8.
  • Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. Eerdmans. 2005. ISBN 0-8028-2852-3.
  • The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel: Where Archaeology and the Bible Intersect. Eerdmans. 2012. ISBN 978-0-8028-6701-8.

Further reading


  1. ^ Confronting the Past: Archaeological and William G. Dever, et al., Historical Essays on Ancient Israel in Honor of William G. Dever (Eisenbrauns, 2006) p ix
  2. ^ Dever "Archaeology, Ideology, and the Quest for an Ancient or Biblical Israel", NEA 1998, p. 46
  3. ^ Dever, William (2001). What did the biblical writers know and when did they know it? What archeology can tell us about the reality of ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 16.
  4. ^ "CURRICULUM VITAE (Abbreviated Version 2/5/02)". University of Arizona, Department of Near Eastern Studies. Archived from the original on 2010-06-27. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
  5. ^ Dever, William G. (2008) Did God Have a Wife ? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (paperback edition). Cambridge: Eerdmans, page 314
  6. ^ Dever, William G. (2008) Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (paperback edition). Cambridge: Eerdmans, pages 110 - 175
  7. ^ Dever, William G. (2008) Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (paperback edition). Cambridge: Eerdmans, page 90
  8. ^ Dever, William G. (2008) Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (paperback edition). Cambridge: Eerdmans, pages 153-54, 219-21.
  9. ^ An example of one of the Asherah figures that Dever discusses as illustrative of his thesis is illustrated here.
  10. ^ Stavrakopoulou, Francesca (2010) 'Popular' Religion and 'Official' Religion: Practice, Perception, Portrayal. In Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah (Stavrakopoulou, Francesca and John Barton (editors)). London: T&T Clark, pages 43-44.
  11. ^ E.g., Aren M. Maeir, Oren Ackermann, and Hendrik J. Bruins, The Ecological Consequences of a Siege in Confronting the Past: Archaeological and Historical Essays on Ancient Israel in Honor of William G. Dever, p. 239, Eisenbrauns (January 1, 2006) ISBN 978-1575061177 ("many seminal contributions to the field", "provided important insights"); Suzanne Richards, op. cit., p. 119 ("done more to advance our knowledge of the EB IV period than any other"); Jake R. McCarty and Eugene H. Merrill, Biblotheca Sacra, January–March 2004, vol. 161, no. 1 ("vast and detailed knowledge").
  12. ^ Dever, William G. (January 2003). "Contra Davies". The Bible and Interpretation. Retrieved 2007-02-12.
  13. ^ Dever, William G. (March–April 2006). "The Western Cultural Tradition Is at Risk". Biblical Archaeology Review. 32 (2): 26 & 76.
  14. ^ Dever, William G. "Archaeology". The Anchor Bible Dictionary. p. 358.
  15. ^ Announcement of appointment, Lycoming College.
  16. ^ See the article Asherah#In Israel and Judah.
Original content from Wikipedia, shared with licence Creative Commons By-Sa - William G. Dever