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William G. Dever (born November 27, 1933, Louisville, Kentucky) 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.
Dever was Director of the Harvard Semitic Museum-Hebrew Union College Excavations at Gezer from 1966–71, 1984 and 1990; Director of the dig at Khirbet el-Kôm and Jebel Qacaqir (West Bank) from 1967–71; Principal Investigator at Tell el-Hayyat excavations (Jordan) 1981-85, and Assistant Director, University of Arizona Expedition to Idalion, Cyprus, 1991, among other excavations.
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' in ancient Israel and Judah. Discussing extensive archaeological evidence from a range of Israelite sites, largely dated between the 12th and the 8th centuries BC, 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.
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). His views on worship of the goddess as expressed in this book have been criticised. 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.
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.'
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.
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
Dever joined the faculty at Lycoming College in autumn 2008. He was appointed Distinguished Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology. Regarding his new position, Dever commented: "For a small college to have so many students majoring in archaeology is unprecedented. To find students who are interested in the discipline and a faculty and administration that are supportive, augurs very well. It was really refreshing to see what a small college with a sense of community, of commitment, and of values was like."
A complete list of Dr. Dever's publications is available at the University of Arizona's online CV for him.