What alternative is there if the goal is to gain knowledge? You use “materialistic” as though it has a negative connotation. Substitute “empirical” or “evidentiary”. Like it or not, existence, our existence, earth’s existence, the universe’s existence is material. Of course our knowledge isn’t perfect, yet the scientific method is our only means of gaining knowledge of our reality. The scientific method, recognizing the possibility of error, sets itself the task of self-correction.
When dealing with history, we are dealing with probabilities when human behavior is involved. Greater levels of certainty are possible when examining harder evidence.
I always find it interesting that believers in magical knowledge, when faced with evidence disconfirming their beliefs, never seek to revise that which comes through faith in the claims of others. Rather, the fallback is always to undermine science in all its fields. The argument always seems to revert to “the possible” rather than “the probable”. When multiple scientific disciplines arrive at parallel conclusions, the level of certainty rises considerably.
So when seeking knowledge of deep antiquity, which method is useful for creating a historical paradigm? The disciplines of science? Or reading a story written by unknown persons in the ancient world without validating their source of information?
Is it really? “Ai” means “ruin”. Is it really probable that the inhabitants of that ancient city referred to their home as “Ruin”? Of course not. We don’t know the ancient name of this place which was destroyed in the 2nd millennium BC. Neither did the Biblical writer. They simply knew the place as an old city which was now uninhabited and lying in a heap. The writer(s) obviously, and I use that word intentionally, created a story around this place whose history was completely forgotten. Their name for the place “The Ruin” stuck in that story and became the actual place name in their minds. Remember, we are dealing here with probabilities. The writer(s) never gave any indication as to how they came by their “knowledge”. They just told a story. Speculation? Well, the findings of Tel Ai completely invalidate the story in the Bible, so if we have to identify who is speculating, we should conclude that it was the Bible writer(s) whose speculation has been invalidated. Is it too much of an affront to say that the writer(s) was speculating? He was writing of a time period a millennium prior to his own time. It is entirely improbable that he had access to reliable information, and in any event doesn’t claim to. If these anonymously written tales hadn’t been deemed canonical by a group of, again, anonymous individuals, why would you deem them to be anything more than folklore?
So let’s review again:
We have an anonymously written story set 1000 years before the writer’s time with no appeal to verifiable sources of information.
We have Carbon 14 data
We have the findings of intensive archaeological study stretching over a century
We have cultural/anthropological studies
All three of choice 2 parallel
But we also have intensive studies of the wider Canaanite past showing that there is no evidence of a great conquest of Hebrews grinding down the city states in the region in a massive military action. Rather, the evidence points to a gradual migration of Hebrews from the coastal regions up into the hill country of Judea. No conquest. Just a movement of farmers and goat herders into a hardscrabble region, sharing the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon (El) with their neighbors.
Did I miss something? I thought Solomon was supposed to have ruled over a vast empire as a very significant potentate. Although none of the evidence backs up this story. But as to the accounts of El or Yahweh punishing the misdeeds of the people or the kings, which is more probable:
That the writer actually knew what invisible forces caused periods of prosperity and then devestation?
That the writer was trying to write a morality tale to convince the readers/hearers that THEY must obey a now conflated El/Yahweh by following the dictates of his priesthood and appointed rulers? You better fall in line or you will end up like those disobedient people of old.
Is this your way of defending the Biblical picture of Yahweh ordering genocide? This brings up the question, Is something moral because Yahweh orders it? Or does Yahweh order things because they are moral? Choice one would allow all manner of horror and terrorism (similar to Muslim terror on unbelievers) if Yahweh orders it (through a holy man) and it is completely justified and moral. Choice two subjugates Yahweh to an independent morality by which his orders can be evaluated. By any enlightened view of right and wrong, Yahweh as portrayed in the Hexateuch is a moral monster. But if Yahweh’s orders (through a holy man claiming to speak for him) are horrific, it must be morally sanctioned because…well…he is Yahweh.