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Resources for the Study of Histor(iograph)y and the Hebrew Bible, No. 1

29th October 2005

This post is the first of an on-going series of posts on resources for the study of ancient histor(iograph)y. Some of the posts will focus on one particular book, while others will survey a general topic relating to the study of ancient history writing. While most will focus on biblical histor(iograph)y, some will be broader.

In this initial post I am highlighting a collection that brings together a number of seminal essays on the topic of ancient Israelite histor(iograph)y.

  • V. Philips Long (ed.), Israel’s Past in Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography. (Sources for Biblical and Theological Study 7; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999). Pp. Xx + 612. Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com

This volume brings together a total of thirty-three essays dealing with different aspects of the study of ancient Israel’s past. All but the editor’s introduction and final reflection have been previously published (most within the last twenty-five years), although seven essays appear for the first time in English: five translated from German (Herrmann, Klement, Maier, Neef, and Soggin), and one each from French (Cazelles) and Spanish (Alonso Schökel).

The first section, “Israel’s Past in Present Research,” contains three essays that provide context for the contemporary debate: John H. Hayes, “The History of the Study of Israelite and Judaean History: From the Renaissance to the Present” (pp. 7-42); Mark Zvi Brettler, “The New Biblical Historiography” (pp. 43-50); and Rolf Rendtorff, “The Paradigm Is Changing: Hopes and Fears” (pp. 51-68). Part two, “The Historical Impulse among Israel’s Neighbors,” contains three essays that supply an ancient Near Eastern background: William W. Hallo, “Biblical History in Its Near Eastern Setting: The Contextual Approach” (pp. 77-97); H. Cazelles, “Biblical and Prebiblical Historiography” (pp. 98-128); and A. R. Millard, “Israelite and Aramean History in the Light of Inscriptions” (pp. 129-40).

The essays in the third section, “Israel’s History Writing: Its Multiplex Character,” are grouped according to whether their focus is on the antiquarian, aspectual, or artistic character of Israel’s historiography. Under the category antiquarian are five essays: John J. Collins, “The ‘Historical Character’ of the Old Testament in Recent Biblical Theology (pp. 150-69); John Van Seters, “Joshua’s Campaign of Canaan and Near Eastern Historiography” (pp. 170-80); R. N. Whybray, “What Do We Know about Ancient Israel?” (pp. 181-87); Philip R. Davies, “‘Ancient Israel’ and History: A Response to Norman Whybray” (pp. 188-91); and Gerhard Maier, “Truth and Reality in the Historical Understanding of the Old Testament” (pp. 192-206). There are two aspectual studies: J. Alberto Soggin, “History as Confession of Faith — History as Object of Scholarly Research: On One of the Basic Problems of the History of Israel” (pp. 207-19); and Claus Westermann, “The Old Testament’s Understanding of History in Relation to That of the Enlightenment” (pp. 220-31); and two artistic: V. Philips Long, “History and Fiction: What Is History?” (pp. 232-54); and L. Alonso Schökel, “Narrative Art in Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings” (pp. 255-78).

Part four, “Writing Israel’s History: The Methodological Challenge,” includes nine essays. The first five focus on method: Diana Edelman, “Doing History in Biblical Studies” (pp. 292-303); K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “The Underpinnings” (pp. 304-345); Siegfried Herrmann, “The Devaluation of the Old Testament as a Historical Source: Notes on a Problem in the History of Ideas” (pp. 346-55); J. Maxwell Miller, “Reading the Bible Historically: The Historian’s Approach” (pp. 356-72); and Ferdinand Deist, “Contingency, Continuity and Integrity in Historical Understanding: An Old Testament Perspective” (pp. 373-90). Then there are two that explore the impact of the social sciences on doing Israelite history: Niels Peter Lemche, “Is It Still Possible to Write a History of Ancient Israel?” (pp. 391-414); and Baruch Halpern, “Erasing History: The Minimalist Assault on Ancient Israel” (pp. 415-26). This section closes with two essays that explore the interplay between literary study and historical reconstruction: John Barton, “Historical Criticism and Literary Interpretation: Is There Any Common Ground?” (pp. 427-38); and Herbert H. Klement, “Modern Literary-Critical Methods and the Historicity of the Old Testament” (pp. 439-59).

The fifth section, “The Historical Impulse in the Hebrew Canon: A Sampling,” includes eight essays that illustrate how books from the Torah, the (latter and former) Prophets, and the Writings have been variously utilized by scholars in understanding Israel’s history. The first three essays contain different assessments of the value of the Torah for understanding the Patriarchs: Roland de Vaux, “The Hebrew Patriarchs and History” (pp. 470-79); Thomas L. Thompson, “Historical and Christian Faith” (pp. 480-484); and John Goldingay, “The Patriarchs in Scripture and History” (pp. 485-91). Essays on the former and latter Prophets include Richard S. Hess, “Early Israel in Canaan: A Survey of Recent Evidence and Interpretations” (pp. 492-518); J. G. McConville, “Faces of Exile in Old Testament Historiography” (pp. 519-34); Hans Walter Wolff, “The Understanding of History in the Old Testament Prophets” (pp. 535-51); and Heinz-Dieter Neef, “The Early Traditions of Israel in the Prophecy of Hosea — A Review” (pp. 552-56). There is but one sample from the Writings: Gary N. Knoppers, “History and Historiography: The Royal Reforms” (pp. 557-78).

The book closes with an essay by the editor of the volume, V. Philips Long, entitled “The Future of Israel’s Past: Personal Reflections” (pp. 580-92), in which he presents his vision for future historical study of ancient Israel. First, Long hopes that there will be an increased openness among scholars about their own core beliefs (recognizing that presuppositions and basic beliefs affect everyone’s research), and that scholars will distinguish between the truth claims of the biblical text and their own evaluation of the truth value of said claims. Then, in connection with method, Long suggests that the canons of the historical-critical method (criticism, analogy, and correlation) be redefined so as not to preclude serious inquiry by scholars of faith; the claims of the social sciences be limited to their proper role of providing background information on societies and cultures; and the consequences of modern literary criticism on doing historiography be explored.

Needless to say, many scholars will not agree with Long’s evaluation of past historical work or his vision for future research on Israel’s past. The articles included in this volume do represent a wide spectrum of scholarly perspectives and methods — from more conservative scholars to so-called “minimalists,” as well as the majority who sit somewhere in between. Nevertheless, as Long himself acknowledges (e.g., pp. xii-xiv), the contents, structure, and the sectional introductions reflect his own more conservative approach. Also, while this is not the place to quibble over the selection or exclusion of specific essays, two burgeoning areas of research that are underrepresented are ideological and narratival studies of Israel’s history writing, and work on 1 and 2 Chronicles.

On the whole, Long has brought together an excellent collection of essays that is eminently suitable as a reader for courses on biblical historiography, as well as for students and scholars desiring a guide through the maze of present approaches to Israel’s past.

The book closes with an index of authorities and Scripture index.

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