Codex

My musings on Biblical Studies, Biblical Hebrew, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Popular Culture, Religion, Software, and pretty much anything else that interests me!





Dead Sea Scrolls

  • Searches



Archive for the 'History of Ancient Israel' Category

The End of Historiography and Prophecy?

23rd September 2009

The End of Historiography?

We had an interesting discussion in my course on ancient historiography the other day. We were discussing Arnaldo Momigliano’s article, “Persian Historiography, Greek Historiography, and Jewish Historiography,” in The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), and how historiographic writing in Judaism died off in the late Second Temple period (i.e., after the writing of 1 Maccabbees). According to Momigliano, the reason for the demise of the specifically Hebrew way of writing historiography is due in part to the disappearance of the Jewish state, although the primary reason why Jews lost interest in historical research was the singular focus on the Torah that developed in this period.  Interestingly, a small Jewish sect that emerged in the first century CE retained an interest in historiography. This sect is, of course, the early Christ followers who preserved a historiographic record in the biographies of Jesus (better known as the gospels) and, more specifically, in the Acts of the Apostles.

The End of Prophecy?

I don’t think many would contest Momigliano’s perspective on the “end” of Jewish historiography at the turn of the common era, though I could be wrong.  One of the students in my class brought up a related question about the end of prophecy during that same period.  The traditional (or do I dare say “canonical”) position is that prophecy ceased with the closure of the Hebrew canon. This perspective appears to be reflected in 1 Maccabees 4:46 where in the process of cleansing and rededicating the temple, Judas Maccabeus stores the defiled stones of the altar of burnt offering, “until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them”; and more explicitly in 1 Macc 14:41 where it says, “The Jews and their priests have resolved that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise….” Both of these texts seem to assume that there was no prophet at the present time and they had to make do until one arises — the hope of which was likely inspired by Deuteronomy 18:15.  This perspective is also held by Jewish authors such as Josephus, who after narrating the biblical history of Israel, notes that, “From Artaxerxes to our own time the complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets” (Against Apion 1.41). This view is also reflected in the much later teaching of the Talmud, where it reads: “When the latter prophets died, that is Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, then the Holy Spirit came to an end in Israel. But even so, they made them hear [messages] through an echo” (t.Sot 13.3).

What is noteworthy, however, is that while the “official” view may have been that prophecy ceased after the closure of the canon, its seems that no one informed the common person! Even Josephus is inconsistent. He  appears to hold the official party line, yet he notes that John Hyrcanus I (135-104), “was accounted by God worthy of three of the greatest privileges, the rule of the nation, the office of high priest, and the gift of prophecy; for the Deity was with him and enabled him to foresee and foretell the future” (War 1.68-69). Some suggest that Josephus considered himself a “clerical” prophet, though he never uses the actual term “prophet.” Josephus also mentions a number of individuals among the Essenes who “profess to tell the future”, as well as some from among the Pharisees. He further (negatively) identifies a number of “popular prophets”, such as Theudas, Joshua ben Hananiah,  who managed to gain significant followings among the masses.  John the Baptist, according to the Gospels, appears to fit nicely in to this category of popular prophet.

The End of the Matter…

So, did prophecy cease after the “canonical” prophets? Yes and no. While Josephus seems to suggests that the type of prophet and prophecy found in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament ceased, there were many individuals who — wrongly or rightly — were willing to don the prophetic mantle and proclaim God’s message to the people.

I have always imagined that during the time of Christ there would have been many self-proclaimed prophets around, kind of like this great scene from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian:


Posted in Historiography, History of Ancient Israel, Prophecy | 1 Comment »

Concept of Exile in Ancient Israel & its Contexts Workshop

27th March 2008

The University of Alberta and Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich, are hosting a workshop on the Concept of “Exile” in Ancient Israel. The workshop will primarily focus on (but not exclusively) prophetic literature, including the social and historical setting against which it evolved and in a way that is informed by comparative ancient materials. The workshop is being held at the University of Alberta from April 7 through 11, 2008.

This workshop brings together scholars from the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich (LMU) and the University of Alberta, along with colleagues from other European and Canadian universities. This workshop is part of a newly founded cooperation between LMU and the UofA and is conceived as the first of two workshops. The second is planned for Munich (2009).

The list of participating scholars is impressive and includes the likes of Christoph Levin (LMU), Reinhard Müller (LMU), Hermann-Josef Stipp (LMU), Jan Christian Gertz (Heidelberg), Martti Nissinen (Helsinki), Hindy Najman (Toronto), James Linville (Lethbridge), as well as University of Alberta professors Francis Landy, Selina Stewart, Willi Braun, and Ehud Ben Zvi.

For more information, check out the workshop webpage here.

If you are in the Edmonton area, please consider yourself invited.


Posted in Academic Associations, Announcements, Conferences, History of Ancient Israel | 3 Comments »

Ancient Historiography Seminar – CSBS Program (28 May 2007)

10th April 2007

As a member of the Steering Committee of the Ancient Historiography Seminar / Groupe de Travail sur l’Historiographie Ancienne in the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, I am pleased to report that the program for this year’s sessions is now available.

Here is a the schedule for this year’s seminar; as you can see, it’s a pretty impressive line-up.

Saskatoon 2007

Identity Formation and Ethnicity

Monday 28 May 2007 – 8:45 am – 12:00 (THORV 205A)

Chair / Président: Patricia Kirkpatrick (McGill University)

8:45-9:05 am – Israel and the Nomads of Ancient Palestine
Kent Sparks (Eastern University)

ksparks [at] eastern [dot] edu

Two views of Israel’s ethnogenesis now predominate among scholars. One holds that early Israel originated in the city-state society of Canaan, the other that its core identity was provided by nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists. In this paper I will explore the ancient Israelite portrait of the nomadic groups in Palestine, seeking to understand how Israel construed its historical and ethnic relationship with those peoples. The implications of this portrait for the debate about Israel’s ethnogenesis will then be considered.

9:05–9:15 – Questions

9:15-9:35 am – The Construction of Text and Ethnicity in Judges 5
Mark Smith (New York University)

mss11 [at] nyu [dot] edu

For the accounts of the reigns of David and Solomon scholars have suggested various layers in the books of Samuel and Kings, some regarded as near-contemporary pieces of historiography and have proposed various functions for the stories: propagandistic, apologetic, antimonarchic, etcetera. In this study I will look at some of these proposals in the light of comparative models and make some suggestions of my own.

9:35-9:45 – Questions
9:45-10:15 – Discussion
10:15 – 10:30 Break

10:30 – 10:50 – David the Mercenary
John Van Seters (Waterloo, ON)

john [dot] vanseters [at] sympatico [dot] ca

At the heart of Dtr’s conception of Israelite identity is the Davidic monarchy, with its divine election of the “house of David� and Jerusalem, wedded to the exodus/Horeb tradition of the covenant people. The crisis of the Babylonian destruction of monarchy and temple did not destroy this mode of identity but gave rise to a future messianic hope of a restored Davidic rule. Against this conception of David’s election and idealization is set another presentation of David’s rise to power as a mercenary leader employed by the Philistine king of Gath. As such, David used this role of mercenary to gain a power base in Judah and eventual control of the whole of Israel. David is also presented as maintaining his power as king entirely on the foundation of mercenaries, primarily foreigners. Since this portrayal is a complete anachronistic fiction, it must represent a deliberate ideological polemic against the Davidic monarchy and any form of identity that is based upon a messianic hope of monarchic restoration.

10:50 – 11:00 – Questions

11:00 – 11:20 – Identity and Empire, Reality and Hope in the Chronicler’s Perspective
Mark Boda (McMaster)

mjboda [at] mcmaster [dot] ca

It has often been noted that one of the purposes which energizes the Chronicler’s work is the reformulation of the identity of the Yehudite community in its new imperial context. Past proposals have focused, for example, on the importance of key past traditions (recapitulative historiography), incorporation of new traditions (priestly and levitical services), and delineation of the limits of the restoration community (all Israel). This paper will highlight evidence in the genealogical introduction and the narrative conclusion to the book of Chronicles that the Chronicler is revisioning identity for the community in Yehud. For the Chronicler, Judah became an imperial province with Josiah’s death as the state lost its independence and authority was transferred by Yahweh to imperial figures. Necho, Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus all act and/or speak as God’s representatives and it is this that provides ideological justification for Yehud’s identity as a province within an empire. However, this does not mean that these imperial figures will always speak or act for Yahweh or that provincial status is Yehud’s final destiny. The Chronicler’s presentation of Hezekiah highlights an emperor, Sennacherib, who meets his demise when challenging Yahweh and his Davidic king. In addition, the fate of the final four Davidic vassals as well as the shape of the conclusion to the Davidic genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3 suggest that the Chronicler’s vision of the community’s identity contains hope for kingdom’s reestablishment. The Chronicler’s presentation of genealogy and story constructs an identity that emphasizes present reality without extinguishing future hope.

11:20 – 11:30 – Questions
11:30 – 12:00 – Discussion

Identity Formation and Ethnicity (Session 2)

Monday 28 May 2007 – 1:30 pm – 5:00 pm (THORV 205A)

Chair / Président: Lissa Wray Beal (Providence Theological Seminary)

1:30 – 1:50 – Are There Any Bridges Out There? How Wide Was the Conceptual Gap Between the ‘Deuteronomistic Historical Collection’ and Chronicles?
Ehud Ben Zvi (University of Alberta)

ehud.ben.zvi [at] ualberta [dot] ca

There cannot be any doubt that Chronicles and the books included in the so-called ‘Deuteronomistic History’ (Dtr) construe the past differently. At least one of the main intentions of Chronicles was to reflect and shape a different and, in my opinion, complementary image of the past for literati who were aware of the ‘classical’ version in books such as Samuel and Kings. But how wide was the conceptual gap behind these two historiographies? Against the background of a traditional tendency in research to highlight the differences between the two corpora, this paper shows a substantial number of similarities in worldview and basic concepts between some voices within the so-called Dtr and Chronicles. It further suggests that Chronicles picks up and develops these existing voices and accordingly sets itself and actually stands in partial continuity—as well as partial discontinuity—with the so-called Dtr. The paper concludes with a discussion of the significance of these observations with respect to social settings of the final compositional form of the books in Dtr and Chronicles in the Persian period.

1:50 – 2:00 – Questions

2:00 – 2:20 – A Comparative Study of the Exilic Gap in Ancient Israelite, Messenian, and Zionist Collective Memory
Katherine Stott (University of Alberta)

katiestott [at] optushome [dot] com [dot] au

I propose to examine the commonly noted gap in biblical historiography that marks the exile. An attempt will be made to explain the absence of narrative pertaining to this period by comparing the biblical concept of exile to the treatment of exile within ancient Messenian and Zionist thought. While these communities, like the Israelites, remember a time spent living in a state of exile outside the homeland, and acknowledge this period as a distinct phase within their history, the experience of exile is similarly marginalized in their social memory. By comparing and contrasting the construction of exile in Israelite, Messenian, and Zionist memory, insight will be gained into the possible reasons for the “exilic gap� in the biblical literature. Various factors will be explored including the possibility that the gap is a case of “structural amnesia� reflecting cultural trauma brought about by the exile; however, it will be argued that the most likely reason has to do with matters of group identity.

2:20 – 2:30 – Questions

2:30 – 2:50 – Textual Identities in the Books of Chronicles: The Case of Jehoram’s History
Louis Jonker (Stellenbosch University)

lcj [at] sun [dot] ac [dot] za

In recent years an increasing number of publications have discussed the issue of identity formation in Persian period Yehud in general, and in the Book of Chronicles in particular. As Berquist (2006) has indicated in his distinction of five different modes of scholarship on this issue, scholars, however, proceed with different and diverging assumptions about “identity.� Further, the complexity of the matter is often neglected when scholars work with a too limited definition of “identity.� In this paper I will pursue two aims: Firstly, I will explore the potential of “textual identities� (which is used in social psychology) as a description of the identity formation processes witnessed in the Books of Chronicles. Secondly, I will analyze the Jehoram narrative in Chronicles (2 Chron 21:2 – 22:1a)—in synoptic comparison to the Vorlage in 2 Kings 8—in order to test the hypothesis that “textual identities� could help us achieve a more adequate understanding of the dynamics of identity formation in the Book of Chronicles.

2:50 – 3:00 – Questions
3:00 – 3:15 – Break

3:15 – 3:35 – Characters in Stone: The Behistun Inscription and Yehudite Identity
James Bowick (McMaster Divinity College)

In 522 BCE, Darius ascended the Persian throne and shortly thereafter, he recorded the story of how he became king and solidified his reign in the trilingual Behistun inscription, which he also had translated and distributed throughout the empire. While much work has been done in comparing the history it records with Greek sources to understand what transpired, little work has been done on the literary and narratival characteristics of the inscription, as it is widely held that it is devoid of such artistic properties. However, a close reading shows that the text is artfully crafted, using several distinctive techniques to develop its theme. This paper will review how the Old Persian text of the Behistun inscription uses literary features to create an ascension myth, known throughout the empire. Stock phrases such as “Ahuramazda bore me aid,â€? different episodes described using almost identical language, the geographical breadth of the rebellions and the short time in which they are all dealt with, have a cumulative effect on the reader and suggest a quasi-miraculous element to the ascension. While the literary features of the text are quite different from those of the Hebrew Bible, the themes of the ascension myth would have been familiar to the Yehudite community. This paper will compare the historiography of the Behistun inscription with the historiography of the Yehudite community, contrasting Darius’s self description with how he is viewed in Hebrew literature, and how the Yehudite relationship to Darius affected their identity as a community.

3:35 – 3:45 – Questions

3:45 – 4:05 – Community Identities in the Rescript of Artaxerxes: The Mandate(s) of Ezra in Jerusalem, Judah, and the Province Beyond the River
Gary Knoppers (The Pennsylvania State University)

gxk7 [at] psu [dot] edu

The edict of Artaxerxes, the “king of kings,� (Ezra 7:11-26) pertaining to “Ezra the scribe-priest� has been the subject of intensive study during recent decades. The focus of this paper will not be on the rescript as a whole, since two recent monographs (Pakkala, Grätz) have devoted considerable attention to the form, structure, and compositional history of this curious and complicated passage. My paper will address the emperor’s charge to Ezra in the broader context of “the Province Beyond the River� (7:25-26). Is this mandate, despite appearances to the contrary, merely an amplification of the earlier charge given to Ezra in “Judah and Jerusalem� (7:14)? Is the mandate given to Ezra in 7:25-26 a utopian recollection of the glories of the united monarchy or something more closely connected to late Persian and Hellenistic times? Moreover, what are the relationships among the communities mentioned in the letter: the people of Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, and the people in the Province Beyond the River?

4:05 – 4:15 – Questions
4:15 – 4:45 – Discussion

4:45 – 5:00 – Open Planning Session for Vancouver 2008

The Ancient Historiography Seminar / Groupe de Travail sur l’Historiographie Ancienne is a professional, academic working group of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies / Société canadienne des Études bibliques (CSBS/SCÉB). For more information, please see our website.


Posted in Ancient Historiography Seminar, CSBS, History of Ancient Israel | 1 Comment »

Beyond Minimalism & Maximalism: Some Modest Observations on the Historiography Debate (Best of Codex)

20th November 2006

[Originally posted 14th December 2005; Note that some of the original links are now unfortunately dead due to some blogs being defunct]

Why is it interesting debates spring up right when I am swamped with end of term grading and other publishing deadlines? Well, in an effort to avoid some marking, I figured I would offer some observations on the recent debate about historiography among some bloggers (dare I say, “bibliobloggers”?!).

The Debate Thus Far

First, some background. The recent debate was sparked in part by a post by Ken Ristau reflecting his frustration with the apparent inconsistency that some scholars bring to questions of ancient Israelite historiography, especially in regards to their disregard and/or scepticism of parts of the Hebrew Bible as a historiographic source (History in the Bible?). It is important to note that Ken wasn’t claiming that the Deuteronomistic History, for example, is equivalent to modern critical historiography. All he was arguing for is a recognition that the biblical texts — with all of their ideological limitations — can be used productively and critically in reconstructing the history of Israel. It should also be noted that, if I read Ken correctly (e.g., the reference to floating axe heads), his post is directed more, though not exclusively, against some comments made by Jim West at Biblical Theology), than the published views of scholars like Davies, Lemche, Thompson, and Whitelam.

Ken’s initial post was responded to by Jim West here. In addition, Keith Whitelam (on Jim West’s Biblical Theology blog here) understood some of Ken’s criticisms directed at his scholarship and chastised Ken for not interacting with specific views, among other things. James Crossley also made some balanced observations at Earliest Christian History blog. Ken clarified his views in his response to Keith Whitelam’s concerns here, then more fully here.

A parallel series of posts examining specific archaeological discoveries that may correlate with the portrayal of Israel in the Bible has been going on among some blogs. This series was initiated by Joe Cathey’s posts on the Merneptah Stele (initial post here) and Tel Dan Inscription (initial post here) in response to Jim West’s request for “proof” for the existence of Israel. These posts resulted in a flurry of blogging activity that I don’t have the energy to track in detail, but here are some high points.

In regards to the Merneptah stele, Jim responded to Joe’s initial post here (also see here), Kevin Edgecomb responded to Jim in kind here (see Jim’s response here), while Chris Heard produced a superb post here.

In regard to the Tel Dan inscription, Jim responded to Joe’s post here and Joe replied here, here, and once again here! And somewhere in the middle of the fray Jim replied here and here (also see Chris Heard’s reply to Jim here). Kevin Edgecomb has a number of excellent posts on the construction BÄ«t + PN in Assyrian/Aramean accounts (see here, here, and most recently here). I need oxygen… OK, I think this will be the last time I try to track a debate in the blogosphere!

I apologize if I have missed any contributions to this lively debate! In addition, you should make sure to read any comments associated with the blog posts in order to get the full picture!

Beyond “Minimalists” and “Maximalists”?

In my opinion, framing the whole discussion — and here I am not necessarily thinking only of the recent blog interchange — as a dichotomy between “minimalists” and “maximalists” is not helpful. There are not two camps, schools, or positions. If anything, the two terms represent a spectrum of possible views, with “minimalists” being at one end and “maximalists” at the other — and everyone else somewhere in the middle (I personally am a centrist — I, and only I, have a perfectly balanced perspective!). But even this portrayal of the debate is not sufficient as there are significant methodological differences between people all throughout the spectrum. For instance, “minimalist” has been used to describe scholars such as Davies, Lemche, Van Seters, Whitelam, among others. While these scholars have a number of presuppositional and methodological similarities surrounding the value of the biblical texts for modern historical reconstruction, they also have some very significant differences — especially in regards to method. This problem is exacerbated for the “maximalist” label since it seems that anyone who isn’t a “minimalist” is grouped together as a maximalist! And if you thought there were differences among the so-called minimalists, there are huge differences among so-called maximalists. In his recent article in SJOT, Lemche even starts using terms such as “maximalist critical scholars” to distinguish them from conservative/conservative evangelical/evangelical maximalist scholars. (I wonder how many “evangelical minimalist” scholars there are?)

The same observation applies equally to using labels such as “Copenhagen school,” “Sheffield school” (the use of the term “school” is more problematic as it presumes more agreement than actually exists), and “biblical revisionists.” On the other side of the debate, the label “evangelical” is used by some in an uncritical and almost derogatory way — at times equated with fundamentalist — to group scholars who have a high view of scripture, even though there is a wide spectrum of scholars who would consider themselves “evangelicals.”

I am not saying anything revolutionary here; most if not all scholars in the debate do not like the labels and have said as much in various publications — even though they continue to use them! So I think it is time for everyone to put the labels to rest and focus instead on interacting with the views of individual scholars (an especailly important step considering that many times our ad homnium or off-the-cuff comments are against views that no scholars actually hold!)

Avoiding Inflammatory Language

Even more than avoiding labels that are not heuristically useful, we need to avoid the caustic and inflammatory language that often accompanies this debate. I think we would all agree that it doesn’t help further the debate to use such language. This inflammatory language occurs in print discussions, email discussion groups, and blogs. I really wish we could all learn to play better among ourselves!

I know that some of the bantering is done tongue-in-cheek (especially in the blogosphere), though the tone of the debate does not contribute to furthering our understanding of how (or if) it is possible to write a history of Israel. We all have to do better (I include myself in the indictment). And I’m not just talking about labels that are thrown around, but statements that imply (or outright state) that so-and-so obviously hasn’t read this or that, tantamount to saying “If you weren’t such a moron, you would obviously see it my way!” That doesn’t mean we have to all agree with one another (though I believe greater miracles have happened!), but when we disagree we should do so with respect since there are learned scholars on all sides of the debate. Furthermore, when we are at the receiving end of a cheap shot or ad homnium argument, we should try our best to not respond in kind, but instead respond with appropriate restraint.

Focusing on Real Issues and Real Differences

Anyone familiar with the debate surrounding the history of Israel knows that there are a number of real issues dividing scholars. An important question that needs to be asked is at what level are the real differences? Most of the time the real differences are not on the surface, but are at lower levels. These lower levels may be methodological, or may be presuppositional and metaphysical. In any debate, it is essential to be able to identify at what level the disagreement exists. In a recent IBR article, V. Philips Long quotes E. L. Greenstein’s comments which I believe are quite appropriate:

in biblical studies we often argue as though we all shared the same beliefs and principles, as though the field were all built upon a single theoretical foundation. But it is not…. I can get somewhere when I challenge the deductions you make from your fundamental assumptions. But I can get nowhere if I think I am challenging your deductions when in fact I am differing from your assumptions, your presuppositions, your premises, your beliefs.

For example, let’s examine the recent blog debate about the Tel Dan stele. All parties — even Jim — appear willing to concede that the phrase in question is “house of David” (this is not the case in the larger debate where alternative readings are proposed; in which case there would be differences on the level of exegetical judgements). But then at the next step taken by Joe Cathey and Chris Heard, correlating the David of the inscription with the David mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, Jim West demurs. I believe this highlights some low-level differences among those engaged in the debate. Reading between the lines, I would suggest that Jim West has both methodological and metaphysical objections to reading the Hebrew Bible as a historical source, Chris Heard is arguing on the level of the historical critical method and bracketing any personal metaphysical commitments (Ken Ristau appears to be operating at this level as well), while Joe Cathey is probably similar to Jim West, though his methodological and metaphysical commitments likely differ considerably from Jim’s. The end result is that the discussion stalls and a stalemate is declared.

Meaningful and Productive Debate

The $60,000 question is how can we avoid such disagreements? Or stated positively, how can we engage meaningfully in a debate with whom we may have significant methodological and metaphysical differences? The first step would be to be up front about our lower-level commitments. We need to be clear about our method and our metaphysics. This sort of full disclosure will not, of course, produce peace and harmony among us (we know from pop culture that only Coca-Cola can do that!); but it will help us understand where we all are coming from. After this, we can then see if we can find a “middle discourse” to engage one another. We need to agree on the rules of the game before the game starts. Here I wonder if the most fruitful approach may be to work on the level of the historical-critical method and bracket any metaphysical commitments — at least initially. Then, for those of us who may share similar metaphysical commitments, we may take the conversation further.

Of course, perhaps I am being hopelessly naive to think that we can ever really “bracket” our metaphysical commitments, or that we can ever agree on method (there really isn’t any such thing as the historical-critical method!), or that we could even agree on what argument is more plausible than another.

What we can agree on, however, is to treat each other with respect, try to understand each other’s views, and stop with the labels, ad homnium arguments, and making grandiose claims of “proof” on insufficient evidence.

Well, I’ve babbled on enough. Back to marking!

Posted in Best of Codex, Historiography, History of Ancient Israel | Comments Off

King David: Fact or Fiction?

5th August 2006

I saw this a couple days ago, but didn’t have time to post: Richard Ostiling of the Associated Press (via PE.com) has a brief report on Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman’s (somewhat) new book, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition (Free Press, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). The news article, “Was King David legend or fiction?” raises a number of questions surrounding Finkelstein and Silberman’s views.

Here are some excerpts:

Some scholars are busily debunking the Bible’s account of the great King David, asking: Was he really all that great? Was he largely legendary, Judaism’s version of Britain’s legendary King Arthur, or totally fictional?

These matters are crucial not only for Jews but for Christians, since Jesus’ biblical identity as the messiah stems from David’s family line.

Though some scholars claimed David never existed, in 1993 archaeologists discovered a stone inscription from 835 B.C. that mentions “the house of David.” The authors say that established the existence of a dynastic founder named David and that shortly after his 10th-century era a line of kings “traced their legitimacy back to David.”

However, Finkelstein considers the Bible seriously distorted propaganda. He treats David as a minor bandit chieftain and Jerusalem as a hamlet, not an imperial capital. Supposedly, biblical authors concocted the grander David centuries afterward.

Finkelstein notes that archaeologists haven’t found monumental buildings from David’s era in Jerusalem. He dismisses links of David and Solomon with buildings unearthed at biblical Megiddo and Hazor. Ordinary readers might not grasp that this depends upon a disputed “low chronology” which would shift dates a century, just after these kings.

In the July-August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Michael Coogan of Stonehill College, editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, contends that Finkelstein and Silberman “move from the hypothetical to the improbable to the absurd.”

Finkelstein’s revised chronology is “not accepted by the majority of archaeologists and biblical scholars,” Coogan asserts, citing four scholarly anthologies from the past three years.

Coogan also thinks “David and Solomon” downplays the significance of the Amarna tablets, which include correspondence to Egypt’s pharaoh from a 14th-century Jerusalem king. Even if archaeological remains at Jerusalem are lacking, he writes, the tablets indicate that long before David, Jerusalem was the region’s chief city-state, with a court and sophisticated scribes.

Discovery of ancient remains in Jerusalem is problematic, due to the repeated reconstruction throughout the centuries and the modern inaccessibility of many sites.

Nonetheless, perhaps David’s palace has been found. So claims Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar. Finkelstein denies this, claiming Mazar inaccurately dated pottery from the site.

“Here, for the time being, matters rest,” summarizes Hillel Halkin in the July-August Commentary magazine.

I tend to agree more with Coogan than with Finkelstein and Silberman, though I wouldn’t go as far to say the biblical account has no embellishments since I also think that all historiography has fictive elements. One of the more significant points the article raises, IMHO, is the fact that archaeological excavation of Jerusalem is problematic for so many reasons. That is why digs such as Mazar‘s are so important.


Posted in Archaeology, City of David, Historiography, History of Ancient Israel, News | 4 Comments »

Will the Real King David Stand Up!

29th June 2006

The most recent volume of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly has an interesting article by David Bosworth entitled, “Evaluating King David: Old Problems and Recent Scholarship” (CBQ 68 [2006] 191-210). Bosworth examines a number of recent academic biographies of the biblical figure of David and argues that these recent portrayals say more about the modern authors and their methods than the ancient monarch. The monographs that he engages are:

I think that Bosworth makes a number of valid points. Halpern and McKenzie both present a picture of David as a villain by reading between the lines of the text and favouring a propagandistic interpretation. With this approach David becomes a murderous usurper. Steussy’s approach is a bit more balanced, according to Bosworth. Unlike Halpern and McKenzie, she has no interest in uncovering the “real” David, but instead explores the portraits of David throughout the Scriptures — including the book of Psalms. The edited work by Desrousseaux and Vermeylen includes essays that — like Halpern and McKenzie — take a propagandistic reading, while Dietrich’s sophisticated reading is more akin to that of Steussy.

I personally find elements of a propagandistic reading plausible, but I appreciate Bosworth’s point that leaders are often accused of more crimes than they actually commit! Moreover, Bosworth points out the problems with equating apology with indictment and indictment with history — politics of any age are never so simple!

After evaluating modern critics, Bosworth investigates David among his ancient contemporaries. As it turns out, David’s biblical portrait, while similar to ANE royal account, is more complex. As Bosworth concludes, “the text is not as simple as ‘royal propaganda.’ It shows an awareness of the problems involved in evaluating great figures who succeed in establishing positive institutions at the expense of usurping prior institutions” (p. 209).

All in all, Bosworth’s article is worth taking a gander at — as are the books noted above. Of course, when all is said and done, perhaps the “Biblical David” is the only David we can ever recover.


Posted in 1Samuel, Criticism, Historiography, History of Ancient Israel, King David | Comments Off

CSBS Ancient Historiography Seminar Papers Uploaded

22nd May 2006

I have just uploaded the final papers for this year’s Ancient Historiography Seminar, which meets in a week at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies (CSBS) at York University in Toronto, Ontario (May 28-30, 2006).

This will be the inaugural year for the Seminar and it looks like it will be a great meeting with a lot of interesting discussion.

The papers are all available in PDF format, though you must be a member of the CSBS to download them. If you are not a member of the CSBS, then you will have to contact the paper’s author for permission and then contact me for the username and password.

As I did last year, I will be summarizing the Hebrew Bible sessions of this year’s conference, so stay tuned!


Posted in Academic Associations, Ancient Historiography Seminar, CSBS, History of Ancient Israel | Comments Off

Ancient Historiography Seminar / Groupe de Travail sur l’Historiographie Ancienne – CSBS Programme (30 May 2006)

17th April 2006

As a member of the Steering Committee of the Ancient Historiography Seminar in the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, I am pleased to report that the programme for our inaugural sessions is now available. Here is a the schedule for this year’s seminar:

Function of Historiography – Hebrew Bible /
La Fonctionne de l’Historiographie – Bible Hébraïque

Tuesday 30 May 2006 – 8:45-12:00 (ACE 002)

Chair / Président: Tyler Williams (Taylor University College)

8:45-9:05 am – Is the Book of Kings Deuteronomistic? And is it a History?
Kurt Noll (Brandon University)

The consensus among biblical scholars is that Kings is a work of history, probably the final instalment of Martin Noth’s Deuteronomistic History. To date, the best two attempts to defend that genre designation are those of John Van Seters and Baruch Halpern. Van Seters compares the Former Prophets to ANE literature, while Halpern stresses rhetorical structures indicating what Halpern calls “antiquarianism” in the text. However, recent researchers on Kings have raised issues that perhaps require a reassessment of the question about genre. On textual grounds, one can argue that Deuteronomy did not influence the earlier stages of composition and that later stages were no longer concerned with “antiquarianism.” This paper will review the debate between Halpern and Van Seters in light of the more recent research, revisit both the comparative argument and the argument based on rhetorical structures in the text, and offer a possible solution to the question of genre in the book of Kings.

9:05-9:15 am – Discussion

9:15-9:35 am – Uses of the Past: The Stories of David and Solomon as Test Cases
John Van Seters (Waterloo, ON)

For the accounts of the reigns of David and Solomon scholars have suggested various layers in the books of Samuel and Kings, some regarded as near-contemporary pieces of historiography and have proposed various functions for the stories: propagandistic, apologetic, antimonarchic, etcetera. In this study I will look at some of these proposals in the light of comparative models and make some suggestions of my own.

9:35-9:45 Discussion

9:45-10:05 am – Sennacherib’s Campaign Against Judah: What Saith the Scriptures?
Paul Evans (Wycliffe College)

This paper won the Founders’ Prize and will be read on Sunday afternoon. It will be summarized at this session.

This paper provides a close reading of the Hezekiah-Sennacherib narrative of 2 Kings 18-19 which, with the aid of a Rhetorical analysis, will: 1) reassess putative sources found in the text (questioning the traditional A and B source delineations); and 2) reveal common misreadings of the biblical text (e.g., that a siege of Jerusalem is referred to and that Sennacherib’s army is said to be defeated outside the walls of Jerusalem). This study will then analyze the implications of these results for the use of this biblical text in historical reconstruction.

10:05-10:15 am – Discussion

10:15-10:30 – Break

10:30-10:50 am – The Chronicler as Elite
Tim Goltz (McGill University)

Noam Chomsky is credited with the observation, “The Internet is an elite organization; most of the population of the world has never even made a phone call.” If the “eliteness” of communities is, in part, measured by their ability to effectively communicate their message, the model of the Internet elite demonstrates a truism of human societies; that the majority of recorded communication is representative of relatively few individuals who tend to wield a disproportionate amount of power. In Western societies which communicate so freely and cheaply, it is sometimes difficult to imagine ancient societies where significant literary agency was limited to so very few people. As a member of the Yehudite elite, the Chronicler was one of those few. Most likely supported by the Jerusalem Temple, he wrote a revisionist account of the history of “Israel” which has been retained as the book(s) of Chronicles. Employing a unique comparative theory from the emerging discipline of elite studies within the humanities, this paper seeks to address the issue of what the term “elite” means in terms of the ancient Yehudite literati. Widely used but rarely dissected, the paper is also an appeal for biblical scholars to more critically engage the implications of term “elite” as applied to socio-historical reconstructions of ancient Israel, and, indeed, to related ANE cultures.

10:50-11:00 – Discussion

11:00-11:20 am – Tyler Williams (Taylor University College)
The Function of Historiography: A Synthesis and Response to Kurt Noll, John Van Seters, Paul Evans, and Tim Goltz

11:20-12:00 am – Discussion

Function of Historiography – Classics, Intertestamental Literature, and the Gospels / La Fonctionne de l’Historiographie – Les Littératures Classiques et Intertestamentaire, et les Évangiles

Tuesday 30 May 2006 – 1:30-14:30 pm (ACE 002)

Chair / Président: Todd Penner (Austin College)

1:30-1:50 pm – Dilys Patterson (Concordia University)
Once Upon a Time: Women as Leaders in Historiography and the Ancient Novel

In antiquity it was rare for a woman to be in a leadership role. Leadership typically meant having authority over men and participating in the male dominated public sphere, which, according to the cultural values of the day, was not the proper place for women. Nevertheless, women do figure sporadically in historiography and are central characters in Jewish novels. The Book of Judith, for instance, not only situates itself in Israel’s past but also demonstrates a solid appreciation of Israel’s history. Both historiography and the ancient novel therefore draw on the past to create meaning. This paper examines the anomalous position of female leadership and the use of this type of leadership to create meaning in three historiographies, The Histories by Herodotus, The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities by Flavius Josephus, and the Jewish novel, Judith.

1:50-2:00 pm – Discussion

2:00-2:20 pm – Craig A. Evans (Acadia Divinity College)
Gospel Historiography and Biblical Epic

The four New Testament evangelists present the “history of Jesus” in distinctive ways. Their writing strategies place them in the general context of other Jewish writers of late antiquity, such as Josephus who writes an apologetical historical treatise, or Philo the epic poet, Orphica, Ezekiel the Tragedian, or a variety of other Jewish poets who imitated Greek style in their respective efforts to retell various parts of Israel’s sacred story or what we might regard in a certain sense “Biblical Epic.” The New Testament Gospels represent examples of the creative ways that Jews and persons caught up in the story of Israel attempted to retell sacred history in the genres and forms current in their day, including the forms found in Scripture itself. Although the strategies of the respective evangelists vary, their gospels are rooted in and linked to Scripture in important ways and so represent efforts to tell Israel’s story, centered on the figure of Jesus the Messiah.

2:20-2:30 pm – Discussion

2:30-2:50 pm – Sean Adams (McMaster Divinity College)
Ancient Greek Historiography and its Methodology: How Does Luke Relate?

2:50-3:00 pm – Discussion

3:00-3:15 pm – Break

3:15-3:35 pm – Eve-Marie Becker (Oberassistentin Institut für Neues Testament)
The Gospel of Mark in context of ancient historiography

My paper will expound on the approach of my “Habilitationsschrift” which will be published in Tübingen (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament) in 2006: Das Markus-Evangelium im Rahmen antiker Historiographie. This approach is firstly historical and secondly methodological: ad 1: The Gospel of Mark seems to be the first record of early Christian writing, which has put the story of Jesus in a chronological and narrative order. Which specific historical circumstances have made the narrativization of the Jesus-story necessary? Reasons for that could probably be found in the events of the first Jewish revolt and the destruction of the Second Temple (70 A.D.). Is there any textual evidence within Mark’s Gospel for these historical events? and 2: The way Mark uses traditions and sources can be compared to the techniques of ancient historiographical writers. In this perspective, historiography can be defined as a narrativization of at least partially historical traditions. The discussion about the Gospel’s genre (biographical literature?) is – in that sense – has to be resumed once again.

3:35-3:45 pm – Discussion

3:45-4:30 – Discussion

This looks like an exciting session. I will be updating the Ancient Historiography Seminar Website in the next few days. I will let you know when everything is uploaded.


Posted in Academic Associations, Ancient Historiography Seminar, CSBS, History of Ancient Israel | 1 Comment »

Knoppers et al on Kalimi’s An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler

17th March 2006

The latest edition of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures has an article edited by Gary N. Knoppers with contributions by Ehud Ben Zvi, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Gary N. Knoppers, Ralph W. Klein, Mark A. Throntveit with a response by Isaac Kalimi, entitled, “Chronicles and the Chronicler: A Response to I. Kalimi, An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler, his Time, Place and Writing,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 6/2 (2006).

This article began at a session of the Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah section of last year’s SBL devoted to Isaac Kalimi, An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler, His Time, Place, and Writing (Studia Semitica Neerlandica, 46; Assen: Royal Van Gorcum, 2005). After an introduction by Knoppers, each author presents an expanded review of Kalimi’s book, and then Kalimi responds.

While I am not going to repeat the contents of the article here, one criticism that a number of the authors noted was Kalimi’s characterization of the Chronicler as an ancient historian and the book of Chronicles as historiography. While most of the authors appear to be fine with classifying Chronicles as ancient historiography, they don’t like some of the implications that Kalimi draws from this assertion. First, when Kalimi calls the Chronicler a “historian” he means by implication that he isn’t a “midrashist” or a “theologian.” While I would agree that the Chronicler is a historian, I would characterize him as a theological historian who at times employs midrashic techniques.

Second, Kalimi appears to imply that because the Chronicler is a historian, this should influence our assessment of the reliability of the information contained within Chronicles and the book’s usefulness as a historical source for the history of monarchic Israel. Again, while I would agree with Kalimi’s characterization that the genre of Chronicles is ancient historiography, that does not mean that the book is necessarily reliable as a modern historical source. Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that Chronicles can’t be used to reconstruct this history of monarchic Israel or Persian Yehud. What I am saying is that Chronicles is an ancient history book and that the Chronicler has very different standards for writing history and very different literary and historiographic techniques than modern historians — and these differences have to be taken into consideration when evaluating the reliability of his accounts. In this regard, I quite liked Mark Throntveit’s comments:

Three of the designations (Exegete, Theologian, and Historian), at least in Kalimi’s critique of those who have proposed them as characterizing the Chronicler, are rather modern ideological constructs. The Chronicler was neither what we understand a modern exegete, theologian, or historian to be any more than he was a Democrat, Republican, or Green Party member. Proposing modern vocational conceptions as characteristic of the Chronicler’s work or activity seems to me to be akin to asking the question, “What would Jesus drive?� interesting, thought-provoking, edifying, perhaps, but essentially conjectural.

In his very thorough response, Kalimi further nuances his understanding of Chronicles as historiography in a way that I think would satisfy most scholars. At any rate, I encourage you to take a gander at this article — it’ll be well worth your time. In addition, I encourage you to pick up Kalimi’s work. He is one of the major scholars studying the book of Chronicles today.


Posted in Chronicles, Historiography, History of Ancient Israel, Reviews & Notices | 2 Comments »

Beyond Minimalism & Maximalism: Some Modest Observations on the Historiography Debate

14th December 2005

Why is it interesting debates spring up right when I am swamped with end of term grading and other publishing deadlines? Well, in an effort to avoid some marking, I figured I would offer some observations on the recent debate about historiography among some bloggers (dare I say, “bibliobloggers”?!).

The Debate Thus Far

First, some background. The recent debate was sparked in part by a post by Ken Ristau reflecting his frustration with the apparent inconsistency that some scholars bring to questions of ancient Israelite historiography, especially in regards to their disregard and/or scepticism of parts of the Hebrew Bible as a historiographic source (History in the Bible?). It is important to note that Ken wasn’t claiming that the Deuteronomistic History, for example, is equivalent to modern critical historiography. All he was arguing for is a recognition that the biblical texts — with all of their ideological limitations — can be used productively and critically in reconstructing the history of Israel. It should also be noted that, if I read Ken correctly (e.g., the reference to floating axe heads), his post is directed more, though not exclusively, against some comments made by Jim West at Biblical Theology), than the published views of scholars like Davies, Lemche, Thompson, and Whitelam.

Ken’s initial post was responded to by Jim West here. In addition, Keith Whitelam (on Jim West’s Biblical Theology blog here) understood some of Ken’s criticisms directed at his scholarship and chastised Ken for not interacting with specific views, among other things. James Crossley also made some balanced observations at Earliest Christian History blog. Ken clarified his views in his response to Keith Whitelam’s concerns here, then more fully here.

A parallel series of posts examining specific archaeological discoveries that may correlate with the portrayal of Israel in the Bible has been going on among some blogs. This series was initiated by Joe Cathey‘s posts on the Merneptah Stele (initial post here) and Tel Dan Inscription (initial post here) in response to Jim West’s request for “proof” for the existence of Israel. These posts resulted in a flurry of blogging activity that I don’t have the energy to track in detail, but here are some high points.

In regards to the Merneptah stele, Jim responded to Joe’s initial post here (also see here), Kevin Edgecomb responded to Jim in kind here (see Jim’s response here), while Chris Heard produced a superb post here.

In regard to the Tel Dan inscription, Jim responded to Joe’s post here and Joe replied here, here, and once again here! And somewhere in the middle of the fray Jim replied here and here (also see Chris Heard’s reply to Jim here). Kevin Edgecomb has a number of excellent posts on the construction BÄ«t + PN in Assyrian/Aramean accounts (see here, here, and most recently here). I need oxygen… OK, I think this will be the last time I try to track a debate in the blogosphere!

I apologize if I have missed any contributions to this lively debate! In addition, you should make sure to read any comments associated with the blog posts in order to get the full picture!

Beyond “Minimalists” and “Maximalists”?

In my opinion, framing the whole discussion — and here I am not necessarily thinking only of the recent blog interchange — as a dichotomy between “minimalists” and “maximalists” is not helpful. There are not two camps, schools, or positions. If anything, the two terms represent a spectrum of possible views, with “minimalists” being at one end and “maximalists” at the other — and everyone else somewhere in the middle (I personally am a centrist — I, and only I, have a perfectly balanced perspective!). But even this portrayal of the debate is not sufficient as there are significant methodological differences between people all throughout the spectrum. For instance, “minimalist” has been used to describe scholars such as Davies, Lemche, Van Seters, Whitelam, among others. While these scholars have a number of presuppositional and methodological similarities surrounding the value of the biblical texts for modern historical reconstruction, they also have some very significant differences — especially in regards to method. This problem is exacerbated for the “maximalist” label since it seems that anyone who isn’t a “minimalist” is grouped together as a maximalist! And if you thought there were differences among the so-called minimalists, there are huge differences among so-called maximalists. In his recent article in SJOT, Lemche even starts using terms such as “maximalist critical scholars” to distinguish them from conservative/conservative evangelical/evangelical maximalist scholars. (I wonder how many “evangelical minimalist” scholars there are?)

The same observation applies equally to using labels such as “Copenhagen school,” “Sheffield school” (the use of the term “school” is more problematic as it presumes more agreement than actually exists), and “biblical revisionists.” On the other side of the debate, the label “evangelical” is used by some in an uncritical and almost derogatory way — at times equated with fundamentalist — to group scholars who have a high view of scripture, even though there is a wide spectrum of scholars who would consider themselves “evangelicals.”

I am not saying anything revolutionary here; most if not all scholars in the debate do not like the labels and have said as much in various publications — even though they continue to use them! So I think it is time for everyone to put the labels to rest and focus instead on interacting with the views of individual scholars (an especailly important step considering that many times our ad homnium or off-the-cuff comments are against views that no scholars actually hold!)

Avoiding Inflammatory Language

Even more than avoiding labels that are not heuristically useful, we need to avoid the caustic and inflammatory language that often accompanies this debate. I think we would all agree that it doesn’t help further the debate to use such language. This inflammatory language occurs in print discussions, email discussion groups, and blogs. I really wish we could all learn to play better among ourselves!

I know that some of the bantering is done tongue-in-cheek (especially in the blogosphere), though the tone of the debate does not contribute to furthering our understanding of how (or if) it is possible to write a history of Israel. We all have to do better (I include myself in the indictment). And I’m not just talking about labels that are thrown around, but statements that imply (or outright state) that so-and-so obviously hasn’t read this or that, tantamount to saying “If you weren’t such a moron, you would obviously see it my way!” That doesn’t mean we have to all agree with one another (though I believe greater miracles have happened!), but when we disagree we should do so with respect since there are learned scholars on all sides of the debate. Furthermore, when we are at the receiving end of a cheap shot or ad homnium argument, we should try our best to not respond in kind, but instead respond with appropriate restraint.

Focusing on Real Issues and Real Differences

Anyone familiar with the debate surrounding the history of Israel knows that there are a number of real issues dividing scholars. An important question that needs to be asked is at what level are the real differences? Most of the time the real differences are not on the surface, but are at lower levels. These lower levels may be methodological, or may be presuppositional and metaphysical. In any debate, it is essential to be able to identify at what level the disagreement exists. In a recent IBR article, V. Philips Long quotes E. L. Greenstein’s comments which I believe are quite appropriate:

in biblical studies we often argue as though we all shared the same beliefs and principles, as though the field were all built upon a single theoretical foundation. But it is not…. I can get somewhere when I challenge the deductions you make from your fundamental assumptions. But I can get nowhere if I think I am challenging your deductions when in fact I am differing from your assumptions, your presuppositions, your premises, your beliefs.

For example, let’s examine the recent blog debate about the Tel Dan stele. All parties — even Jim — appear willing to concede that the phrase in question is “house of David” (this is not the case in the larger debate where alternative readings are proposed; in which case there would be differences on the level of exegetical judgements). But then at the next step taken by Joe Cathey and Chris Heard, correlating the David of the inscription with the David mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, Jim West demurs. I believe this highlights some low-level differences among those engaged in the debate. Reading between the lines, I would suggest that Jim West has both methodological and metaphysical objections to reading the Hebrew Bible as a historical source, Chris Heard is arguing on the level of the historical critical method and bracketing any personal metaphysical commitments (Ken Ristau appears to be operating at this level as well), while Joe Cathey is probably similar to Jim West, though his methodological and metaphysical commitments likely differ considerably from Jim’s. The end result is that the discussion stalls and a stalemate is declared.

Meaningful and Productive Debate

The $60,000 question is how can we avoid such disagreements? Or stated positively, how can we engage meaningfully in a debate with whom we may have significant methodological and metaphysical differences? The first step would be to be up front about our lower-level commitments. We need to be clear about our method and our metaphysics. This sort of full disclosure will not, of course, produce peace and harmony among us (we know from pop culture that only Coca-Cola can do that!); but it will help us understand where we all are coming from. After this, we can then see if we can find a “middle discourse” to engage one another. We need to agree on the rules of the game before the game starts. Here I wonder if the most fruitful approach may be to work on the level of the historical-critical method and bracket any metaphysical commitments — at least initially. Then, for those of us who may share similar metaphysical commitments, we may take the conversation further.

Of course, perhaps I am being hopelessly naive to think that we can ever really “bracket” our metaphysical commitments, or that we can ever agree on method (there really isn’t any such thing as the historical-critical method!), or that we could even agree on what argument is more plausible than another.

What we can agree on, however, is to treat each other with respect, try to understand each other’s views, and stop with the labels, ad homnium arguments, and making grandiose claims of “proof” on insufficient evidence.

Well, I’ve babbled on enough. Back to marking!

Posted in Historiography, History of Ancient Israel | Comments Off