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About the Author
Paul D. Wegner is professor of Old Testament studies and director of the Academic Graduate Studies program at Gateway Seminary in Ontario, CA.
Read an Excerpt
THE CURRENT STATE OF OLD TESTAMENT HISTORIOGRAPHY
History is important. In centuries past this statement would have seemed self-evident. Ancient cultures devoted much time and effort to teaching their children family history. It was thought that the past helps a child understand who he is. Modern society, however, has turned its back on the past. We live in a time of rapid change, a time of progress. We prefer to define ourselves in terms of where we are going, not where we come from. Our ancestors hold no importance for us. They lived in times so different from our own that they are incapable of shedding light on our experience. ... Our ignorance of the past is not the result of a lack of information, but of indifference. We do not believe that history matters.
According to modern consensus in the field, the volume you are holding is a book that should never have seen the light of day. For example, J. Maxwell Miller, commenting in 1994, summarized his view about the possibility of writing a history of Israel: "In view of the wide range of approaches and views described above, it is impossible to present a reconstruction of the history of Israel that represents scholarly consensus. There simply is no consensus at the moment."
Keith W. Whitelam went even further to announce the death of biblical history: "It is now time for Palestinian History to come of age and formally reject the agenda and constraints of 'biblical history.' ... It is the historian who must set the agenda and not the theologian." Whitelam argues that history as found in the Bible is nothing more than a literary fiction created by the ideological concerns of its authors in the Persian period. Iain Provan notes two recent trends in biblical scholarship that have further advanced Whitelam's ideas:
First of all, recent work on Hebrew narrative that has tended to emphasize the creative art of the biblical authors and the late dates of their texts has undermined the confidence of some scholars that the narrative world portrayed in the biblical texts has very much to do with the "real" world of the past.
There has been an increasing tendency, therefore, to marginalize the biblical texts in asking questions about Israel's past, and a corresponding tendency to place greater reliance upon archaeological evidence. ...
A second trend ... has been drawn between people in the past who, motivated by theology and religious sentiment rather than by critical scholarship, have been overly dependent upon biblical texts in their construal of the history of Israel, and the people in the present who, setting aside the biblical texts, seek to write history in a relatively objective and descriptive manner.
It is understandable given these types of trends in biblical studies that skepticism of the biblical texts has led to skepticism regarding the history these texts have recounted. However, it must be remembered that the so-called facts of archaeology are nothing more than someone's reconstruction of the archeological data and that modern scholars are no more objective than earlier scholars — it is just that being skeptical of biblical sources has become in vogue today.
NO CONSENSUS ON METHODOLOGY AND DEFINITIONS
Interestingly, the disagreement among scholars is not so much over the "facts" in the field; rather, it is over how one should interpret those facts, and with what sorts of presuppositions one may legitimately approach the study of OT history.
Because of these two major areas of disagreement, a variety of methods for the study of the OT have emerged, with little or no consensus among them.
The problem, however, is much more serious than that; it has called into question the definition and nature of history itself. For instance, some believe that history emerges from particular perceptions of reality (usually those of educated, upper-class, male scribes) that may not be in line with contemporary concerns of the underclasses, ethnic minorities, or feminist groups. According to this view, dependency on any written documents — much less the use of biblical materials for constructing the history of Israel — is therefore out of the question.
Added to this is a further complication. For some the Bible is suspect as being a religious document more concerned with proliferating a "privileged point of view" than in representing fairly the real state of affairs of all concerned parties. Is this a legitimate conclusion based on fair appraisal of all the available materials? Should the Bible be excluded as a source from which to write a history of Israel?
As pointed out earlier, if historiography is "a written account of the past based on source inquiry,"then the OT is a significant text that claims to relate God's dealings with the nation of Israel. William P. Brown ties together Israel's historical events:
On the one hand, Israel's story is no imaginative construct severed from the harsh realities of historical experience. The Bible is about a particular people who embodied a particular history. For all its ambiguity, archaeology anchors Israel's story in history. Moreover, the archaeological picture underscores the social and theological struggles the ancient community faced as it developed those traditions that came to comprise scripture. On the other hand, Israel's history cannot be severed from Israel's faith in the God who delivered, sustained, and constituted Israel as a people.
NO PRIORITY GIVEN TO THE BIBLE AS A SOURCE
Keith Whitelam asserts that the Bible should not be given a primary role as a source in the formulation of a history of Israel; in fact, he believes, it may detract from the task. "The continued conviction that the biblical text remains the primary source for all periods of history of Israel means that many historians perpetuate this unnecessary restriction in their consideration of other forms of potential evidence," he states.
Of course, it is agreed that in the real technical sense of the term, the Bible is no more a history book than it is a science textbook, law book, ethics manual, or even a systematic theology. It is not organized according to the formats of these disciplines, nor does any one of those approach the principle reason why the Bible was written. But the Bible purports to include a chronicle of real events from the ancient Near East; these are the backdrop against which the revelation of God was communicated. We agree with Brown's conviction "that history constitutes the arena of revelation and theology." The work of Yahweh in the OT depicts him as being an active participant in history itself. See the claims that God makes in Isaiah 40:21–25.
Why are moderns so skeptical about the whole prospect of writing a history of anything, much less a history of Israel? And why is it that tensions arise when it involves the Christian Scriptures and the presence of God in that narrative? The answers to these and related questions must be found in an analysis of some modern fallacies that have arisen since the days of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
SOME MODERN FALLACIES
Fallacy 1: History cannot include the unique, the miraculous, and the intervention of the divine. One of the most prized principles of modernity is the principle of analogy that assumes that all historical phenomena must be subjected to an analogous explanation — one that explains events in terms of other known happenings. But should the event being examined claim to be unique, miraculous, or involve the intervention of God, it is immediately disqualified by this Enlightenment definition since the definition is influenced by both the philosophical approaches of rationalism and humanism.
This definition contends that there are no other analogous happenings by which such unique, miraculous, or divine events could be measured, inspected, and evaluated.
J. Maxwell Miller describes three basic differences between the "critical" and "precritical" (i.e., a historian who lived and wrote prior to the critical era) historian:
(1) he [the critical scholar] generally takes a critical stance toward his sources; (2) he is inclined to disregard the supernatural or miraculous in his treatment of past events; (3) he is very much aware of his own historicity and, accordingly, of the subjectivity and tentative character of his own historical conclusions.
But two objections can be made to this preemptory disregard for potential materials for historical construction that have any reference to the unique, the miraculous, or to a deity. First, it is based on the somewhat arbitrary definition of history established in the Enlightenment. In that case, as Westermann observes, "The Old Testament has no concept of history, in the sense that history is only history that can be documented and that follows a verifiable course governed by causal laws." But besides such a cavalier redefinition of what does and does not constitute history, it has a second flaw. The principle of analogy is not applied evenly to all other ancient documents. The presence and activities of the gods in inscriptions, such as the Mesha Inscription and the Behistun Stone (Fig. 1.2), or in "histories" such as that of Herodotus, did not automatically eliminate them from being considered as accurate sources for the histories to which they contribute. It is possible to multiply these examples many times over, for divine references are frequent in ANE writing.
William Abraham, in his Divine Revelation and the Limits of Historical Criticism, notes that the principle of analogy is too narrowly based if it is defined as being restricted to one's own personal experience. There are just too many real events that lie outside the realm of one's own experience; therefore, this principle must operate within a wider context. Analogical thinking can only operate as far as the network of one's background beliefs allow it to do so. Abraham gives an analogy to help clarify what he is saying: What happens if a historian tries to convince a primitive tribe that someone has landed on the moon? This possibility is not in their normal realm of events, and they would dismiss it immediately — even though it did indeed happen. Abraham explains how one would go about convincing the tribe that this event did indeed happen:
First, he must continue to bear testimony to the event that has happened, and where possible introduce similar testimony to this event from other quarters, e.g. from fellow westerners who are trusted by the tribe. Secondly, he must initiate the members of the tribe into the theories and concepts of natural science, in particular into the theories that make possible space flights and moon landings. Thirdly, he must provide an understanding of the purposes and intentions of those who planned and carried out the moon landings.
It is possible that in time the tribe would believe that this event really happened even though it was a single event previously unimaginable to them. Similar to the actions of God in history, analogy is limited to the background beliefs of those drawing the conclusions — but analogy must be understood against a wider background than what a certain person has experienced.
Fallacy 2: History cannot include anything that does not have external documentation. Another fallacy is the rejection of everything in Scripture for which there is no external documentation or external corroboration. So serious are scholars about this principle that they refuse to begin their histories of Israel in those periods that they judge to be without such external evidences. Accordingly, Miller and Hayes see no history prior to the time of the judges, while Soggin starts his reconstruction of Israel's history with David and Solomon. The most radical of all are Whitelam and Garbini, who argue that the biblical texts are literary fictions created in the Persian or Hellenistic eras.
Such a reduction of usable historical data to those materials that are verifiable from existing artifacts or epigraphical remains could lead to premature foreclosing of the case. For example, Yamauchi reminds us that it was not until 1932 that we had any external verification for the exile of Jehoiachin in Babylon — a fact confirmed by the tablets translated by E. Weidner. Nor did we get attestation for Pontius Pilate until 1961, procurator Felix until 1966, or the "house of David" until the Aramaic stele fragment was found at Tel Dan and published in 1993.
Often the absence of evidence may not be a lack of evidence at all. It may only indicate the randomness of our knowledge of the past, or it may suggest that our methodologies for recovering the past are still in need of development. For example, the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites continues to be frequently denied today because sites such as Jericho, Ai, and Gibeon do not provide any evidence of Late Bronze Age (hereafter LB) materials. But, to take Gibeon for the moment, LB materials were found in its cemetery. It is conceded that the modern village of El-Jib sits unexcavated on the mound of Gibeon, so how can this site be used as evidence that it was not in existence during the days of Joshua? James Pritchard, the one who excavated Gibeon, stated, "We have dug into but a fraction of the total area."
Although modern El-Jib covers much of the ancient tell, Pritchard hopes that the "great city" of Joshua's day will eventually come to light. "No evidence" may only indicate that there is no evidence yet. Meanwhile, the debate also continues over the interpretation of the data from Jericho and over the true location of Ai.
Fallacy 3: History cannot include narratives about individuals, but must focus on nations instead. Here is another arbitrary restriction that is limited by formal definition. Why would the histories of individuals, families, and tribes be excluded from consideration, unless this too is another remnant of the Enlightenment? Westermann notes, "At the basis of this critique is the assumption that familial affairs have no place in historical political events, which have to do instead with the nation, not with the family." This is no doubt the reason many modern histories of Israel are reluctant to commence their recounting prior to the times of the monarchy when the nation first appears on the scene as a geopolitical entity. But such a tactic is hardly fair to the large bulk of materials found in the OT that discuss events that occurred prior to the emergence of the geopolitical nation.
Fallacy 4: History must not focus on individuals as shapers of the times, but on sociological factors that influence historical change. Some sociological approaches to history fail to maintain a balance between the individual and societal forces in shaping history. But any honest survey of history will indicate that certain leaders can change the direction of whole nations; conversely, familial corruption can destroy a nation.
Excerpted from "A History of Israel"
Copyright © 2016 Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Paul Wegner.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Academic.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsList of Maps
Chapter 1 The Current State of Old Testament Historiography
Chapter 2 Ancient Israel in Its Geographical Context
Chapter 3 Early Historical Context of Canaan
PART I: THE PATRIARCHS AND THEIR RESIDENCE IN EGYPT
Chapter 4 The Early Bronze Age
Chapter 5 The Middle Bronze Age and the Patriarchs
Chapter 6 The Story of Joseph: Settlement in Egypt
Chapter 7 The Three Hundred Silent Years: Growing a Nation
PART II: THE SOJOURN IN EGYPT, THE EXODUS AND SINAI
Chapter 8 The Man: Moses and His Mission
Chapter 9 The Exodus from Egypt
Chapter 10 The Sinaitic Sojourn
PART III: THE ISRAELITE OCCUPATION OF THE LAND
Chapter 11 Entrance into the Land of Canaan
Chapter 12 The Conquest of Canaan
Chapter 13 The Occupation of Canaan
PART IV: THE PERIOD OF THE JUDGES
Chapter 14 The Twelve-Tribe System
Chapter 15 The Judges of Israel
PART V: THE MONARCHY
Chapter 16 The People’s Call for a King
Chapter 17 King Saul (ca. 1051/50-1011/10 B.C.)
Chapter 18 The Rise of King David (ca. 1040-1010 B.C.)
Chapter 19 The Reign of King David (ca. 1011/10-971/70 B.C.)
Chapter 20 David and His Domestic Troubles (ca. 991-970 B.C.)
Chapter 21 The Reign of Solomon (ca. 971/70-931/30 B.C.)
PART VI: THE DIVIDED MONARCHY: THE INDEPENDENT KINGDOMS OF ISRAEL AND JUDAH
Chapter 22 The Division of the Monarchy (931/930 B.C.)
Chapter 23 The First Fifty Years of the Divided Kingdom (931–885 B.C.)
Chapter 24 The Fifty Years of the Omrides and Alliances (885–841 B.C.)
Chapter 25 The Century of the Jehu Dynasty (841–753 B.C.)
Chapter 26 The Expansion of Assyria and the Fall of Samaria
Chapter 27 The Assyrian Hegemony: Judah from Jotham to Amon
Chapter 28 The Babylonian Hegemony (ca. 640–539 B.C.)
PART VII: THE BABYLONIAN EXILE (605–536 B.C.)
Chapter 29 The Exile and the First Return
PART VIII: THE PERSIAN HEGEMONY (539–332 B.C.)
Chapter 30 The Returns under Ezra and Nehemiah
PART IX: THE INTERTESTAMENTAL PERIOD
Chapter 31 The End of the Persian Period (424-332 B.C.) and the Beginning of
Hellenistic Age (332-167 B.C.)
Chapter 32 The Maccabean Insurrection (167-134 B.C.)
Chapter 33 The Hasmonean Kingdom (135-63 B.C.)