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Archive for the ‘Historiography’ Category

Shanks: ‘Deuteronomy Vindicated as Authentic Words of Moses!’

Posted by NT Wrong on November 5, 2008

REUTERS, TEL AVIV – Proceedings in the ‘Second Biggest Forgery Trial of the Century’ ground to a halt yesterday. Judge Moshe Yadin refused to hear the case against ‘Ezra the Scribe’, who was alleged to to have forged the Book of Deuteronomy.

“After the best part of two-and-a-half thousand years, I don’t see how evidence can be produced that will create a prima facie case against Ezra,” stated Judge Yadin in a Tel Aviv Court.

“And besides, the defendant is dead,” added the Judge.

“This decision completely vindicates the authenticity of the Book of Deuteronomy,” exclaimed a jubilant Kesev Shanks.

“If a Criminal Court is not the appropriate forum in which to determine delicate archaeological, philological, redactional, and paleographic questions, then what is?” questioned Shanks.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is presently considering whether it will reprosecute the forgery case, but with a new group of defendants – the mysterious ‘D’ and ‘Dtr’, and their alleged accomplice-after-the-fact, ‘P’.

Shanks is currently planning a ‘Tour of The Land of Moab Across the Jordan According to the Authentic Book of Deuteronomy’. Ticket prices begin at $18,500, and will include some of the superstars of the paleographic world as guides.

In related news, the case of U.S. vs. Unnamed Parties Who Removed A Stone From an Unknown Jerusalem Tomb has been thrown out of a New York Court before it was allowed to reach trial – again, for lack of evidence. “Surely this Court decision vindicates the historical resurrection of Jesus,” exclaimed jubilant apologist Gerald R. Habermas.

Posted in Gospels, Historiography, Humour, Jesus & Christ, Pentateuch | 9 Comments »

Abraham’s Family – Historical Non-Israel

Posted by NT Wrong on October 28, 2008

In The Origins of Biblical Israel, Philip Davies makes the point that Genesis never restricts God’s land promise to Abraham’s immediate family. To the contrary, the Promised Land in Gen 15.18-20 (“from the river of Egypt to the great river”) extends beyond the borders of Israel and Judah, and includes all the territory occupied by all of Abraham’s kin:

    • Ammon and Moab
    • Edom
    • Ishmael
    • Perhaps even Abraham’s relatives in Paddan-Aram

“the full significance of this has escaped a surprisingly large number of commentators. Even if the later removal of some “Canaanite” or “Amorite” nations who are not of Abraham’s family is already predicted, peaceful co-existence for the time being is implied in the blessing of Melchizedek the king of Salem (ch. 14), the purchase of the cave near Hebron from Ephron the Hittite (ch. 23) and the intermarriage (ch. 34). Even the story of Abraham’s visit to Egypt in ch. 12 hardly suggests the distaste that Egypt evokes later in the First History; this Pharaoh is no villain (nor is the Pharaoh of the Joseph story). The same is true of Abimelech of Gerar in chs. 20 and 26. Israel is therefore not (or will not be) an isolated nation quite distinct from all other nations, but part of a larger family with which it shares land promised to the ancestor; and the ancestors behaviour displays no xenophobic traits.”
– Philip R. Davies, The Origins of Biblical Israel (Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies, 485; New York and London: T & T Clark, 2007): 46.

Now, his observations here concern the book of Genesis, not later Hexateuchal passages, where these same boundaries are redefined as belonging exclusively to ‘Israel’ (e.g. Exod 23.31; Deut 1.7; Josh 1.4).

It’s a good observation. I wonder, just to take it in a slightly different direction from Davies, whether it reflects the historical situation of earlier centuries (earlier than the eighth century, say) in which this Levantine area was under the control of disparate tribes, controlling little more than cities — ‘Abraham’ (naming some typical ruler) controlling his little group with his own little army, and others controlling theirs. In such a scenario there would be no nationalistic religion, because there was nothing like a ‘nation’ (which is not just a modern system). Genesis would thereby provide some historical recollection of small, largely independent tribes, with some shared identity being reflected in the genealogical stories.

Mere speculation? How better then to explain the blessing of (at the later times of writing) Judah’s enemies and the divine guarantee of their rights to the land?

(The present-day political consequences are another interesting implication that Philip Davies appeared ‘to have in mind’, if I’m allowed to say such a thing about an author these days.)

Posted in Historiography, Pentateuch | Comments Off on Abraham’s Family – Historical Non-Israel

Ancient History – Mostly Silly

Posted by NT Wrong on October 26, 2008

Ancient Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, writing in the first century BC, sums up the work of the earliest Greek historians as “silly” nonsense. He explains that, whenever early historians tried to write histories of remote times, they were prone to simply making it all up.

According to Dionysius, the earliest historians had the goal of:

“bringing to the common knowledge of all whatever records or traditions were to be found among the natives of the individual nationalities or states, whether recorded in places sacred or profane, and to deliver these just as they received them without adding thereto or subtracting therefrom, rejecting not even the legends which had been believed for many generations nor dramatic tales which seem to men of the present time to have a large measure of silliness”
(On Thucydides)

While historians today don’t engage in such silliness, some biblical apologists are prone to naively taking the words of the historiographic biblical books at face value, paraphrasing them, with a complete lack of any historiographic discrimination. Silly biblical praphrases are still being written by apologists such as Provan, Kitchen, and Hoffmeier, more than 2000 years after Dionysius of Halicarnassus recognised such writings for the silliness they are.

How silly.

Posted in Greek texts, Historiography | 1 Comment »

Anson Rainey, ‘East of the Jordan’ is not ‘The Rest of the Ancient Near East’

Posted by NT Wrong on October 23, 2008

Anson Rainey’s article in the latest BAR (34:06, Nov/Dec 2008 ) is a confused and misleading piece of popular apologetics. The best to be said for it is that, in trying to prove a Transjordanian origin for ‘Israel’, it has managed to undermine its broader thesis (which argues that the biblical account of Israel’s origins are historically true).

Inside, Outside: Where Did the Early Israelites Come From?

Here’s an outline of Rainey’s argument, which demonstrates how he is hoist by his own petard:

1. Rainey provides evidence to suggest that there are links between the Transjordan settlements on one hand and settlements in the Cisjordan which he identifies as ‘Israelite’ on the other.

Rainey points to similarities in the pottery and domestic house construction between Transjordan sites such as Tall al-‘Umayri and the Cisjordan sites where the ‘Israelites’ are said to have settled. He also claims that Hebrew has more affinities with Transjordanian languages (such as Aramaic [sic] and Moabite) than with Phoenician (that is, coastal Canaanite).

2. Rainey says that the Bible claims that the ‘Israelites’ came from the Transjordan, that is, “from east of the Jordan”.

“The Bible is very clear. They were pastoral nomads who came from east of the Jordan.”
“The famous hieroglyphic text known as the Merneptah Stele, which dates to about 1205 B.C.E., refers to “Israel” at this time as a people (not a country or nation) probably located in Transjordan.”
“There is no reason to doubt the principal assumption of the Biblical tradition that the ancient Israelites migrated as pastoralists from east of the Jordan.”

3. But the Bible does not claim that the Israelites came from the Transjordan. To the contrary, the Bible claims that they came from the north, in Aram-Naharaim in Syria, and the distant north-east in Mesopotamian Ur. And again, to the contrary, the Bible claims that the Israelites just passed through the Transjordan in a quick conquest of that region (allowing Gad, Reuben, and half-Manasseh to settle after they dispossessed the locals).

These are completely different areas, separated by a vast distance:

4. For Anson Rainey, ‘the Transjordan’ has metamorphosised into the rest of the ancient Near East. In order to harmonize the Transjordanian archaeological and linguistic evidence with the Bible, he has had to speciously refer to the whole of the rest of the ancient Near East as ‘East of the Jordan’. But, the term ‘East of the Jordan’ is confined to the Transjordan in the Bible’s own story.

When Rainey refers to Abraham’s origin in Ur, he bends the decription of Ur to make it sound like he is talking about the Transjordan:

“Abram (later Abraham), the first Hebrew, was born in Ur, a city far east of the Jordan.”

Yeah, Ur is “far east of the Jordan”, in the same way that that you’d describe China as being “far east of the Jordan”.

And yet, Rainey has the gall to summarise the origins of Abraham in Aramean/Mesopotamian Ur, Paddan-Aram, and Aram-Naharaim as “east of the Jordan” (Note that Anson Rainey is co-editor of a biblical atlas, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World):

“The Biblical narrative is very clear as to where the first Israelites came from: outside Canaan, east of the Jordan.”

When the Bible talked about the land “over the Jordan”, it meant just that – the land which was across the other side of the Jordan from where ‘Israel’ was in the Cisjordan. But Rainey has disingenuously blurred this area (the Transjordan) with much of the rest of the ancient Near East, purely in order to try to defend the historicity of the Bible.

While on one hand Rainey produces ‘linguistic evidence’ which links Hebrew to legitimate Transjordanian sites such as Ammon and Moab, he also attempts to slip in Arameans from the distant north and north-east:

“this provides a nearly airtight case that the speakers of ancient Hebrew came from the same area as the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Arameans.”

What “same area”? The land of the Arameans is a distinct area from that of the Transjordan!

5. In conclusion, if Rainey is right about the Transjordanian origins of Israel, the Bible itself must be wrong about the Aramean origins. Hoist by your own petard, Anson Rainey!

This is probably not what Anson Rainey had intended. But, that is the effect of his article. And because Anson Rainey is very familiar with the geography of the two distinct areas, his constant attempts to conflate the Transjordan with Mesopotamia can only be viewed as disingenuous.

Update – see these other criticisms:
– Douglas Mangum, at Biblia Hebraica, looks at a number of other problems in Rainey’s article;
– Duane Smith, at Abnormal Interests, made an initial comment about the historical complexity of the topic, and now provides counter-examples which suggest Rainey’s use of comparative linguistic data is selective.

Posted in Fundamentalism, Historical Books, Historiography, Pentateuch | 13 Comments »

Old Testament Minimalism, Jesus Legends, Calvin & Hobbes – Thomas Verenna

Posted by NT Wrong on October 20, 2008

Historian Thomas Verenna (Friend of the Guild of Biblical Minimalists) commenced a blog on historiography and biblical literature in October 2008: The Musings of Thomas Verenna.

Thomas provides a review of Gary Rendsburg’s introduction to The Hebrew Bible: New Insights and Scholarship (ed. Frederick Greenspahn, 2007), describing Rendsburg’s attack on ‘minimalists’ as “no less than dishonest hyperbole and blanket ad hominem”.

He also defends a mythicist’s approach to the character ‘Jesus’ in the Gospels.

And he also provides this rather fine Calvin & Hobbes cartoon:

Posted in Biblioblogs, Historical Books, Historiography, Jesus & Christ | 24 Comments »

Deuteronomistic History or Recalcitrant Hodgepodge? – K. L. Noll

Posted by NT Wrong on October 9, 2008

K. L. Noll’s words of advice for readers of Joshua-Kings is to reject as unfeasible any explanation of it in terms of a unity of authorship.

“Intead, permit the Former Prophets to be the recalcitrant hodgepodge of narrative discontinuities that they really are.”
– K. L. Noll Deuteronomistic History or Deuteronomic Debate? (A Thought Experiment), Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31 (2007): 311-345, 344.

Now, finally, there’s a comment that’s true to form.

Posted in Historical Books, Historiography | Comments Off on Deuteronomistic History or Recalcitrant Hodgepodge? – K. L. Noll

Theologizing Original Sin after Evolution

Posted by NT Wrong on October 4, 2008

I’ve had some very interesting discussion and argument with Stephen Cook at Biblische Ausbildung on the topic of Original Sin. In particular, we’re discussing how Original Sin can be thought, if at all, after the discovery of evolution — once it is no longer possible to think of death coming into the world because of humankind, but only of humankind coming into the world because of death.

What got me started was Stephen Cook’s discussion of a recent proposal by Joseph Wimmer and Daryl Domning. The discussion after that goes as follows:

My initial reply
– Stephen Cook’s initial response, ‘Response to N T Wrong’
My second response, Stephen Cook’s second response, My third response.
– Stephen Cook’s Third response, ‘N T Wrong Still Remains Wrong!’
My fourth response, Stephen Cook’s fourth response, and my brief reply.

At this stage we are both hoping for other opinions (although some have already been offered).

What interests me are questions such as these:

    – Is the modernist interpretation of ‘Original Sin’ as only or mainly a continuing condition, which ignores or minimises its originating aspect in Adam and Eve, a departure from past orthodoxy?

    – If it is a departure, or a redefinition of some kind, to what extent has the fact of evolution caused theologians of the twentieth century and beyond to search for new ways to rescue the doctrine of Original Sin? I attempt to articulate the problem most fully in my fourth response, e.g.:

    “What do you do with a concept that explains how death came into the world (in time-history), after the fact of evolution has demonstrated that humanity was created by death — by trillions of earlier deaths? Answer: reduce the concept of Original Sin to an “originated” status or condition of ongoing humanity, eliminating its “originating” status at any one point in time. What do you do with a concept of an initial period of Paradise in the Garden of Eden (which as the ‘contemporary bible scholar’ James Barr has so eloquently argued on many occasions is both history and theology for its authors), when there never was any such Golden Age? Answer: reduce the story to an ‘archetype’ or ‘myth’, which has ‘mythic meaning’ but no historical meaning. (Ah, Barr would be turning in his grave!) What do you do with the doctrine of ‘the Fall’ once evolution has shown we are not ‘fallen angels’ but ‘rising beasts’ (to employ Arthur Peacocke’s cute phrasing)? Answer: reduce the story to a ‘mythic meaning’ about the prevalence of evil carried on by humanity from generation to generation.

    – Should we limit the interpretation of passages such as Gen 1-3 to theological/mythic interpretations, or was it understood in its earliest reception as both history and theology (in emic definitions), as I have previously argued here, here, and here (in disturbance of the dominant harmonizing and modernistic theologizing trend of Christian biblical scholars)?

    – Is there any qualitative difference between Homo sapiens and other species of animals (past and present, e.g. apes, dogs, and Neanderthals) that justifies distinguishing our exercise of freewill from theirs?

    – If God is responsible for messiness (evil, suffering, etc) in some way that logically or chronologically precedes human responsibility, is this a more radical and fundamental problem of evil than one in which God simply allows human freewill, from which evil begins?

    – Does the pervasiveness of what we consider to be ‘evil’ provide any proof of a ‘fall of humankind’ without already assuming the past or future reality of such a difference between humanity’s actual and idealized states?

    – Does the fact that many of us dream of a better world prove that such a world exists?

    – Is there any better summary of theology than Albert Schweitzer’s “Es gibt keine Lage so verzweifelt, dass die Theologie keine Ausweg wüsste”?

Now, if you don’t find something out of all that to comment on, there must be something fundamentally wrong with you!

Posted in Death, Evil, Historiography, Justice, Paul, Pentateuch | 3 Comments »

I am a Member of The Guild of Biblical Minimalists

Posted by NT Wrong on October 2, 2008

The inaugural presentation of The 'Billy', for services to biblical minimalism, will be presented at the first meeting of the Guild in January 2009.

The inaugural presentation of The 'Billy', for services to biblical minimalism, will be presented at the first meeting of the Guild in January 2009.

I am extremely proud and deeply honoured to discover that I am a member of The Guild of Biblical Minimalists. The Officers of the Guild include such notables as Philip Davies, Thomas Thompson, Keith Whitelam, Niels Peter Lemche, Emanuel Pfoh, and the notorious Jim West.

The Grand Patron of the Guild is the man who has done more than any other to further the cause of biblical minimalism, William Dever. Although he fell away from the truth in his earlier days, and is subject to relapse in public meetings, William Dever is today a proud, card-carrying minimalist:

“Originally I wrote to frustrate the Biblical minimalists; then I became one of them, more or less.”
– William Dever, “Losing Faith.” Biblical Archaeology Review 33.2 (March/April 2007) : 54.

We look forward to the inaugural meeting of the Guild of Biblical Minimalists, to be held at a local pub near the University of Cambridge, January 5-7, 2009, which happens to coincide with SOTS. All enquiries to Dr Jim West.

Posted in Historiography, Humour | 3 Comments »

Archaeological Atavism

Posted by NT Wrong on September 30, 2008

    “[Schliemann’s] archaeology had always seemed an intensely private crusade, conducted with the precious books of Homer in one hand and a spade in the other.”
    – Brian M. Fagan on Heinrich Schliemann’s archaeological method, AD 1871

    “as an archaeologist I cannot imagine a greater thrill than working with the Bible in one hand and a spade in the other.”
    – Yigael Yadin, Hazor, AD 1972

… The big risk, which Eilat Mazar seems to be overlooking, is that she might get dirt on her Bible.

Posted in Archaeology, Historiography | Comments Off on Archaeological Atavism

History in The Iliad

Posted by NT Wrong on September 30, 2008

In the Boston Globe, September 28, 2008, Jonathan Gottschall writes an interesting article about history and fiction in The Iliad, a work that purports to refer to events at the time of the Bronze Age – Iron Age transition, but which was in fact written down many centuries later. That scenario might sound familiar to readers of the Hebrew Bible.

Scholars have allowed that a kernel of historical truth might be tucked beneath the layers of heroic hyperbole and poetic embroidery, but only a small kernel. In the last 50 years, most scholars have sided with the great classicist Moses Finley, who argued that the epics were “a collection of fictions from beginning to end” and that – for all their majesty and drama – they were “no guide at all” to the civilization that may have fought the Trojan War.

The poor early archaeological methods pursued by Schliemann led to a dismissal of any ‘historical’ basis for the Trojan War. However, recent archaeology has uncovered a destruction layer that many would identify with the ‘Trojan War’:

Recent advances in archeology and linguistics offer the strongest support yet that the Trojan War did take place, with evidence coming from the large excavation at the likely site of Troy, as well as new analysis of cuneiform tablets from the dominant empire of the region… Using new tools, such as computer modeling and imaging technology that allows them to “see” into the earth before digging, [Manfred] Korfmann and his colleagues determined that this city’s borders were 10 to 15 times larger than previously thought, and that it supported a population of 5,000 to 10,000 – a big city for its time and place, with impressive defenses and an underground water system for surviving sieges. And, critically, the city bore signs of being pillaged and burned around 1200 BC, precisely the time when the Trojan War would have been fought.

So what does this mean? Do the new archaeological, along with the Hittite imperial records, now prove all the details contained in The Iliad? Has archaeology proved the existence of The Historical Zeus?

But if the Trojan War is looking more and more like a historical reality, there is still the question of whether the poems tell us anything about the motives and thinking of the people who actually fought it. Do the epic time machines actually take us back to the Greek culture of the Late Bronze Age?

It is almost certain that they do not. Homer’s epics are a culmination of a centuries-long tradition of oral storytelling, and extensive cross-cultural studies of oral literature have established that such tales are unreliable as history. Homeric scholars believe that the epics were finally written down sometime in the 8th century BC, which means that the stories of Achilles and Odysseus would have been passed by word of mouth for half a millennium before they were finally recorded in what was, by then, a vastly changed Greek culture. Facts about the war and the people who fought it would have been lost or grossly distorted, as in a centuries-long game of “telephone.” Scholars agree that the relatively simple and poor culture Homer describes in his epics is quite sharply at odds with the complex and comparatively rich Greek kingdoms of the Late Bronze Age, when the war would have taken place.

So what does the Iliad teach us? It teaches us about the culture in which it was written down.

But even if the epics make a bad history of Greece in 1200 BC – in the sense of transmitting names, dates, and accurate political details – scholars increasingly agree that they provide a precious window on Greek culture at about the time the poems were finally written down.

Reconstructing a prehistoric world from literary sources is rife with complications. But there are aspects of life in the Homeric era upon which most scholars agree. Homer paints a coherent picture of Greek attitudes, ideology, customs, manners, and mores that is consistent with the 8th century archeological record, and holds together based on anthropological knowledge about societies at similar levels of cultural development. For instance, we can trust that the Greeks’ political organization was loose but not chaotic – probably organized at the level of chiefdoms, not kingdoms or city-states. In the epics we can see the workings of an agrarian economy; we can see what animals they raised and what crops, how they mixed their wine, worshipped their gods, and treated their slaves and women. We can tell that theirs was a warlike world, with high rates of conflict within and between communities.

Read the whole article here.

Posted in Archaeology, Greek, Greek texts, Historiography | 1 Comment »