History and the Bible

There are many annoying things about history, and for me, one of them is the debate over “biblical minimalism”: the argument that the Old Testament Bible is not a useful historical source, because it was written more or less de novo in the Hellenistic period. Despite the fact that more “mainstream” scholars reject this argument as absurd, too much ink, breath, and healthy blood pressure levels have been sacrificed over it.

I just started reading a book called The First Historians: The Hebrew Bible and History and found a fun online interview with its author, Baruch Halpern, who might be considered one of the main anti-minimalits. A rebuttal to Halpern’s arguments and an outline of the “minimalist program” can be found in this essay by Philip Davies.

Comments (3) to “History and the Bible”

  1. What’s your stand?

  2. Topher, thanks for the comment! I think that the argument has more to do with lack of examination of the underlying assumptions between the substance and practice of history on either side, than with anything to do with the Bible. A more rigorous look at the methodology of historiography, and the nature and limits of knowledge would at least provide for a better debate, if not dissolve whatever area of disagreement there might be.

    For example, a favorite contention of the “minimalists” is that Davidic Israel did not exist, because the archaeological record does not show signs of a centralized monarchy in that place at that time. A major “maximalist,” who shall go unnamed lest against astronomical odds he should find this site, contends that there was indeed a centralized state, based upon the standard anthropological “egalitarian society-chiefdom-kingdom” model. Both sides are referring to models of what a “kingdom” or “centralized state” should be, without questioning whether these models and indicators are pertinent to this time period and geographic location. Perhaps Israel was a kingdom despite the fact that it doesn’t conform to these models, in the same way Lincoln, Nebraska is a city despite the fact that it might be significantly different in scale and function from, say, New York City. Don’t know if that makes sense, perhaps I’ll post more about it in the future.

  3. Great reply, Michele! Always a pleasure. You guys need to post more. I get more interested in history the more I read.

Post a Comment
*Required (Never published)