Israel, History, the Bible, and Who Cares Since It’s All A Lie Anyway…Right?

Name and Place for Tuesday, December 16 (’14)

Scholars will say anything.  Then again, so will anyone.

I miss Giorgio A. Tsoukalos.  Did he get alien abducted or something?

I miss Giorgio A. Tsoukalos. Did he get alien abducted or something?

The question isn’t who has which “pe-degree”, but who is accurately dealing with source material on its own terms, i.e., in such a way that the original author could say, “That sounds like my writing and what I said.”  By the way, this is also plain common courtesy.

With this in mind, consider how many treat the Old Testament, especially the narrative, historical portions.  They often are quick to point out possible contradictions (which they just c9780664220907-provan-long-biblical-history-israelall actual contradictions) instead of considering the text on a literary level.  In other words, sometimes, a work (or works) appear to contradict one another until you get under the skin and understand authorial intent.

Such is the case with what is often called the “Deuteronomical History” compared to “the Chronicler(s)”.  In Plain-Speak, that would be Samuel/Kings compared to 1/2 Chronicles.  Today’s several quotes come from A Biblical History of Israel by Provan, Long, and Longman:

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel are perhaps best known for their intriguing stories—of young Samuel running to Eli only to discover that the Lord is calling him, of Saul going in search of livestock and finding a kingdom, of a young David felling the giant Goliath without spear or sword but in the name of the Lord of Hosts, of Absalom’s revolt hitting a hairy snag, and on and on.  But for the historian, these books have much more to offer than riveting stories.  As R. P. Gordon has noted, “1 and 2 Samuel chronicle a structural change within Israelite society moving towards becoming a monarchy.  The book of Judges ended with repeated reminders that in those days Israel had no king and everyone was doing as he saw fit.  The situation has changed little as 1 Samuel begins—even the priests, Eli’s sons, seem to be doing whatever they please (2:12-17)—but kingship is in the air.  Hannah’s Song, recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, makes explicit reference to a coming king, noting that the Lord “will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed” (v. 10) (193).

With the general social context set, the authors establish the literary context of Samuel:

….the book of Samuel organizes it account around the intersecting careers of Samuel, Saul, and David….As works of literature, the stories of these important individuals have received high praise.  “It would be hard to find anywhere a greater narrative,” writes H. G. Richardson.  The narratives in Samuel are written in “a prose which, for combined simplicity and distinction, has remained unmatched in the literature of the world,” adds W. R. Arnold.  But what of their historical value” (194)?


Or is it?

This last question gets to the gist: can these sources be trusted as history?

Not so long ago, certain biblical scholars were proclaiming that David and Solomon probably never lived.  They were insisting that these kings (and even the whole notion of an Israelite United Monarchy) should be lumped together with biblical figures like the patriarchs, whose historicity had long been considered a “dead issue” by critical scholarship.  But just at the time that the “death notices” of David and Solomon were being published, excavators at the biblical site of Dan made a startling find.  The startling discovery in 1993 of the first and largest fragment of the now famous Tel Dan inscription, with its mention of the “king of the house of David,” sent shock waves through the scholarly community (194).

Hmm….imagine that.

For the first time, apparently, we had an extrabiblical reference to Israel’s most famous king.  An initial cacophony of voices sought to interpret the inscription in some sense other than the apparent one, but after an initial flurry of publications, most dissenting voices fell silent. Not long after the discovery of this so-called “house of David” inscription, several scholars proferred other possible extrabiblical references to David… (194).

As interesting as these discussions are, the biblical texts are not dependent on external verification to establish their historical worth….In any case, what the above references may be taken as establishing falls far short of the full picture of David presented in the biblical texts.  Thus, while such discoveries—archeological and epigraphic—may offer encouragement to those inclined to take the biblical texts seriously as historical sources and offer pause to those inclined to discount them, hope of learning much about Israel’s transition to monarchy, its first kings, and their descendents must continue to rest largely on the biblical testimony (194).

The book is A Biblical History of Israel by Provan, Long, and Longman and can be found on Amazon here.  While not a fast read, it’s worthwhile, brimming with valuable insights and careful scholarship.



2 thoughts on “Israel, History, the Bible, and Who Cares Since It’s All A Lie Anyway…Right?

  1. The 100-page intro to this book is dense and a tough read, but it is absolutely worth slogging-through and trying to understand. It really shaped the way I think about Old Testament history and the validity of the texts as historical sources.


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