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Critical Review of the Historiographical Methodology Presented in

A Biblical History of Israel, Chapters 1-5

Scott Edwards

Within the past forty to fifty years, there has been a true revolution within the
field of Israelite history. This field, formerly controlled by the maximalist school of
Albright, has been overtaken by scholars who doubt the historicity of the Biblical text.
Minimalists such as K. Whitelam, P. Davies, T. Thompson, and Lemche, all conclude that
the biblical historical narrative is merely mythical. They also state that the kingdom of
Israel, as described in the OT, did not exist. To them, virtually all of Biblical Israelite
history is merely fiction. These claims have been countered by world-class archaeologists
such as William Dever, and K. A. Kitchen, with polemical and expert responses.
A Biblical History of Israel, is both unique, and much needed response, to the
minimalist school. Written by a triad of authorsProvan, V. Long, and Longmanit is a
an erudite, winsome, and well-reasoned tour-de-force, which has been sorely lacking for
decades. With 83 pages of notes, and 37 pages of indices, this is a scholarly and welldocumented apology for a textually-based Biblical historiography.
The portion of the book in this review, Part I (pp. 1-104), describes and critiques
methodologies of Israelite history. This consists of five chapters, with 1-3, and 5, written
primarily by Provan, and chapter 4, mainly written by Long (p. x).
Chapter one begins, without warning, with the title The Death of Biblical
History? and immediately presents both a quote and an obituary of biblical history by
the radical minimalist, K. Whitelam (p. 3). After this, two case studies of classic
minimalist works, Soggins, and Miller and Hayes, are discussed.1 Several other similar
works are mentioned as well. The skepticism in these works towards biblical history is
traced back to the post-Enlightenment era. Since then, an independence from tradition has
progressively been sought in historical methods.

Soggins History of Israel, and Miller and Hayes A History of Ancient Israel and Judah.

Albrights answer to Wellhausen was to appeal to archaeology for verification, but

this proved quite susceptible to critique, since it offers little support for further analysis.
With the fall of the Albright methodology, we have arrived at highly skeptical biblical
history, where dates are pushed back later and later. Scholars are now characterized by
denouncing others, while claiming to use a scientific methodology.
In Chapter 2, the collapse of the nineteenth-century scientific history is
described. Brilliantly, the postmodern response to modernist scientific history is
exposed as an extreme overreaction. Just as modernist history overemphasized
objectivity, the postmodern approach can only imagine subjectivity (p. 44). Our dire need
to rely on testimony is addressed. In the end, an epistemological openness is proposed
toward historical sources, which neither requires blind faith in testimony, nor complete
skepticism, on the other hand.
Chapter 3 unfolds the fallacies of prioritizing extrabiblical proofs, such as
archaeology and ANE texts, over the primary biblical narratives. They are useful tools,
but cannot supersede a primary narrative history, even an ideological one, since all
sources are ideological in nature. Troeltschs principle of analogy is dismissed as too
close-minded. A brilliant example of the first man landing on the moon (p. 71) reveals
that, if Troeltschs argument cannot withstand human historical aberrations within
modern history, then it should not be expected to do so in ancient history, where
anomalies in human experiences should be expected. A critical openness to biblical
testimony is advocated, along with openness to secondary sources of historical

Chapter 4, primarily written by Long, is brilliant in its careful but sound approval
of narrative historical investigation. A literary understanding must not replace, but must
be a companion to any type of historical inquiry where the primary sources are narrative
history. The need to understand the literary presentation first, before understanding
biblical historical truth claims (p. 81), is brilliant. This argument is desperately needed as
a corrective, in an age dominated by extremely subjective historiography. The example of
Miller and Hayes questionable assumption of their treatment of Solomon is exposed.
Chapter 5 is a short seven-page conclusion to the preceding chapters. The authors
clarify that the following history of Israel will prioritize what literary studies and
archaeology have revealed about the biblical accounts: they are highly trustworthy when
critically examined. ANE texts will also be taken seriously as tools which help to
interpret the biblical narrative history. Anthropology and sociology will also be utilized,
while theology will not be rejected, since it is the locus of the biblical writers themselves.
The strengths of A Biblical History of Israel abound. What sets this apart from
Kitchen and Devers works are a subdued polemic, which should help in gaining converts
from the minimalist side.2 Also, unlike Dever, they are for the most part fully supportive
of biblical history; Dever seems to be more selective, and is skeptical of the earlier
While archaeology is often called a more scientific discipline, the authors
clarify that it is actually mute (pp. 46-47), and requires a history within which to be

K. A. Kitchen. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B.

Eerdmans, 2003), 468. According to Kitchen, Dever is best studied for the period following 1200

The authors epistemological openness, while admitting their presuppositions, is a

winsome way to express their methodology. The biblical narrative, ANE texts, and
archaeology all demand critical examination, yet also deserve an openness to their
The short yet devastating exposure of the fallacies of Troeltschs principle of
analogy is very important, both as a part of methodology. This is especially important for
laying the intellectual foundation of their methodology. Similarly, showing that
verification must not rest on the biblical text of narrative history, but on the shoulders of
doubters, is seminal. The biblical narrative must be shown to be false, before it can be
proven untrustworthy in any way.
One of the truly brilliant exposes of the book is showing how minimalists became
more radical after noting that their predecessors, such as Soggin, and Miller and Hayes,
were noticeably arbitrary and inconsistent in their use of evidence.
Any work written by a triad of authors, other than the Trinity, is likely to have
noticeable seams (p. 104). But overall, the book is well written and has been carefully
edited. If one considers the complexity of the material, this required a huge amount of
work and planning.
The copious amount of endnotes and indices also show that being fairly
maximalist can also coexist with being highly scholarly, and being very open with
sources and a theologically based methodology.
After having established that ancient narrative history is comparable to painting a
portrait, the authors appreciation and endorsement of literary criticism as a requisite part
of OT history easily follows. A great and long-neglected insight, which should not be

underestimated, is the authors embrace of narrative criticism as an essential part of a

history of Israel. The OT narrative, by necessity, requires narrative interpretation. It
would be hard to estimate how many mistakes have been caused by avoiding this
foundational aspect of OT history.
The authors are not afraid to disagree with minimalists (pp. 14-17, 18, 27, 32, 6162), yet they do not utilize a heavy hand in doing so. While exposing the presuppositions
of minimalists, while openly admitting their own presuppositions, which allows them to
align with their belief in epistemological openness. They are winsome in revealing that a
deistic background is not necessary to share their conclusions.
In summary then, the strengths of this work abound, and this book is unique in its
combination of careful scholarship, subdued polemics, ample fairness, and thorough
examinations of the historiography of biblical history. One of its great strengths, which
could easily have been overlooked, is its description of the history of historiography and
the history of biblical history, including the commanding presuppositions of its different
stages. This tome can be read by scholars throughout the academy, without being
offensive to minimalists, while also carefully laying out the case, even a new foundation,
for maximalists of biblical history.
Although this book is a revolutionary combination and masterpiece in its own
right, it is not without its weaknesses. Also, what may seem to be weaknesses to one may
not bother someone else. First of all, this work is not only a history of Israel, but is also
an analysis of the historiography of biblical history, and modern attempts to do biblical
history. The title does not appear to fully reflect what it is about. Either a different title, or
an explanatory subtitle would be helpful.

The abrupt start with Whitelam (pp. 3-9), and the title of the first chapter, The
Death of Biblical History? is a bitter pill of sorts. This is too much of a sudden
disjunction for readers, who are expecting an evangelical history of Israel. For those
steeped in modern biblical history, this might be a delight, but for its target audience,
graduate students, starting with Whitelam is confusing. Perhaps the authors mention that
Miller and Hayes and Soggin lead on naturally to Whitelam (p. 18) would be a good
order for the authors to follow. Perhaps a slower, less dramatic and chronological
introduction would help the average graduate student to better comprehend and enjoy the
In section I of the book, the authors discuss the term science in a high-level,
philosophical manner. Somehow, it seems the authors did not communicate that, for
knowledge to be subject to true science, this knowledge must, by definition, be
observable and repeatable. Definitions of science state that observation and
experimentation are required for something to be a science or truly scientific. The
authors interest in the scientific method is discussed (p. 39) and the question of
historiography being art or science is brought up (p. 86). It seems that it would be helpful
for the authors to resolve that, no matter how many scientific labels people impose on any
historiography, historical data is never truly scientific. That is because this data does not
fit the definition of science or scientific, because the information is not both
observable and repeatable through experimentation.
The section on the invalidity of the verification requirement for history is good
(pp. 54-56), yet not clear enough. Albright used to appeal to archaeology for verification
(p. 25), but now, minimalists are demanding verification for all of Scripture, or else they

cast doubt on its validity as history (p. 54). The authors answer is that the burden of
proof rests on those who question the texts to prove them false (p. 55). This section
should be improved by describing the change which occurred in the concept of
verification between the modern and postmodern period. Also, minimalists requiring
verification for all of the OT must be exposed as dreamers who believe that their doubts
and imagination, thousands of years later, are more truthful than the primary source of
biblical history: the Bible. Also, sound reasons need to be given to describe why much of
biblical tradition is difficult or impossible to verify (p.54). Many ANE accounts do not
mention the Palestinian peoples during a time period because these countries had no
known contact or motive for such documentation for centuries at a time.3 These failures
of witness occur in sources external to the Bible, and for well-documented reasons.
Another reason for lack of some evidence in the history of Israel is due to the fact that
many historical events may leave no traces in the stratigraphic record at all.4 Also, the
numerous occupations, destructions, and rebuildings in Israel, throughout its history,
make the archaeological artifacts which survived, as near miracles. Besides this, the
normal use of papyrus for writing during the tenth century B.C. means that papyrus
archives, which normally disintegrate over time, may never be found from that period.5
To demand evidence which does not exist for both known and unknown reasons, is

K. A. Kitchen, Assessing the Historical Status of the Israelite United Monarchy, in Windows into Old
Testament History, edited by V. Philips Long, David W. Baker, and Gordon Wenham, (Grand Rapids:
William B. Eerdmans, 2002), 112-113.

David Merling, The Relationship between Archaeology and the Bible, in The Future of Biblical
Archaeology, edited by James Hoffmeier and Alan Millard, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004),

James K. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 12.

spurious. That is why the fallacy of the negative proof should have been included in the
section on verification/falsification. This fallacious proof is the demand of the
minimalists, who attempt to sustain a factual proposition through negative evidence.6
This needs to be exposed as a fallacy which has no place in any historical methodology.
The thought that any biblical data can be proven or even verified in any sense is
nearly vilified by the authors (pp. 54-56) throughout the text, which plays well with
minimalist postmodernists. Although Albright is ridiculed for stating that archaeology
verifies the bible (pp. 24-25), we must remember that he was stating this within the
context of modernist assumptions. There is little doubt that if he were alive today, he
would be stating this differently, while still upholding the ability of archaeology to
uphold the referent behind the text.7
One of the suprising disjunctions outside the book is the confident assurance of
highly trained archaeologists like Dever, Kitchen and Hallo, that the existence and the
proofs of Israelite history are undeniable. Their brash polemics against minimalists are
offensive to some, yet the reasons for their strong assurance in their ability to prove
Israelite history must be examined.8 This is also evident among Devers Israeli
archaeological colleagues, who could not understand why he wrote a paper on the
possibility of history of ancient Israel.9 The common denominator among top experts,

Merling, 33.

William Foxwell Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Louisville:Westminster John Knox
Press, 2006), xxxi.

Dever, William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It? (Grand
Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001). For proof, Devers subtitle: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about
the Reality of Ancient Israel, represents his thinking well. For Kitchen, see pp. 458-462 in his On the
Reliability of the Old Testament.

Dever, 7. He wrote this paper to refute poorly trained, postmodern European minimalists, who are
currently in fashion in the academy.

who can clearly describe the reasons for at least a general verification of Israelite history
being irrefutable, deserves investigation. The authors quote Wright: archaeology, dealing
with the wreckage of antiquity, proves nothing in itself (p. 47). 10 Yet Wright also says
that minds interpreting archaeology must store a great amount of information to discover
what archaeological data mean.11 Hoffmeier states the major difference between
maximalists and minimalists well. The maximalists are extremely well trained in Near
Eastern languages, history, and archaeology, while the minimalists are trained in OT
studies in the 19th century European mold, often with minimal language training.12
Therefore, the best-trained maximalists interpret findings within a huge internal deposit
of data, which both helps to interpret and to corroborate the data. This is obviously
nowhere near scientific proof, and is a bit more messy. But it has long been known that
even scientific experimentation cannot prove causation within experiments, yet a skilled
scientist can often identify a cause with a very high degree of probability. For highly
skilled archaeologists, the probability is lower and messier, yet there is some objectivity
to the massive sum of their proofs, even if some of them should later prove to be faulty,
the overall verification is too high to be attributed to chance.
It seems that Provan, Long and Longman also lack the level of training of the best
trained maximalists, and perhaps that is why they sound somewhat weak when discussing
the possibility of authenticating the history of Israel, at least in a loose, yet substantive

G. E. Wright, What Archaeology Can and Cannot Do, BA 34 (1971): 76.


Ibid., 73. Wright certainly reveals the difficulty of coming up with final answers in archaeology, but
he certainly is not against the ability of archaeology to prove history, even if some of the data is in flux.

James K. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 15.

Ahituv, Shmuel, and Eliezer D. Oren, eds. The Origin of Early IsraelCurrent Debate.
Ben-Gurion: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 1998.
Albright, William Foxwell. Archaeology and the Religion of Israel. Louisville:
Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.
Baker, David, and Bill T. Arnold, eds. The Face of Old Testament Studies. Grand Rapids:
Baker Academic, 1999.
Breisach, Ernst. Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1994.
Dever, William G. What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It?
Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001.
Hoffmeier, James K. Israel in Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Kitchen, K. A. Assessing the Historical Status of the Israelite United Monarchy, in
Windows into Old Testament History, edited by V. Philips Long, David W. Baker,
and Gordon Wenham, 111-130. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2002.
Kitchen, K. A. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B.
Eerdmans, 2003.
Levenson, Jon D. The Hebrew Bible, The Old Testament, and Historical Criticism.
Westminster John Knox Press, 1993.
Long, V. Phillips. The Art of Biblical History. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Long, V. Phillips, David W. Baker, and Gordon J. Wenham. Windows into Old Testament
History. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2002.
Mazar, Amihai. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible:10,000-586 B.C.E. New York:
Doubleday, 1992.
Merling, David. The Relationship between Archaeology and the Bible, in The Future
of Biblical Archaeology, edited by James Hoffmeier and Alan Millard, 29-42.
Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004.
Merrill, Eugene H. Kingdom of Priests. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.
Miller, J. Maxwell, and John H. Hayes. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1986.
Provan, Ian, V. Phillips Long, and Tremper Longman. A Biblical History of Israel.
Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.
Shanks, Hershal, ed. Ancient Israel. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.
Silberman, Neil Asher, and David B. Small, eds. The Archaeology of Israel. Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.
Wright, G. E. What Archaeology Can and Cannot Do, BA 34 (1971): 70-76.