From the British Museum to Campus Watch: thoughts from an outsider
A busy week but easy to catch up thanks to Jim West's epic carnival. And the interview with Loren Rosson is revealing not just for his background but visually: we can now see Loren looks like.
But at the end of the week was what is now looking like the annual Sheffield Biblical Studies trip to the British Museum for the stff and postgraduates. Last year (largely) the Persians, this year (largely) the Assyrians, including the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III and, once again, the massive Siege of Lachish.
As with last year, a question for Hebrew Bible people (I know this blog is more or less restricted to NT but...) and one no doubt influenced by being at Sheffield. Is it possible to write a history of famous biblical individuals (David, Solomon etc.). Now I realise that lots has been written on all this and the debate rages but the archaeological evidence for people like Jehu or David tells us little more than they existed. Given that the Hebrew Bible material was written centuries after the events in many cases is there any way to judge whether much of it happened? Note, this is not saying half of those figures did or did not exist or that the biblical texts can or cannot be telling lots of history. It just seems that it is virtually impossible to write a history of individuals without the sufficent evidence to support and by being removed in time. One other issue in comparison with Christian origins is that with someone like Jesus, we at least have a movement that made some significant shifts away from Judaism as had been known and would become a gentile religion in a relatively short space of time so at least there is something else to assist historical re-construction. I have problems with history of individuals anyway but in the case of ancient Israel it seems that the people and places described in the biblical version of the past, the historian is almost forced to write a wider social history e.g. one based on material remains looking at 'everyday life' and social and political systems. I know some people who would push for this anyway but it seems to me that there is little option. As someone not in that area, is that a fair comment?
I've had a few discussions with Sheffield people on all this but I'm also thinking out loud because of the recent issue of the challenge to Nadia Abu El-Haj getting tenure at Barnard. The whole el-Haj issue has been discussed on this blog in the past and on various other blogs. In addition to being Campus Watched, there is a New York Sun article not afraid to view the world in terms of good vs evil. I don't know if all the claims made about el-Haj are true (I've only read the first couple of chapters and there was nothing outrageous there) but it is interesting the way the debate is framed, including the tying in of so-called 'minimalism' in biblical studies with anti-Zionism and even those who challenge modern Israel's existence. It seems there is an implicit framing of the debate about ancient Israel in these terms in the whole article. As I recall from what I've read, is it fair to say that some of the 'minimalistic' claims are more in line with what I was saying above, i.e. there is no way of knowing about much of the history, other than the various individuals existing, rather than denying that they existed at all?
Of course, the debate is not all about individuals. There is also the broader issue of the state and political structures. And guess who is brought in at this point...
More mainstream archaeologists, according to Mr. Dever, trace the origins of the Israelite state to the 10th or 9th century B.C.E., contend that Bible was written in 8th or 7th century B.C.E., and that the biblical stories are "based on some historical facts. "Their minds are made up," Mr. Dever said of the minimalists, whom he calls "nihilists."
So here's another issue. I know certain people who have worked on it obviously, and know that Hebrew Bible bloggers have blogged on it, but here it is again: is there archaeological evidence for a state so early in human history? And, again, and I aks this partly out of ignorance, is anyone denying that those biblical stories are not based on some historical facts?
And what makes the minimalists 'nihilists'????