According to the modern consensus in the field, the volume you are holding in your hands is a book that should, according to modern standards, never have seen the light of day. For example, J. Maxwell Miller, writing in 1994, summarized his view about the possibility of writing or conducting a study of the history of Israel: "In view of the wide range of approaches and views,... it is impossible to present a reconstruction of the history of Israel that represents scholarly consensus. There simply is no consensus at the present moment."
Interestingly enough, however, the disagreement among scholars is not so much over the "facts" in the field; rather, it is over how one should interpret those facts, and with what sorts of presuppositions one may legitimately approach the study of Old Testament history. Because of these two major areas of disagreement, a variety of methods for the study of the Old Testament (hereafter abbreviated as OT) has emerged, with little or no consensus exhibited among any of the articles or complete monographs on the subject.
The problem is, however, much more serious than that; it has gone so far as to be uncertain just what is the definition or nature of history itself. Is history-as-account (rather than the other sense of history-as-event, which is not treated here for the moment) the selective rearrangement into a meaningful narrative of what people have said, done, and thought in the past? If so, one would presume that history would rest primarily on textual accounts from that past, supplemented by contemporary inscriptions and artifacts from archaeology. But times have changed. The view that seems to have temporarily gained ascendancy is to give credence to particular perceptions of reality (usually those of educated, upper-class, male scribes) that may not be in line with contemporary concerns of those from the underclasses, ethnic minorities, or feminist groups. Dependency on any written documents, much less the use of biblical materials for constructing the history of Israel, is just out of the question.
Added to this is a further complication: In the eyes of some writers on this topic, the Bible is suspect as being a religious document more concerned about getting across a "privileged point of view" than it is in representing fairly the real state of affairs. Is this a legitimate conclusion based on any fair appraisal of all the materials that are available to us? Should the Bible be excluded as a source from which to write a history of Israel?
Keith Whitelam is sure that the Bible should not be given a primary role as a source in the formulation of a history of Israel. He asserts: "The standard treatments of the history of Israel, constrained as they are by the biblical texts, are set in the mold of political histories concerned with the unique event and unique individual.... However, the continued conviction that the biblical text remains the primary source for all periods of history means that many historians perpetuate this unnecessary restriction in their consideration of other forms of potential evidence."
Of course, it is agreed that in the real technical sense of the term, the Bible is no more a history book than it is a science textbook, law book, ethics manual, or even a systematic theology. It is not organized according to the formats of these disciplines, nor is any one of these approaches the major reason why the Bible was written. But that is different from the argument that asserts that the Bible purports to include a chronicle of real events from the ancient Near East, against which backdrop the revelation of God was communicated. The work of Yahweh in the OT is depicted as being a part of history itself.
Why are moderns so skeptical about the whole prospect of writing a history of anything, much less a history of Israel? And why is it that the tensions rise almost to a breaking point when it involves the Christian Scriptures and the presence of God in that narrative? The answers to these and related questions must be found in an analysis of some modern fallacies that have arisen since the days of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These arguments are accelerating so rapidly and affecting a discipline like the history of Israel so dramatically that it is breathtaking.
Fallacy No. 1: History cannot include the unique, the miraculous, and the intervention of the divine. One of the most prized principles of modernity is the principle of analogy that assumes that all historical phenomena must be subjected to an analogous explanation, i.e., one that explains events in terms of other known happenings. But should the event that is being examined claim to be unique, involve the intervention of God, or be a miraculous occurrence, it is immediately disqualified by this Enlightenment definition. Instead, it contends that there are no other analogous happenings by which such unique, divine, or miraculous events could be measured, inspected, and evaluated.
Because of this feature, W. G. Dever asserted that "the Bible contains no real historiography in the modern sense.... The modern notion of a disinterested secular history would have been inconceivable to Biblical writers." J. Maxwell Miller repeated the same sentiment when he described the three basic differences between the "critical" historian and his or her "precritical" counterpart: The contemporary historian's approach tends to differ from that of his earliest counterparts in three ways: he generally takes a critical stance toward his sources; (2) he is inclined to disregard the supernatural or miraculous in his treatment of past events; (3) he is very much aware of his own historicity and, accordingly, of the subjectivity and tentative character of his own historical conclusions."
But two objections can be made to this preemptory disregard for potential materials for historical construction that have any reference to a deity, the unique, or the miraculous. First, it follows the somewhat arbitrary definition of history that was established in the Enlightenment. In that case, as C. Westermann observed, "The Old Testament has no concept of history, in the sense that history is only history that can be documented and that follows a verifiable course governed by causal laws." But beside such a cavalier redefinition of what does and does not constitute history, it has a second flaw. The principle of analogy is not applied evenly to all other ancient documents. The presence and activities of the gods in inscriptions, such as the Mesha Inscription and the Behistun Stone, or in "histories" such as Herodotus's, did not automatically eliminate them from being considered as accurate sources for the histories to which they contribute, despite the references to the god Chemosh in the Mesha Inscription, the Delphic Oracle in Herodotus, and the plethora of instances in which Ahura Mazda appears on the Behistun Stone. It would be possible to multiply these examples many times over, for it found frequent usage in the ancient Near East.
It is understandable, of course, that scholars reexplain the events ascribed, for example, to Chemosh, but would it necessarily follow that biblical sources should receive the same treatment? queried V. Philips Long. At this point, the matter seems to settle on a personal decision whether one sides with the biblical claims or with the critical assumptions. But the issue is not to be left at the doorsteps of starting presuppositions, for this only masks the fact that presuppositions are of various types and operate at several levels.
William Abraham has pointed to another way out of this impasse in his Divine Revelation and the Limits of Historical Criticism. The problem, as Abraham analyzed it, is that the principle of analogy is too narrowly based if it is defined as being restricted to my own personal experience. There are just too many real events that lie outside the realm of my own experience; therefore, this principle must operate within a wider context. Analogical thinking can only operate as far as the network of my background beliefs allow it to do so. To put the matter more sharply, events must be caused by choices or actions of personal agents or natural forces, or a combination of the two. But where personal agency is involved, Abraham insightfully reminds us, the historian may adopt a formal conception of the correlation (which would allow both human and divine agency) or a material conception of the correlation (which would limit it to terrestrial causes, while disallowing divine causation).
The actions of God in the story of Israel's history are not bolts out of the blue but, instead, belong to a complex of interrelated acts, a veritable network of happenings. Thus, to believe in God's intervention into the complex of events on this earth is not to affirm randomness, or the esoteric, but it is to enjoy the principle of correlation on a much wider base than a limited material conception would allow.
Fallacy No. 2: History cannot include anything that does not have external documentation. Another fallacy is the rejection of everything in Scripture for which there is no external documentation or external corroboration. So serious are scholars about this principle that they refuse to begin their history of Israel in those periods that they judge to be without such external evidences. Accordingly, Miller and Hayes see no history prior to the time of the judges, while Soggin and Whitelam start their reconstruction of Israel's history with David and Solomon. The most radical of all is Garbini, who rejects the entire OT except some elements from the Persian and Hellenistic eras.
But such a reduction of usable historical data to those materials that are verifiable from existing artifacts or epigraphical remains could lead to premature foreclosing of the case. For example, Yamauchi reminds us that it was not until 1932 that we had any external verification for the exile of Jehoiachin in Babylon from the tablets of E. Weidner. Nor did we get attestation for Pontius Pilate until 1961 or for the procurator Felix until 1966, or the "house of David" until the Aramaic stele fragment was found at Tel Dan and published in 1993.
Often the absence of evidence, such as the uncertainty of archeological periods on some tells, may not be a lack of evidence at all. It may only indicate the randomness of our knowledge of the past, or a telltale sign that our methodologies for recovering the past are still in need of development. For example, the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites is more frequently denied today because sites such as Jericho, Ai, and Gibeon do not provide any evidence of any Late Bronze materials. But, to take Gibeon for the moment, Late Bronze materials were found in its cemetery. And it is conceded that the modern village of El-Jib sits unexcavated on the mound of Gibeon, so how can this site be used as evidence that it was not in existence during the days of Joshua? All the evidence may not be in yet, so "no evidence" may only be a witness that there is no evidence as yet. Meanwhile, the debate continues over the interpretation of the data from Jericho and over the proper location of Ai.
Fallacy No. 3: History cannot include narratives about individuals, but must focus on nations instead. Here is another arbitrary restriction that is introduced by formal definition. Why would the histories of individuals, families, and tribes be excluded from consideration, unless this, too, is another remnant of the Enlightenment, as Westermann noted, that, "at the basis of this critique is the assumption that familial affairs have no place in historical-political events, which have to do instead with the nation, not with the family." No doubt, this is the reason for the reluctance for many modern histories of Israel to commence prior to the times of the monarchy when a nation first appears on the scene. But such a tactic is hardly fair to the large bulk of materials found in the OT that represent matters prior to the emergence of a geopolitical unit in the nation.
Fallacy No. 4: History must not focus on individuals as shapers of the times, but on sociological factors that attempt to discover general laws and large-scale societal forces that influence historical change. Some sociological approaches to history attempt to maintain a balance between the individual, the particular, the unique, and the complementary search for general laws that shape history. But most, like Karl Marx's assessment, charge that individuals play a minor role in history.
This diminishing of the role of the individual in exchange for material/economic or related forces as the real driving forces in history is what leads many of these sociological approaches to history to end up as antiliterary and antitextual. The preference is for impersonal processes, rather than human agents, to have control over the destinies of mortals. Once again, there is an attempt to supersede the "limiting constraints" of the text by alleging that the text is merely a witness to itself and not to any historical reality! But in place of the text's view of reality, another must be substituted—which usually ends up being the sociohistorian's own view of reality.
Added to this mistake, another is now possible: the anachronism of projecting one's present history back on to the past. For example, some liberation motifs have been retrojected over the ancient history of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt in such a way that the past is practically swallowed up by the present concerns, no matter how right they may be in and of themselves. But is such a procedure a fair reading of what happened back then? In a contrary but astonishing move, as Andrew Hill and Gary Herion noted, the role of personal faith is excluded from the discussion of sociopolitical processes as an unworthy participant in the discussion.
Fallacy No. 5: History writing must not give logical and necessary priority to written evidence over material culture. Recently, a greater emphasis has been placed on nontextual evidence and the development of models based on this evidence, leading to the statement of anthropological and sociological models that show little or no consideration of the textual evidence. Typically, assumptions based on archaeological assumptions are made about ethnicity, to the disadvantage of what is claimed in biblical or ancient texts. Thus, it is claimed that a Transjordanian site, such as Dibon, could not have been involved in Transjordanian conquests in the Bronze Age, for it was not occupied in this century. However, as K. A. Kitchen has shown, the name does appear as tbn in a list of conquests across the Jordan by Rameses II. Since the site of Dibon was known to Rameses' scribes, it is a fallacy to assign priority to the archaeological evidence that counters the evidence found in the textual materials. This same phenomenon can be illustrated from many other similar instances in the recent past endeavors of writing the history of Israel.
Currently, there are about five major schools or approaches to how one may evaluate the historical worth of the written and material evidences for a history of Israel and how one goes about reconstructing that history. The five schools are: the Traditional Approach, the William F. Albright and John Bright Baltimore School, the Albrecht Alt and Martin Noth School, the Norman Gottwald School, and the Non-Pan-Isra-elite Tribal Confederation School. Each of these merits at least a brief discussion, since interaction with each view will follow in this history.
It was possible for John Bright to assert in 1956 that "Protestant fundamentalism has been singularly unproductive of late where history writing is concerned." But that estimate would need to be drastically revised today with the contributions of F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison, Kenneth A. Kitchen, E. H. Merrill, Charles F. Pfeiffer, E. R. Thiele, and L. J. Wood.
The traditional approach has tended to argue that the text of Genesis to Kings embodies the only ancient, continuous written source that deals directly with Israel's origins. Similarly, the Ezra-to-Chronicles account essentially repeats the same material; however, it commences in earnest with King David. The materials depicted in all these books are taken at face value on the principle that the text is innocent until it is proven guilty by external facts. Therefore, the history of Israel is the story of the patriarch Jacob and his family, which was later renamed Israel, and which multiplied into a nation of 600,000 fighting men, plus women and children, who wandered in the wilderness for forty years after escaping Egypt, and finally conquered Canaan under Joshua.
But the traditional approach has been subjected to a number of difficult problems. One of the main difficulties, critics charge, is that the chronological framework of the Bible does not "square" with the evidence coming from a number of other sources. For instance, the Bible would seem to require a fifteenth-century (Late Bronze Age) date for the conquest of Canaan, but archaeologists are saying of late that they have found little or no evidence of any Late Bronze Age occupation or destruction of the ruins of such key cities as Arad, Heshbon, Jericho, or Ai.
John Bimson has sought to counter this objection by advancing the proposal that the destruction levels, attributed to the Hyksos at the end of the Middle Bronze Age in the mid-sixteenth century, be redated to the late fifteenth century and reassigned from the Hyksos to the Israelites. But few archaeologists have been attracted to this resolution of the problem; they claim that Arad, Heshbon, and Ai show no archaeological evidence of Middle Bronze occupation or destruction. The traditional position remains marginalized, as much as it ever was, despite its desire to become a full partner in the current discussions.
This school has argued for the general trustworthiness of the account in Genesis to Kings, but it never meant by this that all the details of Scripture were accurate and true. Whenever the Bible did not correlate with archaeological interpretations, this school felt free to depart from the Bible in favor of the external evi�