Shorter Reviews and Notices -- in Search of "Ancient Israel" (JSOT Sup. Series 148) by Philip R. Davies

Article excerpt

IN SEARCH OF "ANCIENT ISRAEL," by Philip R. Davies. JSOT Sup. Series 148. JSOT/Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1992. 172 pp. $39.50. ISBN 1-85075-380-6

Most people, scholars included, continue to assume that the Old Testament was written by an ancient society called "Israel" to record its history and traditions and express a singular faith kept constant over a millennium by a canonical process. Davies calls this Israel "ancient Israel"--Israel as typically extracted from the Old Testament. Hence the book's title, which means to imply that instead of just assuming such an Israel, people ought to have searched for it. If they had, they would have found that it was not there, and biblical studies would not be in such a historical muddle.

So Davies conducts the search. He sees three Israels: "biblical Israel," a literary (and theological) construct, Israel as represented in the Bible; "ancient Israel," a scholarly construct, based on the Bible and historical data and assumptions; and "historical Israel," the real Israel. "Biblical Israel" is ideological and "cannot even on its own terms be translated into a historical one: The criteria are simply too slippery, invalid, or contradictory" (p. 58). Therefore "ancient Israel," based on "biblical Israel," never existed. "Historical Israel" was the ninth and eighth century B. …