Israelites in History and Tradition

By Zorn, Jeffrey R. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Israelites in History and Tradition


Zorn, Jeffrey R., Journal of Biblical Literature


Israelites in History and Tradition, by Niels Peter Lemche. Library of Ancient Israel, ed. Douglas A. Knight. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. Pp. ix +246. $25.00.

This work's title might lead the unwary reader to believe that the author is going to present his understanding of the nature of the "historical" Israel of the Iron Age and how it compares with the literary Israel of the biblical "tradition." Such is not the case. Essentially it is an extremely long critique/debunking of the efforts of most biblical scholars (historians, archaeologists, and theologians), over the last century, including his own earlier work (Ancient Israel: A New History of Israelite Society), to try to utilize the Hebrew texts as a source for reconstructing a history of Israel.

The book is divided into a prolegomenon, five main chapters of varying length, and a conclusion. Chapter 1, "Playing the von Ranke Game," discusses the nature of the Hebrew Scriptures as a historical source. In chapter 2, "Israel in Contemporary Historical Documents from the Ancient Near East," he discusses the major extrabiblical texts that mention Israel, Judah, or their ruling houses. Here he repeats his earlier assertions, a minority opinion at best, that the various fragments of the Bet David inscription from Tel Dan do not belong to the same stela, do not mention the House of David, and may be a forgery. Lemche derides scholars at several points for not following basic rules of historiography; yet in the case of this inscription he is guilty of the same charge. A basic tenet of historical research is always to follow the simplest solution which answers the most questions while raising the fewest problems in the process. Surely it is sounder methodology to understand the text to read "House of David" than as an otherwise completely unattested place name. Lemche seems somewhat obsessed with the fact that one of the in situ pictures of the inscription does not really show the fragment as it was found, but after it was repositioned for the photograph (p. 181 n. 25), and that this may be grounds for suspecting that it is a forgery. This sort of repositioning is a fairly common practice in archaeology, especially when the significance of an apparently innocuous object may not be realized until it has been removed from the debris and cleaned and should not be used to impugn the reputation of the excavator(s). Chapter 3, "Archaeology and Israelite Ethnic Identity," discusses the role of material culture in studies of ethnicity. Chapter 4, "The People of God," examines the historical value of such traditions as the exodus and the twelve-tribe system and asserts that while they have value as foundation myths for postexilic Israel, they have no bearing on the institutions of the Iron Age. Chapter 5, "The Scholar's Israel," critiques specifically the works of J. Wellhausen, M. Noth, J. Bright, and R. Albertz.

In some respects it is difficult to evaluate this book as the author never explicitly defines the goal of his work, or the methodology he will use to establish his thesis. In fact, the author's thesis, that the Hebrew Scriptures are essentially religious propaganda of the Persian-Hellenistic period created to justify the existence of a Jewish nation, propaganda useless for reconstructing the history of Iron Age Israel, is really only established in the last few pages of his conclusion.

In many ways Lemche's opus is only half a book. While the long critical appraisal of prior scholarship may be interesting and possibly useful, it is not the entire race. It is a barren exercise to tear down the work of others without offering a least some concrete examples of how the material should be studied, and some preliminary results of this new method. For example, while most scholars accept a Persian-Hellenistic date for the final shaping/editing of the Hebrew Scriptures, Lemche asserts that these works were composed at that time. If Lemche is going to insist that these works tell us more about the emerging Judaism of this latter period than they do about Iron Age Israel, he should offer examples of what these texts tell us about postexilic Israel.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Israelites in History and Tradition
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.