Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written and Archaeological Sources

Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written and Archaeological Sources

Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written and Archaeological Sources

Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written and Archaeological Sources


This is a groundbreaking book on the origins of Israel, taking into account the contexts of geography, anthropology, and sociology, and drawing on a careful analysis of archaeological and written evidence. Thompson argues that none of the traditional models for the origin of biblical Israel in terms of conquest, peaceful settlement, or revolution are viable. The ninth and eighth century BC State of Israel is a product of the Mediterranean economy. The development of the ethnic concept of biblical Israel finds its context in history first at the time of the Persian renaissance. The volume presents a clear historical context and an interpretative matrix for the Bible.


I. The Documentary Hypothesis

About a century ago, J. Wellhausen synthesized the results of more than two generations of Old Testament historical-critical scholarship on the sources of the pentateuch into the “documentary hypothesis.” This synthesis concluded that the pentateuch and indeed the first six books of the bible had been formed from a composite of four originally independent documents (commonly referred to by scholars as J, E, D and P: the Yahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist and the Priestly sources), dating successively from the early monarchic period to postexilic times.

Summaries of scholarship presumed by this study that I have consciously avoided
repeating: M. Weippert, Die Landnahme der israelitischen Stamme in der neueren
wissenschafilichen Diskussion (Göttingen, 1967); J.M. Miller, “The Israelite Occupation of
Canaan,” in Israelite and Judaean History, ed. by J.M. Miller and J.H. Hayes (Philadelphia,
'977). pp.213-284. G.W. Ramsey, The Quest for the Historical Israel: Reconstructing Israel's
Early History (Atlanta, 1981); N.P. Lemche, Early Israel: Anthropological and Historical
Studies on Israelite Society in Premonarchical Times (Leiden, 1985); and Th.L. Thompson,
The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel I, JSOTS 55 (Sheffield, 1987) pp. 11-40.

J. Wellhausen, Geschichte Israels (Berlin, 1878; 2nd. ed. =Prolegomena zur Geschichte
Israels, 1883); idem, Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte (Berlin, 1894); idem, Skizzen und
Vorarbeiten, vols. 1-6 (Berlin, 1884-1899); idem. Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der
historischen Bücher des alien Testaments 3d. ed. (Berlin, 1899); idem, Grundrisse zum alien
Testament, ed. by R. Smend (Munich, 1965); see also D.A Knight, Julius Wellhausen and
His Prolegomena to the History of Israel, Semeia 25 (Chico, 1983). Wellhausen's work on the
pentateuch was closely associated with that of K. Graf (Die geschichtlichen Bücher des alien
Testaments: Zwei Historisch-laitische Untersuchungen, Leipzig, 1866) and A Kuenen
(Historisch-kritische Einleitungin die Bucher des alien Testaments hinsichtlich ihrer Entstehung
und Sammhmg I. Die Entstehung des Hexateuch, Leipzig, 1887).

For a summary of recent discussions of the documentary hypothesis, S. de Vries, “A
Review of Recent Research in the Tradition History of the Pentateuch,” SBL Seminar
Papers 26 (1987), pp.459-502; N. Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch, JSOTS 53
(Sheffield, 1987).

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