The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel

The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel

The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel

The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel


The Bible in History will be the first comprehensive overview and synthesis of the latest archaeological research from the Middle East written for the general reader. Its often startling assertions will make for a powderkeg of a book. Among the author's conclusions are these:

-- There never was a "united monarch" (Saul, David, Solomon) in history

-- We can no longer talk about a time of the Patriarchs

-- The entire notion of "Israel" and its history is a literary fiction.


At the moment of writing this preface, I am preparing to go to Lausanne for a meeting of the 'European Seminar on Historical Methodology of the History of Israel', and reading the papers to be discussed at the seminar. The topic is 'the exile' as a subject of history. The issues centre on how we are to correlate the many Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian texts relating to war, the destruction of cities and the deportation of peoples throughout their empires, the growing archaeological evidence from Palestine, and the wide variety of biblical traditions that deal with themes of destruction, exile and return, but rarely of a period of exile itself. Half of the papers produced for the seminar share much the perspective of this book. Each of them, in its own way, points out difficulties in reading the biblical narratives about deportation and return as if they were historical. They point to the lack of a story in the Bible which tells us of an Israel or a Judah in exile. While they express few doubts that an exile must have occurred, they question whether a history of this exile can be written. The other half of the papers disagree strongly and argue that a history of 'the exile' is at least possible. No one, however, proposes that the Bible's traditions provide us with adequate evidence for that history. As I read through these papers, I cannot help thinking about the changes in our approach to the Bible and its relationship to archaeology that have come about over the past twenty-five years. Long past is the assumption that ancient history can be written by merely paraphrasing or correcting the stories of the Bible. It has rather become quite difficult to understand these stories as recounting events from their authors' past.

It would be ingenuous of me to pretend that this book on the subject is uncontroversial. For me, the debate began as early as in the late 1960s and was first voiced in a doctoral thesis started in 1967 at the University of Tübingen and completed in 1971. My original thesis stemmed from the idea that, if some of the narratives about the Hebrew patriarchs could in fact be dated historically to the second millennium BCE, as nearly all . . .

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