From History as Event to
the History of Religion:
Religionsgeschichte and Biblical Theology
I have heard those songs that are in the tombs of old,
What they tell in extolling life on earth,
in belittling the land of the dead.
— "A Harper's Song" from the tomb of Neferhoter
Since the 1920s it is clear that the pendulum has continued to swing back and forth between two primary interests and approaches to biblical studies. These are Religionsgeschichte, in which emerging methods of the study of religions have been coupled with historical criticism to the reconstruction of plausible understandings of ancient Israelite religion and early Judaism, and the various approaches of Old Testament theology that, until recently, have generally searched for a thematic unity in the midst of diversity in the canon along the lines of themes or traditions. The practitioners of the first area of interest, Religionsgeschichte, have normally not been interested either in biblical theology that for Christians would include the New Testament or in contemporary hermeneutics in which the theology of the Hebrew Bible would engage or be engaged by contemporary understandings of faith and practice. Indeed, the multiple literary approaches of more recent Old Testament scholarship, like the foregoing harper's song, has made light of the past and its dead civilizations in the theological quest to focus more on the vitality of the text stripped of historical context. However, in recent years a number of scholars have attempted to meld the two areas together so that a historical reconstruction of Israel's religious understanding and activation in society and life would venture into the realm of contemporary theology and, at the same time, allow the contemporary expressions to enter into critical dialogue with the multiple faiths of the Old Testament. In addition, there has been until now, especially in