Text and History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text

By Heiser, Michael S. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Text and History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text


Heiser, Michael S., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Text and History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text. By Jens Bruun Kofoed. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2005, xiii + 298 pp., $34.50.

Text and History is a revision of the author's doctoral dissertation (University of Aarhus, Denmark, 2002). The book is an informed response to the progressively skeptical outlook, led by the so-called Copenhagen School (Niels Peter Lemche, Thomas L. Thompson), toward the value of the texts of the Hebrew Bible for reconstructing the history of ancient Israel. Kofoed's particular expertise is in historiographical methodology, and it is in this area that the book makes its most important contribution.

The initial chapter lays out the importance of presuppositions in the historiographical enterprise. For example, the author overviews recent contributions to the "hermeneutical, linguistic, and literary aspects of historical theory" (p. 11), demonstrating that real historians do use plot and that the product of their writing is always influenced by their environment-and yet historical integrity is not necessarily compromised. The author utilizes modern historiographical output to make the point that any author, ancient or modern, "must have determined which traditions or sources to deploy and how to arrange the selected material," and that "the bringing together of already existing sources with perhaps newly written material did create a new text" (p. 29). However, "to argue that the historical information present in such a literary innovation must be considered a literary invention is a non sequitur" (p. 29, author's italics).

Building on his methodological critique and its realities, Kofoed suggests that "the texts of the Hebrew Bible contain reliable information for a reconstruction of the period it purports to describe" (p. 30). The rest of the book is his attempt to defend this thesis. The author presents his defense in four chapters, and he narrows the discussion to the books of Kings. Kofoed's procedure for proving his case is to isolate "markers" in the text. Specifically, Kofoed is searching for textual markers that have source-critical value and imply or evince historical intentionality on the part of the ancient author. By comparing these markers in the Hebrew text with non-biblical material, one can gauge (to varying degrees of plausibility) a terminus ad quern for composition and deduce whether the writer intended the product to be a record of events for posterity.

Chapter 2 ("The Lateness of the Text") focuses on the strategy of minimalist historians to discard the biblical texts as sources for ancient Israel's history based on the texts' perceived lateness (i.e. their distance from the actual events). The author first examines the methodological presuppositions guiding this dismissal and then seeks to find markers in the text of Kings to orient those books in chronological proximity to the events they describe.

With respect to methodology, Kofoed gives evidence of his considerable grasp of the scholarly literature pertinent to the issue and embarks on very worthwhile discussions of the nature of source evaluation, comparative method, the workings of oral tradition, and how genre affects these areas. The excursus on "primary" and "secondary" sources should be required reading for students in OT history courses. Kofoed explains the flaws in defining a "primary" source as a text "written at a time close to an event," and a "secondary" source as "removed in time from the events they narrate or to which they testify" (p. …

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