Biblical Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3272 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

¶ … History of Israel

Author John Bright puts out a seemingly thorough editorial effort in covering events in history leading up to the time when Israel (Palestine) became a land inhabited by Jews. One might argue though that he builds up the case for their not being an adequate way in which to determine something close to the exact history of Israel, he then seems to be backing away from that perspective, after which, confusingly, he goes back to the first position. Why, in the beginning, he spends so much time describing events in ancient Middle Eastern cultures leading up to the creation of Israel becomes somewhat clear as we move along in the book.

Bright, for example, writes - in his book, A History of Israel - that the land now known as Palestine was being "infiltrated" by "seminomadic groups" (Bright, 48) in the middle of the Bronze Age. Some time late in the Bronze Age, Palestine became a "virtual nomad's land," and stayed that way until the thirteenth century. In time, western Palestine and northern Transjordan saw a "rapid recovery" (48) beginning to take place, with newcomers settling the land; and by the early part of the nineteenth century some towns were being established. The newcomers were Canaanites.

As to why Bright's description of some of the early clans and marauding tribes' arrival in early "Palestine" is important in terms of what is later known as "The Promised Land" (Palestine later to become Israel), becomes clear a bit later in his book (Bright 62).

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The Book of Genesis - and its patriarchal religious "truths" - were looked upon by some scholars as "animism" (the belief in the existence of spiritual beings), or even "polydaemonism" (the belief that spirits or Gods inhabit specific people or places).

Who were the Patriarchs?

Term Paper on Biblical Background Assignment

Prior to launching into his narrative, Bright offers an apology of sorts (Bright 60-61) for the fact that "...virtually all we know of the origins of Israel, and of her prehistory before she began her life as a people in Palestine," is arrived at through the narrative of "the Hexateuch" (the first six books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua).

And, as a result, the story of Israel, Bright continues, is based on information and stories that were handed down from one generation to the next. The problem, he explains, is the "degree to which, if at all, one may use these early traditions..." As a foundation for portraying historical events as absolutely accurate.

The author is caught in a conundrum, he explains on pages 60-61; one cannot totally sell Biblical records as the absolute bottom line truth regarding the history of Israel. Indeed, stories re-told through the pages of the first six books of the Bible are "patriarchal narratives... [and] certainly not historical documents contemporaneous with the events of which they tell." But, he goes on, though the Hexateuch accounts may have a kind of tone "...that divine inspiration insures their historical accuracy," to "dismiss the problem by appeal to dogma" is "unwise."

To wit, the Bible is not immune from "rigorous historical method," and yet, the Bible may be "trusted to withstand the scrutiny to which other documents of history are submitted," the author concludes.

And, a pivotal question arises: were the patriarchal narratives really written by Moses himself - who lived centuries later? How could they be trusted as far as accuracy, given the difference between events and the recording of those events? Indeed, the lack of contemporaneousness poses a big problem, when considering the documentary hypothesis of these historical records, Bright explains. He goes on to say that when, late in the nineteenth century, the Bible came under the scrutiny of "modern historiography," the hypothesis emerged that the Hexateuch was four major documents (J, E, D, and P). And, Bright writes, J was dated in the ninth century, and P. was dated after the exile.

So, given this hypothesis, skepticism emerged; why would the fact that historical records are also Scripture "guarantee their factual accuracy"? Extreme "negativity" resulted from the historiography and "as for the patriarchal stories," Bright explains, they had value in terms of the "light they cast on beliefs and practices" of those periods during which the accounts were written, but not much more credibility than that. Even the actual existence of such giants of the Old Testament as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were passed off, Bright continues, as "eponymous ancestors of clans," or even as mythical figures, and others doubted that they even had existed.

But, having made those points, on page 63 Bright discusses - with obvious enthusiasm - the finding of scrolls (Mari texts, over 20,000 of them; Cappadocian, First Dynasty of Babylon, Alalaka and Ras Shamra tablets by the texts thousands) that has, subsequent to the negativity described in the previous paragraph, led to "sweeping modifications" of the previously held documentary hypothesis. Still, Bright goes on to say - "let it be admitted" - that it still is "impossible in the proper sense to write a history of Israel's origins." Why is this so?

One reason is that the "great empires" (Bright 67) of that period are "scarcely more than voices off stage." And it is "impossible," he goes on, to determine (within centuries), exactly when Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob really lived - nor do scholars know anything about the lives of those Old Testament personalities, he asserts. The "witness of archeology is indirect" and yet, when evaluating the patriarchal narratives "for what they are" - part of "a great theological history" through "sacred tradition" - Bright sees in them "...the redemptive acts of God in behalf of his people" (68).

A reader could certainly claim to be confused by Bright's off-again and on-again belief that he can offer the facts of Israel's history. Then he offers another kind of seeming apology, saying (68), "The historian, being but a man, cannot write history from the side of God." This is true even though that historian, Bright says in third person while meaning to convey as his opinion, "may indeed believe that Israel's history was divinely guided as the Bible says (and he may say so!)."

At this point in the paper, it will be instructive to note that John Bright, who published this text in 1959, is somewhat controversial in some scholarly communities. Bright wrote the book not so much as a history textbook, but rather as "a theological interpretation of history," and a "tool of proselytization" (Noll, 1999) according to professor K.L. Noll, of Kentucky Wesleyan College. Noll, who has also written about Israel's history and founding, writes about Bright's book in an essay titled "Looking on the Bright Side of Israel's History: Is There Pedagogical Value in a Theological Presentation of History?"

Noll notes that Bright's book has been "challenged during the past twenty years." And the reason for those challenges, Noll writes, is because Bright's "...interest in history was secondary to his interest in theology" (Noll 3). Noll quotes Bright as saying (following Bright's retirement), "[History] has always been a hobby" (quoted from an interview with James L. Mays in 1980). Noll also believes that "Bright did not consider himself a professional historian," and that Bright had a reputation as a "powerful preacher"; moreover, Bright wrote in his Introduction to his essay "A Psychological Study" that he (Bright) was aware of the "...kinship of the prophet to the race of man."

What does all of this mean? This paper is a critique of A History of Israel, and in terms of answering part of the assignment - which is to off a viewpoint, to list "...the strengths and weaknesses of the author's perspective on the historicity of the Old Testament" - it should be clear that Bright is tackling an historical problem with a theological heart beating strong within that assignment. There is no crime in being more of a theologian than a historian per se, if indeed that is what Bright is; but the point is brought into This paper as an issue because it helps this reader understand why Bright seems to vacillate between whether or not the Hexateuch is to be believed as history or not.

Another scholar who critiqued Bright's book, Joseph Jensen (quoted in Noll's essay), wrote that Bright illustrated "...a reverent appreciation of God's part in the events being studied"; and while Bright's "strictly historical part is handled with scholarly competence and thoroughness, the special merit of the book lies in the attention given to the theological meaning of the events covered."

Indeed, a quick glance back at the Foreword to Bright's book (Bright, 10), reveals that while he hoped the book would be "useful to a wide circle of readers," including "all serious students of the Bible..." he goes on to say it was prepared "with the particular needs of the undergraduate theological student in mind."

That said, he adds that biblical students should be referring "constantly" to the Bible while reading A History… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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