Israel’s Past in Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography
A review of Philips Long's, "Israel's Past in Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography," by Dr. Richard Hess.
Long, V. Philips, ed. Israel’s Past in Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography. Sources for Biblical and Theological Study 7. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1999. xx + 612 pp. Hardback. ISBN 1-57506-028-0.
Historiography differs from history in that the former examines how history is studied and written, while the latter considers what can be known of the past. Note that historiography is not merely a modern study of why writers wrote their histories. It also includes questions as to how ancient writers selected and expressed recognized events of their past in order to achieve their various purposes.
Long has provided a splendid service to students of the Old Testament by collecting what he considers to be the best of recent research on the subject of Old Testament historiography. The work, like others in this series, reprints articles by scholars (including a few translated from German, French, or Spanish). There are six parts: discussions of where history writing about ancient Israel came from and where it presently is; examples of how comparisons with ancient Near Eastern texts may serve history writing; various approaches to history writing; assumptions made when writing about biblical history; examples of specific historical periods in the Bible and scholarly examinations of the Bible’s historical significance; and Long’s own ideas about where history writing is going in the future.
Long has done a good job of reflecting the major trends and concerns of the current debates about Isrealite historiography. Of special interest for this generation of scholars is the minimalist/maximalist controversy. On the minimalist side he includes essays by Lemche, Thompson, and Davies. On the maximalist side one finds scholars such as Millard, Younger, Halpern, and Knoppers expressing their opinions. Further, many of the most important names in late twentieth century biblical historiography appear as authors of various contributions: Hayes, Brettler, Van Seters, Miller, and de Vaux. In a work of more than 600 pages, Long finds room for thirty-two different writers. In addition to his concluding chapter, he also introduces each section and reprints an important essay of his own on history and literary technique.
Every reader, including those already conversant with the subject, will gain much from reading this book. However, some will also recognize gaps or areas that they wished had been highlighted. Despite the word, “Recent,” one wonders why no samples of the writings of Wellhausen, and especially of Alt, Noth, and Albright are included. Although most of the essays date from the 1990’s, Hans Walter Wolff’s contribution comes from a 1963 volume. At least two of the aforementioned scholars were productive at that time and their contributions to historical study had a profound impact among European and American academics. Secondly, why is there no discussion of biblical chronology? This has been called the “backbone” of history. It is mentioned by Hayes as key in the development of biblical historiography over the centuries. Yet, the contributions of Thiele and others go unnoticed, as does the ongoing disputes over the issue as it concerns both the second and first millennia. Perhaps no one has contributed more to the maximalist cause than Kenneth Kitchen; yet, though often cited, none of his many studies are included. Finally, two major historical periods have no essays exclusively dedicated to them; yet they have been at the center of scholarly controversy over the past decade: the United Monarchy and the postexilic periods.
All of this, of course, reflects personal preferences. It should not diminish the value of this work. It is a major resource for many of the most important studies and writers on recent Israelite historiography. It is hoped that it will enjoy a wide readership and serve as a text for classes in Israelite history and historiography.
Richard S. Hess
Professor of Old Testament