Writing and Rewriting History in Ancient Israel and Near Eastern Cultures
- ISBN: 9783447113632
- Published By: Harrassowitz
- Published: February 2020
Writing and Rewriting History in Ancient Israel and Near Eastern Cultures presents a series of essays that grew out of a conference held on this topic from June 17-20, 2018, at Erbacher Hof – Akademie Mainz, with the support of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. The purpose was to bring together a variety of scholars from Europe, North America, and Israel to discuss the most recent insights, methods, and material discoveries relating to the study of “history” (what actually happened) and “historiography” (the writing of history) in ancient Israel and other ancient Near Eastern cultures.
The volume is divided into three sections. Part One, “Perspectives and Approaches,” includes five chapters. The first is a brief introduction by the volume’s editor, Isaac Kalimi, who outlines the primary concerns of the volume and notes that “since every historian has his or her own unique historical setting, perspective and personality, no description of the past can ever be final, universal, or purely objective” (3), which means that the study of history and historiography is an ongoing concern. Peter Machinist provides five fundamental points about the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israelite history in an effort to sharpen our appreciation of what their relationship entails, followed by five suggestions for engaging with the Hebrew Bible as a historical source. Gary Rendsburg discusses the loss of the epic tradition in Israel, evidenced by its presence in the earliest books of the Bible and its absence in its later books, which was supplanted by the development of writing styles similar to those of royal annals and royal proclamations from Israel’s neighbors.
Part One continues with a contribution from Wolfgang Zwickel, who considers various perspectives on the future of biblical historiography and suggests goals for future historical work that combine the fields important for reconstructing history, including “biblical exegesis, linguistic, philology, epigraphy, theology, archaeology, history of religion, architecture, social institutions, trade, economy, jurisdiction, cult and different fields of natural sciences” (44). Jan Retsö suggests that “everything assumed as hypotheses by Old Testament scholars” is found in certain Arabo-Islamic historiographical texts, which can improve the arguments of Old Testament scholars and also provide them with new ideas about how to proceed (58).
Part Two, “Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Sources,” contains three chapters. The first chapter is a study by Herbert Niehr of two royal inscriptions from Samaʾal and Hamath. Neither author attempted to write history “as it actually happened,” but instead “exaggerate the king’s deeds and minimize his faults,” thus demonstrating the tension that can exist between history and historiography in ancient Near Eastern texts. To demonstrate some of the contrasting exemplary views about the “empire” of Hazael of Aram-Damascus, K. Lawson Younger, Jr. highlights the work of three important scholars, after which he presents a detailed integration of the biblical and ancient Near Eastern texts, along with recent archaeological discoveries and analyses. Abraham Winitzer makes the case that the Gilgamesh Epic is the very source that inspired the depiction of Israel’s history in Ezekiel 16.
Part Three, “Biblical History and Religion,” is comprised of six chapters. Alexander Rofé examines a handful of historical mentions in the books of Joshua and Samuel that reveal that their authors knew about events that occurred later in the history of pre-exilic Israel. Klaas Spronk argues that the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles predate the book of Judges, at least in its present form, and that the description of Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:15-17 provides the paradigm for the portrayal of the pre-monarchic leaders in Judges. Ruth Fidler seeks to work out the relationship between Jeremiah 44:15-19, in which a group of worshipers claims that the worship of the queen of heaven was standard practice for generations, and the presumed monotheistic norm of the Hebrew Bible. Sebastian Grätz enters the heated debate about the authenticity of the purported Aramaic letters contained in Ezra 4-7 by arguing that they are “probably fictitious” (171), used “for the purposes of enhancing the credibility of the narrative,” and that the book of Ezra is therefore “a theological narrative rather than a strictly historical account” (172). Yigal Levin studies the reason the Chronicler sought to produce an “alternative history” of pre-exilic Israel, and highlights the end result, which is “still monarchic, still idealizing the Davidic line, but also much more tribal, more priestly, more Levitical, more Temple-centered, with more prophetic activity” (188). Manfred Oeming considers the sources for Cyrus II, the Great, which the biblical authors use to portray him as the progenitor of a new political order, “the new David or the new Salomon,” and as “the protector of the temple and patron of all the Jews” (205-6).
Part Four, “Post-Biblical Historiography,” brings the volume to its conclusion with two essays. Michael Avioz compares the biblical narratives about Solomon to their retelling in Flavius Josephus, particularly in his Jewish Antiquities, where his decline is traced to his abandonment of God’s ways. Finally, Edward Dąbrowa considers how Josephus accentuates different features of Simon the Maccabee than those emphasized in 1 Maccabees, concluding that the main reason for this is that the two works differed in character: 1 Maccabees is a historical work extolling the glory and uniqueness of the entire Hasmonean family, while the Jewish Antiquities survey the panorama of Jewish history from the biblical era to the time of Josephus, and did not share the goal of lauding the Hasmonean family per se.
These essays demonstrate that the writing of history “is a product of the historian’s educational, cultural, religious, social, economic and political settings, and is influenced by his or her specific ideological and theological worldview” (3). Every historian has their own unique historical context, disposition, and viewpoint, which means that no account of the past can ever be definitive, comprehensive, or completely impartial. This means that both the writing of history and the study of historiography are ongoing. The papers in this volume provide helpful examples of how to deploy concrete empirical evidence for the study of history and historiographical methods.
Ralph K. Hawkins is a professor of religion at Averett University.Ralph K. HawkinsDate Of Review:February 21, 2023