Recent Trends In The Study Of Israelite Historiography -- By: Mark W. Chavalas

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 38:2 (Jun 1995)
Article: Recent Trends In The Study Of Israelite Historiography
Author: Mark W. Chavalas


Recent Trends In The Study
Of Israelite Historiography

Mark W. Chavalas*

The past few years have seen a shift in regard to method concerning the study of the history of ancient Israel. Previous generations have tended toward the study of theology and literary criticism, usually by theologians who were often not trained as historians. Historians who have entered into the discussion concentrate on socio-economic, anthropological and historiographic issues. Two recent works on ancient Israelite historiography will be the focus of the present paper.1

I. Early Trends: Wellhausen And Noth

Most modern historians have been of the opinion that no texts of a serious historiographic nature were created until those of the classical Greeks and that the writers of the ancient Near East (including those of Israel) did not have noticeable antiquarian concerns.2 Our attention, however, should not be restricted only to those genres that most resemble our own.

Recently there have been two major trends concerning historiographic studies and the Bible. One is confessional and uncritical and does not accept the findings of the critical-historical method. In reaction to this is scientific skepticism, which has ultimately generated a kind of negative fundamentalism that denies any historicity to the Biblical text and considers it to be a “pious fraud.” One of the early skeptics was J. Wellhausen, a nineteenth-century scholar who was a linguist and theologian but not an historian.3 This is ironic since he is of paramount importance to the study of Israelite historiography. Wellhausen’s textual analysis attempted to put historical research on a scientific footing. His premise was that the written text only testified to the time in which it was written. The Israelite historian’s convictions were biased, and the evidence for his claims was baseless. He was unconstrained, without loyalty to fact or common knowledge.

* Mark Chavalas is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, WI 54601.

He was an editor but not an historian. According to Wellhausen, history, like philology, could be based on cut-and-dried proof. Philological history demanded absolute proof, which the historian failed to furnish. In a Cartesian manner Wellhausen rejected the probable in history.4

M. Noth centered his attention on the books of Joshua through 2 Kings. He considered them to be a unified production written by the Deuteronomic historian (Dtr), whose...

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