New Perspectives in the Study Of Ancient Israel’s Past -- By: Mark W. Chavalas
ATJ 23 (1991) p. 62
New Perspectives in the Study
Of Ancient Israel’s Past1
Dr. Chavalas (Ph.D. - UCLA) is visiting professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Since Old Testament theology is a theology of events, how we view its history will affect our faith. Therefore, the study of Israel’s past not only concerns the scholar, but also the lay person and pastor. The past generation has seen a marked shift in regards to method concerning the study of the history of ancient Israel. Previous studies tended towards the study of theology and literary criticism, often by theologians, rather than historians.2 Historians now concentrate on socio-economic and anthropological issues, arguing that too much work centered around political history and Israelite ‘nationalism.’3 But they have overcompensated by de-emphasizing political and religious history.4 Socio-economics is not sufficient to understand all developments of Israel’s past. Most have not employed archaeological information in any major way;5 historiographic6 and literary issues, however, are now discussed in detail.7
Two recent works, those of J. Alberto Soggin and a combined effort by John H. Hayes and J. Maxwell Miller, will be the subject of our discussion, as well as a study by Giovanni Garbini (see n. 1). Both Soggin and Hayes/Miller are attempts at reconstructing Israelite history from biblical, Ancient Near Eastern, archaelogical, and literary sources. Their conclusions border upon skepticism, and they are products of an age which has desired the new interdisciplinary approach to the study of history. But neither volume does more than allude to socio-economic issues. For example, Soggin typically treats the biblical genealogies as faulty links to Iarael’s past, while virtually ignoring the social function of the lineages, which was to describe social relationships (p. 95).8 Soggin is most comfortable when the biblical sources can be supplemented by extra-biblical and secondary sources, which he relies upon heavily, and often his arguments depend on how many scholars agree with his hypotheses. He is also reluctant to avail himself of archaeological research, although there is an appendix on this subject, not written, however, by Soggin.
For the lay person or seminary student, the beginning of these works may be surprisi...
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