Minimalism and Biblical History -- By: Garnett H. Reid

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 155:620 (Oct 1998)
Article: Minimalism and Biblical History
Author: Garnett H. Reid

Minimalism and Biblical History

Garnett H. Reid

Garnett H. Reid is Professor of Bible, Free Will Baptist Bible College, Nashville, Tennessee.

The writings of a number of historians today have led to their being designated “biblical minimalists” in some circles.1 “Minimalism” may not describe precisely this predominantly European colloquium, but the label is at least useful in tracing the leading trend of their theories.2 Students of pop culture have applied the term across a wide spectrum of fields since the 1960s, including art, music, architecture, design, fashion, business, and linguistics. “Minimalism” generally points to the tendency to simplify, to reduce the elements of a discipline or craft to their most basic level. In business, for example, it may entail downsizing or moderation. Minimalist music is marked by repetition and recurrence in composition.

The reason for applying the description “minimalist” to the writings of historians involves both method and ideology. Their method is primarily nontextual; they admit deriving a “minimum” of credible history from the biblical materials themselves. The Bible is primarily fiction, as they view it, consisting of myth and legend. Instead they appeal to what they see as more objective, scientific sources of historical data, namely, the results of

archaeology and social science. Their ideology in turn rests on a philosophical hermeneutic inclined toward discounting the Bible as a reliable source in matters historical.

To understand the rise of this recent trend, it is helpful to set it against the backdrop of the study of biblical history in the past century. Overshadowing the last half of the nineteenth century was the historical reconstruction of Julius Wellhausen with its philosophical roots in Hegelian positivism.3 Although the framework Wellhausen built continued, the turn of the century witnessed the demolition of its Hegelian foundation.4 As a result, attention to Old Testament history was channeled into diverse theories on the history of Israel’s religion for the first three decades of the 1900s. The vacuum was filled, however, with the pioneering historical and archaeological studies of William Foxwell Albright and his students.5 They built a scholarly view of biblical history based not on the hypothetical Hegelian philosophy but on the artifactual evidence and a serious reading of the text of the Hebrew Bible.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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