The Invented History of Israel

Mario Liverani, a Professor of Ancient Near East History at the University of Rome, has written a new book, Israel’s History and the History of Israel (London: Equinox Publishing, 2006). Liverani’s book seems to summarize the views and perspectives of the minimalist school. This school says that most of the history of Israel is a creation of the postexilic community.

I have not yet read Liverani’s book. The book is one of the many books I plan to read this summer. The publisher of the book has supplied the following blurb to introduce the book:

“One of Italy’s foremost experts on antiquity addresses a new issue surrounding the birth of Israel and its historic reality. Many a tale has been told of ancient Israel, but all tales are alike in their quotation of the biblical story in its narrative scheme, despite its historic unreliability. This book completely rewrites the history of Israel through the evaluation of textual and literary critiques as well as archaeological and epigraphic findings. Conceived along the lines of modern historical methodology, it traces the textual material to the times of its creation, reconstructs the temporal evolution of political and religious ideologies, and firmly inserts the history of Israel into its ancient-oriental context.”

The publisher also has provided information on the content of the book. Below is the content of Liverani’s book:

Preface

Acknowledgments

1. Palestine in the Late Bronze Age (14th – 13th Centuries)

Part One: A Normal History

2. The Transition (12th Century)
3. The New Society (1150-1050)
4. The Formative Process (1050-930)
5. The Kingdom of Israel (930 -740)
6. The Kingdom of Judah (930-720)
7. The Impact of the Assyrian Empire (740-640)
8. Pause between Two Empires (640-610)
9. The Impact of the Babylonian Empire (610-585)

Intermezzo

10. The Axial Age
11. The Diaspora
12. The Abandoned Landscape

Part Two: An Invented History

13. Returnees and ‘Remainees’: The Invention of the Patriarchs
14. Returnees and Aliens: The Invention of the Conquest
15. A Nation without a King: The Invention of the Judges
16. The Royal Option: The Invention of the United Monarchy
17. The Priestly Option: The Invention of the Solomonic Temple
18. Self-Identification: The Invention of the Law

Epilogue
19. Local History and Universal Values
Bibliography

Part two of the book deals with the “Invented History” of Israel. According to Liverani, the history of Israel from the days of the Patriarchs to the end of the United Monarchy in the days of Solomon was “invented history.”

Those who have accepted the views of the biblical minimalists believe that the Bible does not provide any reliable historical information for reconstructing the history of ancient Israel. The minimalists believe that ancient Israel was an invention of the postexilic Jewish community.

Minimalists believe that since the biblical narratives are historically unreliable for reconstructing the history of ancient Israel, scholars must rely on evidence provided by archaeological discoveries and on information derived from anthropological models.

The minimalist view may be an acceptable issue for discussion in academic circles, but, this view has nothing to say to people who accept as a matter of fact that God entered human history and made his presence known in the historical events that gave birth to biblical Israel.

Christianity stands on the shoulders of ancient Israel. Christianity claims the acts of God in the history of Israel as the foundation that supports its claims that the God who entered Israel’s history is the same God who became a human being and spoke to humans in the person of Christ.

To declare that the acts of God in the history of Israel were invented to justify a community claiming its past heritage is to declare that the works of God in the past were the invented work of an invented God.

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote a poem, “The Lie,” while he was being held in the Tower of London awaiting execution. His satire shows his bitter defiance of his situation. His attacks on court, church, and schools demonstrate his ambivalence toward the conditions of the society in which he lived. The following is a portion of his poem:

Go, Soul, the body’s guest,
Upon a thankless errand:
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant:
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
And stand too much on seeming:
If arts and schools reply,
Give arts and schools the lie.

As Sir Walter Raleigh wrote, maybe academia wants too much “profoundness,” but stands “too much on seeming.” We may never know all the facts concerning the history of biblical Israel. We may have to wait until more information is made available to students of the ancient history of Israel. But, just because the information is not there yet, there is no reason to affirm that the history of biblical Israel is an invented history.

Until the 1960s, the location of Ebla was unknown and many scholars had no idea that Ebla was the capital of a vast empire. Before archaeologists discovered the monuments and the historical records of the Hittites in the 19th century, one scholar wrote that the Japanese people were the Hittites of old.

I wonder: why is it that the Hittites’ texts and history are not criticized as much as the history and the texts of ancient Israel?

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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2 Responses to The Invented History of Israel

  1. Anonymous says:

    >SBL has published a review of the book in http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/5069_5342.pdf

    Like

  2. Pingback: Mario Liverani and the History of Ancient Israel | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

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