By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Modern Myths" in Old Testament Studies?

Qeiyafa_western_gate1Image via Wikipedia
I am using "myth" here in the conventional sense of something false, not in the literary sense of a potentially true story expressed with certain conventions of language and genre. The modern myths at issue here are those modern scholarly treatments of the Old Testament (OT) or Hebrew Bible (HB) that pursue a profound skepticism toward the validity of the history of Israel presented there.

Specifically, for years now, there has been in the academy a deep skepticism about the biblical portrait of David and Solomon as bearers of royal power and prestige. These skeptics--called the "biblical minimalists"--view David and Solomon, if they ever existed at all, as, at most, mere tribal chieftains, not as the great kings presented in the HB. (A separate question that I consider in an appendix below is whether it really makes a difference to religious believers whether David and Solomon were scruffy chieftains or kings who ruled with splendor.)

So it is of great interest to take a look at a newly published article ("The Birth and Death of Biblical Minimalism") by Yosef Garfinkel, an accomplished Israeli archaeologist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an article which takes the skeptics to task in the latest issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review at this link. Below is an excerpt that gives you a taste of the debate. This brief excerpt recounts the history of a somewhat earlier debate about whether David was a historical figure at all:

[T]here is at least one, and possibly two, clear references to the dynasty of David in the ninth century B.C.E., only 100–120 years after his reign. This is clear evidence that David was indeed a historical figure and the founding father of a dynasty.
This led to the collapse of the minimalist paradigm in which David was little more than a myth. There was a David. He was a king. And he founded a dynasty.
The minimalists reacted in panic, leading to a number of suggestions that now seem ridiculous: The Hebrew bytdwd should be read not as the House of David, but as a place named betdwd, in parallel to the well-known place-name Ashdod.2 Other minimalist suggestions included “House of Uncle,” “House of Kettle” and “House of Beloved.”c
Nowadays, arguments like these can be classified as displaying “paradigm-collapse trauma,” that is, literary compilations of groundless arguments, masquerading as scientific writing through footnotes, references and publication in professional journals.

Source link (emphasis added).

As you can see from the excerpt, the article does not pull any punches.

Appendix: Let's step back for a moment from the above debate and ask: does it materially matter whether David or Solomon were or were not ruling a splendid kingdom with regal splendor?

Well, for Christians at least, the case can be made that such splendor matters little. In fact, from the perspective of the Gospels, in which a homeless, itinerant outsider is, to great consternation, the Davidic messiah, the true king of Israel, the possibility that this outsider's ancestors were not such splendid kings is of little import.

Of course, what matters in this academic discussion, is what is true; and it certainly seems that Garfinkel has laid out a serious challenge to the biblical minimalists who often appear to be pursuing a particular ideological agenda rather than pursuing the facts on the ground.