We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Historical Books and Historicity

THE PROBLEMATIC NATURE OF ALL of these texts as historical documents does not mean that we have no idea of the historical periods that they cover, or that they are entirely useless as historical sources. Each text needs to be weighed individually in terms of its date of composition and its likely goals. Using these criteria, there are reasons to accept the veracity of, for example, the dry notice in 1 Kings 14.25–26 (“In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, King Shishak of Egypt marched against Jerusalem and carried off the treasures of the House of the LORD and the treasures of the royal palace. He carried off everything; he even carried off all the golden shields that Solomon had made”), which might even come from an archival source, and has some confirmation from Egyptian sources. In contrast, there are good reasons to be suspicious of the historicity of the long, detailed, and embellished story of David slaying Goliath in 1 Sam. ch 17 ; this story uses late biblical Hebrew language, comes from a different source than the surrounding material in Samuel, and is structured like a fairy‐tale, in that the poor, short, unexpected hero gets to marry the tall king's daughter by killing the giant who had vilified God. Additionally, 2 Samuel 21.19 reads: “Again there was fighting with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare‐oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, whose spear had a shaft like a weaver's bar.” It is much more likely that a short tradition in which Goliath is killed by a relatively unknown figure (Elhanan) would be the source for the long, elaborate tale attributing the same event to the well‐known David, rather than vice versa. Thus, the modern historian must subject each text in these Historical Books to the type of internal analysis used on nonbiblical historical texts when external information bearing on the text is lacking.

There are a number of cases where we do have external, ancient Near Eastern written evidence that deals with events depicted in these Historical Books. For example, the events surrounding the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 BCE are narrated in several Assyrian sources, and are also depicted in the palace reliefs of that king. These sources suggest that part of the terse account in 2 Kings 18.13–16 is quite accurate, while the highly developed continuation of the story in chs 19 and 20 , especially the note in 19.35 , that the angel of the LORD killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a single night, is most likely imaginative. Similarly, from various Mesopotamian sources, we know of a “house of Omri”; Omri's name is also mentioned on the Moabite Mesha Stele. This confirms the existence of the Northern (Israelite) king mentioned in 1 Kings 16.23–28 . However, Kings tells little of his achievements during his twelve years as monarch, other than his building of Samaria and the notice that: “Omri did what was displeasing to the LORD; he was worse than all who preceded him. He followed all the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat and the sins which he committed and caused Israel to commit, vexing the LORD, the God of Israel, with their futilities” (vv. 25–26 ). The external sources, however, suggestthat Omri was a powerful king who established a significant name for himself through his military activities. This highlights the extreme selectivity of the biblical sources.

Archeological evidence confirms the picture suggested above: There may be some truth (or kernel of truth) to some of the biblical stories, but in their current form, they lack historical veracity, because that is not their prime concern. Recent decades, for example, have seen a remarkable reevaluation of the evidence concerning the conquest of the land of Canaan by Joshua. As more sites have been excavated, there has been a growing consensus that the main story of Joshua, that of a speedy and complete conquest (e.g., Josh. 11.23: “Thus Joshua conquered the whole country, just as the LORD had promised Moses”) cannot be upheld by the archeological record, though there are indications of some de‐ struction and conquest at the appropriate time. Various events and traditions have been reworked very substantially over time and ultimately included in the Bible in order to substantiate a particular picture of God.

In sum, though Joshua through Kings are often viewed as early historical texts, they should not be viewed as historical in the contemporary sense. Many of these texts do contain the raw materials for a modern historian researching the history of ancient Israel from the time of the conquest through the 6th century BCE or later, but this material can only be teased out using sophisticated and complex tools. This is because these various biblical historians each wrote accounts, sometimes using sources, to illustrate particular perspectives concerning the relationship between God and Israel. These accounts did not remain stagnant, but were changed by later tradents, authors and editors, who revised them in accordance with their beliefs. It is these religious and religio‐political perspectives that we must try to appreciate as we study these books; if we read them as we read modern historical accounts, we will misunderstand these texts in the most fundamental way. Thus, given that prophets frequently are depicted as the vehicles of religious and religiopolitical perspectives, “the former prophets” is a suitable name for the first part of this collection.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2017. All Rights Reserved. Privacy policy and legal notice