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Claude Mariottini


I agree with your views expressed in this post. As I mentioned to James McGrath in response to his comment, I am not afraid of history and I accept historical criticism. The issue I raised in my review of Liverani’s book is his assertion that most of the history of Israel is to be considered “invented history,” a history invented to establish a political ideology in post-exilic Judah.

You wrote “that faith . . . requires confirmation at various levels.” I agree with your statement, however, if the major characters in early Israel’s history are figures of someone else’s imagination, how can fiction help faith?

Very few people would say today that the sun stood still. I wrote three posts on this very passage showing that a literal interpretation of this text is impossible. Yet, just by discussing Joshua’s words, we presume that there was a person named Joshua.

As for Duane’s “maxi-mini” game, I think this issue is more than just a game. The assertions of the minimalists are a direct attack on the reliability of the Bible as Scripture.

Claude Mariottini


Thanks, Claude. As I noted in a comment to Duane's post, I agree with you on the essentials - and, I would add, on many details, too. There I stated the following:

[T]here are certain historical realities the Hebrew Bible takes for granted which, if they had no basis at all in facts, would call into the question the narrative itself. For example, if it were shown that the carriers of the biblical tradition were misguided in thinking that in part at least their origins were extra-autochthonous, it wouldn't, I suppose, prove that the carriers' theology is wrong (that's a separate issue), but I for one would then put biblical Yahwism in the same basket as I do Scientology.

But everyone knows the Yahwists' origins were in part extra-autochthonous. The only debate is whether they can count as their ancestors wandering Arameans and escaped Egyptian slaves, or only people like Ezra and Nehemiah who "returned" to a land they thought was theirs for God knows why.

The pivot of the biblical narrative is the destruction of the temple and the end of the monarchy in the 6th cent. BCE. The Yahwists, rather than losing faith in their God on account of these events, purified it. There is overwhelming evidence for this turning point in the literature of the Bible and archaeology. Now if it could be shown that instead the destruction was a non-event, and had no far-reaching consequences in the history of the religion of Israel, the whole biblical narrative would fall apart at the seams. Jim West might go on and sing, "You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart!" all the same, but I for one would be non-plussed.

It's helpful to go through biblical figures one by one, if only to test one's understanding of literary genre. It is to be expected, of course, that people will come down on these matters in somewhat different ways. Two extremes, I think, need to be avoided. One is the disconnect between faith and history Bultmann, or at least some of his more enthusiastic followers, like to rejoice in. Another is the assumption that what matters is that biblical narratives must conform to a 19th century ideal of historiography.

For example, if I understand the genre of Genesis 2-3 correctly, this is not history in the same sense as 2 Kings, but rather, history of a higher order, that is, the experience of the entire human race is collapsed into a narrative about our first parents.

Different again is the case of Avraham and Sarah. I would be surprised if it turned out that Avraham is an entirely fictitious character. In the same way, I would be surprised if it turned out that Achilles in the Iliad was totally made up. On the one hand, it is natural that historians differ somewhat when it comes to figuring out how much we may say with confidence about either as individuals. "Not much" is a fair answer in both cases. But that does not change the fact that the opening of Genesis 12, e.g., is true history in a deep sense. It is so written that it speaks marvelously to the circumstances of Jews in the eastern Diaspora from the 6th cent. BCE on. Or take Genesis 22. It's about as true a narrative as anyone could ever write, but the truth we encounter in the text completely transcends history in the sense of chronicle.

As for David, the notion that he, his court, and the family the Dtr historian gives him are about as historical as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is ludicrous. The work of scholars such as Walter Dietrich on the relevant narratives is quite solid. In great detail, the German school gives the lie to minimalism with respect to David and Solomon.

With regard to another example, I doubt that ancient Israelites were wrong to confess in faith that "my father was a wandering Aramaean" - an interesting example, because of the traditional sense this passage came to have, "an Aramaean was destroying my father."

But the confession is true in the same sense as a statement by Americans might be that speaks of the Plymouth pilgrims as "our" ancestors and as founders of the American identity.

Peter Kirk

The problem with Liverani's claim that the history was invented is that there is even less evidence to support that hypothesis than there is for the hypothesis that the history is entirely factual.


You nailed it, Peter.

scott gray


the simplistic understanding of faith that seems to be the 'minimalist' concept everyone argues about is 'faith is belief in things for which there is no evidence.' i think it's an uninteresting focus; events either happened, or didn't; things either exist, or don't. i find that faith in my life is about the belief that 'something good will come of this.' i have this kind of faith in many of the stories of the hebrew and christian scriptures, certainly the kingdom of god in the jesus teachings and paul's understanding of the body of christ, without believing they are evidentially true. i have this kind of faith in many of my friends as well, especially those whose worldview differs from mine.

if this understanding of faith, as a belief that something good will come of this, is shared by many of the story tellers of the scriptures, then the stories move from evidential accounts to stories of wishes, expectations, values, and archetypes. the evidence-finding (earliest manuscripts, archeological discoveries) is extremely interesting in a different sort of way, but not important to the meta-narratives that the story tellers have faith in.





thanks for some excellent observations. You are right to emphasize the connection, to put it in Pauline terms, between hope - good will come of this - and faith. What THIS is, from which good will come, however, may be more important than you are letting on.

I wouldn't wish to follow you if you are saying that e.g., the the self-understandings of ancient Israel or early Christians or of the Judaism of Hillel and Akiva are not warranted by a series of facts on the ground. In each case they are, I think, in a way that is not true of gnosticism for example. Though I imagine there is some good in gnosticism as well, I'm not ready to give up distinctions, or take the truth claims of Judaism and Christianity with less than genuine seriousness.

On the other hand, I agree completely with you that it's possible to suspend belief, or reserve doubt, on an all kinds of details, and still believe. Are you familiar with Dayyenu of the Jewish liturgy? It praises God by saying that if God had done just one one hundredth of the things he did for Israel, it would have been enough. That is true. I want to believe the full one hundred percent, but I think a person who lives within an Enlightenment framework and sees both good and bad in that framework must learn to live with doubt about the sense in which things that are said to have happened, happened, and make allowance for the fact that the biblical narrative is written in such a way that it inscribes the future within it.

But wait: with respect to future orientation, that's how Jews and Christians have traditionally read Scripture. Fancy that.

scott gray


how about 'if one hundredth of the principle characters of the scriptures were historical figures, it would have been enough?'

are the stories of moses based on the existence of a real person? i think so. but the 'true life experiences' of that fellow have evolved ('evolved' as in 'unrolled,' like a scroll) into something steeped in the kind of faith i've described above, that i think have little to do with his real, evidential life. (a sideways, postmodern dayyenu question: if moses never existed, how would that change our 'faith?')

are the stories of adam and eve based on real people? i don't think so. but again, these ficticious characters have evolved into characters of faith.

an interesting thing about the whole raft of scriptural characters we hear stories about, is 'which are based on real people and which are legendary, allegorical, archetypal characters?' lots of schools of thought there, aren't there? literalists feel they're all historical people; skeptics like myself think most are constructs. but either way, the faith, the belief that something good will come of this, prevails.

i would make a distinction between faith and hope: faith is the belief that something good will come of this when things are going well, and hope is the belief that something good will come of this when things are going badly. did david's idyllic kingdom exist in some historical fashion? yes i believe (evidentially) it did. lots of faith there. did the destruction of the temple take place in the 6th c b.c.e.? yes, i believe (evidentially) it did. lots of hope there. depending on how things go in each of our lives, faith and hope both resonate at different times.

eclexia was asking on her site a while back about 'what do we disbelieve?' one of the categories of things i disbelieve are constructs that i want to be evidentially true, but that i know are not. i behave as though they were true--the body of christ and the kingdom of heaven, for example. i behave, as best i can, as though the eutopia isaiah describes is an ideal i can collaborate with right this very minute, too. it's not really about suspending belief; it's stronger, and deeper, than that. rather it's about having faith and hope in the visions of the kingdom of heaven, of plowshares instead of swords, of being a small part of the body of christ, and living as richly and fully as possible this way. in my world view none of those constructs are 'true.' but i think it is in our best survival interests as a species to live with the faith and hope that each of these constructs has been founded in, and evolved into.

you say you want to believe in the full one hundred percent of the things god has done; i presume you mean evidential belief here. i think it enough for you to have faith and hope in the full one hundred percent. (i, on the other hand, don't want to believe in the one hundred percent. as a post modern thinker, i'm well within my paradigm to pick and choose!!)

the THIS you speak of is, in my worldview, a snapshot of the faith and hope lived by all those we hear about in the past, both evidentially real and constructs, and the 6.6 billion people alive today who figure out how to make their lives work. it's an active part of a process, not a fixed configuration. it only has transitory characteristics, and only has value by how each thing and person is connected to, and relates to every other thing and person.

what do you mean by the THIS?

it is a pleasure to think out loud with you.




It's a pleasure to think out loud with you, too, Scott.

Like you, I think Adam and Eve are archetypal. But even the most historical of figures, in the sense of individuals we know a lot of mundane details about with a high degree of confidence, become archetypal in the hands of a good historian.

The best historiography is not afraid to create a narrative out of the confusion of the primary data. The contrast the minimalists set up between myth (=a metanarrative) and history is overblown. Often, what they are really saying is that they don't like the metanarrative inscribed in the text.

scott gray


i think you are right about the minimalist need/desire to reconcile history and the metanarrative, especially to reshape the metanarrative from the history into something the evolved text isn't really about. i admit i do some of this; but i'm also not afraid to acknowledge the rich legacy of the texts and metanarratives, and then jetison them entirely, without a bit of angst!!


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