The Israelites live today at different places than the places where historians lived in the past. This means that they explored and wrote about history in a different way as well. The way historians study the Bible turns the Israelite text popular in recent times. The situation is best summed up by Phillip long when he states, “do we have concern with Israel’s history writing or with writing Israel’s history?” (Long, 145). This essay will outline the differences between how ancient Israelites and modern day historians wrote about history, the conventions and principles that guided Israelite historiography and finally how these differences affect the interpretation of the Old Testament in today’s world. There is a debate among scholars who argue that, which is the best way to correctly depict the Old Testament as a historiographical text, some of which argue that an objective approach is best, while others argue that a subjective approach is inevitable, and therefore must be accounted for, and those who believe that subjective interpretations are rightfully included in analysis of the Old Testament.
It is important to note that there is some difficulty in defining the ancient Israelite world’s view with the “modern world view” of which there are many. This essay will treat the “modern view” as an objective observational approach to interpretation, but will also address that this view can also be influenced by people who follow a theistic faith or more specifically Jewish faith. (Long, 106)
The Israelites had the following principles and conventions in their historiography, i.e., genres, role of the Deity, Coherence, Poetics, and values. Israelites did not include much of genres in their writings, lending almost nothing to annals, chronicles, or royal inscriptions in their texts (Walton 232). They instead relied almost entirely on narrative, and so is mixed with literary devices. Historians today rely much more on annals and chronicles than did the Israelites. The role of the deity is also different. As historians today take a much more objective approach to texts, Israelites were almost all of the Jewish faith, believing their texts as the word from God, along with the accounts taken thereof. There are historiographers who are non-secular and who believe in theistic theology who either try to look passing their own subjective views or who include them in their analysis (Long, 107).
Coherence is very similar to the role of the deity in that Israelites believed Israel was chosen by God and as a result their texts reflect so. The values were entangled in the text to perform a longer lasting document, thus allowing their texts to be used for longer periods of time. Israelite documents have existed for so long because of their narrative structure (Long, 103-104). Their values were also reflected in the narratives, which add to the fable elements of their text. As mentioned above, historians today try to take a more objective approach to their writings, instead trying to reflect the contemporary values of the given time.
The main differences between modern day principles and the Israelite principles in relation to historiography are important to note have caused quite a bit of debate in the academic community. For instance, many social scientists believe that the Israelite culture can be accurately depicted uses such disciplines as sociology, etc. to help formulate a picture of their society. However, Long argues, “Their (social sciences) rightful function, then, is to provide background information against which the specific actions of individuals and groups can be understood” (Long 171). This retrospective overload of interpretations is one of the biggest differences between the Israelites view and today’s historian’s view. The historians in current world are at much risk of over-analyzing details and subjects from older texts. The world was much younger at the time of the Israelites, and talent much less available.
The way we look at the Old Testament has changed in light of the new understanding of the Israelite texts and historiography. According to Walton, “We cannot read the Hebrew Bible as journalistic or academic history such as might be written today (Walton 233). He also states that it is imperative that when critiquing this literature, not to expect it to reflect our own terms or values, but instead try to accurate impose the values and terms of those who wrote the material: the Israelites. Long, (1999) critiques numbers of modern techniques in relation to conduct the analysis in his work. Long also calls for, “More integrative approaches can be utilized for different methods” (Long 175). As he mentions in his text, he approached the text mainly from one principal method, which is multifaceted methodological approach. Both of these suggestions are valuable, for a combination of an integrative, multifaceted analysis uses multiple techniques and a conscience effort to appreciate the values of the Israelites will surely be the most accurate and beneficial pursuit for the historical community. Long puts limits on the social sciences while introducing a notion that any one technique is not in itself sufficient to properly describe the historiographical nature, nor adequately interpret the Old Testament (Long 108).
In conclusion, there are many differences and connections between the new and old historiographical techniques. It has changed the way we look at and interpret ancient texts such as the Old Testament, and will continue to evolve for a long time. Although there are number of differences between the ancient Israelite historiography and its more modern counterpart, which needs to be learned from the ancient practice which will continually be developed in the near and distant future.
Long, V. Philips. Historiography of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker, 1999) 145-175.
Walton, John H. Understanding the Past: Historiography. (Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker, 2006) 217-237.
Long, V. Philips. The Art of Biblical History (New York: Zondervan, 1994) 103-108.