Friday, March 14, 2014

Bookshelf: Lester Grabbe

The writing of ancient Israel's history is in a state of high agitation right now, that might even be called a crisis.  Major scholars differ over the dating of historical events by centuries, as well as over whether crucial events and persons are historical or legendary.

Lester L. Grabbe summarizes the state of the debate in his recent book Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?  As you read this and other books on the challenges relating to Israel's history, it's important to think clearly about the data the Book of Mormon provides.  In some cases (e.g., 1 Nephi 1-5), Nephi is a witness to events in Jerusalem.  In others, he demonstrates that certain texts existed by his time (e.g., Isaiah 2-14).  In still others, he tells us that certain ideas were known by Nephi's day, whether or not those ideas are actually historically accurate (for instance, see Jacob's remarks on David and Solomon -- these don't prove that David and Solomon existed, only that Jacob thought they did, or at least he and his audience knew them as figures Jacob could use as examples in a sermon, proverbial for their numbers of wives and concubines).

Grabbe offers the following "summary of the principles" to be followed in writing the history of Israel (p. 219):

  • All potential sources should be considered.
  • Preference should be given to original sources.
  • The longue duree needs always to be kept in mind.
  • Each episode or event has to be judged on its own merits.
  • All reconstructions are provisional.
  • All reconstructions have to be argued for.

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