The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinia

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinia

Postby admin » Wed Nov 21, 2018 12:31 am

The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History
by Keith W. Whitelam
© 1996 Keith W. Whitelam




'The Invention of Ancient Israel is a remarkable work of scholarship, certainly audacious enough, despite its painstaking manner, to undermine many unthinking presuppositions about ancient biblical history ...the book possesses that keen independence of spirit and vision that is so rare and so invigorating when one encounters it.' -- Edward Said, The Times Literary Supplement

'This is a brave, fascinating and important book.' -- William Dalrymple, Sunday Times

The Invention of Ancient Israel shows how the history of ancient Palestine has been obscured by the search for Israel. Keith W. Whitelam argues that ancient Israel has been invented by scholars in the image of a European nation state. He explores the theological and political assumptions which have shaped research into ancient Israel by biblical scholars, and contributed to the vast network of scholarship with Said identified as 'Orientalist discourse.'

Keith W. Whitelam's groundbreaking study argues that biblical scholars, through their own traditional view of this religion, have contributed to the dispossession of both a Palestinian land and a Palestinian past. This is important reading for historians, biblical specialists, social anthropologists and all those who are interested in the history of ancient Israel and Palestine.

Keith W. Whitelam is a Professor of Religious Studies and Head of Department at the University of Stirling. He is the co-author of The Emergence of Early Israel in Historical Perspective (1987), and has produced a series of articles on ancient Israelite and Palestinian history.

Cover illustration: Samson and Delila by Gustave Moreau. Reproduced courtesy of the Louvre, Paris. Cover design: Leigh Hurlock

Table of Contents:

• Acknowledgements
• Notes
• Bibliography
• Index
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Re: The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palest

Postby admin » Wed Nov 21, 2018 12:55 am


This work has been a long time in the making, which is only fitting given the historical perspective which it adopts. I began work on it in late 1984 when the manuscript of The Emergence of Early Israel in Historical Perspective was finished and have continued whenever time has been available. I am particularly grateful to the University of Stirling for two invaluable periods of leave in 1989 and 1993, and to my colleagues in the Department of Religious Studies who had to take over my teaching and administrative duties. It was only during the last period of sabbatical leave that the work took on its present shape, changing from an attempt to produce a history of ancient Palestine to an exploration of how such an enterprise was hindered by political, social, and religious influences.

This book is indebted to so many people, directly and indirectly, that I could not possibly name them all. Robert Coote has continued to provide invaluable support, constructive criticism, and advice. He, along with Polly, Margaret, and Marion Coote, have frequently provided a vital home from home on my visits to the annual SBL meeting or to conduct research in the Bay Area. Marvin Chaney, Bob's colleague at San Francisco Theological Seminary, has been a valuable sounding board for ideas.

The direction of my research was stimulated and sustained some fifteen years ago by the lively atmosphere generated by the members of the SBL/ASOR seminar on the sociology of the Israelite monarchy. I am indebted to Norman Gottwald for the original invitation to participate and for his openness and help in subsequent years. I was welcomed and befriended by Frank Frick, Jim Flanagan, and Tom Overholt who made those first visits to the USA such a pleasant experience and who have remained valued friends. I owe an equal debt to many colleagues in Britain: Philip Davies, David Clines, Robert Carroll, Alistair Hunter, and Lester Grabbe have been very supportive over many years. David Gunn, who inhabits both worlds, has provided valuable encouragement and comment on this project and the early direction of my research.

My colleagues at Stirling, Richard King, Ian Reader, Mary Maaga, Jennifer Haswell, John Drane, and Murray MacBeath have provided constructive comments and suggestions on early drafts of the opening chapters. Richard King and Mary Maaga not only offered critiques but loaned me books and articles which have helped in the production of the manuscript.

The greatest debt, of course, is owed to my family. Stephen, Paul, and Hannah have had to live with the project for a long time. This book could not have been written without the love, support, and help of Susie. It is fittingly dedicated to her.
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Re: The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palest

Postby admin » Wed Nov 21, 2018 12:55 am


This book began as part of a grandiose scheme to produce a two-volume history of ancient Palestine dealing with the material realities, the ideologies, and religions of the region. Its concern with the broad themes of history -- settlement, demography, and economy -- was conceived to be an antidote to the standard histories of ancient Israel based upon the biblical traditions which have dominated biblical studies since the nineteenth century. It became apparent, however, as I searched for archaeological and anthropological data in order to produce the first volume, that this grandiose scheme was doomed to failure. The first problem, of course, is that such an attempt to write a history of Palestine, as an alternative to the standard histories of Israel which have dominated nineteenth- and twentieth-century biblical studies, runs the risk of being misunderstood as arrogant because it appears to imply the ability to control a vast range of material which is beyond the competence of most individuals and certainly beyond my abilities. It was such a grand scheme that first tempted me when I began work on this book. However, the failure and metamorphosis of the project was due not just to an inability to become acquainted with or competent in, let alone to dream of mastering or controlling, the vast amounts of data necessary for such a task. It stems from a more fundamental problem: the recognition that any such project has to confront and overcome the vast obstacle of what might be termed 'the discourse of biblical studies', a part of the complex network of scholarly work which Said identified as 'Orientalist discourse'. The history of ancient Palestine has been ignored and silenced by biblical studies because its object of interest has been an ancient Israel conceived and presented as the taproot of Western civilization.

This work, then, is not another history of ancient Israel nor is it a history of ancient Palestine. It is concerned with the histories of both but it cannot be described as a history of either. They are of central concern and figure largely in the following pages, but the eventual outcome, however much I might have liked, cannot be described as a history of ancient Palestine. The words of Oliver Cromwell to the Rump Parliament during the debate on reconstruction after the execution of King Charles I have often occurred to me while struggling with the methodological and practical difficulties of the task I set myself: 'I can tell you, sirs, what I would not have but I cannot what I would.' Cromwell's audience was, of course, all male. This work is aimed at trying to articulate a view of history which includes the whole of humanity and is not simply the domain of a few powerful or influential males. In exposing the cultural and political obstacles to the task, it is an attempt to pave the way for the realization of, to paraphrase Prakash (1990: 401), one more of the 'excluded histories'. [1]

It is an attempt to articulate an idea: the idea that ancient Palestinian history is a separate subject in its own right and needs to be freed from the grasp of biblical studies. It is appropriate to refer to it as an idea since it is not as yet a practical reality. For too long Palestinian history has been a (minor) subset of biblical studies dominated by the biblically inspired histories and archaeologies of ancient Israel. In effect, Palestinian history, particularly for the thirteenth century BCE to the second century CE, has not existed except as the backdrop to the histories of Israel and Judah or of second Temple Judaism. It has been subsumed within the social, political and, above all, religious developments of ancient Israel. The search for ancient Israel, in which I include for shorthand purposes second Temple Judaism, has consumed phenomenal intellectual and material resources in our universities, faculties of theology, divinity schools, theological colleges, seminaries, and departments of archaeology, particularly in the USA, Europe, and Israel. A quick glance through the prospectuses and catalogues of these institutions will reveal numerous courses on the history and archaeology of ancient Israel conducted in the context of the study of the Hebrew Bible from Jewish and Christian perspectives. This is just as true in 'secular' universities with departments of Religious Studies rather than faculties of theology. Interestingly, and revealingly, I have been able to discover very few courses on the history of ancient Israel in departments of History or Ancient History. It seems that ancient Israelite history is the domain of Religion or Theology and not of History.

Where, then, do we find courses on the history of ancient Palestine? Certainly, there is an increasing number of courses on Palestinian archaeology in departments of Archaeology, particularly in the USA. They have emerged from the often bitter debate over the existence of 'Syro-Palestinian' archaeology as opposed to 'biblical archaeology' inspired by W.G. Dever. [2] But the history of ancient Palestine, it seems, does not fall under the domain of either Theology or History in our institutions of higher education. In effect, as an academic subject it appears not to exist: it has been silenced and excluded by the dominant discourse of biblical studies.
The marginal nature of ancient Palestinian history can be illustrated by reference to the excellent bibliography of the major histories of Israel and Judah which appears at the beginning of Hayes and Miller (1977: xxv-xxix): in a list of some sixty-five authors and works dating from the eighteenth century to the late twentieth century CE, there are only two titles which deal with the history of Syria and Palestine (Olmstead 1931; Paton 1901) rather than the history of Israel, Judah, or the Jewish/Hebrew people. It is this domination by theology, its political and cultural implications, which we must pursue in order to understand how Western scholarship has invented ancient Israel and silenced Palestinian history. [3]

In contrast to this marginal nature or non-existence of ancient Palestinian history, we might compare the pursuit of and invention of 'ancient Israel'. Biblical studies has been dominated from its inception by a concern for the history of ancient Israel as the key to understanding the Hebrew Bible. It has been of fundamental concern for Christian theology since Christianity is conceived of as a religion based upon revelation within history. Philip Davies (1992) has demonstrated, however, that the 'ancient Israel' of biblical studies is a scholarly construct based upon a misreading of the biblical traditions and divorced from historical reality.
The power of scholarly texts, such as our standard treatments of the history of ancient Israel, is aptly illustrated by Said's (1985: 94) critique of Orientalism:

A text purporting to contain knowledge about something actual, and arising out of circumstances similar to the ones I have just described, is not easily dismissed. Expertise is attributed to it. The authority of academics, institutions, and governments can accrue to it, surrounding it with still greater prestige than its practical successes warrant. Most importantly such texts can create not only knowledge but also the very reality they appear to describe. In time such knowledge and reality produce a tradition, or what Michel Foucault calls a discourse, whose material presence or weight, not the originality of a given author, is really responsible for the texts produced out of it.

-- Said 1985: 94

This is equally as applicable to biblical studies as to Orientalism. There exists, then, what we might term a discourse of biblical studies which is a powerful, interlocking network of ideas and assertions believed by its practitioners to be the reasonable results of objective scholarship while masking the realities of an exercise of power. We are faced with the paradox of the invention of 'ancient Israel', as pointed out by Davies, an entity that has been given substance and power as a scholarly construct, while Palestinian history lacks substance or even existence in terms of our academic institutions. Attempts to challenge this powerful narrative are likely to be dismissed as politically or ideologically motivated and therefore unreasonable.

Why this should be so is tied very closely, I believe, to the social and political context out of which modern biblical studies has emerged. The implications of this for the study of ancient Israel and for the silencing of Palestinian history are explored in chapter 1. The exploration of the political arena in which biblical studies has been forged is little understood, much less acknowledged: it is an engagement which is only just beginning. The central theme of this study is an attempt to articulate the implications for historical research of the profound changes which biblical studies has experienced over the last two decades or more. The powerful convergence of literary studies of biblical texts allied to more explicit social scientific approaches to the construction of Israelite history has led to what many perceive as a major paradigm shift in the study of the Hebrew Bible -- a shift which is more apparent than real in terms of the representation of ancient Israelite history or the realization of ancient Palestinian history. It is usual, in discussing this perceived shift, to concentrate upon the study of narrative in the Hebrew Bible and its implications for biblical studies. Thus literary studies in all its aspects has become for many, to use David Gunn's (1987: 65) term, the 'new orthodoxy'. Biblical scholars have been slower to appreciate the equally profound implications of these paradigm moves for historical studies. The election of Norman Gottwald as the President of SBL in 1992 was more than a symbolic event. It marked an acceptance of the so-called 'sociological approach' as an important element in defining the new orthodoxy. [4] What has begun to emerge in recent years, in a variety of different places, is a conception of a wider Palestinian history as a separate subject in its own right increasingly divorced from biblical studies as such. [5] This means that Israelite history and second Temple Judaism, the domain of biblical studies until very recently, form part of this Palestinian history, whereas Israelite history, under the influence of biblical studies, has dominated the Palestinian landscape to such an extent that it has silenced virtually all other aspects of the history of the region from the Late Bronze Age to the Roman period. There are, of course, times when we might say, with Braudel, that ancient Israel or, more particularly, second Temple Judaism, bursts into sight and dominates the landscape, the only way it has been conceived of for much of the history of biblical studies, but at other times plays a minor role, is hidden, or even nonexistent. Viewed from the longer perspective, the history of ancient Israel is a moment in the vast expanse of Palestinian history. [6] It is appropriate for historians to focus upon these short spans of time or particular societies, of course. However, it is also necessary to stand back in order to provide a different perspective from which to view the larger picture. The study of ancient Israel has become so all-consuming that it has all too often come to represent the whole picture rather than an important detail on the canvas. It is important, then, to try to redress the balance by focusing on that period of time which has been the domain of biblical studies and which has been dominated by ancient Israelite history in order to show how it might be understood from the perspective of Palestinian history.

It is for this reason that I have decided to concentrate on two crucial periods, the periods of the so-called 'emergence' or 'origins' of Israel in Palestine during the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition and the subsequent period of the founding of an Israelite state in the Iron Age. The analysis could be carried further to include what is variably referred to as the Exilic or second Temple periods or, in terms of a wide-ranging history of Palestine, would need to move both backwards and forwards. However, the periods of the 'emergence' and the creation of a state have for a long time been a focus of biblical scholarship in its search for ancient Israel. They have become defining moments in the history of the region for the discourse of biblical studies. If these periods can be freed from the constraints and limitations of the constructions of the past imposed by this discourse, then all other (prior and subsequent) periods in the history of Palestine will be easier to free from a past claimed and dominated by Israel. The analysis of chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5 takes the form of a commentary on many standard and representative works which have shaped and been shaped by the discourse of biblical studies. It attempts to illustrate how a network of recurrent ideas and assumptions has functioned to provide a perception of the past which has resisted virtually all attempts to imagine alternative constructions of that past. I have deliberately chosen to use a large number of quotations, many of them from works familiar to those in the field, in order to illustrate the discourse of biblical studies in its own words, rather than simply my distorted reporting of what many influential figures have had to say.

Yet little attention has been paid to the factors which have led to the present situation. Current scholarly attention is focused more on trying to work out the practical implications of the shifts: the academic contest for methods and approaches in reading the Hebrew Bible or writing ancient Israelite history. It will be obvious to many readers that there is a growing number of attempts to realize a history of ancient Palestine in the works of G.W. Ahlstrom (1993), E. Knauf (1988; 1989), N.P. Lemche (1988; 1991), T.L. Thompson (1992a), H. Weippert (1988), and many others. It might be argued that these works and Ahlstrom's (1993) massive study on the history of ancient Palestine, in particular, negate my claim that Palestinian history does not exist as an academic subject. However, his work, like the others, is still dominated by the concerns of biblical studies and presuppositions drawn from the traditions of the Hebrew Bible. This is revealed most clearly in the peculiar arrangement of the book which begins with a chapter on 'Prehistoric time' ranging from the Palaeolithic to the Chalcolithic periods, followed by 'The Early Bronze Age', 'The Middle Bronze Age', 'The Late Bronze Age', but then switches to the 'Twelfth century BCE', 'The increase in settlement during the 13-12th centuries BCE', 'Transjordan in the 12-10th centuries BCE', and 'The Judges' before concentrating on the rise of the state. The switch, of course, to a more narrow focus on the thirteenth to twelfth centuries BCE, away from archaeological periodization, is due to the long-held belief by biblical scholars and archaeologists that this is the period when Israel 'emerged' in Palestine. Thus Ahlstrom's study, while set in the broader context of Palestinian history, remains involved in the search for early Israel that has been the goal of biblical studies since its inception. Ahlstrom has been a pioneer in the move towards a concern with Palestinian history, yet his volume is still conceived within the constraints of the discourse of biblical studies. The spate of recent works has helped to prepare the ground and has been particularly influential in bringing about an important change in historical studies, though they often remain on the polemical margins of the discipline when judged in terms of mainstream activities. Furthermore, they have not addressed in any detail the crucial question of the cultural and political factors which have constrained ancient Palestinian history as one of the many 'excluded histories' silenced by Eurocentric or Western constructions of the past.

One of the greatest drawbacks to the realization of a history of ancient Palestine is that even as it is freed from the constraints of biblical studies it remains the preserve of Western scholarship. Said (1985; 1992) has drawn attention to the intimate connections between culture and imperialism both in the development of Orientalism and the narratives of the West. What we lack above all is, to use his phrase, a 'contrapuntal reading' of Palestinian history from a non-Western point of view. [7] The Subaltern project is one of the most striking examples of an attempt to reclaim the past by Indian historians who claim the right to represent themselves and their past in competition with the long-dominant narratives of European and colonial scholarship.  [8] The development of a modern Palestinian identity and expression of self-determination has focused upon the recent rather than the ancient past. 'Palestinian history' is concerned only with the last couple of centuries in the struggle with the Zionist movement and the realization of a modern state of Israel. The ancient past belongs to Israel since this is the way it has been presented from the inception of modern biblical studies. Modern Israeli scholarship has been concerned with the history of ancient Israel written largely from a Western and Orientalist perspective as the ancient expression of the modern state and its Jewish population. The growth of Palestinian nationalism has not resulted in an attempt to reclaim the past similar to the movements in India, Africa, or Australia. The problem here is that the notion of a 'Palestinian history' is confined to the modern period, an attempt to articulate accounts of national identity in the face of dispossession and exile. [9] It is as if the ancient past has been abandoned to Israel and the West. The concluding essay in Said's Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestine Question, 'A profile of the Palestinian people' (Said et al. 1988), opens with the observation that Palestine had been the home to a remarkable civilization 'centuries before the first Hebrew tribes migrated to the area' (1988: 235). The achievements and nature of this civilization are passed over in a few sentences while the period of Israelite migration, a now outdated view as will be seen below, is abandoned to Israel without further comment. The authors then concentrate on the history of Palestine from the Arab and Islamic conquest of the seventh century CE to the present day. It is precisely the period from the Late Bronze Age to the Roman period which needs to be reclaimed and given voice in the history of Palestine. Asad (1993: 1) has drawn attention to the overwhelming importance of Western history in shaping the views of non-Western peoples who have 'felt obliged to read the history of the West (but not each other's histories) and that Westerners in turn do not feel the same need to study non-Western histories'. Although I might argue for an idea, the separation of ancient Palestinian history from the confines and limitations of biblical studies, the task cannot be completed until we can compare the different perspectives of Western and non-Western scholarship. The following views might represent a counterpoint to a dominant discourse that has been conducted within biblical studies but it lacks the perspective and force of a contrapuntal reading from a Palestinian or non-Western perspective. The irony and paradox of this situation is quite evident: the attempt to articulate a Palestinian history as a subject freed from the constraints of biblical studies or related discourses remains a European expression of an ancient excluded past.

The faltering movements towards a more complete history of Palestine -- I refrain from referring to a 'new' history as has become fashionable -- are bound to take wrong paths as well as hopefully open up new ground. [10] The failures will inevitably be seized upon by those who disagree with such a project as evidence that there are no alternatives to the standard approaches to biblical history. Yet the time is past when we can merely fine-tune the standard approaches and methods of biblical studies. What is required is a fundamental alteration in our approach to the history of the region. I would hope that my own shortcomings and failures as represented in this book will not put off others from exploring the issues which will lead us to a more satisfactory understanding of the history of this region. Biblical studies has remained removed for too long from the critical discourse that has raged within history, anthropology, ethnography, and economics, exposing the ways in which supposed rational results of Western scholarship have been part of a complex network of ideas and associations which are tied to relationships of power.

The tools we have to use are imprecise and crude compared with the precision of the cliometricians with their studies of census, voting, or other forms of quantifiable data. Medieval and modern historians enjoy the comparative luxury of vast amounts of quantifiable data which have remained hidden and unused in state archives and registrary offices for decades or even centuries. New archaeological surveys of Palestine are able to provide much better quantifiable data which have added significantly to our knowledge of particular areas and periods of ancient Palestine and contributed to the paradigm shift. But the information we can glean from these surveys is still imprecise when compared to the sources available to our colleagues in medieval and modern history. The historian of ancient Palestine has to be content with understanding history in a broad sweep. This might be an uncomfortable situation for those brought up on standard biblical histories which prefer the certainties of political history with its alluring portrayal of great individuals as the shapers of historical destiny. This form of history still dominates our bookshelves and academic departments despite the work of Braudel, McNeill and the Annalistes. The cult of the individual which dominates all forms of modern politics in the USA, Britain, Europe, and elsewhere with the use of the power of television, video and satellite only confirms the prejudice that it is great men, and a few women, who shape the destiny of humanity. Any attempt to investigate the underlying currents which have helped shape the preconceptions of these individuals or help to explain their success in 'persuading' the populace to support them is dismissed as crude materialism or an unsophisticated Marxist reading of history. However, like many others in biblical studies, I have become dissatisfied with these theological and political histories that have dominated our discipline for so long. The magisterial works of Braudel, full of original insights which help fire the imagination, have taught me that there are so many facets of history that our political and theological histories do not address. [11] It was the excitement of this perspective which first allured me in the grandiose design of trying to produce a history of ancient Palestine. It only gradually became apparent that the difficulties inherent in the project needed to be related to the wider political and social context of twentieth-century scholarship.

The history of Palestine -- we might say ancient history in general -- is dominated by demographic growth and decline along with the expansion and contraction of economy and trade. Unless we are able to understand these twin poles of ancient society, population and economy, or the factors which affect them, then we are unable to understand its history. Much of the data which pertain to these areas of study are still in unpublished form, hampering the realization of the project. However, it is the network of connections in which these scholarly investigations are set which is the greatest hindrance. In the past many of these themes have been ignored, particularly in biblical histories, not just because sufficient data have been lacking but, more crucially, because they have been thought to be unimportant. The cultural and political factors that have dominated biblical studies discourse on ancient Israel have denied the development of a strategy for investigating such issues. Ironically, much of the archaeological work, the regional surveys and site excavations, which have contributed to the paradigm shift are coloured by the overwhelming search for ancient Israel, the material reality which, it is presumed, will help to illuminate the Hebrew Bible. It is necessary to define a clear and precise conception of Palestinian history and then devise strategies for the investigation of this ancient past which are not dominated and controlled by scholars who are, implicitly or explicitly, in search of ancient Israel alone.

This work represents only the beginnings of an attempt to articulate an idea: its realization as a history of ancient Palestine must await others more knowledgeable and competent than myself. The conceptualization has been more important for me than the realization. It has been difficult to uncover or document sufficiently the subtle political and ideological influences which have shaped historical research in biblical studies. No doubt many will be happy to announce the failure of yet another 'sociological' history -- when, in fact, as Braudel (1980: 64-82) was constantly pointing out, there is only history. This is not a history of Palestine but a commentary on how such a project has been obstructed by the discourse of biblical studies. It is the unshakeable belief that Palestinian history and with it the history of ancient Israel has to be approached in a radically different way from that of our standard histories which has been the driving force to continue. I can only hope that the kinds of questions I have posed, if not the explanations, and the connections between the political realm and biblical studies as an academic subject which have slowly begun to emerge will be of interest to others in the field.
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Re: The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palest

Postby admin » Wed Nov 21, 2018 12:57 am

Part 1 of 2



The conceptualization and representation of the past is fraught with difficulty, not simply because of the ambiguities and paucity of data but because the construction of history, written or oral, past or present, is a political act. The long-running debate on the possibilities of writing a history of early Israel, focusing recently on various attempts to discover its origins or emergence, has tended, naturally enough, to concentrate upon the difficulties of interpreting the evidence, such as it is, including the crucial question of what it is that counts as evidence. However, this often fierce debate has profound political implications which have rarely surfaced. The reason for the heat of the recent debate is to do precisely with the political, cultural, and religious implications of the construction of ancient Israel. These are, invariably, hidden elements in the discussions and, like most fundamental domain assumptions, very rarely appear upon the surface. The problem of the history of ancient Palestine remains unspoken, masked in the dominant discourse of biblical studies which is concerned principally with the search for ancient Israel as the locus for understanding the traditions of the Hebrew Bible and ultimately as the taproot of European and Western civilization.

It is possible to offer two instructive examples of the ways in which the structure of this discourse can be fractured, allowing these issues to surface. The first is taken from a discussion which took place on IOUDAIOS, an electronic discussion group devoted to the second Temple period. Philip Davies' In Search of 'Ancient Israel' provoked a wide-ranging discussion of whether or not the biblical traditions represent a view of the past which accords with reality. One respondent, taking issue with the increasing vociferousness of the more sceptical approaches, complained that 'his history was being taken away from him'. Clearly, perceptions of the past are political and have important ramifications for the modern world because personal or social identity is either confirmed by or denied by these representations (Tonkin 1992: 6). This can be illustrated further by the reactions of the indigenous populations of Australia and the Americas to the celebrations of the bicentenary of the European settlement of Australia and the quincentennial celebrations of Christopher Columbus's discovery of the 'New World' and subsequent European settlement. The objections have been to 'official' Eurocentric histories and representations of the past which all too often deny the history of the indigenous populations of these continents. [1] The accounts of dominant, usually literary, cultures frequently silence versions of peripheral groups in society who are thereby denied a voice in history. The growing challenges to the positivistic histories of nineteenth- and twentieth-century so-called 'scientific' biblical studies are rejected as revisionist, or by some other pejorative label such as Marxist or materialist, because they undermine the search for what Burke Long terms 'a master story', an authoritative account of Israel's past, the broad parameters of which seemed reasonably assured until very recently. [2] The question which needs to be explored concerns the cultural and political factors which inform this search and the narration of a 'master story' about ancient Israel within modern biblical studies.

The second example is taken from a comparative review of Finkelstein (1988) and Coote and Whitelam (1987) by Christopher Eden (1989: 289-92) in which he focused upon the fundamental question of the ways in which 'the strong matrix of personal religious belief, political attitude, and scholarly education, and historical experience and ideology of the wider community is always present, whether overtly or more implicitly, in historical work generally but more extrusively in biblical history (and archaeology), and in the reviews of such histories' (1989: 291). [3] In a generally positive treatment of both works, he adds a negative appraisal for the present day of the implications of Finkelstein's study and a positive appraisal of the implications of Coote and Whitelam's work. Eden's complaint against Finkelstein is that:

Finkelstein ... emphasizes the isolation and exclusivity of the Israelites from other communities, and their freedom from external forces. These attitudes are compounded by a disquieting historical and ethnic insensitivity that views Palestinian settlement and agricultural production in the recent past as 'determined almost exclusively by the natural conditions of the country' (p. 130), a view that ignores the specific conditions of Ottoman land tenure and taxation while dismissing the Arab population as incapable of reacting to these conditions. Such an attitude forecasts a dismal and violent future for the region.

-- Eden 1989: 292

Finkelstein (1991: 51) replies that this ignores the entire discipline of his survey which was based on a study of Arab land use and subsistence economy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Finkelstein, ironically, in rejecting Eden's criticisms as outrageous and politically biased, misses the crucial point about the way in which political attitudes, however unconsciously, shape all historical research. Eden then concludes:

The immediate question raised here is not the use of biblical history to validate modern political stances, but rather the smuggling into 'objective' historical inquiry of values configured by modern experience and expectation. Such values can never be eliminated, but surely can, and must, be understood as part of historical discourse, a part moreover that usually directly shapes the nature of questions asked and of answers presented; the reader can ignore the presence of these values only at risk of a partial text.

-- Eden 1989: 292

Clearly an important element in our attempts to understand 'ancient Israel' and other historical entities, though usually unspoken, is the politics of history, the way in which political attitudes and views define the agenda and strongly influence the outcome of the historian's search -- an agenda and search which often presents us with, to use Eden's phrase, 'a partial text'. In the case of biblical studies it has focused upon and, to a large extent, invented an entity, 'ancient Israel', while ignoring the reality of Palestinian history as a whole. The task ahead can be set out in the words of Said (1993: 380): 'the job facing the cultural intellectual is therefore not to accept the politics of identity as given, but to show how all representations are constructed, for what purpose, by whom, and with what components.'

None of this should come as any great surprise if one is acquainted with the use of history through antiquity to the present day. Neil Silberman (1982; 1989) provides a series of telling examples of the interrelationships of history, archaeology, and politics in the modern Middle East. He describes how European nation states from the Industrial Revolution onwards constructed national histories to justify and idealize their positions in the world. This is particularly true of Great Britain where 'the past was taking on a more focused, modern significance -- as a source of political symbols and ideals. In the myths, chronicles, and surviving monuments of the ancient Britons and the later Anglo-Saxons, antiquarians and politicians found vivid illustrations of the people's unique "national character" that explained and justified Great Britain's unique position in the world' (Silberman 1989: 2). These nations, and Britain in particular, appropriated the past of classical and biblical antiquity. This mirrored the increasing interests of Western powers in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The origins of modern archaeology, from the time of Napoleon's intervention in Egypt, are a tale of international intrigue in which the biblical past, and the archaeological treasures of the region, were appropriated by Western powers in their struggles for political advantage and the legitimization of their own imperial ambitions. The way in which the development of academic disciplines such as Orientalism, history, and anthropology were used in these struggles by Western powers is persuasively argued by Asad (1973), Said (1985; 1993), and many others.

One of the ironies of this situation, which has been pointed out by many commentators, is that colonial discourse has also shaped the nationalist discourses which have grown up in opposition to colonial control. Nationalist historiographies and histories have taken over many of the assumptions of the colonial histories that they were designed to reject. Thus Inden (1986: 402) goes so far as to say that despite India's formal acquisition of political independence, it has still not regained the power to know its own past and present apart from this discourse. Prakash (1990: 388) illustrates how Indian nationalism in rejecting British colonial versions of the past nevertheless accepted the patterns set down by British scholarship so that the accepted periodization of Indian history into Hindu, Muslim, and British periods later became the ancient, medieval, and modern eras, while the caste system was accepted as a social and not a political category, along with the existence of a Sanskrit Indian civilization. The origins of the modern nation state were traced to ancient India in the same way that Orientalists had traced Europe's origins in the texts of ancient India. However, van der Veer (1993: 23) in assessing the work of Said argues that the claim that the production of knowledge about the Orient is an exclusively Western affair neglects ways so-called Orientals not only shape their own world but also Orientalist views: 'It would be a serious mistake to deny agency to the colonized in an effort to show the force of colonial discourse.' He adds (1993: 25) that 'it is a crucial aspect of the post-colonial predicament that Orientalist understandings of Indian society are perpetuated both by Western scholarship and by Indian political movements.'

As Prakash (1990: 390) has pointed out, the focus of nationalist historiography and history has always been the nation: 'therefore we need to recognize that it is one of the ways in which the third world writes its own history.' Silberman (1990) documents the ways in which newly formed nation states in the region increasingly realized the importance of appropriating their own pasts as symbols of legitimacy or rejections of imperial control. The continuing dispute over the possession or repossession of the Elgin Marbles and other Greek archaeological treasures demonstrates the importance of a nation state reclaiming its past to illuminate and justify its own present. Furthermore it has led to a struggle with the British government which has united all sides of the political spectrum in Greece from conservative to socialist politicians (Silberman 1990: 8). The current conflict in the Balkans provides further evidence of the point with an increasingly dangerous dispute over the newly proclaimed province of Macedonia in the former Yugoslavia, whose appropriation of the name lays claim to a past thereby denying an important element of national identity in northern Greece. However, although we have important national conceptions of history from the various modern states in the Middle East which provide that vital counterpoint to Western conceptions and representations of the history of the region, what is conspicuous by its absence is a truly Palestinian history of the past, i.e. written from a Palestinian perspective. Naturally enough, the Palestinian perspective has focused on the modern period and the struggle for national identity and a separate state. [4] The ancient past, it seems, has been abandoned to the West and modern Israel.

Appropriations of the past as part of the politics of the present, which Silberman documents, could be illustrated for most parts of the globe. One further example, which is of particular interest to this study, is the way in which archaeology and biblical history have become of such importance in the modern state of Israel. It is this combination which has been such a powerful factor in silencing Palestinian history. The new Israeli nationalist historiography, like other recent nationalist historiographies, in searching for the origins of the nation in the past has continued the assumptions and concerns of European colonial scholarship. Trigger (1984) has discussed the variation in different countries in the kinds of archaeological problem which are seen as worthy of investigation and the types of explanation regarded as acceptable interpretations of evidence. The nation state plays a very important role in defining the parameters of scholarship. He points out in his discussion of 'nationalist archaeology' that: 'In modern Israel, archaeology plays an important role in affirming the links between an intrusive population and its own ancient past and by doing so asserts the right of that population to the land' (1984: 358). [5]

The most striking example of the national present discovered in the ancient past is Yadin's excavation of Masada and the political appropriation of the site to symbolize the newly founded state faced with overwhelming odds against its survival in a hostile environment. Yadin expressed its significance in the following terms:

Its scientific importance was known to be great. But more than that, Masada represents for all of us in Israel and for many elsewhere, archaeologists and laymen, a symbol of courage, a monument of our great national figures, heroes who chose death over a life of physical and moral serfdom.

-- Yadin 1966: 13

The political significance of Masada is encapsulated in its choice as the location for the annual swearing-in ceremony for Israeli troops and expressed through the nationalist slogan, derived from Lamdan's poem, that 'Never again shall Masada fall'. [6] The subsequent debate on Yadin's interpretation of some of the finds or his reading of the Josephus account illustrates how political and religious attitudes shape the investigation and the outcome. Zerubavel (1994) has shown, in a fine study, how Masada has developed from a relatively obscure incident in the past, ignored in the Talmud and medieval Jewish literature, to represent the paradigm of national identity. She shows that, despite a critical discussion of Josephus's account of the siege and fall of Masada, Israeli popular culture does not doubt the historicity of the account. Yet it emerged as a focus of scholarly interest only in the nineteenth century in association with the Zionist movement, representing an important symbolic event for new settlers. The fall of Masada to the Romans marked the end of the Jewish revolt against imperial control and for Zionists embodied the spirit of heroism and love of freedom which had been lost in the period of exile (Zerubavel1994: 75). Zerubavel traces how this 'commemorative narrative' was constructed by a selective reading of the Josephus account which emphasized some aspects and ignored others. [7] This process was enhanced by the development of a pilgrimage to the site in the pre-state period by youth movements and the Zionist underground which culminated after 1948 with its selection as the site for the swearing-in ceremony for the Israeli Defence Forces. She concludes that 'Yadin's interpretation of the excavation as a patriotic mission was not unlike other instances where archaeology was mobilized to promote nationalist ideology' (1994: 84). Particularly noteworthy is the way in which Yadin linked Masada to the present:

We will not exaggerate by saying that thanks to the heroism of the Masada fighters -- like other links in the nation's chain of heroism -- we stand here today, the soldiers of a young-ancient people, surrounded by the ruins of the camps of those who destroyed us. We stand here, no longer helpless in the face of our enemy's strength, no longer fighting a desperate war, but solid and confident, knowing that our fate is in our hands, in our spiritual strength, the spirit of Israel 'the grandfather revived ... We, the descendants of these heroes, stand here today and rebuild the ruins of our people.'

-- cited by Zerubavel 1994: 84

Yadin's linking of the ancient past and the political present (notice his phrase 'a young-ancient people'), and the reference to links in the nation's chain of heroism, is an important rhetorical technique in biblical studies discourse which has played a crucial role in the silencing of Palestinian history. Zerubavel (1994: 88) cites the famous dictum of A.B. Yehoshua as encapsulating this continuum between past and present: 'Masada is no longer the historic mountain near the Dead Sea but a mobile mountain which we carry on our back anywhere we go.' It is this continuum which is crucial to any claim to possess the land, a claim which effectively silences any Palestinian claim to the past and therefore to the land. [8]

European scholarship prior to 1948, and later, was concerned with tracing the roots of the nation state in biblical antiquity. This has been reinforced since the founding of the modern state of Israel by an Israeli scholarship which has been in search of its own roots in ancient Israel, as the Masada project illustrates. This search for ancient Israel has dominated the agenda of historical and archaeological scholarship, effectively silencing any attempt to provide a history of the region in general. The important work of Finkelstein (1988), on what he terms 'Israelite Settlement', provides a further illustration of the point. His archaeological investigations and surveys have been concentrated upon the central hill country of Palestine in order to delineate the nature of 'Israelite settlement' during the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition. It is, in essence, however unwittingly, the search for a national identity which, like other nationalist archaeologies, helps to 'bolster the pride and morale of nations or ethnic groups' (Trigger 1984: 360). The original work was particularly restrictive in the area of its investigation: Finkelstein (1988: 22-3) argued that the 'large Canaanite mounds' were of little value in understanding the processes at work in 'Israelite Settlement'. [9] The search for ancient Israel is concentrated upon the disputed West Bank, 'Judaea-Samaria' of many modern Israelis. The lowlands, understood to be Canaan, are of little interest in this quest for ancient Israel. Once again, the concern with 'ancient Israel' overshadows questions about the wider history of ancient Palestine to such an extent that the broader reality is silenced or at most merely subsidiary to the search for the national entity 'Israel' in the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition.

Most modern nation states have invested considerable resources in the pursuit of the past: official versions of a nation's past confirm important aspects of national identity while denying a voice to alternative claims. Israel, like other modern nation states, has invested tremendous financial and scholarly resources in the search for its own past. However, it is important to bear in mind that research on the history of Israel has been shaped in the context of the formation and consolidation of the European nation state and its transference to the Middle East, particularly with the creation of the modern state of Israel and the spread of competing nationalisms throughout the region. [10] The silence on such matters in the introductions to our standard presentations of the history of Israel provides ample testimony to the nature of our partial texts. There is little or no acknowledgement of this context except for the interesting observation in the opening to Noth's The History of Israel that:

It is true, of course, that from the womb of 'Judaism' there has emerged in most recent times a new historical entity named 'Israel' which has sought its homeland again in the ancient land of Israel under the auspices of the Zionist movement and has established a new State of 'Israel'. In spite of the historical connections which undoubtedly exist, this new 'Israel' is separated from the Israel of old not only by the long period of almost 2000 years but also by a long history full of vicissitudes and it has come into being in the midst of entirely different historical conditions. It would therefore be improper to extend our historical enquiry from the end of the 'Israel' of old to the 'Israel' of the present day.

-- Noth 1960: 7; emphasis added

Noth sees a continuum between the past and the present which links the modern state of Israel to his investigation of ancient Israelite history. [11] Although he claims that it is improper to extend his discussion to the present, he fails to acknowledge that it is the very existence of the nation state in the present that shapes so much of what passes for historical research in this field. It is the domain assumption of a direct connection between ancient Israel and the modern state -- encapsulated in his belief of a return to its 'homeland' in the 'ancient land of Israel' -- that predetermines the search. The choice of the term 'homeland' is not insignificant in the context of the promise contained within the Balfour Declaration of 'a natural home for the Jewish people' in Palestine. It is also the overwhelming concern of this quest for ancient Israel', as the roots and legitimation of the present state, that dominates all historical discussions and silences the search for a general history of the region.

Historicism, which I have so far characterized only in a rather abstract way, can be well illustrated by one of the simplest and oldest of its forms, the doctrine of the chosen people. This doctrine is one of the attempts to make history understandable by a theistic interpretation, i.e. by recognizing God as the author of the play performed on the Historical Stage. The theory of the chosen people, more specifically, assumes that God has chosen one people to function as the selected instrument of His will, and that this people will inherit the earth.

In this doctrine, the law of historical development is laid down by the Will of God. This is the specific difference which distinguishes the theistic form from other forms of historicism. A naturalistic historicism, for instance, might treat the developmental law as a law of nature; a spiritual historicism would treat it as a law of spiritual development; an economic historicism, again, as a law of economic development. Theistic historicism shares with these other forms the doctrine that there are specific historical laws which can be discovered, and upon which predictions regarding the future of mankind can be based.

There is no doubt that the doctrine of the chosen people grew out of the tribal form of social life. Tribalism, i.e. the emphasis on the supreme importance of the tribe without which the individual is nothing at all, is an element which we shall find in many forms of historicist theories. Other forms which are no longer tribalist may still retain an element of collectivism [1]; they may still emphasize the significance of some group or collective — for example, a class — without which the individual is nothing at all. Another aspect of the doctrine of the chosen people is the remoteness of what it proffers as the end of history. For although it may describe this end with some degree of definiteness, we have to go a long way before we reach it. And the way is not only long, but winding, leading up and down, right and left. Accordingly, it will be possible to bring every conceivable historical event well within the scheme of the interpretation. No conceivable experience can refute it. [2] But to those who believe in it, it gives certainty regarding the ultimate outcome of human history.

A criticism of the theistic interpretation of history will be attempted in the last chapter of this book, where it will also be shown that some of the greatest Christian thinkers have repudiated this theory as idolatry. An attack upon this form of historicism should therefore not be interpreted as an attack upon religion. In the present chapter, the doctrine of the chosen people serves only as an illustration. Its value as such can be seen from the fact that its chief characteristics [3] are shared by the two most important modern versions of historicism, whose analysis will form the major part of this book — the historical philosophy of racialism or fascism on the one (the right) hand and the Marxian historical philosophy on the other (the left). For the chosen people racialism substitutes the chosen race (of Gobineau's choice), selected as the instrument of destiny, ultimately to inherit the earth. Marx's historical philosophy substitutes for it the chosen class, the instrument for the creation of the classless society, and at the same time, the class destined to inherit the earth. Both theories base their historical forecasts on an interpretation of history which leads to the discovery of a law of its development. In the case of racialism, this is thought of as a kind of natural law; the biological superiority of the blood of the chosen race explains the course of history, past, present, and future; it is nothing but the struggle of races for mastery. In the case of Marx's philosophy of history, the law is economic; all history has to be interpreted as a struggle of classes for economic supremacy. The historicist character of these two movements makes our investigation topical. We shall return to them in later parts of this book. Each of them goes back directly to the philosophy of Hegel.


The humanitarian theory of justice makes three main demands or proposals, namely (a) the equalitarian principle proper, i.e. the proposal to eliminate 'natural' privileges, (b) the general principle of individualism, and (c) the principle that it should be the task and the purpose of the state to protect the freedom of its citizens. To each of these political demands or proposals there corresponds a directly opposite principle of Platonism, namely (a[1]) the principle of natural privilege, (4[1]) the general principle of holism or collectivism, and (c[1]) the principle that it should be the task and the purpose of the individual to maintain, and to strengthen, the stability of the state....

Equalitarianism proper is the demand that the citizens of the state should be treated impartially. It is the demand that birth, family connection, or wealth must not influence those who administer the law to the citizens. In other words, it does not recognize any 'natural' privileges, although certain privileges may be conferred by the citizens upon those they trust. This equalitarian principle had been admirably formulated by Pericles a few years before Plato's birth, in an oration which has been preserved by Thucydides [16]. It will be quoted more fully in chapter 10, but two of its sentences may be given here: 'Our laws', said Pericles, 'afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward for merit; and poverty is not a bar ...' These sentences express some of the fundamental aims of the great equalitarian movement which, as we have seen, did not even shrink from attacking slavery. In Pericles' own generation, this movement was represented by Euripides, Antiphon, and Hippias, who have all been quoted in the last chapter, and also by Herodotus [17]. In Plato's generation, it was represented by Alcidamas and Lycophron, both quoted above; another supporter was Antisthenes, who had been one of Socrates' closest friends.

Plato's principle of justice was, of course, diametrically opposed to all this. He demanded natural privileges for the natural leaders. But how did he contest the equalitarian principle? And how did he establish his own demands?

It will be remembered from the last chapter that some of the best-known formulations of the equalitarian demands were couched in the impressive but questionable language of 'natural rights', and that some of their representatives argued in favour of these demands by pointing out the 'natural', i.e. biological, equality of men. We have seen that the argument is irrelevant; that men are equal in some important respects, and unequal in others; and that normative demands cannot be derived from this fact, or from any other fact. It is therefore interesting to note that the naturalist argument was not used by all equalitarians, and that Pericles, for one, did not even allude to it [18].

Plato quickly found that naturalism was a weak spot within the equalitarian doctrine, and he took the fullest advantage of this weakness. To tell men that they are equal has a certain sentimental appeal. But this appeal is small compared with that made by a propaganda that tells them that they are superior to others, and that others are inferior to them. Are you naturally equal to your servants, to your slaves, to the manual worker who is no better than an animal? The very question is ridiculous! Plato seems to have been the first to appreciate the possibilities of this reaction, and to oppose contempt, scorn, and ridicule to the claim to natural equality. This explains why he was anxious to impute the naturalistic argument even to those of his opponents who did not use it; in the Menexenus, a parody of Pericles' oration, he therefore insists on linking together the claims to equal laws and to natural equality: 'The basis of our constitution is equality of birth', he says ironically. 'We are all brethren, and are all children of one mother; ... and the natural equality of birth induces us to strive for equality before the law.' [19]

Later, in the Laws, Plato summarizes his reply to equalitarianism in the formula: 'Equal treatment of unequals must beget inequity' [20]; and this was developed by Aristotle into the formula 'Equality for equals, inequality for unequals'. This formula indicates what may be termed the standard objection to equalitarianism; the objection that equality would be excellent if only men were equal, but that it is manifestly impossible since they are not equal, and since they cannot be made equal. This apparently very realistic objection is, in fact, most unrealistic, for political privileges have never been founded upon natural differences of character. And, indeed, Plato does not seem to have had much confidence in this objection when writing the Republic, for it is used there only in one of his sneers at democracy when he says that it 'distributes equality to equals and unequals alike.' [21] Apart from this remark, he prefers not to argue against equalitarianism, but to forget it.


Aristotle's teleology, i.e. his stress upon the end or aim of change as its final cause, is an expression of his predominantly biological interests. It is influenced by Plato's biological theories [13], and also by Plato's extension of his theory of justice to the universe. For Plato did not confine himself to teaching that each of the different classes of citizens has its natural place in society, a place to which it belongs and for which it is naturally fitted; he also tried to interpret the world of physical bodies and their different classes or kinds on similar principles. He tried to explain the weight of heavy bodies, like stones, or earth, and their tendency to fall, as well as the tendency of air and fire to rise, by the assumption that they strive to retain, or to regain, the place inhabited by their kind. Stones and earth fall because they strive to be where most stones and earth are, and where they belong, in the just order of nature; air and fire rise because they strive to be where air and fire (the heavenly bodies) are, and where they belong, in the just order of nature [14]. This theory of motion appealed to the zoologist Aristotle; it combines easily with the theory of final causes, and it allows an explanation of all motion as being analogous with the canter of horses keen to return to their stables. He developed it as his famous theory of natural places. Everything if removed from its own natural place has a natural tendency to return to it.


Nationalism appeals to our tribal instincts, to passion and to prejudice, and to our nostalgic desire to be relieved from the strain of individual responsibility which it attempts to replace by a collective or group responsibility. It is in keeping with these tendencies that we find that the oldest works on political theory, even that of the Old Oligarch, but more markedly those of Plato and of Aristotle, express decidedly nationalist views; for these works were written in an attempt to combat the open society and the new ideas of imperialism, cosmopolitanism, and equalitarianism [51] . But this early development of a nationalist political theory stops short with Aristotle. With Alexander's empire, genuine tribal nationalism disappears for ever from political practice, and for a long time from political theory. From Alexander onward, all the civilized states of Europe and Asia were empires, embracing populations of infinitely mixed origin. European civilization and all the political units belonging to it have remained international or, more precisely, inter-tribal ever since.... And what holds good of political practice holds good of political theory; until about a hundred years ago, the Platonic-Aristotelian nationalism had practically disappeared from political doctrines. (Of course, tribal and parochial feelings were always strong.) When nationalism was revived a hundred years ago, it was in one of the most mixed of all the thoroughly mixed regions of Europe, in Germany, and especially in Prussia with its largely Slav population....

Thus it is only a short time since the principle of the national state was reintroduced into political theory. In spite of this fact, it is so widely accepted in our day that it is usually taken for granted, and very often unconsciously so. It now forms, as it were, an implicit assumption of popular political thought. It is even considered by many to be the basic postulate of political ethics, especially since Wilson's well-meant but less well-considered principle of national self-determination. How anybody who had the slightest knowledge of European history, of the shifting and mixing of all kinds of tribes, of the countless waves of peoples who had come forth from their original Asian habitat and split up and mingled when reaching the maze of peninsulas called the European continent, how anybody who knew this could ever have put forward such an inapplicable principle, is hard to understand. The explanation is that Wilson, who was a sincere democrat ... fell a victim to a movement that sprang from the most reactionary and servile political philosophy that had ever been imposed upon meek and long-suffering mankind. He fell a victim to his upbringing in the metaphysical political theories of Plato and of Hegel, and to the nationalist movement based upon them.

The principle of the national state, that is to say, the political demand that the territory of every state should coincide with the territory inhabited by one nation, is by no means so self-evident as it seems to appear to many people to-day. Even if anyone knew what he meant when he spoke of nationality, it would be not at all clear why nationality should be accepted as a fundamental political category, more important for instance than religion, or birth within a certain geographical region, or loyalty to a dynasty, or a political creed like democracy (which forms, one might say, the uniting factor of multi-lingual Switzerland). But while religion, territory, or a political creed can be more or less clearly determined, nobody has ever been able to explain what he means by a nation, in a way that could be used as a basis for practical politics. (Of course, if we say that a nation is a number of people who live or have been born in a certain state, then everything is clear; but this would mean giving up the principle of the national state which demands that the state should be determined by the nation, and not the other way round.) None of the theories which maintain that a nation is united by a common origin, or a common language, or a common history, is acceptable, or applicable in practice. The principle of the national state is not only inapplicable but it has never been clearly conceived. It is a myth. It is an irrational, a romantic and Utopian dream, a dream of naturalism and of tribal collectivism.

In spite of its inherent reactionary and irrational tendencies, modern nationalism, strangely enough, was in its short history before Hegel a revolutionary and liberal creed. By something like an historical accident — the invasion of German lands by the first national army, the French army under Napoleon, and the reaction caused by this event — it had made its way into the camp of freedom.

-- The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Nationalism, having emerged in the eighteenth century, has triumphed as the dominant political force in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Taylor 1985: 125). The nation state, with its great statesmen, civil service, state archives, and educational system, has cast a shadow over modern biblical studies from its inception. The very conception of history, derived from von Ranke, which has underpinned modern biblical historiography, has its origins in the context of Bismarck's struggle for German unity. The search for the origins and consolidation of the nation state, including the actions of great statesmen, has been of central concern from the nineteenth century through the works of Alt, Albright, Noth, and Bright to the present day. Said (1993: 50-1) argues for a similar influence on Enlightenment concepts of history as distinct from the natural sciences:

It is not a vulgarization of history to remark that a major reason why such a view of human culture became current in Europe and America in several different forms during the two centuries between 1745 and 1945 was the striking rise of nationalism during the same period. The interrelationships between scholarship (or literature, for that matter) and the institutions of nationalism have not been as seriously studied as they should, but it is nevertheless evident that when most European thinkers celebrated humanity or culture they were principally celebrating ideas and values they ascribed to their own national culture, or to Europe as distinct from the Orient, Africa, and even the Americas.

-- Said 1993: 51

He goes on to argue that disciplines such as the classics, historiography, anthropology, and sociology, like Orientalism, were Eurocentric and that as national and international competition increased between the European powers in the nineteenth century so <too did the level of intensity in competition between one national scholarly interpretative tradition and another'. [12]

The seminal work by Sasson (1981) illustrates how American and German biblical scholarship has been influenced by the political context in which it was conceived, imposing very strong models on the past:

Because biblical scholarship is pursued internationally, the models dominant in reconstructing the formative periods of Israel's history differ markedly. This is the case as much because they were originally designed to explain radically contrasting conditions which obtained in western nations during the 19th and 20th century as because these models themselves were based on competing and diverse elaborations.

-- Sasson 1981: 8 [13]

He goes on to add that the model of a national history of ancient Israel was based upon similar attempts for ancient Greece and Rome. This study of antiquity 'took on a self-authenticating momentum' (1981: 4). Frick (1985: 26-8) also highlights the importance of this context for understanding many of the concerns of modern biblical scholarship: almost all the sources in the biblical narratives bear the mark of the state and were written under state sponsorship. Furthermore, most twentieth-century biblical scholars come from the developed states of Western Europe, Israel, or North America, and so consciously or unconsciously give the state pre-eminence. This is an area of research, identified more than a decade ago by Sasson, which has not received the attention that it deserves. Fortunately the recent dissertation by Kray (1991) has provided invaluable information on the context of German biblical scholarship from Wellhausen to von Rad during the formative century from 1870 to 1971. The historical context of the work of Wellhausen is more than symbolic: Smend (1982: 8) points out that 'his active career, begun with doctoral graduation in 1870, spanned almost precisely the period of the German state founded by Bismark; he died on 7 January 1918, the year in which the state foundered'. The way in which the state was viewed in nineteenth-century German historiography has informed the study of the ancient Israelite state and its formation through to the present day. The belief that the nation state was the greatest manifestation of advanced culture has been reinforced in the perception of the development of the modern state of Israel. These factors have combined in intricate ways to shape and dominate the study of ancient Israelite history, producing a model that has denied validity to any other attempts to understand or produce a history of ancient Palestine.

The dominant model for the presentation of Israelite history has been, and continues to be, that of a unified national entity in search of national territory struggling to maintain its national identity and land through the crises of history. It is a concept of the past which mirrors the presentation of the present. Zionism, with its roots in nineteenth-century European nationalist movements, has invariably presented its 'historic mission' in terms of a return to an empty, desert wasteland awaiting European technology in order to make it habitable and prosperous. As Shohat (1992: 124) notes, the modern state has been continually portrayed as an integral part of the 'civilized world' and 'the only democracy in the Middle East'. The way in which the model of the European nation state has dominated historical and archaeological research can be seen in some of the most important studies in recent years. As has been mentioned, Finkelstein's study (1988) of 'Israelite Settlement' is an interpretation of archaeological data from the Late Bronze to early Iron Ages which assumes the unity and identity of Israel, in effect an incipient nation state, in the Palestinian highlands. The notions of ethnicity and nationality continue to be extremely influential within biblical studies and have shaped many of our standard textbooks on the history of ancient Israel.

Thus the development and concerns of biblical studies, particularly in terms of its historical investigations, need to be understood within the larger political and cultural context. The discourse of biblical studies needs to be set within the wider discussion of Orientalist discourse. Said (1993) has exposed the interconnections between culture and imperialism in the West. What he has to say about great literature is equally applicable to the role and position of historical narrative:

A great deal of recent criticism has concentrated on narrative fiction, yet very little attention has been paid to its position in the history and world of empire. Readers of this book will quickly discover that narrative is crucial to my argument here, my basic point being that stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and the existence of their own history. The main battle in imperialism is over land, of course; but when it came to who owned the land, who had the right to settle and work on it, who kept it going, who won it back, and who now plans its future -- these issues were reflected, contested, and even for a time decided in narrative. As one critic has suggested, nations themselves are narrations. The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them.

-- Said 1993: xiii

This echoes Homi Bhabha's (1990: 1) assertion that 'nations, like narratives, lose their origins in the myths of time and only fully realize their horizons in the mind's eye'. Both draw upon Benedict Anderson's (1991: 6) definition of the nation as 'an imagined political community'. It is not just that the modern nation is an imagined community. This imagination has been projected back into the past to provide the legitimation and justification of the present. [14] It has led to the construction of an imagined past which has monopolized the discourse of biblical studies, an imagined past which has come to dominate and deny Palestinian history. The history of the vast majority of the population of the region has not been told because it did not fit the concerns and interests of Western-inspired scholarship. [15]

It is not easy to make these connections between biblical scholarship and the political context in which it is conducted and by which it is inevitably shaped. For the most part, they are implicit rather than explicit. The connections will be denied by many, decrying any such analysis as politically motivated, as part of the modern fad of deconstruction and revisionism in history, or as an outrageous attack upon the objectivity of biblical scholarship. Biblical studies has remained aloof, a kind of academic ghetto, from many of the contemporary movements which have swept through academia questioning and undermining its claim to disinterested objectivity. The study of the social and political context in which it has been undertaken, which inevitably compromises its critical distance, is in its infancy. The gradual exposure of the interrelationship of the discipline of biblical studies with politics will provide a better understanding of the forces which have helped to shape the imagination of a past that has monopolized the history of the region.
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Re: The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palest

Postby admin » Wed Nov 21, 2018 12:57 am

Part 2 of 2

The examples cited above provide ample evidence of the construction of the past as a political act and that the construction of Israel's past in particular carries important political consequences which cannot be ignored. Eden alerts us to this crucial matrix of politics, religion, ideology, and society in understanding modern scholarship. But equally we only have a partial text if we ignore this matrix when trying to understand ancient representations of Israel's past. It is at this point that the unspoken or unacknowledged political and religious attitudes of modern scholarship conspire to obscure the ancient politics of the past. We need to explore why this is the case and what the consequences of making this process explicit might be. [16]


The picture of Israel's past as presented in much of the Hebrew Bible is a fiction, a fabrication like most pictures of the past constructed by ancient (and, we might add, modern) societies. [17] The oft-cited dictum that any construction of the past is informed by the present is as applicable to representations of the past which have come down to us from antiquity as it is to the works of modern historians. [18] A primary question which has to be borne in mind is, 'What function does this particular representation of the past fulfil and what other possible representations of the past is it denying?'

The politics of history in the presentation of Israel's past has not been a major issue because most biblical scholars have agreed on the basic parameters of the enterprise, traditionally investing a great deal of faith and trust in the historicity of biblical sources along with a trust in the objectivity of the modern scholar. [19] Although there has been a very significant shift in perceptions in the last decade concerning the problems of constructing Israelite history, the dominant view remains that the biblical traditions provide the basis, the primary source, for the historian of Israel. Whatever the gains and insights of those who study the artful construction of biblical narratives, von Rad's pronouncement that the 'Old Testament is a history book' remains a basic instinct of many in the discipline who research the history of Israel or teach various courses in our faculties of Theology and Divinity, theological colleges, seminaries, or even departments of Religious Studies. This has been coupled with a model of historical research which further reinforces the conviction that we are dealing with trustworthy transmitters of tradition and that modern scholars are heirs to this important thread of objectivity. The forensic model of historical research provides the forum in which ancient and modern approaches intersect to reassure the reader that the account of Israel's past is objective and trustworthy.

Halpern's study (1988) offers an interesting case as the most explicit attempt to address this key issue of objectivity and trustworthiness in the biblical traditions. In an attempt to defend ancient Israelite historians against their modern critics whom he sees as presenting these ancient scribes as being 'illogical, dull, or dishonest' (1988: xvii), he chooses as a guiding principle the view that some of the biblical authors 'wrote works recognizably historical -- had authentic antiquarian intentions. They meant to furnish fair and accurate representations of Israelite antiquity' (1988: 3). [20] Narrative economy of an account he takes to be one of the pointers which indicates that we are dealing with historiography rather than fiction. In order to counter the inevitable criticism that narrative economy can hardly be an adequate criterion for such a judgement, he adds that in itself it is not sufficient: the historiographic intention of the author is revealed through a comparison of the account with its sources (1988: 61). Unfortunately, as he recognizes, the sources are no longer extant so he has to resort to 'the probable nature of the sources'. A detailed study of the Ehud narrative (Judges 3) is used to illustrate how the historian working with the story made 'painstaking' (his word) use of other sources such as the layout of the palace, as known to Israelite audiences, the stations of the courtiers, or the topography of the Jordan Valley. He acknowledges that this reliance on sources does not certify that the account is accurate but none the less it means that 'the historian grounds his reconstruction as far as possible in the reality of Israelite life. His interest lies in recreating events experienced by real people in real time. The Ehud narrative, so bare, so terse, is as close as the ancient world comes to modern historical narrative. What must one add or subtract to convert it into history? hardly a word' (1988: 67). It is not clear what he means by history or how far he believes it corresponds to some objective reality in the past or is history in the sense that the author believed it to have taken place. He continues the discussion with a detailed study of the Deborah narrative, in which he discovers clear evidence in Judges 4 and 5 of a historian working with a written source. He is able to conclude (1988: 82) that 'virtually no detail in Judges 4 is without an identifiable source; nearly all of them come from the poem, and from the historian's reconstruction of the event, based on a painstaking analysis of the poem. This case offers an exceptional opportunity to dissect the construction of a Biblical historical account.' A further guiding principle of Halpern's is that 'historical knowledge is based upon evidence in just the way that deliberations of the jury are' (1988: 13).

This forensic model of historiography is widespread and probably the dominant view of the way in which historians work. [21] It underlies the methodological introduction to Ramsey's (1982: 3-23) review of scholarly constructions of Israelite history in which he equates the work of the lawyer and the historian. Fogel illustrates how The Harvard Guide to American History provides a classic account of this type of methodology in which the assessment of 'witnesses' is an essential element:

Like treason in the Constitution, a historical fact ideally should rest 'on the testimony of two witnesses to some overt act, or confession in open court'.

-- cited by Fogel 1983: 14

Or again:

A judge and jury, indeed, would go mad if they had to decide cases on evidence which will often seem more than satisfactory to the historian. But there is no escape; the historian, if he is to interpret at all, will try and convict on evidence which a court would throw out as circumstantial or hearsay. The victims of the historical process have to seek their compensation in the fact that history provides them with a far more flexible appellate procedure. The historian's sentences are in a continuous condition of review; few of his verdicts are ever final.

-- cited by Fogel 1983: 14-15

Notice throughout the language of the law court: judge, jury, evidence, testimony, witnesses, confession, compensation, and so on. The emphasis is upon justice and impartiality so that the reader is continually reassured that their trust can be placed in the historian and his or her account of the past. No mention is made of the politics of history, of past or present accounts, because this process is designed to sift out the truth by cross-examination of the various witnesses. Questions about the political and social context of our histories or their sources become unnecessary within such a model because it confirms the impartiality of the modern historian and emphasizes that their ancient counterparts are trustworthy transmitters of tradition because untrustworthy witnesses are identified and their testimony is counted out of court. [22] Yet recent celebrated cases in English courts ought to give pause for thought before we accept wholeheartedly the impartiality of the process being described. The discourse of biblical studies cloaks the cultural and political factors which shape it by divorcing the production of knowledge from the context in which it is produced.

Halpern presents us with Israelite historians who differ little in their working attitudes or practices from the way in which their modern counterparts are thought to prosecute their profession. Ancient Israelite historians are commonly constructed in the image of their modern counterparts, in the image of civil servants and state archivists of our modern nation states, but in such a way that we are led to believe that the initial impulse stems from the genius of ancient Israel so that modern Western biblical historians become their direct descendants. [23] Halpern might be correct in his assumption that modern historians and their Israelite counterparts are not far removed in the ways in which they go about their tasks, but not because they work in terms of this forensic model. Rather, it is the politics of history that draws them together, because their representations are invariably in terms of their own present and are in competition with other possible representations of the past. Thucydides and Herodotus are often held aloft as the founders of modern historiography: their basic methodology has only had to be refined and honed by modern historians. Yet Momigliano (1990: 41-4) points out that the past for Thucydides was of little interest in itself, its significance lay in the fact that it was the prelude to the present. The forensic model is concerned first and foremost with the problem of whether or not any particular account of the past is trustworthy. In order to answer such a question we need to know how and why the past was produced in ancient societies. Does the picture presented by Halpern represent a realistic account of how the past was produced in Israel or the ancient world? What was the social location of Israelite historians or producers of the past? When did they work? How? Where? Where were their sources? What was the audience? How were their presentations of the past delivered? Were they in oral or written form -- or a written form which was read aloud? What effects do the levels of literacy in Palestine -- whether universal or functional literacy, or a literacy of the elite -- have upon our understanding of the production of this past? [24]

There are further major obstacles imposed by our contemporary context which have hindered the investigation of the politics of history in the production of the Israelite past. One of these is the current and, some would argue, dominant mode of viewing the past as something alien, something to be transcended or to be thrown off (cf. Paterson 1991: 3-4). Here we might point to Bellah's (1976) well-known analysis of the 'crisis of modernity': a growing dissatisfaction in Western society with Enlightenment rationalism, a decline in traditional church structures, and a growth in New Religious Movements (NRMs). Western societies have experienced over the past thirty to forty years what has been termed the 'privatization' of religion: one of the major features of the decline in traditional church structures and the growth of NRMs has been an emphasis upon the personal and individual. The context in which our most recent histories of Israel have been shaped and read in the West is one in which the individual has triumphed. It is a context which articulates well with and encourages the common view of history as the acts of great men, unique individuals, or the realm of discrete and unique events. In such a context, the individual is attested as autonomous and self-made rather than the product of some determinative historical process (see Paterson 1991: 3-4). The triumph of the individual is represented by Margaret Thatcher's celebrated statement that 'there is no such thing as society only individuals'. [25]

The problem of understanding the production and use of the past in antiquity has been compounded further by what John McPhee termed the discovery of 'deep time'. [26] The works of James Hutton, Charles Lyell, and Charles Darwin, among others, have left a legacy of the concept of time in geological terms which is so immense as to be almost incomprehensible and, for many, threatening. The discovery of 'deep time' has led to an emphasis upon chronology and time's arrow, a notion which has often implied progress within history and which articulates well with Christian teleologies. It allows for little appreciation of the importance of time's cycle in traditional conceptions of the past which are usually relegated to the 'prehistoric' or the 'mythic'. For many in the late twentieth century the past is, to use the title of Lowenthal's (1985) well-known work, 'a foreign country', remote and removed from contemporary experience. In order to make the past understandable or manageable it is necessary, under the forensic model, to separate the historian from his or her work, the producer from the product, and through the elimination of subjectivity produce an authentic, trustworthy, and verifiable account of the past in terms of time's arrow neatly categorized in terms of chronology and periodization. It is just such a 'master story' which has been produced by nineteenth- and twentieth-century biblical studies, in which only the details and recently the starting point have been at issue, but it is a 'master story' which is clearly informed and shaped by the political context in which it arose. It is also a 'master story' that creates ancient Israel in its own image, the image of Western nation states, and at the same time silences other possible accounts of ancient Palestine's past. The seeming objectivity of these accounts masks the political subjectivity of biblical accounts and, in effect, takes their side in silencing competing pasts.

The past in many so-called 'traditional' societies is not demarcated in such clear terms as separate or different from the present. It is dynamic and immediate in the ways in which it addresses the concerns of the present. In Polynesian history, for instance, 'the past and the present are not so much sequential chapters in a linear plot, as they are organically linked aspects of a continuum' (Berofsky 1987: 128). [27] As is well known, genealogies are constantly revised in many societies to reflect a political and social reality of the present rather than lineage or blood-relations of the past. In the same way, other accounts of the past are remade. The historian, whether literate or oral, is set in a particular social context at a particular moment in time: the account is produced under 'specific social and economic conditions by authors whose attitudes to a perceived potential audience would have affected the way they presented the material' (Tonkin 1992: 38). [28] Yet this is as true for modern societies as it is for ancient, so-called 'traditional' societies.

The way in which differences in the representation of the past between ancient and modern societies are presented is usually in terms of the dichotomy between 'myth' and 'history'. Yet this is a false dichotomy which helps to reinforce the reader's trust in the objective presentation of the modern historian as compared with the subjectivity of myth. [29] We might ask 'Where does myth end and history begin?' In terms of the Hebrew Bible, as is often pointed out, there is no apparent differentiation between Genesis 1-11 and what follows, either to the end of the book or through to the end of 2 Kings. Thus Hughes (1990: 96) concludes in his recent study of biblical chronology that the chronology of Judges and Samuel is a purely fictitious Exilic creation to provide a 1000-year scheme covering Israel's existence in Canaan. As such, it cannot be used to provide a chronology for the history of Israel.

Myth, no less than history, is a perception of the past which is intimately linked to the context in which it is constructed and delivered, and is designed to foster a particular ideology. Samuel and Thompson (1990: 20) argue that 'traditions are as likely to be recycled in transformed contexts as to be invented'. [30] Recent approaches to the way in which tradition is invented or recycled have undermined the fundamental assumption within biblical studies that such traditions, despite a significant temporal separation from the events they describe, necessarily preserve some kind of historical kernel or historical memory which can be extracted from the narrative to provide raw data for the modern historian. These accounts of the past, whether they are termed myth or history, are not the product of collective memory but rather the product of particular groups in society, a point van Seters (1975; 1992: 34) has been keen to emphasize in contrast to standard perceptions of the development of the biblical traditions. What are termed historical memories probably only represent those perceptions of the past which are important for individuals or groups who share a similar social status or background (see Tonkin 1992: 131-2). They have a vital role to play in shaping identity and in denying competing claims to the past. For example, the epic poems 'The Brus' and 'The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace', from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries respectively, were composed, the latter under royal patronage, at a time when Robert the Bruce and Sir William Wallace were important symbols of national identity. The desire, among the upper classes, to create a 'British identity' in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries meant that these anti-English poems and figures were conveniently forgotten (Ash 1990). It is an account of the past which has been revived with the rise of modern nationalism, providing an alternative account to 'official' versions of Scotland's history.

Accounts of the past, then, are in competition, explicitly or implicitly. They are written or heard at a particular moment in time, addressed to a known audience which has certain expectations (of which we may be ignorant), and designed to persuade. This last point is important since Tonkin (1992) demonstrates that oral accounts, no less than written ones, are carefully structured and have their own poetics that need to be studied and understood. Recent literary studies have alerted us to the fact that it is no longer possible simply to scan narratives for the few useful facts which provide the basis for an expanded modern account while discarding the rest of the narrative as secondary or unimportant. 'Any such facts are so embedded in the representation that it directs an interpretation of them' (Tonkin 1992: 6). Rather than presenting evidence for some past reality, they offer, like many such accounts from modern and traditional societies, evidence for the politics of the present. The thorny question remains in each case: whose present? [31]

Standard approaches to the book of Judges provide a brief, but useful, illustration of the problems outlined above whereby the construction of Israelite history has been conducted from a contemporary Western perspective. Bright's (1972: 169) approach to the text provides a convenient benchmark of earlier scholarship. He was of the opinion that the book of Judges was the sole source for Israel's earliest phases in Palestine. While noting that the series of 'self-contained episodes' did not allow a continuous history of the period to be written, he none the less followed the broad outline of the book in presenting a period of intermittent conflict, peaceful interludes, and internal and external crises. Most noticeably it provided authentic evidence, in his view, for a covenant league held together by the spiritual power of its religion. The notion of the nation state, or in this case an incipient nation state, provides the controlling assumption which surmounts any obstacles or professed reservations with the text.

When we turn to Miller and Hayes (1986), by way of comparison, as the high point of modern biblical histories, we find that Bright's initial reservations have been taken further. Once again the book of Judges is declared to be 'the only direct source of information for this period of Israelite and Judaean history'. It cannot be used for historical construction because the editorial framework is 'artificial and unconvincing' and the 'matters of detail in the individual stories ... strain credulity' (1986: 87). However, the accounts of the various 'judges' when stripped of these miraculous elements provide the basis for their description of the pre-monarchic period. In order to achieve this, Miller and Hayes make a move which seeks to retrieve the text or at least what they call the 'component narratives' which have a 'more authentic ring' than the framework (1986: 90). The narratives may not provide a 'basis for a detailed historical sequence of people and events' (1986: 91) but 'they probably do offer a reasonably accurate impression of the general, sociological, political, and religious circumstances that existed among early Israelite tribes' (1986: 91). Miller and Hayes are not unique in this view since it is shared with the vast majority of historians and commentators, including in particular proponents of the so-called 'sociological approach'. [32] The discussion then concentrates on the nature of extended families, clans, tribes, tribal structure, and segmentary society as the constituent parts of pre-monarchic Israel. Yet such an approach is only a slight variation on the earlier argument of Bright (1972: 76) that the Patriarchal narratives provide authentic historical data because they 'fit unquestionably and authentically in the milieu of the second millennium, and not in that of any later period'. Just as this argument for understanding the Genesis material has been progressively abandoned under sustained critique by Thompson (1974), van Seters (1975), and others, so it is the case that such an approach to the Judges material suffers from the very same weaknesses.

The type of information concerning social structures which is salvaged from the text is hardly a pointer to the authenticity of the narrative for the pre-state period. The narrative does not 'fit unquestionably and authentically', to borrow Bright's phrase, into the twelfth or eleventh centuries and nowhere else. Palestine has been a primarily agrarian society with an important pastoral element from at least the Bronze Age to the present century. The component elements of such a society as identified from the text of Judges could fit easily into any period of this vast temporal span. The attempt to salvage the text of Judges for historical reconstruction, either as the guardian of a historical kernel or as the repository of information on the social organization of Israel in the pre-state period, needs to be understood in the context of the search for the nation state and its origins. In fact, the triumph of the European nation state is complete to such an extent that its antecedents are retrojected back into the period prior to the formation of an Israelite state.

The extended scholarly discussion of the redactional history of the book of Judges is well known from Noth's (1981; German original 1943) original analysis half a century ago through its various revisions by Smend (1971), Dietrich (1972), Cross (1973), Nelson (1981), and Mayes (1983), among many others. It is not the details of these analyses which are of immediate concern but the common thread which appears to run through them: it is the image of the historian or redactor working carefully with various sources. Noth's Deuteronomistic Historian is conceived of in terms of the state archivist sorting, arranging, and interpreting extant written material, which he used with the greatest of care (1981: 77). For Noth, the Deuteronomistic History is no fabrication but is an objective presentation of Israel's history based upon authentic sources. It is this objective historian which Halpern is determined to defend against all detractors: a scribe painstakingly comparing and arranging source materials while his modern counterparts work equally carefully to expose these same sources so that they might form the basis of a modern objective history of Israel.

One of the ironies of the ways in which the book of Judges has been used for historical reconstruction is that modern historians have been forced to impose a concept of time's arrow on the text when all commentators accept that the specific structure of the work as a whole is imbued with time's cycle. For the modern historian the use of the text for historical reconstruction requires a denial or, at best, a disregard for the very structure of the work which does so much to frame and convey its sense or understanding of the past. The cyclical view of history is not one which most modern historians are happy with or would accept. Linear time is the essence of history or, as some would put it, 'chronology is the backbone of history', Yet it is precisely the aesthetic and rhetorical devices which are integral to the work as a whole and to its presentation of the past which recent literary approaches have done much to expose. Webb (1987: 177), in particular, has argued for an understanding of the unity of the book based upon a 'dense network of interlocking motifs' which cut across traditional materials and editorial framework alike. The book of Judges as a unity offers a tantalizing glimpse of one way in which the past was claimed and reshaped.


The recognition that we are constantly working with partial texts, ancient and modern, and an acceptance that it is important to understand the politics of our ancient and modern accounts of the past have important implications for the directions of historical research. The realization that accounts of the past are invariably the products of a small elite and are in competition with other possible accounts, of which we may have no evidence, ought to lead to greater caution in the use of such accounts to construct Israelite history. Their value for the historian lies in what they reveal of the ideological concerns of their authors, if, and only if, they can be located in time and place. The historian has to work with partial texts, trying to expose the questions which lie behind the text and which have been vital in claiming and shaping the past. The increasing move away from a concern with biblical texts as the repositories of transparent historical data, whether it is the emergence of Israel or the historical David, Josiah, Jeremiah, or Nehemiah, has obvious repercussions for standard approaches to the history of Israel. To continue with this venture, as more and more texts are removed from the historian's grasp, runs the risk of being reduced to writing a 'history of the gaps': not the gaps in our data, a given for any historian, but 'a history of the gaps' analogous to the 'theology of the gaps' which nineteenth-century scholars and clerics tried in vain to construct as they struggled to come to terms with increasing scientific discoveries, which included, of course, the discovery of 'deep time'.

As the social and political context, the modern nation state, which has thus far sustained modern biblical historiography and its critical methods, fractures and is transformed, so we can expect even more radical attacks upon the model it has imposed upon the past. This is likely to mean an increasing divergence between text and artifact rather than the convergence for which many biblical scholars hope. Davies (1992) has outlined the ways in which the consensus within biblical studies has fractured in recent years. He draws out some of the profound implications for biblical studies of new literary studies of the Hebrew Bible and the revisionist historical work of the mid- to late 1980s. As noted above, the shifts are not restricted to biblical studies alone but go way beyond this to include the wider environment of historical studies. It is vital to try to recognize the cultural and political factors which have shaped biblical studies and which have combined with ancient presentations of the past to provide the master narrative which forms our standard 'biblical histories' of ancient Israel. Biblical criticism, no less than Orientalism, arises out of the period of European colonialism and is intricately linked with it. As Young (1990: 119) has pointed out, the most significant fact since the Second World War has been the decline of European colonialism and the subsequent questioning of its history. Sasson's insight into the cultural and political setting of research into the history of ancient Israel is particularly noteworthy: 'In the last quarter of this century, however, altered historiographic perceptions in post-war Germany and in post-Vietnam America have contributed to fracturing the models which informed the heretofore dominant reconstructions of Israel's early past' (Sasson 1981: 17). It is the implications of this fracturing of such models, helping to expose the political and religious assumptions that have underpinned the construction of the past in biblical studies, which are central to this study.

The crisis of confidence which has accompanied the production of major histories of ancient Israel in recent years helps to illustrate just how far the consensus has fractured in less than a decade. The self-doubts which characterized Soggin's (1984) attempt to compose a 'master story', at least doubts about the pre-state period (1984: 19), were in marked contrast to the overly confident works that had characterized the late 1950s and the 1960s. This attempt to address seriously some of the methodological difficulties facing historical research on early Israel was taken further by Miller and Hayes (1986). Their volume marked a significant turning point in the writing of Israelite history from a biblical perspective. The authors acknowledge the problems with biblical texts relating to the pre-monarchic period, so that they are not willing to venture into historical constructions for these periods. Even when they begin their construction of the period of David, they acknowledge that this can only be a 'best guess' (Miller and Hayes 1986: 26), thereby undermining Soggin's 'datum point' (1977: 332), the reign of David, as the starting point of the historical venture. The candour and clarity in their presentation of the problems which they have faced and the reasons for the choices they have made have ensured that Miller-Hayes has become the standard modern presentation of the history of Israel and Judah. It is a work, which the authors acknowledge was conceived as working within accepted parameters, 'firmly anchored in the tradition of Wellhausen-Alt-Noth-Albright' (Hayes 1987: 7). It represents, then, the pinnacle of historical works which stand in the broad tradition of the type of historiography which has dominated biblical studies throughout this century (Hayes 1987: 6-7). Yet, in retrospect, it illustrates all too clearly the ever-increasing problem of ancient Israelite history as a history of the gaps continually forced to abandon its 'sure results' and the firm ground from which the enterprise can begin. Long (1987: 10), in reviewing the volume, has posed the question in its starkest form: 'Should one even try to write a modern critical history of Israel largely on the basis of a single amalgamated, culturally self-serving, and essentially private version of that history?' [33] The reappraisal of biblical narratives, which has continued with increasing vitality and self-confidence, has continued to contribute to the fracturing of the consensus.

The major implication for historical research has been to signal the death of 'biblical history', which is gradually being replaced by the growing recognition of Palestinian history as a subject in its own right. [34] A history of the region increasingly divorced from biblical studies: a broad-based thematic conception of history concerned with the economy, demography, settlement, religions and ideologies of Palestine as a whole. A history of the region concerned with its various micro-environments in which what little we know of Judah and Israel plays an important but by no means dominant or unique role.
If the research on early Israel published from the mid- to late 1980s, particularly the studies of Lemche (1985), Ahlstrom (1986), Coote and Whitelam (1987), and Finkelstein (1988), has taught us anything, it is that the proposals were not radical enough. The various studies are misleading because they reveal nothing of the so-called emergence of Israel, since we are unable to attach ethnic labels to the material culture of the region at this time, but are concerned rather with the settlement and transformation of Palestinian society in general: they too have been misled by the search for the nation state in the guise of Israel imposed by the general context of biblical studies. So in a way our complainant on IOUDAIOS is correct in that some people's history will be removed -- not, I believe, an objective history that ever happened but a shaping of the past projected by some 'biblical' writers and perpetuated by modern 'biblical historians', cloaked in the aura of impartiality. Yet it is important to bear in mind that, however self-critical and reflective, the historian not only works with partial texts but inevitably produces a partial text. This, too, is a partial text which tries to come to terms with the modern context in which it arises while trying to free the past realities that are ancient Palestine from the Late Bronze Age to the Roman period from the domination of an imagined past imposed upon it by the discourse of biblical studies.

Thus we return to the profound problem posed by Cesaire, echoed by Young (1990), of how to write a 'new' history when all history is European, male, and white. [35] The attempt to provide an alternative conception of the past to that which has emerged from the discourse of biblical studies over the last century or more can only give partial voice to those populations who have been silenced by our modern studies. It is obvious that any counter-history is contingent and partial. What is most important, however, is the exposure of the wide-ranging implications of the search for ancient Israel within nineteenth- and twentieth-century biblical studies. For, as Inden (1986: 445) says of Indian history, a deconstruction of the discourse in which students of India have been inducted is a necessary first step: only after the nature and implications of this discourse have been exposed can Indologists hope to think their way out of it. The problem of Palestinian history has remained unspoken within biblical studies, silenced by the invention of ancient Israel in the image of the European nation state. Only after we have exposed the implications of this invention will Palestinian history he freed from the constraints of biblical studies and the discourse that has shaped it.
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Re: The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palest

Postby admin » Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:37 am

Part 1 of 2



The concepts of space and time are so familiar, yet so crucial, to the historian that they hardly seem worthy of detailed consideration. It is assumed that these matters ought not to detain the historian or the reader for long since they function as givens, providing merely the temporal and geographical limits of the subject matter. Chronology, it is often said, is the backbone of history while the spatial realities are the stage on which such history is played out. However, the consideration of time and space is not such a simple matter for the historian that it can be passed over quickly as a prelude to the more important task of construction. Time and space are social products which, like the construction of the past, are tied to notions of identity and authority. The differing Christian, Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim conceptions of time are ample illustration of its ideological implications. The long-running dispute in the Balkans over the use of the name Macedonia demonstrates how crucial the definition of space is to identity. These twin concepts, then, are crucial to our pursuit of an ancient Palestinian history and to our appreciation of why such a history has rarely been given voice in academic discussions.

Robert Alter (1973: 19), in discussing the importance of the symbolism of Masada, states that there is a 'certain appropriateness' in the link between ancient events and modern politics 'given the peculiarity of Israel's location in history and geography'. Alter does not elaborate on this 'peculiarity' since it seems enough to assert it so that the reader will accept that we are dealing with a very special, if not unique, entity. Herrmann expresses this notion of Israel's uniqueness more explicitly:

This is the stage for the history of ancient Israel. Israel's territory and its potential as a world power were necessarily limited. Its fate was bound up in a network of unavoidable dependant relationships. However, what took place almost in a corner of the world and its history was to have far more influence on world history than might ever have been suspected. Tiny Israel, historically weak and really insignificant, unleashed forces which were stronger than any calculations in world politics. This Israel became a phenomenon pointing beyond itself and raising in paradigmatic fashion the fundamental question of the nature of historical existence. The answer to that question seems to lie beyond any understanding which merely registers causal connections.

-- Herrmann 1975: 22

Herrmann's view that this is 'a corner of the world' exposes his Eurocentrism. Furthermore, the notion that Israel points beyond itself, whatever that might mean, reveals an underlying theological assumption which connects the history of Israel directly with divine action in the mundane realm. Similar phrases, expressing Israel's special place in time and space, can be found in many different academic and popular works suggesting that Herrmann is repeating a widespread belief in Israel's unique relationship to time and space. As we have already seen, the importance of perceptions of the past for shaping identity and the competing nature of such perceptions of the past mean that the concepts of space and time are of vital importance to our undertaking. Both concepts are, like 'the past', ideological constructs to be manipulated, often as part of a hidden discourse, in the construction of social identity while denying competing identities which might lay claim to that same time and space. In the current context, such views cannot be divorced from the contemporary struggle and conflict between the modern state of Israel and the Palestinians of the occupied territories or those in exile. It is for this reason that the use of the term 'Palestine' or the phrase 'Palestinian history' in academic discourse is bound to be contentious. Said (1986: 30) notes that 'there is no neutrality, there can be no neutrality or objectivity about Palestine'. The discourse of biblical studies in reconstructing a past that impinges upon affirmations and denials in the present cannot claim to remain above or outside contemporary political struggles. This becomes apparent when the contrast is drawn between a broad regional history of ancient Palestine in contrast to or, it might be more correct to say, in competition with standard 'biblical histories' of ancient Israel. The discourse of biblical studies has professed to remain aloof from this contemporary political situation while all along denying time and space to any Palestinian claim to the past. It is a discourse which has allocated time, particularly the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition and the Iron Age, as well as geographical space to Israel: other entities such as the Canaanites, the Philistines, or any indigenous groups might inhabit this time and space but it is only on Israel's terms.


The concept of space in historical terms is no more static than the notion of time which is more usually seen to be at the heart of historical investigation. It has become increasingly recognized that the definition and control of space has formed a crucial role in Europe's construction of its Other, a counterpoint to its own self-definition as rational, powerful, and stable. The discussion of the use of the term 'Palestine' is inevitably an intricate part of the same Orientalist discourse and its construction of the Orient. Biblical studies has not remained aloof from this discourse with its representation of the Orient, including Palestine, as Europe's essential Other. It is possible to trace Orientalist presuppositions through some of the most influential works in biblical studies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The standard 'biblical histories' of Israel invariably begin with a chapter devoted to geography, the definition of space, ostensibly as an objective presentation of geographical information designed to provide the reader with essential background knowledge. The interrelationship between biblical scholarship's search for 'ancient Israel' and the rise of the European nation state and nationalism should alert us to some of the problems of trying to define the spatial dimensions of our subject matter.

The choice of terminology for the region, the meaning with which it is invested, implicitly or explicitly, denies any other perception of the past or present. These are intertwined in such a way that it is the present which has priority in defining and determining the past. The problem for the historian is not simply a question of the description of the physical boundaries of the space, but the naming of that space. It is the choice of nomenclature which carries with it so many implications, so many denials or assertions, that are both crucial and controversial. The long-standing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian intifada, and the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and a homeland make the choice of this term controversial. The dramatic developments at the beginning of September 1993 with the signing of an accord between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, followed by the gradual and difficult implementation of the Gaza-Jericho First policy, have only served to add further weight and significance to the problematic definition of space. [1] The question of 'Palestine' and 'Palestinian history' vis-a-vis 'Israel' and 'Israelite history' cannot be divorced from contemporary claims and counter-claims to the past. The various attempts to define the physical boundaries of Palestine are of less significance than its use as an image in scholarly and popular literature.

Biblical scholarship employs a bewildering array of terms for the region: 'the Holy Land', 'the Land of the Bible', 'Eretz Israel' or 'the land of Israel', 'Israel', 'Judah', 'Canaan', 'Cisjordan', 'Syro-Palestine', 'Palestine', and 'the Levant'. To the casual reader of many standard works on historical geography or studies of the history of the region, these terms may appear to be interchangeable or even neutral. Yet the naming of land implies control of that land: designations such as 'Levant', 'Middle East', or 'Near East' betray a Eurocentric conception of the world. Anderson (1991) has shown how the map played a crucial role in conceptualization and control of European colonial territories. Equally, it is important to examine how the terms 'Eretz Israel', 'the land of Israel', and 'Palestine' have been invested with, or divested of, meaning in Western scholarship. Despite the fact that Western scholarship has continually employed the term 'Palestine', it has been divested of any real meaning in the face of the search for ancient Israel. [2]

The political implications of the terminology chosen to represent this area can be traced through some of the classic works of historical geography which have informed biblical studies over the last century. The classic early treatment of historical geography can be found in George Adam Smith's The Historical Geography of the Holy Land, first published in 1894. The subtitle of the work is revealing: 'Especially in Relation to the History of Israel and of the Early Church'. He uses the term 'Palestine' as interchangeable with 'Holy Land' while his preface makes it quite clear that his primary motivation is to illuminate the Bible:

Students of the Bible desire to see a background and feel an atmosphere -- to discover from 'the lie of the land' why the history took certain lines and the prophecy and gospel were expressed in certain styles -- to learn what geography has to contribute to questions of Biblical criticism -- above all, to discern between what physical nature contributed to the religious development of Israel, and what was the product of purely moral and spiritual forces.

-- Smith 1894: vii

Thus Palestine has no intrinsic meaning of its own, but provides the background and atmosphere for understanding the religious developments which are the foundation of Western civilization. Palestine does not have a history of its own, it is the history of Israel and thereby the history of the West. Commensurate with this lack of history is also the absence of inhabitants in the land. Palestine is a religious curiosity shop, what Smith (1984: viii) calls 'a museum of Church history ... full of living as well as of ancient specimens of the subject'. He recounts (1894: x) the ancient ruins of the past through to the present and notes that after the trail of Napoleon's march and retreat we find that 'after the long silence and crumbling of all things native, there are the living churches of to-day, and the lines of pilgrims coming up to Jerusalem from the four corners of the world'. The reader is left in no doubt as to the vitality of European culture in contrast to the decline and devastation which have been supervised by the indigenous population.

The land seems empty and devoid of interest apart from the vestiges of ancient monuments that are important for understanding the development of European civilization. This is reinforced in Smith's own day by the 'European invasion of Syria' (1894: 19). He goes on to describe this process throughout Palestine and Syria, culminating with his view of the significance of the introduction of the railway:

Not only will it open up the most fertile parts of the country, and bring back European civilization to where it once was supreme, on the east of the Jordan; but if ever European arms return to the country -- as, in a contest for Egypt or for the Holy Places, when they may not return? -- this railway running from the coast across the central battlefield of Palestine will be of immense strategic value.

-- Smith 1894: 20-1

His view of the place of European civilization reveals that indigenous culture and history are of little interest by comparison. The land is the rightful property of Western powers if they so decide: a superiority defined in terms of military power.

When he goes on to discuss the place of Syria-Palestine in world history, he does so in terms of Opportunity and Influence, which means in terms of religion (1894: 21). Smith's account is a classic Orientalist expression of Europe's Other. In describing the religious development of the Semitic in the 'seclusion' of Arabia, he is able to proclaim that:

The only talents are those of war and of speech - the latter cultivated to a singular augustness of style by the silence of nature and the long leisure of life. It is the atmosphere in which seers, martyrs, and fanatics are bred. Conceive a race subjected to its influences for thousands of years! To such a race give a creed, and it will be an apostolic and a devoted race.

-- Smith 1894: 29

For Smith, as for so many theologians and biblical specialists since, Israel's genius, the reason its religion rose to prominence while its neighbours fell into the degradations of fertility worship, was the ethical impulse of its belief. Though this has been shown to be a false representation of indigenous religion or those of surrounding cultures, the influence has remained very strong in biblical scholarship, retaining a powerful hold on popular perceptions. [3] One of the important consequences is that it is Israelite culture which represents the pinnacle of achievement while Canaanite fertility religion is surpassed and supplanted. Thus Israelite history supersedes and in effect silences Canaanite, i.e. indigenous Palestinian history. The description of the land is presented in terms of its importance for Western civilization and the origins of its monotheistic faith: European powers were returning to protect the land which had provided the taproot of its own civilization. [4]

Recent standard treatments of the history of Israel illustrate just how influential these ideas have been and how they have been perpetuated and strengthened throughout this century. Martin Noth's (1960) classic The History of Israel opens with a section entitled 'The land of Israel'. Noth, like most biblical scholars, states that the history of Israel was conditioned by its geographical setting to such an extent that a knowledge of the geography of the region is one of the preconditions for a proper understanding of its history. However, in discussing the name of the region, he acknowledges that the phrase 'the land of Israel' is used only once in the Hebrew Bible (1 Samuel 13: 19) and that the 'original name for the land' has not been preserved. He then goes on to argue that:

as a natural phenomenon it was never a homogeneous, self-contained entity and was never occupied by a homogeneous population, and it was hardly at any time the scene of a political organization which substantially coincided with its actual area. So the expression 'the land of Israel' may serve as a somewhat flexible description of the area within which the Israelite tribes had their settlements.

-- Noth 1960: 8

The history of those inhabitants of Palestine not included in the Israelite tribes is silenced by Noth's concern with Israel. Only homogeneity seems to count. The history of Palestine in general is subsumed by the concern with Israel despite his acknowledgement that it is usual to call the land of Israel 'Palestine'. The effect of this, however, is to divest the term 'Palestine' of any meaning by transforming it into a mere shorthand for the land of Israel. The proper object of study then becomes Israel rather than Palestine or the inhabitants of Palestine. Thus he goes on to state that:

As real and authentic history, the history of Israel was always profoundly conditioned by the nature of the soil on which it took place. A knowledge of the geography of Palestine is therefore one of the preconditions for a proper understanding of the history of Israel; and an exposition of the history of Israel must be preceded by a brief survey of the basic characteristics of the land itself.

-- Noth 1960: 8

The land that might be termed 'Palestine' has no intrinsic value of its own but becomes the arena for the 'real and authentic history' of Israel.

Noth's following description of the physical features of the region presents a peculiar landscape virtually barren and devoid of human habitation. What population exists is anonymous and notable only for its lack of unity (1960: 10). A seemingly 'objective' description of topography presents an empty land waiting to be populated by Israel, at which point Noth's historical description can begin. Revealingly, these anonymous inhabitants of Palestine are never described as 'Palestinians'. Noth's work is representative of the assumptions and hidden discourse of biblical studies which effectively silences Palestinian history in favour of the search for ancient Israel. It has divested the term 'Palestine' of any meaning and ignored the history of the indigenous population of the region.

Herrmann (1975) begins his account of Israelite history with a chapter entitled 'The scene' in which he claims that:

Israel's history is inextricably bound up with the land, indeed the lands, in which it took place. Without qualification, that is the case with the people of Israel in the Old Testament. We can see the rudimentary beginnings of Israel on the one hand in northern Syria and neighbouring Mesopotamia, and on the other in northwest Egypt, before Israel found a homeland in Palestine, 'the promised land', possession of which was never undisputed.

-- Herrmann 1975: 6

It is noticeable that Palestine once again becomes shorthand, this time for 'the promised land' which is designated to be Israel's homeland: it is not a Palestinian homeland or the homeland of the indigenous population. As we have already noted, the choice of the term 'homeland' takes on an added significance in light of the use of this term in the Balfour Declaration. Herrmann's treatment, which continues in the line of German biblical historiography inspired by Alt and Noth, again provides a barren and empty landscape: what population is mentioned is largely anonymous. Palestine is introduced to the reader merely as 'the scene of the history of Israel' (1975: 6). It only becomes inhabited and of significance with the fulfilment of the promise which sees Israel's entry onto the stage. He detects an important link between past and present when reviewing the achievements of ancient Israel -- a claim of considerable political import given the contemporary struggle for Palestine. He denies that there has been any fundamental climatic change between ancient and modern times, concluding that the bareness of the land and its resistance to agriculture can only be overcome by the most extraordinary effort, 'like that expended by the modern state of Israel'. [5] The continuum between past and present means that this difficult land can only be made to yield up its produce by the extraordinary efforts of Israel. No one else, it seems, possesses this ability. The claim that it is Israel, and Israel alone, which has made the land bloom has long been part of the Zionist justification for Jewish immigration and the founding of a modern state. The Zionist representation of an 'empty land' has been paralleled in biblical scholarship by a construction of the past which ignores the role of the indigenous population in many periods. Once again, it is the uniqueness of Israel that allows it to overcome overwhelming odds: Palestinian history simply does not exist or is of no account by comparison.

American biblical historiography is represented by John Bright's (1972) classic treatment A History of Israel which is a culmination of Albright's scholarship and influence upon biblical studies. Despite the fact that Noth's and Bright's histories have long been seen as representing alternative approaches to the history of ancient Israel, particularly for its early periods, it is remarkable how they share fundamental assumptions which have dominated modern biblical studies. Bright, like Noth, represents ancient Israel as part of the ancient Orient, a term whose ideological implications Said has exposed. Yet he does not provide the usual geographical introduction to his volume, preferring to use the term 'Palestine' without any discussion of its possible meanings. Yet once again, although he discusses the history of the region prior to the emergence of Israel, he never refers to its inhabitants as Palestinians. The land might be called Palestine, yet its inhabitants are Amorites, Canaanites, or Israelites.

By contrast, Miller and Hayes (1986), who describe their work as standing within the tradition of Alt-Noth-Albright-Bright provide a chronological and geographical setting for their study of Israelite and Judaean history. They present the Palestinian hill country as the 'center stage' (1986: 30) for this history, acknowledging that Palestine 'was shared by a diversity of people' (1986: 30). The recognition that this region was not the sole reserve of Israelites and Judaeans but was populated by various 'inhabitants of ancient Palestine' (1986: 33) does not extend to their identification as 'Palestinians'. The inhabitants are for the most part anonymous, only taking on an identity when they become Israelite or Judaean. They discuss the various designations for the region in ancient texts which include Retenu, Hurru, Amurru, Canaan, Philistia, and many others, although their description of the region is in terms of its topographical and physical features. It is possible to refer to the 'Palestinian coastline', 'Palestinian agriculture', or the 'Palestinian economy' (1986: 51), but the inhabitants are never described as Palestinians.

The examples chosen here, from biblical reference works or specialist articles on the history of ancient Israel, could be multiplied many times over. The point at issue, however, is more than adequately illustrated by this series of extracts from a number of representative works on ancient Israelite history that have dominated biblical studies. The fact that they refer to the geographical region as Palestine but never refer to its inhabitants as Palestinians is a denial and silencing of Palestinian history. We are continually presented with images of a land in which its inhabitants are anonymous or nonexistent. The history of Palestine effectively only begins with the history of Israel and becomes coterminous with it. The reason for this cannot be that the focus of these works is upon the history of Israel or that they can claim that their accounts only begin with the emergence of Israel onto the historical stage, since all refer to periods prior to the existence of Israel or Israelites. All refuse studiously to use the term Palestinians to describe the inhabitants, even though the adjective 'Palestinian' is acceptable to describe inanimate objects such as the physical setting or economy. The refusal to use the same qualifying adjective of the inhabitants of the region is thereby a denial of their existence and history. Thus Palestine can be presented as a small, poor, isolated region -- frequent descriptions in biblical studies -- which has been transformed and made notable by the unique historical presence of Israel. Biblical studies is, thereby, implicated in an act of dispossession which has its modern political counterpart in the Zionist possession of the land and dispossession of its Palestinian inhabitants. As a people without history -- or deprived of that history by the discourse of biblical studies -- they become unimportant, irrelevant, and finally non-existent. It is an act of interpretation presented as objective scholarship, carrying the full weight of Western intellectual institutions, which is intricately bound to the dominant understanding of the present in which the modern state of Israel has made an 'empty' and 'barren' land blossom.

This assumption, inherent in the work of some of the most influential figures in biblical studies, particularly German and American biblical historiography, as we have seen, has also maintained a profound hold over biblical archaeology this century. The constitution of the Palestine Exploration Fund at its establishment in 1865 illustrates clearly the widely held assumption that Palestine held little intrinsic interest apart from its connections with the Bible. The PEF's stated aims were 'the accurate and systematic investigation of the archaeology, the topography, the geology and the physical geography, the manners and customs of the Holy Land, for biblical illustration' (cited in Kenyon 1979: 1). Palestine becomes 'the Holy Land', as it was for Smith, and its history and physical features have little intrinsic value in their own right, being important solely as illustrations for understanding the Bible. This is the dominant assumption which informs so much of biblical scholarship in the West such that Palestinian history ceases to exist and the history of the region becomes the history of ancient Israel as depicted in the biblical traditions.

Katherine Kenyon acknowledges that the area is important for our understanding of the origins of civilization and not just for illustrating the Bible. However, it needs to be remembered that 'civilization' is here shorthand for the West, which is heir to the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Although Kenyon's work is ostensibly a study of the archaeological findings of the region, it is clear that her views are dependent upon a prior understanding of the biblical traditions rather than a reading of the archaeological data in its own right. So she is able to state that:

The period is undoubtedly that in which the national consciousness of the Israelites is developing greatly. The biblical narrative shows how the groups were gradually combining together, with tentative efforts at temporal unification under the Judges and the stronger spiritual link of a national religion, with the high priest at times exercising temporal power. It is during these centuries that the groups allied by race, but differing in the manner and time of the settlement in Palestine . .. must have come to combine their ancestral traditions together under the influence of the Yahwehistic religion, and to believe that all their ancestors took part in the Exodus. The nation was thus emerging, but its culture was as yet primitive. Its settlements were villages, its art crude, and the objects of everyday use homely and utilitarian.

-- Kenyon 1979: 230

It is difficult to see what it is in the archaeological record that would allow for her conclusion that 'the national consciousness of the Israelites' was developing in this period. As will be seen below, the problem of trying to attach ethnic labels to material remains for this period has become a crucial factor in helping to free the history of the region from such long-dominant, unargued assumptions. The reading of the archaeological evidence is determined by Kenyon's prior understanding of the biblical narratives. Her statement is dominated by the terms 'national' and 'nation': it is the nation state which is the representative of (European) civilization. Ancient Israel, as a nation state, or incipient nation state, provides a direct link with Europe as the very essence of civilization. The significance of the region then lies in its importance for understanding the origins of (European) civilization and the biblical traditions which have underpinned the development of a Judaeo-Christian culture in the West. However, it does not extend to an investigation of any intrinsic value attached to the history of the vast majority of the indigenous inhabitants of the region.

The work of William Foxwell Albright, whose influence on all aspects of the discipline remains strong despite current reassessments of many of his conclusions, illustrates how these underlying domain assumptions are often implicit and not always apparent to the reader. His classic treatment The Archaeology of Palestine (1949) uses the terms 'Palestine' and 'Palestinian' throughout. Even in his discussion of the Iron Age, designated by many Israeli archaeologists as the 'Israelite period', he consistently refers to the archaeology of Palestine. The history of the region is presented in a sober fashion which seemingly values Palestine in its own right. In his conclusion he is able to state that:

The role of archaeology in providing data for objective evaluation of the history of Palestine is already so great that no student can now neglect it without intellectual disaster. Although twenty years have elapsed since the study of Palestinian archaeology reached a sufficiently stable phase to warrant use of its data by sober historians, it is still very difficult for the non-specialist to pick his way among the conflicting dates and conclusions of archaeologists.

-- Albright 1949: 252-3

However, the theological presuppositions of Albright's approach are revealed particularly towards the end of his study:

In one's enthusiasm for archaeology research, one is sometimes tempted to disregard the enduring reason for any special interest in Palestine -- nearly all the Hebrew Old Testament is a product of Palestinian soil and Israelite writers, while most of the events which underlie the Greek New Testament took place in the same sacred terrain.

-- Albright 1949: 218

Here we discover the reason for any 'special interest' in the region: it is the locale for the development of the Old and New Testaments. He acknowledges the contribution of surrounding cultures to both these works but adds that they have been 'transmuted' by religious insight into something far surpassing these contributory cultures. He then tries to defend the objectivity of biblical scholarship against the charge of religious bias:

It is frequently said that the scientific quality of Palestinian archaeology has been seriously impaired by the religious preconceptions of scholars who have excavated in the Holy Land. It is true that some archaeologists have been drawn to Palestine by their interest in the Bible, and that some of them had received their previous training mainly as biblical scholars. The writer has known many such scholars, but he recalls scarcely a single case where their religious views seriously influenced their results. Some of these scholars were radical critics; still others were more conservative critics, like Ernest Sellin; others again were thorough-going conservatives. But their archaeological conclusions were almost uniformly independent of their critical views.

-- Albright 1949: 219

Notice how Palestine now becomes the 'Holy Land'. Furthermore, the seeming objectivity of approach and the pursuit of Palestinian history and archaeology in its own right are exposed in his conclusion, where he tries to account for the importance of Palestine in world history despite its small size and lack of resources:

Though archaeology can thus clarify the history and geography of ancient Palestine, it cannot explain the basic miracle of Israel's faith, which remains a unique factor in world history. But archaeology can help enormously in making the miracle rationally plausible to an intelligent person whose vision is not shortened by a materialistic world view. It can also show the absurdity of extreme sectarian positions, from the once reputable doctrine of verbal inspiration of Scripture to the weird vagaries of believers in the divinatory properties of numbers, measurements, and alleged biblical ciphers. Against these and other modern forms of ancient magic, archaeology wages an unceasing war, and few things are more irritating to the sober archaeologist than to see religious faith compounded with magic by exponents of cheap materialism. To one who believes in the historical mission of Palestine, its archaeology possesses a value which raises it far above the level of artifacts with which it must constantly deal, into a region where history and theology share a common faith in the eternal realities of existence.

-- Albright 1949: 255-6

It becomes clear that the history of Palestine is of little intrinsic interest in its own right: 'the historical mission of Palestine' derives from its occupation of the 'sacred space' out of which the Old and New Testaments appear. Albright's theological beliefs, despite denials to the contrary, clearly shape his assessment and construction of Israelite history. This is history, moreover, in which Europe or the West is the real subject, as Asad and others have pointed out of other modern accounts of the past. It is ultimately a pursuit of the roots of Western 'civilization'.

The problems of terminology and methodological approach can be illustrated further from Baly's influential revision of his The Geography of the Bible (original 1957; completely revised 1974). He states his aim as twofold: to provide a work for scholars who require 'solid, detailed, and accurate information' in the form of 'a serious geographical and biblical study' (1974: xi) which is at the same time a simple and straightforward presentation for the beginning student and general reader. Baly is well aware of the problems that his venture holds: the problems of the time limit and the theological presuppositions imposed on the study.

When the study is limited to the biblical period, it is difficult to avoid the suggestion that the history of Palestine began with Abraham and came to an end in A.D. 70, an impression which is already too firmly implanted in the minds of many Western people ... it cannot be denied that the events of the biblical period are those which most concern the ordinary American or British reader, and it seems, therefore a useful place at which to begin, though obviously it is only a beginning.

-- Baly 1974: xiii

Here we can see that the problems of time and space are intricately related. Yet, as with Albright, the presentation of the 'history of Palestine' is informed by theological considerations which override all others, as Baly admits. He refers (1974: xiv) to the complaint that 'theologians are not interested in geology, and geographers do not want theology in a geography book'. His defence is that it is important to understand the culture and climate of the country in order to understand the nature of the environment which has had such a profound influence upon its inhabitants. But related to this is his view that it is equally important to understand the nature of the 'Book' with its claim to the existence of the one God who is both active and effective. The theological claims mean that the history of the region can only be understood in terms of 'biblical history': it is defined by and dominated by the concerns and presentation of the biblical texts. It is not, then, a history or geography of Palestine but a history and geography of 'biblical Israel'. To refer to the history of the period of Abraham is to accept a biblical definition of that history and to deny any other perception of the past. Baly attempts to overcome the problems of definition which are tied to the present and determined by theological presuppositions in his choice of terminology:

There still remains, however, the problem of names, for as anyone who has dealt with Middle Eastern geography knows to his cost, names tend constantly to take on political significance, and to be the cause of much recrimination. Therefore, it must be said clearly that no name at all, whether 'Israel' or 'Palestine' or any other, will be used in its modern political sense, unless this is expressly stated. The name 'Palestine' will be used to mean 'the country of the Bible,' on both sides of the Jordan, in the sense in which it is used in many biblical commentaries. 'Israel' will be kept for the ancient kingdom of Israel, lying to the north of the kingdom of Judah. In speaking of the two regions on either side of the great Central Valley of the Jordan and the Arabah we shall speak of 'Cis-jordan' and 'Transjordan'. The whole coastland, stretching from the borders of modern Turkey to Egypt, may be described as the 'Levant Coast'.

-- Baly 1974: 5 [6]

The problem here is that the designation 'Palestine' is merely shorthand for 'the country of the Bible'. It is theological assumptions and biblical definitions which ultimately determine any understanding of the region. This is confirmed by the map at the beginning of the book entitled 'Old Testament Palestine' in which the regional designations are all biblical tribal designations: 'Zebulun', 'Manasseh', 'Ephraim', 'Benjamin', etc. The theological claims of the Hebrew Bible have been given priority in determining the designation of the land, thereby silencing any alternative claims to understanding the region and its past. [7]

The problems of different designations for the region and their underlying competing claims to the past and the present become even sharper in modern Israeli scholarship. Yohanan Aharoni's The Land of the Bible. A Historical Geography (1962) has been particularly influential in shaping the discipline. Throughout the work, the phrase 'the Land of the Bible' is used interchangeably with 'the Holy Land' and 'Palestine'. At first sight the terms do not appear to be particularly controversial or self-conscious. However, the title of the Hebrew original, The Land of Israel in Biblical Times, tends to suggest that, as with Baly, the term 'Palestine' is simply shorthand: it is defined primarily in terms of Israel and the biblical understanding of the past. Part Two of the work, entitled 'Palestine during the ages' contains a separate chapter on 'The Canaanite period' followed by a series of chapters dealing with 'Israelite' and 'Judaean' history. It is noticeable that in chronological terms 'Canaanite' is separate from, is succeeded by, and replaced by 'Israelite' history. This chronological distinction between 'Canaanite' and 'Israelite' periods pervades biblical scholarship and is an important archaeological and historical differentiation in Israeli scholarship in particular. The Israeli convention of designating archaeological periods as 'Canaanite' and 'Israelite' is in contrast to the American and European practice of designating these periods as the Bronze and Iron Ages. However, as we have seen in the work of Albright, despite the differences in archaeological nomenclature, the assumption of much of biblical scholarship is that 'Israelite' culture succeeds, replaces, and surpasses 'Canaanite' culture.

Rainey, one of the leading contemporary authorities on historical geography, and the person who revised the second edition of Aharoni's classic work, has described the importance of the subject in the following terms:

The abundant research being conducted today in the land of the Bible has its roots in the historical and religious interest inherent in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. According to Halakhic Judaism, one cannot fully express one's faith by living out all the commandments unless one lives on the soil of the 'Land of Israel'. The Christian concern for the geography of the 'Holy Land' is motivated by the desire to see and in some way relive the experiences of the Scriptures at the places where they occurred. The biblical tradition itself is predicated on a certain amount of geographical knowledge. Israel's constitution as a nation is firmly linked with its occupation of the 'Land of Canaan'. The historical and religious experience of Israel took place in a specific geographical context.

-- Rainey 1988: 353

The political implications of the choice of nomenclature become much clearer in this passage: the possession and naming of the land, both past and present, is of vital importance. The interrelationships of past and present are made explicit in this conception of the nature of Israel and its possession of the land. Israel is conceived here in terms of the nation state, which is inextricably linked to national territory by right of 'occupation'. The rationale for historical geography is given as the historical and religious interests of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. No mention is made of any interest in Palestinian history: it is silenced by the concern for Israel's historical and religious experience 'in a specific geographical context'.

These points can be illustrated further from Aharoni's (1982) other classic work, The Archaeology of the Land of Israel. The way in which the search for 'ancient Israel' has obscured and silenced Palestinian history is brought out in Rainey's preface to the second edition:

Throughout the book we have usually used the term Eretz-Israel or the Land of Israel. By this is meant the total area inhabited by the Israelite people, corresponding most closely to the territory governed by David and Solomon. Aharoni has demonstrated its legitimacy as a geographical entity throughout most of the biblical period. Although it is something of an anachronism for the prehistoric and Canaanite eras, the reader will find it no less than the commonly accepted Palestine. Eretz-Israel is perhaps the only nonpolitical term in use today, except perhaps for Canaan, which does not represent precisely the territory dealt with in the Israelite period.

-- Rainey 1982: xiii

The appeal to the boundaries of the Davidic-Solomonic kingdom, 'from Dan to Beersheba', as a definition of the geographical extent of Eretz Israel, a claim that will need to be examined in later chapters, betrays that it is the biblical perception of the past which is dominant. Rainey's claim, made in such a reasonable and matter-of-fact manner, that the term Eretz Israel is not just non-political but is the only non-political term for the region, is astounding in the context. The terms 'Palestine' and 'Eretz Israel' are not interchangeable but are in competition given the contemporary struggle for Palestine. The political nature of the term 'Eretz Israel', contra Rainey, is evident from the fact that it opens and is used throughout the Proclamation of Independence of the State of Israel issued in May 1948 (Laqueur and Rubin 1984: 125-8). The implications of the choice of terminology to define space become more obvious when it is learned that Aharoni's monograph was designed to replace W.F. Albright's classic treatment of thirty years earlier, The Archaeology of Palestine (1949). Just as the prehistoric and Canaanite periods have been superseded by the Israelite era, so Palestine has been supplanted and replaced by Israel.
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Re: The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palest

Postby admin » Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:38 am

Part 2 of 2

Rainey acknowledges that the phrase Eretz Israel is anachronistic when applied to what he terms the 'prehistoric' and 'Canaanite' periods since it is the 'biblical period' and the 'Israelite period' which are the focus of attention. [8] This is revealing in light of the title of the work, The Archaeology of the Land of Israel, compared with the scope of the work which covers the Chalcolithic to the Persian periods. Thus a vast expanse of time before the appearance of any entity called Israel or the formation of an Israelite state is subsumed under the term 'the Land of Israel'. Aharoni (1982: 90) describes the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, his Middle Canaanite II and Late Canaanite (c. 2000-1200 BCE), as the first historical period for which there are documents preserved. However, he goes on to add that 'this is also the period in which the Hebrew tribes penetrated into various districts of the country and finally crystallized into the people of Israel, the first and only people to make the country its natural homeland' (Aharoni 1982: 90; emphasis added). While his view of the origins or emergence of Israel in the Late Bronze Age is now outdated in comparison with much recent research, as will be shown below, the significant fact is that he gives no justification for his view that it is 'the people of Israel' who are 'the first and only people to make the country its natural homeland'. The reader is given no explanation as to why it is Israel alone that can claim the territory as its 'natural' homeland. It is significant that the language Rainey chooses closely mirrors the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917 which committed the British government to viewing 'with favour the establishment in Palestine of a natural home for the Jewish people'. However much the discourse of biblical studies might profess its objectivity, it is easy to see that it is implicated in contemporary political struggles. [9] The claims of the modern state to the region as its 'natural homeland' are mirrored in a projection of the past in which Israel replaces Palestine and Israelite history supersedes prehistory and Canaanite history. Once again there are no ancient Palestinians, only prehistoric inhabitants or Canaanites, therefore there can be no such thing as Palestinian history.

The essence to the claim on the land and therefore the right to name it, which is to possess it, is made on the basis of nationhood and statehood. It is at this point that the modern struggle for Palestine coincides with the representation of the past in biblical studies. The choice of language, the naming of the land, is part of the manipulation of power in which relationship to the land is affirmed or denied. The political ramifications and problematic nature of the naming of space emerges in the discussion of nomenclature which took place at the Congress of Archaeology in Jerusalem in 1984. Moshe Dothan (1985: 136), responsible with his wife Trude Dothan for so much of the discovery and clarification of Philistine culture, rejected the term 'Holy Land' as too narrow in its application to biblical aspects of the past and a study of holy places. He rejected the use of the term 'Palestine' on the grounds that it was the official name for the country 'for only a mere thirty years under the British Mandate' (1985: 137), arguing that its origins in the fifth century BCE were restricted to a designation for the southern coast: he refers to it as a Greek simplification and generalization found in Herodotus. It was replaced by Yehud and Yehudah but reinstated in the Roman period and used after the Arab conquest. After the eleventh century CE, the term, according to Dothan, was almost forgotten, allowing him to conclude that:

Thus for nearly 700 years, the name Palaestina was hardly used. Only in the nineteenth century, with the awakening of European religious, historical and political interests, did the Latin name Palaestina reappear. We may conclude that the chronologically late and inconsistently used term 'Palestine' was apparently never accepted by any local national entity. It therefore can hardly serve as a meaningful term for the archaeology of this country.

-- Dothan 1985: 137

This denial of continuity between the use of the term Palestine and any past reality thereby denies any claims to a Palestinian history. Yet this is a denial of a use of a term which appears in Assyrian and Hellenistic sources, becomes the designation for the region in the Roman period, and was then used extensively in Arabic sources from the tenth century onward (Davies 1992: 23; Said 1992: 10). Once again the controlling factor is the nation state since it is the 'local national entity' which defines the space. Since the modern state of Israel is such a 'local national entity' it follows that 'Israel' is the appropriate label for the area. Dothan went on to argue that:

The Israelites were the only ethnic group which, as a nation, succeeded in creating a state in this land, one that was neither dependant on some great empire nor belonged to a loose conglomeration of city-states like those of the Canaanite period.

-- Dothan 1985: 139

Nation and land become synonymous in this analysis since the territory belongs to and is identified with the nation. Here it should be noted that once again it is the nation state, Israel, which has replaced Canaanite culture characterized as merely a loose conglomeration of city-states. Israel represents the ultimate in political evolution, the European nation state, and the pinnacle of civilization which surpasses and replaces that which is primitive and incapable of transformation. Thus Israel has replaced Palestine, and Israelite history thereby silences any Palestinian past. Dothan goes on to claim that the only terms that can be 'correctly applied' are 'the archaeology of Israel' or 'the archaeology of the Land of Israel'. He rejects the former on the grounds that it excludes areas outside the borders of the modern state of Israel, thereby concluding that 'the archaeology of the Land of Israel' is the most appropriate term. The existence of the modern state and its claims to continuity with some earlier state of the Iron Age is the determining factor in the choice of terminology. The claim to continuity means that other claims to existence, other perceptions of the past, are effectively silenced. We are left with the history of Israel, past and present. There is no Palestine and therefore there cannot be a history of Palestine. [10]

The term 'Palestine' has been divested of any inherent meaning of its own in biblical scholarship: it can only be understood when it is redefined by some other theological or political term such as 'Holy Land' or 'Eretz Israel'. But what is even more striking is that while the use of the term 'Palestine' might be widespread, albeit divested of any meaning of its own, the term 'Palestinians' as inhabitants of the land very rarely occurs in biblical scholarship. If we have a land called Palestine, why are its inhabitants not called Palestinians? [11] For the so-called prehistoric periods, the inhabitants are nameless except for designation by archaeological period: Neolithic, Chalcolithic, or possibly Ghassulian culture. There are no written sources by which to identify the inhabitants. But they are not 'Palestinians' or even 'Neolithic Palestinians', 'Chalcolithic Palestinians', or 'Palestinians of the Neolithic or Chalcolithic periods'. In the Bronze Age, it is the 'Canaanites' who become the inhabitants of the land. Archaeologists recognize the achievements of their culture, particularly for the Middle Bronze and Late Bronze Ages. Yet they are never said to have a national consciousness and their religion is presented, of course, as a degenerate fertility cult, lacking in the overarching ethical impulse of Yahwism, and therefore immoral. Such a presentation also draws a sharp contrast with the national consciousness and moral monotheism of Western civilization. They are replaced by the Israelites who are a 'nation' or incipient nation who, according to Aharoni, are only claiming their 'natural homeland'. We have the paradox that 'Canaanite' culture was more advanced, as many archaeologists acknowledge, but their religion is portrayed as far inferior to the supreme religion which is the foundation of Judaeo-Christian tradition and thereby Western civilization. In the same way, Israel as a nation state is at the pinnacle of political evolution in contrast to a conglomeration of city-states in the region.

Palestine may exist, in name only, but it has no reality in terms of its history or inhabitants being Palestinian. Those inhabitants who are acknowledged before the beginning of the Iron Age are only temporary, mostly anonymous, awaiting Israel's arrival to claim its national heritage. Since it is difficult to deny the existence of inhabitants prior to the 'emergence' of Israel, the standard approach has been to denigrate their achievements or their right to exist. So the Bishop of Salisbury could address members of the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1903 with the following words:

Nothing, I think, that has been discovered makes us feel any regret at the suppression of Canaanite civilization by Israelite civilization . .. the Bible has not misrepresented at all the abomination of Canaanite culture which was superseded by the Israelite culture.

-- cited by Said 1992: 79 [12]

The situation in antiquity as presented by biblical scholarship is remarkably similar to the modern period leading up to the foundation of the modern state of Israel. Scholarship seems to mirror the late nineteenth-century Zionist slogan for Palestine: 'a land without people, for a people without land.' What we have in biblical scholarship from its inception to the present day is the presentation of a land, 'Palestine', without inhabitants, or at the most simply temporary, ephemeral inhabitants, awaiting a people without a land. This has been reinforced by a reading of the biblical traditions and archaeological findings, interpreted on the basis of a prior understanding of a reading of the Bible, which helps to confirm this understanding. The foundation of the modern state has dominated scholarship to such an extent that the retrojection of the nation state into antiquity has provided the vital continuity which helps to justify and legitimize both. The effect has been to deny any continuity or legitimacy to Palestinian history. If there were no Palestinians in antiquity then there could not be a Palestinian history. The notion of continuity is reinforced by the assumption that European civilization, the pinnacle of human achievement, has its roots in this Judaeo-Christian tradition. Europe has retrojected the nation state into antiquity in order to discover its own roots while at the same time giving birth to the Zionist movement which has established a 'civilized' state in the alien Orient thereby helping to confirm this continuity in culture and civilization. The irony of this situation is that for the past there is a Palestine but no Palestinians, yet for the present there are Palestinians but no Palestine. [13] The politics of scholarship is brought home by the remark of Menachem Begin in 1969: 'If this is Palestine and not the land of Israel, then you are conquerors and not tillers of the land. You are invaders. If this is Palestine, then it belongs to a people who lived here before you came' (cited by Said 1988: 241). In the scholarship of the past and in the reality of the present, Palestine has become 'the land of Israel' and the history of Israel is the only legitimate subject of study. All else is subsumed in providing background and understanding for the history of ancient Israel which has continuity with the present state and provides the roots and impulse of European civilization.


Time, like space, is a political concept, an 'ideologically constructed instrument of power' (Fabian 1983: 144), which has been manipulated in biblical studies to deny any temporal reality to Palestinian history. Fabian points to the common acknowledgement of the imperial construction of space, often as an 'empty land' to be occupied for the good of humanity. However, as he notes, this concentration on the imperialistic and political constructions of space has led to a failure to concede that time is every bit as much controlled, measured, and allotted by dominant powers. The discovery of 'deep time' has been at the heart of Western historiographical perceptions of the evolutionary development of culture and history. This emphasis on the inexorable progress of time's arrow has resulted in a perception of Israelite history, as the taproot of Western civilization, replacing all other aspects of historical reality in Palestine as part of the inevitable evolutionary process. The way in which this has been done is a further illustration of Cesaire's dictum that Europe is the subject of all history.

Garbini (1988) has produced one of the most radical critiques of the historiographic perceptions of biblical studies in recent years. Nevertheless, he betrays the Eurocentrism of his own conceptions in the opening to his essay on the failings of standard biblical histories:

The ancient Near East, with its civilization and its history, has been rescued from the oblivion of time by just over a century of European science. With it have appeared the remotest roots of Western civilization: before Paris, Rome, Athens and Jerusalem there were Babylon and Uruk.

-- Garbini 1988: 1

According to such a view, there is no history without Europe and the significance of the history that has been rescued from the oblivion of time is that it provides the roots of Western civilization. Garbini is able to go on to talk about 'this now long past of ours' or claim 'the creative force of this civilization as now passing from Asia to Europe'. Ancient Israel then becomes the fulcrum for this transfer of civilization as 'the link between Asia and Europe'. The significance of Israel is ascribed to its mediation of Egyptian and Babylonian culture so that 'Israel returned to Jerusalem enormously enriched and transformed. When Greek culture arrived there, Hebrew thought was in a stage of further revision, the final result of which was transmitted to Europe by some brilliant men. This was the historical function of Israel' (1988: 1). The evolutionary scheme which links Babylon, Egypt, and Greece through Israel culminating in the triumph of Western civilization is so deeply ingrained that it pervades such a radical critique of recent histories of ancient Israel in biblical studies. Garbini's assertions are a perfect illustration of Asad's point (1993: 18) that the West's past becomes an organic continuity from the ancient Near East through Greece and Rome to the Renaissance and Reformation culminating in the universal civilization of modern Europe. From this perspective, there is no recognition that the history of the region, whether Israelite or Palestinian, might have a significance or value of its own. Europe is the subject of this history and it is Europe's conception of time which determines its course.

The entanglement of the disciplines of history and anthropology in the colonial enterprise has been instrumental in representing the triumph of the West and thereby silencing alternative claims to the past by indigenous cultures. Fabian's perceptive study of the way in which anthropology has defined time as part of the European representation of the Other exposes the role of the discipline in providing the intellectual justification for colonialism:

It gave to politics and economics -- both concerned with human Time -- a firm belief in 'natural', i.e. evolutionary Time. It promoted a silence in terms of which not only past cultures, but all living societies were irrevocably placed on a temporal slope, a stream of Time - some upstream, others downstream. Civilization, evolution, development, acculturation, modernization (and their cousins, industrialization, urbanization) are all terms whose conceptual content derives, in ways that can be specified, for evolutionary Time. They all have an epistemological dimension apart from whatever ethical, or unethical, intentions they may express. A discourse employing terms such as primitive, savage (but also tribal, traditional, Third World, or whatever euphemism is current) does not think, or observe, or critically study, the 'primitive'; it thinks, observes, studies in terms of the primitive. Primitive being essentially a temporal concept, is a category, not an object, of Western thought.

-- Fabian 1983: 17

The history of ancient Palestine has effectively been denied time of its own. Instead it is subject to the tyranny of biblical time through the periodization of the Hebrew Bible which has been an essential element of the discourse of biblical studies. The history of the region has long been seen as neatly compartmentalized into Patriarchal, Exodus, Conquest, or Settlement periods followed by the United Monarchy of David and Solomon, the Divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Exile, and then Restoration. [14] The history of the region is, then, the history of the principal characters and events of the biblical traditions: it is the classic pursuit of the history of great men and unique events. Palestinian history is effectively silenced by this tyranny of biblical time which has been perpetuated by Western scholarship.

This situation has not been changed by the agonized debate in recent years over the starting point of Israelite history which has seen the loss of the Patriarchal, Exodus, and Conquest periods in the wake of the conjunction of literary studies and archaeological data. Rather than reclaiming Palestinian time from the nineteenth through the thirteenth centuries BeE, it has only served to highlight the fact that Palestinian history is denied time. Soggin (1977: 332) may find his datum point with the rise of the monarchy, or Miller and Hayes (1986) provide their 'best guess' with the treatment of David, but the time which precedes this beginning for their accounts of Israel does not become Palestinian time. Rather it remains the domain of Israelite history and thus Western civilization as the prehistory or proto history of ancient Israel (Malamat 1983; Soggin 1984). Noth's starting point for his history of Israel arrives with the occupation of Palestine by the 'fully united' tribes of Israel: it is only at this point that 'the real "History of Israel" can take its departure' (1960: 5). He claims that there is no information on the historical evolution (note the term) of Israel or 'primeval Israel' but 'only traditions about events in pre-historical times' (1960: 5). Ancient Israel, which only becomes a reality according to Noth with the twelve-tribe structure in Palestine, is able to reach back over centuries to lay claim to time thereby denying this temporal span to Palestinian history. Noth's attitude to the documentary and archaeological evidence from the region is representative of the discourse of biblical studies: he is able to state that the Amarna letters 'reveal clearly the historical background of the beginnings of Israel in Palestine and are thus one of the direct sources for the history of Israel' (1960: 19) or that the Ras Shamra finds 'help to illuminate the situation which the Israelite tribes found on their arrival in Palestine' (1960: 20). Palestinian history only has significance and meaning as the locus of, or background for, the development of Israelite history.

The debate over the problems of constructing the early periods of Israelite history has resulted in a switch of scholarly attention to the second Temple period. Yet once again it is the biblical conception of time which dominates and silences any other claims to the past. It has been common to refer to this period as the 'Intertestamental period', thus betraying the tyranny of biblical time in the understanding and presentation of the history of the region. Biblical scholarship for much of the century has presupposed an evolutionary scheme moving from the 'Old Testament' through the 'Intertestamental' period and culminating in the 'New Testament' era: a periodization which owes nothing to historical reality and all to theological presuppositions about the progressive nature of revelation. The theological conception of the 'Intertestamental' period is revealed in the striking judgement that it was all too often deemed to be 'a mere empty chasm over which one springs from the Old Testament to the New' (Wellhausen 1885: 1). The welcome reevaluation of the seventh century BCE to the first century CE, the second Temple period from a biblical perspective, has shown this to be a crucial period in the formation and crystallization of the traditions which make up the Hebrew Bible. Yet the perspective has remained parochial and introspective. In the same way that the Amarna or Ras Shamra material has found its primary significance for biblical historians as background to understanding the emergence of Israel in Palestine, so the Dead Sea Scrolls and other extrabiblical materials have found their significance as the backdrop to the history of Israel. Biblical scholars have accepted the claims to monopoly advanced by the tiny province of Yehud, as Davies (1992: 58) has recently pointed out. The periodization of the history of the region has been dominated, then, by Judaeo-Christian theological concerns since the study of Israelite history has remained, and remains, the preserve of faculties of Theology, seminaries, and departments of Religion. The definition of time and the notion of historical progress, fundamental to European Christian teleology, is embodied in the belief that ancient Israel represents the origin of 'historical consciousness' and the agent of divine action within history. The progression of history is then traced to the development of European and Western societies which come to represent the pinnacle of civilization. The indigenous cultures of Palestine and the ancient Near East remain static and stagnate; they represent a failure in the divine scheme of historical evolution. [15] There is no history of Palestine because it is Israel and not Palestine which is the focus of theological attention. The progressive scheme of revelation coupled with the search for ancient Israel has combined to deny any temporal reality to Palestinian history.

An alternative to the tyranny of biblical time ordained by biblical scholars has been the archaeological periodization which has been developed throughout the century. This is a further expression of the evolutionary scheme of 'natural' time which moves in its inexorable fashion from the Stone Age through the Bronze and Iron to the present. It might seem at first sight that this schema is more neutral than the biblical periodization, thereby allowing time to Palestinian history. However, biblical historians, particularly in the wake of Albright, have tried to equate the periodization derived from the Hebrew Bible with the schema developed by archaeological research. Thus the Bronze Age becomes the time of the Patriarchs, while the Late Bronze Age is the era of the Exodus and Conquest or Settlement, and the Iron Age sees the emergence and development of the monarchy; the Exile or second Temple period is covered, of course, by the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods. The denial of time to Palestinian history is confirmed by this attempt to claim the past for ancient Israel. This becomes more explicit in the alternative nomenclature for archaeological periods which has been developed by Israeli scholarship.

The classic treatment of Israelite archaeology by Aharoni (1982) is representative of the way in which time has been used in biblical scholarship. Aharoni begins his vast temporal sweep with the Stone Age (Paleolithic, Epipaleolithic, Neolithic) and Chalcolithic period. The Early Bronze Age is designated as the Early Canaanite I-IV, with the Middle Bronze as the Middle Canaanite, and the Late Bronze Age as the Late Canaanite I-II. Aharoni then follows the normal convention of Israeli scholarship by designating the Iron Age as the Israelite period. This is a strongly evolutionary scheme with a clear movement in which the 'prehistoric' and Canaanite periods are replaced by the Israelite. Aharoni describes the Early Canaanite period as significant in the 'history of Eretz-Israel' since it laid the foundations for Canaanite culture (1982: 49), although it is still a 'mute period' which is 'suitably called protohistoric'. Although this might be termed the Canaanite period, it is still claimed by the 'history of Eretz-Israel', confirming the interrelationship of time and space. His evolutionary scheme is made explicit with the designations prehistoric and protohistoric. The fully historic, he claims, is found in neighbouring lands which have a rich deposit of written documents: 'Eretz-Israel, located between them, remains in the shadow while the search lights of history are illuminating its neighbours' (1982: 49). The way in which the period is divested of any inherent significance of its own is revealed in his discussion of terminology (1982: 50): 'Therefore, it would seem to us that the name "Canaanite" is more suitable. This is the general name for the population of the country during the Israelite conquest, when more extensive historical illumination begins!' We only reach history with the appearance of Israel and the biblical traditions. His Middle Canaanite I (EBIVMBI) 'concludes the protohistoric era in the history of Eretz-Israel' (1982: 80). When we turn to the Middle Canaanite II and Late Canaanite periods (2000-1200 BCE) we find that:

From the standpoint of culture and history, they represent a continuity worthy of the name 'the Canaanite period', in the fullest sense of the term. This is Canaan in its rise, its flourishing, and its decline as reflected in ancient Israelite tradition. It is the first really historical period in Eretz-Israel for which written documents have been preserved -- historical, administrative, and literary -- that give flesh and blood to the sinews of the bare archaeological finds.

-- Aharoni 1982: 90

He follows this immediately with his claim that this is also the period when the Hebrew tribes entered, being 'the first and only people to make the country its natural homeland'. The evolutionary presuppositions are now made explicit with the rise and eventual decline of Canaanite culture to be replaced by Israelites who claim the country as their natural homeland. It is not explained why the Canaanites, who according to Aharoni's periodization have been in situ for roughly a millennium, failed to make this their natural homeland. By comparison, the Israelite period lasts for six hundred years. The evolutionary process means that these 'temporary' inhabitants, no matter how long their length of residency, are replaced in the natural scheme of things by a higher culture and civilization. The effect of this is to deny time and therefore reality to Palestinian history: the past is either the domain of Israel or is claimed by Israel as its own prehistory or protohistory.

The debate over the starting point of Israelite history has meant that major blocks of tradition within the Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic History have been relegated to the prehistory of Israel. As we have seen, this has not meant that these periods are returned to Palestinian history. Israel's claim to the past has remained as strong as ever. Yet the concentration upon prehistory and protohistory also has profound implications for the conception of history, which in turn helps to silence and deny Palestinian history. The widely held distinction between history and prehistory embodies the common assumption, prevalent within biblical studies, that the writing of history is dependent upon the existence or, more accurately, the accidental preservation of written materials. Yet the ebb and flow of the historical process is not dependent on written materials, They are clearly a major source for the historian but their absence does not mean that the past must be abandoned. Clarke highlights the complex and misleading relationship between history and prehistory:

The term prehistoric, while it serves a useful purpose in designating a period for which written records are available only for the concluding phase, is in some respects unfortunate. The roll of history is nothing if not continuous. It is only that different parts of it have to be read by different means. Prehistory is not merely an antecedent of history. In a broader sense it forms a part, indeed much the larger part of the story of man's past. From a temporal point, though not from an existential point of view, almost the whole of human history is prehistoric in the technical sense that it has to be reconstructed without the aid of written records. Only some five thousand out of the two million years are documented in this way and then only for a minute area. Conversely vast territories remained 'prehistoric' until 'discovered' by western man in recent centuries. Indeed the remoter parts of territories like Australia, New Guinea or Brazil remained outside the range of recorded history until our own generation.

-- Clarke 1973: xvii-xviii

This insistence on the importance of written sources for the reconstruction of the past betrays the Eurocentric nature of the historical enterprise, as Clarke makes clear. It is an assumption which has informed biblical studies, dependent upon the canons of European historiography, leading to the insistence that Israel and its written traditions are the arbiter of history.

The removal of traditions from the grasp of the biblical historian by literary critics may have led to a crisis of confidence in the scholarly enterprise of writing a history of Israel but it has not resulted in a voice for Palestinian history. Palestine has, we are told, few written materials that have been preserved or unearthed by archaeologists. Thus it cannot have a history. Those which are well known, such as the Amarna or Ugaritic materials, are claimed as background to Israel's prehistory. Malamat (1983: 303) is typical in trying to come to terms with the problem of the Patriarchal and Conquest traditions. He draws a distinction between Israelite 'prehistory' and 'protohistory': 'prehistory' implies a time prior to Israel's existence, whereas 'protohistory' is restricted to the period when embryonic Israel took shape and eventually emerged as an ethnic and territorial unit in Canaan. He would include the so-called Patriarchal, Exodus, Settlement, and Conquest periods in this latter term. Thus for Malamat, as for Aharoni and many biblical specialists, vast spans of time do not belong to Palestine or Palestinian history but remain the preserve of Israel and its (proto-)history.

Palestinian history, if it is to emerge as a subject in its own right, has to be freed from both the tyranny of biblical time and the tyranny of prehistoric time which denies it substance and voice. Lucien Febvre exposed the fallacy of 'prehistory' in strikingly eloquent terms:

Nevertheless the concept of pre-history is one of the most ridiculous that can be imagined. A man who studies the period in which a certain type of neolithic pottery was widespread is doing history in exactly the same way as a man who draws a map of the distribution of telephones in the Far East in 1948. Both, in the same spirit, for the same ends, are devoting themselves to a study of the manifestations of the inventive genius of mankind, which differ in age and in yield, if you like, but certainly not in ingenuity.

-- Febvre 1973: 35

Or as Braudel (1989: 19-20) would have it: 'As if history did not reach back into the mists of time! As if prehistory and history were not one and the same process.' The history of Palestine will need to be written from the conjunction of written and material remains, and will need to be pursued for those periods where written materials do not exist (cf. Febvre 1973: 34). [16]

The pursuit of Palestinian history is dependent upon freeing it from the temporal constraints imposed upon it by the discourse of biblical studies. Braudel's concept of la longue duree offers a perspective which overcomes the neat periodization of biblical histories. It is a temporal perspective which helps to illustrate that Israel is but an entity in the sweep of Palestinian time. Concentration on the short term, the Iron Age to Roman period or the present, obscures the fact that Israel is but one thread in the rich tapestry of Palestinian history. It is the perspective of la longue duree which allows the historian to decide whether the settlement patterns of, say, the Early Iron Age in Palestine are unique or conform to similar patterns at other times. Only then is it possible to ask if there might be similar factors at work affecting the shift in settlement or whether it has to be explained in terms completely different from any other period in the history of ancient Palestine. From this perspective, Palestinian history becomes the pursuit of the whole gamut of social, economic, political, and religious developments within Palestine, rather than a primary or exclusive concern with how such developments relate to and explain the emergence and evolution of Israel.

The appeal to the Braudelian conception of time (1972; 1980), with its different levels of geographical, social, and individual time, however, again raises the problem of Eurocentrism. Braudel (1984: 18) places great emphasis on what he terms world time which is uneven in the ways in which it affects different areas: 'This exceptional time-scale governs certain areas of the world and certain realities depending on period and place. Other areas and other realities will always escape and lie outside it.' [17] He goes on to add that: 'World time then might be said to concentrate above all on a kind of superstructure of world history: it represents a crowning achievement, created and supported by forces at work underneath it, although in turn its weight has an effect on the base.' Said (1985: 22-3) has criticized this conception of world time as growing out of the European colonial enterprise: 'What was neither observed by Europe nor documented by it was therefore "lost" until, at some later date, it too could be incorporated by the new sciences of anthropology, political economics, and linguistics.' It is important therefore to recognize and allow Palestinian history its own time. Said (1985: 22) argues that although 'the methodological assumptions and practice of world history' are 'ideologically anti-imperialist', 'little or no attention is given to those cultural practices like Orientalism or ethnography affiliated with imperialism, which in genealogical fact fathered world history itself'. The danger remains that in trying to free the history of Palestine from the tyranny of biblical time it will become replaced by a notion of world time which continues to deny Palestine its own inherent importance and coherence. [18] The reality of this danger can best be illustrated by Baly's remark that because of Palestine's position at the crossroads of three continents surrounded by barriers to settlement and movement it can 'be said to have had, properly speaking, no internal history' (1984: 1) during the Persian period. [19] Here is the problem of world time writ large so that it divests Palestinian history of internal worth and value.

Thus the history of Palestine should not be subsumed under 'world history' or 'world time' any more than it should be subsumed under Israelite history or biblical time. It has its own rhythms and patterns which are an essential part of its own history and which form part of any world history. Attention needs to be paid to the microenvironments of Palestine, the diversity which goes to make up the singularity we call Palestine. All too often in the past, discussions of the region have focused upon the nature and identity of <Israel' to the virtual exclusion of other important historical entities except where they are thought to impinge upon Israelite history. Our standard 'biblical histories' have presented a conception of history almost exclusively in ethnic and religious terms, even though our understanding of ethnicity in antiquity is extremely problematical. Such classifications presuppose that the rightful concern of history is a series of unique events and individuals narrated as part of a linear, progressive history. The conception of Palestinian history advanced here would concentrate upon wide-ranging issues such as settlement, politics, economy, trade, ideology, and religion which need to be discussed in the broadest possible terms. By concentrating upon such broad themes the focus then is shifted away from the standard historical concern with great personalities and unique events to a concern with overarching factors that have shaped and been shaped by the history of the region. [20] Such a history would draw upon all forms of evidence, particularly archaeology and anthropology, including the Hebrew Bible, while being aware of the elaborate connections of such disciplines with the colonial enterprise that has shaped and distorted the history of the region. Written sources must take their place in the hierarchy of forms of evidence as they relate to particular issues under discussion. Such a history is not predicated on a notion of ecological determinism, as some claim, simply because it moves the focus away from the 'specific people and events' of the Hebrew Bible.

One of the major issues raised by such an approach is the relationship between the study of the history of the region and biblical studies in general. Clearly the term 'biblical history' is no longer appropriate for the kind of exercise being advocated here. The biblical text no longer forms the basis of or sets the agenda for the research in the same way that it has dominated past approaches to the problem. Syro-Palestinian archaeology broke away from the constraints of 'biblical' archaeology in the pioneering work of W.G. Dever. It is now time for Palestinian history to come of age and formally reject the agenda and constraints of 'biblical history'. Those scholars concerned with understanding the social and political milieu from which the Hebrew Bible arose must pursue research into the communities which gave rise to these traditions and their regional and interregional environments. But we must also recognize that the region possesses a legitimate history which is much wider than these communities or the texts to which they gave rise. Thompson (1987: 36) agrees that 'Israel's history (understood as distinct from biblical historiography), and the history of Israel's origin, fall unquestionably and inescapably into the context of regional, historical geographical changes in the history of Palestine'. Palestinian history must come of age through the pursuit of all aspects of the region's history regardless of whether or not it sheds light on the development and understanding of the text of the Hebrew Bible. It demands its own time and space denied to it for more than a century by the discourse of biblical studies.

It is the historian who must set the agenda and not the theologian. In the past the theologian has dictated the concerns and methods to be employed in the study of the history of Israel on the grounds that the Hebrew Bible is the only source of evidence and is their domain. Now the historian must claim the right to set the agenda and research strategies. Attempts by theologians or exegetes to try to understand and appropriate the results of such a history as they relate, if at all, to the interpretation of the text is a separate issue which remains the domain of biblical studies. [21] Palestinian history must be granted its own temporal and geographical domain outside the discourse of biblical studies. The discourse on the Palestinian past is, to adapt Said (1992: 8), a contest between affirmation and denial in which ancient Israel has taken control of Palestinian time and space. Furthermore, in reclaiming the temporal and spatial elements for such a regional history as part of world time, it has to be recognized for its own intrinsic value and not solely as the locus for the origins of European civilization. The invention and construction of America provides an analogy with the way in which Palestine has been appropriated, divested of meaning, and its history effectively silenced. O'Gorman (1961: 137) makes a similar point to those advanced above about the domination of all history by Europe in reference to the discovery and invention of America: 'Europe became history's paradigm, and the European way of life came to be regarded as the supreme criterion by which to judge the value and meaning of all other forms of civilization.' The invention of America by Europe is paralleled by the invention of ancient Israel by biblical specialists. What O'Gorman has to say about the invention of America could just as easily be applied to the discourse of biblical studies and its invention of ancient Israel:

America was no more than a potentiality, which could be realized only by receiving and fulfilling the values and ideals of European culture. America, in fact, could acquire historical significance only by becoming another Europe. Such was the spiritual or historical being that was identified for America.

-- O'Gorman 1961: 139

Just as America was 'invented in the image of its inventor' (O'Gorman 1961: 140), so ancient Israel was invented in terms of the European nation state; or, as Chakrabarty (1992: 2) put it, 'Europe is the silent referent in historical knowledge'. The dominant discourse of biblical studies has masked the means by which the term Palestine has been divested of spatial and temporal significance. Palestinian history has become one of the many excluded histories, divested of significance in terms of world history and relegated to prehistory. Europe, and later Zionism, has rescued the historical significance of the region in its search for ancient Israel: a search for its own cultural roots which has silenced Palestinian history. It is this invention to which we must now turn in order to illustrate the ways in which the dominant discourse of biblical studies has achieved this in the name of objective scholarship.
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Re: The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palest

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Part 1 of 3



Biblical scholarship has invested considerable intellectual and financial resources in its search for ancient Israel. The essential Israel of biblical scholarship has emerged not in the so-called Patriarchal or Exodus periods, though these have been important in the discourse of biblical studies, but in the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition. This is the period which is usually referred to as the 'emergence' or 'origins' of Israel, the period when Israel is considered to have taken possession of Palestine. The dispossession of Palestinian history has been completed in the representation of the reigns of David and Solomon in the Iron Age where a fledgling state is presented as becoming the major military power in the region in a very short period of time. These two periods, the 'emergence' of Israel in Palestine and the development of the Davidic-Solomonic state are of such importance within the discourse of biblical studies that they could be described as representing the defining moments in the history of Israel and thereby in the history of Palestine as a whole. The search for ancient Israel has been of such primary concern within the discipline because the historical critical assumption has been that it is these periods which provide the loci for understanding and defining much of the biblical material. The irony is, however, that current reassessments by Ahlstrom, Lemche, Coote, Whitelam, and Thompson are likely to lead to the view that it is the period of the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition which will come to be seen as the defining moment in the emergence of Palestinian history as a subject in its own right. Palestinian history became one of the 'excluded histories' with the invention of ancient Israel and its location in the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition: it is likely to regain its voice, its right to representation, with the reassessment of this period brought about, ironically, by the volume and quality of archaeological data for the period which has been produced by Israeli scholars.

Debates have become increasingly acrimonious because the aura of objectivity which has been projected to cover the collusion of biblical studies in the dispossession of Palestine has gradually been exposed. The history of the debate on the emergence of Israel in Palestine illustrates quite clearly that the discourse of biblical studies has been shaped by contemporary political struggles over the question and future of Palestine. The debate on the origins or emergence of ancient Israel is typically presented as an argument over three major models or hypotheses; a debate which refuses to acknowledge its involvement in contemporary politics. Various surveys (Miller 1977; Ramsey 1982; Chaney 1983) provide an overview and critique of the major models in terms of their methodological assumptions, use of data, and general conclusions. However, such reviews and critiques have, by and large, failed to recognize just how closely these seemingly competing constructions of ancient Israel have mirrored the events of Palestine at the time at which they were formulated. The discourse of biblical studies, while ostensibly arguing over the origins or emergence of Israel, has mirrored and often adopted the language of contemporary struggles over Palestine.

The sustained critique of these dominant positions, which has taken place over the last decade or so, has led to increasingly acrimonious exchanges. As we have noted, the increasing acrimony has occasionally fractured the surface of objective, academic debate to expose underlying religious and political beliefs which have shaped the various constructions of the past. The struggle for the past is invariably a struggle for power and control in the present, as we have seen in the ideological construction of time and space. in the previous chapter. While biblical studies could maintain the illusion that the debates over the three models associated with Alt and Noth, Albright and Bright, Mendenhall and Gottwald were essentially about the assessment and relative weight of various forms of data which led to the formulation, negation, or reformulation of hypotheses, then the exchanges between the main protagonists might be heated or forceful but retained the essential civility, except in odd cases, of academic discourse. Post-modernist discourses, however, have led to the realization of the essential subjectivity of the academic enterprise exposing the role of various academic disciplines in the colonial enterprise. This has led to the growing, but slow, awareness that the search for ancient Israel is not about some disinterested construction of the past but an important question of contemporary identity and power. The hypotheses formulated by German and American biblical specialists are presented as debates ostensibly over the nature of the emergence or origins of Israel. This is not a debate, so much, between competing claims to the past, as it is usually understood, but rather a debate over the identity of which Israel is to lay claim to that past. The different inventions of Israel proposed by these three hypotheses all lay claim to Palestinian time and space: it is always Israel's past, however one might conceive of Israel. There is no real competition within the discourse of biblical studies because Palestine and the Palestinians are denied any right to this past.

The critiques of the mid-1980s onwards, which have undermined the major models of Israel's past in the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition, focused upon the failure to account for the growing body of archaeological data in the region. They all, in varying degrees, tried to articulate alternative constructions of the Palestinian past. Their disavowal of a reliance upon the biblical traditions for understanding the archaeological and other data in their constructions of the 'emergence' of Israel has exposed, unwittingly, just how far the previous models were implicated in contemporary struggles for Palestine. The political nature of these constructions of the past is only now emerging as attempts to articulate a history of ancient Palestine placing Israelite and Palestinian pasts in direct competition. The contested past of the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition can no longer be divorced easily from competing claims by Israelis and Palestinians to the same land. It is no longer a debate, a purely academic debate, on the different understandings of the nature of ancient Israel. The continuum between past and present is broken, a fracturing which undermines contemporary claims to both knowledge and power. The consensus that had surrounded the periods of 'emergence' and the Davidic monarchy for so long has collapsed at such a startling rate in the last few years that there is a pressing need for a complete reappraisal of the end of the Late Bronze and the early Iron Age. It is the beginning of this reappraisal, above all, which has led to the growing realization of the need to reclaim time and space for Palestinian history in its own right. However, before considering the implications of this dramatic shift, it is important to consider the ways in which the search for 'ancient Israel' in the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages has dominated the history of the region and effectively silenced the search for a history of ancient Palestine. This is not a standard review of the relative strengths and weaknesses of German and American scholarship from the 1920s onwards, a function already provided by the many convenient reviews. It is an attempt to illustrate the theological and political assumptions which have contributed to the dominant definitions of Israel's past. It is designed as a commentary, using their own words, to illustrate just how far their constructions of the past have mirrored and are implicated in contemporary struggles for Palestine. What it reveals is a series of imaginative pasts which have been responsible for the silencing of Palestinian history in the name of objective scholarship.


Albrecht Alt's seminal essay 'Die Landnahme der Israeliten in Palastina', published in 1925 (1966: 133-69), led to the development of what has come to be called the Infiltration or Immigration model of Israelite origins, frequently characterized as the peaceful infiltration/ immigration of Israelites into Palestine. This hypothesis, associated with German scholarship, notably Alt, Noth, and M. Weippert, has been very influential in the discourse of biblical studies, nearly three-quarters of a century after its classic formulation by Alt, not only in current reformulations of the hypothesis, but through a series of ideas which have been taken for granted in the discourse of biblical studies and therefore rarely articulated. It still retains considerable support, most notably in the recent important work of the Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein (1988). However, it is a construction of the past, an invention of Israel, which mirrors perceptions of contemporary Palestine of the 1920s at a time of increasing Zionist immigration.

Alt's innovative insight was to recognize that in order to overcome the deficiencies of the Hebrew Bible for understanding the process of Israelite origins, it was necessary to investigate 'the history of [the] country's territorial divisions in complete independence of other aspects of the problem' (1966: 136). By this means, he intended to understand the settlement of the Israelites in Palestine at the end of the Late Bronze Age (thirteenth century BCE), the conditions which preceded it, and its effects upon the settlement history of Palestine. Alt, in effect, proposed to address the problem from the perspective of la longue duree by using Egyptian and cuneiform materials to construct 'the political geography of Palestine' (1966: 137). His findings stressed the important role played by small city-states with their 'petty' princes in defining this political geography: the Pharaoh exercised power through them and only dealt directly with them. The full development of this political system resulted in the extreme fragmentation of Palestine into a number of small city-states consisting of little more than the land surrounding the city and a few neighbouring villages. He drew an important regional distinction between the political geography of the coastal lowlands, where the majority of these city-states were located, and the highlands of Palestine where the lack of good arable land resulted in the fact that 'the settlement of the mountains, and the development of an advanced culture there, had not at this stage reached the same level' (1966: 149). He drew upon the Amarna archives concerning Labaya at Shechem to conclude that 'the existence of a political unity in the mountains north of Jerusalem is unmistakable' (1966: 153). This contrast between the plains and the highlands, which has been very influential in perceptions of the region, for him, 'clearly go back to a different political structure: in the first, groups of city-states close together, in the second, an extensive territory under a single ruler' (1966: 154). Jerusalem is characterized as an important exception in the hill country of a city-state that failed to extend its territorial control over a wide area.

He contends that with the collapse of Egyptian power at the end of the Late Bronze Age the 'political map of Palestine is completely changed' (1966: 157) leaving approximately only half a dozen states in the area. This can only be explained, according to Alt, by a complete shift of political power in the region. The dramatic decline of imperial Egypt is an insufficient explanation for the new forms of political life and territorial units which emerged at this time. Nor can it be explained by indigenous developments in response to the decline in imperial Egyptian control: 'When native politics were left to develop in their own way, their obvious course was to preserve the state of affairs that had grown up in the country over many centuries' (1966: 157). Alt's assumption is that the change can only be brought about by external influence, thereby denying inherent value to the internal history of the region. It is an assumption, as we have seen, that pervades the discourse of biblical studies: an assumption that coincides with common presentations of the events taking place in Palestine contemporary with Alt's research. Palestine for Alt, as for contemporary Western politicians, notably the British, was incapable of developing 'new forms of political life': 'The impetus towards the general re-ordering of the political organization of Palestine cannot therefore have come from there' (1966: 158). Notice how categorical Alt can be in his statement of the failure, the inability of the indigenous population of Palestine to cultivate innovative forms of political organization. Such forms had to come from outside. Similarly, Swendenburg (1989: 208) points out that Israeli historians tend to view Palestinian society of the 1930s as an internally fragmented tribal society incapable of national organization.  [1]

What, then, are these innovative forms of political life which require external stimulation and which he attributes to the Israelites, Philistines, Judaeans, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Arameans? None other than the nation state. Here Alt sees for the first time the development of a national consciousness, something that the indigenous population are incapable of experiencing: 'the naming of states after their people also betrays a national consciousness which the earlier political formations, and the city-states in particular, never had and because of their political structure could not have' (1966: 18). There is no clear justification for his assumption that the growth of national consciousness could not have been indigenous but must be explained as an external import: his analysis of the city-state system does not justify such a categorical statement. However, Alt's work is set in one of the most crucial periods of modern Palestinian history: a period of increasing Zionist immigration into the area in the early decades of the century, along with aspirations of a national homeland, which completely changed the social, political, and demographic characteristics of the region (see Abu-Lughob 1987; Khalidi 1984). The central feature of Alt's construction, significant immigration of groups in search of a national homeland, needs to be considered in the context of these dramatic developments in Palestine at the time he was conducting his research -- developments of which he could hardly have been ignorant.

The nation state might be the apex of political development but it was only certain peoples who were capable of evolving to this final stage. This is evident in his explanation of how certain groups failed ultimately to achieve this goal, unlike the Israelites. The Philistines, whom Alt (1966: 158) describes as acting as a unit, failed in their attempts to found a national state precisely because it was located in the coastal plain where the city-state system had its stronghold. Even though they may have extended its limits further than before, they were forced to retain the city-state system. In effect, this indigenous form of political organization 'imposed itself upon the new inhabitants' (1966: 159). The Philistines failed because they had been contaminated by such close contact with the indigenous population. It was left to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to impose a new form of political organization on the region, thereby sweeping away the indigenous city-state system. This is the defining moment in the history of the region for Alt since he claims that 'the importance of this occurrence for the history of Palestine in general has not yet been fully estimated' (1966: 160). Alt then offers a striking description of the foundation of the Israelite state in which the indigenous population do not expect equal rights:

The kingdom of Saul is simply the union of the Israelite tribes and their districts into one state, while the non-Israelite city-states remained outside or at least did not expect equal rights as part of the newly-founded kingdom. A glance at the map will show that although the nature of the Israelite state provided a basis for national unity, it had not succeeded in rounding off the borders of its territory, and the strategical situation before Saul's last battle is a clear example of this.

-- Alt 1966: 161

It was the entry of the Israelites into Palestine which had altered the situation, preparing the way for the ultimate achievement of the foundation of a nation state under David and Solomon - an achievement beyond the capabilities of the indigenous Palestinians who, we are told, did not expect equal rights! No evidence is offered for such an assertion, which only serves to emphasize the superiority of Israel over an inferior indigenous Palestinian population. His famous account of the Israelite occupation of Palestine describes how they settled in those areas in the hill country where larger political units were already established and which were protected from contamination by the lowland city-state system. It was these thinly populated areas, described by Alt as politically ill organized, that were least capable of resisting the Israelite intruders. Only after the 'semi-nomadic' groups had settled to an agricultural way of life did their expansion lead eventually to the destruction of the city-state system.

In effect, the other main proponents of this model, Noth and M. Weippert, have modified Alt's views only slightly and have adopted and propagated the domain assumptions. Noth also assumes that 'naturally, the Old Testament tradition is unquestionably right in regarding the tribes not as indigenous to Palestine but as having entered and gained a footing there from the wilderness and steppe at a definite point in time' (1960: 53). Israel only became 'a final and enduring reality in Palestine' (1960: 53). He believes that these tribes brought with them important traditions from outside Palestine which contributed to the self-consciousness and faith of Israel as it developed in Palestine. His own description of Israelite settlement (1960: 55-6; 68) in the sparsely populated areas of the highlands is little more than a reiteration of Alt. His assumption, following Alt, is that these tribes were semi-nomadic in a protracted process of sedentarization 'the whole process being carried through, to begin with, by peaceful means and without the use of force' (1960: 69). The stress is constantly on the 'peaceful' means by which the land is appropriated. The implicit claim of this model is that Israel's infiltration into Palestine was not an act of dispossession but the possession of an empty, uninhabited land, or at least those areas which were uninhabited. It is only with the second phase of Israelite 'territorial expansion' that conflict with the Canaanite city-states takes place (M. Weippert 1971: 6).

The continued critique of Alt's hypothesis of Israelite origins and its various reformulations has illustrated the extent to which it is an imagined and invented past (see Ramsey 1982: 77-90; Miller 1977: 268-70; Mendenhall 1962; Gottwald 1979: 204-9). Literary approaches to the Hebrew Bible have seriously undermined the source-critical assumptions which Alt employed in his analysis of the biblical texts. The domain assumption that it is possible to identify particular strata in the texts, to date these, and then to use them for historical reconstruction has been put under sustained critique. Furthermore, it has become accepted that the fundamental assumption by Alt, along with most other biblical specialists of the time, that social change in the ancient past was necessarily the result of external invasion/migration by different ethnic groups who replaced the indigenous culture can no longer be sustained. In particular, the assumption that Israel was composed of nomads or semi-nomads in the process of sedentarization has been abandoned in light of the growing anthropological evidence showing that pastoralism is a specialized offshoot of agriculture in the ancient Near East. The growing body of archaeological evidence from the region, since All's initial research, has also illustrated quite clearly that the growth in settlements in the highlands of Palestine during the Late Bronze- Iron Age transition can no longer be associated unequivocally with Israelite immigration. [2]

We might compare Alt's construction of Israelite settlement in Palestine with the political events of his own day within the region. His view of the imagined past is that the process of 'peaceful immigration' eventually resulted in the foundation of a nation state that swept away the inefficient, indigenous city-state system. He asserts, without any supporting evidence, that the indigenous population were incapable of any sense of national consciousness. Similarly, in the 1920s when Zionism with its strong sense of national consciousness was seeking a 'national homeland' in Palestine through immigration, it was common to deny any sense of national consciousness to Palestinian Arabs (Laqueur 1972: 248-50). Such an assertion has long been commonplace despite the denials of Antonius (1969) or even Elon (1983: 151-3). They show that a nascent nationalism was current among the Arab population in the region as early as the 1880s paralleling developments in Jewish nationalism. The widespread misrepresentation of the introduction of national consciousness and unity into the region as a result of immigration and the devaluing of indigenous political organization has permeated biblical studies since the time of Alt. Furthermore, it is important to bear in mind that Alt's own search for ancient Israel was informed by German nationalism and the search for the nation state (Sasson 1981). It is an imagined past that bears a strong resemblance to perceptions of the events in Palestine of the 1920s which saw increasing Zionist immigration into the area, the establishment of increasing numbers of settlements (kibbutzim), and a contrast between a growing Zionist 'national consciousness' and the inefficient, disunited groups of indigenous Palestinians/Arabs who were thought to be incapable of any such unified national organization. This imagined past, a mirror of Alt's own present, has had a profound and subtle influence on the discourse of biblical studies ever since. Biblical studies, in reiterating the unsubstantiated claims of Alt's construction, has participated in the struggle for Palestine by silencing any claim to the Palestinian past other than that of Israel.


American scholarship, led by William Foxwell Albright, produced an alternative construction of Israel's emergence in Palestine which has been projected, within the discourse of biblical studies, as the diametric opposite of Alt's 'peaceful' immigration hypothesis. Albright was concerned to show that there was 'objective' evidence for accepting the picture presented in part of the biblical traditions of a external invasion and conquest. Alt and Noth had appealed to alternative traditions in Judges and parts of Joshua to support their construction of a protracted and largely peaceful immigration. Albright placed much greater emphasis on the increasing archaeological data to support the biblical tradition in Joshua of a short military campaign which devastated a number of the Palestinian urban centres. Albright's invention of ancient Israel has been of immense importance in twentieth-century biblical studies, propagated by a group of influential graduate students who rose to prominent academic positions throughout the USA. Yet, once again, it is remarkable how far his construction of Israel's past mirrors important perceptions of developments in the Palestine of his own day. Many of his ideas were forged during the very same critical period in the development of the region in the early decades of this century which is the temporal location for Alt's scholarship (see also Silberman 1993: 8).

Albright's philosophy of history, which is critical for understanding his perception of ancient Israel, was produced in 1940 and revised and reprinted three times. The 1957 revision includes the interesting statement that the book was published 'by agreement between Anchor Books and the Biblical Colloquium. The Biblical Colloquium is a scholarly society devoted to the analysis and discussion of biblical matters, and the preparation, publication, and distribution of informative literature about the Bible for the general reader as well as students.' Thus it is suggested to the reader that s/he can have complete trust in this exercise designed to provide the public with the fruits of objective scholarship. At the time, the Biblical Colloquium, the influential gathering of Albright's graduate students, was actively involved in the propagation of his ideas with the express intention of seeing that they triumphed in American academic life. [3] In the 1957 introduction to the Anchor edition, he states explicitly that despite many discoveries since 1940, he has had no need to revise any of his conclusions with regard to the history of Israel: on the contrary, he has only been confirmed in these. This introduction also alerts the reader to Albright's evolutionary schema which informs his whole philosophy of history, divided into protological empirico-logical, and logical stages of development, thereby influencing his presentation of the Israelite past and leading to the silencing of Palestinian history (see also 1957: 84). This is confirmed in his attempts to articulate 'an organismic philosophy of history' concluding that:

From the standpoint of the present study, this table reflects the writer's conviction that the Graeco-Roman civilization of the time of Christ represented the closest approach to a rational unified culture that the world has yet seen and may justly be taken as the culmination of a long period of relatively steady evolution .... It was, moreover, about the same time that the religion of Israel reached its climactic expression in Deutero-Isaiah and Job, who represented a height beyond which pure ethical monotheism has never risen. The history of the Israelite and Jewish religion from Moses to Jesus thus appears to stand on the pinnacle of biological evolution as represented in Homo Sapiens, and recent progress in discovery and invention really reflects a cultural lag of over two millennia, a lag which is to be sure, very small when compared to the hundreds of thousands of years during which man has been toiling up the steep slopes of evolution.

-- Albright 1957: 121-2

He goes on to elaborate a broad classification of human history based upon human mental activity, 'as representing the highest religious and literary accomplishments of the historic past, seen in the perspective of the modern contrast between primitive tribes and civilized nations' (1957: 122). Notice that the high point of human development, the achievements of 'civilized nations', was a pinnacle that had already been reached by the Israelite and Jewish religions. Western civilization of his own day was returning to the crucible of its origins. Ultimately, he concludes that this evolutionary progression is not the product of random chance since history is the realm of divine revelation: 'The sympathetic student of man's entire history can have but one reply: there is an Intelligence and a Will, expressed in both History and Nature -- for History and Nature are one' (1957: 126). The rhetorical use of 'sympathetic' is designed to undermine the views of anyone who does not profess to his theological schema. In the same way, recent revisionist histories can be deemed as beyond the bounds of acceptable, objective scholarship by being labelled 'unreasonable'. In Albright's synthesis it is not just that Israelite history belongs to the realm of theology, but that all history is theology.

Albright based his construction of Israelite origins on his unparalleled knowledge of archaeological results from Palestine and his reading of the biblical traditions. He saw a direct correlation between evidence for the destruction of numerous Palestinian urban sites at the end of the Late Bronze Age, their replacement by poorer settlements often marked by a change in material culture such as different pottery or architectural types, and the tradition in the book of Joshua of an Israelite invasion and conquest of Palestine (for convenient reviews and details, see Miller 1977: 212-79; Gottwald 1979: 192-203; Ramsey 1982: 65-98; Chaney 1983). Like Alt, he identified the growth of highland villages in the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition with Israel. This was not, however, a peaceful immigration but a sudden and violent eruption from outside which destroyed the urban culture of Palestine.

Albright's espousal of an Israelite conquest of Palestine combining biblical traditions and archaeological data led him to conclude that:

The population of early Israelite Palestine was mainly composed of three groups: pre-Israelite Hebrews, Israelites proper, and Canaanites of miscellaneous origin. The Hebrews coalesced so rapidly with their Israelite kindred that hardly any references to this distinction have survived in biblical literature and the few apparent allusions are doubtful. The Canaanites were brought into the Israelite fold by treaty, conquest, or gradual absorption.

-- Albright 1957: 279

Albright's description is remarkably reminiscent of the demographic distinction following the Zionist influx into Palestine with the indigenous Jewish population being assimilated ('coalesced') while the indigenous Palestine population were absorbed 'by treaty, conquest, or gradual absorption'. [4] There is no question raised here as to the legitimacy of Israel's right to the land or the rights of the dispossessed indigenous population. But what is most striking, and frightening, is that Albright not only does not raise the question of the rights of the indigenous population to the land but follows on with a remarkable attempt at justification for the extinction of this indigenous population. His discussion has such far-reaching consequences for the assessment of this act of dispossession that it needs to be quoted in full:

Strictly speaking this Semitic custom was no worse, from the humanitarian point of view, than the reciprocal massacres of Protestants and Catholics in the seventeenth century (e.g. Magdeburg, Drogheda), or than the massacre of Armenians by Turks and of Kirghiz by Russians during the First World War, or than the recent slaughter of non-combatants in Spain by both sides. It is questionable whether a strictly detached observer would consider it as bad as the starvation of helpless Germany after the armistice in 1918 or the bombing of Rotterdam in 1940. In those days warfare was total, just as it is again becoming after the lapse of three millennia. And we Americans have perhaps less right than most modern nations, in spite of our genuine humanitarianism, to sit in judgement on the Israelites of the thirteenth century B.C., since we have, intentionally or otherwise, exterminated scores of thousands of Indians in every corner of our great nation and have crowded the rest into great concentration camps. The fact that this was probably inevitable does not make it more edifying to the Americans of today. It is significant that after the first phase of the Israelite Conquest we hear no more about 'devoting' the population of Canaanite towns, but only of driving them out or putting them to tribute (Judges 1: passim). From the impartial standpoint of a philosopher of history, it often seems necessary that a people of markedly inferior type should vanish before a people of superior potentialities, since there is a point beyond which racial mixture cannot go without disaster. When such a process takes place -- as at present in Australia -- there is generally little that can be done by the humanitarian -- though every deed of brutality and injustice is infallibly visited upon the aggressor.

It was fortunate for the future of monotheism that the Israelites of the Conquest were a wild folk, endowed with primitive energy and ruthless will to exist, since the resulting decimation of the Canaanites prevented the complete fusion of the two kindred folk which would almost inevitably have depressed Yahwistic standards to a point where recovery was impossible. Thus the Canaanites, with their orgiastic nature worship, their cult of fertility in the form of serpent symbols and sensuous nudity, and their gross mythology, were replaced by Israel, with its pastoral simplicity and purity of life, its lofty monotheism, and its severe code of ethics. In a not altogether dissimilar way, a millennium later, the African Canaanites, as they still called themselves, or the Carthaginians, as we call them, with the gross Phoenician mythology which we know from Ugarit and Philo Byblius, with human sacrifices and the cult of sex, were crushed by the immensely superior Romans, whose stern code of morals and singularly elevated paganism remind us in many ways of early Israel.

-- Albright 1957: 280-1

This justification, by one of the great icons of twentieth-century biblical scholarship, of the slaughter of the indigenous Palestinian population is remarkable for two reasons: it is an outpouring of undisguised racism which is staggering, but equally startling is the fact that this statement is never referred to or commented on, as far as I know, by biblical scholars in their assessments of the work of Albright. [5] Albright's characterization of the sensuous, immoral Canaanite stands in a long line of Orientalist representations of the Other as the opposite of the Western, rational intellectual. It is a characterization which dehumanizes, allowing the extermination of native populations, as in the case of Native Americans where it was regrettable but 'probably inevitable'; the claim is couched in terms of the progress that colonial or imperial rule will bring. This passage occurs in a chapter entitled 'Charisma and catharsis': remarkably, the foreword to the 1957 edition only mentions that in the original volume (1940) he failed to stress the predictive element of Israelite prophecy sufficiently in this chapter. Even after sixteen years, well after the full horrors of the Holocaust had been exposed, Albright felt no need to revise his opinion that 'superior' peoples had the right to exterminate 'inferior'. Nor did he acknowledge the startling paradox of his theology which fails to recognize the offensiveness of the idea that Israelite monotheism was saved in its 'lofty ethical monotheism' by the extermination of the indigenous population.

His interpretation of the archaeological data reinforces his claim to such a sharp distinction between Israelite and Canaanite culture:

Since Israelite culture was in many respects a tabula rasa when the Israelites invaded Palestine, we might expect them to have been influenced strongly by the culture of their Canaanite predecessors. Yet excavations show a most abrupt break between the culture of the Canaanite Late Bronze Age and that of the Israelite early Iron Age in the hill-country of Palestine.

-- Albright 1957: 284-5

Albright's identification of collared-rim ware and the four-room house type as markers of Israelite material culture has, of course, been fundamental to subsequent readings of the archaeological data or constructions of this period until very recently. Thus Palestinian time and space are replaced by Israelite time and space as part of the inevitable evolutionary development and replacement of cultures. This inevitable progress was to result in the foundation of an Israelite national state: 'Meanwhile the constant struggle between the Israelites and the surrounding peoples was slowly but surely hammering them into national unity' (1957: 286). Yet, it seems, the surrounding or indigenous populations were not similarly metamorphized by this conflict into a national unity. He concludes this discussion of Israel's conquest of Palestine with the remarkable assertion, remarkable in following so closely on his justification of the genocide of the indigenous population:

When the Israelites address foreigners they use language suitable to their horizon and capable of producing a friendly reaction. There is nothing 'modern' about this principle, which must have been commonplace in the ancient Orient -- though no other known people of antiquity can approach the objectivity of the Israelites in such matters, to judge from their literature.

-- Albright 1957: 288-9

Israel, as the taproot of Western civilization, represents the rational while 'Canaan', the indigenous Palestinian population, represents the irrational Other which must be replaced in the inexorable progress of divinely guided evolution. Further justification for this is hidden away in a footnote in the epilogue:

It is far more 'reasonable' to recognize that, just as man is being evolved by the eternal spirit of the Universe, so his religious life is the result of stimuli coming from the same source and progressing toward a definite goal. In other words, the evolution of man's religious life is guided by divine revelation.

-- Albright 1957: 401 n. 1

Reasonableness is again the mark and the test of acceptance of his theological beliefs.
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Re: The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palest

Postby admin » Wed Nov 21, 2018 2:58 am

Part 2 of 3

The evolutionary and theological assumptions which underlie his work, and which have been so influential in the discourse of biblical studies, are made explicit in the epilogue: [6]

A double strand runs through our treatment: first, the ascending curve of human evolution, a curve which now rises, now falls, now moves in cycles, and now oscillates, but which has always hitherto recovered itself and continued to ascend; second, the development of individual historical patterns or configurations, each with its own organismic life, which rises, reaches a climax, and declines. The picture as a whole warrants the most sanguine faith in God and in His purpose for man.

-- Albright 1957: 401

Albright's whole philosophy of history is underpinned by the notion of the evolutionary development of organisms so that it is natural for Israel to 'replace' the inferior indigenous population of Palestine, just as it was natural for Christianity to replace 'inferior' religions. The justification of genocide, the justification for the silencing of Palestinian history, is contained in his final assertion that:

Real spiritual progress can only be achieved through catastrophe and suffering, reaching new levels after the profound catharsis which accompanies major upheavals. Every such period of mental and physical agony, while the old is being swept away and the new is still unborn, yields different social patterns and deeper spiritual insights.

-- Albright 1957: 402

The intellectual and spiritual advancement which had been reached by Greek and Jewish thinkers by the fifth century BCE was impeded for a millennium and a half. Significantly, then, for Albright, 'Jesus Christ appeared on the scene just when Occidental civilization had reached a fatal impasse' (1957: 403). The intellectual and spiritual line stretches, for Albright, from ancient Israel to modern Western civilization, or that civilization as Albright conceives of it:

We need reawakening of faith in the God of the majestic theophany on Mount Sinai, in the God of Elijah's vision at Horeb, in the God of the Jewish exiles in Babylonia, in the God of the Agony of Gethsemane.

-- Albright 1957: 403

His assertions and the theological beliefs which inform and dictate his construction of Israelite history are presented in the name of objective scholarship:

Throughout we have resisted the temptation to modify our statement of historical fact in order to produce a simpler -- but less objective -- picture. We have endeavoured to make the facts speak for themselves, though our care to state them fairly and to provide evidence to support them, where necessary, may sometimes have made it difficult for the reader to follow the unfolding scroll of history.

-- Albright 1957: 400

Albright, as the objective academic, the representative of Western rationality, assures the reader that what is being presented is a trustworthy construction of Israel's past. We might compare this with Freedman's remark that:

While, for those of us who came to the Hopkins fresh from Christian theological seminaries, the presentation and articulation of the data were quite congenial and the Oriental Seminary ... seemed like a continuation of what he had already experienced, namely a strong Christian cultural bias, and an essentially apologetic approach to the subject of religion, especially biblical religion in (or against) its environment, nevertheless, the basis and the method were different.

-- Freedman 1989: 35

In stressing his orthodox and pietistic Methodist upbringing, his conservative stance towards biblical religion, and his sympathetic treatment of evangelicals and fundamentalists, Freedman insists that Albright was careful to present his work in terms of the history of ideas rather than the defence of a particular faith or branch of it. He did not make any effort to conceal his faith but, Freedman claims, it was not obstructive or intrusive. 'He never appeared to be personally involved, since the debate and defence were conducted on purely intellectual grounds' (1989: 35).

The theological underpinning of Albright's invention of ancient Israel as the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual root of Western society are evident throughout his writings. The failure of biblical discourse to discuss this in the reassessment of Albright's work is staggering given the justification he offers for the obvious superiority of some peoples over others. The paradox of all this is that he was recognized by the state of Israel for his scholarly achievements and for his involvement in helping many Jewish refugees escape from the horrors of Nazi persecution (Running and Freedman 1975). Yet he, and subsequent generations of biblical scholars, have failed to reflect upon the implications of his justification for the Israelite slaughter of the Palestinian population in the conquest of the land. In the collection of essays produced from the symposium 'Homage to William Foxwell Albright', sponsored by the American Friends of the Israel Exploration Society, van Beek states that 'for Albright, homage without honest appraisal would have been little more than flattery, and therefore without merit' (1989: 3). What might we conclude from the overwhelming reluctance within the discourse of biblical studies to acknowledge Albright's racist philosophy? Either it has been an issue too delicate to raise or the discipline has colluded in the enterprise: the failure to point out the objectionable nature of his views, of course, is part of that collusion. The views of Albright, quoted at length above, bear comparison with anything found in Said's critique of Orientalism. They cannot be dismissed simply as the views of someone of his time, as though it is unreasonable from our current perspective to expect anything more. Nor can they be divorced from the rest of his scholarship since this overriding philosophy of history is fundamental to his interpretation and presentation of the archaeological and historical data. What has to be remembered is that his conclusions, his construction of the past, shaped and continue to shape the perceptions of generations of biblical scholars, particularly American and British. [7]

Even in the late 1980s, Albright was presented as the icon of objective scholarship, a presentation which has been essential to the discourse of biblical studies and which has hidden its involvement in the colonial enterprise. As with Alt's invention of an imagined past, so Albright's construction has come under sustained critique which has shattered any illusion as to its cogency. Albright's hypothesis suffers from the very same weaknesses as Alt's in terms of attempts to isolate literary strata and then read off a simple correlation with the historical reality. Ironically, however, it is the new archaeological data itself, from excavations and regional surveys, which have completely undermined his invention of the past. The problems posed by the excavations of Ai and Jericho for his correlation of archaeological data and the biblical traditions are well known. Furthermore, the discovery of collared-rim ware and the four-room house type in different areas and earlier periods further undermined his identification of Israelite material culture or any notion of a sharp break with indigenous culture. In retrospect it is easier to see that his construction was just as much an imagined past tied to his own present as that of Alt. Yet the political implications of his work have remained largely unexamined, masked by the concentration on his achievements in archaeological fieldwork and biblical studies in general. Silberman, in his reassessment of Albright, is one of the few scholars to raise the question of the political implications of his scholarship:

It is strange that today's Biblical archaeologists -- or Syro-Palestinian archaeologists -- who likewise take pride in wearing the public badge of scholarly impartiality, don't often acknowledge that there is something more to Albright's legacy than historical ideas. Can a scholar, who is also a product of a modern society, with a particular national, religious, and economic position, really enter a strife torn society (like Palestine was in the 1920s) without participating willingly or unknowingly in the political struggle that is going on? Can he or she obtain rights to an archaeological site (which is also part of the modern landscape), negotiate for goods, services, and government sanction, employ local workers, and most of all present a version of the past that is susceptible to modern political interpolation, without contributing -- again, knowingly or unconsciously -- to the modern political debate?

-- Silberman 1993: 15

Biblical scholarship has attempted to remain immune from the intellectual currents which have shaken other disciplines, choosing to ignore or deny its intricate involvement in the political realm. The particular questions raised by Silberman have not formed part of the scholarly agenda.

Biblical studies has been and continues to be, despite the many protestations of innocence, involved in the contemporary struggle for Palestine. This is revealed in Albright's 1942 article in New Palestine entitled 'Why the Near East needs the Jews' in which he describes his changing attitudes to Jewish immigration at the time of his first visits to Palestine in 1919 and 1920. He professes himself to be a 'friend of the Arabs as well as the Jews'. He is clearly aware of the context of his work set within the contemporary struggle for Palestine. His oscillation between 'the causes of the two peoples' was eventually resolved as he became an increasingly warm supporter of 'cultural Zionism', claiming to remain neutral on the question of 'political Zionism'. He had by 1940 abandoned his neutrality in light of 'the monstrous reality of Hitlerism' -- an interesting confession given his statement on the right of superior peoples to replace inferior. Albright had come to recognize political Zionism as the only alternative, invoking the 'historical right' of the Jewish people and its 'internationally recognized legal right' to Palestine. He then states that 'more important than the clear historical right is the tremendous emotional force of the movement to revive Zion. Palestine is the home of the patriarchs, poets, and prophets of Israel; Palestine is the workshop in which Jews forged three right instruments of Western culture; the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Second Law' (1942: 12). Israel is presented as the taproot of Western civilization while at the same time the direct continuum between past and present is stressed as justification of Israel's right to the land. In order to show his balance and objectivity, his sympathy for the Arab cause, he tries to argue that 'a Jewish Palestine' would not be an 'irritating alien body in the otherwise homogenous Moslem Arab world'. The Near East needs the Jews because of the rapid modernization brought about by American and European involvement and investment. What is being constructed is 'a center of European civilization -- an immensely energetic and progressive focus of influence - in the heart of the Near East'. The region would then benefit from the technological, medical, and cultural benefits introduced into the region through Jewish immigration. Albright's Israel of the Iron Age was a mirror image of the Israel of his present: Israel is presented as the carrier of (European) civilization which can only benefit the impoverished region. No mention is made of the right of the indigenous population to the land, either in the past or the present. Albright is concerned only with the historic right of Israel. His construction of an imagined past has been one of the most influential in the history of the discipline, and still retains wide popular support and considerable influence particularly among Israeli scholars. As such, it is an influential construction of the past which has laid claim to Palestine for Israel, thereby denying any such claim by the indigenous population whether ancient or modern. [8]

George Ernest Wright, a senior figure in the Biblical Colloquium, attests to the importance of Albright's ideas in shaping the discourse of biblical studies in the twentieth century. His influential The Old Testament against its Environment opens with a foreword, written in 1949, describing the purpose of his Haskell Lectures as 'to examine and lay emphasis upon those central elements of Biblical faith which are so unique and sui generis that they cannot have developed by any natural evolutionary process from the pagan world in which they appeared. They cannot be explained, therefore, by environmental or geographical conditioning' (1950: 7). He takes issue with 'the extreme positions' of those who try to explain the faith of Israel in developmental terms. Here is a unique entity, for Wright, which is radically demarcated from its 'pagan' environment to such an extent that it cannot be explained 'fully by evolutionary or environmental categories' (1950: 7). Encapsulated in these opening sentences is the overriding theological and ideological assumptions of Western biblical scholarship which have silenced Palestinian history. Interestingly, he takes issue with the evolutionary assumption that it is possible to trace the developmental path of the biblical traditions since this leads to the misunderstanding that 'the idea of development lays emphasis inevitably upon the process of human discovery rather than on revelation, on gradual evolution rather than mutation' (1950: 11). Once again, we find the language of the growth of organisms. Israel, however, cannot be understood in terms of development because its roots cannot be traced to the indigenous population or culture. It is of such a unique status that it can only be described as a mutation brought about by divine intervention rather than random accident. [9] The key to understanding Wright's arguments is his belief that 'the living God, says the Bible, breaks into a people's life and by mighty acts performs his wonders in their behalf' (1950: 11).

He draws a sharp distinction between Israel and its environment, contrasting the mythic world view of indigenous culture with the logical deductions of faith in a deity revealed in history. Thus he is able to conclude that:

These, then, are some of the distinctions which must be drawn between the God of Israel and the gods of the nations. Together they constitute the basis of the Israelite mutation which cannot be comprehended through the metaphor of growth. It is impossible to see how this God of Israel could have evolved slowly from polytheism. The two faiths rest on entirely different foundations. The religion of Israel suddenly appears in history, breaking radically with the mythopoeic approach to reality. How are we to explain it, except that it is a new creation?

-- Wright 1950: 28-9

It is interesting to note that these words were being delivered at the time of the creation of the state of Israel. Wright's understanding of ancient Israel and its faith as a new creation completely different from its environment is parallel to frequent presentations of the state of Israel as something different, a civilizing influence, set off from its environment. He appeals to Alt and Noth to confirm the view that 'without question ... the early, pre-monarchical organization of Israel was utterly different from that of other contemporary people' (1950: 61). What underlies all of this is the fundamental assumption of the direct connection between the uniqueness of Israel and its faith and Christianity. Thus Wright (1950: 68) is able to state: 'The doctrine of election and covenant gave Israel an interpretation of life and a view of human history which are absolutely fundamental to Christian theology, especially when they are seen with Christ as their fulfilment.' He then acknowledges that history is progressive but that the goals have been set by God (1950: 72). Israel might have borrowed some aspects from its environment but these are not allowed to stain its uniqueness:

What Israel borrowed was the least significant; it was fitted into an entirely new context of faith. What was once pagan now became thoroughly Israelite, or else became the source of dissension in the community. Consequently, the Christian and the Jew as well, look upon this distinctiveness of the Old Testament as proof of its claim for special revelation.

-- Wright 1950: 74

Israel's conception of history, and, crucially, its own historical experience, was unique:

Biblical man, unlike other men in the world, had learned to confess his faith by telling the story of what had happened to his people and by seeing within it the hand of God. Faith was communicated, in other words, through the forms of history, and unless history is taken seriously one cannot comprehend biblical faith which triumphantly affirms the meaning of history.

-- Wright 1962: 17

Such an assumption about the uniqueness of Israel and its experience means that the experience or claims of other peoples become of secondary concern. [10] The dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian population is not a matter of concern when the meaning of history is viewed solely from the perspective of the authors of the biblical traditions. It is little wonder, then, that Wright could represent the origins of Israel in Palestine in terms of a dramatic, divinely inspired, irruption which presented a radical break with indigenous culture. In the prologue to The Book of the Acts of God, he states unashamedly that:

The conquest of Canaan whereby Israel secured a land for itself, was interpreted as God's gift of an inheritance. The land was not interpreted as belonging to various individuals and families of Israel as a natural right, but was thought of as a gift of God. Thus there came about a special understanding of the meaning of property and of obligation in relation to God, the land, which was God's gift, would be taken away at a future time.

-- Wright 1960: 8-9

No mention is made of the right of the indigenous Palestinian population's right to the land. Their rights, their voice, and their history are excluded in the relentless search for ancient Israel. Here it is not a conquest but a gift, it is not dispossession but possession ceded by God. Similarly one of the major sections of the book is entitled 'God's Gift of a Land (Joshua-Judges). Wright gives no thought to the dispossessed. He does not justify explicitly the conquest in terms of Albright's belief in the inevitability of evolutionary development; rather, he tries, in a remarkable passage, to justify the act of genocide in which the indigenous population are wiped out according to the Joshua narrative:

Now we know not only from the Bible but from many outside sources as well that the Canaanite civilization and religion was one of the weakest, most decadent, and most immoral cultures of the civilized world at that time. It is claimed, then, that Israel is God's agent of destruction against a sinful civilization, for in the moral order of God civilizations of such flagrant wickedness must be destroyed. On the other hand, God has a purpose in the choosing of Israel and in giving her a land, a purpose stated in the promises to the fathers of Israel in Genesis.

-- Wright 1960: 109

He takes it as read that there can be no argument about the immorality and decadence of the indigenous population or that Israel has the right to take the land and kill the occupants. Wright then tries to resolve the theological problem for the Christian that God 'fights for Israel' and so is responsible for the slaughter:

In other words, God has a purpose of universal redemption in the midst of and for a sinful world. He makes even the wars and fightings of men serve his end. In the case of Israel, his purpose as expressed in the patriarchal promises coincided at the moment of conquest with the terrible iniquity of Canaan. It was a great thing for Israel that she got her land; it was also a sobering thing because with it went the great responsibility and the danger of judgement. It was likewise a great thing for the Canaanites in the long run. Between 1300 and 1100 B.C. Israel took away from them the hill country of Palestine, while the incoming Arameans took away the whole of eastern Syria. The remnant of the people was confined to the Syrian coast around Tyre and Sidon and further north. After 1100 B.C., they began to develop one of the most remarkable trading empires in the world (the Greeks called them Phoenicians). Their colonies were spread all over the Mediterranean world, much to the benefit of that world; and this was done, not by conquest, but solely by the peaceful means of trading.

-- Wright 1960: 110

It is astounding that he should believe that it was to the benefit of the indigenous people that they were wiped out and their land appropriated by Israelites or Arameans. This is an even more extreme variant of Lord Balfour's speech to Parliament in June 1910, critiqued by Said (1985: 31-6), in which he argues that the British government of Egypt was exercised for the good of Egyptians and the whole of the civilized West. It forms part of the standard justification of imperialism and colonization in that the imperial power acts on behalf of the indigenous population. Equally astounding is Wright's view that this appropriation of land was in the long-term good of Palestine since the survivors were forced to remain on a thin strip of the coast where they became a great trading force. As Elon (1983: 150) points out, many early Zionists were of the unthinking belief that Zionism represented progress with the implied or expressed assumption that Jewish settlement would ultimately benefit the Arabs. In fact, the Arab population were considered to be potential Zionists and were expected to welcome the Jews as a matter of course. Elon concludes that this was so self-evident for most Zionists that they never considered any alternative perception of what was happening. Similarly, the facts of the past are so self-evident for Wright that he does not consider any alternative construction. The assumption that the event, the conquest of Palestine by the Israelites, is part of revelation and that it represents a divine gift of land to Israel, 'one of the great acts of God's goodness' (1960: 103-4) only reinforces the exclusion of Palestinian history and the taking of Palestinian space. It rapidly becomes, in the discourse of biblical studies, 'their homeland' (1960: 105). But equally revealing is his view that even after the Conquest Israel was vulnerable to invasion by surrounding peoples and lacked real security apart from divine intervention: 'The Book of Judges, then, presents the real problem of Israel: the problem of living within a covenant apart from which there is no security. It is also preparatory for the next event: the establishment of a king as an attempted answer to this problem' (Wright 1960: 112). The solution to the problem of insecurity was the establishment of a sovereign national state. The invention of ancient Israel in the discourse of biblical studies mirrors the contemporary situation where Jewish immigration into Palestine eventually resulted in the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948 as the realization of Jewish national consciousness and a means of providing security against the threats of the indigenous Palestinian population and surrounding Arab nations.

The invention of Israel's past is confirmed in Wright's classic treatment, Biblical Archaeology, in which he points out that, with the meticulous development of archaeology in the twentieth century, it has become possible to differentiate 'between early Israelite towns and those of the Canaanites whom the Hebrews could not drive out, to trace the evidences of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan' (1962: 24-5). The key element here is the differentiation between Israel and the indigenous population. This is borne out by Albright's excavation of Bethel, in which Wright participated, and which revealed evidence of a massive destruction of the city. However, the conclusion he draws from this is revealing of his underlying assumption:

The Canaanite city destroyed was a fine one with excellent houses, paved or plastered floors and drains. Compared with them the poor straggly houses of the next town were poverty itself. The break between the two is so complete that there can be no doubt but that this was the Israelite destruction.

-- Wright 1962: 81

No evidence is offered for this dogmatic statement except the implicit assumption that the destruction layer and poor settlement which follow indicate that there must have been a dramatic break in culture which can only be explained in terms of external invasion. He confirms this with his explanation of the destruction of Tell Beit Mirsim: 'As was the case at Bethel, the new town founded in the ashes was so different from the preceding one that we must think of a new people having built it, a people who must have been Israelites, or closely related to them' (Wright 1962: 83). Once again, no evidence is offered for this conclusion and he goes even further with the assertion that the destruction 'must have been' the result of invading Israelites or some group closely related to them. The indigenous population is destroyed and its voice silenced in the relentless search for ancient Israel. He believes that he 'can safely conclude that during the 13th century a portion at least of the later nation of Israel gained entrance to Palestine by a carefully planned invasion' (1962: 84). The search for Israel determined the interpretation of the archaeological evidence so that material artifacts are given an ethnic label which allows them to be used to differentiate between Israel and the indigenous Palestinian population even though there is nothing in the archaeological record which would permit such a conclusion.

The corollary of this is the theological assumption that Israel, and thereby its spiritual heirs in Christianity, is a unique entity which can be confirmed by the archaeologist's spade:

We can now see that though the Bible arose in that ancient world, it was not entirely of it; though its history and its people resemble those of the surrounding nations, yet it radiates an atmosphere, a spirit, a faith, far more profound and radically different than any other ancient literature.

-- Wright 1962: 27

Israel of the ancient world is set apart from its environment just as modern Israel is often described as set apart from the rest of the Middle East. Its special status, then, means that the conquest of Palestine is not a problem: it is in fact part of the divine plan: 'The deliverance from slavery in Egypt and the gift of a good land in which to dwell were to Israel God's greatest acts on her behalf' (Wright 1962: 69). What it results in, following the ceremony at Shechem (Joshua 24), is 'a united Israel with a common national heritage' (1962: 78).

The culmination of the pervasive influence of an invention of an Israelite conquest of Palestine is to be found in John Bright's A History of Israel. first published in 1960, which has shaped the ideas and assumptions of generations of students and scholars. [11] Despite the fact that the Albright-Bright position has long been seen as in direct opposition to the Alt-Noth hypothesis, as we have noted, it is remarkable to note how many important assumptions they share. These are the very assumptions that emphasize the uniqueness and superiority of Israel and the inferiority of the indigenous Palestinian population: assumptions which underline Israel's right to the land and justify the dispossession of the Palestinians. In his opening remarks, when setting the scene, to his discussion of the Exodus and Conquest traditions, he refers to Israel as 'a peculiar people' (1960: 97). Strikingly, he then adds that by the end of the thirteenth century BCE 'we find the people Israel settled on the land that was to be theirs through the centuries to come' (1960: 97). Bright clearly assumes that the land, Palestine, belongs to Israel. No consideration is given to the claims to the land of the indigenous population. Although he argues that Israel comes from outside Palestine, there seems to be no question that the land naturally belongs to this 'peculiar people'. Underlying Bright's construction of this period, and all other periods, is the assumption, prevalent in the discourse of biblical studies, as we have seen, that Israel is unique and set aside from its environment. It informs every aspect of his work, as articulated in the preface:

The history of Israel is the history of a people which came into being at a certain point in time as a league of tribes united in a covenant with Yahweh, which subsequently existed as a nation, then as two nations, and finally as a religious community, but which was at all times set off from its environment as a distinctive cultural entity. The distinguishing factor that made Israel the peculiar phenomenon that she was, which both created her society and was the controlling factor in her history, was of course her religion.

-- Bright 1960: 9

The use of this volume as the standard textbook on Israelite history in British and American universities and seminaries has ensured that this classic statement on the concept of Israelite uniqueness, its separation from its environment, and by implication the contrast with indigenous culture, has been read and absorbed by countless numbers of students for two to three decades.

Bright acknowledges the material and cultural achievements of 'Canaan' with its impressive urban culture and the invention of writing (1960: 107-8). Yet its indigenous religion is immoral and corrupt: 'Canaanite religion, however, presents us with no pretty picture. It was, in fact, an extraordinarily debasing form of paganism, specifically of the fertility cult' (1960: 108). This is in contrast to Israelite religion which was 'quite without parallel in the ancient world'; it was this that 'set Israel off from her environment and made her the distinctive and creative phenomenon that she was' (1960: 128). Israel's moral purity is reinforced with his assertion that Palestine possessed 'the sort of religion which Israel, however much she might borrow of the culture of Canaan, could never with good conscience make peace' (1960: 109). The way in which Israel is set apart from its environment is reinforced by an assumption shared with Alt and Noth that the indigenous population was incapable of developing sophisticated political systems: 'Though a cultural unit, Canaan was politically without identity' (1960: 109). The evolutionary scheme, common to both hypotheses, and an integral part of the discourse of biblical studies, extends to political and religious institutions: Palestine represents a branch of the evolutionary tree which fails to reach the pinnacle of evolution, the nation state and monotheistic faith, the hallmarks of European and American civilization. It becomes inevitable, under such a scheme, that the degenerate and static native cultures were surpassed and replaced by Israelite and Western civilization.

Both models presumed a now outmoded evolutionary view of social and political development from nomads/semi-nomads to sedentary groups. The American hypothesis shared with its German counterpart the assumption that Israel settled at first in the scarcely populated hill country of Palestine. Bright sets the stage for his description of the Israelite conquest of Canaan by preparing the reader with the suggestion and assertion that Israel was about to introduce a moral and political order into the region in just the same way that the Israel of his own day was often presented as the bearer of (European/Western) civilization into a region that was politically divided and morally bankrupt. The cultural achievements of Palestine are only mentioned in passing to be overshadowed by the inabilities of a religiously corrupt population to form itself into a meaningful political organization, i.e. it was incapable of crossing the threshold to statehood. Palestine, before the intervention of Israel, was merely a patchwork of petty city-states under Egyptian control which was left 'disorganized and helpless' (1960: 109) with the collapse of Egyptian power. Furthermore, the real controlling assumption of Bright's conception of history, or at least Israelite history, is revealed in the following sentence: 'It was this, humanly speaking, that made the Israelite conquest possible' (1960: 109). Underlying this is the belief that it is the divine which controls the course of history. [12] Little wonder then that there is no need to question Israel's right to the land; it is, after all, the gift of God. Israel becomes both the progenitor and the carrier of European civilization which has to be introduced from outside the region if it is to develop along the evolutionary political and religious scale.

Bright (1960: 117) is in no doubt that the biblical tradition of a conquest is historical and 'ought no longer to be denied'; as it was, of course, by German scholarship following Alt and Noth. This is seen as the pivotal disagreement between the two major hypotheses which dominated the discourse of biblical studies for half a century from the early 1920s to the 1970s. Such a presentation has obscured the critical shared assumptions which have been instrumental in helping to silence Palestinian history. For Bright, as for his mentor Albright, the process is understood primarily in terms of the 'Israelite conquest' or 'Israelite occupation' of Palestine. Bright acknowledges the biblical traditions of a protracted and 'peaceful' process but argues that the archaeological evidence for the destruction of key urban centres in Palestine leads him to the conclusion that 'it may be regarded as certain that a violent irruption into the land took place in the thirteenth century!' (1960: 120). He follows the standard assumption that Israel first settled in the sparsely populated hill country and later defeated the urban centres of the lowlands. He provides a striking description of this process which could easily have been written about the consequences of the foundation of the modern state of Israel:

The incompleteness of the conquest, however, is evident. Israel was unable to occupy either the coastal plain or the Plain of Esdraelon, while the Canaanite enclaves -- such as Jerusalem (Judges 1: 21), which was not taken until the time of David (2 Samuel 5: 6-10) -- remained in the mountains as well. Since most of these areas, however, were ultimately incorporated into Israel, this means that Israel was later to include people whose ancestors had not only not taken part in the conquest, but had actively resisted it!

-- Bright 1960: 122

He does not go as far as Alt in claiming that these indigenous groups did not expect equality of treatment. None the less, Bright's model of ancient Israel is one which is remarkably similar to the modern state in which large numbers of Palestinians were incorporated into the new state boundaries, particularly in 1948 and then later after the conflicts in 1967 and 1974.

Israel's right to the land in Bright's construction is based largely upon the right of conquest, although he argues that there is evidence to support the view that Israelite elements were in Palestine prior to the main conquest (1960: 122). This view again is in remarkable accord with the modern situation where there was a significant Jewish presence in Palestine prior to the Zionist immigration of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and the conflict which led to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. His summary description of the process echoes Albright and Wright in ignoring the rights of the indigenous population:

In the latter half of the thirteenth century there took place, as archaeological evidence abundantly attests, a great onslaught upon western Palestine, which, however incomplete it may have been, broke the back of organized resistance and enabled Israel to transfer her tribal center there. There is no reason to doubt that this conquest was, as The Book of Joshua depicts it, a bloody and brutal business. It was the Holy War of Yahweh, by which he would give his people the Land of Promise. At the same time, it must be remembered that the herem was applied only in certain cases; the Canaanite population was by no means exterminated. Much of the land occupied by Israel was thinly populated, and much inhabited by elements who made common cause with her. Israel's victories occasioned wholesale accessions to her numbers. Clans and cities came over en masse and were incorporated into her structure in solemn covenant (Joshua 24). Among those absorbed either at once or later were Khapiru elements and various towns of central Palestine, the Gibeonite confederacy (chapter 9), Galilean clans and towns, as well as groups (Kenizites, Kenites, etc.), many of them already Yahwist, who had infiltrated the land from the south and mingled with Judah. Though the process of absorption was to go on for some time, Israel's tribal structure speedily filled out and assumed its normative form. With this the history of the people of Israel may be said to have begun.

-- Bright 1960: 126-7

Israel's history begins, while Palestinian history ends. The past belongs to Israel; the indigenous population, whether absorbed or slaughtered, has no claim on this past.

M. Weippert's survey (1971) and restatement of the Alt hypothesis stresses that the debate between the schools of Alt and Albright was not about historical details as much as the principles of historiography. This is true in the sense that it was a debate over the relative values of the biblical traditions and 'external evidence', particularly the growing body of archaeological data from the 1920s onwards. However, this obscures the fact that, in important aspects, both schools shared important assumptions about the nature of Israel and its occupation/conquest of Palestine. Neither questioned the right of Israel to the land or raised the issue of the rights of the dispossessed indigenous population. In both cases, they assumed a model of the past which was directly related to and shaped by their own time: in the case of the Baltimore school, this was particularly influenced by the evangelical Christian persuasion of its participants. The real methodological issues which influenced these constructions of ancient Israel were hidden from the reader and have remained hidden and unspoken throughout the whole discourse of biblical studies. The search for ancient Israel, by both German and American scholarship, had resulted in its invention at a critical point in the history of the region, the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition. These inventions served to silence and exclude the history of ancient Palestine. At this point, Israel was Palestine: Palestine and its history, Palestinian time and space, are completely subsumed by Israel and its claims to the past as presented by the major figures of Western biblical scholarship.
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Re: The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palest

Postby admin » Wed Nov 21, 2018 2:58 am

Part 3 of 3


George Mendenhall, a pupil of Albright's at Johns Hopkins, is credited with formulating an alternative explanation of Israelite origins which challenged, and eventually undermined, many of the underlying assumptions of Alt and Noth, Albright and Bright, who had invented ancient Israel in the image of an Israel of their own day. His original programmatic essay, 'The Hebrew conquest of Palestine' which appeared in the Biblical Archaeologist in 1962, was overlooked for some time before becoming the focus of a fierce debate in the 1970s and 1980s. It is widely perceived to have shaken the very foundations of the biblical discourse on the origins of Israel by helping to undermine the conquest and immigration hypotheses. This common perception, however, is misleading since the foundational assumptions of Mendenhall, linked as they were to many of Albright's fundamental ideas, were locked into the discourse of biblical studies concerned with the search for ancient Israel as the taproot of Western civilization, effectively inventing Israel in its own image and thereby silencing Palestinian history. The paradox of Mendenhall's work is that there are important aspects which appear to give legitimacy and a voice to Palestinian history, only for that voice to be withdrawn or excluded under the truth claims of Christianity.

Ironically, Mendenhall's starting point is in agreement with the central thrust of this volume: previous scholarship had constructed Israel in its own image by basing hypotheses upon outmoded 'models' or 'ideal models'. One of his professed aims, interestingly in the light of the post-modern debate, was 'to avoid the worst mistake of reading purely modern ideas into the ancient world. Nationalism, like racism, is for all practical purposes a nonexistent operational concept in ancient history' (1973: 184). The hypotheses of Alt and Albright were based upon the fundamentally mistaken assumption that ancient Israel was a nomadic society, analogous to bedouin society of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, what he later terms 'the nomadic mirage' (1973: 150). [13] He argued also that there had been a failure to recognize the social and political 'prejudices' of scholars involved in the reconstruction of the Israelite past. Both previous models assumed that changes in the ancient past can only be explained in terms of ethnic migrations or conquests supplanting other ethnic or racial groups. He was concerned to expose these 'tacit or expressed assumptions' (1962: 67) of both the main models of Israelite origins by questioning, on the basis of biblical and extra-biblical evidence, the domain assumption that the early Israelites were nomadic. At first sight, he appeared to reject the strong evolutionary scheme which had informed the discourse of biblical studies by rejecting a pattern of development from nomad to village to city. [14] It led to a seemingly radical proposal which was to occupy biblical scholars for a considerable period of time:

The fact is, and the present writer would regard it as a fact though not every detail can be 'proven', that both the Amarna materials and the biblical events represent politically the same process: namely, the withdrawal, not physically and geographically, but politically and subjectively, of large population groups from any obligation to the existing political regimes, and therefore, the renunciation of any protection from those sources. In other words, there was no statistically important invasion of Palestine at the beginning of the twelve tribe system of Israel. There was no radical displacement of population, only of royal administrators (of necessity!). In summary, there was no real conquest of Palestine at all; what happened instead may be termed, from the point of view of the secular historian interested only in socio-political processes, a peasant's revolt against the network of interlocking Canaanite city states.

-- Mendenhall 1962: 73

This represented a radical departure from the previous two models which had assumed a major external conquest or immigration: Mendenhall assumed that the external element was a small group which acted as a catalyst for the dissatisfied and exploited Palestinian peasant population. For Mendenhall, the key feature of this 'biblical revolution', as he termed it, was not the indigenous peasant revolt, but the religious revolution. In fact, he later complained that the designation of his hypothesis of Israelite origins as 'the peasant revolt' model was unfortunate and misleading since this was 'but an incidental and possibly even accidental aspect of the "biblical revolution'" (1983: 31).

His views, however, embody an important paradox. His questioning of the domain assumption that the origins of Israel in Palestine were the result of a significant external influx of a new population appears to value the importance of indigenous culture and history in a way that had not previously been recognized. However, his emphasis upon the centrality of the new religion, brought from outside, immediately stifled any possibility of a new departure in the study of the history of the region. Furthermore, Mendenhall stressed the inherent corruption of the indigenous culture possibly even more strongly than Albright had done. He presented a stark contrast between the ethical and monotheistic faith brought from outside Palestine by Israel, however statistically insignificant, and the immoral and polytheistic beliefs of a corrupt city-state system indigenous to the region. His analysis of the political setup presupposed the work of Alt:

The Hebrew conquest of Palestine took place because a religious movement and motivation created a solidarity among a large group of pre-existent social units, which was able to challenge and defeat the dysfunctional complex of cities which dominated the whole of Palestine and Syria at the end of the Bronze Age.

-- Mendenhall 1962: 73

Mendenhall's theological assumptions are the driving force behind his historical analysis: [15]

It was this religious affirmation of the value of historical events which is still felt to be the unique feature of Israelite faith, and quite correctly, but any cultic separation of religious values from the brute facts of historical reality must inevitably result in a radical transformation of the nature of religious obligation. It is for this reason that theology and history must be inseparable in the biblical faith; biblical theology divorced from historical reality ends in a kind of ritual docetism, and history apart from religious value is a valueless secularized hobby of antiquarians.

-- Mendenhall 1962: 74

This theological agenda, which draws a direct connection between the 'biblical revolution' and Mendenhall's own day, is set out clearly in the preface to his major study, The Tenth Generation:

What was important about this community was its radically new way of looking at God, nature, and humanity -- and this was truly revolutionary. A revolution occurred that is just as relevant today as it was in the time of Moses, and one that is just as necessary.

-- Mendenhall 1973: xi

His stress upon the uniqueness of Israel on the basis of its faith, the faith which underlies Western civilization, allows him to maintain, and in effect sharpen, the common distinction between Israel and the indigenous culture of Palestine. Furthermore, it reflects the common presentation of the direct continuum between ancient Israel and the modern West as societies founded upon monotheism in contrast to the polytheistic Near East. Thus, far from Mendenhall's theory of internal revolt leading to an appreciation of the indigenous culture and so the history of Palestine, it results in an even more radical distinction between Israel and the 'Canaanite' population: a distinction which is equally effective in silencing Palestinian history. His radical distinction is expressed in the following terms:

Early Israel thus cannot be understood within the framework of traditional academic ideas about a primitive society gradually becoming urbanized, and therefore civilized. Its very beginnings involved a radical rejection of Canaanite religious and political ideology, especially the divine authority underlying the political institutions, and the Canaanite concept of religion as essentially a phenological cultic celebration of the economic concerns of the group -- the fertility cult. Only under the assumption that the groups involved had actually experienced at first hand over a period of time the malfunctioning of Canaanite kingship, can one understand the concept of God in early Israelite religion, for the usual functions, authority, and prestige of the king and his court are the exclusive prerogative of the deity. So, land tenure, military leadership, 'glory', the right to command, power, are all denied to human beings and attributed to God alone.

-- Mendenhall 1962: 76

The land, it is stressed, is the property of the deity and therefore a matter of divine gift. The loss of Palestinian space to Israelite control is justified, therefore, in terms of the divine gift of the land to Israel. The immoral and corrupt indigenous culture simply had no claim to the land under this understanding. Israel's 'conquest of Palestine' is affirmation of that divine gift. Mendenhall then drew a further distinction between Israel and Canaan which has many echoes in contemporary justifications for the legitimization of the modern state of Israel in contrast to the failures of the indigenous Palestinian population: 'Another impressive concern of early Israelite religion which is a striking contrast to Late Bronze Age Canaan is the preservation of the peace over a large territory' (Mendenhall 1962: 77). Only Israel was capable of maintaining peace over a large territory because the indigenous system represented the corrupt exploitation of the peasantry by the urban elite. Canaanite, and thereby Palestinian, society was not capable of developing a civilized system of social organization: 'By making the struggle for power an illicit assumption of the prerogatives of God alone, the early Israelite religion laid the foundation for an internal peace which Canaanite society evidently could not do' (Mendenhall 1962: 78).

The emphasis upon the peasant revolt, for Mendenhall an accidental and unfortunate designation, has all too often obscured the radical distinction he drew between Israel and the indigenous culture. Mendenhall, as a pupil of Albright and a member of the influential Biblical Colloquium, makes explicit many of the underlying assumptions of biblical studies discourse which have contributed to the silencing of Palestinian history through the scholarly invention of ancient Israel. Mendenhall's radical distinction between the Israelite religious community and the corrupt socio-political regimes indigenous to Palestine continues to mirror the common representation of the modern state of Israel as a radically new development in the region, with its roots in European civilization and democracy, which has been able to transform the land so long neglected by a divided and indolent indigenous population.

One of the most striking features of Mendenhall's analysis is his questioning of the ethnic unity of Israel in relation to Canaan. [16] The vast majority of 'Israel' were for him indigenous groups and individuals who had rejected the exploitative socio-political regimes of Late Bronze Age Canaan. As noted above, it would appear, at first sight, that this ought to provide the basis for the articulation, at least, of the value of Palestinian history in its own right. However, although he rejected the strong evolutionary pattern of social and political development of Albrightian and Altian scholarship, he imposed an even stronger evolutionary pattern of religious development which silenced Palestinian history equally effectively:

In the past, the discontinuity from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age has been explained on the basis of a hypothetical change or displacement of population: the Israelites displaced the Canaanites in part, the Phoenicians displaced the Canaanites elsewhere; the Arameans displaced still more, and so on down the line. All of these ideas are now untenable. If the Phoenicians are merely the continuation of Canaanite culture, with considerable changes of course, the Israelites also represent such a continuation with a change of a more radical sort (particularly in the religious and social system). As revealed by excavations, certainly it is true that there are only minimal differences between the two in material culture, and those differences are most readily explained as functions of the differences in the social, economic, and religious structure of the ancient Israelites.

-- Mendenhall 1973: 10

Indigenous religion and culture were condemned in the strongest terms, being rejected as 'Late Bronze Age paganism'. The discourse of biblical studies has refused to recognize indigenous religious systems as having any kind of legitimacy. [17] The truth claims of Judaism and Christianity, the foundations of Western civilization, have been accepted unthinkingly to the extent that Palestinian religious systems have been continually presented as immoral and corrupt. Mendenhall prefers to talk in terms of the foundation of a religious community called Israel, a utopian society based upon ethical relationships. As such, his invention of ancient Israel is comparable with the Zionist pioneers' desire to found a 'new, just society' (Elon 1983: 143). The 'biblical revolution', the foundation stone of Western culture, is a radical replacement of a corrupt pagan system. Significantly, although the indigenous population is seen as being statistically significant in the destruction of the urban centres in Palestine at the end of the Late Bronze Age, the religious movement which makes this possible is external: it is brought by a small group of Israelites escaping from Egypt. The real civilizing influence which transforms Palestinian society is an external religious system:

Any history of the origins of ancient Israel must start with, or at least account for, the sudden appearance of a large community in Palestine and Transjordan only a generation after the small group escaped from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. At the same time, it must account for the fact that from the earliest period there is a radical contrast between the religious ideology of Israel and those of the preceding periods and neighboring groups. In spite of that contrast, virtually all specific formal elements in early Israelite culture and ideology have impressive analogues in pre-Israelite or other foreign sources.

-- Mendenhall 1973: 25

He stresses the 'mere formal continuities' with 'the old pre-Yahwistic "Canaanite" and Anatolian cultures which characterized the Palestinian scene' but this is prior to 'the socio-religious unification' (1973: 25, n. 93). The emphasis here is on the fact that it was only due to this external input that unification was achieved, something of which the indigenous population and systems were incapable without external direction. Thus Mendenhall, rather than shaking the very foundations of biblical discourse and providing a voice for Palestinian history, invents an ancient Israel which continues to deny value to Palestinian society and history.

What is potentially much more important for the development of Palestinian history in its own right is his questioning of the causal connection between the growth of highland settlements and the urban collapse:

The destruction levels revealed by archaeology in Palestine would have been caused not by the Israelites, but rather are part of the common experience of the population that made vivid the desirability and need for a new community. This could bring about the peace and secure a new cooperation for rebuilding a shattered society and economy.

-- Mendenhall 1973: 23

Thus the shift in settlement is understood as a result of the urban collapse rather than its cause (Mendenhall 1973: 63-4). Although his conclusions are tied to his theological scheme, his analysis of the archaeological data provides a very important starting point for the history of ancient Palestine as a study of the processes which brought about social change in the region. If we remove the distraction of the search for Israel and think more in terms of trying to explain the processes involved in the political and social upheavals of the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition and the accompanying settlement shift, then Mendenhall's analysis has much to commend it. The focus of attention is then switched to trying to investigate and understand the processes which contributed to this settlement shift and the accompanying economic decline throughout the region at the end of the Late Bronze Age. It is this type of approach which holds out the promise of the realization of the study of Palestinian history as a subject in its own right rather than as the backdrop for the theologically and politically motivated search for ancient Israel. The paradox embedded in Mendenhall's analysis offers an instructive analogy with a great deal of subsequent research, to be discussed in chapter 5, whereby the accumulating data from archaeological excavations and surveys which offer a voice to Palestinian history have been side-tracked by the discourse of biblical studies in its continued and forlorn search for ancient Israel.

Norman Gottwald developed many of Mendenhall's basic ideas in an expressly political formulation of early Israelite origins in his massive The Tribes of Yahweh. A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel, 1250-1050 B.C.E. The title reveals the explicitly political nature of Gottwald's work, something which he has continued to develop in a series of studies. This is signalled by the dedication of his study 'to the memory and to the honor of the first Israelites' followed by an anonymous tribute to the people of Vietnam in which love and power are deemed necessary to destroy power without love. His preface opens with three quotations, including one from Marx and Engels and one from Mendenhall (1973: 12), which stress the importance of revolutionary movements for social change. He then explicitly states one of the major influences on his work:

Two decades of involvement in civil rights struggles, in opposition to the war in Vietnam, in anti-imperialist efforts, in analysis of North American capitalism, and in the rough-and-tumble of ecclesial and educational politics have continued an ever-informative 'living laboratory' for discerning related social struggles in ancient Israel.

-- Gottwald 1979: xxv

It is quite clear that Gottwald was well aware of the subjective influences of current politics in shaping a construction of the Israelite past. [18] The preface concludes with the oft-quoted line that 'only as the full materiality of ancient Israel is more securely grasped will we be able to make proper sense of its spirituality' (1979: xxv). His professed aim was to view Israelite religion as a part of a total social system by assembling 'the most reliable information about the rise of Israel as determined by the recognized methods of biblical science' (1979: xxii).

It is striking that given the expressly political nature of Gottwald's work, his Marxist-materialist analysis of history and explicit acknowledgement of his part in the anti-Vietnam movement, he never mentions the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination. In one of the most radical and controversial works of twentieth-century biblical studies, the question of Palestine remains unspoken. Similarly, Silberman can state, in his review of the hypotheses of Mendenhall and Gottwald, that: 'The "peasant revolt'" theory of Israelite origins had obvious rhetorical power in the 1970s, a time of modern national liberation movements and Third World insurgency' (Silberman 1992: 29). Yet Silberman, attuned as he is to the political construction of the past, makes no attempt to connect this theory of Israelite origins with the most obvious of national liberation movements, the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. The problem remains unspoken because the dominant discourse of biblical studies has silenced any notion of Palestinian history or expression of self-determination so thoroughly. Even though Gottwald in his radical critique, and Silberman in his acknowledgement of the wider political setting of such an hypothesis, see the connection with other struggles for national liberation, they are unable to draw out the implications of this construction of the past for understanding the contemporary struggle for Palestinian self-determination.

Gottwald's opening chapter, entitled 'Obstacles to a comprehensive understanding of early Israel', focuses upon Israel as 'a radical socio-religious mutation' (1979: 3). The obstacles, however, in achieving this comprehensive understanding are not due to any lack of industry or ingenuity in scholarly investigation but stem from the nature of the sources and a scholarly and religious aversion and hesitancy in conceiving ancient Israel as a social totality. In addressing this issue of the appeal to social scientific data and theories for understanding ancient Israel, he identifies a key problem:

One root of this inhibition is the canonical sanctity that still surrounds ancient Israel as the forerunner of Judaism and Christianity. The very patterns of our thinking about Israel have been imbued with religiosity, or with its defensive counterpart, anti-religiosity. It is difficult not to think of Israel as a people wholly apart from the rest of humanity. While our scholarly or secular minds may know better, our psychosocial milieu impels us to look for abstract religious phenomena and for all-encompassing theological explanations as indices to the meaning of Israel. As a result, the radical historical mutation of Israel in human history is accounted for by the supernatural, or by retrojected theological meanings from later Israel, or simply not accounted for at all.

-- Gottwald 1979: 5

The paradox of this is that while Gottwald eschews the key notion of the uniqueness of ancient Israel which has been central to the exclusion of Palestinian history from academic discourse, he refers to Israel as a 'radical historical mutation', picking up the key terminology used by George Ernest Wright which set Israel apart as unique from its environment. The overspecialization of biblical studies is condemned as contributing to the failure to conceive of Israel as a total social system which he traces back to intellectual, cultural, and sociological factors. His analysis represents a very strong attack upon the dead hand of theology in the study of Israelite history while decrying the failure of biblical studies to articulate and investigate the social, economic, and political factors which affect its scholarship. The key for Gottwald was 'the crucial factor of the social-class identity of the biblical scholar' (1979: 10): the location of biblical scholars within a capitalist middle class, espousing scholarly humanistic ideals, has produced a vision of society which has excluded many of its members (1979: 11). He acknowledges the subjectivity and limitations of the discourse of biblical studies, yet he does not go on to develop the way in which the domination of theology has constrained the study of the ancient Palestinian past; it is only perceived as an obstacle to a clear understanding of ancient Israel. His whole focus is upon Israelite society, particularly the role of religion in Israelite society, and remains firmly rooted to the discourse which has silenced Palestinian history. The influence of Alt's analysis of the political situation in Palestine prior to the so-called emergence of Israel is evident throughout, particularly in his identification of the settlement shift to the Palestinian highlands with Israel. He is reliant upon the analyses of Albright for the various material aspects of this 'Israelite culture', as identified in its ceramic and architectural traditions, unlike Mendenhall who had strongly denied the ethnic labelling of such material culture. Furthermore, Gottwald's analysis of the biblical traditions themselves is firmly rooted in the dominant discourse of biblical studies. [19]

He is able to refer to Israel as 'a recognizably novel and coherent system in Canaan' (1979: 34), stressing the relationship between 'Israel as a total social system and the prehistories of its component peoples' (1979: 34). The history of Palestine, either prior to or contemporary with the so-called emergence of Israel, is thereby reduced to the role of 'prehistory' for this later all-encompassing reality. Israel is allowed to dominate and exclude Palestinian history through his continual references to 'proto-Israelites' or 'Israelite prehistory' which claim Palestinian time for Israel. However, he offers a greater understanding of the value and worth of the history of the region with the recognition that 'Israel's origins are positioned in the midst of an ancient and highly developed arena of self-conscious civilization' (1979: 43). But the negative assessment of this internal history ultimately prevails since Israel is distinctive in its egalitarian social experiment and 'manages to do this in the face of the most serious threats from powerful surrounding systems of domination determined to prevent its liberation' (1979: 43). In essence, the reader is presented with a model of Israel as the carrier of traditions of liberation and democracy surrounded by powerful forces which seek to destroy it.

In his review and critique of the three standard models of Israelite origins, Gottwald (1979: 191-227) makes it clear that the identification of material culture is a key aspect of his understanding of the location of Israel in Palestine. He criticizes the Albrightian conclusion that the cumulative evidence of the destruction of many Late Bronze urban sites and the spread of poor, rural settlements

points to a culturally less advanced population living in temporary encampments or in poorly constructed houses without fortifications. Assuming the new residents to have been the destroyers of the Late Bronze cities on whose ruins they settled, it is easy to see them as the technically impoverished, 'semi-nomadic' Israelites.

-- Gottwald 1979: 195

However, although he recognizes that there are many possible explanations for the urban destructions, it is the identification of a distinct material culture associated with the increase in rural sites in the early Iron Age that remains important for his understanding of early Israel. He proposes an equally sharp distinction between Israel, as a socio-religious mutation, and the politically and economically oppressive Canaanite regimes. Indigenous Palestinian culture is denuded of any value and is seen as being transformed by Israel into something it was unable to become by itself.

The distinctive element of Gottwald's formulation of a revolt hypothesis is his stress upon the socio-political aspects of the model. As with Mendenhall's formulation, it would appear that this stress upon the socio-political conditions of Late Bronze Age Palestine offers a voice to Palestinian history. However, once again this voice is effectively excluded by the concentration upon Israel and the presentation of a corrupt indigenous socio-political system devoid of value:

When the exodus Israelites entered Canaan they encountered this stress-torn Canaanite society, which was in still further decline a century after the Amarna Age. Population in the hill country seems to have tapered off in the Late Bronze period, and the city-state units seem to have been reduced in number and size from the preceding century. The advocates of the revolt model for Israelite origins picture these Israelite tribes as immediate allies of the Canaanite lower classes. Both groups shared a lower-class identity. The former slaves from Egypt, now autonomous, presented an immediate appeal to the restive serfs and peasants of Canaan. The attraction of Israelite Yahwism for these oppressed Canaanites may be readily located in the central feature of the religion of the entering tribes: Yahwism celebrated the actuality of deliverance from socio-political bondage, and it promised continuing deliverance whenever Yahweh's autonomous people were threatened.

-- Gottwald 1979: 214 [20]

Despite the common assumption that both Mendenhall and Gottwald stress an internal revolt, the domain assumption is that the indigenous system is corrupt or deficient in some significant way, that it can only be transformed by Israel and its religious and political ideology which comes from outside. While extending and altering Mendenhall's original formulation of what came to be known as the revolt hypothesis, he was greatly influenced by the assumption shared with Alt and Albright that the settlement growth and shift to small rural sites in the marginal areas of Palestine was to be identified with Israel. His explanation of the nature and origins of Israel as largely internal has tended to mask this fundamental shared assumption of the dominant discourse of biblical studies. It is this domain assumption which remains at the heart of the failure to give Palestinian history a voice during a time when the search for ancient Israel has been all-consuming.

Gottwald, like Mendenhall, does not view Israel as unified ethnically:

The coalescing Yahwists were astonishingly diverse ethnically and culturally, but they had common social and political experiences and were forging together a common life of mutual defense and self-development.

-- Gottwald 1979: 215

What is interesting about this view is that it sounds remarkably like a description of early Zionism where Jews from many different European countries, or more recently from the influx of American, Russian, and Ethiopian Jews, among others, 'diverse ethnically and culturally', have been welded together as a modern nation 'forging together a common life of mutual defense and self-development'. He adds later that 'the model may have to be adjusted to the possibility that some Canaanite settlements were not so much polarized by the entering exodus tribes as neutralized, thus adopting a kind of live-and- let-live policy which Israel was willing or obligated to accept' (1979: 219). This offers a striking analogy with the modern period where Zionist immigration produced a situation in which Palestinian and Zionist settlements were located in close proximity, along with periods of conflict in which many Palestinian settlements have been driven out and deprived of their land. This again is reflected in his understanding of the rise of an Israelite state which 'overthrew the entire balance of power between Israelites and non-Yahwistic Canaanites' (1979: 219).

The fact that this model, just as much as the immigration and conquest models, is about claiming the land is made abundantly clear by Gottwald's elaboration of key questions of social structure which he believes have been overlooked or ignored by biblical scholarship because of a reluctance to draw upon social scientific data or models. He talks in terms of 'Israel's occupation of the land' or 'how groups of Israelites came to hold the land' (1979: 220). He elaborates that 'the conflict over models of land-taking is in reality a much larger conflict over the proper understanding of Israel as a social system' (1979: 220).

For the issue at stake is not simply the territorial-historical problem of how Israel took its land, e.g. the segments of Israel involved, the regions taken, the military or nonmilitary methods of occupation, etc., all the while being naively content with unexamined -- or at best only partly examined -- assumptions about the nature of Israelite society.

-- Gottwald 1979: 220

The focus on Israel is so all-consuming that there is no question that this is Israel's land: the problem of the rights of the other indigenous groups to a land or history is not raised. This is surprising given Gottwald's sensitivity to contemporary struggles for liberation, especially given his own involvement in the anti-Vietnam protests and acknowledgement of the importance of this in shaping his views. Yet what it demonstrates above all is the overwhelming power of the search for ancient Israel within the discourse of biblical studies. It is so overwhelming, so powerful, so all-consuming, that even within a critique that is sensitive to all kinds of socio-political implications the problem of Palestine remains unspoken. Palestinian time is claimed as part of Israel's past with the insistence that those indigenous groups who rejected the oppressive socio-political regimes and joined Israel were in effect 'proto-Israelites' (1979: 30, 32-43, 77, etc.). The Israel of the past and present have combined within the discourse of biblical studies to silence Palestinian history by laying claim to its time and its land.

Gottwald, despite various provisos, perpetuates the domain assumption of the discourse of biblical studies that Israel is unique. He is well aware of the problem of theological explanations:

How can we describe and account for the early Israelite mutation without falling into the miasma of sui generis religious "explanations" which in fact explain nothing, which are no more than tautologies, unassailable because untestable?

-- Gottwald 1979: 232

Yet he continues to emphasize the radical distinction between social systems of Israel and Canaan which he sees, following Mendenhall, can only be explained on the basis of the novelty of Israel's 'religious movement and motivation': 'I find myself in almost total agreement with Mendenhall on this point. The cult and ideology of Yahweh, the god of Israel, are at the nub of Israel's uniqueness' (1979: 233). Although his distinctive emphasis is to stress the material aspect of Israelite culture in trying to make sense of the articulation and realization of this religious ideology, it is clear that he remains rooted to the dominant view which professes the uniqueness of Israel, implying a lack of value in indigenous culture or history. His disagreement with Mendenhall is that he had imagined a community which attributed power to its god but did not wield power itself: for Gottwald, Israel took power for itself while attributing the source of that power to Yahweh (1979: 233). Yet even though he characterizes religion as 'the unmoved mover of the Israelite mutation', he is essentially wedded to the central role of the uniqueness of Israelite religion in distinguishing it from its Palestinian context.

The paradox inherent in Mendenhall's work is equally apparent in Gottwald's alternative formulation of the revolt hypothesis. His insistence upon the central role of Canaanite peasants throwing off the control of the urban elite appears to offer a voice to Palestinian history. In fact, he goes so far as to say that 'it is only in the literature of early Israel that the revolutionary consciousness of the Canaanite underclasses finds an articulate voice' (1979: 409). These groups are only given voice by Israel. Thus, Israelite tribalism is described as the result of a conscious choice by individuals and groups to reject the Canaanite centralization of power. Although his insistence upon 'retribalization' (1979: 325) is a distinctive aspect of Gottwald's proposals, it is little more than a variant on the fundamental assumption that has informed the discourse of biblical studies since the time of Alt, that Israel's political system is different from and fundamentally superior to that of the indigenous culture. The indigenous forms of organization were disjointed and incapable of unified action: 'we know of no such sustained collective leadership among the older Canaanite city-states which, even when faced with extreme external threats, had been capable only of episodic alliances markedly unstable in their membership and longevity' (1979: 412). [21] While there is an important focus on the conflict between indigenous groups, it is never articulated in terms of Palestinian history. It is only given voice as part of the history of Israel:

To the contrary, Israel, with a mutant sophisticated tribal mode of organization, made an "appearance" within the social system and territorial domain of Canaan. The people who came to be Israelites countered what they experienced as the systemic aggression of centralized society by a concrete, coordinated, symbolically unified, social-revolutionary action of aggressive self-defence.

-- Gottwald 1979: 326

The choice of the phrase 'aggressive self-defence' is particularly noteworthy since it mirrors apologetic language often used to describe the modern state of Israel in its foreign adventures into Lebanon, or elsewhere, in striking back against what it perceives as terrorist actions. This is not to suggest that Gottwald supports such aggression but simply to point out the way in which influential contemporary language and ideas become part of the vocabulary used by historians to construct the past.

The past is seen to be every bit as much a struggle for self-determination and the control of land as the present:

Appropriating the land and economic modes of production, this body of people organized its production, distribution, and consumption along essentially egalitarian lines. The specific historic rise of old Israel was thus a conscious improvisational reversion to egalitarian social organization that displaced hierarchic social organization over a large area previously either directly or indirectly dominated by Canaanite centralization and stratification for centuries.

-- Gottwald 1979: 326

Here is an invention of the Israelite past which mirrors the ideological projection of the present of the modern state of Israel which contrasts its democratic (egalitarian) ideal with the undemocratic (centralized and stratified) Arab states which surround it. His understanding of Israelite origins in the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition provides a striking parallel with conceptions of the Zionist movement prior to the founding of the modern state. Gottwald, in rejecting the validity of Noth's amphictyonic hypothesis, makes the striking claim that 'the Israelite confederacy was a consciously contrived surrogate state for its peoples' (1979: 383; his emphasis). His description of this imaginary Israelite past could quite easily function as a description of early Zionism prior to 1948 in which Israel is perceived as 'an egalitarian, extended family, segmentary tribal society with an agricultural-pastoral economic base' (1979: 389). Ben-Gurion wrote, before leaving Russia, that he wished to create 'a model society based on social, economic, and political equality' (cited by Elon 1983: 81). Similarly, Elon adds that 'the pioneers of the second wave saw themselves less as nation builders than as chalutzim of a new social order' (Elon 1983: 112). We might compare this with Gottwald's emphatic statement of the nature of ancient Israel:

Together, the societal segmentation and inter-group bonding of early Israel were adaptively related to the fundamental aims of these segmented but cooperating people to escape imperialism and feudalism imposed by outside powers and to prevent the rise of feudal domination within their own society.

-- Gottwald 1979: 389; his emphasis

This could quite easily serve as a manifesto of early Zionist ideals in the construction of a society by those fleeing the persecution and racism of Europe, a broad collection of imperial powers ranging from the modern nation states of Western Europe to the feudalisms of Eastern Europe. [22] It is a view of an egalitarian society, however, which fails to deal with the rights of the indigenous population.

In discussing the importance of Israelite religion he takes issue with Bright's view that Israel was not unique in the way that it took possession of the land and that its uniqueness stemmed from its religion. Instead, Gottwald (1979: 593) argues that 'Israel's sociopolitical egalitarian mode of life, involving an entire populace of formerly oppressed peoples, was unique in its explicitness and in its spatio-temporal effectiveness' (Gottwald 1979: 593). His complaint against Bright is that he isolates Israelite religion from its social setting. Similarly, he rejects Mendenhall's view of Israelite religion as idealist in the way it places it in 'an asocial and ahistorical vacuum' (1979: 601). Nevertheless, Gottwald does agree 'with Bright that Israel's religion was innovative in the ancient world in significant ways' (1979: 594). He claims that it is misleading to speak of Israelite religion as 'unparalleled ' or 'unique' and prefers to use the phrase 'Israel's innovative distinctiveness' (1979: 595). It is innovative and distinctive, for Gottwald, precisely because it is the expression of an egalitarian social revolution. Despite Gottwald's dispute with Bright, he is open to the very same criticisms as Albright, Wright, Bright, and Mendenhall in undervaluing the indigenous value system which can only be transformed from outside since the religious ideology is carried by the small group of Exodus Israelites. He does not deny that there is some continuity or comparability but suggests that this has been transformed in a way that simply was not possible without outside intervention.

Gottwald's programme of 'cultural-material research into early Israel', which he proposes towards the end his massive volume (1979: 650-63), highlights the central paradox of the volume: these proposals are crucial to the realization of a Palestinian history in its own right. The pursuit of settlement history, demography, economy, etc., in broad detail over a long period of time must be at the heart of any reappraisal of the Palestinian past. The irony here is that it is again Gottwald's distraction with the search for early Israel which does not allow him to see the need for the wider application of such a programme and prevents him from giving voice to Palestinian history. As with the Conquest hypothesis of Albright, it is the ever-increasing range and quality of archaeological data from the region which has shown that Gottwald's proposal, including various reformulations, is an imagined and invented past. Although there are important features of Gottwald's work which are essential to the realization of a Palestinian history in its own right, it fails to achieve this because of the distraction with ancient Israel. Any Palestinian claim to the past is effectively silenced by the pursuit of ancient Israel: it is a past that has no self-definition apart from its definition in relation to Israel.


The changes in perspective on reading the Hebrew Bible which have raised serious questions about standard historical critical assumptions and use of the biblical traditions for historical reconstruction, along with the accumulating archaeological data from single site excavations and regional surveys in Palestine, have shown these various models or theories to be inventions of an imagined ancient past. The increasing inability of the three major constructions of Israelite origins to deal with this growing body of evidence, along with the undermining of its notion of a text, has highlighted the extent to which Israel has been invented. It is only in retrospect that it becomes possible to ask how this has come about. The driving force of biblical studies has been the need to search for ancient Israel as the taproot of Western civilization, a need that has been reinforced by the demands of Christian theology in search of the roots of its own uniqueness in the society which produced the Hebrew Bible. This has been reinforced with the foundation of the modern state of Israel, giving rise to a search by Israeli scholarship for its own national identity deep in the past.

Biblical scholarship, in its all-consuming search for ancient Israel, has reflected the myopia of the West, in general, and the early Zionists in particular, in ignoring the indigenous population and its claims to the land or the past. Elon's descriptions of the attitudes of early Zionist settlers could easily be applied to biblical scholarship:

There are few instances in modern history where the image of things overshadows reality as thoroughly as it did in Palestine during the first half of the twentieth century. One can think of no other country where a utopian state of mind persevered for so long a time. If the Arabs shut their eyes to reality, many pioneers of the second wave shut their eyes to Arabs. They lived among themselves in workers' camps -- closed communities that often resembled isolated religious orders. Contact with the Arab natives were few. It was as if the chalutzim deliberately banished the Arabs from their minds.

-- Elon 1983: 123

Biblical scholarship has also remained blind to the indigenous population; very often when it is acknowledged, it is dismissed as unworthy, immoral, corrupt, or primitive, thereby lacking any rightful claim to serious consideration. Elon's continued description finds similar striking parallels with the discourse of biblical studies:

The political imagination, like the imagination of the explorer, often invents its own geography. The settlers did not, of course, consider the country 'empty', as did some Zionists abroad. What they saw with their own eyes contradicted the ludicrous dictum attributed to Israel Zangwith, 'The land without people - for the people without land', which was current in Zionist circles abroad at least until as late as 1917. Yet even if there were people living in the country, the settlers saw that it was populated only sparsely. They believed they were operating in a political void; and not until the end of World War I were they fully cured of this naive illusion.

-- Elon 1983: 149

It is now becoming clearer that biblical studies has invented its own geography in trying to construct various versions of the past, heavily influenced by a variety of social, political, and religious factors which shaped the scholars' vision of the past and present. Just like the early Zionist settlers, they have believed, or at least tried to convey the belief, that biblical scholarship was operating in a political void. The self-delusion of the pursuit of objectivity continues to operate. Attempts to raise the spectre of subjectivity or the political implications of biblical scholarship for the contemporary struggle for Palestine have met with a hostile reception. Just as the First World War was a watershed, in Elon's view, in exposing the naivety of Zionist myopia, so post-modernism has exposed the fallacy of biblical studies' self-delusion to be interested only in 'objective' scholarship or its denial of any responsibility for or connection with contemporary struggles for Palestine. 'The public badge of scholarly impartiality', in the words of Silberman (1993: 15), continues to be used to mask the political implications and responsibilities of biblical studies.

It is striking, yet understandable, that all the models have invented ancient Israel in terms of contemporary models. This is not to suggest that this has been self-conscious or deliberately misleading or that all the scholars mentioned explicitly support the dispossession of the Palestinians. It exposes, rather, the power of the discourse of biblical studies which has projected an aura of objective scholarship when it is quite clear that subjective and unconscious elements have played a key role in constructions of the imagined past of ancient Israel. It helps to demonstrate the tyranny of the present which has silenced Palestinian history. The discourse of biblical studies is implicated in this process. The acknowledgement of these implications is a necessary prelude to the freeing of the Palestinian past from Israelite control. The realization of this proposal continues to be hindered by the perpetuation of many of the domain assumptions which were the foundations for the invention of ancient Israel in the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition. The edifice of the models may have crumbled, but what is being built in their place often utilizes the very same foundations. However, before examining the new search for ancient Israel and the ways in which it has continued to exclude Palestinian history from scholarly discourse, it is important to consider how this has been achieved by the other defining moment in the history of the region, the creation of an Israelite state.
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