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Appendix Three: Old Testament Historiography Compared with Contemporary Near Eastern Cultures

Mesopotamian sources

1. Like most ancient literature the subject is usually the king or some national hero.

2. The events are often embellished for propaganda purposes.

3. Usually nothing negative is recorded.

4. The purpose was to support current status quo institutions or explain the rise of new regimes.

5. The historical distortions involve

a. embellished claims of great victories

b. earlier achievements presented as current achievements

c. only positive aspects recorded

6. The literature served not only a propagandistic function, but was also a didactic function

Egyptian sources

1. They support a very static view of life, which was not affected by time.

2. The king and his family are the object of much of the literature.

3. It, like Mesopotamian literature, is very propagandistic.

a. no negative aspects 

b. embellished aspects 

Rabbinical sources (later)

1. Attempt to make Scripture relevant by Midrash, which moves from the faith of the interpreter to text and does not focus on authorial intent nor historical setting of the text

a. Halakha deals with truths or rules for life

b. Haggada deals with application and encouragement for life

2. Pesher - later development seen in Dead Sea Scrolls. It used a typological approach to see the prophetic fulfillment of past events in the current setting. The current setting was the prophesied eschaton (coming new age).

It is obvious that Ancient Near Eastern genres and later Jewish literature are different from Old Testament Scripture. In many ways the genres of the Old Testament, though often sharing characteristics of contemporary literature, are unique, especially in their depiction of historical events. The closest to Hebrew historiography is the Hittite literature.

It must be acknowledged how different ancient historiography is from modern, western historiography. Herein lies the problem for interpretation. Modern historiography attempts to be objective (non-propaganda, if this is possible) and to document and record in chronological sequence what "really happened!" It attempts to document "cause and effect" of historical events. It is characterized by details!

Just because Near Eastern histories are not like modern histories does not make them wrong, inferior, or untrustworthy. Western modern histories reflect the biases (presuppositions) of their writers. Biblical history is by its very nature (inspiration) different. There is a sense in which biblical history is seen through the eyes of the faith of the inspired author and for the purposes of theology, but it is still a valid historical account.

This historicity of the Old Testament is important to me as a way of advocating my faith to others. If the Bible can be demonstrated to be historical then its faith claims have stronger appeal to non-believers. My faith does not rest on the historical confirmation of archaeology and anthropology, but these help to introduce the message of the Bible, and to give it a credibility that otherwise it would not have.

To summarize then, historicity does not function in the area of inspiration, but in the area of apologetics and evangelism.

Copyright © 2012 Bible Lessons International


Related Topics: History, Apologetics, Hermeneutics

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