Ancient Israel: what do we know and how do we know it?
A number of 'histories of Israel' have been written over the past few decades yet the basic methodological questions are not always addressed: how do we write such a history and how can we know anything about the history of Israel? In "Ancient Israel "Lester L. Grabbe sets out to summarize what we know through a survey of sources and how we know it by a discussion of methodology and by evaluating the evidence. Grabbe's aim" "is not to offer a history as such but rather to collect together and analyze the materials necessary for writing such a history. His approach therefore allows the reader the freedom, and equips them with the essential methodological tools, to use the valuable and wide-ranging evidence presented in this volume to draw their own conclusions. The most basic question about the history of ancient Israel, how do we know what we know, leads to the fundamental questions of the study: What are the sources for the history of Israel and how do we evaluate them? How do we make them 'speak' to us through the fog of centuries? Grabbe focuses on original sources, including inscriptions, papyri, and archaeology. He examines the problems involved in historical methodology and deals with the major issues surrounding the use of the biblical text when writing a history of this period. "Ancient Israel" makes an original contribution to the field but also provides an enlightening overview and critique of current scholarly debate. It can therefore serve as a 'handbook' or reference-point for those wanting a catalog of original sources, scholarship, and secondary studies. Its user-friendly structure and Grabbe's clarity of style make this book" "eminently accessible not only to students of biblical studies and ancient history but also to the interested lay reader.
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I'm interested in critical histories of ancient Israel and this book seemed to fit the bill. But note, from the preface: "This book is ... not a history of Israel but the preparation--the prolegomena--for such a history. It is aimed initially at scholars, with the intent of contributing to the current debate. By laying out as clearly as possible the main primary sources and drawing attention to the areas of debate and the arguments being advanced, I hope to give a snapshot of the field at the present time." Be aware of that going in. If you're not already very familiar with the narrative of Israel given in the Hebrew Bible you'll get very little out of this book; if you're not already somewhat familiar with modern historical and archaeological findings and conclusions about ancient Israel you'll be lost quickly here. Though conversant with this type of material, I often found myself struggling over mentions of "lower chronology", the "Iron Age IIC" period, the names of various scholars whose theories are frequently referenced, and various other technical terms left unexplained. Adding some brief introductory and explanatory comments would have gone a long way to making this book much more accessible to a lay audience. It comes across throughout as a book intended for graduate students wanting an overview of the subject. There are no maps and only one chart that is not particularly helpful. More of both would have been extremely helpful. This book is, however, very interesting. It discusses problems with the Biblical narrative, such as the lack of evidence for an actual state of the sort David was said to have ruled during the time he would have lived and the anachronistic insertion of the Philistines into Israel's history before they were actually settled in coastal Palestine. Evidence from artifacts, writings, inscriptions, and monuments are discussed along with various interpretations of the data. One gets a much better understanding of Israel's position vis-a-vis the great empires of its time (Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon) from this book, which covers up to the period of the Babylonian exile. Not recommended for anyone who hasn't already been introduced to critical scholarship regarding ancient Israel as it is a bit more opaque to the nonspecialist than it needs to be. Would have benefited from a longer introduction and conclusion.
This is not a history but a prolegomena (wisely the editor made sure this wasn't used) for a history of the origins, development and end of Ancient Israel and Judea. It is a wide ranging, full discussion and evaluation of the evidence (at the time of writing 2006/7) pertaining to any writing of a history of ancient Israel and Judea. Included is an extensive bibliography for further research and reading. If like me, it is a while since you read about this period, then it is a very useful summary, but with a sharp learning curve with regards to archaeology, e.g. discussion of Low and Modified Conventional Chronology, the intricacies of dating, and its relationship to the Biblical narrative. Only 4 stars because the book is let down by a lack of maps, which would help in the orientation for the reader of places and periods. At the end you know and understand the difficulties of writing a history of this period, but that it is not impossible and there is much we know and mucc for which disagreement is quite legitimate and valid. Definite worthwhile purchase.
Middle and Late Bronze Ages
Rise and Fall of the Northern
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