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  • What the Scholars Say

  • Deborah Hurn

    June 20, 2021 at 8:50 am

    I get the impression that many people with a biblical worldview (both in Judaism and Christianity) do not know just how dire the situation is in the academic world. When I get the chance to tell someone what my research is about (the historical geography of the Pentateuch, specifically the exodus and wanderings itineraries) and I get to the “So what?” question (whether asked or not), people are usually surprised and doubtful when I say that the majority of scholarly publications deny that the texts are historical. In his video interviews so far, Tim has showcased some of these views, which can be reproduced in kind many times over! In the course of collecting and reading 3000+ references for my dissertation, I have come across some real ‘doozy’ quotes that some here at HFS may find amusing, concerning, or shocking. Seeing as I have already typed up or copied the best ones into my reference manager, I can easily post them here, properly cited. Feel free to post your own finds with or without comments, just be sure to quote fairly and accurately, and give the author, publication, year, and page. We can crowd-source our own HFS Literature Review!

  • Deborah Hurn

    June 20, 2021 at 8:58 am

    Let’s start with William (Bill) G. Dever: this is one of my favorites, especially when heard with his special deliberation and emphasis:

    “Let me put it this way: I would think in the 50 years since I finished my PhD… we know at least 10 times what was known when I was a student about Ancient Israel. Meanwhile, I cannot think of any breakthrough in biblical studies that helps us to understand the text any better than we could 50 years ago. You see, biblical scholars have the notion “If we could only be more ingenious―if we could find a new theory, something truly novel―we could wring the secrets out of the biblical text.” Sorry, there aren’t any. We already understand the biblical text very well indeed after all of these centuries.”

    Archaeological Research Unit – University of Cyprus. Prof. William G. Dever: Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel. Cyprus University, 2018. From 16:20-17:05 min.

    • Deborah Hurn

      June 24, 2021 at 5:40 am

      Dever again, in 2017.

      [19] The biblical texts…. can and do lie; that is, they may mislead. Critical scholars recognize this fact, that the biblical texts are largely propagandistic. They are not entirely fictitious and thus may be based on authentic sources here and there. But by and large the intent of the biblical authors and redactors is not to tell it as it was but rather to tell it as they wished it had been. Thus the Hebrew Bible is widely regarded today as historicized fiction or fictionalized history, not only by revisionists but also by the majority of mainstream scholars.”

      Dever, William G. Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah. SBL Press, 2017.

  • Deborah Hurn

    June 21, 2021 at 9:21 am

    Now Finkelstein:

    [47] “Moreover, we must not ignore the fact that the Biblical material was assembled centuries after the supposed events took place. Without denigrating the importance of the Exodus narratives for the faith of ancient Israel, we simply cannot treat these Biblical narratives as straightforward history. We must understand the historical and religious background against which these traditions crystallized at a later date, during the period of the Israelite monarchy, hundreds of years after the supposed events that the narratives describe could have taken place. / For all these reasons, the day when explorers rushed to the desert with the Bible in one hand and a spade in the other is long gone.”

    Finkelstein, Israel. “Raider of the Lost Mountain—An Israeli Archaeologist Looks at the Most Recent Attempt to Locate Mt. Sinai.” Biblical Archaeology Review 14, no. 4 (August 1988): 46–50.

    Interesting that both Dever and Finkelstein describe themselves as “centrists” between the extremes of “biblical maximalism” (common in America) and “biblical minimalism” (common in Europe).

  • Deborah Hurn

    June 22, 2021 at 3:13 am

    Hendel would also consider himself a “centrist”, but as below, doesn’t think the exodus really happened. He sees it as a “good story” with a transformative rather than informative mission. This is an idea that scholarship returns to again and again, compensating for the apparent loss of history by pointing to theology. As Tim and others perceive, this is a poor consolation: if the exodus did not happen as described, the theology doesn’t have a foundation.

    [82] “This story—a mixture of history, folklore, and literary imagination—crystallized the identity of early Israel. In its subsequent retelling and re-actualization at the Passover seder, it continues to shape Jewish identity to this day. Everyone present is a participant in this transformative event: as the Mishnah states and the Haggadah emphasizes, “In every generation, each person is obliged to view himself as though he came out of Egypt.” In other words, the exodus, which didn’t happen as a single punctual event, has been happening continually for thousands of years. It is how the people of Israel, from the early Iron Age until today, has narrated its emergence out of the shadow of slavery and into existence. / Jews have always told good stories. The Torah emphasizes that the exodus is just such a great story. God tells Moses that He hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that He could multiply His signs and wonders and thereby achieve a particular outcome: “so that you will recount [all this] in the hearing of your children and your children’s children” (Exodus 10:2). The point of the exodus is to be a transformative story told to every generation. It has succeeded.”

    Hendel, Ronald. “The Exodus: Case Not Proved.” Mosaic: Advancing Jewish Thought, March 12, 2015.

  • Deborah Hurn

    June 23, 2021 at 1:12 am

    There is a view that the Pentateuch was a mostly-fictional saga invented by the ‘elite’:

    [94] [The Book of] Exodus, then, was developing during a time when the nation’s continuing existence as a distinct community was in prolonged doubt. It was written to strengthen national feeling and support national identity…. intellectual elite striving to preserve or excite national feeling in a time of crisis, and to reshape the national spirit through an exclusively monotheistic ideal which they saw as the only way to preserve the nation at all.

    [94] Moreover, the hard archaeological evidence that would show that the nation of Israel came from outside Canaan is lacking. The material culture of early Iron Age Israel is like that of Late Bronze Age Canaan, only poorer (Fink 1988, Dever 1992).

    Houston, Walter J. “Exodus.” In The Pentateuch, edited by John Barton and John Muddiman, 92–127. Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University, 2001.

  • Deborah Hurn

    June 26, 2021 at 9:32 am

    Na’aman, Nadav. “Out of Egypt or Out of Canaan? The Exodus Story Between Memory and Historical Reality.” In Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective: Text, Archaeology, Culture, and Geoscience, edited by Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Schneider, and William H. C. Propp, 527–33. Quantitative Methods in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Cham: Springer International, 2015.

    [527] The factual background of the Exodus story is the most perplexing issue in biblical historical studies. On the one hand, the Exodus tradition is very old, and its status as the central Israelite foundation story finds remarkable expression in every genre of biblical literature. On the other hand, most scholars doubt the historicity of the story, and generally consider it to be the vague memory of a small group, which was gradually adopted by all other Israelite tribal groups.

    [527] Scholars dispute the historicity of the Exodus narrative. The range of opinions stretches from those who suggest that the nucleus of the story is basically authentic and the episode reflects an important event in the early history of Israel to those who entirely dismiss the historicity of the story, emphasizing that it was written at a later time and suggesting that it mainly reflects the time of its composition. According to the latter view, the Exodus story is essentially a myth that was formulated at a later time and does not reflect the reality of the Israelites’ early history (for recent discussion see: Redford 2011). Between the two extremes lie scholars who accept the historicity of a few details in the story and posit that the story includes a small nucleus of historical events that took place on Egyptian soil and on the way from Egypt to Canaan

  • Deborah Hurn

    July 1, 2021 at 2:14 am

    Grisanti, Michael A. “The Present State of Old Testament Scholarship.” In The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, 149–62. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2011.

    [158] Since the mid-1970s a number of influential scholars have demonstrated a thoroughgoing skepticism toward the historical validity of the OT. [Copenhagen] They suggest that the OT books were composed no earlier than the exile, and most likely in the Persian (5th to 3rd Cs BCE) or Hasmonean (166-64 BCE) period. Almost all minimalists totally reject the OT as a credible source for historical reconstruction.

    [159] Thomas Thompson affirms that “not only is the Bible’s ‘Israel’ a literary fiction,… [w]e can now say with considerable confidence that the Bible is not a history of anyone’s past.” [ref]

    [159] “The writers of the Hebrew Scriptures knew little or nothing about the origin of Israel…. The period under discussion, therefore, does not include the periods of the patriarchs, exodus, conquest, or judges, as devised by the writers of the Scriptures. These periods never existed.” [Robert B. Coote ref]

    [159] Niels P. Lemche ref saying much the same thing

    [160] Summary: Though minimalist scholars represent a minority of biblical scholarship, their conclusions have impacted the world of biblical scholarship…. In light of the loud and sweeping statements made by minimalists in general, the larger population has even less confidence in the credibility of the OT as it stands.

    [162] critical scholars continue their rejection of the divinely authorised message of the Bible. Many of their methodologies assume that God was not involved in revealing His message to His people through prophetic spokesmen (revelation) or that the Holy Spirit superintended the process through which these prophets wrote down that message (inspiration)…. Evangelical interpreters can benefit from critical methodologies that are not integrally based on antisupernatural assumptions.

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