THE MYTHIC PAST by Thomas L. Thompson

THE MYTHIC PAST

Biblical Archaelogy and the Myth of Israel
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Arguing that the Bible should be read as literature rather than history in the modern sense, biblical archaeologist Thompson (Biblical Studies/Univ. of Copenhagen) sweepingly reassesses the historical evidence for the existence of ancient Israel. Bitter scholarly controversies, fueled by religious belief, have raged for decades about the historical authenticity of such Bible stories as the Garden of Eden, the Flood, and the flight from Egypt. These debates are misconceived, argues Thompson: much of the Bible was never intended to be read literally, or even to be understood as history as modern readers conceive it. Instead, much of the Bible consists of tall stories and other types of literature that, in ancient Jewish society as in other ancient cultures, provided people with an understanding of a common past. Relying on archaeological rather than biblical evidence, the author sketches the ancient economy and society of the people of Palestine. Rather than the unified “kingdom of Israel” depicted in the Bible, he paints a picture of a turbulent tribal Palestine, buffeted by drought, waves of immigrants from the Aegean, and expansionist neighbors. Contrasting this evidence with biblical narratives, shot through as they are with elements of the miraculous and the fantastic, Thompson questions the historicity of such scriptural accounts as the stories of the kingships of Saul, David, and Solomon and the Babylonian exile. Thompson finds magnificent poetry in the Bible, brilliant epic narratives and folktales, and great philosophical and moral writing that raises important questions about the meaning of life and the name of God: “it is only as history that the Bible does not make sense.” In rather heavyhanded fashion, Thompson makes a good general point: that many biblical narratives should not be read literally as history; but in his total reliance on archaeology, he may overstate his case somewhat for the ahistoricity of the Bible.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1999
ISBN: 0-465-00622-1
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1999