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A History of Ancient Israel and Judah

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This review was published by RBL 2007 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp. RBL 10/2007 Miller, J. Maxwell and John H. Hayes A History of Ancient Israel and Judah Edition: 2nd Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2006. Pp. xxii + 562. Paperback. $39.95. ISBN 0664223583. Kenton Sparks Eastern University St. Davids, PA 19087 In his review of the first edition of Miller and Hayes, Philip Davies wrote: “The basic question appears to be whether this book marks the end of the road for the genre of biblical history. My answer, with many others, is yes, and herein lies not so much a weakness but a strength of the Miller and Hayes volume. It is unlikely that this particular kind of history can be written much better” (JSOT 39 [1987]: 4). With these words, I take Davies to mean that Miller and Hayes had written a history of Israel that was on the verge of breaking free from the Bible’s grip, but which did not finally do so. For Davies and for those of his ilk, a fully appropriate history of Israel would realize that the Hebrew narratives are essentially works of late fiction, which can hardly provide the grist for modern historical mills. If this is really the kind of history that Davies and the minimalists want, then this new edition of Miller and Hayes is no better than the last one. In fact, if there is theoretical movement at all in the historiography of these authors, it would be a modest step in the direction of biblical history. By this I do not mean “biblical history” as incarnated in a conservative work like A Biblical History of Israel (by Provan, Long, and Longman; Westminster John Knox, 2003), which often amounts to a thoughtful but semi-critical paraphrase of the biblical narrative. Rather, the history of Miller and Hayes is “biblical” in the sense that these authors believe that the biblical histories, upon critical evaluation, can provide a useful window into the events narrated in them.This review was published by RBL 2007 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp. As histories of ancient Israel go, this second edition of Miller and Hayes reflects the same moderate position as the first, so I suspect that responses to it are likely to be similar to what we saw twenty years ago, when minimalists critiqued the history as naïve while more conservative readers lamented its caution. But it seems to me that a comparison of this history with other recent histories, such as Liverani’s Israel’s History and the History of Israel (Equinox, 2006) shows that the moderate position is holding its own in biblical scholarship. Liverani is certainly more skeptical about the Bible’s historical value than Miller and Hayes. His Davidic kingdom covers only the hills of Judah and the heartland of the central hills to the north, whereas in Miller and Hayes the territory extends from the Litani to Beersheba going north to south, and from Ammon to the Mediterranean coast going east to west (p. 181). But on this point, Liverani admits the possibility that David’s kingdom might have been larger, and Miller and Hayes do not insist that David’s kingdom was so large. So the difference is less than it first appears. Moreover, and more important I think, is that Liverani and Miller and Hayes agree that the narratives in 1 and 2 Samuel are not Persian or Hellenistic inventions, as some minimalists aver. Because these biblical traditions include heavy doses of propaganda for David and against Saul, these sources go all the way back to the early Iron II period (see the recent work of S. L. McKenzie and B. Halpern on the subject). The same judgment was made by Soggin, in his more skeptical history of Israel (A History of Ancient Israel [Westminster John Knox, 1984]). It goes without saying that for the historical periods subsequent to David’s reign, Miller and Hayes—like Liverani and Soggin—take the Deuteronomistic History seriously as a source of ancient history. To be sure, Miller and Hayes are wholly aware of the historical pitfalls in the biblical sources and recognize that late ideologies, from the exilic and post-exilic eras, have influenced the presentation. Quite often they will identify some portion of the text as “late” or “Deuteronomistic,” and their historical reconstruction is peppered with words like “probably,” “possibly,” “perhaps,” “best guess,” and “speculate.” So there can be no doubt that, as historians, Miller and Hayes have pursued the virtue of prudence at every turn, both in their disposition towards the sources and in the history that they have written. It is precisely because of this obvious caution that the optimism regarding the historical value of the biblical sources is so striking. Given the limited but continuing influence of historical minimalism in our guild (e.g., Lemche, Davies, and Thompson), it is surprising that Miller and Hayes do not offer a more rigorous defense of this optimism (see pp. 74–83). At the forefront of their evidence is the ostensible detail in the Bible’s folklore, such as we find in its stories about the ancestors and heroes, and in its genealogies and tribal sayings. The authors declare that it is “difficult” to think of these kinds of traditions as fictional (p. 77). Although I tend to agree with them on this point, a stronger argument would tie the biblical text more directly to particular historical contexts known from early in Israel’s history. The soleThis review was published by RBL 2007 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp. example cited by the authors is the connection between “Shishak” in 1 Kgs 14:25–26 and Pharaoh Sheshonq of tenth century Egypt (see p. 82). Such a correlation would be very unlikely, they say, unless the biblical historian had access to sources from early in the Iron II period. Now they are surely right about this, but I, for one, would have been interested in other


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