Reflections of a Stranger in the Land (Lev 19:34): Celebrating Temple University’s Department of Religion’s 40th Anniversary

(This essay will also appear in the printed version published by Temple University's Department of Religion on the occasion of their 40th anniversary)

I must confess a bout of panic on my very last day as a student. Arriving early in the morning for the oral defense of my dissertation, I learned that Professor James Ross, a well-known archaeologist from Virginia Theological Seminary, who had specialized in the Middle Bronze Period over the previous 25 years and was a prominent member of the ‘Albright school’, was to take part in my oral examination: as my ‘opponent.’ My panic gradually resided as we proceeded through a debate that covered most aspects of the dissertation. Now, many years later, I look back on this, sometimes heated, debate with gratitude. It prepared me well for the much harsher debates which continued for ten years. Temple was never boring. Its openness and acceptance of so many differences created habits and expectations which I have never abandoned.

See Also: On the Problem of Critical Scholarship: A Memoire

By Thomas L. Thompson
Professor Emeritus University of Copenhagen
December 2013

The Quickest

The reason I have been asked to contribute this essay is that I entered the doctoral program at Temple in September, 1975 and defended my dissertation in May, 1976. Nine months for a PhD! The twenty-year record, which Kunihiku Terasawa established in 2012, lends contrast to my fleeting passage. It witnesses to TUDOR’s commitment to depth and competence, not to say patience. My record witnesses to TUDOR’S treatment of the stranger in the land.

Losing One’s Innocence

I first met Leonard Swidler as my undergraduate history teacher at Duquesne more than fifty years ago. Common interests in history and theology provided the basis for a cherished friendship. His commitment to ecumenism and critical theology (for Catholics!) was shared by my interests in intellectual history and European scholarship. While I was taken up with philosophy and literature and spent most of my time reading from Hegel and Husserl to Joyce’s revolutionary streams of consciousness, Leonard signed slips for me that I might borrow Feuerbach, Marx and Sartre from the library. My absorption in Husserl, the leftist Hegelians and existentialism transformed my flight from my immigrant Irish roots to a fully-functional, critical perspective of religion and its social controls, which helped me steer my interest in things religious, without having a corresponding piety. My access to the library’s stash of forbidden books produced my first academic article on Feuerbach and existentialism, a theme to which I chose to return a few years ago in my retirement lecture.1

Leonard urged me to pursue graduate studies in Europe—especially Tübingen—and, responding to this support, John Wright, then bishop of Pittsburgh, offered to sponsor my studies in the, to him, more palatable Oxford. Austin Farrer was, indeed, a far cry from Tübingen’s Hans Küng, but his beautiful lectures on biblical allegory and his dogged critique of gospel scholarship’s chimerical ‘Q’ has had a dominant, subliminal influence on my exegetical work to this day.2 I fell in love with Oxford, but by Christmas, my Feuerbach article had reached England and was read. Messages crossed the Atlantic and my princely patron became ‘concerned.’ Blackfriars’ Professor of Moral Theology read my article and set the topic of Thomistic ethics for my orals, followed with an offer I could not refuse: ‘If you decide to move to Germany, you can be sure you go with my blessing.’ I wrote to friends in Tübingen. This, however, met resistance from my patron. Reports of ‘disturbing intellectual tendencies’ and ‘spiritual immaturity’ had reached Pittsburgh. I was ordered to Innsbruck to study under the world renowned, but theologically known and measured, Karl Rahner. I would live with the Jesuits and ‘learn the importance of prayer, obedience and humility.’ A train ticket to Salzburg arrived by post, with instructions to participate in a six-week summer-course in German. As poor as a church-mouse as I was, I was doubly dependent on ‘my bishop.’ I could neither stay in Oxford nor return to Pittsburgh. Checkmate! Necessity overcame pride and independence. I found merit in silence and boarded my train for a breathtakingly brilliant summer in Salzburg. Authenticity and integrity needs must wait the summer out.

Theology’s Asparagus Bed

I am pleased to be able to say that my resolve held through the summer and into August, when, together with a friend, I hitch-hiked to Tübingen. I arrived on a Thursday morning with $5 in my pocket. We went immediately to the bulletin postings at the student cafeteria, where we found a room offered without cost, against 8 hours house-work in the French military zone on the edge of town. The captain’s wife who answered the door was surprised and uncertain: but, as soon as I saw her living room spread with Iranian carpets, I was determined to convince her I was perfect for the role as her French maid! What female student would beat her carpets? Over lunch, we reached an agreement: I beat carpets every other week and on Saturdays, I would assist in preparing a full-course spread for her weekly dinner party (=pots and pans and playing the silent waiter!). In turn, I lived in an attic room, with a bath in the hall, shared by the building’s three other maids. Next, I needed a job. The German miracle had already begun and, a few houses away, house-painters were painting a ground-floor apartment. I presented myself to the boss and told him I was a student and wanted work. For him, that was a contradiction. Students were allergic to work! More in volapük than German, I convinced him that I was different. I just had time to rush to the stores before closing to buy overalls. The following morning at 6:30 AM I was in his truck and on my way to my life as an independent scholar.

I lived in Tübingen the following 12 years, the first half of which I divided between the university’s Catholic and Protestant faculties, supported by an openness which allowed me to work closely with both Herbert Haag and Kurt Galling over the next six years, while attending lectures and seminars by such diverse scholars as Elliger, Gese and Kuschke, Käsemann, Michel and Schelkle, Küng, Ratzinger, Moltmann , Jüngl, Oberman, Greinacher and others. Theology had for me many voices as I followed the shifting perspectives of a common tradition, which was ever more complex than any single voice or conviction could acknowledge. My Catholic longing for a wider world fed happily in Tübingen’s asparagus bed. Of course, the openness of Tübingen’s theological garden was also fragile and passing and, at the end of this intellectually transforming decade of the 1960s, shared the fate of Isaiah’s divine garden (Isa 5:1-7)! Its walls began to crumble soon after the publication of Hans Küng’s Unfehlbar? in 1970.3 In spite of its question mark, Unfehlbar? was met with an implacable smear campaign, which closed the window of openness that Catholic theology had so briefly and breathlessly experienced in the 1960s.4 The reaction of the 70s turned decidedly in the direction of sectarian fundamentalism, with irrational presuppositions and intolerance towards critical thought, which have divided Catholic theology intolerably these past 40 years. Censorship returned and, until today, many Catholic authors can hardly be cited nor can their books be distributed. Appointments to theological chairs in Austria, Switzerland or Germany continue to reflect papal interests.5

Two years after beginning research on my dissertation in the Catholic faculty in 1967, I was appointed as a research fellow in the inter-disciplinary project of the Tübinger Atlas des vorderen Orients (TAVO) and was housed in Kurt Galling’s Biblisch-archäologisches Institut in the Protestant faculty. This happily isolated me from the witch-hunt against Küng and his students. My participation in the TAVO project, where I was responsible for creating historical maps of the Bronze Age in the Sinai, Negev and Palestine, radically shifted my research away from theology and towards history: to a geographical, anthropological and economic analysis of ancient settlement patterns, which were based on regional archaeological surveys.6 In this work, I needed to use a different kind of analysis: one which enabled me to discuss the contingencies for settlement and development in a pre-historic Palestine. This work took me to the Middle East for several months of research each year. Here, my daily very specific questions of agricultural potential through the analysis of the relationship between soils, water resources, aridity and shifting patterns of settlement changed how I looked at the project of writing an early history of the ancient world.7 Religion was only one aspect of an anthropology which needed to be construed on the basis of archaeological and geographical evidence. The distance of my historical work on the Bronze Age from biblical literature was significant. My dissertation, which was increasingly centered in the associations contemporary scholarship had claimed between the patriarchal narratives of Genesis and Palestine’s Bronze Age was radically transformed by my work on TAVO. This historical-geographical study of the Bronze Age was closely related to the archaeological evidence from that period. Methodologically, my dissertation moved considerably away from what was ordinary for theological dissertations, rooted as it was in an entirely different paradigm. I finished the dissertation in June of 1971, drawing the conclusion that the patriarchal narratives were not only entirely irrelevant to Palestine’s Bronze Age, dated to a period postdating Israel’s presence in Palestine, but also that they were essentially unhistorical, rooted in folklore and myth.

The conclusion of my dissertation drew me inevitably into the conflicts of the Catholic faculty. The dissertation was judged by professors Haag and Galling and was accepted: summa cum laude. I was free to seek publication and prepare myself for my doctoral oral examinations, set for the early Autumn of 1972. The dissertation, however, attracted both interest and support: not only from the protestant faculty, but also from the Catholic research center, the École Biblique, in Jerusalem, which invited me to give an 8-hour compact-course on the dissertation to their students. This first public presentation of my dissertation was attended by professors Avraham Malamat and Shalom Paul of the Hebrew University, with both encouragement and advice for further research.

Unfortunately, this early interest encouraged Tübingen’s Professor Joseph Ratzinger to read the work. In a discussion in preparation for my oral exams in dogmatic theology, he told me that a Catholic could not write such a dissertation in Tübingen. Then, in the examination itself, he confronted me with my dissertation’s conclusion that the narratives of the Pentateuch were mythic and folkloric, rather than historical: ‘Where can you find revelation in the Book of Exodus?’ In answer, I turned to the theme of revelation in the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32-34 to argue against any such historicized Bible, implied by his question. We had not revelation itself so much as a story about revelation: Moses descended the mountain with two tablets: a revelation of divine words, written by the very finger of God himself. However, on his way to the people, when Moses heard the noise of their singing and dancing and saw the calf, his anger reiterates Yahweh’s (cf. Ex 32:19 with 32:10) and grew hot.8 He ‘threw God’s tablets from his hands and broke them’ (Ex 32:15-19). Interpreting this allegorical parable: the torah comes, not with Yahweh’s tablets and Yahweh’s words. It is Moses who takes two stone tablets of his own and replaces the originals. And it is Moses, not Yahweh, who wrote on those tablets: ‘the words of the covenant, the ten commandments’ (Ex 34:28). This is not revelation, but myth, a parable and allegory. What we think of as divine revelation of the torah does not present us with an objective or historical God, but ever merely an all-knowing author’s understanding of god, transmitted through human and limited experiences:9 This God is a god of tradition, but neither of history nor event. In the torah, he is Emanuel: God as he was known to Israel (’ehyeh ‘imak: Ex 3:12; Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23).10 The revelation in the parable of Exodus 34 as of Exodus 3 is Moses.’ That we may call it ‘revelation’ is ever an assertion of faith.

Within the context of an examination in dogmatic theology, this answer was disastrous and doomed to confirm his judgment that such a PhD could not be accepted in Tübingen. I answered his challenge, knowing that answer’s consequence and thereby effectively marked the coming confrontation of critical Old Testament studies with its theological past with a clarity that still surprises me. In my naïve effort to reiterate the biblical text’s voice, my oral examination projected the coming debate in Old Testament studies which decisively changed our perspectives of the Bible so thoroughly. I hardly was prepared for such conflict. In looking for a publisher, my dissertation was quickly rejected by the monograph series of both the Catholic Biblical Quarterly and the Society of Biblical Literature: the former, because it lacked a proper recommendation and the latter for its critique of ‘Biblical Archaeology’. Kurt Galling then recommended it to Georg Fohrer for publication in the Beihefte zur Zeitscrift für die alttestamentliche Wischenschaft and it was published in early 1974 as: The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: The Quest for the Historical Abraham.11

The earliest, largely negative, reviews of my dissertation12 concentrated on the temerity of my break with the scholarly consensus of archaeologists and American biblical scholars. At the same time, the methodological distance between the stories of the Pentateuch and the world one met in writing a history of Palestine’s Bronze Age was so great that it influenced my work on the settlement patterns of the Bronze Age deeply. As the efforts of Haag and Galling, together with friends and colleagues, to find a compromise with the Catholic faculty eventually failed, the development of my work on the Atlas project engaged the whole of my attention. My dissertation’s concluding demand that we develop our history of Palestine independently of biblical narratives required just such a project! There were no large arm movements, but I began with a limited and modest effort to construct a brief narrative of change, based on the data we had for transhumance pastoralism in the Sinai and the Negev.13 The more ambitious, but still limited regional history of Palestine’s early agriculture was projected for my Palestine study.14 As my work on the Atlas project moved towards its first publication, I turned my thoughts towards returning to the States. My former wife was offered a teaching post in Philadelphia, which began in September of 1974. I stayed on in Tübingen for a few months to finish the TAVO supplement to the Sinai and Negev maps and made arrangements to work on the monograph for the Palestine maps from Philadelphia.

Love Notes from an Admirer

Once I was in Philadelphia, Leonard urged me to come to Temple and finish my PhD there. I was reluctant, with little trust in theologians. How would Temple be different from Tübingen? Leonard pressed his argument, with all the persuasive guile of an experienced ecumenist. A meeting with Robert Wright and Gerard Sloyan, promised the acceptance of my dissertation without prejudice, though it was already published and could not be influenced in any significant way by the examiners. We also agreed that, upon fulfilling a two-semester residency and other requirements for the PhD at Temple, I would be allowed to stand for the oral doctoral examinations and dissertation defense. We also agreed that I be examined in ancient Near Eastern Studies, Hebrew Bible and New Testament and attend appropriate courses in Hebrew Bible, New Testament and Islam during the 1975/ 1976 academic year. The absence of a specifically church-related discipline won my trust.

My ‘Catholic’ teacher, Gerard Sloyan, was taken up with historical Jesus studies (particularly in regard to the suffering and death stories of the gospels), though he also gave much time in popular lectures and articles criticizing the Catholic obsession with sex. This earned him many harsh reviews from the Catholic right. I admired his reading of the passion narratives and not least his treatment of the rhetorical and stereotypical thematic elements in these narratives, which later influenced my own study of some of the central themes in the ancient Near Eastern myth of the Messiah.15 I was even more impressed by the openness of students and other teachers at Temple to the kinds of questions Gerry raised: not only within a Catholic perspective, but as an integral part of Temple’s ecumenical discussion. This same openness impressed me in Bob Wright’s lectures, which engaged most of my time. His research—engaged in a new translation of the Psalms of Solomon and its Hellenistic context—was about as far from my Bronze Age as one could imagine. However, his method of handling translation and exegetical problems were evidence-based and so distant from the theological concerns, dominant among Catholics in Tübingen, that I learned much about critical reading. In this rather stressing period of my life, I was grateful to Bob for his consistent personal support and advice, as the mobbing of my Historicity grew both in volume and rhetoric, through the winter of 1975-1976.16 I was most impressed in my brief stay at Temple with the lectures of the Palestinian professor of Islamic studies, Isma’il al-Faruqi. As a Muslim and Palestinian, he walked a narrow, mine-filled path, connecting him to his colleagues: a path which uncertainly joined Islam to Judaism in mutual respect. It was a path which I had first begun to explore, when working in Palestine with TAVO, moving each day for months between East and West Jerusalem and seeing daily far more than I wished. I often wondered whether his frequent preoccupation with Christian ethnics was the result of a strategic decision to find some ‘neutral’ ground, from which he could engage Christianity and Islam’s Jewish roots with respect. Al-Faruqi, in his critique of Zionism in its revision of Judaism and its highest values, supplied me with a key for addressing a problem which infested every aspect of my work on both biblical narrative and the history of Palestine, where the Zionist history of origins has not only been in direct conflict with modern critical scholarship, but also has intentionally distorted the biblical narrative and its history.

Al-Faruqi was quite unhappy with my Historicity—though he liked what I was doing with Palestine’s history. Bob and I often disagreed and Gerry found my Greek decidedly unimpressive. I must confess a bout of panic on my very last day as a student. Arriving early in the morning for the oral defense of my dissertation, I learned that Professor James Ross, a well-known archaeologist from Virginia Theological Seminary, who had specialized in the Middle Bronze Period over the previous 25 years and was a prominent member of the ‘Albright school’, was to take part in my oral examination: as my ‘opponent.’ My panic gradually resided as we proceeded through a debate that covered most aspects of the dissertation. Now, many years later, I look back on this, sometimes heated, debate with gratitude. It prepared me well for the much harsher debates which continued for ten years. Temple was never boring. Its openness and acceptance of so many differences created habits and expectations which I have never abandoned.

A Stranger in His Own Land

Following the publication of John Van Seters’ Abraham in History and Tradition,17 with its clearly independent evaluation of the relation of the patriarchal narratives to the Bronze Age and a bold revision of the dating of the Yahwist tradition in Pentateuchal criticism to the sixth century BCE, the debate, concerning Israel’s origins and the Pentateuch’s origin stories, intensified. But it also began to influence an increasingly wide range of issues: most noticeably support for the historicity of biblical origin stories in the Pentateuch, Joshua and Judges, which were set within a pre-monarchic period. Already in 1977, J. Maxwell Miller and John Hayes published a comprehensive collection of articles reflecting a considerable ‘paradigm shift’ in Old Testament studies. With its title: Israelite and Judean History,18 this book not only separated the history of Israel from that of Judah, but questioned every ‘period’ of what had been considered Israel’s early history: from Abraham through the United Monarchy. Of equal importance, these essays all accepted the separation of biblical and archaeological analysis, which I had stressed in the conclusions of my Historicity. This was now expanded to a demand for the independence of Palestinian archaeology from biblical studies; that is, an end to biblical archaeology.19 The field had changed and new perspectives had begun to govern our research.

Not all greeted such changes welcome. The patterns which the opposition took reflected the divisions which had long plagued Hebrew Bible studies. Those most opposed to such change were conservative Catholics, American and Israeli scholars, ranging from evangelical conservatives to Jewish and Christian Zionists, but also including many traditionally critical scholars of the ‘Albright School,’ apparently because of their commitments to the traditions and assumptions of ‘Biblical Archaeology.’ After completing my work on the Tübinger Atlas in 1977, I found myself unemployable in the American universities through nearly a decade. This long period of drought, however, was interrupted by an invitation from the Catholic Biblical Association as annual Professor at the École Biblique for the Autumn semester of 1985. Unfortunately, the École paid a considerable price for inviting me. It was during this stay that accusations of anti-Semitism were first linked to my Historicity book. Such slander increased when I extended my work with the École a further six months to develop a pilot proposal for analyzing modern toponymic changes in Palestine and concluded that the Israeli committee on place names must be criticized for its systematic de-Arabicization of Palestinian toponomy—often at serious cost to the region’s ancient cultural heritage.20

When I returned to the States in June, 1986, I received a National Endowment Fellowship from January to September of 1987, to write a monograph on the history of Palestine, which was to dominate my research through the following years.21 While spending 9 weeks of research at the Oriental Institute library of the University of Chicago, I shared my lunch hour with Gösta Ahlström, who was finishing his History of Palestine. He shared my ambition of writing a history that was independent of the biblical mythology.22 His recommendation enabled me to take a one-year appointment to teach at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. This was followed by a tenure-track appointment at Marquette University, which began in September, 1989. At Marquette, I finally felt that I had come home—not only to the American Midwest of my childhood, but to a Catholic University, where I could draw on the whole of my experience in my teaching and writing. I was happy there, working with my students and developing a graduate seminar, where students were drawn into discourse with visiting scholars and important new works. When I came up for tenure in 1992, I felt assured of support from most of my colleagues.

I did not calculate the effects of my Early History, when it first appeared, early in 1992. It was released with an extraordinary review on the front pages of two London papers: The Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Times and that review spread everywhere you might imagine! It was lengthy and detailed and took pains to present the main themes of this monograph, which had begun with a 170 page Stand der Forschung on Old Testament scholarship’s failed efforts to write a history of either Palestine or Israel! I struggle, without success, to understand either the decision of these two editors of prominent British newspapers or the results of that decision as they affected me. The central goal of the monograph—beyond the argument about our failure to write an adequate history—was the sketch of a regional and archaeologically based history of Bronze and Iron Age Palestine, as independent of the biblical narrative as I could manage. It drew some conclusions which were hard to dismiss: 1) that it was unlikely an ethnicity as expressed by the biblical ‘Israel’ could have existed before the Persian period; 2) that the biblical concept of Israel as a people was dependent on a self-understanding of exile; 3) that there was no substantial historicity of the narratives from Genesis to 2 Kings and 4) that the Bible is best understood as a literary product of the late Persian or early Hellenistic period.

‘The Debate’, full of heated conflict and charges of willful distortion, incompetence and anti-Semitism, followed immediately and dominated much of the field over the next decade. Immediately, it affected me in a denial of tenure at Marquette. Elijah’s angels, however, cared for me. In mid-May, 1993, having concluded my last lecture at Marquette, I arrived in Copenhagen to take up Eduard Nielsen’s chair of Old Testament studies.

Changing Perspectives in Old Testament Studies:

I was 54 years old when I arrived in Denmark. My points of contact were few and fragile and I knew little of the land, its language or its traditions. I was a stranger—exiled from my own country and identity—and could hardly guess how I was to cope in a country I did not understand. I had met three of my colleagues—but could not say that I knew them. I did know that the theological faculty’s primary teaching role was the training of priests for the Danish Folkekirke, within the Lutheran tradition, but I also knew that it was, nevertheless, independent of that church. Indeed, my own appointment confirmed that independence. I knew little else, as what I had read, was much like what I had learned of the language: theory: without basis in reality. I do not think I could have then imagined that I would come to adopt Denmark as my ‘Fatherland’.

It was long before I could really believe that Danish theology was without mullahs! Thoughts were neither controlled nor forbidden. Indeed, everyone had their opinion—and expected the teacher to have one too! Such lack of sectarianism in the teaching and discourse of theology—which I had first experienced at Temple—including an acceptance of religion as well as of its absence—was, in Copenhagen of the 1990s, a reality within a strikingly homogenous culture: open to a multi-cultural world. Such openness and freedom of thought and speech, skepticism in regard to any special status, widespread disinterest in controlling others and the freedom of students to control their own research and intellectual development were freedoms, based in social principles which my colleagues shared as part of their culture. Many of the principles I had first experienced in Kurt Galling’s Institute and in my work for the Tübinger Atlas as at Temple, and had come to understand as necessary components for any freedom of research, were fundamental to the theology faculties in Copenhagen and throughout Scandinavia. As I integrated myself in Denmark, learned its language, and made it my home, I tried to make such principles my own—in writing and research, in lectures, seminars and examinations and in my relationships to both colleagues and students. I have become more Danish and, indeed, less American and less Catholic. Such loss is necessary if one wishes to participate in a wider, less sectarian and less controlled world.

One of my earliest projects after taking up my post in Copenhagen has been the editing of the academic monograph series: Copenhagen International Seminar. It is dedicated to the publication in English of works, which open new lines of research, related to biblical studies, particularly undertaken by younger scholars of various scholarly traditions. I am pleased, with this series, that we have been able to support a number of first publications. We have also been able to bring some of the richness of Danish and Scandinavian scholarship to an international audience. We have also been able to publish a significant number of scholars, who are not themselves theologians—but anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, classicists and literary critics—and have brought some of their insights into biblical studies. In 2011, the CIS series expanded with the sub-series, Changing Perspectives. These publications of volumes are oriented towards the changes in perspective which have come about in the field of Old Testament studies over the past half-century and are dedicated to reflecting on the history of scholarship. I have tried to define the series as involving the re-publication of collected articles, which have either themselves changed perspectives within the field of Old Testament studies or which have significantly changed the perspective of their author.

I need to discuss one final development in my scholarship, which directly developed from the openness and integrity, which I learned to cherish so deeply while at Temple. In 1995, my notorious 1992 book, Early History, was pirated by a Beirut publisher, translated into Arabic and published. Because of this publication, I soon became engaged in mediating the changes which were developing in biblical studies and archaeology by giving and publishing a considerable number of lectures and articles in the Middle East: in Beirut, Damascus, Amman, Aleppo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Ramallah and Jerusalem. This continued my engagement in Palestinian issues, which had first begun with my work on the projects of the Tübinger Atlas and Toponomie Palestinienne. It now took on more contemporary and more politically explicit implications. How grateful I have been for my discussions with Isma’il! What I had once argued so passionately for in my Historicity of 1974 and Early History of 1992—a history of Palestine, independent of the Bible’s ethnocentric allegories—now had an engaged audience, which demanded a response with all of the integrity I could muster. In the years which have followed, personal relationships have gradually formed a commitment to an, as yet, unfinished project. The translator and publisher of many of my books into Arabic, Ziad Mouna of Cadmus Publishing, the great medieval and literary scholar and founder of East-West Nexus, Salma Khadra Jayyusi, who once planned with me and hosted a conference of (primarily) western scholars on ancient Jerusalem and edited its results with me, and Basem Ra’ad, the former dean of al-Quds University, have convinced me of the need for writing an ancient History of Palestine for all Palestinians23, dedicated to the cultural heritage of the whole of Palestine’s indigenous population, who, today, are Samaritans, Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze: all with roots in Palestine’s ancient past. It is a suitable project, I think, for a TUDOR alumnus.


1 T. L. Thompson, ’Towards a Theology of Existence’, Philosophy Today (Summer, 1962), 1-15; idem, ‘Imago Dei: A Problem of Pentateuchal Discourse,’ Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 23/1 (2009), 135-148.

2 See, especially, A. Farrer, A Study in St Mark (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1951); T. L. Thompson, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel (Basic Books: 1999) and The Messiah Myth: The Ancient Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David (Basic Books: 2005).

3 H. Küng, Unfehlbar? (Zürich: Benzinger, 1970); see, especially, the Taschenbuchausgabe from 1989, with forward from H. Haag (Munich: Piper).

4 N. Greinacher and H. Haag, Der Fall Küng: Eine Dokumentation (Munich: Piper, 1980).

5 See the introduction of H. Haag. ’Eine unerledigte Anfrage,’ to H. Küng, Unfehlbar? (Munich: Piper, 1989), v-vi.

6 In the early 1970s, such research was encouraged particularly by the surveys of Moshe Kochavi on the West Bank and Rudolph Cohen in the Negev and the Sinai. For their final published reports, see M. Kochavi, Judea, Samaria and the Golan: Archaeological Survey 1967-1968 (Jerusalem: IES, 1972). R. Cohen, and R. Cohen-Amin, Ancient Settlement of the Central Negev, vol. 1: The Chalcolithic Period, The Early Bronze Age and the Middle Bronze Age I IAA Report 6 (Jerusalem: IES, 1999); R. Cohen and R. Cohen-Amin, Ancient Settlement of the Negev Highlands, vol. 2: The Iron Age and the Persian Period, IAA Report 20 (Jerusalem: IES, 2004).

7 T. L. Thompson, The Bronze Age Settlement of Sinai and the Negev, BTAVO 8 (Wiesbaden: Dr. Reichert Verlag, 1975); idem, Palästina in der Frühbronzezeit, TAVO B II 11a (Wiesbaden: Dr. Reichert Verlag, 1978); idem, Palästina in der Übergangszeit der Frühbronze/ Mittelbronzezeit, TAVO B II 11b ( 1978); idem, The Settlement of Palestine in the Bronze Age, BTAVO 34 (Wiesbaden: Dr. Reichert Verlag, 1979); idem, Palästina in der Mittelbronzezeit, TAVO B II 11c (1980); idem, Palästina in der Spätbronzezeit, TAVO B II 11d.

8 T. L. Thompson, ’Imago Dei: A Problem in Pentateuchal Discourse,’ Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament’ 23/1 (2009), 135-148.

9 T. L. Thompson, ‘How Yahweh Became God: Exodus 3 and 6 and the Center of the Pentateuch,’ Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 8/1 (1994), 1-19.

10 Ibidem.

11 To be reprinted in 2014 by Bloomsbury Publishing.

12 The very earliest of which I am aware was John Huesman’s presidential address to the Catholic Biblical Association in the summer of 1974: ‘Archaeology and Early Israel: The Scene Today’, published in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 34 (1975), 1-16.

13 Thompson, The Settlement of Sinai and the Negev, 5-30.

14 Thompson, The Settlement of Palestine, 5-67.

15 T. L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth: The Ancient Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David (New York: Basic Books, 2005).

16 Typical was the lecture of Dean McBride of Yale at the Philadelphia regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in the spring of 1976.

17 J. Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975).

18 J. H. Hayes and J. M. Miller, Israelite and Judean History (Westminster: Philadelphia, 1977).

19 Thompson, Historicity, 320-321; idem, ‘Historical Notes on Israel’s Conquest of Palestine,’ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 7 (1978), 20-27; idem, ‘The Background of the Patriarchs: A Reply to William Dever and Malcolm Clark,’ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 9 (1978), 76-84; see also W. G. Dever, ‘Retrospects and Prospects in Biblical and Syro-Palestinian Archaeology’ BA (1982), 103-107.

20 Eventually published with F. Goncalvez as Toponomie Palestinienne: Plaine de St Jean D’Acre et Corridor de Jérusalem (Louvaine-La-Neuve: Institut Orientaliste, 1988), 90.

21 Eventually published as: T. L. Thompson, Early History of the Israelite People from the Written and Archaeological Sources (Leiden: Brill, 1992).

22 G. Ahlstrom, The History of Ancient Palestine from the Palaeolithic Period to Alexander’s Conquest (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993).

23 In the conception of such inclusiveness in an historical project, I am indebted to Ilan Pappe, A History of Modern Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), xix-xx.

Comments (5)

I read your Historicity at Virginia Seminary in the late 70's as an Evangelical and it changed my life. I transferred my "major" over to NT because I knew my OT profs could not "go there" and I had a superb mentor in NT. I stay current but have stayed most current in OT/Hebrew Bible. Your work played a large part in that. I am an Episcopal priest who does not always agree with all your work, but your Historicity, and other works, opened me up to the/my future as a parish priest/scholar. Thanks.

#1 - Edward Mills - 12/12/2013 - 23:00

For some reason Thomas's account reminds me of a graduate student I talked with at a national SBL conference when I was also a graduate student. He told me he was doing his dissertation on the dating of some portion of the Bible (it may have been the Pentateuch, but I'm not sure). He said he had become convinced from reading Lemche of a Hellenistic era date context. However he told me his advisor, a well-known name in North American scholarship, had told him he could not receive his degree if he argued that, and this is as close as I can get to an exact quote of what he told me his advisor had told him: "the Persian period is as late as I will permit you to go". So, he said he was writing his dissertation arguing for the Persian period, even though he personally actually thought that was still too early. An informal education to me concerning the working of formal higher education. Thompson's account is all too believable.

#2 - Greg Doudna - 12/18/2013 - 06:21

History should surely not be governed by religious interpretations, to use a slightly kinder word for 'myth'. But do religious and moral interpretations have any role at all? I warmly applaud the idea of a history of Palestine for all Palestinians. I've even tried to contribute to this genre myself at the sub-academic level. But the idea that all the contending groups of modern Palestine have genuine roots there is perhaps in its own way a moral, even a religious, interpretation too?

#3 - Martin - 12/18/2013 - 19:52

Dear Martin,
Thank you much for your supporting words. However, I do not mean to argue at all that religious affiliation suggests that one belong's to Palestine's indigenous population. I rather intend to develop an inclusive history which involves discussion of the cultural heritage of the whole of Palestine’s indigenous population.

Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

#4 - Thomas L. Thompson - 12/19/2013 - 12:06

I appreciate Edward Mills' and Greg Doudna's comments very much. To Greg, I would add that student's have the right to their own conclusions, and that, as teachers we teach methods and the discipline to distinguish between sound and unsound arguments. Our conclusions change all the time.

Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

#5 - Thomas L. Thompson - 12/19/2013 - 12:10

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