It’s The Same Old Story

However, when it comes to history, especially Friedman seems to have little understanding of what is going on in modern historical research. His introduction here of post-modernism as the background of minimalism is simply nonsense as shown a long time ago by other scholars not belonging to this circle (James Pasto in SJOT, among others). Minimalism arose really as a modern response to wrong interpretations of historical evidence, and that in a very modern way.

See Also: Writing Israel out of the History of Palestine Response to Lemche’s “Writing Israel out of the History of Palestine.”

By Niels Peter Lemche
University of Copenhagen
November 2012

When I was young I was told stories about how the members of the "Baltimore-school" reacted to people they did not like, sabotaging their lectures in every possible way. I did not really believe such rumors before I myself and people around me were subjected to similar treatment by people belonging to this circle of North American scholars (at least they claim to be scholars). However, attacks such as those found on Gary Rendburg's home page at McGill ( including an incredible amount of misrepresentation of his opponents are simply substandard. We have seen the same in various publications by his mate William G. Dever: ‘These minimalists are ignorant, not trained in anything serious, simply dishonest people.’ Nowhere do we see a serious attempt to engage in serious discussion: If we can portray them as ignorant, there is no reason for a serious debate.

In the few days this debate has lasted we have seen a repetition of all these tactics. Let's start with misrepresenting the opponent's ideas. The clearest example is when Ronald Hendel—evidently belonging to the same group—simply misquoted me to such a degree that it was easy for him to accuse me of being a supporter of the Iranian president:

Hendel wrote: "Lemche writes: "Ahmadinajod is right and Friedman wrong if we begin to discuss the content of the word 'Israel.'" But "Israel" is mentioned as a polity in the Merneptah stele, the Tel Dan stele, the Mesha stele, and the coins that Robert Deutsch cites. Lemche's extreme position is simply unfounded and bizarre. I can only conclude that like his friend Ahmadinajad, Lemche "does not have a clue about any of this."1

What is wrong? Let's start with the last sentence. Any person who read my little article can see that this is slander: I am obviously no friend of Ahmadinejod: In my own words, "It is of course not a problem to destroy any credibility concerning Ahmadinajod's interpretation of history. We all remember his denial of the Holocaust (which would earn him a year in prison if he ever visited Germany or Austria as a private person). Mr. Ahmadinejod is hardly a worthy opponent to a scholar of Friedman's status."

Second, he fields two famous inscriptions against my view on Israel and Palestine, Mernephtah and Mesha as if they are something I had not addressed. Quoting myself, and directed against Ahmadinejod's position: "It is such a ridiculous postulate that we only need one reference, i.e., the Merneptah-stele, to tell us that there was something by the name of Israel in this region as early as 1200 BCE. And if you ask for more evidence, please see the Mesha inscription from Moab from the 9th century BCE."

Thirdly: The sentence about Ahmedinajod as correct and Friedman as wrong is a garbled version of my original: "So moving back to Friedman's settlement with Ahmadinejod, Friedman is obviously right and Ahmadinejod wrong, but at the same time Ahmadinajod is right and Friedman wrong if we begin to discuss the content of the word "Israel" in this connection." Ronald Hendel's paragraph is a case of misprision of the worst kind. The word was coined by the late Robert Carroll about deliberate false representations of your opponents opinions. I can be kind and say that Ronald Hendel deliberately distorted any correct meaning of my article: I can also be unkind and say that his intellectual abilities did not allow him to present my argument in a proper way. Maybe he should choose for himself which characterization is correct.

So, trying to win the day without a serious argument, Hendel turns to misprision, and so does Friedman in his answer. He has more or less the same "arguments" such as -- Lemche denying an Israel in Palestine ancient times. Since it is absolutely an absurd point of view that there was no Israel in Palestine in ancient times, any argument building on this absurd argument must be absurd in itself. But it was not what I said but a misprision of my point of view. It is quite sad that a scholar of Friedman's status should resort to such tactics, the great Davis Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Georgia Katzin Professor of Jewish Civilization Emeritus.

Now Friedman does not even feel the slightest remorse for making a cheap point about the recent deceased Frank Moore Cross: as I wrote De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. It is totally irrelevant to the argument here, apart from the last part about an interview with Cross in—of all unlikely places—the notorious BAR. But Cross is no more so I see no point in engaging in a discussion concerning him. His view on minimalism seems to be standard for his students, playing ideology out against honest scholarship, which reminds the reader about the language used in mission halls (should I call in James Barr?).

Now on to something a little more serious: The translation of biblical stories as history. This is not least found in the contributions to this discussion by Robert Deutsch, in a unique naive fashion—if only it was as easy as presumed by Deutsch, who should, perhaps have stayed with his antiquities (though I have to thank him for his reference to coinage during the Jewish rebellion in the 1st century CE, which only supports my argument in another place about the identity of the biblical Israelites). However, when it comes to history, especially Friedman seems to have little understanding of what is going on in modern historical research. His introduction here of post-modernism as the background of minimalism is simply nonsense as shown a long time ago by other scholars not belonging to this circle (James Pasto in SJOT, among others). Minimalism arose really as a modern response to wrong interpretations of historical evidence, and that in a very modern way. If in doubt, I can recommend a study of the volumes published or to be published in the series Changing Perspectives (Equinox). Van Seters' volume came out last year, mine and perhaps also Tom Thompson's should be out in December. They show via a selection of our opera minora how matters developed from the late 1960s to c. 2000.

Nevertheless, what is wrong with post-modernism per se, except to people who have no clue about what it is all about? Some sound reading of some of the main characters representing post-modernism may be in order. The work of the late Jacques Derrida could be the place to begin. I also know how popular Michel Foucault is outside of traditional biblical studies.

However, to combat post-modernism, Friedman introduces objectivism, a beautiful ideal but impossible to live up to. There is no such thing in our business as objectivity. It is strange that this has to be said again and again. A position that is said to be built upon objectivity is definitely a reason for laughter. It is a dream of the German universities of the 19th century. The closest that comes to this today may be Karl Popper's ideas about falsification (he has been called a "neo-positivist").

But to give a practical example from this discussion: If you mention an Israel in an inscription from the 9th century BCE, and an Israel on coins from the 1st century CE, you may ask for a link between the two occurrences, but you have no idea about what kind of link we are talking about: Is it a historical link: there was a history that binds these two case of Israel together: Is the later Israel a reflection of the first case? Or is it a kind of cultural memory, an idea of an Israel that was once upon a time (maybe in the never-never land of the Bible)? Are we talking about the foundation of an imagined society (in the sense of Benedict Anderson’s, Imagined Communities)? Who knows and how do you turn your beliefs into an objective argument?

Then you have biblical Israel, and we may of course follow Deutsch who seemingly believes that everything written in his Bible is historical. I am sorry, not even in his own country do scholars agree on this. He is evidently blending in his own cultural memory of his biblical Israel which he, by interchanging logical categories, (in the sense of Russell) identifies with an Israel in the real world. This could be a long discussion, but not here, and somehow I have addressed this issue scores of times, most notably in The Israelites in History and Tradition (1998) and in The Old Testament between Theology and History (2008). There is not much that can be done: As I wrote, memory is much stronger than wissenschaftliche history. You can prove any popular idea about what happened in history to be wrong, and people will still accept the memory and cut away the history. As Napoleon said: Qu'est-ce que l'Histoire, sinon une fable sur laquelle tout le monde est d'accord?

Then on to some really problematic issues:

Friedman is repeating the classical mistake of Herodotus's identification of Palestine. He is not the first person to do so. Maybe he does not know Ionic Greek as used by Herodotus well enough? Actually the passages in Herodotus run like this (an excerpt from my review of Keith Whitelam 1996, printed in SJOT):

Herodotus’ use of the term Palestine and Palestinians is particularly revealing, as he seems always to use the term in connection with Syria: I 105: (about Psammeticus meeting the Scythians in the Palestinian Syria); II 106: ἐν δὲ τῇ Παλαιστίνῃ Συρίῃ (about Stelas erected by Pharaohs Sesostris in the Palestinian Syria; cf. immediately before this II 104: Φοίνικες δὲ καὶ Σύροι οἱ ἐν τῇ Παλαιστίνῃ (about Phoenicians and Syrians living in Palestine who are tracing the habit of circumcision back to Egypt); III 91: Φοινίκη τε πᾶσα καὶ Συρίη ἡ Παλαιστίνη καλεομένη ... (‘All of Phoenicia and that part of Syria which is called Palestine’); IV 39: παρά τε Συρίην τὴν Παλαιστίνην (part of a geographical description of the Levant); VII 89: τῆς δὲ Συρίης τοῦτο τὸ χωρίον καὶ τὸ μέχρι Αἰγύπτου πᾶν Παλαιστίνη καλέεται (in A. de Sélincourt’s translation [Penguin]: ‘This part of Syria, together with the country which extends southward to Egypt, is all known as Palestine’), and in the same passage the expression Σύροισι τοῖσι ἐν τῇ Παλαιστίνῃ as (saying that the Syrians living in Palestine contributed 300 triremes to Xerxes’ fleet). Cf., finally, also III 5: ἀπὸ δε Καδύτιος πόλιος ἥ ἐστι Συρίων τῶν Παλαιστίνων καλεομένων (‘From Phoenicia to the boundaries of Gaza the country belongs to the Syrians known as ‘Palestinians’’).2

It is clear that Herodotus is not only talking about a part of the country between Syria proper and Egypt. In IV 39 he simply talks about Syrian Palestine (but don't tell Assad if he survives the present rebellion!). The problem for Friedman and others is that they know in advance how to read Herodotus: It is part of their cultural memory, and as said, history cannot do much to change memory.

Then we have a point where I simply do not believe what I am reading, but it seems that Friedman is identifying a language with a people. Since he can trace Hebrew in the scattered inscriptions from Palestine through centuries and they are mostly very short, insignificant, especially if you move into Assyriology or Egyptology—one excavation like the one at Mari has found many times the amount of fairly large inscriptions compared to the material from Palestine in the Iron Age (I will not even talk about what we have in the basement of the big museums like Louvre, the British Museum, and Baghdad [hopefully]). It helps if people move down into the Hellenistic Period. Here at least we have the Dead Sea Scrolls (and other documents).

There is only one solution: that Friedman begins to read at least a part of the modern discussion about ethnicity. Language is not an ethnic marker, although often in the primitive press it was thought to be. Furthermore, not even the ancient Jews made this mistake. Language is never used as an ethnic marker of biblical Israel (blood and land and religion are).

Not even Abraham spoke Hebrew originally, if we should believe Jubilees. He had to learn it first (Jubilees 12:25, ref. thanks to Reinhardt Kratz). It would definitely be good if our interlocutors brushed up on the subject, starting with Fredrik Barth, "Ethnic Groups and Boundaries" from 1969. There are also some very good introductions to the subject.

Finally we have the pig-bones. As far as I remember I have seen qualifications as to their importance even from people who pointed at the phenomenon. There are indeed several explanations: 1) it is an "Israelite" ethnic marker as it became a Jewish ethnic marker, 2) it is part of the changing ecological conditions in the Palestinian mountains in the Iron Age where the deforestation removed the basis for the survival of the wild boar. 3) It was the conditions in the highlands that pigs were not available, and thus became part of the regions cultural memory that "we do not eat pig", i.e., we don't start with the first proposal but combine the first and the second proposals. Finally, it would be nice to have physical evidence from say the Djebel Anseriya that people up there ate pigs. It will definitely take some time before we know.

All of this from a very ignorant and stupid European Gelehrter who, if his critics are to be believed, knows nothing. Nevertheless, the only Semitic language I never studied is Ethiopian. My Egyptian grammar (Gardiner's) I bought in May 1962, my first year in the Gymnasium), Friedrich's Hethitische Elementarbuch and Dictionary arrived in my library in 1967, etc., etc. Now this semester I am reading Gilgamesh and Atrahasis with my students (in Akkadian, of course). Next semester will include a basic course in Ugaritic. No, I see no reason to bow to my learned opponent.

On the other hand, I have no part in his cultural memory which is biblical Israel (the same goes for Ronald Hendel who writes in his recent book on cultural memory, Remembering Abraham: "The remembered past is the material with which biblical Israel constructed its identity as a people, a religion, and a culture."3 Sad to say, this is nonsense: Biblical Israel is a memory itself, so how can a memory remember?)

In spite of intensive studies in the history of ancient Israel (itself a modern memory, pace Philip Davies) / ancient Palestine that have lasted for more than forty years, it seems that the textbook for my opponents is still John Bright's A History of Israel. I have to say that it may be good enough for members of the late Baltimore School, but other critical scholars on both sides of the pond have moved on.

When support for Friedman comes from Israeli scholars such as Aren Mair, it is unsurprising and to be expected. It is his and his fellow Israelis' cultural memory which is under attack. And nobody lets go of his memory voluntarily.


1 Niels Peter Lemche, "Writing Israel out of the History of Palestine", The Bible and Interpretation . See note 8.

2 Clio is Also Among the Muses. Keith W. Whitelam and the History of Palestine: A Review and a Commentary, Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 10 (1996), 88-114.

3 R. Hendel, Culture, Memory and History in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford: University Press, 2005), p. ix.

Comments (19)

"There is only one solution: that Friedman begins to read at least a part of the modern discussion about ethnicity. Language is not an ethnic marker, although often in the primitive press it was thought to be."

Isn't that the truth. Well written NP. Thanks for this.

#1 - Thomas Verenna - 11/05/2012 - 21:28

I don't know why Prof. Lamekey has chosen to involve me in this most recent of his ongoing diatribes (misspelling my name). Apparently, in his view, I'm professionaly disqualified, by definition, due to my ethno-religio-cultural background (and since I dared to mention the "e" word, which some believe they have a monopoly on its "proper" use, I'll put in the required reference Barth 1969 as well). Could it be possible that his very dogmatic, and what appears to be in his view always infallible, positions, are heavily influenced by certain non-ANE-related religious and/or political viewpoints (with strong Medieval, early modern and contemporary European roots)? And that these dogmatic positions permanently color his "scholarly" interpretations? But that could not be - since he clearly has access to the truth - and that will set us all free...

#2 - Aren Maeir - 11/06/2012 - 04:54

Let me say a word about my friend Niels Peter Lemche (do note the proper spelling as befits respectful dialogue) because sometimes I think people may take his Nordic directness and ‘no-nonsense’ prose as ‘rude’ or ‘impolite’. He certainly has been accused of those things but it’s just not the case that he is.

He is simply direct and to the point. That’s all. His various works should be read in a neutral tone of voice, not in an angry one or an impolite one. He’s merely stating the facts as he sees them and in all honesty he’s usually pretty right.

To be sure, he doesn’t need me to defend him and in all honesty I’m not- I’m simply trying to explain him to those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting this really excellent person.

What you take for gruffness is just simple Danish brevity. I know. I’ve spent time with him in Copenhagen and at his farm in Sweden and we have been friends for many years. Trust me. You would like him were you ever to meet him, even if you don’t agree with his viewpoint.

#3 - Jim West - 11/06/2012 - 15:34

I must ask a question. It is asked in obvious irony and indeed may be freely quoted as having been given with such unlimited portions of bad faith as I have been so often attributed over now 4 decades. Did ancient Jews--who were famous, if one were to believe the Hebrew Bible, for faithlessness, disobedience, apostasy and indeed the most unkind of all accusations: ignorance of the Torah, not eat pig, because it was forbidden? Did Yahw misjudge them when he called them faithless and, in fact, disobedient? How do we know? Where did all these so many thousands of Jews live who never followed the Torah--not just at one period but from the time of the Judges--if they did not live in Eretz Israel? Quite frankly, I do not see how one can take the Bible seriously and also do the same for biblical archaeology. If 'Die Bibel har recht' we can not only expect pig bones but Asherah pillars and all that belongs to a Taleban's nightmare of what we are wont to call pagan. If we do not find that, we should make a note that we have in fact found something else. Similarly, if language really were an ethnic marker as the Hebrew University's secular fundamentalists have claimed (pacem Baruch: we will yet fight this together. Surely, you now are old enough to speak--even if necessary foolishly--with truth), then the writer of the Ahiram inscription is an Israelite and Mesha a Jew--just as much as the scribe of bytdwd was a Damascene. Certainly, the occupents of Tall al Qadi and Hasura spoke Aramaic and bowed to one or other of the Ben Hadads. Any other scenario, I think requires us to think of Israelites as distinct from Jews and the writers of the Bible as scholars postdating the language of 5th century Judeans and Edomites--or don't you read your Ullendorf and Knauf?

Unfortunately, I do not understand Professor Mayear's response to Professor LameykelePIS from Copenhagen, but I certainly do,in spite of recent bouts of blindness, understand the oh so much needed snow it produces--a most necessary snow, hiding the shame that has come over elite American scholarship. And, exhausted, fearful and full of doubt, one must doubt whether indeed Americans have abandoned all of their integrity as scholars.

20 years ago, Lester Grabbe did recognise this failure of American integrity and scholarship and it must be so described, admirably worked to bring together a dialogue among scholars who could no longer find themselves in the company of the other. There is little question that the first meeting of the European Seminar for Historical Methodology he assembled we needed in a period of unprecedented conflict and confrontation. We worked over the years to find common ground for discussion and compromise that our common project related to Palestine's ancient history could succeed. Now that the seminar Grabbe led has closed with some measurable success, with the last meeting this past summer, I think we need to begin over once again and take as our dialogue partners not only the many secular fundamentalists of biblical archaeology in Israel and the Baltimore school (in hiding) such as Freedman (sincere apologies if I have again mispelled this name) who somehow understand themselves as engaged American intellectuals. Will they meet on the neutral ground that Grabbe once proposed in an effort to resolve the deeply conflicted wings of our historical scholarship. I, myself, find it difficult to imagine their integrity, so relentless has been their mobbing of all who have ever opposed their unprecedented and unwarrented dogmatism. Quite truly I think it is time to sit down and talk about scholarship and historical method seriously and give up the unconscionable methods that have been used here since--to my great surprise in the mid 1970s--the Albright school went 'poof'!
Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, Univerisity of Copenhagen

#4 - Thomas L. Thompson, Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen - 11/06/2012 - 15:56

Have we not read this same essay time and time again? There is nothing new here, just the same poorly written over referenced diatribe that avoids the evidence of ancient Israel by trying to throw up a smoke screen of historian definitions of ethnicities. The only new thing I learned here was that NPL believes the bible to be a reference book on language and ethnicity.

#5 - Jordan Wilson - 11/07/2012 - 03:51

To Aren Maeir
Sorry for the misspelling. Otherwise the answer to
"what you have to do here": It goes with your answer to Friedman:
#1 - Aren Maeir - 10/24/2012 - 15:17

As to this mail I believe that it would be nice to have a clarification: What do you mean with this: "Could it be possible that his very dogmatic, and what appears to be in his view always infallible, positions, are heavily influenced by certain non-ANE-related religious and/or political viewpoints (with strong Medieval, early modern and contemporary European roots)? And that these dogmatic positions permanently color his "scholarly" interpretations?"

I have my suspicions but would like to see your lines translated into something I can relate to.


And a PS to Jordan Wilson, yes, it is the same old story, isn't it.

#6 - Niels Peter Lemche - 11/07/2012 - 08:32

Jordan Wilson,

the 'evidence about ancient Israel' is a key epistemological issue that most conservative people, scholars and laymen alike, fail to grasp. A general situation in which conservative biblical scholars and archaeologists operate within a pre-Annales paradigm of history-writing is, I believe, the cause the Old Testament is regarded as the best and logical starting point for a history of ancient Palestine in the Iron Age and later--this if we do not consider the religious and political aspects of the question.

#7 - Emanuel Pfoh - 11/07/2012 - 13:24

I don't see how the passages Lemche cites in Herodotus's "Histories" support the idea that Herodotus's Palestine extended beyond Philistia, as the term is conventionally defined.

#8 - E. Harding - 11/08/2012 - 22:28

Pace Lemche, the word "misprision" was not coined by the late Robert Carroll. The word was already used by Shakespeare: "That dost in vile misprision shackle up My love" (ca. 1616).

Lemche seems to agree with some aspects of Ahmadinajad's denial that Israel had an ancient history. This is why he writes that "Ahmadinajod is right and Friedman wrong about the content of the word 'Israel.'" If he wants to disavow his words and their import, he is entitled to do so. But his response to my criticism is over the top.

Lemche's screed is diagnostic of a widespread problem among the minimalists, namely an inability to engage in scholarly discourse with those who have different construals of the evidence. The dismissive, nasty tone is that of a sectarian, and is not conducive to productive scholarship. In my view, James Barr's analysis of this issue (in History and Ideology in the OT) is unsurpassed.

#9 - Ron Hendel - 11/09/2012 - 14:56

Ron Hendel wrote, inter alia:

" Lemche's screed is diagnostic of a widespread problem among the minimalists, namely an inability to engage in scholarly discourse with those who have different construals of the evidence. The dismissive, nasty tone is that of a sectarian, and is not conducive to productive scholarship. In my view, James Barr's analysis of this issue (in History and Ideology in the OT) is unsurpassed."

Precisely. And that's why it is useless
to try and have any dialogue in such situations.

Uri Hurwitz Great Neck Estates

#10 - Uri Hurwitz - 11/09/2012 - 16:37

To E. Harding:

It is not about what you see or not see -- "you/I" can never be an argument -- it is about what Herodotus wrote:
ἐν δὲ τῇ Παλαιστίνῃ Συρίῃ
Φοίνικες δὲ καὶ Σύροι οἱ ἐν τῇ Παλαιστίνῃ
Φοινίκη τε πᾶσα καὶ Συρίη ἡ Παλαιστίνη καλεομένη
παρά τε Συρίην τὴν Παλαιστίνην
τῆς δὲ Συρίης τοῦτο τὸ χωρίον καὶ τὸ μέχρι Αἰγύπτου πᾶν Παλαιστίνη καλέεται
Σύροισι τοῖσι ἐν τῇ Παλαιστίνῃ
ἀπὸ δε Καδύτιος πόλιος ἥ ἐστι Συρίων τῶν Παλαιστίνων καλεομένων


#11 - Niels Peter Lemche - 11/10/2012 - 16:36

Part I

Thanks for the correction about misprision. Although it does not change anything.

As to Hendel creating a garbled version of my remark about Friedman and Ahmadinejod: Because you don't quote my words as I wrote them, you presented a distorted version of my intentions. And yes, I probably agree with some points in Ahmadinejod's statement: Biblical Israel was never a part of the Middle East. Historical Israel was. Few people makes this distinction but ancient Israel and biblical Israel never existed in reality. They are productions of biblical story writers and modern scholars paraphrasing them. That I have --- following Philip Davies -- explained scores of times in quite a few publications, on lists and everywhere. You definitely know.

As to our inability to engage in discussions, some of this has to do with the problem that there is so little common ground. Really, I already explained this here: Biblical Israel only exists in a text. Moving the discussion of biblical Israel from the text to a purported reality is simply blending different categories. Biblical Israel is the people of God, and is a matter of belief, ancient as well as modern. When confronted with critical historical research, the image of this Israel falls into many parts with little connection to reality. Sadly, it has been impossible to engage people on your side in any serious discussion: There never was one, and could not be one, when one party is describing the other in this way: "To give you the names of the four best known among them, they are Thomas Thompson, Philip Davies, Niels Lemche, and Keith Whitelam. Some of them are driven, as I indicated above, by Marxism and leftist politics. Some of them are former evangelical Christians who now see the evils of their former ways. Some of them are counterculture people, left over from the 60s and 70s, whose personality includes the questioning of authority in all aspects of their lives. ... First, almost without exception, these individuals have no expertise in the larger world of ancient Near Eastern studies. […] In short, the academy has created an intellectual environment which permits the untrained to operate on an equal par with the trained." (G.A. Rendsburg,

To see how you have dealt with the problem on minimalism, I may of course refer to your quite reasonable article in the BAS archive on "Gadflies". Actually we might agree a lot, which you may have seen from my reaction to some recent scholarship on the issue of the OT as a Hellenistic book (Biblical studies list, mostly), warning against pan-Hellenism as a substitute for pan-Babylonism. However, because you have never in a serious way engaged in a discussion about this, you have been largely ignored by people in this business. I do not recall that you (or for that matter Friedman) was ever discussed during the seventeen meetings of Lester Grabbe's historical seminar within the premises of the EABS. You can be sure that if you ever wish to get seriously into such a discussion, I can guarantee publication in SJOT which has never been a church magazine for minimalism.

#12 - N. Lemche - 11/11/2012 - 16:55

Part II

As to the tone, I got back in 1996 a really entertaining reply from a French speaking Canadian in reaction to the now famous discussion (at least according to Hershel Shanks) which Hershel Shanks arranged between Bill Dever, Kyle McCarter, Thompson and me. As he wrote, we all behaved nicely apart from Dever who more sounded like a street fighter. And then he called us all des comiques, meaning figures in a comic play. And comparing the here presented evaluation by Rendsburg, and similar passages in recent works of Bill Dever it is quite easy to see why our reactions are not kept in a nice and polite tone. As to education, I comes very close to Friedman, although to the series of languages he is said to master I can add Dutch, Spanish and Italian and then of course also Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. I will not add Russian and Arabic as now-a-days my Russian and Arabic are too rusty to be of any active use. It will probably take a few weeks to get them operative again.

One more thing: His and your ideas about epic literature in the OT (leftover from Frank M. Cross and possibly Albright, I suppose) are not shared by many over here but is of course worth a try, if you join the discussion with non-believers. It might be a voice worth hearing in the present discussion about the Enneateuch (by people like Reinhard Kratz).

As to James Barr and minimalism, it is true that he in his last book made a distance to minimalism. However, this book did not primarily target minimalism but the positions of Bob Carroll who happened to die a few weeks before it appearance, a fact that was always a problem to Barr, as it seemed that he was attacking a deceased colleague. I dealt with Barr's criticism in "Ideology and the History of Ancient Israel," Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 14 (2000), pp. 165-194. Clearly Barr sided with the wrong people (like Ian Provan) only realizing towards the end that he has joined forced with an evangelical scholar, always a hate subject in Barr's works.

Maybe it will be possible to create a common ground for discussion, after all. I am sure that Mark Elliott will welcome such a discussion here, which could start with a clarification of what is history.

PS: Personal notes: called left-wing, counter-culture person, questioning of authority in all aspects of my life by Rendburg (Dever would add other things):
Left-wing: OK, Regius professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen (founded 1479) since 1987. Regius is not a title we have, but I am employed by Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark.
Active in the Danish armed forces from 1971-2005 (still have a number there). With a DSO and a DSM. For some years chaired the national council of the Home Guard (in reality now National Guard).
Counter-culture person: Knight 1st grade of the Order of Dannebrog (established in 1671).
Untrained: Authored and edited more than 20 books, wrote more than 150 articles (etc., etc.). As to language competence I already referred to this above.


#13 - N. Lemche - 11/11/2012 - 16:55

Dear Niels Peter,
Thank you for the very clear response to Hendel and Friedman. As you know, I find these furniture-breaking quarrels very upsetting and it was only your good, common sense that prevented me from walking out and slamming the door in that distorted BAR interview you refer to.´

While I agree with you that Rendsburg's description of minimalism is far from reality: 'Marxist', 'leftist', 'former evangelicals', 'countercultural', 'no experience in the larger world of ANE' and, to cap the whole, 'untrained'. This description is so far from reality that anyone, and certainly trained scholars like Friedman and Hendel know that it is false. I doubt that pointing that out will bring Friedman and Hendel to an open discussion, at least, not of the kind that we had in the European Seminar for Historical Methodology.

Yet, this is what we need. Would American biblical scholars, archaeologists and historians be willing to resolve or at least clarify the problems and issues of debate that divide us? For my part, I would be very willing to.


Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

#14 - Thomas L. Thompson, Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen - 11/12/2012 - 15:06

This discussion, if you can even call it that given the amount of vituperation, is frustrating. I'm interested in the ideas put forth by the so-called minimalists, but not being a scholar, I'm not confident of my ability to judge their work properly. If other scholars can show us the minimalists are wrong, I would be interested but casual accusations of antisemitism don't seem to have any value.

I think I'm interested in the same questions other people, scholars and laymen alike, are interested in. How much, if any, of the Old Testament is history? How did the Pentateuch and other Hebrew scriptures come to be written? Who wrote them? What were the authors trying to say? Would those authors, if they were alive today, agree with the interpretations their works have been given by later generations of Christians and Jews? What can archaeology tell us about the history of ancient Palestine? Which questions cannot be answered because the data simply isn't there? etc.

Rightly or wrongly, the minimalists have concluded that the Old Testament should not be regarded as history because the authors of those books weren't writing history as such but rather were using stories set in the past to express theological ideas. Assuming my simplified summation of the minimalist viewpoint is fair, why would this conclusion lead to an accusation of antisemitism?

Unfortunately, I think this discussion about ancient history has been poisoned by the contemporary politics of the Middle East. That's a shame and it doesn't reflect well on the world of scholarship.

#15 - Michael Monastyrskyj - 11/12/2012 - 15:11

Dear Michael,
I agree with your complaint very much. But, in fact, these kind of questions do have answers and can be discussed. I would recommend that we set aside a few weeks to have a presentation of the two or three conflicting positions on the history of Israel that are most disrupting and then invite responses to each by any who disagree and, particularly, by those, like Friedman and Hendel, who reject any such possibility of discourse.
In December, leading up to Christmas and the New Year, both Niels Peter Lemche and I are publishing in the Copenhagen International Seminar' Changing Perspectives series collections of lectures and articles under the series title Changing Perspectives. We will happily send out a representative article for Bible and Interpretation and thereby welcome responses from Professors Friedman, Hendel and others of like mind.
We can follow this, in January and February, with the publication of relevant articles by Friedman and Hendel which would be responded to by Lemche, me and others. Perhaps, in this or some comparable way, we can create a reasonable scholarly dialogue.

If, howere, this is not acceptable to Professors Friedman and Hendel, I would be happy to cooperate with any plan they might have to further a discussion.

Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

#16 - Thomas L. Thompson, Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen - 11/12/2012 - 19:21

I think Professor Lemche is a credit to the Danish university system and indeed to the Danish armed forces, since he shows great coolness under rhetorical fire. If he ever plans to lecture in the UK I hope the event will be well advertised.
To my mind history is a story set in past times, detailed enough to make the reader feel a sense of what it was like to be there, and furthermore supported both by evidence, ie things available to be seen or heard in the present, and by plausible judgements of probability linking the evidence to the story. If we want to know what Mr.Smith did on a certain day and have a diary entry saying 'Went to the theatre', also plenty of indications that he was a Shakespeare fanatic, that it is probable that he did indeed go to the theatre and saw a Shakespeare play.

#17 - Martin - 11/19/2012 - 20:22

I've read the foregoing with great interest. thank you for providing it. i call myself a scholar but am awed by the extent of that discipline evidenced by those who submitted these necesary comments. i've purchased the Moore & Kelle book and that's how i arrived at your website. the term antisemitism has discolored ALL discussion. we all know that many of Arabic and other descents are not Jewish Semites; too bad that is not commonly known.
i've also purchased Changing Perpectives 1 and look forward with great anticipation to reading it. i could use some advice as to where to go with my curiosity endeavors.

#18 - maryam fritsch - 12/21/2012 - 15:02

-During the Persian period, even Joppa was a part of Phoenicia. Kadytis is Gaza. Thus, there is no need to identify Herodotus's Palestine with anything more than Philistia, as conventionally defined.

#19 - E. Harding - 01/30/2013 - 21:03

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