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Conservative Scholarship-
Critical Scholarship: Can We Talk?


[1] It is often observed that labels are not particularly helpful, and this is certainly true with respect to the labels "minimalist" and "conservative." Simply applying a label can obscure the fact that there are often wide differences among "minimalist" scholars, as indeed among "conservative" scholars. For purposes of this essay, nevertheless, these overly general designations will have to suffice.

[2] My numbers are based on a printout of the on-line version that comes to 11 pages of text, plus endnotes.

[3] I. Provan, V. P. Long, and T. Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2003).

[4] In brief, for source criticism he assigns the first fifty pages of Wellhausen’s Prolegomena to the History of Israel, for form/tradition criticism the first seventy-nine pages of Gunkel’s Genesis, for tradition/redaction criticism fifty pages of Noth’s Deuteronomistic History, for rhetorical criticism Muilenburg’s famous "Form Criticism and Beyond" plus fifty pages of Trible’s Rhetorical Criticism, and so on in like manner through structuralism (Leach; Patte), post-structuralism (Culler plus Fowler and Clines), narrative criticism (Alter), social scientific criticism (C. Myers plus Gottwald and Whitelam), feminist criticism (Russell), and canonical criticism (Childs plus Barr). Virtually everything he has the students read is primary material.

[5] N. P. Lemche, The Israelites in History and Tradition (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 21.

[6] V. P. Long, G. J. Wenham, and D. W. Baker, eds., Windows into Old Testament History: Evidence, Argument, and the Crisis of "Biblical Israel" (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002).

[7] "Conservative Scholarship—Critical Scholarship," 2.

[8] First, by the time I returned to Lemche’s "Prolegomena" and excerpted the quotation, I had read his book from cover to cover and thus had his chapters two and three ("Israel in Contemporary Documents from the Ancient Near East," and "Archaeology and Israelite Ethnic Identity") freshly in mind. In this light, the import of ancient Near Eastern documents and archaeology seemed to me central to Lemche’s project. Secondly, the final paragraph of Lemche’s "Prolegomena," in which the quotation in view occurs, begins this way: "This book will analyze the concept of Israel in order to see whether the Israel of the Old Testament is a reflection of a real society of this world or the negative contrast to the new Israel" (The Israelites in History and Tradition, 21). The future tense with which this programmatic sentence begins may have induced me to understand Lemche’s phrase "real society of this world" as looking ahead to his consideration of the real societies of the ancient Near Eastern world (chaps. 2 and 3) rather than back over what he had been discussing (in which the ancient Near East is indeed mentioned from time to time, but is not the central theme). And finally, in the back of my mind, I suppose, were the kinds of claims that Lemche has made in other writings about the discrediting effect of archaeological results vis à vis "biblical Israel": e.g., "the Old Testament model—or account—of early Israelite history is…disproved by the archaeological sources to such a degree that I consider it better to leave it out of consideration" (N. P. Lemche, "On the Problem of Studying Israelite History: Apropos Abraham Malamat’s View of Historical Research," Biblische Notizen 24 [1984]: 94-124; on 122). Statements such as this one indicate that ancient Near Eastern archaeology and extra-biblical evidences do figure prominently in Lemche’s arguments

[9] I take some comfort at least in the fact that Lemche characterizes my treatment of him as "gentle" (p. 3), in contrast to what he feels he has received from other quarters.

[10] A careful reader of Lemche’s essay will note that it is actually Gary Rendsburg who is charged with issuing a "war cry, intending at [sic] burying his hated opponents," but the same reader will not miss the fact that "evangelical literature" is cited as the inspiration for Rendsburg’s approach so that "In this way, conservative theology and a modern political movement combine forces—strange bedfellows!" (p. 6).

[11] See note 3 above.

[12] Barr, Fundamentalism, 130; citing K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1966), 115.

[13] Lamentably, Kitchen’s forceful rhetoric does on occasion adopt a less than charitable tone (see, e.g., Charles David Isbell’s insightful "K. A. Kitchen and Minimalism" on this website).

[14] For my own discussions of this general point, see, e.g., V. P. Long, The Art of Biblical History (FCI 5; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 120–22, 131–34, 171–76 and passim; idem, ed., Israel’s Past in Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography (SBTS 7; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1999), 585–87; idem, ed., Windows into Old Testament History, 8–10; and most recently, Provan, Long, and Longman, A Biblical History of Israel (see pages listed in topical index under "assumptions," "background beliefs," and "worldview").

[15] Though the precedent of Jesus in denouncing religious hypocrisy—"You snakes, you brood of vipers!" (Matt. 23:33)—suggests that occasions may arise where robust denunciation is indeed called for. For my own reflections on how Christian scholars should engage in conversation with un-likeminded scholars, see V. P. Long, "Renewing Conversations: Doing Scholarship in an Age of Skepticism, Accommodation, and Specialization," Bulletin for Biblical Research 13, no. 2 (2003): 227–49.

[16] L. L. Grabbe, ed., Can a 'History of Israel' Be Written? (JSOTS 245: European Seminar in Historical Methodology 1; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997).

[17] Israel's Past in Present Research (see note 14 above).

[18] For an example of such engagement, see V. P. Long, "How Reliable are Biblical Reports? Repeating Lester Grabbe's Comparative Experiment," Vetus Testamentum 52, no. 3 (2002): 367-84.

[19] Windows into Old Testament History, 8.

[20] See especially the section entitled "A Long-Term Illness: Two Initial Case Studies" (pp. 9–18).

[21] M. Stanford, The Nature of Historical Knowledge (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 96.

[22] P. R. Davies, "‘Ancient Israel’ and History: A Response to Norman Whybray," Expository Times 108, no. 8 (1996): 212.

[23] V. Philips Long, "The Future of Israel’s Past: Personal Reflections," in Israel’s Past in Present Research (ed. V. P. Long), 586.

[24] W. G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 287.

[25] H. M. Barstad, "History and the Hebrew Bible," in Can a 'History of Israel' Be Written? (ed. L. L. Grabbe), 48. I would like to thank Matt Lynch, Ian Panth, and Polly Long for kindly reading over this essay and making helpful observations. The end product is, of course, my own responsibility.


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