Tuesday, January 02, 2007

RBL Review: Philip Davies Reviews J. Collins, The Bible after Babel

Just out in RBL, this review is not to be missed, since Philip Davies and John Collins are two senior OT scholars who might certainly be expected to lock horns. To read the review, click here.

Of particular interest is what Davies has to say about Collins' treatment of the minimalist historians (who would include himself, Thompson, and Lemche). In fact, helpfully, Davies argues that the crisis in biblical historiography that has been initiated by the minimalists is best seen as a return of older historical-critical principles [I would add with a vengeance], but a return that has been strongly "invigorated by ideological and literary criticism." He particularly (and rightly, I think) stresses the role of ideological criticism in what folks like Thompson and Lemche are up to. “New Historicism,” he writes, "with which [minimalist historicism] has more in common [than with postmodernism], has Marxist roots."

Again, helpfully, Davies and Collins agree on the place of "mischief" in the work of the minimalists. In fact, Davies emphasizes this factor, and is very clear on the role that contemporary politics, especially the conflict in Israel/Palestine, plays in the minimalists' historiographical work. He writes, "Collins has the right instincts, even in identifying the element of mischief in some 'minimalist' writing. But that mischief itself is more serious than he recognizes and makes no sense without the wider political and religious context in which ancient Israelite and Judean history is being contested. 'Playing' is a postmodern theme, indeed, but can also pose a direct challenge to the 'serious' discourse in which so much biblical criticism is conducted."

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