Wednesday, March 09, 2005

For those who don't always look at the comments, let me point out again the response to my thoughts on Dever made by Celsus. I am very grateful to him for such rapid and useful feedback. I will be leaving any adjudication between the minimalists and Dever until I have at least read Lemche's The Israelites in History and Tradition that sits on my desk. I intend to blog comments on that and then attempt some sort of synthesis. As I have said before, I come to this question as a historian rather than an ANE specialist, so expect to be corrected with alarming frequency when I get things wrong.

From a historical point of view, I might suggest that mythmaking is a fairly similar process whenever one is doing it. Looking at a great and influential work of nineteenth century mythology, John William Draper's History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, we can note a number of things.
  • The mythmaking is largely in the editoralising and selection of material;
  • Few things presented as facts have no basis at all in history;
  • Minority positions are presented as the majority and vice versa;
  • The author has no doubt that his myth is true;
  • Paraphrase can be very effective in subverting meaning but invented quotations are rare;
  • The overall effect is to leave the reader believing the myth is even more clear cut than it actually is.

All of this, it seems to me, can be applied to the Dtr history. Most obviously, the minority Yahwist position is presented as the majority and in retrospect most readers assign it a completely dominating position that even the text as we have it cannot support. The authors cannot be accused of lying, they are pretty good at getting isolated facts right and quotations have to be read against themselves. So, perhaps the way to extract history from myth is to look at how myths are constructed in cases we can get behind them and use the same techniques to unwind where we cannot. Further good examples of where we can get behind the myths to a great extent include Charlemagne's reign, the English Reformation and most pseudo-history. While I hesitate to suggest Graham Hancock is the perfect model for the Deuteronomist, I would be interested to see how my method deals with his sort of schlock.

But all that is for later. For the moment, let's see what Lemche says for himself and how he works in practice.

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