Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Moore, Megan Bishop, Philosophy and Practice in Writing a History of Ancient Israel (LHBOTS, 435; New York: T&T Clark, 2006). Pp. 216. Hardcover. US$145.00. ISBN 9780567029812.

Moore's Philosophy and Practice in Writing a History of Ancient Israel is a welcome contribution to the study of ancient Israelite historiography.  This volume critically assesses the many different presentations of the history of ancient Israel, the nature of ancient history writing and historiography, as well as the undergirding  philosophical presuppositions.

In succinct manner Moore provides an understanding of modern history's use of the categories of empiricism, objectivity and the means used by the historian to provide a representation of the past. This is achieved through a concise presentation of the works of A. Momigliano, R.F. Atkinson, Hayden White, Richard Rorty, C. Behan McCullagh, George Iggers, R.J. Evans, Peter Novick, Robert Chartier, and M. Foucault.  This survey lays the foundation for a brief presentation of the philosophical issues surrounding notions of “truth” in history writing. In so doing, Moore alerts the reader to the distinctions between history as pursued by the humanities, where issues of hermeneutics and post modernism are situated, and history as pursued in the social sciences, where the category of truth is the primary focus. Moore clearly argues that these notions have undergone significant changes in the past century such that there is now a wide range of opinions on each of these matters.

In chapter two, “Evaluating and Using Evidence,” Moore discusses the different assumptions at work when historians  evaluate the evidential nature of “text” and “artefact” for the writing of history She frames this discussion under the following categories: (i) representation and objectivity, (ii) subject and explanation, (iii) language and narrative, (iv) truth, (v) evidence, (vi) texts, (vii) artefacts, and (viii) the combination of texts and artefacts for history writing.  At this point her specific focus is on historians of the ancient world rather than those of ancient Israel. Moore demonstrates throughout this presentation that the historian's evaluation of evidence for its “relevance and reliability” depends “on the judgement of the individual historian” (p. 45) in his or her decision to accept or reject a text and/or artefact as evidence.

In chapter three Moore turns her attention to an analysis of the historians of ancient Israel. Specifically with those scholars associated with Albrecht Alt and those associated with William F. Albright. Under the same categories she employs in chapter two Moore argues, in agreement with T.L. Thompson, that the shared assumptions of both the “Altians” and “Albrightians' were far more important than their fundamental disagreement over ancient Israel's origins. Moore ends the chapter by exploring Z. Zevit's various historical paradigms in his Religions of Ancient Israel[1] as exemplary of the changes that both historical and biblical studies have undergone in the twentieth century.

In chapter four Moore presents the positions of “minimalists.” Moore finds this term adequate as the “minimalist” scholar of ancient Israelite history minimizes the importance of the biblical narratives in reconstructing such a history. Again, she employs the same categories as she previously utilizes to trace the evolving influences of these scholars in the historical reconstruction of ancient Israel throughout the 70s and 80s. She suggests that the minimalist approach should be viewed as a critique of earlier approaches and not as a revision of such approaches.

In chapter five Moore presents the positions of scholars she refers to as “non-minimalist,” that is scholars who maintain the relative reliability of much of what the biblical text describes of the past and accept that Israel, even the Israel described in the Bible, is an acceptable subject of history. Moore characterizes these “non-minimalists” as cautious of incorporating postmodern theory and method in history writing whilst making important contributions to the discussion of truth and being much more likely to question their philosophical and methodological presuppositions.

Moore's conclusions are insightful and provide good reason for thinking that the conversation has moved forward in profitable and intellectually significant ways, although it would have been interesting had Moore reflected on her own presuppositions. I mention this only because Moore appears to be too confident that it is in fact possible to arrive at an “objective” history of ancient Israel: a confidence which betrays to this reader the misbegotten notion that history writing can ever be purely “objective.”

Nevertheless, this is a work which will provide sound guidance for those working in the area of History writing and historiography and is certainly a balanced presentation of what has from time to time been an acrimonious debate.

Fortunately the writing of the history of ancient Israel has moved beyond the minimalist non-minimalist debate of the 1990s, nevertheless this volume remains essential reading for all who are interested in the philosophical underpinnings which inform those who write about Israel's past.

P.G. Kirkpatrick, McGill University

[1]Z. Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches (London/New York: Continuum, 2001).reference