Friday, January 12, 2024

Did Israel 'Emerge' in 'Ancient Palestine'?

In a review of Emanuel Pfoh's "The Emergence of Israel in Ancient Palestine: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives" by Jeremy Hutton you can find this theory gaining a grip on the academic discourse - and soon to be mass discourse: increasingly vocal contingent has challenged the critical theory (/theories) of historiography employed by traditional historical-critical approaches to the biblical text...Emanuel Pfoh steps into the gap and offers his own terms for peace with this book...itself is a methodologically and theoretically grounded study of how one might begin to write about “the emergence of Israel in ancient Palestine.”

...The author marshals critical historiographic theory, state formation theory, and other anthropological models in an attempt to deal “specifically with Israel’s origins and the question of statehood in Palestine”.  Throughout this introduction Pfoh positions himself as a proponent of “alternative historical explanations of what happened in Iron Age I Palestine in regard to ‘Israel’ ” (emphasis added). This effort comes as nothing surprising in the field of “biblical historiography” (construed loosely as the total combined subsets of biblical scholars, historians, archaeologists, Egyptologists, and Assyriologists who concern themselves with the reconstruction of the history of an ethnic group in the Southern Levant known as “Israel”)...he seeks “to assess the changing historical nature of the entity called ‘Israel’ as a product of contemporary history-writing” through both a review of the various proposals for understanding Israel’s emergence in Palestine (conquest, pastoral infiltration, etc.) and a sharpening of the “minimalist” critique of traditional biblical historiography....of Israel, Pfoh attempts to justify the critical historians’ foundational premise that “we cannot speak of Israel in history without firm evidence, and we cannot base our image of historical Israel on the biblical Israel that dwells in the Old Testament”...

...we have little or no access into the Bible’s meaningfulness within the original social context of its production. Because the historical narratives’ “intention is not historical,” “one cannot deem [them] historiographic” either...

...Pfoh attempts to deconstruct the putative relationship between the various “Israels” known from the ancient epigraphic texts. Pfoh dismisses as skewed any archaeological interpretations of the data that may be linked to the biblical text (e.g., A. Faust’s connection—hardly new with Faust—between
“the absence of pig bones in the Iron I highlands” and Israelite identity; 165; cf. 166–67).  Instead, Pfoh argues that the name “Israel”—if that is in fact what the Mernepta Stela says—“had survived afterwards in the territory and was adopted—from the ninth century on—by people living in the highlands” (172). Moreover, because “[e]thnic consciousness is… "retrospective” and “historiography … defines and creates ethnicity,” we have no access to the identity of early Judaism’s namesake Israel. There follows an outline of what we can know (from epigraphic remnants) or reconstruct (on the basis of archaeology and social-scientific theory) about the genesis and organization of the earliest known polity in the Iron Age II southern Levant: the Bīt-Humriya. This history, however, is not accessible through the biblical text, since “it is during the later periods of however, is not accessible through the biblical text, since “it is during the later periods of ancient Palestine’s history, the Persian and the Graeco-Roman, that we find the proper context in which biblical Israel was created”.

In his “Concluding Reflections” (188–94), Pfoh wraps up a number of independent lines of argumentation that have been touched upon through the course of the study. In a few pages, Pfoh defends himself (and implicitly his congeners) from charges of anti-Semitism and nihilism. But the more salient threads of this short summary are tied together around the theme of epistemology: comparison of the historical reconstruction and the biblical text proceed “only at the final stage of research, but such an endeavour must never aim to achieve a harmonization or an historical corroboration of ancient mythic images,” since doing so “simply misses the point of the original intention [of the biblical text] because of the mixing of logical categories”. “Mythic traditions are rationally unfalsifiable, they just cannot be tested, not because they may not be confirmed by historical or archaeological data—which they are sometimes!—but because they are
created by a different mentality, by another episteme, which never should be confused or blended with our own”...

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