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The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel

The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel

Paperback

By (author) Thomas L. Thompson

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  • Publisher: BASIC BOOKS
  • Format: Paperback | 432 pages
  • Dimensions: 134mm x 198mm x 32mm | 540g
  • Publication date: 1 May 2000
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0465006493
  • ISBN 13: 9780465006496
  • Edition statement: Reprint
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations
  • Sales rank: 316,410

Product description

The Jewish people's historical claims to a small area of land bordering the eastern Mediterranean are not only the foundation for the modern state of Israel, they are also at the very heart of Judeo-Christian belief. Yet in The Mythic Past, Thomas Thompson argues that such claims are grounded in literary myth, not history. Among the author's startling conclusions are these:* There never was a "united monarch" of Israel in biblical times* We can no longer talk about a time of the Patriarchs* The entire notion of "Israel" and its history is a literary fiction.The Mythic Past provides refreshing new ways to read the Old Testament as the great literature it was meant to be. At the same time, its controversial conclusions about Jewish history are sure to prove incendiary in a worldwide debate about one of the world's seminal texts, and one of its most bitterly contested regions.

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Author information

Thomas L. Thompson is one of the leading biblical archaeologists in the world. He was awarded a National Endowment fellowship, has taught at Lawrence and Marquette Universities in Wisconsin, and currently teaches at the University of Copenhagen, which has one of the most prestigious Biblical Studies programs in the world. His book, The Early History of the Israelite People, a famously controversial book at the time, is now a standard text in the field. He lives in Denmark.

Editorial reviews

Arguing that the Bible should be read as literature rather than history in the modern sense, biblical archaeologist Thompson (Biblical Studies/Univ. of Copenhagen) sweepingly reassesses the historical evidence for the existence of ancient Israel. Bitter scholarly controversies, fueled by religious belief, have raged for decades about the historical authenticity of such Bible stories as the Garden of Eden, the Flood, and the flight from Egypt. These debates are misconceived, argues Thompson: much of the Bible was never intended to be read literally, or even to be understood as history as modern readers conceive it. Instead, much of the Bible consists of tall stories and other types of literature that, in ancient Jewish society as in other ancient cultures, provided people with an understanding of a common past. Relying on archaeological rather than biblical evidence, the author sketches the ancient economy and society of the people of Palestine. Rather than the unified "kingdom of Israel" depicted in the Bible, he paints a picture of a turbulent tribal Palestine, buffeted by drought, waves of immigrants from the Aegean, and expansionist neighbors. Contrasting this evidence with biblical narratives, shot through as they are with elements of the miraculous and the fantastic, Thompson questions the historicity of such scriptural accounts as the stories of the kingships of Saul, David, and Solomon and the Babylonian exile. Thompson finds magnificent poetry in the Bible, brilliant epic narratives and folktales, and great philosophical and moral writing that raises important questions about the meaning of life and the name of God: "it is only as history that the Bible does not make sense." In rather heavyhanded fashion, Thompson makes a good general point: that many biblical narratives should not be read literally as history; but in his total reliance on archaeology, he may overstate his case somewhat for the ahistoricity of the Bible. (Kirkus Reviews)