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Sunday, January 24, 2016

History, Historicity, and Historiography

History, Historicity, and Historiography
In answering the question of “What is the Bible? Is it a history book? A religious book? What is it?” Long cites Osborne’s quote of Beaujour, noting, “The Bible by its very nature as divine revelation transcends ‘all actual genres, since divine revelation could not be generic in a logical sense of the word.’”[1] Does this go to say that the events are fictional, or can real historical accounts be drawn from it, and be trusted as truth? The inerrancy of the Bible itself should not be doubted, however it must be considered that the Bible was penned over a long period of time, by various human authors, each with his or her own interpretation of the recorded events. Therefore, it becomes important to understand when discussing the past events recorded in the Bible in what way they are being examined. This leads to a need for the proper understanding of the definitions of history, historicity, and historiography.
– History is “when a people group write about their own past.”[2] To properly denote history, Van Seters “began with the definition… [by] historian Johan Huizinga [that] ‘history is the intellectual form in which a civilization renders an account to itself of it’s past.’”[3] The three elements of history, intellectual form, and rendering account, all work together to conclude that for a recording of an event to be history writing, it will fulfill five criteria:
1) A specific form of tradition in its own right rather than the accidental accumulation of traditional material;
2) Considers the reason for recalling the past and the significance of past events and not primarily the accurate reporting of the past;
3) Examines the (primarily moral) causes in the past of present condition and circumstance;
4) National or corporate in nature; and
5) Literary and an important part of a people’s corporate tradition.[4]
History, therefore, is not a completely unbiased account of a set of events, but an educated and researched telling of a certain nationalistic point of view, “told by the victors,”[5] for the purpose of recording particular details of importance.
– “Historicity is defined as the actual events or circumstances witnessed by the text(s) under study. Therefore, historicity [as opposed to history] is the unbiased recording of what actually happened.”[6] Because history is “all fictionalized”[7] and “it is impossible to have a completely unbiased account of events,”[8] an actual account of events can only be known through the weighing of various other-biased sources, impartial evidence like archaeology and natural phenomena, and greater knowledge of the author of the account. Long quotes Stanford stating: “the more we understand how a historian has done the work the better we can penetrate to what that work is about—the world of the past as it really was. That is to say, the better we pay some attention to the glass through which we look, the better we shall understand what we are looking at.”[9] Historicity is the true account of what really happened.
– Historiography “is the study of the principles, theory, and development of historical writing. Essentially, historiography provides the methods we will use to study history writing… and the components or building blocks of history writing.”[10] It is the academic study of the Biblical material. McKenzie writes:
Academic methods of Bible study are of two basic kinds: diachronic and synchronic. … Diachronic methods are concerned with the relationship of the biblical materials to history. The also attempt to trace the development of the biblical literature through time. Synchronic methods, by contrast, concentrate on the literature as such – the artistry and inter-relationships within the biblical text as we have it, regardless of how it came to be.[11]
“Historiography involves a creative, though constrained, attempt to depict and interpret significant events or sequences of events from the past”[12] using distinct methods like that of textual criticism, source criticism, form criticism, historical reconstruction, canonical criticism, and narrative criticism. Historiography becomes important for biblical study, because the Historical Books were not written in order to give exact accounts of the events that occurred, but rather to “yield an image of how Israel perceived itself.”[13]
These distinctions in definitions for history, historicity, and historiography, in regards to the Historical Books become important because, as Long cites Van Seters: “The subject of Israelite historiography has become highly diversified and the terminology increasingly ambiguous and confusing, [so that] the same terms are used in quite different ways.”[14]  Furthermore, there is “no doubt many disputes could be settled if the various terms of discussion were consistently defined and applied.”[15] Since “the [historical] books never refer to themselves as histories, … it is important to evaluate and interpret the historical books based upon the context within which the author wrote, interpreting the meaning intended by that author.”[16]
Personally, I began this study somewhat uncomfortable, and became more so as I read, for example, McKenzie’s comments about there being three distinct accounts of how Goliath died (1 Sam 17:50, 1 Sam 17:51, and 2 Sam 21:19). Upon further examination, my fears that the Bible is not inerrant pass aside once I realized that the story is not intended to give a historical account of Goliath’s death, but an account of the heroics of the king-to-be. It is a David story, aimed at the praising of David, not the details regarding the killing of Goliath. Long puts this apparent theological conflict of at ease, stating, “Faith does not require that the factuality of the biblical events be proven (such proof is, at any rate, seldom possible), … [but rather] what truth claims are implied by each narrative within its broader context.”[17] It is not the historicity that the passage is concerned with, but giving a historical account as it is important in the eyes of the author.
In conclusion, these definitions impact interpretation. Naturally biblical scholars, including myself, desire to read a passage that is a reporting of an event and assume its validity in totality. We desire a balanced explanation of events, yet must remember that no rendering of an account can be completely unbiased; it is no more than a version of the event as apparent to the one who is telling the story. Equally so, my interpretation itself will be another biased unveiling of the biblical account based on the information and knowledge I posses. Therefore, it becomes important to constantly be aware that there are three parts to every story: (1) the interpretation and recording by the author telling the story [history]; (2) the actual event as it truly happened [historicity]; and (3) the interpretation of the author’s account in light of various critical methods [historiography].
[1] V. Philips Long, “The Art of Biblical History” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 306.
[2] Bryan Babcock, “Lecture 1-2: History v. Historiography,” MAABS BI-6613: Interpreting the Old Testament Historiography.
[3] Steven L. McKenzie, Introduction to the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010), 9.
[4] Ibid., 11.
[5] Robert Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999), xxiv.
[6] Babcock, “Lecture 1-2: History v. Historiography,” 3.
[7] Long, “The Art of Biblical History,” 319.
[8] Babcock, “Lecture 1-2: History v. Historiography,” 1.
[9] Long, “The Art of Biblical History,” 309, emphasis mine.
[10] Babcock, “Lecture 1-2: History v. Historiography,” 3.
[11] McKenzie, Introduction to the Historical Books, 26.
[12] Long, “The Art of Biblical History,” 337.
[13] Babcock, “Lecture 1-2: History v. Historiography,” 3.
[14] Long, “The Art of Biblical History,” 320.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Babcock, “Lecture 1-2: History v. Historiography,” 1.
[17] Long, “The Art of Biblical History,” 343-345.
[Photo] Photo of Tel Megiddo by Itamar Grinberg


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