A Follow-Up and Correction

In my post here I stated that I essentially agreed with a comment made by David Bokovoy on the nature of biblical historiography.
Biblical authors were not historians, at least not in the modern sense of the term. They were storytellers. Their accounts were certainly sacred, but they were also entertaining, and sometimes even political and crude. Biblical stories tell us something about the way their respective authors understood the past, but they don’t always tell us something about “the” past. The original authors who produced the Bible created stories about prophets, kings, and heroic warriors that were carefully crafted to teach valuable ideas concerning divinity and its relationship to humanity, especially the family of Israel. 
In fact, I must now qualify my previous statement of agreement with Bokovoy in light of this post by John Gee. Gee has reminded me that the biblical authors were more historian-like in their compositions than we might suppose. I was of course aware of this data from the Hebrew Bible (having written a paper on the use of sources in Kings and Chronicles) but was hasty in my last post. I am glad that Gee has drawn attention to this important information as we consider the nature of the historiography of the biblical authors.

Specifically, this comment by Gee is important.
So the records left by ancient Israel show that they have some sense of history comparable to the modern sense of history. They kept historical records and referenced them to compile accounts of what actually happened in the past. They may have been biased and tendentious, and maybe even inaccurate at times, but they were historical. They meant to preserve a record of the past for their own and future generations. Ancient Israelites viewed the Bible (or at least significant portions of it) as historical records of actual historical events.
If I had to fashion my own statement based on the two views above (Gee and Bokovoy), it would read thusly:
Biblical authors were not exactly historians, at least not in the modern sense of the term. The records left by ancient Israel show that they had some sense of history comparable to the modern sense of history, though not entirely. Their accounts were more than mere "history," but also stories that were sacred, as well entertaining, frequently highly political, and sometimes even crude or shocking. The biblical authors kept historical records and referenced them to compile accounts of what they thought actually happened in the past, although they may have been biased and tendentious and maybe even inaccurate at times in their reconstructions. The original authors who produced the Bible created stories about prophets, kings, and heroic warriors that were carefully crafted to teach valuable ideas concerning divinity and its relationship to humanity, especially the family of Israel. At the same time, the biblical authors meant to preserve some kind of a record of the past for their own and future generations. Ancient Israelites viewed the Bible (or at least significant portions of it) as historical records of actual historical events, even if they took liberties in how they crafted their accounts.* 
I hope my redaction of the B(okovoy) and G(ee) sources makes sense. In any case, this is the closest articulation of my view of both the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon.



* I wish I could hop into a time machine, travel 2600 years in the future, and present this stand-alone paragraph for source critics to parse the B and G sources and attempt to detect where the SR (Smoot-Redactor) brought them together.

Comments

  1. "The original authors who produced the Bible created stories about prophets, kings, and heroic warriors"

    There is a big difference between "created stories" (fiction) and related stories (fact).

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    Replies
    1. John,

      By "created" I mean the biblical authors crafted narratives or accounts through a skillful use of various sophisticated literary and in many cases poetic techniques. One can do this with stories that are still fundamentally accurate or historical. The best biographies or autobiographies that I've read are more than a dry run of facts about someone's life, but involve literary techniques to hold the reader's attention and effectively communicate a message. In short, they "create" a story about someone's life.

      I'd strongly recommend you check out Robert Alter's book "The Art of Biblical Narrative" or Grant Hardy's book "Understanding the Book of Mormon" to see this phenomenon at work in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon.

      That's all I meant with that comment.

      Cheers!

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