Have one to sell?
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past Paperback – 7 Sep 2000

See all 3 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
"Please retry"
£101.14 £0.01

There is a newer edition of this item:

Trade In Promotion

Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New edition edition (7 Sep 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712667482
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712667487
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,021,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, and more.

Product Description

Amazon Review

For centuries it was widely held that the Bible recounted real historical events such as the Exodus, the kingdom of David and the Exile. But recently there has been a radical shift in interpretation--most scholars now accept that one can't simply paraphrase the Bible for an accurate history of ancient Israel and Palestine. Spearheading that shift, often controversially, has been Thomas Thompson, now Professor of Old Testament Studies at the University of Copenhagen.

Here, he takes his argument much further. The Bible is a crucial text, not so much for its veracity but as great literature and as the best insight we have into how stories are moulded for the audience of their time. The very idea of history, he argues, is a modern concept, incompatible with the world view of the ancient world. This book "looks at the Bible's view of the past on its own terms...because it is only as history that the Bible doesn't make sense". He argues that by doing so "we are not getting rid of the Bible" but are discovering "where it has always been: playing among its stories and legends".

With detailed literary and historical analysis of the texts, referring always to what we now know about the contemporaneous socio-political forces at work in the Middle East, Thompson illuminates the relationship between the Old Testament and the New, Yahweh and Christ, Judaism and Greek philosophy. He writes delightfully, making a complex argument both accessible and fascinating to the general reader. --Jim Rickards --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A recovery of what the Bible originally was, and what it still is." - A.N. Wilson, "Independent on Sunday

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars
5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
See both customer reviews
Share your thoughts with other customers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By michael.morton@btinternet.com on 12 Mar 2000
Format: Hardcover
There is a whole corpus of books on the origins, the history and the archaeology of the Jewish people, but curiously little evidence. Professor Thompson starts where many other scholars place the compilation of the OT writings, but he considers this period to be their origin. The Persian Empire, like other mega-states in antiquity, would move whole peoples around like so much wet concrete - an early example of social engineering. The peoples who arrived in what is now southern Israel as refugees and exiles had to make sense of their past. Influenced by legends of such as Abraham and David (of whose kingdom there is virtually no evidence at all) they wrote a spiritual / theological account of the two ways of faith and life, grounded in history. Old Israel had vanished because it was unfaithful and rejected by God. But new Israel, best characterised by the second part of the prophecy of Isaiah, was a renewed people with fresh hope. A group of scribes, holy men and prophets thus wrote their own account of themselves as New Israel. In this account, the Old Testament is a vivid example of the creation of meaning through religious myth. Prof. Thompson has gotten into trouble in the past for his theses, but this book and its analysis of the scriptures rings true. The old questions such as : why is there no evidence at all of Israel in ancient Egypt ? What proof have we that Isaiah was written in two parts, 300 years apart ? These questions are answered by Thompson's book. You seem to sense that he is right, and look at the OT in a new way.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By S A Moran on 6 Sep 2007
Format: Paperback
The Bible's stories have provided the paradigm for the myriad of 'histories' that have been written about ancient Israel over the past two centuries. Further, archaeologists have usually approached their discipline with these stories in mind and have interpretated their data in accordance with this biblical paradigm. Since the late 1960s however, this consensus has been subjected to a challenge from a new school of scholars, of which Prof. Thompson is one of the most prominent. Here he firmly challenges the notion(s) that the Bible's stories are accounts of past events. Rather, the texts are structured from tropes and motifs that belong firmly within the intellectual matrix of the ancient Near East. Biblical figures such as Jesus, Elijah, Moses and David are placed firmly within these tropes: epitomising piety, humility and submission to God's will. Exodus, exile and a so-called return to the land are treated as metaphors that point to an apostate past: and the hope for a pious future of an Israel who can serve God with a pure heart. Prof. Thompson even challenges the idea that the god of the biblical stories is the God worshipped by the authors. Rather, they are just traditional, very human, understanding of an unknowable, transcendant divine. With extensive exegesis and a survey of the data, Prof Thompson's book is highly recommended and an essential read.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Thompson and the Tangents Reality of the bible. 26 April 2003
By Sami SLIM - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In brief this is a kind of interpretation of the bible, a different interpretation based on bible + external documents + a VERY WIDE knowledge on multitude of matters [including weather, social history, economical schemes ... in old times]. This interpretation collect most of what `non-biblical' school of interpretation has reached and propose them, with new ideas, to come out with some results: This is never a history. We are in theology domains.

Thompson dares to decide, and he is right, how scholars in this domain have changed the dimensions and the facts of Palestine/Israel; how external documents have been manipulated to create list of positive comparison between BIBLE/ External lineages of kingdoms. All scholars were in one side some 30 years ago and now things are not the same. They were forming history on bible size and now they find no bible inside history[ for a lot of them]

He also describes briefly the methodology in use for biblical studies and later corrective results [applied on these methods] caused by Limkeh, Fenkelshtein, Shiffield University magazine etc..

He believes this has resulted in a non-reversible path, close to an exact science. In his inside [He does not say it] only an ignorant or a fanatic might still think history occurred as described in the bible. Not even close to it.

The target of the author is to work on Who and Why and How the writers of the <book> did it. Since the start he never hides his tendencies.

"Aphorisms or Wordplays" or as he calls them " Lego of Copenhagen pieces" is what Thompson think that the writers of the bible used as a tool. But of course they had something to say; they were building.

In fact he gave lot of un-refutable examples. I will write here one of these examples:
A personality inside Num (22-24): Bel3am Ben Bi3our [ 3= Hebrew Ain ]
This same name is also found in an external document known to experts in archeology [between 700 and 750 BC]
One can dress table of common properties for this figure [Bel3am] taken from 2 documents: [Divine man , speaker with VOICE OF GOD ,messenger of a GOD ] . Still the personality Bel3am has also different properties [Prophet in Syria or in MOAB, Prophet of YAHWAH or a GOD called ShJR/Shedai Divinity,]

The proof is clear and all experts in this matter know both documents. Of course the external document of the 8th century BC does not prove the historicity of Bel3am but how this person was used in different documents playing similar roles. The need of the narrator to tell the story has introduced him. In the bible the narrator has used him to show how much GOD was the people. As if we were in a figure used in a series of story. How can different places assign to same figure multitude of roles and events.

For people who know some traditions of the Middle East this is never strange. STILL till now people transmit stories of old names, different stories, in different places.
Still these same figures might or might not have existed but for sure this figure did not do all these things. Abu Zaid - Al-Hilali and Balkis and Solomon [ yes, the same ] are figures to whom we assign stories transmitted up till now in an area covering YEMEN [ Indian ocean] till southern Turkey.
End of the example.

Besides his interpretation of the bible - he also describes all the needed situation parameters and environments accompanying the history of Palestine. He even starts with tens of thousands of years BC. He made some focus on reviewing ancient world prehistory and historical elements and evidences, he correct some of them in the light of new discoveries.

For sure, those who want to look for history and force God's hands in making the future will not like his book. They will be deceived, as one other reviewer has said.
For those who truly study bible and want to know how the writers have done it and what did they want? Were they writing history ? Or preaching ? or what? This book explains a lot for them.

Thompson has wrote a master piece in this science.

Maybe this man was wrong in some of his interpretations [maybe !] but - I think - he was right in the global understanding. I think he infiltrated the mind of the writers and the compilers.

If Thompson participated to ASHOURA of IRAQ in the first 40 starting days of the HIJRI year he would have understood better these things. Amazingly; this art of narrator still exist till now; before the Islamic Revolution of Iran [1978] there were a very old art inside Iranian villages [covering IRAN - KURDISTAN - and TURKEY]. In these villages Narrators were telling stories and using figures in multitude of matters and fairy tales about ALEXANDRE and OLD PERSIAN KINGS and ROMAN too.]. We are facing the same techniques exactly. Even more exact than the example of ASHOURA season. These narrators might be illiterates. Still they give lot of new roles each year for their heroes. Might they have introduced other figures from another time in one of their stories? Now electricity and gas are all over Iran so villagers use Satellite dishes to see other stories. This art was used in modern times to propose entertainment of the villagers and maybe one day was it the official tool for the governors to spread political ideas. In Thompson case it has been used to build a conspiracy between a people and a god and a land.
My advice: "if u want to learn great things about the bible, READ IT."

6 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Dreadfull will be hated by Christians and Atheists alike 15 Dec 2000
By Tom Munro - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a disappointing and tedious book. This book markets itself as an expose that there was no real link between the history of Israel and the "historical account" of the Old Testament.
The author asserts that archeology suggests that it is not possible to prove if there was a King David of Israel, if Saul or Solomon existed. Further it would seem that there were no such people as the Philistines, and that Palestine was never invaded by a desert people as would be consistent with the story of Joshua and the return to the Holy Land. It should be noted that these assertions are not footnoted and one is left wondering the basis for the suggestion.
The author of this book goes on to say that the bible stories are not meant to tell history but rather they are sorts of aphorisms or wordplays. Thus Abraham is a word which means father of nations. He was not a real person but a literary device. David means beloved and he was a concept rather than a real person.
To illustrate this theory by one of the stories discussed in this book. In the Bible David and Saul have a falling out. Saul leads an army to capture David. At one point David is hiding in a cave and Saul enters. David could have killed Saul but instead secretly cuts a small piece of cloth from his robe. Later he tells Saul that he could have killed him and gives him a piece of the robe. All is forgiven and David later ascends the throne. The author however sees this story in a different light. The word for a small piece of robe is similar to that of penis. What the story suggests is that David has castrated Saul or that the story has been invented as a pun rather than describing an incident. Nowadays some comedians' routines are based on making jokes about farting or other bodily functions. To suggest that the writers of the bible were comedians writing ancient penis jokes is not credible. It is far easier to see the story as illustrating David as a heroic and cunning warrior.
This sort of attack on the bible is not going to convince anyone. It is effectively a post-modernist look at the bible. That is a series of endless word games rather than an examination of issues of substance. If one looks at the book it has no bibliography and the author only cites biblical texts rather than other archeological or historical works. The suggestions about archeology are not attributed.
Religious believers will be infuriated by this book non-believers will be irritated. It is the sort of "academic" work that led to criticism of that genre. Not worth the money.
Were these reviews helpful? Let us know