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The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History [Hardcover]

Keith W. Whitelam
2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

11 Jan 1996
The Invention of Ancient Israel shows how the true history of ancient Palestine has been obscured by the search for Israel. Keith W. Whitelam shows how ancient Israel has been invented by scholars in the image of a European nation state, influenced by the realisation of the state of Israel in 1948. He explores the theological and political assumptions which have shaped research into ancient Israel by Biblical scholars, and contributed to the vast network of scholarship which Said identified as 'Orientalist discourse'.
This study concentrates on two crucial periods from the end of the late Bronze Age to the Iron Age, a so-called period of the emergence of ancient Israel and the rise of an Israelite state under David. It explores the prospects for developing the study of Palestinian history as a subject in its own right, divorced from the history of the Bible, and argues that Biblical scholars, through their traditional view of this area, have contributed to dispossession both of a Palestinian land and a Palestinian past.
This contoversial book is important reading for historians, Biblical specialists, social anthropologists and all those who are interested in the history of ancient Israel and Palestine.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (11 Jan 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 041510758X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415107587
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,737,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

""The Invention of Ancient Israel is a remarkable work of scholarship, certainly audacious enough, despite its painstaking manner, to undermine many unthinking presuppositions about ancient biblical history . . . the book possesses that keen independence of spirit and vision that is so rare and so invigorating when one encounters it."-Edward Said, "The Times Literary Supplement "This is a brave, fascinating and important book."---Sunday Times ..." fascinating ... This is a timely, pioneering study ... ... author is to be congratulated for producing an extremely provocative and, for the most part, faithful mirror in which the discipline of biblical studies may behold its unflattering reflection."-"Journal of Biblical Literature --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Keith W. Whitelam is a Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Stirling. He is the co-author of The Emergence of Early Israel in Historical Perspective (1987), and has produced a series of articles on ancient Israelite and Palestinian history.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
This book began as part of a grandiose scheme to produce a two-volume history of ancient Palestine dealing with the material realities, the ideologies, and religions of the region. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

2.2 out of 5 stars
2.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
55 of 67 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I see your previous reviewers have fallen easily into the trap,by displaying their somewhat obvious prejudices. Prof Whitelam has, and this book is now five years old, highlighted the disparity between the modern state of Israel's, claim to 'Palestine' and the lack of evidence to support such a claim. There appears little doubt that one of the disparate group of people in the late Bronze Age/Iron Age were known by the name Israel, but their significance both in regional and historical terms has been grossly exaggerated. He successfully ties the desire of 19th/20th Christian writers and Israeli nationalist archaeologists to proving the bible as a fact without any of the great power evidence associated with Egypt, Persia or other powers of the period. This desire he argues has prevented a true perspective on Palestinian history and culture.
This book can be a little heavy going, but its arguements are solid, reviewing textual analysis over an extended period. Book by T.L. Thompson and P.R. Davies are further reading on the area of doubt and refutation about a past as described in bibilical writings. This has been further added to by the writings of Prof Ze'ev Herzog in Israel, challenging the present constructs. It is also hoped that further useful information will come from the more complete publication of the Dead Sea scrolls.
It is assumed that any criticism in this area should not be made or should be considered offensive. This is not the case and the search for objective truth in an area fraught with modern day hatreds has a value beyond academic research.
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16 of 67 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars an uninteresting diatribe 27 July 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I found this book to be a predictable and rather uninteresting diatribe. A better title might have been "The Invention of Ancient Palestine" for that is what this book seeks to achieve. So much is missing from its hitorical treatment: Consider for instance, the fact, that when the Romans destroyed jerusalem in the first century AD, this feat was commemorated by the minting of special coins, with the image of a jew, crying under a palm tree, and bearing the words "Judae Capta" - Judea Captured! Archaeologists and historians are aware of how great a feat the ancient Romans considered their destruction of the Jewish kingdom - of ancient Israel. Or flick through a copy of BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review) - and look at the numerous findings of the ancient clay seals of the early judean kings. The seal of King Hezekiah (727-698 BC) is quite impressive. The iconography and incription on these seals provides great evidence of the strength and power of ancient Israel; in short, of its reality. But this book does not merely offend against science and history. It is in fact guilty of the very crimes that it accuses others of: It is a blatant attempt to erase Jewish history and the very real historical connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. It stems from a distorted world view, and though works such as these are written not for the benefit of history, but of politics, I can only suggest that such desperate efforts to rewrite and erase the Jewish tradition are obstacles to peace and understanding.
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10 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This book is both an attempt at scholarly historical revisionism and a popularist political tract. It comes in the wake of a number of revisionist claims being offered by those within the Palestinian nationalist camp: claims for instance, that the First and Second Temples were not located on the "Temple Mount" compound, or that there is no evidence linking historical Jewish habitation to presesnt day Israel or the Palestinian Territories. This book - though it struggles to provide scholarly evidence for its premise that our present day conception of ancient Israel as a monolithic Jewish Kingdom is both flawed and based upon the erasure of an extant "Palestinian" national presence - ultimately fails. The scholarly evidence it provides is both precarious and scant, and contradicts the biblical, but more importantly, extra-biblical, evidence that suggests that the prehistorical peoples who inhabited ancient Israel in the late third/ early second millenium BCE were ultimately incorporated into the Judean nation. The claim offered in this book - essentially that the Palestinian nation is an ancient nation that predates ancient Israel and has maintained its identity ever since is both novel and fantastical. It is the stuff of political polemicists, but not serious scholars.
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12 of 57 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Flawed 28 Feb 2002
Format:Paperback
Dear editor, you have already discarded 2 of my submissions: one was 1067 words, the second 998. Please count it this time.
Whitelam's thesis seems flawed in several respects.
However imperfect the Hebrew bible is a source for ancient history (and what ancient text does qualify as history by 21st century criteria?) it remains the oldest narrative to have been written by ancient 'Palestinians' in and about ancient 'Palestine' in an ancient 'Palestinian' dialect.
True, there are fragmentary Canaanite documents and inscriptions which are as clarifying, and as limited, as snapshots as sources for historical information.
There is no question that the Hebrew bible arose in a Palestinian milieu. Current consensus is that Hebrew is a variant of early Canaanite, that, inter alia, El, the Canaanite bull deity, is related to El, the most common epithet of Yahweh and that ancient Israel had a large Canaanite component.
Further, these conclusions have been largely drawn by modern European, American and, most importantly, Israeli archeologists and historians. Whitelam paints a caricature of modern Israeli scholarship and archeology, entirely selective and self-serving.
It is, furthermore, absurd to criticise 19th and early 20th century scholars, historians and archeologists for constructing the ancient history of Palestine with reference to the Hebrew tradition. Until recently the Hebrew tradition, along with an ancient Greek text about the Canaanites, was simply all that was available as existential knowledge of the subject.
Whielam asserts that reference to these traditions has 'silenced Palestinian history'.
Well, what exactly does he mean by 'Palestinian' history?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
43 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring 17 Jan 2006
By PR star - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Historical research is usually not the search for pure data, but the search for legitimacy. Professor Whitelam protests, in his refined manner, the use of history "to validate modern political stances."

This book is about the politicization of history. It does not intentionally engage in politics outside of the author's academic discipline. However, the subject matter cannot help but appear more broadly political in our time, when Israel's affairs loom so large in American government and media discussions. The title does inspire reactions in people with strong political feelings, some of whom very obviously do not read the book before making negative (even acerbic and wildly digressing) comments in order to discourage others from reading it.

Prof. Whitelam does not deny that Hebrew settlements existed in ancient times; rather he demonstrates in detailed examples that in some ways the archaeological record has been misinterpreted, or frankly shoe-horned, to fit literal Bible passages. The primary offenders have been European Christian archaeologists and historians via whom "political and religious attitudes of modern scholarship conspire to obscure the ancient politics of the past."

There is no hatred of Israel or Israelis evident anywhere in the book. The tone is consistently unemotional and scholarly. The author did not set out to write about ancient Israel per se but about ancient Palestine, whose history has been ignored and silenced because of the pressure to preserve "an ancient Israel conceived and presented as the taproot of Western civilization."

I must add that Whitelam does not single out Palestine as a unique or special case of the politicization of history. Consider this quote: "European nation states from the Industrial Revolution onwards constructed national histories to justify and idealize their positions in the world. This is particularly true of Great Britain [whose] antiquarians and politicians found vivid illustrations of the people's unique 'national character' that explained and justified Great Britain's unique position in the world."

On nearly every page I found both -

- valuable data, such as a discussion of Pharaoh Merneptah's stele, which has the earliest mention of Israel outside of the Bible; and

- invaluable insights, such as the revelation that "supposed rational results of Western scholarship have been part of a complex network of ideas and associations which are tied to relationships of power."

I recommend reading The Invention of Ancient Israel with a copy of the Old Testament handy for reference. Also, as you can imagine with an academic work that has a 15-page bibliography, a good dictionary will be vital to handle the vocabulary. I like the Merriam-Webster Collegiate, in paperback or electronic form.
137 of 200 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 30 April 2000
By smahadin@hotmail.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Employing a Foucauldian geneology of history, Whitelam finally exposed the reproduction of truths biblical scholars have resorted to in an attempt to bestow legitimacy on their cause. Although, I read the book in Arabic, I felt compelled to comment on the original version and commend Whitelam's systematic and scientific methodology in exposing the myths that shroud the existence of the Zionist movement. Whitelam clearly draws a lot from Said's efforts in Orientalism furthuring the need to situate biblical discourse in the context of imperialism and colonial discourses. It is enough to remember that Israeli historians themsevles are beginning to question the body of 'knowledge' that was created during the course of the 20th century especially in light of the archeological discoveries that have failed to lend credence to the claim an ancient Israeli kingdom existedin the West Bank. In fact, all discoveries so far are corroborating the version of history that stipulates the existence of an Arab and Philistine socieities at the end of the Iron age and the early Bronze agg. The old testement itself contains many contradictions in relation to the manufactured history of the Zionists which served as the main source for biblical reconstructions of history.
158 of 239 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An objective Reading of History 12 Aug 2000
By Fred - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is one of the very few objective accounts one can find in the western world about the history of Palestine. The Creation of the so-called "Ancient Israel" is really but a Western literary idea. The Arabic historical reality of Palestine is confirmed in this fascinating Book. The conclusion of the book is that the Now-Israel is just a Myth which is enforced on the rest of the world through Western domination. A must read for any student of history and anyone who search for truth.
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like historiography... 16 Jan 2006
By Edvard Odessia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I recommend "The Invention of Ancient Israel" to anyone interested in how history is researched and written. It's more about historiography--the study of historical writing--than about history per se, although it includes much of the latter as a necessary consequence.

To everyone interested in this book--pro or con--I also highly recommend Prof. Hayden White’s work. Here are a few more quotes from Prof. White relevant to Prof. Whitelam’s themes:

From the article “The Burden of History,” in the journal “History and Theory,” Vol 5. No. 2:

"We choose our past in the same way we choose our future. The historical past therefore, is, like our various personal pasts, at best a myth, justifying our gamble on a specific future, and at worst a lie, a retrospective rationalization of what we have become through our choices."

"Historical systems differ from biological systems by their capacity to act as if they could choose their own ancestors."

“The historical past is plastic in a way that the genetic past is not. Men range over it and select from it models of comportment for structuring their movement into the future. They choose a set of ideal ancestors that they treat as genetic progenitors."

"In choosing our past, we choose a present; and vice versa. We use the one to justify the other. By constructing our present, we assert our freedom; by seeking retroactive justification for it in our past, we silently strip ourselves of the freedom that has allowed us to become what we are." (--summarizing Sartre's view of history.)

From “The Fiction of Narrative” (collected essays, 2010):

"The practical past is made up of all those memories, illusions, bits of vagrant information, attitudes and values which the individual or the group summons up as best they can to justify, dignify, excuse, alibi, or make a case for actions to be taken in the prosecution of a life project."
81 of 124 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Work! 10 Jan 2000
By Amazed - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Keith Whitelam's construction is first rate. He provides a patient, disciplined, and thoroughly competent survey of the available evidence regarding the historicity and ethnological extraction of the modern populace of Israel. Though this book has aroused ire in the minds of some Zionists, the evidence cited by Whitelam is actually very mundane and thoroughly cognizable to those of us who are competent in the field. Those who have read Arthur Koestler's excellent works on the Medieval eradication of Jewry will find themselves on very familiar ground here. Definitely worth reading.
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