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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.
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on 6 September 2007
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.
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