Monday, June 8, 2009

The Transformation of Judah

I'm currently reading The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. While I don't agree with all of their conclusions, the idea that many of the biblical writers are working from a 7th century perspective is compelling. I agree not in the sense that the whole Bible was written from scratch in the 7th century but that earlier materials were woven together and sometimes updated from that historical point of view with the intent of addressing contemporaneous events. The following quote is from p. 249 in the chapter on "The Transformation of Judah."
It is easy to see why the biblical authors were so upset by idolatry. It was a symbol of chaotic social diversity; the leaders of the clans in the outlying areas conducted their own systems of economics, politics, and social relations--without administration or control by the court in Jerusalem. That countryside independence, however time-honored by the people of Judah, came to be condemned as a "reversion" to the barbarity of the pre-Israelite period. Thus, ironically, what was most genuinely Judahite was labeled as Canaanite heresy. In the arena of religious debate and polemic, what was old was suddenly seen as foreign and what was new was suddenly seen as true. And in what can only be called an extraordinary outpouring of retrospective theology, the new, centralized kingdom of Judah and the Jerusalem-centered worship of YHWH was read back into Israelite history as the way things should always have been.
I've highlighted the part that jumped out at me. It seems to be an ancient example of what Zevit was talking about [quoted here] - looking back into the past through a glass darkly, seeing their reflection and confusing it with what lay beyond the glass. Only in this case, it seems to have been an intentional retrojection of the present day back into the past. Innovation by planting it firmly in the past before what is being replaced.

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