The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel

Thomas L. Thompson, Author Basic Books $30 (432p) ISBN 978-0-465-00622-9
It is most appropriate that Thompson, who has been a professor of Old Testament at the University of Copenhagen since 1993, takes up the metaphor of Lego blocks to describe a narrative strategy common to the variety of texts that make up biblical literature: a tiny collection of simple shapes imaginatively combined to create an explosion of possible worlds. Thompson writes passionately, persuasively and provocatively, as, for example, when he notes that ""it is only as history that the Bible does not make sense."" He notes that history demands evidence, not plausibility. It is, in fact, fiction that demands plausibility--and this is the basis for Thompson's eloquent argument on behalf of a literary approach to biblical material. One thing the Bible does not claim to be, he maintains, is history. To read it as such is to distort it, and to inform archeological and historical research with such a reading compounds the distortion. In Thompson's words, ""the misappropriation of ancient texts for purposes contrary to the tradition's intentions, which two generations of theological use of the Bible have now encouraged, is one of those common abuses of intellect"" that ""contributes to the pollution of the ocean of our language."". Thompson's book is sure to generate significant discussion, and it should be of interest not only to students of biblical literature but to general readers fascinated both by ""how stories talk about the past"" and by how they form our present. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-465-00649-6
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