The Bible ignores Palestine

February 9, 1996

One of the serious imbalances in the survey of Keith Whitelam's views on the ancient history of Israel is the preponderance of religious and politically opposing views (Palestinian vs Israel; orthodox vs liberal; Christian vs Jew) while the extreme poverty of the historical evidence is neglected.

This century has seen the traditional ancient histories of Egypt and Iraq significantly changed from the records that were preserved from Greek sources in the humanitarian tradition of our forefathers. The mass of indigenous and contemporary records that have been deciphered and catalogued - state and private archives from several cities in several periods - mean it is no longer strange for us to describe what really went on in these centres of ancient culture.

But by comparison we have virtually nothing significant from Judaea and Israel contemporary with biblical events. Our main source has to be the traditions preserved from Greek and Hebrew sources in the Bible; but it would be quite irresponsible to use these traditions while assuming that the desired archival material (if ever it were to be discovered) would confirm such an interpretation. In such circumstances silence is more dangerous than speculation, on whatever side of the religio-political fence one is standing.

M. E. J. Richardson

Visiting scholar, Leiden University, Germany

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