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The history of Israel Paperback – 1983
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He wrote in the Introduction to this book (first published in English in 1958), “All the information at our disposal serves to establish that ‘Israel’ was a historical reality with its own historical period, during which it was intimately involved in the multifarious life of the surrounding world. It can therefore be adequately understood only by historical research. It has to be remembered, however, that knowledge of the sequence of events which constitute the history of Israel within a definite period of time and of their relationship with one another and with the oriental history of the same era… In a history of ‘Israel’ the whole field has to be explored with the utmost thoroughness from every possible angle and by all the methods open to historical scholarship, precisely because ‘Israel’ is without question a historical reality.” (Pg. 1)
He explains, “It is usual to call the land of Israel ‘Palestine,’ a name that arose in early Christian literature to describe the setting of the Bible story, following the official language of the period; when, after the various Jewish insurrections, the provincial name of Judaea which had been used hitherto and was now no longer suitable, had to be avoided, the earlier name of Palestine (‘Land of Philistines’) was chosen to describe the Roman province which more or less coincided with the land of Israel.” (Pg. 8)
He notes, “From about the 1st century B.C. onwards Josephus’s historical information becomes increasingly detailed and complete, so that he becomes our main source for the history of Israel up to the year A.D. 73.” (Pg. 43) He adds, “As far as the Israelite age is concerned, Syrian-Palestinian archaeology is therefore almost wholly silent; and it is clear that under these circumstances the historical interpretation of archaeological discoveries if particularly difficult.” (Pg. 46) He concludes, “The Old Testament is not merely a treasury of traditional historical information but, on a higher plane, THE real source for the history of Israel which all other sources must be regarded as secondary, in so far as it not only gives a coherent account of the external course of this history over a fairly long period, but also utters the decisive word towards an understanding of this history.” (Pg. 48-49)
He states, “Any attempt to fix the sojourn in Egypt chronologically can only be made on the basis of statements in the Old Testament. For Egypt the process of the arrival and departure of Asiatic neighbours was too frequent and repeated an occurrence… for Palestine, the occupation of the land by nomadic shepherds in the course of that Aramaic migration was too long a process and too remote from the scenes of previous history of the country for us to expect to find any information on its individual stages in Palestinian sources outside the Old Testament. It is true that the Old Testament does not contain any early, reliable information about the duration of the sojourn in Egypt, which was in fact probably quite short, but it does contain a strikingly concrete item of information about the compulsory labour to which the Israelites were subjected to in Egypt which it is possible to fix chronologically… Ramses II must therefore be regarded as the so-called ‘Pharaoh of the oppression.’” (Pg. 118-119)
Of the Sinai covenant, he observes, “It is not even possible to say anything for certain about where the incident took place on which the tradition is based. The Pentateuch narrative and certain passages outside the Pentateuch refer to the mountain where God revealed himself as ‘Sinai,’ whereas in the deuteronomic… literature and in some passages which derive from this course the name ‘Horeb’ appears.” (Pg. 127) He adds, “The historical circumstances in which the pilgrimage to Sinai and the divine revelation on Sinai took place are just as doubtful as the place where the revelation occurred. The Pentateuch tradition simply refers to ‘Israel’ having been at Sinai. But the same thing applies here as in the case of the departure from Egypt and the deliverance ‘by the sea.’ Since the ‘Israel’ of the twelve tribes was not formed until the settlement on Palestinian soil and the individual tribes did not become established until then, the ‘Israel’ which was present on Sinai cannot have been the ‘Israel’ of the later period…” (Pg. 131)
He says, “There is no real parallel to this manifestation of ‘prophecy’ anywhere else in human history. Above all, we can find nothing resembling it among Israel’s neighbours, though the events in question affected the whole world of Syria and Palestine and led to the same results… The voice of the prophets was heard only in Israel.” (Pg. 256) Later, he points out, “The Hasmonaeans left few visible traces of their rule behind. We know a little about the building activities of the Hasmonaean rulers more from literary records than archaeological discoveries.” (Pg. 383)
He recounts that after the 66-70 war with the Romans, “A centre in the old sense no longer existed. Jamnia with its supreme council could not really take the place of Jerusalem…. Thus the difference between the motherland and the diaspora, which had hitherto turned on Jerusalem, fell to the ground… Even Jerusalem had now ceased to be the vital symbol of the ‘homeland.’ The Disapora was everywhere, and even in the motherland life could only be lived as it had been lived hitherto in the Diaspora, Israel thereby ceased to exist and the history of Israel came to an end.” (Pg. 445)
Scholarship has, of course, moved on quite a bit since Noth’s book was written; but this is still a very engaging narrative history of “Old Testament Israel,” and will still interest many readers wanting such a comprehensive biblically-based history.