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Saturday, February 7, 2009

On History

My recent reading in some commentaries on Classical literature (the Romans, not the Greeks) has lead me to one writer who made the claim that the Hebrews did not write history; but their books (in the Old Testament) regarded as 'history' are in fact not history as western tradition has come to understand it.

As I thought about this, I think I could see the author's viewpoint.

History in Ancient Rome was concerned with polemic to a large extent, as one example to grab from the shelf: Caesar's history of the Gallic Wars. For instance, the Wikipedia entry says: "This military campaign is painstakingly described by Julius Caesar himself in his book Commentarii de Bello Gallico, which still is the most important historical source. This book is also a masterwork of political propaganda, as Caesar was keenly interested in manipulating his readers in Rome."

Other historians had other things to say, argument or portrayal regarding factors and players, the forces that did or did not result in an event or outcome, etc. Western History has tended to follow in this fashion, with some modern writers even picking up the Ancient's tendentiousness. See for instance Windschuttle on the fake history of oppression of Aboriginies.

But OT history is not like this. Indeed, as the commentator I refer to above claimed, it is not history in our sense, but more a chronicle or explanation of the acts of God in bringing about the effects of his covenant. A very directed and purposeful relating of events that bring to life his overarching act in Christ.

So, extending this line, one could wonder that, if the Hebrews did not weave literary speculation into their history, but sought to chronicle the acts of God, often in a rather blunt and unadorned manner, then it would be highly unlikely that Genesis 1 would be the literary 'art' formulation that some (the so-called 'genre' critics, for instance, John Dickson, bete noire of this blog) make it out to be, and thus overturning their claim that it does not refer to the events that it describes, but some other events which it does not describe (astonishing but true) and is a literary representation of how we should think of God; not, mind you because of what it says, but I guess, because of what it doesn't say!