In our May/June 2003 issue, we republished a damning book review by Alexander H. Joffe of BAS’s Ancient Israel that originally appeared in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies. The reviewer seemed to be saying that we can no longer ask historical questions about the Patriarchal period or about the Israelites in Egypt or about the settlement in Canaan. We invited our readers to comment, and several did in our September/October 2003 issue (pp. 9–10).
Below is Joffe’s response to these readers’ letters. It is followed by comments from scholars William G. Dever, David Noel Freedman, Burke O. Long and BAR reader Luke Wilson.—Ed.
I would like to respond to the letters regarding my review of Ancient Israel.
1. To Ron Hendel I offer thanks for his kind words and for cutting to the heart of the matter. The problem is precisely “Israel’s memories of its own past.” Memory is not history, and in any event the Bible seems not to have been designed as history as we understand it in Rankean terms, a generally ‘objective’ and dispassionate recounting of events, organized in a linear fashion so as to denote or imply causal relationships.