“Finding Myth and History in the Bible” edited by Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò, Chiara Peri, and Jim West

FindingMythAndHistoryFinding Myth and History in the Bible: Scholarship, Scholars and Errors. Eds. Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò, Chiara Peri, and Jim West. Bristol: Equinox, 2016, pp. 270, $34.95 (Equinox).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Equinox Publishing for providing review copy in exchange for my honest opinion about the book.

Giovanni Garbini’s provocative and profound scholarship has been one of the most influential scholars in the field of biblical studies. Unfortunately, the majority of his works are written in Italian and lack English translations. Three of his most well-known works include History and Ideology in Ancient Israel (1988; trans. English), I Filistei (1997; recently republished in 2012), and I Fenici (1980). This volume honors Garbini with nineteen contributions by various biblical scholars inspired by Garbini and focuses on methodology and historical issues relevant to the study of ancient Israel. The following will briefly summarize and highlight portions of each contribution.

Thomas L. Thompson sets the stage through a summary from where Garbini’s ideas emerged and his methodology for the biblical text’s created past. For those unfamiliar with Giovanni Garbini, this essay is incredibly valuable because it provides an introduction to a seminal figure in Biblical Studies who is too often left out of discussions. Perhaps this volume will begin a movement for more translations of Garbini’s impressive scholarship.

Reviving Garbini’s relatively unknown analysis of Of Blossoming by Leah Goldberg, Francesco Bianchi argues that Goldberg’s poetry is learned poetry and she highlights how it influenced Jewish culture. This contribution is wonderful because it draws out a fuller picture of the breadth of Garbini’s scholarship.

Thomas M. Bolin analyzes Job’s speech in 42:1-6 and concludes it is a late addition highlighting Job’s surrender to and capitulation to Yahweh. Philip Davies engages with scholarship about the Siloam tunnel and illustrates that many “factual” arguments are, in fact, insufficient as evidence for dating the tunnel. Successfully highlighting methodological issues, hopefully people will take more seriously the idea that “scholarship does not often win out, and we make it worse for ourselves when we begin with assumed facts rather than prioritizing data and keeping an open mind” (46).

Giovanni Deiana dates the oracle in Hosea 2:2 to the Hellenistic period because it reflects a time when there was no rift between Samaria and Judah. By connecting the single lineage Jews and Samaritans in 2 Maccabees 5:21 to Hosea 2:2, Deiana provides valuable analyses for the dating the composition of Hosea and even possibly the whole Book of the Twelve. Though, As noted, “comparative analysis across the whole Book of the Twelve is still at an early stage” (53).

Philip Guillaume argues against Garbini that Hezekiah’s desctruction of the Nehushtan did not denigrate Moses’ authority in order to show possible Alexandrian involvement with the formation of Jewish myth. Also touching on the creation of Jewish myth, Ingrid Hjelm briefly explores how Jewish nationalism in the Hellenistic period was rooted in hopes of independence and cult centralization expressed as early as the 8th century BCE. Her contribution importantly exemplifies how Jewish myth of centralization transition from being a dream into a reality, albeit brief. Returning to methodology, renowned scholar Niels Peter Lemche points out highly problematic methodologies in Maximalist scholarship, primarily noting Amihai Mazar.

The next few essays delve directly into the source material. Focusing on interpreting materials, Mario Liverani examines four toponyms (Akhetaten, Pi-Sidqi, Atlantis, and Minoa) and suggests historical foundations and etymologies for each mythological location. Liverani’s analysis of Minoa seems to be one of the most valuable portions of his study, yielding the potential that there existed to some extent “Phoenician merchants in/through the Aegean” (101) previous to the 8th century. Perhaps Liverani’s analysis will ultimately inspire others and yield a better understanding of the relationship between the Eastern Mediterranean and Greek culture. Caterina Moro examines gender matters of the creation accounts as part of a strand of Jewish thought which considers every individual as a threefold image of a God, woman, and man, all in the perpetual present. While I thoroughly enjoyed Moro’s contribution for both it’s analyses and resources, her argument may have been stronger with a brief discussion of gender and sexuality in the ancient world.

Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò goes against popular trends and provides sustainable evidence that the “blind” and “lame” of 2 Samuel 5:6-10 should rather be translated as “brandishers” and “protectors”, special military units. As I am already a fan of Spanò’s scholarship, it is of no surprise that this is one of my favorite contributions to the volume for both the significance of such a shift in translation of the terms and the impact his interpretation may make upon how interpreters deal with 2 Samuel 5:6-10. Etienne Nodet, O.P. examines traditions relating to Egypt in order to connect Egyptian Therapeuts to the Essenes. Beyond establishing more firmly a hypothesis around presented in the 19th century, more direct comment relevant to the historicity of the Zadokites would be valuable to both general scholarship and her own argument. Ida Oggiano explores how the “colonial” Phonecian world allowed the transmission of ideas and culture from Achaemenid Persia to the Punic West. Oggiano’s emphasis on the nuances of cultural transmission are important because they encourage scholars to focus less culture transmission from warfare and more on culture transmission from need, “curiosity and fascination for distant worlds” (172).

Fabrizio A. Pennacchietti proposes an interpretation for the obnayim of Exodus 1:16 and Jeremiah 18:3, namely “two flat, round and revolving things (made of wood)” (185). Although his interpretation is well-argued, I hoped for some sort of discussion involving the use of the term, or akin terms, in extant ancient Near Eastern records. Chiari Peri wraps up analyses of source material by proposing that the Qiqayon (the unknown plant) in Jonah is intentionally ambiguous due to its intertextuality with Amos 5:26.

The final three essays offer engage with methodology on finding myth and history in the Bible. Emanuel Pfoh suggest greater epistemological awareness in writing history of the South Levant in order to prevent projecting theological and political notions of the present into the past. His goal is honorable: to secure “a sound basis for writing history and understanding biblical narrative in its ancient intellectual context” (203). One can only hope that this truly is the goal of those who write the history of the South Levant. Gian Luigi Prato highlights the problem that can arise as “biblical Israel” becomes a modern paradigm as a “universal” thing. While a solid argument, Prato’s contribution is quite dense and is quite difficult to follow. Finally, Thomas L. Thompson examines how a developing “Jewish” identity is reflected through sources in light of imperial politics as a catalyst for that identity. For the clarity in illustrating the variations of “Judaisms”, I greatly appreciate this contribution.

Overall, I highly recommend this volume. After reading the basic summary of Giovanni Garbini’s ideas, it is clear how each contributor reflects such a critical tradition. Likewise, the final contribution by Jim West, letters by Giovanni Garbini to West, helps to paint the full picture of a man who seeks truth and understanding of the reality of history, not the ideological hopes projected upon the past. Each author expertly writes in the spirit of Garbini and provides a valuable contribution to a wide range of specializations of Biblical Studies within this volume. And for $34.95, this exquisite quality of contributions that become available to reader make the volume worth its weight in gold.



2 thoughts on ““Finding Myth and History in the Bible” edited by Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò, Chiara Peri, and Jim West

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s