Late datings

Hand in hand with this revisionism about the history of Israel goes a tendency to redate the Old Testament sources to a much later period than most scholars have previously thought plausible. Even the apparently "annalistic" material in Kings - which for most historians represents the bedrock in the history of Israel - does not really come from the time of the Hebrew monarchy in the ninth to seventh centuries BCE, but from a much later time. Some even place it in the Hellenistic period, in the third or even second century BCE. This implies that it is the purest fiction. Not only does this undermine our confidence in the texts as an accurate portrayal of Israel's history; it also changes our ideas of how theological thought developed in the Old Testament period, for it leaves us (among other things) knowing nothing at all about the great prophets, the supposed fount of so much that is distinctive in the Old Testament. Their books, like the histories, become evidence for the thinking in the last couple of centuries BCE, and throw no light whatever on earlier times.

Most scholars probably find these newer movements exaggerated. While acknowledging that we have sometimes been too gullible when reading the Old Testament, they doubt whether the complex Old Testament text was really made from whole cloth in so late a period, and prefer to think that it does rest on a great deal of genuine historical reminiscence, and on some written sources, however fragmentary. Though it is true that Israelite writers had an ideological stance of their own and were no more "neutral" historians than are we who study them, they were not simply inventing a nation. Israel emerges as sufficiently distinctive for us to be obliged to think that something like it actually existed. Nevertheless, new historical movements have brought about another major shift in the questions people are prepared to put to the Old Testament, and their challenge will not go away.

New Testament Studies Today

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