Iain Provan on Higher Critics

by May 8, 2012Books, Theology


From Iain Provan’s excellent 1 & 2 Kings commentary:

It is not entirely clear why we should dig the great ditch between biblical Israel and historical Israel that the newer historians demand. It is, after all, the case that all historiography, whether ancient or modern, has a story-like quality—that all writing or speaking about the past involves turning happenings and people into events and characters. All historiography is also in some sense ideological literature. That is, any story about the past involves selection and interpretation by authors intent on persuading their readership in some way. This does not mean that the historiographical texts are in general incapable of speaking truly about the past. The historians in question clearly believe that some stories about Israel’s past are indeed true. They believe this, for example, of many of the modern stories about it—the stories told by archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and the rest. We assume, in addition, that they wish us to regard their own books as true accounts of Israel’s past—and not, for example, as cleverly constructed fictions. There is evidently no difficulty in principle, then, about historiographical texts referring truly to the past. It seems that a decision has simply been made that the biblical witness to Israel’s past, in particular, is to be marginalized. A selective skepticism is at work here. The biblical stories about Israel, on the one hand, are approached with the maximum degree of suspicion in regard to the extent in which they truly reflect what happened. There is, on the other hand, a touching degree of (sometimes quite uncritical) faith displayed when it comes to modern narratives about this same entity. Confessionalism of a religious sort is attacked in the name of critical enquiry and objectivity, but the noisy ejection of religious commitment through the front door of the scholarly house is only a cover for the quieter smuggling in (whether conscious or unconscious) of a quite different form of commitment through the rear.

Man, I love 1) conservative commentaries that 2) forthrightly—but deftly and with erudition—criticize theological liberalism by 3) revealing that it is not at all objective and evenhanded but is instead run according to its own virulent ideology.

As we say at BJU Press, affection drives cognition. Only the fear of the Lord can bring true wisdom, even about historiography.

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