Monday, May 5, 2014

Knowledge, Coauthors, and Intended Audiences

(I have a very short follow-up post on the same topic which you can read here.)
We know about the past, to the extent that we know about it at all, primarily through the testimony of others.... We began this section by using the language of "knowledge": how do we know what we claim to know about the past? In truth, however, this question is a concession... What is commonly referred to as "knowledge of the past" is more accurately described as "faith in testimony,"in the interpretations of the past, offered by other people. We consider the gathered testimonies at our disposal; we reflect on the various interpretations offered; and we decide in various ways and to various extents to invest faith in these--to make these testimonies and interpretations our own, because we consider them trustworthy. If our level of trust is very strong, or we are simply not conscious of what we are in fact doing, then we tend to call our faith "knowledge"; but this term is dangerous to use, since it too easily leads us into self-delusion, or deludes others who listen to us or read what we write, as to the truth of the matter. This delusion seems to lie at the heart of the problem with much of our modern writing on the history of Israel. In particular, it is this delusion (among other things) that has led many historians of Israel, in common with many of their colleagues elsewhere in the discipline of history, to make the false move of sharply differentiating in principle between dependence upon tradition and dependence upon "scientifically established" facts.
This comes from a chapter titled "Knowing and Believing: Faith in the Past," in A Biblical History of Israel, cowritten by Ian Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III. The bold emphasis is mine; the italics are original.

The first hundred pages of this three-hundred-page volume are entirely devoted to a defense of biblical history. It's an apology in the face of many scholars who wish (and generally fail) to discard biblical testimony and rely solely on archaeology or other external evidence. I am far from finishing it, but so far it's a compelling, well-written, and entertaining case.

As I read this volume, I have two other things I've recently read--plus one not-so-recent author--bouncing around in my mind: