Wednesday 14 March 2007
Of Philistines and Philadelphians
The Philistines have had a really bad reputation for a very long time. They're the villains in the Old Testament/Tanakh (remember Goliath?) But the facts, it seems, are not always what they seem. This was a literate and cultured people. Check out the March 13 NY Times article.
Which leads to an interesting question. Does the Bible portray "the bad guys" accurately? Is it impartial and objective, a "God's eye-view", or are we reading through layers of long-forgotten political convenience and national polemic?
Unfortunately there's a lot of material in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles that's, well, historically suspect, as Finkelstein and Silberman clearly demonstrate in David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition. Another provocative writer (with a more populist touch) is Matthew Sturgis, author of It Ain't Necessarily So. Having read both, I recommend them to anyone interested in the history behind the ancient stories. In short, it's not just the Genesis material that we have to exercise caution over. The "historical books" also need to be read with great care.
Needless to say, True Believers and Philadelphian hold-fasts, like fundamentalists of all persuasions, will avoid material like this. Others will find their horizons stretched by inconvenient facts, and may find themselves embarked on a exhilarating learning curve.