Nor Is It Necessarily Not So

Ian Hutchesson mc2499 at
Sat Nov 6 13:36:06 EST 1999

I started reading this article without having read the Herzog effort,
though someone had posted the latter on a newsgroup I belong to. The first
thing that one notices is that Shanks spends about a fifth of his article
defining the enemy and placing Herzog within that group, then spends the
rest of his article making sure that his readers know how and why Herzog is
the enemy.

Shanks is not interested in dealing with anything other than putting Herzog
down and acting as a paliative to any upset reader. In doing so he is
prepared to make downright guesswork such as:

>When people invent histories for themselves, their ancestors are secret
>kings or princes or descendants of gods. Who would invent a history of
>their people as slaves, if there were not some truth in it?

Almost certainly being ignorant of the circumstances in which the history
of the people in question, how can anyone trying to be scholarly make such
blanket assertions?

One could think of the Romans whose history of themselves includes the
founding of Rome by someone who is supposed to have been brought up in the
wild. Sure, he was a "son of a god" just like the children of Israel were
the children of God. Folksy comments like that of Shanks above have no
value other than their appeasement value for the reader.

Shanks's use of language is quite interesting:

>Instead, Herzog begins to contradict himself. He admits that "many
>[Egyptian] documents do mention the custom of nomadic shepherds to enter...

and again

>If you read Herzog carefully, he grudgingly admits that there probably
>was an Egyptian sojourn and an exodus: "At best, the stay in Egypt and...

and yet again

>Herzog admits that during the period identified with the Israelite
>settlement (Iron Age I, 1200-1000 B.C.E.), "hundreds of small...

With all this admitting that Herzog is doing according to Shanks, obviously
the man is wrongheaded, isn't he?? By the time one gets to this point one
is infuriated with the appalling putdown that Shanks is perpetrating, so
one gets the feeling that it's time to read what Herzog has actually said.

When one gets to the end of the Herzog article in which he argues for a
mythological basis to some biblical literature one finds this conclusion:

>It turns out that part of Israeli society is ready to recognize the
>injustice that was done to the Arab inhabitants of the country and is
>willing to accept the principle of equal rights for women - but is not up
>to adopting the archaeological facts that shatter the biblical myth.  The
>blow to the mythical foundations of the Israeli identity is apparently too
>threatening, and it is more convenient to turn a blind eye.

Bearing this in mind we return to the Shanks article. He has branded Herzog
as a minimalist and said that many minimalists have ulterior motives for
their minimalism, he writes this paragraph about Herzog:

>Hence, it is not surprising that Herzog alludes to the Israeli-Arab
>conflict in an article otherwise about the Bible and archaeology:
>Although "part of Israeli society is ready to recognize the injustice 
>that was done to the Arab inhabitants of the country," he tell us, it 
>is not ready to recognize that "the archaeological facts...shatter the
>biblical myth."

We can see that Shanks is deliberately manipulating the content of Herzog's
last paragraph to play to a particular section of the Israeli audience.
Herzog, who notes two radical changes in Israeli society regarding 1)
relations with Arab inhabitants, and 2) the rights of women, goes on to say
that that society doesn't seem able to deal with the results of the
archaeological evidence. What Shanks has done is to use the mere mention of
the change of perception regarding the Arab inhabitants as an indication of
some hidden agenda which causes Herzog to have the ideas that he does.

One could look at much of the other material of Shanks's article to
evaluate his actual argumentation, but he has shown himself not
particularly interested in arguing so much as belittling an opponent. He
sides with his audience and separates Herzog from that audience, labeling
him something that they are not, in order to alienate his opponent. Shanks
doesn't need to deal with much of what Herzog has to say when his aim is
polemical. All that is necessary is trivialization, mystification and
obfuscation. It's not really worth thinking about what Herzog had to say
now, was it?

Shanks's article is therefore quite interesting, not so much for its
historical argumentation, but for its demagoguery.



(If anyone is interested in a criticism of what Shanks has to say, it might
be worthwhile reading the Herzog article first. It was posted on ANE and a
number of other lists. I will forward a copy for those who don't have one.)

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list