SV: SV: miqra Nor Is It Necessarily Not So, Part II

Thomas L. Thompson tlt at
Thu Nov 11 07:39:19 EST 1999

	[Thomas L. Thompson]  Dear Ian Hutchesson,
	Here are my responses to your questions. 

> Dear Thomas,
> Having followed this -- for want of better words -- "debate" from the time
> my attention was drawn to it on this list, I noted in Shanks's response
> that he specifically mentioned the University of Copenhagen as a breeding
> ground for those nasty beasts, the minimalists. Will you yourself wear the
> term with pride: are you a minimalist? What does it mean to you?
	[Thomas L. Thompson]  
	[Thomas L. Thompson]  I have three problems with the term
minimalists: 1) it asserts that we allow only for a minimal historical
resonance in the texts. I don't think this is at all true as we deal quite
clearly with almost every aspect of the tradition that bears such resonance.
2) It distorts the discussion in the direction of historicity as a question
directly supporting a construction of ancient history. I have considered
this issue more or less resolved since my 1992 book. I think the question of
what the Bible does rather than history a far more important issue which is
obscured with this kind of caricature. 3) Finally, it is a polemical device
to identify a broad movement of many scholars across the whole spectrum of
our discipline, as if it were derived from a single perspective. It obscures
the fact that the sharpest academically based disagreements find
'minimalists' on both sides. The term includes, after all, almost all
serious historians: from Na'aman and Grabbe to Lemche and myself.   
> Shanks -- as you point out -- says some rather provocative things about
> the
> sorta people who hang out at the Copenhagen den of iniquity. What do you
> think motivated his venom?
	[Thomas L. Thompson]  Debate--especially heated debate--is good for
business. Beyond that, my newest book attacks the project of biblical
archaeology (not archaeology) in its essence as lacking seriousness.
> Amongst other things he accuses you guys (the minimalists) of not being
> motivated by pure scholarship and he says that this is widely
> acknowledged.
> What is your comment on that? Is this the first time you have been accused
> of being "anti-Semitic" or "anti-Jewish"? If not, what is it that brings
> these accusations? And what is your response?
	[Thomas L. Thompson]  No, it is not the first timel. The first time
was by Sara Japhets at the Hebrew University in 1985. Recently
however--perhaps beginning with a 1992 attack by Anson Rainey at the SBL,
and then ever increasing since similar attacks--without the specific term
anti-Semitic being used--by Baruch Halpern (since privately retracted) and
Iain Provan made efforts to use such tactics in published reviews of my
work. William Dever began similar attacks in obscure archaeological journals
already in the late 1970s, but since 1995, he has developed quite a solid
literary production of such attacks, numbering now nearly twenty, I believe,
though he has very recently stated publicly that he did not think of me as
an anti-Semite. In most recent months, these attacks have become what I
suspect is concerted. Its function is to discredit and draw attention away
from the issues of the ancient history of Palestine and the theological
implications of what I have written. I have also been called a nihilist,
anti-Catholic, anti-humanist, a threat to western civilization,
anti-American, anti-German, a nazi-sympathizer, anti-religious, a Bible
basher, an atheist, a rabbi, a promoter of Jewish-Zionist interests and
pro-Palestinian. I am certain there are a few that I have forgotten. The
accusation of anti-Semite is by far the worst because of its implicit
violence and murderous past. Here I agree most heartily with Professor
	I mentioned in a response at Northwestern University a few weeks ago
that the complicity of allowing anonymity to such attacks introduces such
venom into academic discussions in a way that can not be countered. Slander
is a criminal offense in civilized countries and entirely destructive of
academic discussion. I find the willingness of scholars to tolerate it and
their silent complicity with such statements appalling.
	I don't find these things in any way comparable to personal
innuendoes or put-downs that explode into heated debates. It makes me angry
to be called stupid and incompetent, or similar such things, but at least
that is a description of my ideas that I can debate. These other epithets
are epithets of hate. They are murderous. They are not unintentional slips.
They are verbal attempts to destroy.
> As you are often a man of few words <grin>, how would you describe your
> work and its direction?
	[Thomas L. Thompson]  Right now I am trying to launch a project
dealing with literary motifs and functions in biblical literature and
writing a book on David,


> Yours,
> Ian
> >The recent article of Hershel Shanks in the newspaper Ha-'Aretz
> presenting a
> >response to Ze'ev Hertzog presents a long series of misrepresentations
> (*)
> >and/or slanders(**) against either Professor Hertzog or other scholars,
> >among whom is the writer. The reader is invited to read Professor
> Hertzog's
> >article, Niels Peter Lemche's Israel in History and Tradition (1998) or
> my
> >The Mythic Past (1999= The Bible in History: London) to judge the truth
> of
> >Shanks' attack.
> >
> >The misrepresentations and slanders are 
> [omitted]
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