Tuesday, March 3, 2015

As Myth Begets History, so History Begets Possession





Diaz-Andreu describes Biblical Archaeology as ”a unique case of informal imperialism…[in which] religious interest influenced archaeology in many ways: who was doing archaeology and who paid for it, in what was excavated and in how interpretations were received in the Western World” [165].  The rise of Biblical Archaeology in the 19th century was also a response to the paradigm shift in the science of origins that took place with the publication of Origin of the Species and Descent of Man, in 1859 and 1871, respectively.   Repeatedly, the mission statements of organizations like the Palestine Exploration Society refer to “defense of the Bible” [Shaw via Diaz-Andreu, 151] and in the words of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, the scope was “not Theology, but to Theology it will prove an important aid” [Moorey via Diaz-Andreu, 149).   

Diaz-Andreu enumerates the humanist intellectual currents that, like a war of attrition, had been undermining the primacy of the Bible, from the renewal of interest in ancient, non-Biblical, Greek philosophy to Luther and Rousseau.  The arrival of Darwin must have felt like a punch in the gut.  But all was not lost: the new science of Archaeology, with “a single blow of the excavator’s pick [ would shatter] the most ingenious conclusions of the Western critic…the stories of the Old Testament which we are now being told are but myths…will prove to be based on a solid foundation of truth’ [Sayce via Diaz-Andreu, 162].

Whitlam highlights how the problematic discovery of “deep time” by Lyell and Darwin had a devastating impact on Old Testament chronologies [Whitlam, 28].   Small wonder that there was a headlong rush to underpin Biblical narratives with physical associations, fighting Science with Science, as it were.    For 19th century Europeans, the Bible was the singular operating social-principle and Darwin’s work, among others, threatened to place it in the category of myth.   If the Bible could be confirmed as history, it would stand as counterpoint to this intolerable refashioning of human origins.

And history, as much as myth, is in the eye of the beholder.  Specific “historical memories” are selected, even unconsciously, according to the needs of a culture or sub-culture.  Invariably there are conflicting perceptions; narratives that pose as the final word, which in turn become embedded or imposed [Whitlam, 29-30].  In Palestine and Israel we see the result of a frantic response to shifting narratives: to gain purchase in a landscape before interpretation made alternatives possible; to turn parables into events.  By working their way back through the Old Testament, the Biblical Archaeologists might eventually arrive at Genesis and cast out the likes of Darwin, Lyell, Marx and Wallace from the Eden of historic certainty.

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