Herodotus and Bible History: Mandell & Freedman contd

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by Neil Godfrey

Notes from Mandell and Freedman contd:

Intro One: Aims and methods

Many historians consider the Primary History of Israel as both a theological document and a historical one, even if only sometimes one can barely glimpse a historical nugget behind the myth. Yet Herodotus’ Histories is read differently: It is seen as essentially a historic book with no theological worth; or as a work where the mythic element was relegated mostly to the first 4 books leaving the remainder as essentially historical reporting.

Gerhad Von Rad (1944) was apparently the first to suggest that the Hebrews were the first to write “history” and that by giving it a theological meaning (that God’s purpose is being acted out through it, even in only behind the scenes) is what distinguishes it from Greek history. In other words, historians don’t consider references to the gods in Herodotus’ Histories of any worth or relevance to the overall work. (Some, however, do see more comparisons between Herodotus and his presumed near contemporary author of Chronicles.)

Is this difference in the way historians read Herodotus Histories and Israel’s Primary History justified?

Mandell and Freedman, as seen in the Preface notes (previous post) disagree with this reading of Herodotus. They place Herodotus’ Histories in the same theological genre as Primary History, and suggest that true history can be gleaned from both works, but that the amount of true history underlying both is really comparable, given that both are essentially theological narratives.

Two different disciplines (biblical and classical), from 2 different vantage points, examine these text. “Frequently, scholars reach outside their own discipline to find external validation for or simply information about some precept. Hence, some may bring to their investigation a bias about the temporal and contextual priority of either Herodotus’ History or Old Testament that comes notable when one of the two workws is used more to validate than to explicate the other. But when explication rather than validation is sought, and when prejudice is based on fact rather than on wish fulfilment or ideology, judgment about priority becomes useful and even basic to the analysis. “(p.4)

Those undertaking the comparisons are frequently Biblical Scholars rather than Classicists and their focus is on supporting or invalidating OT while treating Herodotus History as a given. Many seek to validate the history of the OT based on HH as a yardstick, rather than the reverse.

Comparison is viable because both works are regarded as essentially un or a-historic (though historic data may be gleaned from each), and that Herodotus’ text may have been as theologically valid and normative to Greeks as Primary History has been to Judaeo-Christian traditions. (p.5)

The comparison involves not only analagous theological and ideological strata, but as per ‘modern’ literary analysis, the perspectives of the implied narrators who are in fact “fictional personae” in the texts, and the perspectives of the implied audiences/readers of each of the implied narrators — and the overall author who is manipulating all of these.

It is the ideological/theological positions of modern readers that has hindered the above perspective in analysis and comparisons of both texts, by demanding that the implied narrators and addressees are in fact the real narrators and addressees — i.e. that the texts are about real people and historical events.

Northrop Frye (Words with Power: Being a Second Study of The Bible and Literature, 1990, 26:

When mythology modulates into ideology and helps to inform a social contract, it presents data asserted to be historical, acutal events in the past, but presents them so selectively that we can hardly take them to be really historical.

Thus the worlds of both the Primary History and Herodotus’ Histories are literary constructs of the respective authors/redactors — and may not have anything to do with the real world that any one of them knew.

Intention of Mandell and Freedman is to show correspondences beyond the likelihood of accidental to demonstrate the possibility of a relationship between the two works.


(to be contd)

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Neil Godfrey

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