Mythic Past

I have had Thomas L. Thompson’s Mythic Past Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel on my book shelf for years and finally got around to reading it a few months ago. Dr. Thompson rejects the generally accepted idea that the Israelites arrived in Biblical Israel as invaders of an already existing civilization, conquered and replaced it. (A stand that caused him much opposition in his field and was detrimental to his career.) Thompson basically asserts a gradual evolution of already existing cultural elements. It is a little hard to dismiss the idea of barbarian invasions of the cross roads of the middle east yet Thompson’s reasoning is convincing. Perhaps reality lies somewhere in-between.

Overall this was a book well worth reading and I recommend it to everyone. BUT (there’s always a BUT) it’s not easy reading. It’s kind of like reading a semester of lectures. Dr. Thompson is a professor so that makes sense but he could learn a few things from Hawking or Clark about writing for the masses.
One last comment on the writing. The book would be much easier to read if the chapters at the end were at the beginning. You see they are much easier to read. The bad thing about the book is the difficulty of getting through the first few chapters which struck me as more an opening statement for a debate within the discipline than an introduction to the thesis of the book.
I guess the most remarkable effect the book had was to make me consciously aware of the obvious influence of societal structure on belief systems. I’m referring to the continuously reiterated patrons and clients references which characterized the social structure of the time. That’s not new knowledge for anyone, but what the book did was make me see the trees in the forest, a slowly dawning AHHH moment. (or gods) now are seen in a whole different light and that makes reading and understanding the Bible a totally new experience. I can’t I was blind to this for so long.
Thompson also provides the answer to the eternal question of Why does God allow evil things to happen? Thompson brings up the question in chapter 1 on page 18 of how can God be good and still have created the world we live in? The problem is the existence of evil in a world created by God. Each day of the creation is marked with a reiteration of the summarizing statement “And God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1: 4) “God saw everything he had made, that it was very good” (Gen. 1: 31). Thompson ties this to the whole patrons and clients concept with a fundamental motif of patronage, the creator is Patron, absolute benefactor. He establishes all that is good Good is what he sees as good. In fact, it is good because he sees it that way. In chapter 14 on page 360 Thompson states “What is good is good as God sees it. That is what makes it good.”

So evil is only evil in the judgement of man. Eating the apple didn’t give wisdom, it only gave the knowledge of good and evil, not the ability to actually know which was which. The foundation of the patrons and clients paradigm is that the patron is the source of all good. Throughout the book Thompson points out this contrast and emphasizes that man’s ideas of what is good and what is evil are irrelevant to the Bible’s purpose and content.
OK, enough then. Over all 5 stars. Highly recommended.


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