Saturday, 9 December 2017

Lonergan and the Judges

Those of us who are involved in Lonergan and bible tend to recognize that there has been greater output in the area of Lonergan and New Testament than in that of Lonergan and Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. I can identify at least two reasons for this. First, thinking broadly, I suspect that NT scholars are more likely to have an avocational if not vocational interest in Christian theology than do HB/OT scholars. Second, thinking in terms of the specific area of Lonergan and bible, the work of Ben Meyer established a solid foundation for Lonergan and NT that is not paralleled in HB/OT (Sean McEvenue has written on Lonergan and HB/OT, but not as extensively as did Meyer in NT and it would seem without a comparable impact). As someone who has always had an interest in HB/OT, especially in the early period (that of the judges and whatever might have come before in the development and emergence of Israel), this has me increasingly thinking about how Lonergan and HB/OT might look. Indeed, I will confess that my "book haul" at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature this year was almost entirely in the area of HB/OT history and archaeology.

I increasingly have come to the conclusion that the period of the judges is the place to start thinking about such things. It is at this point in Israelite history that the various extant data begin to permit a convergent historical picture. On the one hand, you have the earliest extant extra-biblical reference to a people called "Israel," in the form of the Merneptah stele (c. 1207 B.C.E.), which locates this people in Canaan precisely at a time by which on biblically-based chronologies we can anticipate that Israel was present in the Land. The stele moreover designates "Israel" as a people group rather than as a kingdom or state, which coheres perfectly with Judges' presentation of Israel as a people without a king. On the other hand, you have the archaeological record for the Canaanite hill country, the area that the biblical data presents as the Israelite heartland, which shows that around this time there was a significant increase in settlements in the region, which correlate with a shift in material culture that indicates, if not a new people, then certainly new lifeways among the persons resident in the land of Canaan. This, again, coheres with what we should anticipate on the basis of the biblical data. None of the above of course is to suggest that the stories of the Judges are literal history (a conceptual absurdity that results from identifying texts with events, and which is thus grounded in a naive and ultimately inchoate empiricism), nor is it to deny the constructed and indeed hagiographical character of much of the material. It is however to suggest that Judges is a useful source of data for understanding the general social and cultural conditions of Israel during the period of the judges, which roughly covers Iron Age I, i.e. c. 1200-1000 BCE.

From a Lonergan perspective, and building upon the work of Robert Doran, I would suggest that the historian's ultimate aim should be to define--as best we can--how the normative scale of values were operative among the Israelites during this period. This means considering the dialectical interrelationship between social, cultural, and personal values. Given the nature of the data, the social and cultural are probably easier to define then personal values, although there is I think adequate data for each of these. From this ground, I would suggest that the task is then to move forward and backward. The red thread, I suspect, is the evidence that Israel was slow in developing a monarchy, a slowness that is presented in Judges as well as Samuel as the result of a cultural resistance to the institution. Moving analysis forward into the first millennium BCE, the question becomes how that resistance gave way to acceptance, while moving analysis backwards into the Bronze Age the questions becomes why there was such resistance in the first place. One would want to avoid romantic and triumphalist accounts that present ancient Israel as some egalitarian utopia, especially as we move into the period of the monarchy but also in the period of the judges and earlier (the biblical account itself does not shy away from presenting the pre-monarchical period as something less than pristine), but at the same time one would not want to deny the evidence that there was within ancient Israel a recurring albeit hardly universal suspicion of state regimes. In such an understanding one would not only want to engage with the archaeological and historical work that has been produced in the study of ancient Israel, but more specifically the tremendous amount of Marxist literature on the subject, which has tended to focus upon not just that domain that Lonergan describes as social but as also has expended considerable effort thinking about this domain's relationship with both the cultural and the personal. Indeed, one of the central conceptual tasks of such an undertaking would be to explain what it offers that is yet lacking in such Marxist work. In any case, this strikes me as something worth doing.

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