History and Historiography

In school, I was taught that "history" is the study of what happened, why it happened and what eventuated. But, much of what passed for history, especially in grade and high school seemed more like myth propagation. History education did not teach history. It taught socialization and there are any of a number books, monographs and articles in educational journals that tried to deal with the problem (I even co-authored an article, "The Law That Never Was" on this ... but that's another story). There is even empirical evidence of this: in repeated Purdue University studies, approximately half of respondents could not identify values embodied in the Bill of Rights.

In David's Secret Demons : Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King, Baruch Halpern describes "history" as the shared myths, self-image, the heritage of a people. When discussing Biblical history, this characterization is usually assumed but not articulated. It certainly seems a more accurate characterization of what the Bible presents as historical. Thus, the entire enterprise of determining what is Biblical fact-history and what is Biblical shared memory-history. And, the degree to which shared memory-history reflects fact-history....

As long as I'm talking about Halpern's book, I am enamored of his "Tiglath-Pileser Principle" which he claims is essential to understanding ancient steles and documents generally and near Eastern ones especially. Halpern argues that the "Tiglath-Pileser Principle" underlies all court histories (and much of the Bible looks like a court history, David's or, in my opinion, Solomon's). The principal asks "What is the absolute minimum necessary for the statement to be true?-The absolute minimum." He sites, for example, a statement that David slew two-thirds of the enemies he faced. This statement is true if David met three Philistines and killed two of them.

"Biblical records, corroborated by Assyrian ones, describe how Tiglath-Pileser III exacted 1000 talents of silver tribute from King Menahem of Israel (2 Kings 15:19) and defeated his successor Pekah (15:29). Pekah had allied with Rezin, king of the Arameans, against Ahaz (known to the Assyrians as Yahu-khazi), king of Judah, who responded by appealing for the Assyrian monarch's help with the Temple gold and silver. Tiglath-Pileser complied by seizing Damascus, executing Rezin, and deporting the Aramaean inhabitants to Kir (16:9). He also seized the northern half of Israel, and deported the Reubenites, Gadites, and Manasseh to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the Gozan river (1 Chron. 5:26). Beyond this, the alliance was not beneficial to Ahaz. (2 Chron 28:20)."
Full article ...

Map showing Tiglath's conquests (green) and deportation of Israelites.

This book, by the way, is not recommended for the faint of heart. Halpern does not write for the lay person, not even the very well educated lay person. But, if you are willing to do the work necessary to get through it, the book is a very worthwhile read. (Halpern ends his book with: "The real David was not someone whom it would be wise to invite to dinner. And you certainly would not be happy to discover he was marrying your daughter, or even a casual acquaintance....")