Monday, July 20, 2009

History and Biblical Ancient Israel

Right now I'm reading Megan Moore's Philosophy and Practice in Writing a History of Ancient Israel, in which she examines the debates between so-called minimalists and maximalists when it comes to Ancient Israel and how to use the Old Testament for purposes of history. I guess I'd fit mostly in the minimalist camp, especially if I understood myself to be primarily a historian, which I don't. Certainly I don't regard the Old Testament as having a lot to tell us about the historical Iron Age kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and certainly nothing that came before. We can also glean little or no information of what happened in the Babylonian or Persian periods (there's no history in Esther). Well, at least not if you want a history that contains events and personalities. You can, of course, do a history, or maybe better do a study of the religious ideas in the Old Testament how they reconstruct a variety of religious motifs and stories and how they construct a past in that process. You can also examine how those ideas and story worlds fit within the broader context of ancient Middle Eastern religions and you can look at how those ideas are taken up in subsequent texts too.

The reason I'm writing on this is because I discovered today that Michael Heiser's Two Powers in Heaven blog is, if not shutting down, then discontinuing. Thankfully it doesn't mean the blog is being closed because there's lots of good stuff there including a most fascinating essay that Michael Heiser has put up from the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1961. Titled 'The "Son of Man" of Daniel 7:13 f.: A New Interpretation' it's by Julian Morgenstern. In it he argued, that the Son of Man/Ancient of Days Daniel 7:13 f. is derived from the old solarised YHWH cult instituted by Solomon and derived from the solar cult of neighbouring Tyre. Morgenstern argues that just as the Tyrians worshipped the sun in two aspects, Baal Shamem and , so too in Solomon's Jerusalem God was worshipped, an elder Ancient of Days who went down to Sheol at the time of the autumnal equinox and a younger Yahweh, Son of Man, who rose from Sheol at the time of the vernal equinox and was embodied in the king.

Now late last week I was memed; I had to identify the five worst biblical studies books I've ever read. Now it was difficult because, as I said, I had to read a bit of crappy stuff in my undergrad days and then again during my PhD. Most of the crappy stuff was crappy because it attempted to present a history of Ancient Israel. But all it really ever achieved was a retelling of the Old Testament account. Refreshingly, despite its age, Morgenstern writes something interesting and something which anticipates where some of the discussion would be 50 years later. But back then he must have felt that he was out on the edge. Thing is there are still some worthwhile insights in his essay.

And I hope that Two Powers in Heaven will resume again one day.


  1. Just thinking aloud, I wonder how much the dual figures relates to 2 Chronicles 29, where it is Solomon himself who is worshiped alongside God while being seated on the throne of YHWH?


  2. Are you sure it's 2 Chronicles 29? All I can find is Hezekiah reprising much of Solomon's role. But yes, I think you're right that Solomon is in some way a god or the lesser YHWH beside the LORD. Solomon and Hezekiah also perform a very priestly role as well, They are the models for the later High Priests even before the Hasmoneans Fletcher-Lewis argues that this Daniel passage is based on the Day of Atonement liturgy - the Son of Man is the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies on clouds of incense