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The Copenhagen Boomerang:
Deadly Weapon or the Retrieval of
A Forgotten Truth

    It seems to me that the one question that Kofoed, Provan, Long, Kitchen, Dever, and others have completely left aside is the question of intention. Did the writers of ancient Israel’s texts intend to write history? Was their purpose historical narrative or theological narrative?

By Jim West
Quartz Hill School of Theology
April 2005

Jens Bruun Kofoed has written a fine essay here on Bible and Interpretation titled The Critical Danes and History: How to Avoid Being Hit by the Boomerang from Copenhagen: this makes what he goes on to describe sound quite dangerous and indeed potentially life threatening. The image of the boomerang evokes thoughts of hunters in the outback tracking down their helpless unaware prey and then delivering a crushing blow to the head in order to stun and then kill. But is the Copenhagen Boomerang really so deadly? Or is what is coming from Copenhagen, and Sheffield, for that matter, among other lesser-known places, more akin to a boomerang which begins in the desire for truth and ends with truth, having recovered it on its journey? It is this second option that seems more likely to me since I am neither a resident of Copenhagen, nor Sheffield, but I am feeling quite comfortable here in the hinterlands of the Tennessee hills with what Copenhagen has discovered, or perhaps better, recovered.

Towards the end of his essay, Kofoed, who by the way is a very fine scholar and who is very informed, I might even say an expert in methodological enquiry, says:

Lemche’s own dismissal of the biblical text as a reliable source for ancient Israel’s history does not, however, comply with mainstream heuristic theory in its distinction between primary/secondary and firsthand/secondhand sources. These distinctions require a thorough discussion of the possibility of oral and/or written transmission in ancient Israel before it can be determined whether to include or exclude the texts as primary evidence. Such transmission did – as I have argued elsewhere– in all likelihood take place, and since there are good reasons to believe that the biblical authors were authentic and reliable witnesses, heuristic theory demands that we approach the texts as primary, firsthand and secondhand sources and include them along with other texts and artifacts in the reconstruction of ancient Israel’s history. Lemche’s ideological crusade against conservative scholarship and his usage of confused heuristic terminology to discard the biblical text as a primary source for the history of ancient Israel thus appears to be an axiomatic and methodological boomerang that missed its target, and it shall be interesting to see what it hits on its way back. (http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Kofoed_Critical_Danes.htm)

It seems to me that the crux of the issue is contained in this little phrase: "…the biblical text as a reliable source for ancient Israel’s history … ." Lemche, Thompson, Davies, and Whitelam have questioned the validity of using the biblical texts as grist for the historical reconstructive mill of ancient Israel. This is, in my estimation, only proper and the only proper methodology.

Why? Because it seems to me that the one question that Kofoed, Provan, Long, Kitchen, Dever, and others have completely left aside is the question of intention. Did the writers of ancient Israel’s texts intend to write history? Was their purpose historical narrative or theological narrative? To be sure, Kofoed makes an effort at addressing this issue in his book, Text And History: Historiography and the Biblical Text (Eisenbrauns: 2005). But he, in my estimation, fails to answer the aforementioned basic question convincingly.

If the intention of the authors of the biblical text were to write history, they did a fairly poor job of it since they included virtually nothing in their account of a historical nature. God is everywhere in the pages of the Hebrew Bible after all- but God is not bound by the historical and hence cannot be the subject of historical investigation. But if, on the other hand, they intended to write a theological narrative, then they hit the mark with great accuracy and aplomb. The whole of the Old Testament (and the New) overflows with talk of God- and that is what theology is- a word about God.

To be sure, Kofoed and others might protest at precisely this point that the Old Testament does indeed include historical information. Therefore, I am forced to reply, does it? Which parts are history? Genesis 1-11? The stories of Abraham? Moses? David? Solomon? The Divided Monarchy? Where do you draw the line and how do you determine what is history and what isn’t? If you think that Genesis 1-11 is not historical, what’s to stop you from presuming that Moses isn’t either? But if you assume Moses is a historical personage and the events narrated about his life are history, then why don’t you think that Genesis 1-11 is? What hermeneutic do you apply to these texts and where do you draw the line between history and theology? Or perhaps historicizing and theologizing? I have yet to hear reasonable answers to what seems to me these very simple questions.

The "Copenhagen Boomerang" begins with the presumption that the Hebrew Bible tells us nothing of events as they really were. This seems to me a self evident truth. The writers of the Old Testament had no more intention of telling about things for the sake of the telling than a mathematics textbook today intends to teach art or grammar. The purpose of the Hebrew Bible is purely, simply, and completely a theological one. The attempt to make it fit a historical model is to force a square peg into a round circle.

The boomerang makes its circuit and ends where it begins, that is, with the certainty that what we have in the Old Testament is not history- but theology. Theological historiography, when degraded to the status of mere historiography, becomes myth and legend rather than message and claim. Curiously, the very people who are attempting to defend the Old Testament’s historical nature are denuding it of its theological value. Their misunderstanding of the purpose of the biblical writings is robbing them and their adherents of the pleasure of hearing the message contained in the text because they are focused on the shell and they forget the meat.

Are the "Copenhageners" trying to brutalize with their deadly weapon? No. The real brutalization takes place when the text is forced to be something it is not, against its will, pushed into a corner and made to say things it does not wish to say. The real brutalization is taking place in the Kitchen where the texts are cooked down to a milky sauce good for nothing but setting out for the cats. The Bible is Geschichte, not Historie. Gerhard von Rad taught us all that, if only "we had ears to hear."