The Quest for the Historical Leviathan: Truth and Method in Biblical Studies

Most biblical scholars pursue their work largely in terms of the traditions of the guild as handed down to them in graduate school, often in an uneasy relationship with the traditions of our churches and synagogues. This is not necessarily good or bad; it is simply a statement of the obvious. We humans inevitably walk on paths we have inherited. While affirming the value and even necessity of historical enquiry, this paper seeks to examine critically some of our guild's tacit assumptions concerning the role "history" in understanding biblical texts. Positively, I will underscore the benefits 1) of consistently distinguishing reality from representations of reality, and of accepting the implications of this distinction; 2) of carefully discerning the role of ancient cultural conventions and genres, including mimetic historical "fiction," in biblical representations of reality; and 3) of not reducing the question of "truth" or meaning to history. In conclusion, I call for a confrontation with historicism, the unacknowledged "Leviathan" in the house of scholarship.