Historical and Geographical Background to the Bible
Marc Zvi Brettler
Some Methodological Considerations. It is not easy to reconstruct the history of ancient Israel. Although many of the texts in the Bible have been characterized as historical texts, they certainly are not historical in our sense. The biblical authors, unlike modern professional historians, made no attempt to be objective or complete in recording events from the past; instead, they constructed narratives of the past for religious and/or didactic purposes. Certainly, these narratives incorporated many facts, but it is often difficult to disentangle fact from fiction, truth from myth or legend. Unfortunately, relatively little writing outside the Bible has been preserved that might help us confirm what is historically accurate or fill in historical gaps. Though much archeological effort has gone into studying ancient Israel, the evidence is often ambiguous and open to different interpretations. In some cases, a careful combination of analysis of biblical texts, archeological finds, and records about ancient Israel from its neighbors may yield a detailed description of a period or an event. This, however, does not occur as often as we would like. For this reason, much of the history summarized below, though based on the best information currently available, should be considered tentative.