Literary dating of the book of kings [was Re: [ANE-2] Re: Exile and return -- dating questions
- Let me offer a (quick, very sketchy) reasoning concerning the
literary dating of the book of kings which (if accepted) should put
things in the correct (IMHO) perspective of 50/50 uncertainty.
1st argument: "biblical stories" existed before the book of kings.
"Before the book of kings" - the timeline in the stories provides the
terminus ante quem to be used, the earliest date(s) the story(ies)
could have been written, roughly the beginning of the 1st mbc.
"Biblical story" has two literary meaning. The 1st deals with the
literary arrangement of the people and events using some unified
comprehensive "human condition" point of view. Similar in approach to
Greek tragedies (but very different when it comes to the role of free
will) or to the Njal & Laxdaela Icelandic sagas (again different re
free will). This 1st meaning is art-oriented. The 2nd meaning is the
technical aspect of the telling, the "ancient historical novel". It
deals with literary craftsmanship.
Evidence: good old Sinuhe.
The artistic value of Sinuhe's tale is debatable (personally I don't
think it has the force of a "biblical story"), but it's the 2nd
meaning, the technical aspect that is important for the sake of this
argument. And Sinuhe's tale has many characteristics of BH stories.
In every art form the technique is the vessel that is filled by
individual (and very rarely groups) with artistic contents that
ranges from the awful, through mediocre to the masterpiece. The
important question for this argument is was the technique known,
ready to be used by a master artist, or would this master artist have
to invent the technique too.
And artistic technique is not an "all or nothing" that an artist has
to adopt. E.g. cubistic technique involves the platform (oil,
drawing, etc, techniques) and the a range of visual characteristics
developed by several master artists.
What do we know about Sinuhe's tale? That it dates to the early 2nd
mbc and that it was a best seller.
2nd argument: the author of the book of kings could have known of the
Sinuhe story-telling technique.
BEC's "back to the future" version notwithstanding, I'm assuming a BH
speaking primary audience for the book of kings.
Whatever was the ethnic, religious or sociopolitical identity of this
group, we know it used the scripts I like to call "linear Levant
Semitic" and "square Levant Semitic" (Phoenician/Canaanite and
Aramaic scripts respectively).
Evidence: the "proto Levant Semitic" script
The early version of these scripts, the "proto" version, is strongly
connected to Egypt in shape and in evidenced locations, and, to a
lesser degree, in suggested phonetics. That provides a script-based
link over time.
A script-based link does not imply necessarily a literary-culture
link. But when coupled with archeological evidence links to Egyptian
material culture in the locations of the book of kings, and with
Egyptian archeological evidence with links to the same locations, I
think the overall picture is more likely to be one of full cultural
link, literary culture included, than one which excludes literary culture.
I'm nor arguing the biblical testimony about such a link because the
counter argument would be that the testimony has self-serving purposes.
And I'm not arguing that the artist and audience of the book of kings
belong to the same group that used the "proto" script. I'm arguing
that whatever cultural path the script took to reach the artist and
audience could have been taken by other aspects of the Egyptian
culture, including some literary best sellers.
The "proto Levant Semitic" script gives us a date of mid to late 2nd mbc.
Inference: an artist wishing to write the book of kings could have
been familiar with the Sinuhe-like story telling technique as early
as the book's terminus ante quem.
I'm not claiming that it is likely that he used this story telling
technique. I'm claiming that it's not impossible and not improbable,
bringing us to the "no idea whatsoever" 50/50 range.
[A similar, though somewhat weaker, argument can be made linking
other aspects of the literary technique used in the book of kings to
the Ugaritic literature, with the consonantal shorthand aspect of the
script providing the link].
So can we, please, put this aspect of historicity to rest until new
evidence is uncovered?
[100% bona fide dilettante ... delecto ergo sum!]
Ariel L. Szczupak
AMIS-JLM (Ricercar Ltd.)
POB 4707, Jerusalem, Israel 91406
Phone: +972-2-5619660 Fax: +972-2-5634203