" (This statement appears to fly in the face of his detailed emphasis on trying to be terribly thorough at other times throughout the book; and his seeming editorial neurosis creates doubts in the minds of the reader as to precisely how consistent and valid his values are vis-a-vis what he believes to be true.)
Those biblical students probably read his book and had a sense that he was in a classroom, behind a podium, lecturing to them, when, on pages 18-20, he discusses pre-history (Stone Age) and Neolithic Jericho. His bias towards places and people who are in some way connected to Scripture comes across numerous times in obviously favored passages.
To wit: one can almost hear his voice as he describes the relative distance in time to make his point about the advent of the Israel we know today. "Difficult as it is for us to realize, it is quite as far if not farther from the beginnings of civilization in the Near East to the age of Israel's origins as it is from that latter time to our own!" [explanation point by Bright].
And, it is clear that when there are not certified links to biblical names and places and eras, he shows little interest. "The story of Stone Age man is not our concern," he writes on 18. Not "our concern" because it doesn't relate to theology? And as to how far back mankind can be traced, he passes it of with "...who can say?"
Further, when quickly covering the transition from Stone Age people to settled life, and he writes (18) that the Middle Paleolithic period can be documented - it is "richly witnessed by skeletal remains, especially in Palestine" - it is not, a reader is led to understand, just a fact that is "witnessed" through bones, but it is "richly witnessed" because there were bones in Palestine.
He continues writing as though is a university professor walking around a stage with no notes - rather than a scholarly historian providing well-researched narrative in a respected book - when he offers (19) that "Earliest Jericho is truly amazing. So far as is know, its people - whoever they may have been - led all the world in the march toward civilization (dare one believe it!) some five thousand years before Abraham!"
Why would he add the phrase, "dare one believe it..."? To a sentence that already uses "amazing" when referring to a city whose roots connect dots with Israel's later origins? The answer is known only to Bright, of course: perhaps he wanted to excite his readers, or his reported evangelical leanings cannot stay hidden for any sustained period of time.
Noll (11) asserts that Bright's book is riddled with the above-mentioned "evangelical" hints and leanings, but adds that Bright is "...not just a sinister secular seducer of the evangelical soul." Bright is "one of them, and his Protestant bias is evidence in sweeping generalizations with which an evangelical reader will concur." Noll goes on to emphasize that Bright "and his implied reader presuppose theology as central, and history as a subject to be fitted into the theological program."
How will an objective, unbiased reader know that Bright has this theological agenda? There are clues - that go farther then hints - throughout the book. In Chapter 1, Bright gives his review of the Middle Bronze Age; and while admitting (42) that the task of describing this period "is not easy to do, for it was a most confused world," he later explains that this era was "redemptive" and even "divinely guided." Hence, a reader should accept Bright's spin on this part of history because he, Bright, is showing that he has the intellectual capability to determine what is guided by divine power, and what is not.
In Chapter 2, Bright enlightens readers by claiming that biblical stories provide a "wealth of detail, literary beauty, and theological depth," a depth that is "without parallel." Noll admits that Bright's "proselytization" is "honest" and "unambiguous" when it comes to bringing his "implied reader into the fold of the theologically motivated historical-critical" school of thought. But he takes Bright to task (Noll, 14) though for apparently arm-twisting the "believer to a new way of articulating the faith" by occasionally utilizing "seemingly secular scholarship."
Noll seems to be saying he (Noll) is not terribly put off by Bright's apparent goal of motivating the existing "believer" into a kind of "enslavement of theology to history," which is carried out though (Noll, 16) the "enslavement of the theologian to the role of historian." Still, that "bondage" is "awkward," Noll explains, and yet, in time, it was "inevitable that the tables would get turned," and history would become "enslaved to theology." Continuing with the "enslavement" metaphor - and carrying his argument to a definition of scholarship - Noll (17) accuses Bright of enslaving "historical study to a theological conceptualization." good contemporary analogy to this "bonding" of theology to history and history to theology was placed right before the alert eyes of social scientists and objective political observers in America during the 2004 presidential election. One of the most visible leaders of the conservative Christian movement, Rev. Jerry Fallwell, announced after the election that his movement had "delivered" some 30 million votes to George W. Bush, helping put Bush into the White House for four more years. The uniting of conservative Christian causes - the pro-life movement, anti-gay feelings manifest through the attacks on gay marriage, and other issues - with politics is of course tearing down the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state. But nevertheless, pastors in thousands of churches who buy into the conservative Christian themes (the above-mentioned issues, plus the pitting of evolution against creationism) urged their congregations to vote Republican, since Bush is seen as anti-abortion and against gay marriage. There were instances reported in the South, where pastors who refused to toe the line of the conservative Christian voting bloc were asked to leave their churches.]
Noll reaches this opinion because, he writes, there is "no such thing" as "normative" in historical studies; and there is no such subjective word used as "aberrant"; using words like that, which Bright does, can prejudice the narrative in a way that historians "would prefer to avoid," Noll concludes.
After reviewing Noll's observations and critiques, and reviewing Bright's book for a second time with Noll's narrative fresh in one's mind, it becomes much clearer that there are numerous examples where Bright shows his theological colors at the expense of real history. Having said that, what would be wrong to approach history from a theological perspective? The answer is that of course there is nothing at all wrong with that approach, as long as the writer is honest about his intentions and his agenda.
In Bright's case, he seems so passionate about all things that excite him, and so bored with those things he's not particularly taken with, the book he has written has an uneven flow, and he vacillates too frequently, as has been pointed out earlier in this paper. True history cries out for true objectivity. Nevertheless, there are sections in this book in which he should receive kudos. This paper calls for an analysis of the books strengths, and there are strengths. Mainly, the vast and colorful canvas of history that Bright covers, albeit tainted with theology, is to be applauded.
And further, there are myriad passages that illustrate his competence as a scholar; in these aforementioned passages he separates fact from religion - history from theology. For example, on page 97 (Chapter 3, "Exodus and Conquest: The Formation of the People Israel"), he points out that while "most components" of the culture of Israel had been "on the scene" since the first half of the second millennium, the actual origins of the Israelites came later - and "external evidence and the Bible agree," he writes. But having written that, he adds, also on page 97, that though "well-known stories" from the Bible indicate that the Israelites were led by Moses, who received the tablets from mount Sinai, describing how Israel came into existence "is not easy."
The trail leading to the truth about how Israel emerged is muddy, he implies, because "the bulk" of data are, "like the patriarchs, difficult to evaluate," having been given to historians through one source - the Bible.
Meantime, to merely "rehearse the story of the bible" would be "pointless," Bright writes on page 69, seeming to be justifying his theological tone. There is no "objective method" through which the history of the traditions may be researched, he continued, and yet one can make "a balanced examination" of those traditions, against "the background of the world of [that time]" and make "positive statements as the evidence allows." But what "evidence" does he…