Thomas L. Thompson Responds to my “On Biblical Scholarship and Bias”


Well, my recent article, “On Biblical Scholarship and Bias,” published on the online magazine The Bible and Interpretation, has generated some controversy.  Thomas L. Thompson, Professor Emeritus of the University of Copenhagen, has published an article response, entitled, “On Myths and Their Contexts: An Issue of Contemporary Theology? A Response to Jeffrey Morrow.” I have to admit I am quite honored that Thomas Thompson bothered reading my article, and also that he took the time to respond. I remember reading Thompson’s work for the first time as an undergraduate student. Along with John Van Seters and Niels Peter Lemche, Thompson’s work has played a significant role in casting doubt on the historical veracity of the Old Testament. I remember reading my own professor Edwin Yamauchi’s 1972, The Stones and the Scriptures, which ended on a quite positive note, assuming that the trust biblical scholars placed in the general historically reliable picture of the Old Testament would continue to increase, as it had been doing since around 1944. From roughly 1944-1972, historians were increasingly confident that the Old Testament was rooted in history. This was in sharp contrast to the more skeptical positions of the 19th century, in which many of these historians were trained. Yamauchi’s 1972 assessment, however, was not to prove correct, as he later mentioned in his 1980 reassessment in The Scriptures and Archaeology. The publication of several books would initiate the period of skepticism, which in some ways was more severe even than what came in the nineteenth century. Among these books were John Van Seters’ 1975 Abraham in History and Tradition and Thomas L. Thompson’s 1974 The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives. I read these volumes as an undergraduate, as well as what I consider to be one of the most significant (and sane) responses to these unwarranted skeptical claims, namely Alan Millard’s and Donald Wiseman’s 1980 edited volume, Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives (the individual essays by Goldingay, Millard, Bimson, Selman, Wiseman, Wenham, and Baker, are available full text at that link…or click below on the individual essays). The contents of that important volume included:

John Goldingay, “The Patriarchs in Scripture and History.”

Alan R. Millard, “Methods of Studying the Patriarchal Narratives as Ancient Texts.”

John J. Bimson, “Archaeological Data and the Dating of the Patriarchs.”

Martin J. Selman, “Comparative Customs and the Patriarchal Age.”

Donald J. Wiseman, “Abraham Reassessed.”

Gordon J. Wenham, “The Religion of the Patriarchs.”

David W. Baker, “Diversity and Unity in the Literary Structure of Genesis.”

I would add to this list, Kenneth A. Kitchen’s very important yet much neglected 1994 essay, “Genesis 12-50 in the Near Eastern World,” in He Swore an Oath: Biblical Themes from Genesis 12-50, ed. Richard S. Hess, Gordon J. Wenham, and Philip E. Satterwaite, which I also read as an undergraduate, as well as Edwin M. Yamauchi’s more recent essay of 2010, “Abraham and Archaeology: Anachronisms or Adaptations?” in Perspectives on Our Father Abraham, ed. Steven A. Hunt.

Needless to say, I am honored that such a scholarly giant as Thomas Thompson responded to my work, and I plan on writing my own response to his recent essay response.

If this discussion interests you, be sure to check out my Three Skeptics and the Bible.

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