Martin Noth claims that historical accounts in the Old Testament arose from cultic contexts and creedal statements. He claims to be tracing the “historicizing” process.

Jeffrey Niehaus says that the process is actually the opposite, a “creedalizing” one (God at Sinai, 77): “Leviticus 23:42-43 tells Israel that at the Feast of Booths all native-born Israelites must live in booths for seven days . . . so that their descendants will know that Yahweh had the Israelites live in booths when he brought them out of Egypt. . . . According to Noth the reverse is true: because a Festival of Booths existed, somehow a ‘historical’ account arose” (77-8).

This “uproots biblical passages from their literary and historical context and attributes them to a later, cultic setting.” Niehaus tries the experiment on an Assyrian account of Tiglath-pileser’s victory over Ishdish, concluding that “nothing would be easier than to posit a cultic setting as the origin of this account” but this approach is excluded because the record was made a few years after the victory” (79). 

Niehaus thinks that the procedure is equally bogus for the Old Testament: “No good reason has been put forward why the Old Testament record should be accorded any less credence than other ancient Near Eastern historical accounts., In fact, if the Old Testament data are according that respect, what comes into question is not their historicity. Rather it is the putative creeds that lack firm evidence: for their seminal role in the evolution of the biblical histories and in some cases for their very existence” (79). 

Thus reconstructed, hypothetical settings come to judge the value of the texts that actually exist. And this procedure is considered “scientific.”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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