Through Gunkel’s influence, many scholars came to view the narratives of the Old Testament as folklore, myths, fairy tales, and legends. While they mostly assumed that some historical reality and truth underlay these tales, they generally accepted the premise that these are poetic and imaginative narratives incorporating vague speculation and deliberate fiction. The critical view has as yet not been discarded. This viewpoint still governs a large segment of Old Testament research. Moses, Elijah, and Daniel are considered mythological or legendary. The account of the patriarchal age, of Joshua’s and Samuel’s times, is believed to be full of aetiological tales and cultic legends. Above all, the contents of Genesis 1 to 11, the so-called Urgeschichte, are not assigned any historical value. On the basis of the creation myths and flood sagas of other peoples, most German Old Testament scholars judge the biblical stories to be sagas as well. At the same time, however, they stress that, compared with these foreign myths and legends, the biblical accounts have a distinct peculiarity.

Actually, there are good reasons for giving the biblical texts and tales more credence and for acknowledging their historical dependability also. The Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran have made it apparent that the holy texts were preserved and transmitted with special care and diligence. This indeed is generally recognized. But the conclusion is not drawn, as it ought to be, that much greater caution is required by those who swiftly assume that any Old Testament book arose as a composite from various sources and secondary interpolations. The Isaiah Scrolls, for example, have never been found as two separate books.

The excavations in Egypt, Palestine, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.