“it is not misplaced to argue that all the great undertakings in the nineteenth century to write a clear and objective account of Israelite-Jewish history were over-ambitious”
In retrospect, it is not misplaced to argue that all the great undertakings in the nineteenth century to write a clear and objective account of Israelite-Jewish history were over-ambitious. At that time, much too little information existed regarding the political, cultural and religious life of the ancient Near East in which the Bible had arisen. The very aim of writing of biblical personalities as flesh and blood characters who had participated in a real history was fraught by the great lack of knowledge about the world in which they lived and its achievements. The very immensity of the range of discovery in the field of biblical archaeology in the present century shows how seriously handicapped all such writers were before this time. Inevitably, the tendency was to use the biblical material that was available and to create a background that was, in no small part, a construction of a sympathetic imagination. The materials simply were not available to do otherwise. All the great pioneer figures, therefore, including Graetz, had largely to work from the Bible itself as their only substantial source. In doing so, it was inevitable that they should portray that background as more primitive, more pagan and more crudely unethical than in reality it appears to have been. Their historical judgement and evaluations, therefore, could serve only partially as a critique and reappraisal of the biblical evidence. More often than not, they simply served to reflect the attitude of the Bible itself. Yet by pioneering the task as they did, all these historians have left us an important legacy of scholarship.
R.E. Clements, “Heinrich Graetz as Biblical Historian and Religious Apologist” in Interpreting the Hebrew Bible: Essays in Honour of E.I.J. Rosenthal, eds. J.A. Emerton and Stefan C. Reif (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 54.