George has often made the point that the category, "historical literature,"
is a rather large umbrella under which we find a diversity of more
specialized genre of literature. If I were to attempt a comment of this
topic, I would put it this way: Actual history is the referent for all
historical literature. But there are numerous and vastly differing literary
styles in which humanly crafted literature refers to or employs actual
historical events. The following come to mind as examples:
1. Chronicle--in the extreme, an artless, matter of fact listing of what
happened when. This is the sort of historical writing that modern Western
culture has come to expect. In the process, however, the warranted
appreciation for more artistically profound forms of historical literature
is likely to be lost.
2. Interpretive--a particular author's (or community's) interpretation of
the meaning or significance of historical events. The selection of, and/or
artistic embellishment of, historical particulars will necessarily be
strongly influenced by the favored interpretation. An accurate reading of
this type of historical literature will require a thorough acquaintance
with the cultural/literary context in which it was written.
3. Didactic--a particular's author's (or community's) reading regarding
what lessons might be drawn from history. Once again, the selection of,
and/or artistic embellishment of, historical particulars will necessarily
be strongly influenced by the lessons that the author (community) wishes to
emphasize. An accurate reading of this type of historical literature will
require a thorough acquaintance with the cultural/literary context in which
it was written.
4. Fictionalized, in the sense of an author choosing to weave a creatively
crafted story into the setting of actual historical events. In this case
the reader must be aware of the possibility (need) of distinguishing the
fictional story elements from the actual historical events that provide the
setting. Perhaps the movie "Titanic" offers us a contemporary example of
this. The details of the on-board love affair may be fiction, but the ship
A lot of the posts that appear on this listserve seem to have been written
with the assumption that all (or most) biblical historical literature must
be of type 1, chronicle. That assumption is then often followed by an
attempt (sometimes extremely clever) to harmonize a particular portion of
biblical history (presumed to be presented in chronicle style) with a
modern, scientifically-informed understanding of the same event or
The bottom line is that this concordism or harmonization simply won't work.
Examples of failure abound. More to the point, attempts to force a
harmonization is likely to make the biblical text not more respected or
more valuable, but less. Even good and pious intentions can be misguided in
their particular application.
Howard Van Till