One wonders who it is that Gee might be talking about. One is liable to infer that he is referring to the person he is attempting to rebut, Dr. Bokovoy.
Dr. John Gee wrote:One problem with those who do not take the historical authenticity of the Hebrew Bible seriously is that they cannot seem to do much with the historical information actually contained in the Bible. Many of them have been trained solely in literary approaches to the Bible and the ancient Near East. (For example, when I took Ugaritic we only read literary texts from Ugarit; we did not read any of the historical ones; I discovered the historical texts later on my own.) Literary approaches have some merit, but they are only one approach and not always the best one. Lacking training with historical documents, some biblical scholars can only deal with ancient texts as literature and sometimes lack any feel for using documents to answer historical questions. Many biblical studies programs simply do not teach their students about history or archaeology. I feel sorry for those who come out of such programs.
If he intends to describe Dr. Bokovoy here, then he is laboring under a false assumption. Dr. Bokovoy studied in a Hebrew Bible program that is deeply historical in its focus. Gee, not knowing better, seems to imagine he is dealing with a Comp. Lit. student of some kind. Sorry, Dr. Gee. Just because a man teaches a Book of Mormon as Literature course does not pigeonhole him as someone who is "trained solely in literary approaches." Doubtless Dr. Gee is not referring to me, but, on the off chance that someone draws that connection--and because I agree with Dr. Bokovoy--let me point out that my training is also in history.
In other words, it is not history and literature that divides Bokovoy and Gee. It is two different approaches to history and the Hebrew Bible. As an historian, I see greater merit in Bokovoy's approach.
Now that we have covered the attempt to disparage and misrepresent Dr. Bokovoy's training, we can set it aside.
The bulk of Gee's argument is about scribal culture in ancient Israel. Gee stresses the idea that "scribal culture", something which he characterizes as this monolithic variable in the cross-cultural Near Eastern milieu, is mostly consistent throughout, so we can more or less rely on references to royal scribes in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles and the like as evidence of a deep commitment in the Hebrew court to an accurate representation of the past. In other words, if we have scribes mentioned, then citations to annals and the like must be reliable. And the books they are citing must have accurate historical information in them.
The layers of problems in this argument are many. First of all, the books being cited for the mention of scribes are likely dated to the 7th or 6th century BCE. Yet, because these books mention scribes in earlier periods, we, in Gee's view, are to trust that those references are accurate, and that the later representation of scribes and scribal culture in Israel of a markedly earlier period is reliable. As someone who is not a scholar of the Hebrew Bible, but who has wrestled with the problem of sources of other ancient civilizations, I am deeply suspicious of the assumption that records written centuries after the events described are consistently reliable.
Gee does not even raise the issue of Josiah's reforms and their impact on the content of the Hebrew Bible.
The truth is that one cannot simply point to "scribal culture" as a known variable that can be slotted in to explain things. It is most likely more problematic than that. History does not stand still. Structures change. Social and professional roles are malleable. One needs to know more than just the word "scribe" in order to determine what it was the scribe was doing. Was the text of Homer a reliable guide to Late Bronze Age warfare? The text mentions chariots, but did the poet have an accurate understanding of the use of chariots in the Late Bronze Age?
We can't take for granted that he did.
In order to be completely confident about the content of alleged annals of earlier periods, one needs to have access to those annals. Nothing prevents an author from fabricating, misquoting, or misinterpreting the material he quotes. If I want to understand Roman religion, I simply cannot rely uncritically on St. Augustine's quotes of Varro, for instance. As has been shown clearly by Professor Clifford Ando, St. Augustine distorts his source, and it has impacted our reading of Varro ever since.
Clifford Ando is an ancient historian, not a wide-eyed Comp. Lit. graduate student. In other words, as an historian, he understands how crucial it is to read our sources critically, particularly when they are quoting and characterizing the works of earlier authors.
So, from my position as a non-specialist in ancient Israel, who is nevertheless fairly well versed in the study of ancient history, I am not buying Gee's argument. I think it is a shame that he continues to misrepresent Dr. Bokovoy as he forwards an untenable argument. The deficient argument is bad enough on its own.