Andrew Fulford Archive Authors Nota Bene

Noel Weeks on Revisiting Forgotten Problems

Dr. Noel Weeks reflects on historical scholarship at the beginning of Admonition and Curse:

In the history of scholarship focus changes from decade to decade. Topics become popular; topics fade from popularity. The reasons for such changes are complex and outside of the main interests of this work. What is significant is that they may fade from view before there has been a definitive resolution, or the resolution reached may be faulty. Yet who wants to return to an old, tired and exhausted topic?

A number of arguments can be raised in defence of revisiting the no-longer-fashionable. Often it is only in retrospect that the unexamined assumptions which prevented resolution become clear. While the topic may have been dropped those very assumptions may linger on to influence other debates which may also end without proper resolution. It may even be that the old topic needs to be revisited, not so much for the original topic’s sake, but so that the lurking assumptions might become the focus.

As the bibliography of this work illustrates, the topic of treaty and covenant was a major concern of Ancient Near Eastern scholarship in the 1950s-1960s. After that it virtually disappears. While some primary texts continue to emerge and to undermine older claims, the topic is sufficiently dead that corrected versions of older theses fail to appear.

The reasons for the changing fashions are complex. Two may be mentioned here but many more might be conjectured. First, the increasing specialization of the field discourages explorations which of their very nature are comparative. Second, as will emerge clearly, much of the interest stemmed from attempts to resolve certain issues in the biblical field. When these issues appeared to be resolved in other ways, the topic lost its immediate relevance.(1)