History is a contentious term. It seems simple enough. If you think to your grade school studies, history was an account of what happened in the past. But whose account matters? This is not as simple a question as ut may seem.
As well, what happens that deserves to be recorded and what happens that deserves to be forgotten? James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, is over 700 pages all taking place in one day.
The first Western histories were written about wars and contained speeches that people did not say. These were not seen as false but incomplete.
Most histories followed in these same lines of the Greeks. They focused on battles and heroes and great men and great villains.
This began to change in the mid-19th century when histories began to focus on data and attestations and accurate reflections of what happened.
It is not a coincidence that modern history rose hand in hand with modern photography. The existence of a photograph gives the viewer the possibility of accuracy. But anyone who has ever taken a picture knows that it is not entirely accurate. Choices are made. The camera is pointed in this direction and not that. The focus is on this spot and not that.
All of this is important when we look at the histories of the bible. The entire bible is not history, but a number of books are: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
These books cover the history from the entry of the Hebrew people into the promised land, to the Babylonian captivity. And yet some of the history overlaps, especially 1 & 2 Chronicles and 1 & 2 Kings. The Kings are continuations of 1 & 2 Samuel, clearly following in the sam narrative trajectory. Chronicles covers similar periods but from a different perspective and with some foci.
As well, there is one pretty glaring contradiction between
1 Chronicles 21:1-2 (ESV)
Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number.”
2 Samuel 24:1 & 2 (ESV)
Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people”
Now one way to read this is proof of the fallibility of Scripture another is to read Satan as adversary in this verse but as the personification of evil everywhere else in the Bible.
Both of these readings I feed deeply insufficient. I don’t have a complete answer but my response would be to try to find out what is being said rather than look for verification of some prior assumption about historicity based on modern assumptions.
When we enter the strange world of the Bible, we are not entering a textbook or a rule book but the space where God is revealed. To read it as a history textbook is to misread it. To read it as ancient irrelevant myths is to read it. How we read it as the word of God can only be learned and lived through the life of the people of God.