Fortress Press

The Memoirs of God: History, Memory, and the Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel

The Memoirs of God

History, Memory, and the Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel

Mark S. Smith (Author)


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This insightful work examines the variety of ways that collective memory, oral tradition, history, and history writing intersect. Integral to all this are the ways in which ancient Israel was shaped by the monarchy, the Babylonian exile, and the dispersions of Judeans and the ways in which Israel conceptualized and interacted with the divine—Yahweh as well as other deities.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800634858
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 208
  • Publication Date October 12, 2004


"Remarkable for his range of his interests, erudition, and mastery of detail, Mark S. Smith here makes available to non-specialists new thinking on two key issues in biblical interpretation. The two issues are collective memory and monotheism. Smith skillfully shows how profoundly they affect the meaning of divinity in the Bible, the concept of history, and the formation of Israel's concept of God. On the way, the reader is constantly brought up to date on a wide variety of biblical topics. Highly recommended."
— Richard Clifford, S.J., Professor of Old Testament, Weston Jesuit School of Theology

"In this extremely well-written book, Mark Smith brings his groundbreaking work on the religion of ancient Israel to the general public. Going beyond his earlier work, this book also applies the revolutionary work of historians on collective memory to understanding the history and religion of ancient Israel. Readable, yet scholarly, this delightful book deserves to be ready by both Christians and Jews, scholars and students, or anyone interested in understanding the Bible."
— William M. Schniedewind, University of California, Los Angeles

"This new book by Mark Smith is not simply a study of the history and religion of ancient Israel nor of the literature of the Hebrew Bible, but of the complicated interface between them — of how the Bible chose to remember the history and religion of the Israel that gave it birth. As Smith compellingly argues, the formation of memory is indeed the central characteristic of the Biblical text, and in a wide-ranging provocative discussion, he allows us to see the multiple ways in which the Biblical authors struggled to make sense of their past and to define its ongoing significance for them."
— Peter Machinist, Harvard University

"Sophisticated in its analysis yet accessible in its presentation, this book is a brilliant piece of intellectual and cultural history. Informed by the author's wide knowledge of Near Eastern literature, it tells the complex and fascinating story of ancient Israel's evolving traditions and beliefs. Memoirs should be required reading for anyone, general reader or specialist, who wants to understand how collective memory as well as amnesia worked together to produce the monotheism that became the hallmark of Hebrew scripture."
— Carol Meyers, Duke University, author of Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture of Israelite Women

"Mark Smith's view of the evolution of monotheism in Israel is highly persuasive, and should command a consensus. In this book he enriches the discussion by explaining the process of selective memory that shaped the biblical account. An important contribution to the study of the religion of Israel."
— John J. Collins, Yale Divinity School

Table of Contents



      Time Lines: Periods, Events, and Writings



  1. The Biblical Backdrop to the Story
    Introduction: The Bible and the Task of History
    The Mythic Period of Moses
    The Period of the Judges (ca. 1200-1000?)
    The Period of the Monarchy (ca. 1000-586)
    The "Exile" (ca. 586-538)
    The Persian Period (ca. 540-333)

  2. Challenges to Israel during the Biblical Period
    Premonarchic Challenges
    The Challenges of the United Monarchy: Saul, David, Solomon
    The Challenges of the Divided Monarchy
    Responses to the Fall of Judah and Jerusalem (586)
    Persian Period Challenges
    Textual Creations as Responses to Postexilic Life
    Concluding Remarks and Reflections

  3. Biblical Monotheism and the Structures of Divinity
    Structures of Divinity: Deities versus Divine Monsters
    The Divine Council and the Divine Family: From Polytheistic Ugaritic through Polytheistic Israel to Monotheistic Israel
    Monotheism: From Crises to New Religious Vision

  4. The Formation of Israel's Concepts of God: Collective Memory and Amnesia in the Bible
    Collective Memory and Amnesia
    Re-membering Divinity at Mount Sinai
    "Methods of Monotheism" and Collective Memory
    Cultural Memory and Amnesia of Divinity through the Lens of Divine Oneness

    Postscript: Biblical Memory between Theology and History
    Biblical Narrative and Systematic Theology
    Revelation, Tradition, and the Idolatry of History
    The Paradox of Revelation: Eternal yet Temporal
    Revelation and the Limits of the Biblical Canon
    Biblical Supersessionism
    World Theology

    Sources and Bibliogrpahy