Let us regard the biblical account itself as a conceptual model of Israel’s genesis. It is as if the Israelites themselves formulated an articulate portrayal of their distant past, much as modern scholarship does. Such a paradigm for a description of Israel’s emergence is feasible. This projection embedded within the biblical text has certain clear advantages over modern speculation: being much closer to the actual events—by thousands of years—and being a product of the locale itself, it inherently draws upon a much greater intimacy with the land, its topography, demography, military situation, ecology, and the like.
Such a working hypothesis enables us to avoid the extremes which have all too often left their imprint upon modern historiography in our field. By conceding that the biblical tradition could be a reflective, “theorizing” account—rather than strictly factual, “Wie es eigentlich gewesen” (Ranke)—we sidestep the pitfall of neofundamentalism. And by spurning the view of Israel’s proto-history as a deliberately fabricated tradition, we keep from being swept into the other, radical—and now more fashionable—extreme. This paves the way, on an operative plane, to a dialectical approach to the biblical text, one which retains the option that the tradition represents an admixture of ancient, reliable, historical components and late, untrustworthy, anachronistic elements.
This excellent pair of paragraphs is found on pages 13-14 of Malamat’s History of Biblical Israel. His terminology of reflection is earlier described on pages 9-10: “Rudimentary ancient descriptions were recontemplated in the current intellectual and theological terms, yielding new appraisals and motivations for past events.” That sounds an awful lot like modern historiography, doesn’t it?
My only quibble in the extended quote above, comes with the statement at the very end: “late, untrustworthy, anachronistic elements.” An anachronistic element isn’t necessarily untrustworthy, but simply misplaced. Typically, anachronisms are recognized precisely because of reliable testimony placing them in an age that is later than the period described in the text. This marks an anachronism as, actually, a trustworthy witness of its own age.