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Thompson, Thomas L. 1939–

Thompson, Thomas L. 1939–

(Thomas Lawrence Thompson)

PERSONAL:

Born January 7, 1939, in Detroit, MI; immigrated to Denmark, 1993; son of Howard Matthew (a housepainter) and Marion (a store clerk) Thompson; married Dorothy E. Irvin, December 17, 1963 (divorced, 1980); married Shirley E. Vanke (an artist and author), August 5,1985; children: (adopted) Samir Said Hanef, Claudia, Hilary, Jacob, Andreas. Education: Duquesne University, B.A., 1962; attended Blackfriar's College, Oxford, 1962-63; attended Tubingen University, 1963-1971; Temple University, Ph.D., 1976. Politics: Social democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Elsinore, Denmark. Office—University of Copenhagen, Kobmagergade 46, DK 1150, Copenhagen, Denmark.

CAREER:

University of Dayton, instructor of theology, 1964-65; University of Detroit, assistant professor of theology, 1967-69; University of Tubingen, research associate, 1969-77; Brady High School, St. Paul, MN, teacher, 1980-82; École Biblique, Jerusalem, Israel, annual professor of Old Testament, 1985; Lawrence University, Appleton, WI, associate professor of religion, 1988-89; Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, associate professor of theology, 1989-93; University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, professor and chair of Old Testament, 1993—. Handyman and housepainter in North Carolina and Minneapolis, MN, 1977-87.

MEMBER:

Deutsche Palastina Verein, European Association of Ancient Near Eastern Archeology, Danish Bible Society, British Society of Old Testament Studies, European Society of Biblical Studies, Catholic Biblical Association, Chicago Society of Biblical Research.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Gressmann fellowship, 1974, for The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives; National Endowment for the Humanities, fellow, 1987.

WRITINGS:

The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: The Quest for the Historical Abraham, De Gruyter (Berlin, Germany), 1974, Trinity Press International (Harrisburg, PA), 2002.

The Settlement of Sinai and the Negev in the Bronze Age, Dr. Reichert Verlag (Weisbaden, Germany), 1975.

The Settlement of Palestine in the Bronze Age, Dr. Reichert Verlag (Weisbaden, German), 1979.

The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel, Vol. 1: The Literary Formation of Genesis and Exodus 1-23, Sheffield Academic Press (Sheffield, England), 1987.

Toponomie Palestinienne, Peeters (Louvaine, Belgium), 1988.

Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written and Archaeological Sources, Brill (Leiden, Netherlands), 1992, Brill (New York, NY), 1994, Brill (Boston, MA), 2000.

(Coeditor with Frederick H. Cryer) Qumran between the Old and New Testaments, Sheffield Academic Press (Sheffield, England), 1998.

The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past, Jonathan Cape, 1999.

The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1999.

(Coeditor with Salma Khadra Jayyusi) Jerusalem in Ancient History and Tradition, T. & T. Clark International (New York, NY), 2003.

The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Also the author of more than one hundred articles, maps, and reviews published since 1962.

SIDELIGHTS:

Writer Thomas L. Thompson was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1939, but traveled extensively over the course of his professional career as an academic, finally immigrating to Denmark in 1993, where he married and started a family. Having taught in such diverse locales as Milwaukee, Germany, and Jerusalem, he joined the faculty of the University of Copenhagen, where he serves as a biblical studies professor with a particular focus on the Old Testament. Thompson is the author of several scholarly texts that examine the stories of the Old Testament, as well as the people of the holy land, focusing on the Israelites, the land of Palestine, and the stories of Abraham, David, and Jesus, among others.

In The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past, Thompson examines the ways in which the stories of the bible overlap or mesh with the known history of the world. He not only looks at the history of the period that the bible refers to with each story, but at the history of the location and time when the books of the bible were written, addressing the ways in which those circumstances affected what stories were ultimately included, and how they were told. Danny Yee, in a review for his Web site, Danny Yee's Book Reviews, remarked: "Thompson provides a fine summary of the history, though those primarily interested in that will want to go directly to the historians and archaeologists." In a review for History Today, M.E.J. Richardson noted that "while Thompson does not claim that events so central to the biblical narrative did not happen, he demands that they be seen today from a much wider perspective."

The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel addresses the bible in an altogether different fashion, noting that the various stories are logical, and build one upon the other to teach a series of lessons, but that it is when they are compared to history that they begin to break down and become less meaningful. Thompson encourages readers to look at the bible in the same way they would a work of great literature, as a learning tool that provides comfort and knowledge and enlightenment. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked of the book: "Thompson writes passionately, persuasively and provocatively." Thomas M. Bolin, writing for History: Review of New Books, opined: "Thompson's criticisms are bold and incisive," and went on to conclude that the book "will make a substantial impact on biblical scholars, theologians, and believers."

Thompson's The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David was met with considerable controversy when it was published. The book takes two iconic figures of the bible—one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament—and opines that they are actually mere symbols for the lessons they teach, rather than flesh and blood individuals who walked the earth, pointing out that they have strong ties to early literature from the Near East and it is likely that they were developed as characters from such sources. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews commented that "the book is too technical to appeal to most general readers, since Thompson presupposes a comfortable familiarity with Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament."

Thompson once told CA: "In 1967, I began my Ph.D. dissertation with the idea that I might be able to identify which of the stories about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis were earliest and had originated in the patriarchal period itself. I then thought that scholars had proven that the period between the 19th and 17th centuries BCE (Before the Common Era) was the time in which the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob referred. Whether the patriarchs were to be understood as individuals or as personifications of peoples, I had no doubts whatever that these stories were historical. I was fully convinced that biblical archaeology had long since proven this. My conviction did not reflect any religious commitment or personal piety so much as it simply reflected what was taken within the academic discipline internationally as obvious and true. Working within this understanding of the field, I hoped to understand better the origins and development of the oldest historical accounts in Genesis. According to the Bible, the patriarchs of Genesis had come from Northern Mesopotamia, from the city of Haran—a major trading center in the region of the upper Euphrates.

"The dissertation was finished in late 1971 and published early in 1974. It set out to offer not only a new understanding of the patriarchal narratives and the early history of Palestine but to give comparative ancient Near Eastern studies more critical methods. To my great surprise, it has been successful in all of these goals. The folktale motif of ‘the success of the unpromising’ had to be played out first, however, and I became something of a Salman Rushdie in biblical studies, unemployed and unemployable for ten years.

"This changed, unexpectedly, in 1985 when I was appointed by the Catholic Biblical Association as their annual professor to the École Biblique in Jerusalem. I was quick to discover that by 1985, I had somehow become one of the establishment in the international field of Old Testament studies. My work of 1974 was not only now nearly universally accepted outside of the United States, but it was being taught as a matter of course in most graduate programs—even in those few Ivy League schools still dominated by the ultra-conservative remnants of the Albright school. It had become a keystone of what was now established opinion.

"In very recent biblical studies, I am really no longer a rare bird in my field: one who asks questions of the data—without wanting to defend or prove anything in particular—but just looking for answers to questions unanswered. We haven't had such queer birds in theology for a very long time. The flight back to the sources for so many of my contemporaries in the sixties and seventies ended in little crashes and collapses of personal fancy that unfortunately decimated the church's intellectuals in favor of the security of that long grey line of insurance brokers who today populate our seminaries and universities everywhere. What I have been writing and trying to do in biblical studies is, I believe, what the best of my generation would have done if they had survived the intellectual collapse of every major thought in the field. Their audience still exists, however. They are listening and hungry for discussion. This audience did not grow up with the mind-numbing brutality of communism's and fascism's social system's creation that my father's generation did. They have, however, suffered the intellectual disorientations that the collapse of that totalitarian world has brought. That I have survived and still write and teach has been accidental. My work reflects the changes in biblical archaeology that have come about over the last two decades as that of few others does."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Catholic Biblical Quarterly, July 1, 1990, Phyllis Trible, review of The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel, Vol. 1: The Literary Formation of Genesis and Exodus 1-23, p. 544; April 1, 1994, John Van Seters, review of Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written and Archaeological Sources, p. 346; July 1, 2000, Robert D. Miller, II, review of The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel, p. 534.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, May 1, 1993, T.C. Hartman, review of Early History of the Israelite People, p. 1533; December 1, 1999, H.O. Forshey, review of The Mythic Past, p. 740.

Contemporary Review, January 1, 2000, "Making Sense of the Bible," p. 49.

History: Review of New Books, summer, 1999, Thomas M. Bolin, review of The Mythic Past, p. 184.

History and Theory, February 1, 2000, "The Fictions of Biblical History," p. 117.

History Today, September 1, 1999, M.E.J. Richardson, review of The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past, p. 59.

Journal of Biblical Literature, summer, 1989, Burke O. Long, review of The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel, Vol. 1; fall, 1994, J. Maxwell Miller, review of Early History of the Israelite People.

Journal of Near Eastern Studies, January 1, 1997, Elizabeth Bloc-Smith, review of Early History of the Israelite People, p. 65.

Journal of Religion, October 1, 1994, J. Andrew Dearman, review of Early History of the Israelite People, p. 546.

Journal of Theological Studies, April 1, 1990, R.P. Gordon, review of The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel, Vol. 1, p. 332; April 1, 2001, Jonathan Campbell, review of Qumran between the Old and New Testaments, p. 199.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2005, review of The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David, p. 222.

Library Journal, April 15, 1999, Michael W. Ellis, review of The Mythic Past, p. 104; April 1, 2005, Charlie Murray, review of The Messiah Myth, p. 100.

Middle East Journal, January 1, 2000, Kamal Salibi, review of The Mythic Past, p. 131.

Modern Theology, October 1, 2000, "The History of Israel Contested and Revised," p. 529.

Publishers Weekly, March 22, 1999, review of The Mythic Past, p. 87; March 28, 2005, review of The Messiah Myth, p. 76.

Reference & Research Book News, March 1, 1993, review of Early History of the Israelite People, p. 7; August 1, 1999, review of The Mythic Past, p. 31.

Science, August 18, 2000, Thomas E. Levy, review of The Mythic Past, p. 1145.

Spectator, April 10, 1999, Raymond Carr, review of The Bible in History, p. 32.

Times Literary Supplement, October 20, 2006, "When Jesus Got God," p. 31.

ONLINE

Danny Yee's Book Reviews,http://dannyreviews.com/ (February 12, 2001), Danny Yee, review of The Bible in History.

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