Thomas L. Thompson

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For the U.S. Representative and others of the same name, see Thomas Larkin Thompson and Thomas Thompson (disambiguation).

Thomas L. Thompson (born January 7, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan) is a biblical scholar and theologian. He was professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993 to 2009, lives in Denmark and is now a Danish citizen.

Thompson is closely associated with the movement known as The Copenhagen School, dubbed biblical minimalism by detractors (other major figures include Niels Peter Lemche, Keith Whitelam, and Philip R. Davies), a loosely knit group of scholars who hold that the Bible's version of history is not supported by any archaeological evidence so far unearthed, indeed undermined by it, and that it therefore cannot be trusted as history.).[1]


Thompson was raised as a Catholic and obtained a B.A. from Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, in 1962. He was instructor in theology at Dayton University (1964–65) and Assistant Professor in Old Testament studies at the University of Detroit (1967–69). He then studied Catholic Theology under the Catholic faculty at the University of Tübingen, completing his Ph.D. dissertation, "The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: The Quest for the Historical Abraham", in 1971. He also worked as a research fellow on the Tübingen Atlas of the Near East. According to Thompson, the dissertation was rejected because his examiner (Joseph Ratzinger, then Tübingen's Professor of Systematic Theology and later Pope Benedict XVI) did not find it fitting for a Catholic theologian. Thompson then considered submitting his dissertation to the Protestant faculty at Tübingen, but left Tübingen in 1975 without a degree. He was invited to finish his studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, receiving his Ph.D. in Old Testament Studies summa cum laude in 1976.[2][3]

His dissertation study was rejected by Catholic university presses, but was published in 1974 by De Gruyter Press as The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives.[4] It provoked controversy, and Thompson states that this was what prevented him from obtaining a position in any North American university.[5] Unable to find work in U.S. academia in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he worked as a high school teacher, janitor and house painter until in 1984 he was awarded the guest professorship at the École Biblique in Jerusalem. Thompson states that the École was heavily criticized for hiring him by certain Israeli circles who, according to him, objected to his earlier study casting doubt on the historicity of the Jewish origin narratives. He then worked on Palestinian place names under U.N.E.S.C.O., but the project was closed amidst accusations of antisemitism because of Thompson's critique of Israeli practices of de-Arabicizing Palestinian place names.[2]

He taught at Lawrence University (visiting associate professor, 1988–89) and at Marquette University (associate professor 1989–1993), but did not receive tenure, something Thompson blames on conservative Catholics in the faculty under the influence of Ratzinger. In 1990, he met Danish theologian Niels Peter Lemche at a conference and in 1993 joined the faculty of the department of Theology at the University of Copenhagen as Professor in Old Testament exegesis. He retired and was granted emeritus status in 2009.

Thompson was named a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in 1988. He is general editor for the series Copenhagen International Seminar and associate editor of the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Holy Land Studies and Dansk Teologisk Tidsskrift.[6]

Old Testament writings[edit]

The focus of Thompson's writing has been the interface between the Bible (specifically the Old Testament) and archaeology. His The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (1974), was a critique of the then-dominant view that biblical archaeology had demonstrated the historicity of figures such as Abraham and other Biblical patriarchs.[7] His The Early History of the Israelite People From the Written and Archaeological Sources (1993) set out his argument that the biblical history was not reliable, and concludes: "The linguistic and literary reality of the biblical tradition is folkloristic in essence. The concept of a benei Israel ... is a reflection of no sociopolitical entity of the historical state of Israel of the Assyrian period...."[7] In The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past (U.S. title: The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel), he argued that the Old Testament was entirely, or almost entirely, a product of the period between the fifth and second centuries B.C.[8]

Thompson's arguments were highly controversial and were criticized by many Biblical scholars, prominent among them William G. Dever in his book What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, which has been described as "a very polemic and partly vehement attack not least against Professor Thomas L. Thompson".[9] Thompson himself reviewed Dever's book and provided his own responses to Dever's critiques. The fact that Thompson, as a target of many of the critiques advanced in the book would have chosen to review it, was criticized by H. Hagelia. [9]

New Testament writings[edit]

Thompson presented a criticism of the historicity of the New Testament in his 2005 book, The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David, while stopping short of claiming that Jesus never lived. [10] The book was strongly criticized by New Testament scholars such as Bart Ehrman who pointed out a number of errors in Thompson's arguments, and considered that Thompson, as an Old Testament scholar, lacked the sufficient background in the New Testament studies to provide a useful analysis of the text.[11]

Thompson continued his interest in the historicity of Jesus as a fellow of the Jesus Project from 2007 to its closure in 2009. In 2012, this work resulted in an edited volume by Thompson and Thomas S. Verenna edited Is This Not the Carpenter: A Question of Historicity of Jesus, composed of a series of scholarly essays representing different views on the Christ myth theory.


  • Thompson, Thomas L. (1974). Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft. Walter de Gruyter. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L. (1 November 2002). The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: The Quest for the Historical Abraham. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-56338-389-2.  (Originally de Gruyter: Berlin, 1974)
  • Thompson, Thomas L.; Maniragaba Balibutsa; Margaret M. Clarkson (1975). The Settlement of Sinai and the Negev in the Bronze Age. Reichert. ISBN 978-3-920153-44-5. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L. (1979). The settlement of Palestine in the Bronze Age. Reichert. ISBN 978-3-88226-069-4. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L. (1987). The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel. JSOT Press. ISBN 978-1-85075-083-3. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L.; Francolino J. Gonçalves; Jean-Marie van Cangh (1988). Toponymie palestinienne: plaine de St Jean d'Acre et corridor de Jérusalem. Université catholique de Louvain, Institut orientaliste. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L. (1992). Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written and Archeological Sources. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-09483-3. 
  • Hyldahl, Niels; Thomas L. Thompson. Dødehavsteksterne og Bibelen. Museum Tusculanum Press. ISBN 978-87-7289-390-7. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  • Cryser, Frederick H.; Thomas L. Thompson, eds. (1998). Qumran Between the Old and New Testament. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-567-18135-0. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L. (1999). The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past. Cape. ISBN 978-0-224-03977-2. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L. (1999). The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology And The Myth Of Israel. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-01052-3. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L., ed. (2003). Jerusalem in ancient history and tradition. T & T Clark International. ISBN 978-0-8264-6664-8. 
  • (With Z. Mouna et alii), What is New in Biblical Archaeology (in Arabic: Cadmus: Damascus, 2004)
  • Tronier, Henrik; Thomas L. Thompson, eds. (2004). Frelsens biografisering. Museum Tusculanum Press. ISBN 978-87-635-0214-6. 
  • Mogens, Müller; Thomas L. Thompson, eds. (2005). Historie og konstruktion: festskrift til Nils Peter Lemche i anledning af 60 års fødselsdagen den 6. september 2005. Museum Tusculanum Press. ISBN 978-87-635-0377-8. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L. (2007). The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-7867-3911-0. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L.; Thomas S. Verenna, eds. (25 September 2012). 'Is This Not the Carpenter?': The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus. Isd. ISBN 978-1-84553-986-3. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L. (28 February 2013). Biblical Narrative and Palestine's History: Changing Perspectives 2. Equinox Publishing Limited. ISBN 978-1-908049-95-7. 


  1. ^ Maurice Casey Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? T&T Clark 2014 THOMAS L. THOMPSON p.24
  2. ^ a b Thompson, Thomas L. 2011. On the Problem of Critical Scholarship: A Memoire [1]
  3. ^
  4. ^ P.R.F. Moorey, "A Century of Biblical Archaeology", p.114.
  5. ^ Thompson, Thomas The Mythic Past (Basic Books: New York, 1999) pg. xiii
  6. ^ "Curricumul vitae for T. L. Thompson". Journal of Biblical Studies. Archived from the original on November 1, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Brettler, Marc, The Copenhagen School: The Historiographical Issues The Copenhagen School: The Historiographical Issues , AJS Review, Vol. 27, No. 1 (April 2003), pp. 1-21
  8. ^ A book review by Danny Yee
  9. ^ a b Hagelia, H. (2002). Review or response? A critical evaluation of Thomas L. Thompson's review of William G. Dever. Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, 16(2), 314-318.
  10. ^ Thompson's response to Bart Ehrman on bible
  11. ^ * Ehrman, Bart. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. HarperOne, 2012.

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