The Story of Israel: A Biblical Theology
Contrary to what might be expected from its title, this book embraces the entire Bible arranged by large blocks or sections. The work includes studies on the Pentateuch, the Historical Books, the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, second-temple Judaism, the Synoptics, John, Acts, Paul, the General Epistles and Hebrews, and Revelation. The surprising inclusion of second-temple Judaism (subtitled “Unity and Diversity in the Deuteronomistic Tradition”) suggests, of course, that extracanonical literature such as the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Dead Sea texts are viewed as contributing in some sense to a biblical theology. While most readers will be comfortable with considering these documents as part of the “story of Israel,” few of any persuasion would view them as raw material of a “biblical theology,” since most are not biblical by anyone’s definition. The authors’ justification for including this section is that it provides “a thematic bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament: Israel’s sin – exile – restoration” (p. 25). This is true, but it hardly qualifies the material as biblical theology.
Having begun on this negative note, it is only fair to look more positively on the strengths of this collaborative effort. Though very brief, even for a survey of the whole Bible, this book captures the theological essence of each of the books in a clear and generally persuasive manner. In matters of criticism, however, one might quibble here and there and not just for quibbling’s sake. For example Deuteronomy’s formal kinship to ancient Near Eastern treaty texts is acknowledged, but the question as to whether it is the Late Bronze Hittite model or the Neo-Assyrian that is most similar is left open (p. 45). One cannot evade this issue, however, in doing Old Testament theology because a theology based on an early Mosaic setting will be quite different from one originating in the postexilic period, a point especially relevant in view of progressive revelation.
As for a theological center the authors present “the story of God’s creation, humanity’s sin and resulting exile, and God’s mission to restore his people” as “a prominent theological theme of Scripture” (p. 278). Strangely, however, they equate all this with the story of Israel. It would seem more satisfying to view the story of Israel as God’s account of how and why He created Israel in the first place, namely, to bring about through them the restoration humanity so desperately needs.
The book is well written, carefully indexed, and valuable as an introduction to the complex field of biblical theology. Both the authors and the publisher have placed thoughtful readers in their debt.