Biblical History and Israel’s Past
Readers familiar with contemporary Old Testament critical scholarship will immediately sense the thrust of this work by virtue of the key terms “history” and “past,” for in today’s academic study of Scripture they are not redundant or synonymous but instead are suggestive of polarity or even contradiction. That is, the biblical view of Israel’s history is considered in fact radically different from what can be reconstructed by archaeological and historical-critical methods. This is not a new construct by any means, having been famously articulated in Martin Noth’s A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (Scholar’s Press, 1981, pp. 248–51) and Gerhard von Rad’s Old Testament Theology (Harper, 1962). Von Rad phrased it as follows: “Historical investigation searches for a critically assured minimum—the kerygmatic picture tends towards a theological maximum” (p. 108). What von Rad meant by “kerygmatic” is what Noth and most modern scholars mean by Heilsgeschichte, that is, the history of Israel’s traditions, which may or may not rest on “solid” historical events in real time and space.
The work under review is extremely valuable in tracing the history of this bifurcated view of biblical history, beginning with the Enlightenment and extending through to contemporary discussion of the “maximalist” and “minimalist” views of the emergence of Israel as a state in the general sense of that term (pp. 1–42). Subsequent sections discuss (a) the patriarchs and matriarchs; (b) Israel’s emergence; (c) the monarchical period, parts 1, 2, and 3; (d) the exilic period; and (e) the post-exilic period. In each case the authors review the extensive archaeological, literary, and historical-critical data that bear on each of the eras.
In the main they strive, it seems, to be evenhanded in their assessment of the various approaches, though clearly their personal tilt toward the more skeptical, anti-conservative interpretations is transparent. This is evident in their lengthy bibliography of more than 375 works, of which only 36 (or fewer than 10 percent) can be considered as conservative-evangelical by even the loosest definition of the term. Only ten evangelicals are included in the index of names out of a total of 162 (about 6 percent) and almost always with dismissive or negative characterizations (R. Hawkins, p. 119 n. 50; J. Hoffmeier, pp. 89–93; K. Kitchen, pp. 66, 89 [a “plausibilist”], 90–95, 322, 472 n. 13; J. Kofoed, pp. 38, 323 n. 123; A. Millard, p. 255; and I. Provan, V. Long, and T. Longman, pp. 38, 54, 67, 88, n. 11, 95, 122, 230, 235, 321–22, 324, 467 n. 3).
More positively, this well-written and well-published volume is essential to anyone eager to keep abreast of the current issues and trends in Old Testament scholarship. It also issues a challenge to evangelicals to do better and more persuasive work with regard to the historical reliability of the Old Testament text.