Due to my academic training in Old Testament I have an interest in how issues in historical criticism should be approached by believing (or more narrowly, “conservative”) scholars. Because of this, certain books have wound up on my shelves that might not end up on the shelves of most other Reformed pastors. Since in the past few months I’ve pulled these down from my shelves on a couple of occasions, I thought I’d share my favorite four edited books dealing with Old Testament historical issues.
Though there are several more edited volumes than these that I could recommend, I’ve selected these because (1) they are either exclusively or mostly populated with essays by conservative, Christian scholars, and (2) I have them on my shelves, not just my wishlist! Though conservative, the contributors cannot honestly be called “fundamentalist,” though many in the academic guild would call them just that. I’ve arranged this list by publication date. (Note that all of these can be previewed by following the links through to Amazon or WTS Books.)
Windows into Old Testament History: Evidence, Argument, and the Crisis of “Biblical Israel.” Edited by V. Philips Long, David W. Baker and Gordon J. Wenham. (Eerdmans, 2002.)
This volume is fairly short (ca. 200 pages) but contains some real gems. It was born mostly out of a symposium held at the Tyndale House, Cambridge, in 1998. Some of the essays are more hermeneutical/epistemological in nature (e.g., the introduction by Long, and the essays by Jens Bruun Kofoed, Nocolai Winther-Nielsen and Iain Provan), and some are more historical in nature (e.g., the essays by Richard S. Hess, Alan R. Millard and Kenneth Kitchen). My favorites are Hess’ essay “Literacy in Iron Age Israel” (since orality/textuality was a big part of my graduate training), Kitchen’s essay “The Controlling Role of External Evidence in Assessing the Historical Status of the Israelite United Monarchy” (where he situates the kingdoms of David and Solomon in an “epoch of ‘mini-empires'”, and Provan’s “In the Stable with the Dwarves: Testimony, Interpretation, Faith, and the History of Israel” (where he levels a significant blow to historical minimalism – though in the past 11 years, the minimalists haven’t really realized the damage approaches like those of Provan have caused to their case).
The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard. (Eerdmans, 2004.)
This book is longer than the previous one (xviii+385 pages) and features contributions by more writers. The papers originated in a symposium held at Trinity International University in 2001 and deal with the “crisis” of Biblical Archaeology. Addressing both the minimalists and those who no longer see “biblical” archaeology as a legitimate discipline, the book is a treasure-trove of conservative and evangelical essays exploring the following four sub-topics: 1.) Biblical Archaeology: The Recent Debate and Future Prospects, 2.) Archaeology: Approaches and Application, 3.) Using Texts in Biblical Archaeology, and 4.) Hermeneutics and Theology. Though I can hardly do justice to this volume in a post like this, I especially liked the following two chapters: Alan Millard’s “Amorites and Israelites: Invisible Invaders – Modern Expectation and Ancient Reality” (where he compares the continuity in material culture of the early 2nd millennium B.C. Amorite “invasion” with that of the Israelites between the LBA and Iron I periods), and Cynthia L. Millar’s “Methodoligical Issues in Reconstructing Language Systems from Epigraphic Fragments” (where she discusses the use of extant northwest Semitic inscriptions for understanding the grammar systems of their languages). The chapters by David Merling, Randall W. Younker and Richard E. Averbeck were also especially interesting.
Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention? Edited by Daniel I. Block. (B&H Academic, 2008.)
I can say the least about this book, only because I just received it in the mail this week, but I have long been interested in reading it since it was published a few years back. When it was first published, I was deep in the study of the Iron II chronology debate and with a title like this, I was disappointed that this book was not focusing primarily on the low chronology debate from a more maximalist perspective. Since I am now at a point in my career where its breadth of topics is more helpful to me, I went ahead and picked it up. I’ve only read completely the essay by Alan Millard, “Were the Israelites Really Canaanites?” (which alludes to his essay I mentioned above in the 2004 volume), but have looked over the abstracts for the others and am quite pleased. The list of contributors is another veritable “who’s who” in conservative, evangelical Old Testament and Archaeological study and the topics addressed cover everything from ethnicity to inscriptions to chronology to textual issues to religion. I’m dying to work more systematically through this book! (Note: length is xxi + 346 pages.)
Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scritpture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. (Crossway, 2012.)
When I was first alerted to the publication of this volume, I didn’t look too closely at it. Though Crossway is a fine publisher, I have never associated it with Old Testament academic issues. Boy was I wrong! (I’m glad I took another, more thorough look!) Though many of the endorsements come from non-specialists, I think this has more to do with Crossway’s marketing than the quality of the work. After all, some of the standard figures are actually endorsing this volume (John Oswalt, Daniel Block, Duane Garrett, and David Howard). This is a lengthy (542 pages) and stellar collection of essays grouped loosely around a response to Kenton Sparks’ book, God’s Word in Human Words. Though it is not a systematic response to Sparks, it is an occasional one. The contributors write on biblical and hermeneutical topics within their specialty, suggesting that Sparks’ “believing critical approach” is actually more critical than it is believing. (I.e., Sparks has conceded much more to secularism than necessary.) Four main sub-headings are listed: 1.) Biblical, Systematic, and Historical Theology, 2.) The Old Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority, 3.) The New Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority, 4.) The Old Testament and Archaeology. Essays I’ve read completely and enjoyed thus far are James K. Hoffmeier’s “‘These Things Happened': Why a Historical Exodus is Essential for Theology,” Richard E. Averbeck’s “Pentateuchal Criticism and the Priestly Torah,” and Richard Hess’ “Yahweh’s ‘Wife’ and Belief in One God in the Old Testament.”
Rev. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)