Review: The Old Testament in Archaeology and History

61xDBGUZeALThe Old Testament in Archaeology and History edited by Jennie Ebeling, J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V. M. Flesher is a captivating collection of essays by an international team of specialists on matters OT history and archaeology. The contributors include Victor H. Matthews, K. L. Noll, Jill Baker, Ann E. Killebrew, William G. Dever, Richard S. Hess, and many more. Together these essays combine the most noteworthy archaeological findings of the past 150 years with modern historical and literary analysis of the Old Testament to recount the history of ancient Israel and its neighboring nations and empires. While a full review is certainly warranted, it is not possible in the limited space available here. Thus, the following will review the overarching landscape of the book and comment on some of the important contributions that it makes for the target audience.

The Old Testament in Archaeology and History consist of five major sections: (1) Archaeology, the Bible, and Epigraphy: Discovery, Techniques, and Development, (2) Israel before Settling in the Land, (3) Israel Settles in the Land of Canaan, (4) The Kingdom of the People Israel, and (5) Judah as a Province. The initial chapters of the book aim to orient the reader towards the various aspects of the field archaeology, biblical studies related to the OT world, and the development of archaeological studies in the Middle East over the last two centuries. The following chapters aim to explore the history of ancient Israel through related archaeological insights in a chronological fashion from the Bronze Ages onward.

Sections 4 and 5 are more neatly presented than sections 2 and 3 due to the nature of the material being discussed. The former addresses “the People of Israel in the land of Israel, beginning with David’s creation of the Israelite kingdom and continuing to its split into two smaller countries and then to their destruction and the exile of their inhabitants, followed by the return of some exiles and their re-establishment of the Israelite community in the land” (p. 8). This section is by far more historically established, albeit considerable debate exists among scholars, and the essays prove to be equally grounded and beneficial to the aim of the book. The latter section concerns a period of Israelite history that is less established but equally as interesting, and 7 chapters in this section prove to be influential to the book’s academic value from an archaeological and historical perspective.

Ebeling, Wright, Elliott, and Flesher have intentionally sought to ensure that The Old Testament in Archaeology and History functions as an introductory textbook. Readers of all backgrounds and interest levels will appreciate the tone and care taken by the contributors and editors to make sure the information therein is both useful and appropriately positioned. This is a massive benefit of a volume of this caliber and a huge advantage for professors looking to integrate this textbook into the classroom. The footnotes are keet at a minimum and citations generally utilize parenthetical documentation with the works appearing in the bibliography in the back of the book. Depending on one’s love for footnotes, this aspect of the book could be a shortcoming in disguise. Overall, I appreciated the chronological organization of the chapters. In my opinion, the organization was useful in observing how the archaeological and historical data intersected and cooperated as the author construct a particular portrait of Israel. Lastly, most chapters include maps and images to connect the content to illustrations, as well as highlighted terms that appear in the glossary. This allows the reader points of connection and useful reference for further study or future use.

The Old Testament in Archaeology and History edited by Jennie Ebeling, J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V. M. Flesher is both ambitious all the right ways. The sheer scope of the volume offers readers a more than adequate portrait of ancient Israel within the OT world. The shortcomings of this volume should not be a surprise to most readers (i.e. inconsistency between the contributors and a variegated commitment among contributors to the core convictions of conservative Christianity concerning the OT). That said the usefulness of this volume should far outshine the minimal complaints found therein. In fact, don’t be surprised if you see it shows up on a syllabus near you this fall semester. It comes highly recommend for anyone interested in the OT studies, archaeology related to ancient Israel, or anything related OT history in general.

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