WINDOWS INTO OLD TESTAMENT HISTORY: EVIDENCE, ARGUMENT, AND THE CRISIS OF ‘BIBLICAL ISRAEL’Written by V. Philips Long, David W. Baker and Gordon J. Wenham (eds) Reviewed By Pekka Pitkänen
Windows into Old Testament History is a collection of essays by evangelical scholars relating to the early history of Israel. The stimulus for the book has been the recent rise of the so-called ‘Copenhagen School’ of biblical inperpretation according to which the OT cannot be used for reconstructing the history and society of Israel before the Babylonian exile. Each of the essays in its own way provides positive considerations and justification for the possibility of using biblical data for historical reconstruction. Following an introductory essay by V. Philips Long, three of the eight essays in the book concentrate on methodological problems and five treat specifics of a particular topic. Jens Kofoed critiques the methodology of the Copenhagen School. Nicolai Winther-Nielsen describes how theory of language-use justifies a positive approach towards the Judges narratives. Richard Hess discusses positive evidence of literacy in Iron Age Israel. Alan Millard shows how accounts of past history could be transmitted reliably through centuries in Babylonia. Kenneth Kitchen draws on neo-Hittite hieroglyphics texts from the end of the second millennium to show that they describe a political situation which is comparable to that described in biblical documents for the times of David and Solomon. Brian Kelly gives reasons to think that the account of Manasseh in the book of Chronicles is based on pre-exilic sources. Peter Williams makes another study of Chronicles by comparing the account of the Transjordanians in 1 Chronicles 5 with other biblical passages describing the Transjordanians and with the Mesha stele, and suggests that 1 Chronicles 5 is based on genuine pre-exilic data. Finally, lain Provan rounds discussion off with another critique of the methodology of the Copenhangen School.
The book as a whole covers many aspects of the problems raised by the Copenhagen school. As a whole, it is a good introduction to the issues involved and a good defence of the reliability of the biblical documents that pertain to the Iron Age. In this respect, the essays have been selected well when one keeps in mind that they were not written specifically for the book. The essays by Kofoed and Provan describe the methodological issues fairly comprehensively and give the main reasons to reject the approach of the Copenhagen school. Among the essays that deal with specific issues, the essays by Hess and Kitchen in particular are very solid, and Peter Williams’ approach to the problem of the historicity of 1 Chronicles 5 is innovative and well thought out. On the other hand, and even due to space constraints, the ‘case studies’ leave many aspects uncovered. In this respect, as one example, no mention is made about the recently suggested lowering of Iron Age chronology by Finkelstein, even though it must also be said that the most recent indications are that this suggestion does not seem to be gaining ground.—Nor is there any discussion about problems relating to the Israelite conquest and settlement, even if these problems are not restricted to the Copenhagen school, but pertain to the wider scholarly community.
Overall, Windows into Old Testment History is a good buy for any pastor or student who wishes to get an idea of the issues involved and how a positive response can be given to counter the claims of the biblical minimalists. A number of essays do stand on their own, simply as good scholarship.