BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 53, 2005
ANTONY F. CAMPBELL, Joshua to Chronicles: An Introduction (Louisville: WJK Press, 2004). Pp. x+267. $US29.95.
The tone for this book is set in the Introduction, in which Campbell stresses the need for interpretation. He begins by likening interpretation of scripture to getting to know people, particularly members of our extended family. We may know family members well but there is always more to be known about them. So with the scriptures, there is always more to know. We are helped in this, as with knowing people, by knowing where the scriptures come from, that is, from above, heaven, or below, within the community, or a mixture of both. Campbell works from the last position, but he does not dismiss those who come from the other positions; rather, he counsels tolerance within our faith communities, lest we lose our foundations and our core. He challenges the reader to be prepared to explore that core, lest we lose our foundations. There is also a short section on Fundamentalism and Faith.
Each of the books, Joshua to Kings, is given a chapter for discussion, with the books of Samuel and Kings including a comparison with the relevant parts of the books of Chronicles. The discussion follows the same form for each book except Ruth, which is limited to an overview. First, there is an Overview, which deals with the major features of the book and how we may approach it, and the sections that make up the whole. There is an excellent chart summary of the make-up of each book. Next, comes the Major Text Signals that have an effect on the book and need to control the interpretation. For Joshua, Campbell identifies six signals; the importance of Moses against whom Joshua is measured, the development of Joshua’s role and his status in the traditions, the difference between a narrative style and a “list-like” style in different parts of the text, a shift from a military to a moral emphasis, and the position in the text of the traditions of the east of the Jordan tribes. Attention to such signals allows the interpretation to be controlled by the text being interpreted. Reading the Sections follows, in which the parts identified are discussed in more detail to give a brief commentary on the contents of the book. The process concludes with Reading the Whole, which considers major features of the book and how it presents Israel’s experiences of God and the progress of disobedient Israel towards the end of the monarchy and the exile. At the end of each chapter, several Review Issues are given-questions related to the content of the book and issues that are raised as a consequence of Campbell’s comments on it.
The comparison with Chronicles gives a brief overview of this work with the relevant sections of Samuel and Kings, noting the points of difference. The intention is to point out the differences between the two works and, in particular, the purposes of the writers. Campbell presents Joshua to Kings as a record of the consistent failure of Israel to be faithful and obedient to God, which results in the eventual fall of the kingdom and exile of the people. Chronicles however, is not “pious rehash” of Samuel-Kings but, by its structure and use of its material, is to be seen in terms of its central concern, the story of the Jerusalem temple from building to destruction to rebuilding.
In his conclusion, Campbell returns to the nature of the text, which, he says, like all great literature, is distilled from experience and, in the case of the Bible, multiple experiences over several centuries. However, the interpreter needs to recognise that the experience on which a story is based may not be the experience told in the story. The original experience may be related to identity, while the story relates to an activity. In activity, identity is often discovered. In relation to Israel, the traditions that have come down to us may not be those of the nation Israel, but of families or tribes that preceded the formation of the nation. So, he says, two questions are relevant: “What date suits the traditions?” and, “What date suits the formulations we have in the text?” Thus, the present formulations are probably generally late but the experiences in which they are grounded may have been preserved in traditions for we know not how long.
All this supports Campbell’s approach to the text, in which development of the text is referred to only when it would affect the meaning of the text.
Overall this is a satisfying book. Engagingly presented, easy to read and spelling out clearly the approach adopted and the reasons for that approach. It will no doubt provoke discussion over some points but that should be a positive contribution to discussion on interpretation of Scripture and our understanding of that part of it, Joshua to Chronicles. It will be a valuable resource for students of this area of the Old Testament.
Charles R. Biggs
Brooklyn Park SA 5032, Australia