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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 59, 2011

STEVEN L. MCKENZIE, Introduction to the Historical Books: Strategies for Reading (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans 2010). Pp. vii + 169. Paperback. $US18.00.

Steven L. McKenzie is a familiar name in works which use surveys of biblical interpretive methods. This volume, as many of McKenzie’s, is directed at intermediate knowledge of biblical interpretation methods and study. It examines, for the most part, his preferred methods of interpretation, namely historical, source and form criticism. These methods are applied to the “historical books,” a cover term for the books of Joshua, Judges, 1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings, 1–2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah.

The introductory pages include a study in the understanding of history as literature. McKenzie is careful to distinguish between ancient and modern approaches to writing history, giving a balanced analysis of the subjective methods and questions that ancient writers and editors used. McKenzie focuses on cause and effect to analyse historiography and to link Israelite writing to its closest analogue in Herodotus and Greek scientific history writing. This is in alignment with such scholars as John Van Seters and Kevin J. Vanhoozer. The essential nature of history writing in the ancient world is the crucial and central factor in McKenzie’s choice of interpretive methods.

In asserting various interpretive statements on these biblical books, McKenzie states that “since this book is not a primer in the use of different methods, I do not always specify the particular method used to reach a given conclusion, but leave that to the discernment of the reader” (38). This caveat explains his terminology and language which indicate primarily the use of diachronic rather than synchronic methods. McKenzie uses the familiar Martin Noth, Gerhard von Rad and Qumran studies to set up a foundation of 20th century biblical criticism. McKenzie turns to more literary methods in his discussion of the Books of Samuel, as these differ from the other historical books in their greater use of characterisation and literary structure. He considers David, as a historical figure, a “silhouette of reality” (90), whereas the textual construction of the other books are more suited to diachronic methods, particularly text, source and form criticism.

McKenzie uses the term “source criticism” rather than literary criticism to investigate literary patterns and techniques and he distinguishes between “authorial intention” and “textual intention.” By “authorial intention” he means that which the historical writer intended to communicate, whereas “textual intention” the patterns of meaning constructed within the inner world of the text. The common problem I see with using source criticism as analogous with literary criticism is that source criticism does not fully engage with the issues of the world of the text or reader (textual intention and reader response). He does not address issues such as the dating of the final form of the text or recent narratological or post-modern studies. This text is well suited for undergraduate or post-graduate students as they come to grasp the foundational 19th-20th century methods of interpretation. It is, as he says, a primer to orientate students.

Review by
Ivanhoe VIC 3079