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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 50, 2002

L. Perdue (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to the Hebrew Bible. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001) Pp.Xxx+471.

The Blackwell Companion to the Hebrew Bible aims to introduce recent developments in the major areas of scholarship on the Hebrew Bible to students. More traditional approaches, as well as new ones, are outlined and applied in the collection of twenty-six essays. The work, which is introduced and summarised by the editor, Leo Perdue, is split into eight parts.

Part I concentrates on “The Hebrew Bible in Modern Study”. Anthony Campbell, “Preparatory Issues in Approaching Biblical Texts”, highlights the strengths and weaknesses of more traditional approaches to how the text came into being, claiming that the answers gained vary from scholar to scholar but each has insights into the context of a given text. David Jobling, “Methods of Modern Literary Criticism”, highlights scholarship over the last thirty years that has emerged from the application of literary criticism, making clear the division between modern and post-modern practitioners. Charles Carter, “Social Scientific Approaches”, highlights the study of Israel’s culture and traditions within its social and historical contexts, utilising the approaches of anthropology and macro-sociology.

Part II concentrates on “Israelite and Early Jewish History”. Carol Meyers, “Early Israel and the Rise of the Israelite Monarchy”, tackles the question of historiography and the problem of using the Bible as history. She shows how extra-Biblical sources (such as texts and monuments, archaeology and social-scientific models) illuminate the question of the emergence of Israel and the early monarchy. Leslie Hoppe, “The History of Israel in the Monarchic Period”, points out that the major source for this period is the Bible, which is ideologically driven, contains contradictory accounts and is written from a southern (Judahite) perspective. Archaeological data is limited to artifacts and monumental remains whose dating is disputed, while Ancient Near Eastern texts are also ideological in nature. Robert Carroll, “Exile, Restoration and Colony: Judah in the Persian Empire”, focuses on the literary-mythical nature of the Exile and Return, rather than on the historical-archaeological one.

Part III on the ‘Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Early Judaism” and contains two essays by William Dever. In the first, “Archaeology and the History of Israel”, he takes issue with revisionists who claim that a history of Israel cannot be written. While acknowledging the shortcomings of the older-style Biblical archaeology, Dever contends that the use of data from the more objective Syro-Palestinian archaeology, combined with aspects of the Bible, can contribute to an historical picture. In the second essay, “Biblical and Syro-Palestinian Archaeology”, Dever gives an account of the history of the two branches of archaeology, including theory and method, the question of chronology and a criticism that the revisionists misuse (and at other times ignore) archaeological data.

Part IV concentrates on ‘The Religious and Social World of Ancient Israel and Early Judaism’ Dennis Pardee, “Canaan”, highlights the textual sources for the terms Kinahnu and Amurru, which appear to have shared a similar linguistic and cultural history. He also summarises what is known of Canaanite History, Society and Religion. Joseph Blenkinsopp, “The Household in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism”, says that what little information exists suggests that 90% of the population lived in rural settlements. Households were patrilineal, patrimonial and multi-generational, with the women attending to the children, cooking and craft-work. Some religious rites were held in the home, but there was also an annual clan sacrifice designed to cement the clan relationship. William Dever, “Archaeology, the Israelite Monarchy and the Solomonic Temple”, again takes issue with the revisionists. He adduces data for Saul, David and the Biblical description of Solomon’s Temple. André Lemaire, “Schools and Literacy in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism’, attempts to document the existence and spread of writing from inscriptions found in Israel.

Part V concentrates on Old Testament Theology. Henning Graf Reventlow discusses “Modern Approaches to Theology”, which have arisen because of advances in Biblical interpretation. He also gives a history of Old Testament theology from the eighteenth century onwards. Walter Brueggemann, “Symmetry and Extremity in the Images of Yahweh”, shows that no one image of God is present throughout the Hebrew Bible. At varying times, God is portrayed as a person with authority and/or power (King, Judge, Warrior) or as a loving parent, husband and protector. Phyllis Bird, “Theological Anthropology in the Hebrew Bible”, explores Gen 1 and 2–3 (and other texts that relate to them), dealing with each in its own right and then with the shift in interpretation brought about by their combination. Ronald Clements, “The Community of God in the Hebrew Bible”, illustrates how the evolution of the concept of the deity in his relationship with the people led to the decisive theological emphases of the former and latter prophets. Bruce Birch, “Old Testament Ethics”, emphasises that ethics in the Hebrew Bible are community based and incorporated into the story of Israel. God, and obedience to him, is at their foundation. Birch also points out that, for the Church and Synagogue, both the ethical dialogue within Scripture and the modern dialogue with it are important.

Part VI concentrates on The Torah. Rolf Rentdorff, “Creation and Redemption in the Torah”, sees the major themes of the Torah related to the Creation and Exodus stories. The former presents God as the Creator of the cosmos and all humankind, whereas the Exodus is concerned with the redemption of Israel. Both creation and redemption occur in the Ten Commandments in relation to the Sabbath. Calum Carmichael, “Law and Narrative in the Pentateuch”, points out that modern research views the legal traditions and the narrative of cosmic and Israelite origins as inter-related, with each influencing the other at various stages of their formation.

Part VII concentrates on The Prophets. Hermann Spiekermann approaches the “Former Prophets: The Deuteronomic History” from the point of view of tradition history, positing that the work of the Deuteronomic Historian was subject to two later redactions, when the messages of the Prophets (DtrP) and the Deuteronomic Law (DtrN) were incorporated, resulting in a history of guilt. Klaus Koch, “Latter Prophets: Major Prophets”, examines Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel using an older literary approach. He claims about half of each work emanating from the Prophet in question and the rest from later redactions. James Crenshaw, “atter Prophets: the Minor Prophets”, considers the Twelve, adopting a diachronic approach, discussing the role of the prophets in their historico-social situation, and outlining the major themes of their works.

Part VIII concentrates on The Writings. Ralph Klein, ‘Narrative Texts: Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah”, sees Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah as originally separate and says that, in a comparison with Samuel–Kings, the emphases of Chronicles can be discerned. Erhard Gerstenberger, “The Psalter”, gives a history of the various approaches to the Psalms over the last hundred years, pointing to productive ways the Psalms can be elucidated today: through a clarification of their social and liturgical settings; feminist interpretation; an awareness of the worship literature of the Ancient Near East; anthropological research and redaction history. Katherine Dell, “Wisdom Literature”, uses traditional approaches to consider the social and historical setting of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes. She sees their major theme as the relationship between God and people. While giving a cursory mention to other works, John Collins, “Apocalyptic Literature”, concentrates on the book of Daniel as the only example of apocalyptic in the Hebrew Bible.

Overall, The Blackwell Companion to the Hebrew Bible is a useful addition to the interested person’s bookshelf. However, the essays it contains will be of varying degrees of use to students. Some contributors have successfully communicated the major trends in their subject area (e.g. Meyers, Jobling, Carmichael, Gerstenberger, Carter and Carroll). While others, because they have ignored approaches with which they do not agree, leave the student in woeful ignorance (e.g. Spieckermann and Koch). Some scholars have expressed their subject matter in terms that are easy for the student to comprehend (Anthony Campbell), but others have not. The Editor could have encouraged the contributors to adopt a more uniform presentation and ensured that details were attended to.

Review by
Anne Gardner
La Trobe University
Bundoora Victoria