Saturday, August 05, 2006

Provan, Long & Longman - A Biblical History of Israel

Continuing in the reading stuff about the OT theme, this is a good attempt by three scholars to put together a Biblical history of Israel, interacting heavily with the Biblical text, modern criticism, archaeology and other ancient sources.

What stood out for me was their honesty. There's none of the "sweeping this under the mat" that you often find with other scholars. When the data seem inconclusive, they say so. When they don't understand something, they say so. If the archaeology supports the existence of a king called David in roughly the area of Judah, but doesn't tell us anything else about him, when he reigned, what he was like or whatever, they say so. They don't stretch the evidence beyond what it will cover and they do a pretty good job of avoiding inconsistency.

They start by discussing the "liberal critics" I read about last time, specifically the consistency of their reasons for accepting some bits of the Bible as historical but denying others. The basic conclusion seemed to be that there were two possible consistent positions for historians (without assuming infallibility) - either to doubt absolutely everything, which means you can't really know anything about history (or much else for that matter) - or to take the Biblical text as one "testimony" about the past, trust it conditionally, and see how it fits in with other pieces of evidence.

They then go through Old Testament history from Genesis 12 to Ezra and Nehemiah, discussing different interpretations of the text, which bit have been confirmed by archaeology or other texts, where it is more difficult to reconcile, etc. There's a lot of stuff on the background to the texts, and a lot of stuff on the nature of Old Testament narrative as literature, how to understand the theological themes, etc. It definitely made me think that I'm going to try and get hold of Provan's commentary on Kings if and when I preach through it.

All in all, I thought it was an excellent read and a very good treatment of the material. If I was going to be critical, I'd say some of the earlier sections assume a fair bit of technical vocabulary, but mostly (and especially in the historical sections) it is explained very well.

They say early on that they think it should be applied, but don't think that book is the place to do it. I think I agree, but with that level of understanding of the text, some hard work on application would be greatly appreciated. They also tend to ignore the typological themes in the text (i.e. the way it points forwards to Jesus and the Church and so on), which is again a weakness, but completely understandable since they're aiming to put together a history of Israel from the OT, not to apply it or explain why it's about Jesus.

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