A Biblical History of Israel

A Biblical History of Israel, by Provan, Long, and Longman ★★★★

This book ended up being considerably different than I expected from the cover, yet was a delightful and very informative read. I had expected a simple biblical narrative rehash of what I already knew from reading the OT 15-20+ times through. This book did not take that approach. The first five chapters were a defense of doing history, especially biblical history. Current modern liberal theologians tend to identify the Old Testament as entirely unreliable in accounting for a true history of events in Palestine, for reasons that include 1) history in the Old Testament mixes theology and history and thus is unreliable 2) events of the Old Testament don’t precisely match archeological findings, and thus the OT text is in error, and 3) redaction criticism suggests a late writing of biblical history, which must thus be inaccurate. The authors shrewdly work through each of these objections, showing that the OT can be truly used as a legitimate source for ancient historical studies. The second part of the book then works through the narrative structure of the history of Israel, in particular identifying when liberal scholars note a discrepancy and show how variant reads of the OT text or extreme extrapolations possible lead to errors on the part of the liberal scholars rather than the text of the OT. A simple example suffices. A recent archeological work failing to show proper period pottery in random digs around Jerusalem was interpreted to suggest that Jerusalem was not occupied during the suggested reign of King David. This is as ludicrous as me digging in my backyard, failing to find Indian artifacts, and thus concluding that Indians did not occupy the Pacific Northwest-arguments of negation rarely ever prove anything. My disappointment with the book (and this is a serious one) is that none of the authors suggest that the OT might be divinely inspired, in spite of the occasional but insignificant corruptions of the original text. The authors may have been writing for a theologically liberal audience that they wished to not confuse, but it still would have been better to admit your bias, unless the authors truly do not hold to the notion that the Bible is the Word of God. Is it really academic to demand a “scientific” approach to the OT when attesting to its veracity? I don’t think so. The author’s occasional comment on the mistake of reading the history from the OT in a “literal” fashion as a mistake, yet fails to distinguish how their lack of literalism differs from the liberal school theologians. For example, they go so far as to suggest that [some of the prophecies and wisdom books may be products of a later period (i.e., inter-testamental period), but this is a matter of speculation]. In the end, in their attempt to find acceptance among liberal theologians, the authors are willing to sacrifice a high view of Scripture, which is precisely the first event that led to liberal theology in the first place. Oddly, it makes no sense to placate these higher theologians, since theirs is a willing decision to reject the claims of Scripture even when shown to be substantially more likely than not to be true. Unfortunately, these liberal theologians sit on the faculty of many seminaries and departments of theology, hiding their absence of faith in the God of Scripture through a smokescreen of “academic rigueur”.