Introduction to the Historical Books: Strategies for Reading. By Steven L. McKenzie. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010, vii + 169 pp., $18.00 paper.
Steven McKenzie prefaces his survey of the historical books with three chapters that guide his understandings of these texts and provide an important foundation for an informed reading of his conclusions. The first - "In Search of the Historical Books" - deals succinctly with issues that would require much more space to cover adequately. Yet, for an introductory-level book, he provides a fitting description for those who are not as familiar with such issues as the significance of the historical genre, various approaches to reading ancient historical writings, and the character of historical writings as etiological and theological. The emphasis upon the writers as theologians, which is introduced here and carried throughout the book, is most welcome in these discussions.
For the evangelical, McKenzie's approach to reading ancient historical books will be somewhat disconcerting, given that he follows Van Seters closely in this regard and gives little credence to those who would argue for reading these books as recording history accurately. He recognizes that conclusions by archaeologists and historians that regard biblical history as erroneous (or at least misleading) will at times be dismissed as bias "particularly among people of faith" (p. 8). McKenzie, who seems sympathetic and appeals for the acceptance of such scholars, counters with the role of genre in this regard and concludes, "The source of the discrepancy [in the Bible's record of history] may lie not with the Bible per se but with the way in which it has been read" (p. 8).
In chapter 2, "The Works behind the Historical Books," the author discusses the general theory of the Deuteronomistic History and the misleading nature of the Chronicler's History. For those uninitiated into these discussions, McKenzie's comments are valuable in introducing these concepts, even if one does not regard his suppositions as valid. The final introductory chapter, "Methods and Approaches to the Historical Books," provides the needed background into contemporary methods of reading the historical books. Approaches that are both diachronic (e.g. literary and form criticism) and synchronic (canonical and narrative criticisms) are discussed, showing their significance to reading the historical books. …