Major Book Reviews -- the History of Ancient Palestine from the Palaeolithic Period to Alexander's Conquest (JSOT Sup. Series 146) by Gosta W. Ahlstrom with a Contribution by Gary O. Rollefson and Edited by Diana Edelman

By Miller, J. Maxwell | Interpretation, January 1995 | Go to article overview

Major Book Reviews -- the History of Ancient Palestine from the Palaeolithic Period to Alexander's Conquest (JSOT Sup. Series 146) by Gosta W. Ahlstrom with a Contribution by Gary O. Rollefson and Edited by Diana Edelman


Miller, J. Maxwell, Interpretation


The History of Ancient Palestine from the Paleolithic Period to Alexander's Conquest, by Gosta W. Ahlstrom. With a contribution by Gary O. Rollefson and edited by Diana Edelman. JSOT Sup. Series 146. Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1993. 990 pp. $90.00 ISBN 1-85075-367-9.

AHLSTROM WAS TRAINED in Uppsala under Ivan Engnell and joined the University of Chicago faculty in 1962. At that time, two schools of thought dominated studies in the history of ancient Israel. The approach and views initiated by W. F. Albright and summarized in John Bright's A History of Israel (1959) reigned supreme in this country. The approach pioneered by Albrecht Alt, developed further by Martin Noth, and summarized in the latter's Geschichte Israels (1950) was equally powerful on the continent. Ahlstrom was fully conversant with, and would engage both, over the next two decades, but could not be easily identified with either. When both approaches began to encounter serious challenges during the mid-1970s, therefore, the shock waves that were so traumatic for many scholars had a different result for Ahlstrom. The situation that followed was one in which his voice could be heard more clearly.

The competing Albright-Bright and Alt-Noth schools differed primarily in their understanding of Israel's origins and the circumstances that obtained during premonarchical times; and if both approaches began to come apart during the 1970s, the "second shoe" fell during the mid-1980s. Almost simultaneously there appeared several significant studies that explored radically new ways of understanding Israel's origins and the emergence of the monarchy. Among these were Baruch Halpern's The Emergence of Israel in Canaan (1983), J. Alberto Soggin's A History of Israel (1984), Niels Peter Lemche's Early Israel (1985), the Miller-Hayes A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (1986), Coote and Whitelam's The Emergence of Early Israel in Historical Perspective (1986), and Ahlstrom's Who Were the Israelites? (1986). Although published several years later, the volume under review belongs to the list. As Ahlstrom observes in the preface: "Concerning recent scholarly literature, the 'curtain' went down in December 1986. Thanks to modern technology, however, I have been able in a few instances to refer to some research published after that date."

Three observations are to be made in this regard. First, Ahlstrom's Who Were the Israelites? and the volume under review should be read as companion volumes rather than as sequential studies. The former sets forth the essence of his vision of ancient Israel's history, while the latter fills out the details and attempts to place Israel in the broader context of Syro-Palestinian history. Second, the views set forth in these two volumes were being worked out simultaneously with those presented in the mid-1980s publications listed above, not in the light of them. There is no significant engagement with these studies, therefore, even in instances where Ahlstrom takes similar positions or refers to them in footnotes. This explains also why Ahlstrom seems to belabor some points that one would have thought had been laid to rest (e.g., whether collared-rim store jars and pillared houses can be regarded as trace items for ancient Israelites), while assuming and passing quickly over others that are under debate at the moment (e.g., F. Yurco's interpretation of the battle scene depicted on the outer wall of the Cour de la Cachette at Karnak). Third, although Ahlstrom's intention in this recent volume is to treat the ancient history of Palestine as a whole, not just Israel, the most distinctive and creative chapters of the book are those that deal with Israel's origins (Chaps. 6-8) and the emergence of the monarchy under Saul (Chap. 10).

This is not to underrate the opening chapters of the book, which include an introductory discussion of the sources available for the history of ancient Palestine; a description of the geography of the region (Chap. …

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Major Book Reviews -- the History of Ancient Palestine from the Palaeolithic Period to Alexander's Conquest (JSOT Sup. Series 146) by Gosta W. Ahlstrom with a Contribution by Gary O. Rollefson and Edited by Diana Edelman
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