A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars

By Rasmussen, Carl G. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 1999 | Go to article overview

A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars


Rasmussen, Carl G., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age Through the Jewish Wars. By Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998, 540 pp., $34.99.

Since sitting as a student in Professor Kaiser's classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School back in the late 1960s when he was first enthusiastically outlining and developing the "promise" theme, which eventually he formulated in his Toward an Old Testament Theology, I, along with many other evangelicals, have been greatly influenced by his teaching (both content and style!). Over the years we have been treated to Toward an Old Testament Theology, Toward Old Testament Ethics, Toward Rediscovering the Old Testament, the Hard Sayings series plus numerous commentaries and articles, as he has endeavored-and succeeded-to make the OT alive and relevant to our generation. Thus, when a new major work by Kaiser appears, it certainly is an important event.

The present work is a worthy addition to the other standard full-length evangelical histories of Israel, such as those by Wood and O'Brien (1986) and Merrill (1987). In chap. 1, Kaiser briefly presents his evaluation of the current state of OT historiography, evaluating five positions: the traditional school; the Albright/Wright/Bright Baltimore school; the Alt/Noth school; the Gottwald school; and the non-pan Israelite tribal confederation schools. He provides brief, but helpful critiques of each of the approaches. In the end, Kaiser's approach is that of the traditional school: "the text must first be taken on its own terms until it is proven guilty" (p. 132) and he develops a "text-based history" (p. 203). He asks, "Why should we force the biblical evidence to purge itself of its so-called 'theocratic point of view' in order to qualify as 'history'?" (p. 143).

In chap. 2 he presents a very brief introduction to the geographical setting of the land of Israel, along with brief geographical and historical comments on both Egypt and Mesopotamia. In chap. 3 the early archaeological record of the land of Israel is reviewed from the Paleolithic period through Middle Bronze I. Curiously, throughout the remainder of the book, similar archaeological descriptions are not included, although specific archaeological data (especially inscriptions) are frequently cited.

In Part I of his work, Kaiser places the patriarchs and matriarchs in the Middle Bronze II age, rehearsing Kitchen's (1988) arguments in support. Missing in this section is an evaluation of the internal Biblical chronology, which, if followed, could place Abram's and Sarai's entrance into Canaan in the Middle Bronze I, as well as any attempt to correlate site remains with supposed patriarchal and matriarchal presence at certain cites such as Hebron, Gerar, Shechem or Sodom. In addition, in my opinion, there does not seem to be much Biblical evidence for labeling the patriarchs primarily as "merchants" (p. 65) or as "merchant prince[s] who trade" (p. 57). As for Joseph's and Jacob's settings in Egypt, a number of Egyptian parallels are cited, which helps place these stories in their ancient Near Eastern contexts.

Part II deals with the Egyptian sojourn and the exodus from Egypt. The content of the Biblical text is presented, interspersed with Egyptian background material and interpretative comments. For those familiar with other evangelical authors the material and approach are familiar: Jacob descended into Egypt during the XII dynasty, the "new Pharaoh who knew not Joseph" was a Hyksos who began the oppression. The life of Moses is placed in the context of the 18th dynasty, as is the exodus itself. In these three chapters Kaiser takes great pains to frame Biblical events in their ancient Near Eastern (Egyptian) context-but see now Hoffmeier's Israel In Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (1997). Kaiser opts for a "southern" route (towards Jebel Musa) for the path of the fleeing Israelites and spends a bit of time describing various aspects of the Sinai legislation but modestly does not even refer to his own treatment of the relevant texts in his own major work on the topic, Toward Old Testament Ethics.

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