Fall 2004, Vol. 1, No. 2
Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper
Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel
KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003). 424 pages.
Reviewed by Bob Caldwell, Ph.D.,
Student at Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO.
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Old Testament historical scholarship is dominated by two
types of works: historical-critical books, which deny the
historicity and authority of the Bible, and conservative
apologetics, which often are not sufficiently critical. The
former is defective for those who afford authority to the
Bible, even when interesting information is presented. The
latter often is inadequate to deal with the critical issues
that do arise from the biblical texts.
These three scholar/professors have written an important
work that successfully challenges the epistemological basis
of the historical-critical method. They do so while taking
an irenic tone that does not challenge the integrity or spirituality
of its proponents. Special attention is given to the overall
subject of historiography: How is history to be done?
The center of the authors’ argument is to clarify
the role of testimony in constructing history. Modern biblical
criticism tends to view non-biblical “neutral” historical
testimony (archaeological data, Ancient Near-Eastern texts,
etc.) as more valuable than the ideologically loaded biblical
texts. The authors demonstrate that these other sources are
themselves not free of ideology, and that ideology itself
does not mean accurate history cannot be transmitted. They
further show how the Old Testament shows itself to be a credible
Another advantage of this volume over some other conservative
works is its treatment of outside evidence. Rather than attempt
to use this data as “proof” of the biblical accounts,
they show where there is “convergence” between
the sources. The difference is that proofs built on such
little available evidence are easily countered. Convergence,
however, merely shows that the evidence neither contradicts
the sacred texts nor makes them seem implausible. The authors
also show that, in light of other evidence, what the Bible
claims is reasonable to reasonable people.
The first hundred pages of the book deal with these foundational
issues and could be a separate monograph. The next two hundred
pages sketch out the history of Israel. These chapters, however,
do not paint an easily readable narrative of biblical history.
Rather, they present a much abbreviated portion of the history
and then discuss the problematic issues. Difficulties presented
by the text itself or by outside evidence are dealt with
as completely and fairly as possible. This section is, therefore,
more valuable as a reference for dealing with these specific
texts than comfortable reading.
Even with that qualification, this is a valuable book for
any pastor or scholar who wishes to have a solid base for
dealing with the issues of the historicity of the Old Testament
texts. It is especially useful when one is confronted with
the assertions of the historical-critical approach to those
Thursday, January 13, 2005 4:19 PM