In Search of Pre-Exilic Israel

John Day, editor Bloomsbury T&T Clark, London December 20, 2004
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In recent years the historicity of the Old Testament has come under attack from a group of minimalist scholars who argue that the Old Testament is more ideological than historical and that it originated exclusively in the Persian and Hellenistic periods. This book challenges the assumptions and conclusions of this revisionist school. Day, professor of Old Testament studies at Oxford and the book’s editor, states, “The purpose of this volume is to offer a critique of various aspects of the ‘everything is late’ school of thought in Old Testament studies that has been fashionable in some circles in recent years, not from any reactionary standpoint but from a thoroughly reasoned, critical point of view. We hope to show that though much of the editing of the Old Testament took place in the exile and post-exilic periods, we do nevertheless have access to pre-exilic sources of information about ancient Israel greater than some recent scholars have allowed” (preface).

The book’s seventeen essays address the issue from a variety of angles. While the contributors marshal evidence for the Old Testament’s preexilic origins, many of the writers assume or espouse higher critical positions that will not be satisfactory to many evangelicals.

Four of the book’s essays are particularly noteworthy. In an essay entitled “Was There an Exodus?” Graham Davies presents evidence “for a positive estimate of the historicity of some kind of ‘Exodus event.’ ” He concludes, “The tradition is a priori unlikely to have been invented; the biblical evidence is widespread and can be followed back to a respectable antiquity, within at most two hundred years of the supposed events; some elements of it have a particular claim to authenticity; and in various ways what is said corresponds more closely to the realities of New Kingdom Egypt than one would expect from a later wholly fictitious account” (p. 36).

Addressing the question “How many preexilic psalms are there?” John Day contends that a good case can be made for the preexilic origin of “the Royal Psalms, as well as other psalms which allude to the king, psalms which presuppose Zion’s inviolability, psalms which imply the presence of the Ark, Enthronement Psalms, and communal psalms which imply that Israel has an army” (p. 244). While he acknowledges “many psalms are post-exilic (especially in the last third of the Psalter),” he asserts that “there are also many pre-exilic psalms (especially in the first two-thirds of the Psalter)” (p. 245).

In a chapter entitled “Hebrew and West Semitic Inscriptions and Pre-exilic Israel” André Lemaire rejects the minimalist attempt to date the Siloam Tunnel inscription to the Hellenistic period, arguing that this proposal “is not serious from the point of view of epigraphy . . . and archaeology” (p. 378). He concludes, “Royal historiography and propaganda as well as prophetic literature are well attested in the neighbouring kingdoms and pre-exilic Israel, at least from the second half of the ninth century BCE” (p. 379).

Terry Fenton examines “Hebrew Poetic Structure as a Basis for Dating” and concludes, “Comparison of Hebrew poetic structures with ancient Canaanite models establishes the antiquity of those structures and of historical material associated with them.” He adds, “Details of content show that the time span of the biblical Hebrew literary tradition runs from at least the eleventh century BCE to the Persian period” (p. 408).

Other essays in the book include “Current ‘Revisionism’ and the Literature of the Old Testament” (E. Nicholson), “Back to Basics: A Holistic Approach to the Problem of the Emergence of Ancient Israel” (A. Frendo), “Histories and Non-Histories of Ancient Israel: The Question of the United Monarchy” (W. Dever), “Dating the ‘Succession Narrative’” (J. Barton), “The Date of the Yahwist” (J. Emerton), “Was There a Social Crisis in the Eighth Century?” (W. Houston), “In Search of Post-exilic Israel: Samaria after the Fall of the Northern Kingdom” (G. Knoppers), “In Search of the Pre-exilic Isaiah” (H. Williamson), “Jeremiah before the Exile?” (D. Reimer), “How Much Wisdom Literature Has Its Roots in the Pre-exilic Period?” (K. Dell), “Is the Covenant Code an Exilic Composition? A Response to John Van Seters” (B. Levinson), “Yahweh’s Asherah, Inclusive Monotheism and the Question of Dating” (B. Mastin), and “Mesopotamian Sources and Pre-exilic Israel” (W. Lambert).

—Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

October 1, 2006
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2006 vol. 163 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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