More on the History of the Old Testament

Historiography is the narrative of what happened in history. Like any narrative, story, or account, it takes place from one particular tradition. The narrative is told from a particular perspective. One major example of this is in the Hebrew Bible itself.  The authors, editors, and compilers of the Hebrew Bible each had a particular tradition which informed their perspective. Thus, their writings and edits evident in the Hebrew Bible were historiography.

But is historiography history? In other words, in the Hebrew Bible history? The answer is simple: yes and no, and a little bit in-between. Okay, maybe that’s not a simple answer. Though, I ask that you bear with me. All will become clear soon (hopefully).

In a recently published volume about the reception of the Hebrew Bible between the 1st century CE and the 21st century, Walter Dietrich comments on the current status of how scholars understand the reliability of the Hebrew Bible.  He makes his comment in light of historiography, the notion that the writers and editors of the Hebrew Bible were telling a story from their own perspective and tradition.

“Contemporary research discussion moves between the poles of a sceptical hyper-criticism and an unbroken trust in the reliability of biblical history writing. On the one hand one thinks that it is only possible to write the history of Israel without or against the Bible and on the other hand one follows to a large degree the biblical view of history. The truth lies between these two poles. An avoidance of the use of biblical historical records is no less appropriate than their extensive and uncritical use. Many details provided by the Old Testament are plausible or have already been verified by extra-biblical sources [i.e. outside of the Bible], but many are fictional and have already been proven to be false through external evidence. There is therefore a need to find the appropriate balance of critical evaluation of biblical sources and a reasonable reconstruction of history” (HBOT, vol. III/2, pp. 468-69).

This is a somewhat complicated and dense idea. So, I shall clarify. Many people either disregard 100% or maintain 100% confidence in the Hebrew. Neither of these stances is true. Rather, the truth of the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible is between complete skepticism and complete belief. Already, non-biblical evidence has proved that many things in the Hebrew Bible are historically accurate. Yet, non-biblical evidence has also proved that many things in the Hebrew Bible are not historically accurate. Therefore, we need have a balance between complete dependence and complete skepticism of the Hebrew Bible for reconstructing history.

This is because much of what is written in the Hebrew Bible “is characterised by a combination of historical, aesthetic, and theological objectives” (HBOT, vol. III/2, p. 469). So, the Hebrew Bible, the historical books in particular, is not just a person writing a historical document, though it does have history within it. At the same time, the Hebrew Bible is not just a person writing a theological document, though it does have theology within it. For this reason, Dietrich comments that in the Hebrew Bible “the boundaries between historical facts and literary fiction are fluid” (HBOT, vol. III/2, p. 468).

Think about, for example, how different news stations present the same story. Fox News does not present stories the same way as CNN. Likewise, CNN does not present stories the same way as MSNBC. MSNBC does not present stories the same way as Al Jazeera. Rather, each of these television stations constructs and shares a narrative based in history. Because each station approaches the issues and events differently, they each present the story in a different way.


Broadly speaking, this is how scholars attempt to understand the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible. It is a perspective on history; yet, just as some facts presented in the news are absolutely false or skewed, the same thing happens with the Hebrew Bible.

What are your thoughts? How skeptical of the Hebrew Bible do you think we should be? Or how trusting of the Hebrew Bible do you think we should be? I’d love you hear your perspectives.



Dietrich Walter, “Historiography in the Old Testament”, in Hebrew Bible / Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation, vol. III/2. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015.

“How Repentance Became Biblical” by David A. Lambert

RepentDavid A. Lambert. How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, & the Interpretation of Scripture. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015, 280 pp., $74.00 (hardcover).

David Lambert (PhD Harvard University) is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina’s Department of Religious Studies at Chapel Hill. A brief view of his previous publications highlight his interest in penitential practices especially in the Dead Sea Scrolls and New Testament. In How Repentance Became Biblical, Lambert aims to draw out a common interpretive tendency among biblical critics, namely to read “repentance” into the Bible with a “penitential lens”. The penitential lens, though, is based on ontological principals thrust backward through history: human subjectivity, virtue, didacticism, and autonomy. Throughout the work Lambert highlights these ontological assumptions “to witness ourselves reading a variety of texts and… gamin insight into the interpretive forms cultural hegemony assumes” (6).  Opposing these ontological assumptions, he focuses on language, comparison, and other choices in the interpreter’s present to draw out alternatives to the penitential lens. Consequently his focus in How Repentance Became Biblical is he focuses upon three elements of texts commonly connected to penitential rites: to identify penitential readings and their ontological underpinnings, explore alternative readings, and examine developments in discourse of biblical literature which brought about “repentance”.

The book is divided in to three parts: Rites, Language and Pedagogy, and Religion. Parts I and II identity part of the Bible which tend to receive penitential treatment and provides alternative interpretations. Part III shifts to early Jewish sectarianism and the rise of repentance as a concept.

Chapter One focuses on fasting, a rite commonly associated with penitence, and suggests an alternative approach: “fasting is an integrated physical-emotional response to suffering, not an outward signifier of repetance”, and directly appeals to divine mercy (17). His modern-day example is helpful as notes fasting in the Hebrew Bible as more akin to modern-day hunger strikes, fasting as a manifestation of affliction with concrete effect on those who perceive it. Lambert effectively demonstrates a major tendency to read the Bible with a penitential lens.

Chapter Two explores prayer, aptly noting its common association as penitential. Alternatively Lambert illustrates the logic of appeal behind prayer. Prayer reinforces Yahweh’s self-interest through “a mutually beneficial relationship, between the powerful and the powerless” (35). Yahweh, argues Lambert, is more interested in constancy than  sincerity or subjective quality of faith, and sin is often times nothing more than “a rhetorical strategy aimed at defusing likely criticism” (38). Portraying cries of people as desperate rather than external expression of internal repentance, Lambert also provides a valuable reconfiguration of the Judges cycle as sin-oppression-outcry-champion, a cycle focusing more on the power dynamics, the logical of appeal, and self-interest of both Israel and Yahweh. Thus, prayer is not meant “to mitigate its pain… through control over self but through social engagement – verbal articulation” (49). As I highlighted in this summary, I greatly appreciate his reconfiguration of the pre-monarchic Judges cycle as it avoids the modern penitential lens and permits a clearer view of ancient Israelite reality.

Chapter Three demonstrates how the articulation of sin, or confession, is not always about providing a statement of repentance; rather, it may be seen from three aspects: “confession as the realization of an entity’s status, as initiation of a particular social, relational state, and as participation in a broader restitutive process” (53). Lambert suggests, for example, that Joseph’s brothers confess their guilt not due to the self in them, but as declaration of existence in a state of liability and diminishment, things implicitly connected to their social standing and reality. Even in Leviticus, articulation of sin of not about consciousness of sin but the sense of danger with the presence of sin. Even David’s confession of sin to Nathan is about recognizing his diminishment and carving out a place for Yahweh to be in power. All-in-all, Lamberts alternative reading draws out the power dynamics present through the articulation of sin.

Chapter Four sifts through uses of shuv, a term commonly understood as “repent”, by reading the term as a material return, more like an appeal with a less mediated, metaphorical understanding of the inner state of repentance. This constitutes shuv as an operative image outside of covenant, especially active in the appeal and oracular inquiry. By briefly demonstrating shuv‘s relationship to materialistic, prophetic inquiry throughout the Hebrew Bible, he demonstrates early prophetic figures, Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah, utilizing shuv as a physical return to prophetic inquiry (Amos), Yahwistic cult sites (Hosea), and rhetoric of appeal to Yahweh (Isaiah). Jeremiah and the DH record a shift in shuv as a cessation of sin, a state of being rather than act of internal repentance.

Chapter Five re-frames the pedagogic evaluation of prophetic utterance by applying to the theory of divine anthropopathy to Yahweh and prophecy in the Hebrew Bible. Often times through passionate anger, Lambert argues that “oracles themselves… stake out the power of Israel’s god and the contours of his reign, his very identity, as well as the reasons for people’s current state” (101). He provides support with the Mari letters, in which the prophet’s devouring of a living lamb materializes the anthropopathy of the deity’s anger and promised devastation at the city, just like Moses’ destroying the golden calf and Samuel destroying Agag. Lambert’s analysis of Moses as Yahweh’s warrior in Exodus,  the DH rendering of prophetic words of doom with no reversal, Isaiah’s words of doom as words of power, and Jonah’s parody of prophecy effectively highlights prophecy in relation to power, namely the anthropopathism portrayed by prophets that attaches collective guilt through words of power. Problematic, though, is the historical disconnect between the letter from Mari (18th century BCE) and the historical kernels in Exodus and 1 Samuel. If Lambert is going to connect such distant literature through the phenomenon of prophecy, he must demonstrate that their was no shift or development in prophetic utterance for nearly one thousand years.

Having considered and critiqued the influence of a penitential lens through practices (fasting, logic of appeal, and articulation of sin), linguistic terms (shuv), and public address (pedagogy), Lambert proceeds to the articulation of redemptive expectations as communal definition, in contrast to tendencies to explore moral demands upon individuals in a community. Redemption in Jubilees, for example, aims not at redemption through the agent of repentance but God’s direct  transformation and re-creation of the community. Jubilees does, however, hint toward individual liability. Likewise, the community imagined by the Dead Sea Scrolls did not take on moral/religious desideratum for community, but assumed a transformation through things like the hadayot and immersion. Lambert’s analysis of the early Jesus movement compares the Gospels and Q to emphasize that the original “baptism of repentance” was about repentance as the consequence of baptism. Even Jesus’ ministry was not about repentance but “one of joining Jesus, attaching oneself to his body of followers” (147). Paul echoes early ideas of “repentance” as a consequence and begins to expand this idea with Hellenistic thought. All-in-all, the notion of divine re-creation is consistent in these texts. Lambert challenges readers of the New Testament to reconsider the penitential lens with clearly explained and explored alternative interpretation.

Finally, Chapter 7 locates the emergence of a “repentance” concept within 1st and 2nd century CE Jewish and Christian literature as an offspring of Hellenistic metanoia. Throughout the works of Philo and Plutarch, meanoia is the internal pain of mind that causes one to change or rethink. Philo and Joesph and Aseneth take the concept of repentance with hypostatization. Even terms like shuv become similar to menanoia resulting in the term as representing “repentance”. Rabbinic Judaism aquires repents, thus, as the concept of teshuva, which requires one to change via their own cognition. Early Christianity also comes to understand Jesus as the hypostatization of the figure Metanoia. From Hellenistic moral philosophy to Christianity and Judaism, repentance became an internal acts of change, and idea that is often, unfortunately, universalized.

As I hope is evident through this review, Lambert’s nuanced analysis explores the multitude of historical contours that tend to be flattened through a penitential lens. With clarity he brings to the fore problematic readings of the Bible and also offers a variety of alternative readings aligned more closely to the texts. Challenging the current presuppositions of mainstream scholarship and laypeople, his book is groundbreaking. Akin to Jeffrey Stackert’s A Prophet Like Moses, which is now cited in most books I have read about Hebrew Bible composition, David Lambert’s work has the potential to become integral to the forward motion of biblical studies. After all, he challenges the mere idea of repentance as a concept throughout the Hebrew Bible, something that has been essential to Christianity and Judaism for centuries.

Additionally, I greatly appreciate his work with regard to the history of biblical interpretation. His dissemination of discourse and development of biblical interpretation from the oldest portions of Hebrew Bible to 3rd century Rabbinic literature issue a starting point for many future studies on the history of biblical interpretation. In addition to critiquing and answer questions, Lambert’s work raises important questions that potentially undermine (challenge?) religious traditions and the frameworks within which they operate.

Finally, with regard to framework, he takes a great step forward in moving beyond theoretical issues with “religion” as a term for discussing the ancient world. He notes that “even while this Enlightenment-inflected definition [of religion] has been challenged on theoretical ground, it continues to inform interpretation” (121). His work explores the validity of repentance throughout biblical literature does, though, provide an alternative framework which does not assume that accounts of redemptive expectations are rooted in repentance. With this framework, I look forward to seeing how other scholars utilize it and, perhaps, reconfigure it to better describe ancient Israelite religion rather than re-describing with modern assumptions.

Especially for research issues pertain to biblical interpretation, I highly recommend How Repentance Became Biblical. The invigorating discussion and innovative analysis holds potential to significantly impact the field of biblical studies. Even if you don’t have time to read the whole book, at least be sure you understand the arguments and ideas set forth by Lambert, as you will likely encounter them in the future.


“An Introduction to the Old Testament” by John Goldingay

An Introduction to the Old TestamentJohn Goldingay. An Introduction to the Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches & Issues. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015, 400 pp., $32.00  (hardcover).

John Goldingay (PhD, University of Nottingham; DD, Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth) is a David Alan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament. With his vast number of publications, many of which are about Old Testament theology for the everyday reader, an introduction to the Old Testament through the lens of scholarly debates is no surprising addition to his impressive record. Rather than focusing on providing a textbook for Old Testament, he aims his writing towards non-academic lay people. In doing so, he provides a valuable tool for Old Testament readers and enables them to easily grasp the environment of the Old Testament books. He also provides simple introduction to the vast amount of scholarly consensus and debate surrounding the Old Testament. In effect, his work enables lay people to engage with the Old Testament in order for them to see what it says.

His introductory book is divided into five parts. Part One introduces the Old Testament and major scholarly issues surrounding the layout and composition of the entire Old Testament. Parts Two through Four are similar to Part One. However, they focus more directly on the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, introducing major scholarly and historical issues along with the layout and composition. Part Five wraps up by summarizing a few major issues that hold the Old Testament in unity and continuity with New Testament literature.

Most notable is the chapter divisions. Rather than operating traditionally with a lengthy chapter, Goldingay organizes the book in two page portions. So, Part One, for example, has 18 portions, 1.01-1.18. Every Part of the book is structured in this manner. Because each portion is so brief, the reader, especially the lay reader, is not overwhelmed with data and “scholarly stuff”. Yet the reader still has the opportunity to attain a basic grasp of scholarly issues. This is how his whole book is structured and it permits the reader to approach with ease, not demanding lengthy focus. Additionally, Goldingay provides more resources online for each Part, specifically noting in the preface that questions should be emailed to him. Thus, he recognizes that he does not necessarily answer all questions within his work and desires readers to engage with him in order to improve their own reading of the Old Testament.

Overall, his work is accessible to any reader and quite valuable to lay people who read the Hebrew Bible. While some may disagree to certain nuances with which he writes, such as the role of the Holy Spirit in reading the Old Testament or occasional comments on the Old Testament greatly influenced by the New Testament, it is an important book. He introduces scholarly issues with succinctness and simplicity. Rather than being a “textbook”, An Introduction to the Old Testament is more akin to a sidekick for a devotional or Bible study. It is certainly a valuable addition for lay people attempting to more fully understand the Hebrew Bible.


The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

Too often people limit their idea of what constitute the Bible, whether in Jewish, Christian, or secular circles. Not many actually endeavor to understand the theological and literary developments found within the Pseudepigrapha. Unfortunately the unawareness of such literature within certain circles results in a narrow minded approach to biblical interpretation, not realizing that they are joining in over two millennia of discussion. More use and discussion of the Pseudepigrapha within temple, church, and other communal setting will promote biblical literacy and recognition of the rich tapestry of theological traditions.

Bible Odyssey, a creation of Society of Biblical Literature designed to promote people literacy especially as it relates to the academy, is one place that attempts to bridge “the gap between the academy and the “street.”” While I would never expect full fledged discussion of something like the Prayer of Joseph, Ahiqar, or the Prayer of Manasseh, some sort of reference would be beneficial to promoting biblical literacy and the richness found surrounding it. None of the previous three Pseudepigrapha showed up from the brief search on Bible Odyssey. For this, I can think of two basic possibilities:

1) Perhaps the involvement in the promotion of biblical literacy through websites like Bible Odyssey is lacking. That isn’t to say that the academy is not attempting to share the information; rather, the academy is, generally speaking, too busy to move in the direction of promoting popular biblical literacy. In response universities and the academy should push for more involvement in websites like Bible Odyssey, bringing the academy to the “street”.

2) Perhaps certain things are too far outside of the aims of Bible Odyssey. Although  I certainly understand this, I believe that it doesn’t mean the total exclusion of certain biblical books and topics. Even a nod to the Pseudepigrapha, brief reference, or discussion would provide students and the “street” with direction in which they might pursue biblical themes and ideas as discussed outside of the traditional biblical canons. Having recently graduated, I recognize how much “signs” help students, something to inform them of the direction they should look beyond the biblical canon.

The academy should consider these two possibilities, and how they may respond to them in action. Yet I also recognize that the issue is also whether or not people care to become biblically literate, to learn of the rich historical and theological traditions of the biblical canon and literature surrounding it. Creating genuine interest is, of course, a whole other issue. So for now, people within the academy should do what can be done to generate interest.


“Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew Bible” by Eve Levavi Feinstein

Eve Levavi Feinstein. Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

In Eve Lavavi Feinstein’s most recent publication, the conceptions of sexual pollution in the Hebrew Bible are explored. Looking beyond the simplification of the relationship between sexuality and defilement, she draws out the various threads in the Hebrew Bible from a common root: women were viewed as sexual property of men. Chapter one is rooted in Thomas Kazen’s model of morality, sexuality, and pollution from Jesus and Purity Halakhah, namely the idea of disgust as the beginnings of pollution. Chapter two establishes “some fundamental characteristics of the biblical concept of pollution” and draws out the fundamental ideas of pollution that reach across space and time (11). Most notably, “pure” describes the absence of pollution or sin, “abhor” and “sin” the idea of disgust, and terms for “pollute” to the specific contagious property. Following the terminological definitions, she draws upon modern psychology so as to demonstrate the psychological roots of “disgust” and “pollution”.

Chapter three continues with a discussion of the sexual pollution of women with the exclusions of Ezra, Ezekiel, and Leviticus 18, as they are approached in later chapters. First, she analyzes Numbers 5:11-31 and draws out an important conclusions regarding adultery in the Hebrew Bible: disgust language is harnessed to pollution not to call out women as disgusting but to act rhetorically as a voice against adultery. This same idea, as she demonstrates, is present through some of the prophets in their rhetoric that “function as shaming discourse” (53), an effort to encourage certain moral behavior. Second, she discusses the nature of pollution of the woman in the divorce law of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and refutes seven major interpretations of the passage, settling on the idea that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is rhetorical in nature, harnessing disgust via pollution “suggesting to men that they ought to be repelled by sexual contact between their former wives and other men” (65). Thus, this passage focuses upon the individual man who has divorced his wife rather than any transcendent concept of moral restriction. Third, Feinstein explores the pollution language of Genesis 34 and Dinah’s “rape”. While she does concede that rape may have very well been an angle of the historical event of Genesis 34, she concludes that the issue of the sex of Dinah and Shechem was the polluting nature of Shechem that made Dinah polluted in an unmarried context, premarital sex. Hence, because she was polluted, her family became polluted by relation. And a violent purge was the proper reaction by her brother’s standards. Finally, she notes the strict laws for priestly marriages that illustrate how the “essence” of man was present in women. Thus, priests were held to higher expectations in that their wives, and historically sexual property, required a high amount of purity, unpolluted by another man’s “essence”.

Chapter four shifts to the unique rhetoric of Leviticus 18 in which men become the objects of potential pollution based on their sexual interactions. Sexual interactions of the men addressed in Leviticus 18 are said to affect whether or not the land vomits them out of itself. Chapter five focuses on two major strands originating from Leviticus 18: Ezekiel and Ezra. Ezekiel “rests on the idea that the people of Judah… have polluted themselves through their actions” and illustrates sexual pollution as a component of “moral pollution”, which thereby contaminates the land and demands expulsion (141). Ezra expands the pollution language of Leviticus 18 to stigmatize certain peoples rather than, as in Leviticus 18, stigmatize certain behaviors. In effect, foreign polluted women, and thereby their children, must be exiled. Chapter six concludes with coverage of 2nd Temple Period, New Testament, and rabbinic literature.

Eve Feinstein’s work is a jewel for biblical scholarship. Her broad analysis of the Hebrew Bible’s perspectives on sexual pollution carefully observes the nuances missed by glossed readings or presupposed ideas about it and pull the threads of the topic throughout the Hebrew Bible. Most notable is her careful exegesis of Leviticus 18 that elucidates a distinctly different approach to sexual pollution from other discussions of sexual pollution in the Torah. Furthermore, Feinstein’s thorough coverage of Ezekiel and Ezra demonstrate the variety of traditions within the Hebrew Bible and nuances which flow and ebb, contributing to its living nature as a dialogical character.

Yet, in the midst of her expertly crafted exegesis, thorough coverage, and skilled untangling sexual pollution, she lacks analysis of the book of Ruth. Although the book of Ruth never directly discusses issues of sexual pollution at a surface level or utilizes language of sexual pollution, it acts as a “indie” commentary on Leviticus 18 and comments on the sexual pollution developments of Ezra-Nehemiah. By “indie” commentary, I mean that it does not discuss texts through language, but through actions, namely Ruth’s attachment to Naomi, participation in Israelite society, sexual allusions with Boaz, and identity as a Moabite. Each of these points are relevant to discussion of sexual pollution. As taught in a biblical interpretation 101 classes, one must be attentive to not only what is said but also to what is not said. Ruth is a perfect example. While Ezra-Nehemiah denies status to foreign women and their children, Ruth is open to a Moabite woman joining into Israelite society, even to the extent of a sexual encounter. Although the sexual encounter is silent about issues of purity, it speaks through the silence about how one might be able to understand sexual pollution in light of characters like Ruth. Thematic elements distinct between Ezra-Nehemiah and Ruth are traceable back to common issues, especially the issue of sexual pollution.

Ruth 3 is a perfect example. In Ruth 3, Ruth lays at the feet of Boaz, a clear reference to sex. Thus, recognition of sexual pollution adds a new level to the conflict and tensions of Ruth. More importantly, they demonstrate the author’s perspective on sexual pollution. Perhaps the reason the kinsman redeemer remains unnamed is because the author is aware of the concept of sexual pollution. As an endeavor to demonstrate that Boaz and Ruth are neither transgressing nor polluting another person, the authors shapes the narrative to end with marriage to Boaz, the one from whom Ruth may have received the “essence” of impurity at the threshing floor.

Regardless of this missing key to Feinstein’s work, her work is still comprehensive and provides fantastic grounds for future research on sexual pollution and purity issues as a whole. Her careful exegesis and unique approach to studies of pollution will, hopefully, result in future scholarship of sexual pollution and purity issues within 2nd Temple Period literature. And as a whole, her work unlocks the variety of theological traditions within the Hebrew Bible, demonstrating the depth and value of the Hebrew Bible by untangling the mess of theological tradition. Perhaps her work will help others to more thoughtfully consider how issues of sexual pollution, purity, and disgust have relevance for the modern context.

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Oxford University Press for providing me with a review copy of “Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew bible”

“A Study Companion to Introduction to the Hebrew Bible” by Ryan P. Bonfiglio

Bonfiglio, Ryan P. A Study Companion to Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Second ed. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2014.

Written as a supplementary text to John Collin’s Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (2010), Ryan Bonfiglio’s study companion offers brief, yet also thorough, coverage of issues surrounding the Hebrew Bible. And as an important  note, I did not read it primarily as a study companion to Collin’s introduction to the Hebrew Bible; rather, I read the study companion as an independent book. Thus, that is how I will review it.

Each chapter is divided into four major parts: summary, key terms, key personalities, primary readings, and questions. The summary of each chapter is concise and simple. Thus rather than needing to read through a lengthier introduction as found in Collin’s work, the reader, who may have a short attention span or little time to study, is given an ever so brief explanation of the content and scholarship surrounding certain parts of the Hebrew Bible. While the brief nature of the summaries may be inadequate for those seeking to excel in scholarship, they do provide a basic awareness of biblical scholarship.

Following the summaries, Bonfiglio presents the key terms and key personalities. Presentation of the two elements in his succinct manner allow the language of biblical scholarship, ranging from “Hermann Gunkel” to “House of David”, to take shape within the laypersons mind. In effect, the terms often foreign to people become terms with life and permit them to dialogue better in theological and scholarly discussions.

To fully allow the reader to immerse themselves in the study, Bonfiglio includes selections of primary texts from the Bible, pseudepigrapha, and Ancient Near East with notes about each reading. His method is valuable because it never attempts to force the reader to simply accept the information he offers. In fact, previous to each reading, he gives the reader certain ideas and concepts to look for within the readings.

At last, following the primary readings, he poses discussion questions. The discussion question are invaluable because they force the group or person studying, whether Christian or atheist, to take the primary texts seriously. For Bonfiglio, one cannot merely dismiss the text. They must respect the autonomy of the text, which is then encouraged through a medium of discussion questions.

In conclusion, Bonfiglio’s introductory work, though intended to be read with Collin’s more detailed textbook, is useful as a companion to the Hebrew Bible, even without the textbook itself. Although there are certain places where his work may need certain explanations to concepts and terms, the companion is for the most part easy to digest and helpful to the reader, especially in a group setting. It is informative, though not exhaustive, and simple, though not simplistic. Overall, I highly suggest this book to a general audience seeking to learn about scholarship surrounding the Hebrew Bible and the history/context of the Hebrew Bible itself.

If you are interested in purchasing A Study Companion to Introduction to the Hebrew Bible please do so through my Amazon Associates store. It permits me to earn a small percentage of the total cost of the book.

I’d like to express my gratitude to Fortress Press for lending me a review copy of A Study Companion to Introduction to the Hebrew Bible.


Why Priests?

Within ancient Israel, Priests held extremely important roles. Priestly significance is demonstrated even more so by the entire ancient Near East. Unlike the 21st century western world, ancient civilizations in the Near East placed high value on the “sacred space”, often designating them as temples. The sacred space was essential to the survival of an ancient civilization because “it was considered the center of power, control, and order from which deity [brought] order to the human world” (Walton, 127). In effect, the temple, sacred space, was a sort of “government” for the ancient world in that provided life, prosperity, and justice. The sacred temple was also considered a microcosm of the cosmos, the center of the cosmos. With this context, it is evident why priests in Leviticus are so dignified and viewed with prestige.

The value of priesthood depended not upon the tribe or lineage. In its purest sense, priesthoods attained value because they acted as the ones who ensured the sanctity of the sancta (the sacred space). Consequently the priesthoods allowed (1) the gods to continues maintaining order and (2) permitted human involvement in retaining cosmic order (Walton, 130). Unfortunately, because the temple was simeltaneously a political entity and religious expression, priesthoods could easily evolve into political powerhouses rather than sanctifying/sancitified powerhouses. And due to our own context which dichotomizes religious practice and politics, we easily pick up on the political struggles but miss the high cultural value of priests within a cultic context. In this context, then, it is evident why the priests were so important to ancient Israel. Without priests, order could not be maintained and life could fall into non-order/disorder as the world was left without Yahweh’s presence.


Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

By William Brown