“The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Ancient Israel” edited by Susan Niditch (Part 2 of 3)

WileyBlackwellSusan Niditch (editor). The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Ancient Israel. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2016, 567 pp., $195.00 (hardcover).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Wiley Blackwell for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. Additionally, primarily due to the many contributors and secondarily the lengthy nature of this work, I will be posting the complete review through three blog posts. Click here for Part I.

Part Two focuses on the political history of ancient Israel. Following this are succinct summaries of each article accompanied by any strengths or critiques.

After briefly tracing the history of Israel’s emergence in scholarship and the subjective nature of ethnicity with regard to archaeology, Avraham Faust (Professor of Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University) presents his analysis of ancient Israel’s ethnogenesis, analysis taken and updated from his book Israel’s Ethnogenesis (Equinox, 2006). While archaeology is certainty subjective, Faust’s thoughtful consideration of Israel’s ethnogenesis through archaeology provides a stable starting point for research about the origins of Israel’s political history.

Brad E. Kelle (Professort of Old Testament at Point Loma Nazarene University) considers the early monarchy, primarily focusing on the scholarship trends from the mid-1980s to the present. While he offers no innovations or additions to trends, he offer a well-balanced record of scholarship, presenting and critiquing trends like state formation theory. For study of the monarchy in ancient Israel and frameworks for interpreting it, Kelle’s work is a great place to begin.

J. J. M. Roberts (Princeton Theological Seminary’s W.H. Green Professor of Old Testament Literature Emeritus (retired)) illustrates the history of ancient Israel from the divided monarchy (922 BCE) up to the second capture of Jerusalem (586 BCE). His preliminary focus on how to read DtrH is especially important because it directly indicates how students should engage with the Bible as a source of history. Likewise, his presentation of ancient Israel from 922 BCE to 586 BCE is detailed – whilst concise – and provides an important framework for reading the Hebrew Bible historically.

Examining the Persian and Neo-Babylonian influence upon Israel, Charles E. Carter (Professor of Religion at Seton Hall University) suggests three strategies to studying the “exilic” period (territory, imperial context, settlement and position), refocuses on the presence of Judaean cities along with their economic and social situations, and discusses the socio-religious reforms. Highlighted throughout his article is the importance of avoiding terms such as “exilic” and “postexilic”, which he claims “accepts the would-be dominant gola ideology. Terms such as Neo-Babylonian and Persians… are more accurate” (236). While I agree that “exilic” potentially subscribes to gola ideology, Neo-Babylonian and Persian accept the dominance of imperial rule. Thus, his suggestion for different terminology in these period is important in recognizing inherent ideological bias. It is also problematic, as any terms selected for representing the period will carry some sort of ideological baggage – in his case imperial ideological baggage. .

Matthew J. Goff (Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Florida State University) discusses the Hellenistic Period, focusing on the broader advent of Hellenism up to Jewish Apocalypticism. Unlike many treatment which consider ancient Israel, Goff’s treatment is unique and fantastic for students because it illustrates Jewish Hellenism as a progressive cultural exchange and development in the midst of the greater movement of Hellenism. Essentially, he does not overemphasize how Jewish thought was influenced; rather, echoing the approach of Martin Hengel, he focuses on social influence through political, socioeconomic, cultural, and religious factors. Consequently, his illustration of Hellenism in Judea and the Diaspora communities is filled out, highlighting how Hellenism propelled forward and interacted with Judaean and Diaspora ideas through social, cultural, religious, and economic factors.

*Part III will be posted 1/15/2016. Also, if you enjoyed what your read, please follow or subscribe to my blog for more reviews and musings about biblical literature.

“Prophetic Literature: From Oracles to Books” by Ronald L. Troxel

TroxelRonald L. Troxel. Prophetic Literature: From Oracles to Books. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012, 288 pp., $39.95  (paperback).

Ronald L. Troxel (Professor of Hebrew at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) provides a succinct, clear, and praiseworthy introduction to prophetic literature. As is clear through the title of the books, he utilizes a diachronic and synchronic approach to interpreting prophetic literature in the Hebrew Bible. His presentation illustrates how scribes modified, combined, and synchronized various oracles overtime in order to fit their own social and religious context(s).

His concluding paragraph to the end of his focus on the minor prophets, prior to moving forward to the major prophets, provides the fullest view into the heart and soul of his work:

…prophet books are not primarily oracle repositories. They are literary works composed by many contributing scribes. Even though each book is ascribed to a particular prophet, they are prominently literary improvisations on oracles and stories that mean to convey an outworking of the LORD’s word to and will with Israel. These books give us every reason to infer that scribes who transmitted and shaped them considered their contributions on the same level as the oracles that inspired the earliest developments of each book (170).

Flowing through every discussion is this very focus, a focus which elucidates the value of prophetic literature historically and the composition history. And as an introductory work, it is especially valuable because he is not sidetracked by extremely nuanced academic disagreement. He focuses on the broader structure of each prophet and how the composition reflects scribal changes and developments. Although the discussion can, at moments, become quite dense, focus and effort on the part of the reader may easily break through the denseness of the book.

The only critique I truly have of Prophetic Literature is the lack of outlines. Considering Troxel is covering the composition history and structure of the prophetic books, it would have been extremely helpful to provide some sort of outline for each book, outlining the composition history and structure of the book. This would have made the conclusions and discussion of each chapter more clear.

Aside from that minor critique, I highly recommend Prophetic Literature to any person seeking an introductory, yet somewhat advanced, book to the composition history of prophetic literature.