Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. Westminster Bible Companion

By Carolyn Pressler
Louisville, Ky : Westminster/John Knox (2002). 312 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
14.1 (Spring 2003) : 127-128

 The authoress is Professor of Biblical Interpretation in United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, at New Brighton, Minnesota. WBC volumes claim to assist laity, individuals and groups with faith and practice. The present volume is an example of liberal biblical views as distinguished from evangelical views that support the total reliability of Scripture.

In a brief, cursory introduction, Pressler assumes with many a “Deuteronomistic history” of compiling these books, with more final forms in the era of King Josiah to bolster his reforms (7th century B.C.) and the 6th century with events of 2 Kings’ last chapter (2).

Small segments of the biblical books receive summary discussions, not verse by verse examination, yet have much relevant material. One can see, for example, the self-manifestation of God in Josh 5:13-15 to give power to win in the promised land; here, God is free to do as H e wills, not take sides, to display that He is awesome and His word and will are holy (41-42).

Pressler frequently does not regard historic descriptions as factually accurate. She denies that the biblical version of Jericho’s fall “really happened.” In her view, archaeology shows that at best few people were on the site when Israel began in Canaan; she assumes a date in the later 13th century (44-45), where many hold a date ca. 1405 B. C. and uphold the factuality. Little doubt can remain that her words assume that the person writing Joshua 6 made a claim that was not historically dependable, that Israel’s first battle in the land was at Jericho (45). Instead of such alleged falsifying, many well-studied scholars claim the full veracity for the account. To Pressler, the record does not tell what happened in history, but illustrates what God regularly has done, is doing, and can do (49). The Ai account, likewise, entails a story-teller’s “tale,” making up Achan’s sin and punishment to get across theological points which Pressler sees as artificial to the battle account. To her, the battle details also are unreliable (54-55).

The trend of undercutting historical dependability keeps popping up. The Gibeonite-Israelite treaty (Joshua 9) did not occur according to Pressler’s view on archaeology and textual matters (68). She casts much doubt on the sun standing still in Joshua 10, and favors a metaphorical, not a literal, idea (80-81). The Book of Ruth is a “novella,” short story (tale). Somehow, Pressler allows it as “true,” yet one has difficulty with inconsistency in her also saying it lacks historical factuality (261). Positively, she does take Ruth’s lying on the threshing floor and talking with Boaz, not as some writers suggest, as an invitation for sex but a decent proposal of marriage (289-90). Back in Judges 11, she feels that evidence supports Jephthah offering his daughter as a burnt offering to fulfill a misguided vow.

Helpfully, the work often sums up matters, crystallizes some issues, and explains customs. But overall it does not offer outstanding assistance, and it does not give a high view on the veracity of what the books say. More detailed works will offer far more to laity, students, or pastors who believe in reliable bases for things Pressler pronounces untrustworthy.