The Land: Place as Gift, Promise and Challenge to Biblical Faith. 2nd ed.

By Walter Brueggmann
Minneapolis : Fortress (2002). xxvii + 225 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
14.2 (Fall 2003) : 332-333

This volume is the second edition of Brueggmann’s earlier work by the same title. As part of the Overtures to Biblical Theology series by the publisher, it is a thoroughly revised and updated work, with an additional chapter and updated references.

The author is the well-known professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary and the author of numerous other works on OT themes. In this work he contends that the “land is a central, if not the central theme of biblical faith” (3, emphasis in the original). He builds a case that Israel’s entire experience was centered on a “promised land,” that while they were outside the land (as a nation), they were a homeless and helpless people (5). He attempts to demonstrate that the narrative of the OT is to be understood “in terms of that hope and in response to that promise” (ibid.), that is, the promise of God to provide Israel a land for themselves. He makes the remarkable claim that “Israel never had a desire for a relation with Yahweh in a vacuum, but only in land” (200).

The author, however, approaches the subject of the land in the OT from a theological, not an exegetical approach. He has no close examination of the relevant passages related to the land and no attempt to deal with the prophetic passages related to the boundaries; in fact the major passages related to the boundaries of the Promised Land (e.g., Exod 23:31; Num 34:1-12; Joshua 15) receive no mention at all. He makes no attempt to examine the promises of restoration and expanded boundaries, such as in Jer 31:38-40. The remarkable passage of Ezek 47:13–48:35 is called a “powerful typology” (134), and nothing more than the refreshing of the old traditions of the land division under Joshua, which the Davidic house had “ignored and destroyed” (192).

In reading this wholly unsatisfying book, one is left with the impression that the land of the Bible, for the author, is not a real place. It is an idealistic locale, not dissimilar to C. S. Lewis’ land of Narnia or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, wherein some surrealistic drama was played out and recorded in the text of the OT. It presents yet another vacuous hermeneutical scheme, which robs the Scripture of its reality and the reader of its power.