On the Reliability of the Old Testament

By K. A. Kitchen
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2003). xxii + 662 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
15.1 (Spring 2004) : 121-122

Kenneth Kitchen, the Brunner Professor of Egyptology (emeritus) at the University of Liverpool, England, has written numerous helpful journal articles, essays, and books that deal with Egyptology, the ancient Near East, and biblical history. In the face of a large portion of modern scholarship that dismisses the credibility of the biblical presentation o f history or that is too willing to revise that history, Kitchen gathers together “an unprecedented range of historical data from the ancient Near East— the Bible’s own world—and uses it to soundly reassess both the biblical record and the critics who condemn it” (flyleaf).

In the first chapter Kitchen lays the groundwork for the layout and methodology of the volume. In many ways, he is responding to biblical scholars who dismiss the historical credibility of the OT and date the composition of the OT to no earlier than the Hellenistic period. He defines “reliability” as “a quest into finding out what may be authentic (or otherwise) in the content and formats of the books of the Hebrew Bible” (3). As he deals with the various periods of biblical history, he utilizes two kinds of evidence: explicit/direct (Ancient Near East [ANE] annals that mention Israelite kings) and implicit/indirect (e.g., ANE treaties) (4). He divides OT history into 7 segments: primeval proto-history, the patriarchs, Egyptian sojourn and exodus, settlement in Canaan, united monarchy, divided monarchy, and exile and return. Interestingly, he begins with segment #6, the united monarchy period, the segment that has the most abundant external, non-biblical sources available for it. After giving some attention to the period of exile and return, Kitchen addresses the last 5 sections, beginning with the fifth (united monarchy) and working back to the earliest period (primeval proto-history), periods which have progressively less external, non-biblical data to consider. Kitchen provides thirty-seven tables scattered throughout the body of the volume, as well as fifty figures/maps toward the end of the book. His endnotes take up almost one hundred and fifty pages, and he finishes the book with helpful subject and Scripture reference indexes.

For a book of this size, only select sections can receive attention in a limited review. He provides an insightful overview of OT chronology, especially as it relates to the divided monarchy (22-31) and provides some chrononological principles (507-8, n. 66). He gives only brief attention to the Tel Dan Stela (36-37). He provides an overview of various explanations for large numbers that do not accept them at face value and seems to favor the one that deals with the meaning of the Hebrew word ’eleph (264-65). He does not mention any proponents who accept those large numbers at face value. On pages 307-12 he addresses the question of the date of the Exodus. As he has done in other publications, he advocates a late-date view, placing the Exodus in the 13th century B.C. (rather than the 15th century). He provides helpful insights on the interpretation of Exod 6:3 (commonly cited as evidence for a distinct “J” source) (329-30) and addresses the question of the existence of camels and Philistines in the patriarchal period (338-40). He presents a cutting critique of minimalists as related to all periods of Israel’s history (450-84). In vintage-Kitchen style, he writes with vivid and humorous language, often with a clear British flavor (50, 111, 114, 196, 246, 372, 461-62).

On the one hand, Kitchen has once again provided an outstanding volume for people who are committed to the reliability of the OT. He has gathered a wealth of information that demonstrates the shoddy scholarship of minimalism and that supports the reliability of the OT. On the other hand, the volume does not flow smoothly. It appears to have been pieced together with insufficient attention given to internal coherence. Even though Kitchen takes some positions that may not find acceptance at TMS (e.g., date of the Exodus, large numbers), his volume is sure to provide great help to anyone interested in understanding the wealth of information inside and outside the OT that supports the reliability of the Scriptures.