Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books

By Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson, eds.
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (2005). xxiii + 1060 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
19.1 (Spring 2008) : 107-109

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books(DOTHB) continues IVP’s excellent Dictionary of the Old Testament series, which started with Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, edited by David W. Baker (2003). New Testament companion volumes include Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (1992), Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (1993), Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (1997), and Dictionary of New Testament Background (2000). For DOTHB, 122 contributors present 161 entries covering almost everything someone might want to know about the historical books (Joshua–Nehemiah, minus Ruth) from “Agriculture and Animal Husbandry” (1-20) by Gerald A. Klingbeil to “Zion Traditions” (1019-25) by J. Alan Groves. Apparently a different volume will include the Book of Ruth (989), but the editors in their preface give no warning or explanation for Ruth’s omission (ix-xi). In the front and back materials the editors provide all the aids that will enable readers to get the most out of the volume: “How to Use This Dictionary” (xii-xiii), “Abbreviations” (xiv-xix), “Transliteration of Hebrew” (xx), “Contributors” (xxi-xxiii), “Archaeological Periods” (1026), maps of Palestine and the Ancient Near East (1027-28; some maps also occur with entries, 37, 319-27), “Scripture Index” (1029- 46), “Subject Index” (1047-59), and “Articles Index” (1060). Five levels of cross-references enable serial reading of connected topics: (1) alphabetical insertion of topics often leading to subdivisions of articles, (2) asterisks marking key topics included in the entries, (3) parenthetical cross-references to articles, (4) cross-references at the end of an article (just ahead of the bibliography for that entry), and (5) cross-references to companion volumes in the IVP Dictionary series (both OT and NT).

Each article concludes with a select bibliography pertinent to that entry’s topic. These vary in length and detail. Amelie Kuhrt’s (“Persia, Persians,” 768-82) is perhaps the lengthiest and most helpful (778-82). On the other end of the spectrum, one of the most disappointingly thin bibliographies concludes J. Andrew Dearman’s “Moab, Moabites” (705-7). Bibliographies for the biblical books themselves (e.g., “Samuel, Books of,” [866-77] by Bill T. Arnold) are divided into two sections: “Commentaries” and “Studies” (876-77). In addition to the valuable bibliographies, several charts display details on a variety of studies. The following is a partial listing: “Ratio of Caprines/Bovines in Religious Contexts in the Historical Books” (10), “Implicit Comparisons: ‘Signs’ of Blessing and Cursing” (174-75), “Lists of David’s Sons” (214), and “Distribution of Elements Throughout Major-Judges Accounts” (583). More charts could have enhanced the volume further.

Reading DOTHB, this reviewer was struck by the number of significant contributions. He has inserted bibliographic references to most of these entries into his own course bibliographies and recommends the articles to his students. Such readings include the following: “Aramaic Language” (50-60) by Jerome A. Lund, “Assyria, Assyrians” (97-105) by A. Kirk Grayson, “Chronology” (181-88) by Kenneth A. Kitchen, “Faith” (296-300) by Peter Enns, “Forgiveness” (301-4) by John N. Oswalt, “Genealogies” (309-16) by John H. Walton, “Geographical Extent of Israel” (316-28) by Frederick J. Mabie (TMS M.Div. graduate, 1999), “God” (336-55) by Daniel I. Block, “Hebrew Inscriptions” (366-80) by Judith M. Hadley, “Innerbiblical Exegesis” (502-9) by William M. Schniedewind, “Linguistics” (657- 69) by Cynthia L. Miller, “Omri Dynasty” (755-64) by Joel E. Drinkard, Jr., “Scribes and Schools” (884-88) by David W. Baker, “Sources, References to” (935-41) by Kevin L. Spawn, “Text and Textual Criticism” (954-60) by Al Wolters, “Women” (989-99) by Mary J. Evans, and “Writing, Writing Materials and Literacy in the Ancient Near East” (1003-11) by Alan R. Millard.

The editors purposely avoided the inclusion of entries on every named character in the historical books, opting instead to group them into entries treating a dynasty or family (e.g., “David’s Family” [211-15] by Steven L. McKenzie, and “Omri Dynasty”). The results of this policy have been “fresh insights which would not have emerged had each family member or each king in a dynasty been treated separately” (x).

Two grouped topics deserve special attention: “History of Israel” and “Non-Israelite Written Sources.” In the former the editors have provided a multi-authored and ordered history of Israel handily collected into one section of the volume. Eight separate articles divide the history according to its major periods: “Settlement Period” (425-34) by Sam A. Meier, “Premonarchic Israel” (434-42) by Mark W. Chavalas, “United Monarchy” (442-52) by Andrew E. Hill, “Division of the Monarchy” (452-58) by McKenzie, “Assyrian Period” (458-78) by Brad E. Kelle and Brent A. Strawn, “Babylonian Period” (478-85) by Paul-Alain Beaulieu, “Persian Period” (485-93) by Tremper Longman III, and “Postexilic Community” (493-97) by Peter R. Bedford. The second grouped topic provides a reading in non- Israelite written sources without having to look under the separate language headings. Five entries cover the major corpuses: “Assyrian” (724-30) by Grayson, “Babylonian” (730-35) by David B. Weisberg, “Egyptian Aramaic Papyri” (735-39) and “Old Persian and Elamite” (739-43) by H. G. M. Williamson, and “Syro-Palestinian” (743-50) by Simon B. Parker.

Due to the significance of the interpretation of history in the historical books of the OT, one would expect an entry for maximalists and minimalists (or, maximalism and minimalism). However, the reader is left to track down definitions, adherents, and discussion by appealing to the subject index, where “minimalists” has twelve references but “maximilists” is totally absent. Craig G. Bartholomew (“Hermeneutics,” 404-5) and Carl S. Ehrlich (“Philistines,” 786) include brief discussions of these two contrasting positions. Hill (“History of Israel 3: United Monarchy,” 445) provides a bit more detail, including the addition of the medialist position (similarly, Kelle and Strawn in “History of Israel 5: Assyrian Period,” 460). However, the fullest discussion occurs in “Quest of the Historical Israel” by Robert D. Miller II (832-33), which still leaves much to be desired. The topic deserves more specific and extensive attention, since it represents one of the key ongoing debates in historical studies. As it is, the absence of a separate entry might prove the old saying that a reference book is one in which the reader can quickly find what it does not contain.

Some of the entries were disappointing due to the writers’ weak support for biblical accuracy and integrity. For example, in “Oral Tradition and Written Tradition” (764-67) Richard S. Hess ignores the option that God Himself most likely re-revealed Jeremiah’s prophecies after King Jehoiakim had destroyed the original document (see Jeremiah 36). He concludes that the reproduction of the prophecies merely “demonstrates the memory capacity of an oral culture to recreate the written text after it has been destroyed” (766). An example of the inclusion of differing viewpoints in the volume appears in the handling of large numbers by David M. Fouts’ “Numbers, Large Numbers” (750-54) through a hyperbolic approach and Baker’s contrasting insistence that, “when figures are recorded in this context of a military muster (e.g., Num 1–2; 1 Sam 14:14; 2 Sam 8:1-14), we should assume their accuracy” (“Scribes and Schools,” 887).

DOTHB should be in the library of every Bible student and teacher, as well as every institution engaged in biblical education. IVP’s series of dictionaries stands as a landmark accomplishment for biblical scholarship. The reviewer looks forward to the future completion of the OT series.