The Old Testament: Text and Context. 2nd

By Victor H. Matthews and James C. Moyer
Peabody, Mass. : Hendrickson (2005). xv + 357 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
19.2 (Fall 2008) : 274-276

Both Matthews and Moyer are professors of religious studies at Missouri State University. Matthews has authored at least six books including Manners and Customs in the Bible (3d ed., Hendrickson, 2006) and Studying the Ancient Israelites: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Baker, 2007). In addition, he has coauthored at least eight books, including Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East (3d ed., Paulist, 2007), as well as The Social World of Ancient Israel (Hendrickson, 2005) with Don Benjamin, and The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (InterVarsity, 2000) with John H. Walton and Mark W. Chavalas. Moyer has written numerous book reviews and articles for Biblical Archaeologist. With Matthews, he co-authored “Archaeological Coverage in Recent One-Volume Bible Dictionaries,” BA 55 (1992):141-51—one of several articles dealing with one-volume Bible dictionaries, atlases, handbooks, and commentaries.

Hendrickson published the first edition of The Old Testament: Text and Context in 1997. Revisions in this second edition add nearly 36 pages to the volume, including updated archaeological data, new sidebars illustrating the text’s discussions and providing new translations of ANE texts, restructured chapters, recomposed study questions concluding each section, “Additional Resources” (312-16) providing students with tools to pursue further studies, and an expanded “Glossary of Terms and Concepts” (317-31). Indexes for “Names and Subjects” (333-42) and “Ancient Sources” (343-57) conclude the volume.

The textbook’s 105 sidebars are its key feature. Examples of their subject matter and representative pages are as follows: biblical information (9, 73, 152), archaeological information (12, 25, 94), historical information (15, 287), literary and interpretative information (30, 53, 132-33), various translations of ANE texts (83, 140, 179), and Scripture quotes (63, 67, 106).

The authors provide 243 study questions presented in 39 sets (some with as few as 2 questions). Many of the questions have no relation to the textbook’s coverage. Students must seek the information in the suggested resources contained in pages 312 -16. Throughout the text the authors place unfamiliar technical terms in bold type, indicating that the glossary provides a definition. Outside the shaded sidebars, Matthews and Moyer have also inserted 11 maps, 2 charts, 6 drawings, and 21 photos where pertinent to the discussion. However, it could not be considered richly illustrated—pages of text remain uninterrupted by such insertions (e.g., 183- 214 and 234-78). Although the volume is an introductory textbook to the canonical OT, it includes overviews of deuterocanonical books (294-307).

One of the strengths of this volume is its utilization of archaeological data and ANE literature to illuminate the historical and social setting of OT events and characters. Matthews and Moyer present superb parallels between the biblical text and ANE records (e.g., 169, 192, 256). Other positive aspects of the volume include their treatment of khesed (158), their understanding of biblical acrostics (210) and chiasms (212), and their recognition of the defensibility of a patriarchal date for the composition of the Book of Job (244). They also offer very sound reasons for the absence of “God” in the Book of Esther (275).

Beyond these positive observations, however, the volume possesses many negatives. To start with, the volume exemplifies a minimalist and documentarian approach championed by liberal theologians applying a hermeneutics of doubt and suspicion regarding the biblical record. Apparently Darwinian evolution is one of the authors’ presuppositional standards (“questions that have troubled humanity since the cave,” 237). Social and religious evolutionary philosophy informs their treatment of the development of the Jewish religion (219-21). The volume also promotes multiple authorship for Isaiah (212). The authors attribute apparent differences between parallel biblical texts to either the biblical writer’s ignorance or an editor’s agenda (175). Denying the messianic interpretation of Isaiah 53, the authors adhere to multiple interpretations of the text (216). In addition, they belittle and misrepresent the NT view of Satan (245). In fact, they argue that the writers of Scripture utilized non-historical events to communicate truth (276)—an example being the Noahic Flood (52, 276). Furthermore, they take an agnostic stance with regard to the historicity of the exodus (81) and explain away divine revelation whenever possible (89, 119, 243, 288).

In a methodological matter, Matthews and Moyer frequently cite detailed statistics, but provide no sources to support them (e.g., 83, 86, 217). As far as coverage is concerned, they omit any reference to the finds at Ebla (Tel Mardikh). For the sake of accuracy, the glossary needs corrections as follows: Qumran is not the only site for Dead Sea scroll discoveries—there are eight additional sites (“Dead Sea Scrolls,” 320); “Haplography” (323) is the accidental deletion of a word or phrase where two of the same were originally present; and, the entry for “Theodicy” (330) is much too general.

While this volume contains some valuable information, the authors’ approach and views create an atmosphere of antisupernaturalism and minimalism antithetical to divine revelation. Evangelical teachers would do well to avoid its use as a textbook. All of the good material occurs readily elsewhere within either a neutral or a soundly evangelical context.