A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars

By Walter C. Kaiser
Nashville : Broadman & Holman (1998). xx + 540 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
10.2 (Fall 1999) : 307-309

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Old Testament and President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has written a fine volume dealing with the history of God’s chosen people. After an introductory section, Kaiser covers Israel’s history from the time of Abraham through the Hasmonean Kingdom in the Intertestamental Period. Throughout his volume Kaiser demonstrates a special desire to respond to the skeptical claims of the “biblical minimalists” who discount much historicity of the OT accounts. H is approach is “to take the Bible on its own terms, just as w e have taken all the epigraphic materials from the ancient N ear East as reliable— until they were proven to be otherwise” (xii). Kaiser devotes 47 pages to introductory matters (compared with 9 pages in Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History and 5 pages in Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel). His first chapter deals with “The Current State of OT Historiography” where he critiques critical approaches to Israel’s history and sets forth his own approach. Kaiser highlights five modern fallacies practiced by “minimalists” as they reconstruct Israel’s history, and he provides an overview of five major approaches to evaluating the historical worth of written and material evidence for Israel’s history (Traditional school, Albright/W right/Bright Baltimore school, Alt/Noth school, Norman Gottwald school, and non-pan Israelite tribal confederation school). The next two chapters in this introductory section overview the geographical and archaeological context of ancient Israel.

The majority of the book plows through the history of Israel in accordance with the major chronological periods (nine sections). Due to space limitations, only select conclusions are cited. Kaiser appears to be ambivalent concerning the location of Ur (55-57). He suggests that the bondage of Israel in Egypt began under the Hyksos (81; contra Merrill). He accepts the face value meaning of large numbers (102) and cites a landslide as the cause of the stopping of the Jordan River in Joshua 3 (141-42). He accepts the early date of the Exodus from Egypt (104-111). Kaiser provides a helpful summary of the four main theories of how the Israelites entered and settled the land (144-54; conquest, peaceful infiltration, peasants’ revolt, pastoralist groups). In the midst of his treatment of the Divided Monarchy, Kaiser introduces the reader to the foundation for establishing a chronology for OT events (292-300) (something neither Wood nor Merrill do).

An appendix of chronological charts, a glossary of key terms (16 pages), a brief bibliography, and indexes (author, subject, and scripture) conclude this volume.

In general, Kaiser’s volume has a more polemical tone than either Wood or Merrill. At times his interaction with modern scholarship crowds out a more synthetic exposition of Israel’s history. For example, the chapter on the patriarchs focuses on the background and historicity of the patriarchs. It gives no attention to the patriarchs as individuals. Some factual errors (24, the depth of the Dead Sea at the northern end is almost 2600’ below sea level, not 1300’; 69, the butler, not the baker, remembered his promise to Joseph) and a number of proofreading glitches (15 [extra line], 63 [incorrect quotation mark], 113 [“live” should be “life”], 133 [missing word], 214 [missing “of”], 308 [extra space], 354 [unnecessary “but”], and 458 [incorrect paragraph break]) escaped the attention of the editorial staff.

In spite of these quibbles, Kaiser’s book on Israel’s history provides an important and needed perspective. Although the polemical tone sometimes overshadows the other parts of the book, he helps the reader realize the issues that are at stake in the realm of OT history. Beyond that, he provides a conservative response to those important issues.