Peoples of the Old Testament World

By Alfred J. Hoerth, Gerald L. Mattingly, and Edwin Yamauchi
Grand Rapids : Baker (1994). 400 Pages.

Reviewed by
6.1 (Spring 1995) : 102-103

D. J. Wiseman's Peoples of Old Testament Times (Oxford: University Press, 1973) was a prototype for the present work. Yet not only does this volume "include developments and theories that have emerged since 1973," it also offers more information than most Bible dictionaries on the thirteen selected groups of peoples.

The book's preface chronicles the inception and growth of Wheaton College's interest in Near Eastern archaeology which led to a conference in 1989 focusing on "Peoples of the Old Testament World," the present work being an outgrowth of the papers presented. Many of the entries include personal research and secondary sources which postdate the conference.

In the foreword, Alan Millard candidly acknowledges both the gaps in knowledge about many of the peoples discussed therein as well as the priority of textual evidence over the other materials these peoples left behind. Guidelines like these for the use of historical tools are too rare. They condition less methodologically informed readers to use the tool more thoughtfully.

One could have hoped for a consistent format for each entry, but the accident of discovery and the personal preferences of contributors mitigate against such uniformity. Bill T. Arnold's discussion of the Babylonians offers, in addition to a historical survey, topical discussions of culture, language, literature, art, science, and religion. This type of study lends itself to the needs of OT students better than the exclusively historical survey without topical discussion. In this regard, the entry on the Hittites by H. Hoffner is outstanding.

Hoffner's organization under the rubrics of Hittite material culture, society, and religion are most helpful. His additional discussion of "cultural and literary parallels to the Old Testament," although controversial in nature, draws together much of the previous discussion for comparative study. This is the primary focus and methodology implicit throughout the volume.

Peoples presented are the Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Hittites, Canaanites and Amorites, Phoenicians, Arameans, Philistines, Egyptians, Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites. With the exception of the Sumerians, all are named in the OT.

This tool will be helpful to pastors and teachers who need a more detailed presentation of the peoples in Israel's environs than is available in the standard Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias. The subject, author, and Scripture indexes make the book more suitable for reference and research.