A History of Israel. 4th ed. With an introductiona and appendix by William P. Brown

By John Bright
Louisville, KY : Westminster/John Knox (2000). xxii + 533, 16 plates Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
12.1 (Spring 2001) : 101-103

This edition of Bright’s widely used history of Israel text was published posthumously (Bright died in March 1995). One of his OT colleagues at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, William P. Brown, edited the present volume. In addition to an expanded abbreviation list and more readable maps/plates (because of a better use of color contrast), Brown provides forty-five additional pages.

At the beginning of the body of the book (1-22), Brown gives an interesting introduction to the volume. After introducing the reader to the man, John Bright, and his basic method—i.e., his approach to Israel’s history—Brown delineates the unique contributions and advancements made by each of the earlier editions of this volume (1959, 1972, 1981). Brown contends that Bright’s attempt to combine theology and history sets his volume apart from a number of histories of Israel written by other critical scholars. God’s establishment and keeping of the covenant He made with Israel serves as the unifying thread or Mitte for Bright. Although he made numerous concessions to critical scholarship by the time of his third edition, Bright supported the historicity of a number of individuals as far back as the patriarchal period.

Brown also provides an appendix concerning “An Update in the Search of Israel’s History” (465-85). In this appendix, Brown seeks to survey the debate swirling around the issues of Israel’s “pre-history,” “origins,” “transition to monarchy,” as well as the relationship of history and faith. Throughout this section he seeks to relate what John Bright would have to say concerning the current scholarly debate dealing with the above issues (in light of his teaching and writings since the time of the 3rd edition and probably from his knowledge of John Bright as his teaching colleague). He provides insight into an important change that has taken place among critical scholars relating to the impact of archaeology on understanding the Bible. Whereas in the middle of the twentieth century, W. Albright contended that archaeology could not explain the basic miracle of Israel’s faith, archaeology did contribute to one’s understanding of biblical events (W . F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine [London: Penguin, 1949] 255). A recent scholar argues that “biblical” archaeology simply describes archaeology carried out in a biblical region (Volkmar Fritz, An Introduction to Biblical Archaeology, JSOT Supp. #172 [Sheffield: Sheffield, 1994] 12). He says nothing about the usefulness of “biblical” archaeology as it relates to biblical studies. In recent days, a much wider gap between the positive input of biblical archaeology and biblical studies has become quite apparent. As a matter of fact, a number of critical scholars (called “minimalists” by some) do everything possible to avoid using an archaeological discovery in favor of the historicity of a given biblical event.

Bright’s volume represents a number of contrasts. On the one hand (distinct from the general penchant of modern scholarship to reject the historicity of anything before the Divided Monarchy), Bright sees historical personages and events that go back as far as the patriarchal era. Granted, all that the Bible says about them may not be historical, but there are historically reliable accounts much older than most liberal scholars allow. Throughout his book he rejects numerous conjectural proposals by other scholars that run roughshod over the biblical text. For this he deserves commendation. On the other hand, he is no evangelical. He rejects an Exodus from Egypt by twelve tribes at one time as well as the biblical depiction of the Conquest of Canaan. His understanding of the dating of various OT books and the late development of numerous theological topics betrays his liberal leanings.

Although the average pastor will not find this book of great help, a serious student of Israel’s history needs to give this volume careful attention. It will provide a helpful introduction to various key issues in  that realm of study from a less conjectural perspective than most recent histories written by critical scholars.