Archaeology and the Old Testament

By Alfred J. Hoerth
Grand Rapids : Baker (1998). 447 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
10.2 (Fall 1999) : 299-301

Anyone expecting Archaeology and the Old Testament to be an archaeology textbook will be disappointed, but those in search of a historical survey of the OT, coordinated with archaeological illustrations, will be delighted. For archaeological links to the OT, Hoerth draws upon thirty years of teaching at Wheaton College, where he also served as director of archaeology. He also coedited Peoples of the Old Testament World (Baker, 1994) with Gerald L. Mattingly and Edwin M. Yamauchi and authored “The Egyptian Game of Hounds and Jackals” (140), to be published by the British Museum in Board Games in Perspective, ed. I. L. Finkel. Hoerth has also participated in numerous archaeological excavations.

This is the companion volume to Archaeology and the New Testament, by John McRay (Baker, 1991). Hoerth’s volume should be considered an updated and improved replacement for volumes such as Merrill F. Unger’s work of the same title, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Zondervan, 1954), and R. K. Harrison’s Old Testament Times (Eerdmans, 1970). The purpose of this volume is “to acquaint the beginning student in Old Testament studies with the reasons for this interest in archaeology and with some of the specific benefits that the discipline brings to the biblical text” (9). Frequent references are provided to significant journal articles in such periodicals as Biblical Archaeologist (BA, renamed Near Eastern Archaeology in 1998) and Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR). Out of 104 articles listed in the “Additional Reading” section at the conclusion of each chapter, BA and BAR have 44 references apiece. Out of 340 journal articles listed in the “Reference List” (423- 36), Hoerth cites BAR 159 times, BA 73 times, Israel Exploration Journal 24 times, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 22 times, and Palestine Exploration Quarterly (PEQ) 16 times. The remaining 46 citations are from 27 journals. This popularizing direction is also exhibited in the 32 references to the writings of Hershel Shanks in the “Reference List” (433-34).

The volume is strategically illustrated with over 250 charts, black and white photos, drawings, and diagrams. This compares with 14 maps and 29 charts (no photos or drawings) in Walter C. Kaiser’s A History of Israel (Broadman and Holman, 1998), which is also a historical survey of the OT (see the review of this volume elsewhere in this issue of TMSJ). Unfortunately, Hoerth usually does not cite sources for the illustrations, making it difficult to trace them to their original publication and context. The illustrations include the following ones of particular interest: a chart of the evangelical viewpoints of the patriarchal chronology (57), an artist’s reconstruction depicting a minimal breach in the walls of Jericho (to illustrate Hoerth’s opinion that there was no major collapse of the city walls, 210), a photo of a decorated ivory horn from 13th-century Megiddo (perhaps similar to that used by Samuel to anoint David, 254), and an archaeologically consistent artist’s conception of Goliath’s armor and weaponry (256).

The first chapter (“Archaeology: What It Is, What It Does, What It Does Not Do,” 13-30) is informative but cursory. A fuller treatment of the methods and science of archaeology would benefit the volume. C hapter 2 (“Mesopotamia before Abraham,” 31-55) is the most dependent upon archaeological evidence for its content. The remainder of the volume (56-422) is a running account of the historical record in the OT. Hoerth’s interpretive position is consistently evangelical. From time to time his tone is polemical, as when he writes: “It is telling that the liberal focus has presently shifted from the question of date to theorizing over how much, if any, of the exodus and conquest narrative is to be believed!” (181). He dates Abraham’s birth at 1952 B.C., Israel’s sojourn in Egypt from 1660-1447 B.C. (215 years rather than 430), and the Exodus in 1447 B.C. (57, 60, 156, 158).

Hoerth’s style of writing is transparent and sometimes personal. In his discussion of the Noahic flood he comments: “The bitterness that sometimes surrounds arguments for and against flood geology make archaeologists happy they are of another discipline” (191). He is also capable of adm itting that archaeologists and Bible scholars sometimes “simply do not know” (228) the answers to significant questions.

Overall the volume is generally well referenced. However, it has significant omissions. In the discussion of dates for Abraham it does not mention (in the text or in the “Reference List”) Eugene H. Merrill, “Fixed Dates in Patriarchal Chronology” (Bib Sac 137/547 [1980]:241-51). “Additional Reading” at the end of Chapter 7 (“Joseph and Moses in Egypt”) lists only one reference (164). At least four other sources would have benefitted the reader: Gleason L. Archer, “An Eighteenth Dynasty Rameses,” JETS 17/1(1974): 49-50; Charles F. Aling, “The Biblical City of Ramses,” JETS 25/2 (1982):129-37; Harold W. Hoehner, “The Duration of the Egyptian Bondage,” Bib Sac 126/504 (1969):306-16; and James R. Battenfield, “A Consideration of the Identity of the Pharaoh of Genesis 47,” JETS 15/2 (1972):77-85. With all of the references to works by Shanks, it is puzzling that Hoerth omits Jerusalem: An Archaeological Biography (Random House, 1995) from “Additional Reading” (276) as well as from the “Reference List” (434, which includes publications up to 1998). The following are representative of omissions on archaeology: Avraham Negev, ed., The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, 3rd ed. (Prentice, 1990); Ephraim Stern, The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 4 vols. (Simon/Carta, 1993); Walter E. Rast, Through the Ages in Palestinian Archaeology: An Introductory Handbook (Trinity, 1992); Keith N. Schoville, Biblical Archaeology in Focus (Baker, 1978), and D. J. Wisemans, ed., Peoples of Old Testament Times (Oxford, 1973). In addition, a variety of statements lack references to sources that would provide the reader with a paper trail. Examples of such omissions include the following: the Ugaritic contribution to understanding Prov 26:23 (18), the Kitchen quote (22 n. 10), Islamic claims of descent from Ishmael (104 n. 3), and the description of iron chariots (231 n. 9).

In explaining some difficult texts, Hoerth unnecessarily resorts to late scribal glosses (59). This is how he prefers to treat the phrase "in the land of Rameses" in Gen 47:11 (156 n. 14, 166 n. 1). Such treatment seems at odds with the accusation he makes against critical scholars: "To accept the biblical account is now said to be naïve" (215). It also contradicts his ow n principle that it is not sound practice to emend "the biblical text to make the identification fit" (225). In addition to the matter of scribal glosses, Hoerth waffles on the issue of recent creation (199) and offers "poetic license" as a possible explanation for the long day of Josh 10:12-13 (214).

The evangelical stance of Archaeology and the Old Testament, its many illustrations, and its persistent reference to popular sources make it especially suitable as a textbook for a historical survey of the OT in evangelical Bible colleges and seminaries. Those who have more than a minimal background in archaeology will still find it refreshing in its approach and stimulating in its polemics.