The Face of Old testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches

By David W. Baker and Bill T. Arnold, eds.
Grand Rapids : Apollos/Baker (1999). 512 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
12.2 (Fall 2001) : 239-242

General introduction to the OT needs constant updating to stay abreast of current trends and issues regarding text, canon, criticism, historiography, and archaeology. Most available general introductions are outdated in their discussions of current issues. In 1985 The Hebrew Bible and Its Modern Interpreters edited by Douglas A. Knight and Gene M. Tucker (Minneapolis: Fortress) was published in order to call attention to current (at that time) and potential issues. Although the volume is admirable, it possesses three weaknesses: (1) It does not take an evangelical stance; (2) it is at least fifteen years outdated; and, (3) it is more fitting as a text for students in a Master of Theology or a doctoral program than for a student pursuing a Master of Divinity degree or an informed lay person. The Face of Old Testament Studies, on the other hand, is evangelical in stance, up-to-date, and makes a practical text for M.Div. students or informed lay persons. This volume is a welcome survey of developments in the field of OT studies from 1970 to 1997 (with some minor updates as late as A pril 1999).

The volume consists of the following sixteen essays: “The Text of the Old Testament” by Al Wolters (19-37), “Epigraphic Light on the Old Testament” by Mark W. Chavalas and Edwin C. Hostetter (38-58), “Archaeological Light on the Old Testament” by Mark W. Chavalas and Murray R. Adamthwaite (59-96), “Literary Approaches to Old Testament Study” by Tremper Longman III (97-115), “Pondering the Pentateuch: The Search for a New Paradigm” by Gordon J. Wenham (116-44), “Historiography of the Old Testament” by V. Philips Long (145-75), “Early Israel in Recent Biblical Scholarship” by K. Lawson Younger, Jr. (176-206), “The Historical Study of the Monarchy: Developments and Detours” by Gary N. Knoppers (207-35), “Exile and After: Historical Study” by H. G. M. Williamson (236-65), “Israelite Prophets and Prophecy” by David W. Baker (266-94), “Wisdom Literature” by Bruce K. W altke and David Diewert (295-328), “Recent Trends in Psalms Study” by David M. Howard, Jr. (329-68), “Recent Studies in Old Testament Apocalyptic” by John N. Oswalt (369-90), “Religion in Ancient Israel” by Bill T. Arnold (391-420), “Opening Windows onto Biblical Worlds: Applying the Social Sciences to Hebrew Scripture” by Charles E. Carter (421-51), and “Theology of the Old Testament” by R. W. L. Moberly (452-78). Indexes include a limited Subject Index (479-89), an apparently complete Author Index (490-506), and Scripture Index (507-12).

In a survey of significant archaeological finds relating to the OT, Chavalas and Hostetter provide brief descriptions of epigraphic material from Palestinian sites such as Arad, Beth-shan, Daliyeh, Deir ‘Alla (cf. fuller discussion, 92-94), Horvat Uza, Ketef Hinnom, Khirbet el-Qôm (cf. fuller discussion, 411-14), Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (cf. fuller discussion, 411-14), Lachish, Eliachin, Samaria, Tel Dan, Tell Siran, and Yavneh-Yam (45-53). Examples from Egyptian epigraphy are also included (53-58). Chavalas and Adamthwaite expand this archaeological survey to Syro-M esopotamia (59-69), then return to Egypt and Palestine in order to illuminate the biblical story of Joseph (71-78) and the account of the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan (78-96). Giving proper attention to the continued Egyptian influence in Palestine after the exodus and conquest, they arrive at a modified form of the early date for the exodus.

Several essayists discuss archaeological data as it relates to “the existence of a distinctive Israelite ethnicity” (195). None refer to either Deuteronomy 6:10-11 or Joshua 24:13 regarding Israelite use of Canaanite structures. Evangelicals should not expect distinct cultural discontinuity in cultural debris. The Israelites spent centuries in Egypt and acquired a large amount of Egyptian items at the time of their departure (cf. Exod 12:34-36). Distinctly Israelite cultural debris should not be expected until late in the period of the Israelite judges. Pig husbandry is closely related to the ethnicity question (195-96). Could NT references to Jewish involvement in pig husbandry (Matt 8:30-33; Luke 15:15-16) indicate a cultural trait from earlier times? Since social science critics compare biblical tradition with modern sociological data, why not compare ancient Israelite pig husbandry with Muslim pig husbandry in modern Bangladesh (something this reviewer personally observed during fifteen years in that country)? Either way, pig husbandry may not prove to be a dependable indicator of cultural discontinuity in ancient Palestine.

The Babylonian exile and the postexilic period have been objects of increased discussion in the last three decades (236). However, as Williamson points out, the attention has been focused more on new archaeological data rather than upon the biblical texts themselves (264). Evangelicals need to take up the challenge to provide biblical studies matching Edwin Yamauchi’s excellent historical study entitled Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990).

The Face of Old Testament Studies reveals a healthy skepticism regarding the various theories of biblical criticism. Longman accurately identifies some of the more extreme views of literary criticism as “the logical route to go once one loses faith in any kind of authority of the text” (113). Essayists consistently call for evangelicals to stand firm on the authority of the biblical text. Wenham warns against too quickly throwing aside the views of the so-called “biblical archaeology” movement initiated by Albright and Speiser (123) to run after the extreme views of Van Seters and Thompson. Arnold remarks that OT studies “have been dominated by evolutionary explanations for Israelite monotheism” (409) over the past three decades. Liberal biblical criticism is a living virus still infecting biblical studies with radical humanism and anti-supernaturalism.

Observing the ongoing skirmishes between liberal critics and evangelicals, Carter identifies three areas of tension between evangelicals and social science critics: (1) the uniqueness of Israel, (2) imposing modern worldviews on ancient Israel, and (3) the diminution of biblical exegesis (442-48). Long’s essay on historiography also deals with these tensions. He declares that “social science approaches often have little room for the Old Testament texts themselves” (165). For those who ignore the truth claims of the OT because of rebellion against God, Long suggests that the proper corrective is biblical repentance (173).

At the same time, however, the essayists recognize the contributions that have been made to OT studies by proponents of those theories. As Williamson puts it, “What is needed is a sober eclecticism, which necessarily involves the historian in a measure of reliance on the work of specialists in related disciplines” (241). With regard to the potential disregard of social science criticism by evangelicals, Carter warns against either “scholarly hubris or siege mentality” (448) and Long concludes that so “long as practitioners recognize the proper role of the social sciences in addressing background concerns, their studies provide a valuable service” (171). Knoppers calls for both factions to integrate the different kinds of evidence rather than to operate on a principle of compartmentalization and exclusion (235).

Several excellent essays omit significant evangelical contributions to the subjects being discussed. Long’s essay on historiography failed to mention John Warwick Montgomery’s The Shape of the Past: A Christian Response to Secular Philosophies of History (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975). Waltke’s superb survey of developments in the study of the Book of Proverbs ignored the significant contributions of Ted A. Hildebrandt (e.g., “Proverbial Strings: Cohesion in Proverbs 10,” Grace Theological Journal 11/2 [Fall 1990]:171-85; “Proverb,” in Cracking Old Testament Codes, ed. by D. Brent Sandy and Ronald L. Giese, Jr. [Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1995] 233-54).

Unfortunately, prophetic literature is the subject of the weakest essays in the volume. Oswalt is disappointingly negative in his discussion of OT apocalyptic and provides only a minimal definition (cf. 372). The reader is left to glean what he can from references in the footnotes. Baker’s essay on Israelite prophecy also lacks vitality. It is but a simple survey of literature and current discussions with virtually nothing in the way of either solutions or personal opinion. By comparison, Waltke’s lucid description of developments in the study of wisdom literature exposes the reader to potential solutions and Waltke’s own preferences.

In at least three footnotes, references are given to online sources (342 n. 42, 430 n. 28, 436 n. 45). Such references, in and of themselves, are an indication of developments in OT research in the past few decades. The problem, however, is that they tend to be ephemeral. One day they are available online and the next they have disappeared in cyberspace where they can no longer be checked, cross-referenced, or cited. After much searching, this reviewer was able to locate the first reference at a new address: <>. The other two references, however, are no longer available on the internet. That makes them the only two references in the volume that cannot be traced as cited. Unlike printed sources, they cannot be requested on inter-library loan when they have gone out of print. Biblical scholars would benefit immensely if some organization would provide a permanent archive of quality online materials so that interaction might continue even after an individual website closes.

This reviewer is employing Baker and Arnold’s volume as a required textbook in OT Introduction on the M.Div. level. It is a valuable resource for professor and student alike.