Review of “A Biblical History of Israel” (Provan, et al)

A Biblical History of Israel by Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003, 426 pp., paperback, $24.95

I approached this book expecting a halfway capitulation to the modern liberal push for a discarding of biblical Israel from the textbooks. But I was very pleasantly surprised. In fact, I would have to say that Provan, Long and Longman have written a History of Israel which must be considered essential reading for the student of the Old Testament. The opening section (about the first hundred pages, authored mainly by Provan) is a tour de force. In it Provan examines the various theories of history-writing that have led up to the Biblical Studies departments of two influential European faculties removing “biblical Israel” from the context of historical fact. The reader is led on a fascinating tour of historiographic methodology, all the while being strengthened by a telling critique of liberal approaches (including the subjective nature of much archaeology), and a powerful reinforcing of the facts of the Old Testament. Buy the book for this first part alone.

The rest of the book describes ancient Israel from the vantage point of the Bible as an indispensable and reliable historical witness. A welcome feature of the work is the explanation of narrative technique to underscore the messages of the OT books. By analyzing, for example, the story of the rise and fall of Saul, or, the Judges saga, the authors deepen our appreciation for these stories.

While I cannot bring myself to agree with every chronological reconstruction in the book, (especially the reign of Saul being cut in half), the authors never give the impression that they want to be anything but faithful to the Old Testament.

There are a lot of notes, unfortunately at the back. I say unfortunately because they do not serve merely for academic substantiation. They are most informative and interesting, and it is somewhat of a nuisance having to flit back and forth between text and endnotes.
This is an excellent book in nearly every way.

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