2004 header issue 21

Good Books iconThis week’s Good Book is A Biblical History of Israel (Louisville: WJKP, 2003), by Iain Provan, V. Phillips Long and Tremper Longman III (all three of whom, as it happens, are personally known to me – though that in itself is no recommendation).  

You may already be asking: why a ‘biblical’ history of Israel? Isn’t one of the most obvious sources for Israelite history the Bible, and shouldn’t all histories of Israel by definition be ‘biblical’ in the sense of basing much of what they say on the OT text? Well, you might reasonably have thought so, but things are rarely that simple in biblical scholarship. In the last twenty or so years a number of scholars have argued that the OT cannot be treated as a reliable witness to Israel’s history: the OT, they argue, was written many centuries after the events it purports to describe, in the Persian period (540–332 BC) or even the Greek period (after 332 BC); the OT accounts of Israel’s history are distorted by the writers’ theological/political agendas; in effect the OT writers invented most of the history of monarchic and pre-monarchic Israel, creating a history that would justify political claims (possession of land) relating to their own days; and so on. If a history of Israel (or Palestine) is to be written at all, they claim, it must be done as far as possible without recourse to the OT, relying instead upon sources which are ideologically less ‘tainted’: archaeology; other ancient Near Eastern texts; comparative studies regarding population growth and state formation, and the like.  

A Biblical History of Israel is written with the express aim of countering such approaches. Provan, Long and Longman do not, of course, ignore archaeology, ancient Near Eastern texts and other fields of research that may help in the reconstruction of Israel’s history, but they aim to base their account of Israel’s history squarely upon the testimony of the OT, which, they argue, is the most detailed and for many periods the only substantial historical source. Of course the OT accounts of Israel’s history are not neutral; of course their writers had theological and other interests which influenced their presentation, for all historiography inevitably reflects the perspectives and interests of its authors; but that does not mean that we can discard the OT.

The book falls into two parts: 100 pages of methodological preamble in which the authors justify their approach to Israelite historiography, followed by 200 pages in which the authors give their presentation Israel’s history from Abraham to the Persian period. This presentation does indeed rely heavily on the Bible, but it is not simply a paraphrase of the biblical text. On the contrary it handles the biblical and other evidence with a methodological sophistication rarely seen in histories of Israel. One of the great strengths of this work is that the writers are alert to the literary artistry of the OT texts: not for them the crude literary-critical approach which chops the biblical texts up into early and late parts and then essentially discounts the late parts as historical sources; on the contrary, the biblical texts are skillfully composed literary wholes, and this fact must influence the use we make of them in historical reconstruction. (See, for example, the writers’ treatment of Joshua and Judges, where they argue against the view that the OT contains two  views of the Israelite occupation of Canaan; or the arguments against the view that 1 Samuel 16 and 17 gives two different accounts of how Saul met David.)

The book is hardly light reading: the 300 pages of main text are closely argued, and they are buttressed by a further 80 pages of footnotes. But really, it must be the best biblically conservative presentation of Israel’s history currently available, well-argued, and with copious references to the scholarly literature. The methodological section is in many ways ground-breaking, highlighting issues that no one interested in Israel’s history can ignore. This book definitely deserves to become a standard text. Such, at least, is going to be its status in the OT teaching offered at BGST!

(Review by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)


On May 26th Rebecca Lee spoke about her work in Cambodia and about ‘enjoying God’ while she waits for her calling to become clear.

Dr Ng Peh Cheng will be leading Chapel on June 16th. Come & worship with us at 12 noon-12.45pm.

Counselling Skills: Dealing with Stress and Fatique

by Mr Song Cheng Hock

This course commences this Wednesday, 9th June.

You can still register by calling us at 63538071.


  1. Students interested in alternatives to the Bibleworks bible software might want to check out a Mac-based alternative called Accordance. Modules available, which include morphologically-tagged NA27 greek text, BHS Hebrew text, LXX, Qumran sectarian writings, Pseudepigrapha in Greek, all major English versions, etc. Students get 10% discount. For details, see: http://www.oaksoft.com/ 

    The problem of course, is that the native environment for Accordance is Mac OS and not windows. If you choose to “move” to Mac, the Apple stores are offering an educational discount for their iBooks and Powerbooks (roughly $300 off the regular price).  Check if you qualify at:
    http://www.asia.apple.com/applestorenews/edu/advantage/tcSB.html. Speak to Tze-Ming at 63538085 if you want more details.

  2. Away from Office. The June holidays are here and a number of our faculty/staff will be at church camps/retreats:  Susan (1-4 Jun), Dr John Lim (7-10 & 14-18 Jun), Dr Quek (14-18 Jun), Serene (16-18 Jun), Dr Ng Peh Cheng (21-23 Jun).

  3. Condolences. The Council, Faculty & Staff of BGST wish to express our deepest sympathy to Assoc Prof Teo Choo Soo, our former Council Chairman, on the demise of his father-in-law, the late Mr Chua Too Swee, on 29 May. We pray that the Lord will grant them peace and strength during this time of bereavement.

Building Fund update at $1,170,808

A Blessed Birthday to ...

Mr Lionel Chan  8/6

Ms Tan Li Chuang  9/6

Mr Wong Kam Weng  9/6

Ms Alice Phillip  10/6

Mrs Joceyn Chng  10/6

Ms Cindy Khaw  11/6

Mr Lawrence Oliver  11/6

Mr Dennis Lee  12/6

Dr Tan See Seng  12/6

Ms Janette Koh 13/6

Mr Ronald How  13/6

Ms Sandra Heng  13/6

Pastor Gerard Seow  13/6

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