Book Review: A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd Edition

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 10.26.00 AMA Survey of the Old Testament by Andrew Hill and John H. Walton

Zondervan | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!

This book is now five years old, and though I’ve not had it quite that long, this review has been in the works for a while.

From the outset, Walton and Hill (hereafter W/H unless otherwise indicated) make it clear that their work reflects their convictions—they are evangelicals. For those for whom “evangelical” essentially amounts to insular theological positions and a reticence in gleaning from the fruits of higher criticism, let it be said that Walton and Hill do not quite fit that mold. They do believe that the OT is “God’s self-revelation” (21) and it is an authoritative work (26), yet those familiar with Walton’s work (I can’t speak for Hill) know that he does not toe the typical conservative line when it comes to interpreting the text. In Appendix A, W/H claim that “Evangelical is a term in vogue to describe those who acknowledge the authority of the Bible” and that it is a bit more precise, perhaps, than the label “conservative” (753). W/H also rightly notes that both “liberals” and “conservatives” employ the same critical methodologies, the primary difference between them ultimately coming down to presuppositions and how they interpret the evidence. So, as evangelicals, W/H will certainly interpret texts differently than would those who do not make “supernaturalistic claims,” yet to dismiss their work on these grounds would be most unfortunate.

As far as the content of the book, W/H cover a tremendous amount of ground, which is virtually impossible to avoid if one is going to survey the vast landscape that is the OT. Concerning their readership, those on both sides of the aisle (read conservative and liberal) will find parts with which they can wholeheartedly agree and strongly disagree. For those in the evangelical camp, a number of things will likely dishearten them. For one, W/H do not hold to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (79, 104, 165). Walton notes that there is good evidence for Moses as the editor/compiler, but it is lacking for Moses as author. Concerning the book of Deuteronomy, Walton suggests “Moses can be affirmed as the dominant, principal, and determinative voice in the book, and he is credited with at least some of the writing” (165). Authorship is a prickly issue anyway as those in the ancient world did not write books in the same way that moderns think about it, so W/H are simply following the evidence where it leads them. In sum, W/H have no issue with ascribing Mosaic authorship to sections of the Pentateuch, but not to the final form. Additionally, Walton’s take on the primeval history certainly differs from the opinion of many of his evangelical brethren. Walton has fleshed this out in much more detail in more recent works, so his treatment here is necessarily brief, though it remains informative. On the other hand, the evangelical audience will likely appreciate W/H’s take on other accounts, such as the Exodus.

Perhaps the most notable update in this volume is the amount of visuals included—they are found on nearly every other page! In addition to the numerous charts and excurses an abundance of photographs have been included. While some of them are rather run of the mill, the majority are quite stunning! As someone who benefits greatly from visual representation of data, photography is always welcome. Naturally such embellishments are not always suitable, but for a volume such as this they are and enhance the reading experience by providing visualization of the content matter. Another minor detail that I found helpful is indication of which author wrote which section, though a couple were unidentified.

My criticisms of the book are mostly due to editorial restrictions. For example, the opening section on geography is quite helpful, considering that the physical landscape is important throughout the Hebrew Scriptures; yet, there is a rather brief discussion of the land as a significant element of Jewish theology. Similarly, other sections of the book suffer a bit from comparatively shorter discussions than books/sections that are themselves shorter. For example, the sections on the major prophets are hardly longer than the sections dealing with each of the 12 individually. Again, I understand that there are restrictions on space—this book clocks in just shy of 800 pages—and authors have to be selective. I do wish that some of the sections were a bit longer and that others were a bit briefer.

There really is no comparison between the second and this newer third edition—it’s practically a complete overhaul. This updated volume is reminiscent of other visually-appealing books in Zondervan’s catalog. Expanded content and stunning visuals set this volume apart not only from its predecessors, but also from many other OT introductions available. While Walton and Hill may not win over everyone (primarily outside of more conservative circles), this work is certainly worthy of consideration and could easily be one of the more sought after OT introductions, especially for students just beginning the journey of study beyond an English translation.

Αυτω η δοξα

A Handy Guide to Scholarly Editions of the Bible

I received in the mail today, as I’m sure some of you have, a handy guide to the scholarly editions published by the German Bible Society. It’s a guide geared for first-year students, “who might benefit from a basic introduction like this.” There are short write-ups on the BHK, BHS, and BHQ, as well as a short history on the Greek New Testament.

If you’re interested in perusing this handy little guide, you can download the pdf. And, be sure to check out the website, Academic Bible, where you can view the text of these scholarly editions of the bible.

Αυτω η δοξα

OT Textual Criticism

Having to work through yet another set of text-critical issues for my paper, I am content to think of such exercises as providential plagues! How long, O Lord, how long?

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Call for Resources

I have decided to preach through the book of Jonah at the conclusion of this semester (and before I start summer sessions). Here’s where I need your suggestions–resources! I have plenty in the way of lexical and grammatical resources, but not in the way of commentaries and other resources. I don’t only want suggestions for commentaries, but any other volumes specific to the book of Jonah that are helpful in understanding the book.

What volumes do you suggest?

The criteria are:

  1. Must be written by a notable OT scholar (would anyone else attempt such a feat?)
  2. Must be accessible, i.e. I don’t want to waste time reading rabbit chases cased in technical jargon!
  3. Must be affordable. I have a wife, four kids, and a summer and fall’s worth of tuition to pay for, so I have to be judicious in my selections!

That’s not asking too much, is it? ;-)

I plan to start the series on Sunday, May 2, which means I’ll begin preparing the previous Monday. I have several OT introductions and other materials that will be useful in preparing the first sermon (in which I try to set up the background of the letter/account), but I would like to have books in hand by  Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Quote of the Day

Thanks to Dr. Claude Mariottini for the quote of the day (taken from his post on the divine name):

“Christians should avoid using the name Jehovah because it does not provide an accurate translation of the Hebrew name for God. And, although I am going against the majority of Biblical scholars on this issue, I believe we should take seriously God’s desire that he wants to be remembered forever by his name.”

Read the whole thing here.

HT: Charles Savelle

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Hebrew is…

…killing me!

I’ve mentioned how I’ve neglected my Hebrew since I graduated seminary and now it’s catching up with me. Here’s an analogy. Hebrew is a pool/sea/other body of water and mostly I’ve been able to tread water well enough to keep my head above the surface, maybe even muster the strength to break out into a nice rhythm and actually swim. However, just about the time I get going, something happens and I find myself struggling to stay afloat!

Anyway, I am thoroughly enjoying exegeting the book of Ruth and hope to avoid completely drowning through the remainder of the semester.

A lesson for the kids out there–don’t neglect your languages when you finish seminary!

,שָׁלוֹם

Jason

Translating

TC recently opined concerning how his Greek suffered in 2009. Ever since I graduated from seminary in 2004, my knowledge of Hebrew has considerably weakened. In an attempt to remedy this unfortunate state, I’ve been reviewing Hebrew grammar and vocabulary for a little while now and I am noticing improvement. Though memorizing paradigms and vocabulary are important, I have found actually translating the text to be more beneficial for relearning what I thought was forever burned into my brain.

One example from seminary reinforces this for me. I took a Hebrew exegesis class on the Psalms and one of our assignments was to recite Psalm 23 (with no helps or prompts obviously) before the class. It was a minor assignment, only a small percentage of the final grade, but it turned out to be a most helpful exercise. I, of course, memorized it and recited it and went on with the remainder of the semester toiling through the quizzes, paper, and exams. But even now, so many years later, I remember that psalm. I stumble through a couple of the verses, but because I learned to read it and say it, I feel it stuck with me.

Now, depending on the text I am reading and/or translating, I see a word that is used in that psalm, regardless of the inflection, and I can usually parse it so that I can move on in the text. It is so time-consuming to stop and look up a word in a lexicon or in the footnotes (I use A Reader’s Hebrew Bible for my current endeavor). So when I run across those occasional words that occur in Psalm 23, I am reminded of the importance reading, translating, and memorizing have in my efforts to become proficient in Hebrew.

Are there any particular methods you have used that have been helpful?

,שָׁלוֹם

Jason