The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approache

  • David W. Baker, Bill T. Arnold
  • Jan 1, 2000
  • Series: Volume 3 - 2000

Baker, David W. and Bill T. Arnold eds. The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches. Grand Rapids: Baker; Leicester: Apollos, 1999. 512 pp. Hardback. ISBN 0-8010-2215-0.

Baker and Arnold have done Old Testament studies an essential service by providing one of the most important collections of essays to appear on the discipline. Although primarily edited and written by Evangelicals this work encompasses the whole field of Old Testament studies and will be useful to non-Evangelicals as well. By working section by section through the major disciplines of Old Testament (text, epigraphy, archaeology, literary approaches, Pentateuch, History books, history, prophets, wisdom, Psalms, apocalyptic, religion, social sciences, and theology) the work is reminiscent to some of the volumes produced earlier in the twentieth century by members of the British Society for Old Testament Study. However, no such general collection has appeared in decades (the last general SOTS volume, appearing 1989, limited itself to the social sciences). Therefore, Baker and Arnold provide a unique contribution to the contemporary scene.

The strongest parts of the book are those that update the reader over a comprehensive array of relevant theories and data. These are especially to be found in the sections on text criticism, historiography, early Israel, religion, theology and the various parts of the Old Testament (Pentateuch, Psalms, Exile, etc.). Again and again one encounters the key figures in the area and clearly written summaries. There is little that is overlooked. This is all the more surprising given the explosive nature of the field and the manner in which it has become increasingly difficult to gain some measure of control of it. One desire would have been for a little more editorial regularity so that one could have a review of the most important contributions in the field and the most significant theories as well. This occurs in some chapters but not all.

If one were to examine chapters in more detail this review would become unnecessarily long. Therefore, this writer will limit himself to the first four chapters which. Wolters' study on the text of the Old Testament is extremely helpful, covering all the major versions and the most important projects. One misses only some discussion of Tov's latest views about the chronological priority of the Septuagint prototype (e.g,, in Jeremiah and other books with large differences between the LXX and the MT) and the canonical acceptance of a Deuteronomistically influenced proto-Massoretic text. Also, somewhere the importance of Flint (with the Psalms) and others in raising questions about the position of a canon at the time of Qumran should have been addressed. Perhaps a separate chapter on canon could have been profitably included.

The work of Chavalas and Hostetter on epigraphy and the Old Testament is a serious attempt at a vast subject. Much of the material on Uruk and Early Bronze, while important for a history of writing and textual discoveries in Mesopotamia, is not relevant to the Bible. More useful would have been a study of the invention of the alphabet and its popularization in the environment of early Israel. Late Bronze review should continue to include the Alalakh archives and their importance. There is no mention of the Ekron inscription, the Moussaieff texts, or the more than one thousand Hebrew seals from Iron Age Israel and Judah. Some of these finds were announced too late to be included but others were not. Finally, note should be made of the three-volume Contexts for Scripture, edited by Hallo and Younger. With the first volume already having appeared, it will serve as a replacement for Pritchard's Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.

The chapter by Chavalas and Adamthwaite on archaeological light has an odd structure, being divided into three main themes: an archaeological survey of early Syro-Mesopotamia, the Joseph story and its context, and an argument for the early date of the exodus. Why were these sections selected and why was the remainder of the archaeology and the Bible overlooked? Chapters by Younger on early Israel and by Williamson on the exilic/postexilic period address some of the material from those times, but that still leaves gaps in the period of the Old Testament.

Longman's study of the literary approaches to the Old Testament is probably the most important chapter in the volume. For it is the only one (with the possible exception of Long on historiography) that seriously deals with issues of hermeneutics. This is the focus of concern for any study of the Old Testament. While providing and excellent review of the literature on literary approaches, Longman ably probes the philosophical backgrounds of post-modernism and considers some of its major proponents. The only complaint here is the wish that more time could have been spent reviewing the important Evangelical contributions of Thiselton (mentioned only by Long in a footnote) and Vanhoozer (only once in one of Longman's footnotes).

Richard S. Hess
Professor of Old Testament
Denver Seminary