Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 51:4 (December 2008) p. 829
Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? By Lester L. Grabbe. London: T & T Clark, 2007, 306 pp., $29.95.
It is really the subtitle rather than the title that best introduces this book by Lester Grabbe, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism, University of Hull, UK. Ancient Israel is not a history of ancient Israel but a prolegomenon that proposes and discusses the underlying principles that allow such a history to be written. As such, the conversation that takes place between its covers is not designed for the average person on the street but for scholars who have more than a passing interest in the principles that underlie the reconstruction of ancient history.
The clear and systematic organization of the book is readily apparent from the table of contents. Here we can see that this work not only flows logically from chapter to chapter, but also is thoughtfully organized within each chapter, where multiple subtitles help maintain the reader’s orientation. Chapter 1 commences the discussion of method, laying bare the author’s approach to the history of ancient Israel. Six fundamental principles are presented and discussed prior to their application in the subsequent chapters: (1) all potential sources (including archaeological data, primary written sources, and secondary written sources) should be considered; (2) preference should be to primary sources; (3) the physical geography and larger historical context (longue duree) must be recognized and given an essential role in interpretation; (4) every episode or event detailed in the written sources has to be judged on its own merit; (5) all reconstructions are provisional, awaiting the arrival of new data; and (6) all historical reconstructions must be argued and supported, not simply exported from one’s favorite source.
In the next four chapters, Grabbe illustrates how these principles might function in addressing the history of ancient Israel, starting with the Middle Bronze Age and concluding with the time of the Babylonian exile. Each of these chapters that addresses a particular period of OT history consists of three major sections. The first surveys the ancient sources (primary and secondary) relevant to the period in view. This includes resources that originated in Israel itself and those associated with the peoples and nations that impacted Israel’s ancient past. The second offers a critical evaluation of each source, acknowledging its potential contribution and identifying its limitations. The third summarizes the main issues associated with writing Israel’s history from that period before summarizing what Grabbe feels can confidently be said about it. The final chapter returns to the larger premises of the title and reinforces the six ...
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