Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
TRINJ 29:1 (Spring 2008) p. 131
Richard S. Hess. Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007. 432 pp. $34.99.
Richard Hess’s Israelite Religions provides a thorough overview of Israelite religions from an evangelical perspective. The plural form “religions” in the title is quite intentional, for Hess improves significantly upon earlier caricatures of Israelite religion as a dichotomy between radical monotheism and abject polytheism. Hess uses the latest extra-biblical evidence to paint a more nuanced picture of Israelite religions where aniconic Yahwism was practiced alongside aberrant forms of Yahwism and worship of other ANE deities. However, Hess diverges significantly from other ANE scholars who see an unregulated pluralism in ancient Israel. The biblical text and archaeological evidence still suggest a normative status for Yahwistic monotheism.
The structure of Israelite Religions is diachronic rather than synchronic in its treatment of ANE evidence. Hess devotes separate chapters to each geographical area (e.g., Palestine/Jordan,) in each time period (e.g., Bronze Age). Such a diachronic approach rebuts the source-critical and history-of-religions schools of OT interpretation on their own terms. The result is an integrative treatment of the biblical and extrabiblical evidence in the tradition of William F. Albright and Frank Moore Cross rather than Albrecht Alt and Rainer Albertz.
The first three chapters treat methodological issues in the study of Israelite religion. Among his many contributions, Hess critiques the documentary hypothesis in convincing fashion in ch. 2. Most notably, Hess rebuts Wellhausen’s late dating of the so-called “Priestly” material in light of ANE parallels from Emar in the thirteenth-century b.c. The combined force of Hess’s objections to the documentary hypothesis demonstrates that the time is ripe for the reappraisal of textual and archaeological data in the chapters that follow.
Chapters 4-7 provide a diachronic discussion of West Semitic religion in the light of textual evidence from the Pentateuch. Hess provides a cogent account of the development of Israelite religion as reflected through the individual generic strands of the Pentateuch. The narrative and legal strands describe an evolution from the Elyonistic family religion of the patriarchs to the Yahwistic national religion of Moses and the exodus. To explain this curious phenomenon, Hess opts for the explicitly theological proposal of Walter Moberly rather than the socio-religious proposal of Karel van der Toorn to explain Yahweh’s assumption of divine attributes attributed to other ANE deities (e.g., El and Baal). Like Moberly, Hess views Mosaic Yahwism a...
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