Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
WTJ 54:1 (Spring 1992) p. 175
Robert B. Coote: Early Israel: A New Horizon. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990. 176. $11.95, paper.
What have recent archaeological discoveries taught us about the early history of Israel? Coote sets out to address this question in the form of an introductory text. His goal is to provide a coherent summary of what is known and agreed upon by scholars concerning this period. The purpose, therefore, is survey rather than analysis, synthesis more than probing, and a service of information instead of a contribution to scholarship. Such a book could be of enormous use as an interim summary of archaeological and biblical research into the Israel of the second millennium BC. However, Coote liberally interjects his own theories into the book. Thus the text serves as an introduction to early Israel through Coote’s eyes, a perspective which, as it turns out, would not be shared by all.
It is interesting to see how such historical studies have changed over the years. A generation ago a book such as this would begin with a geographical survey of the land, including geology, topography, and climate. Under the increased influence of the social sciences, a book such as Coote’s now introduces its topic with a survey of agriculture, land tenure, sociological structures, and cult. As such it relies on assumed models of group behavior given particular economic realities; assumptions that share less in the nature of certainty then the old method, although they make for more interesting reading. There is an uneasiness about an interpretation that reduces everything to political power strategies for survival and expansion. The reconstruction is difficult to disprove, given the dearth of evidence (a fact Coote emphasizes), but it does serve the author’s purpose of destroying the myth of an idealized view of early Israel.
It is impossible to understand the early history of Israel without some sense of the importance of historical records from the Egyptian New Kingdom. Coote summarizes the relevance of this material for the period before and during the time of Israel’s appearance in Canaan. His observations include, among others, the administrative system for Egypt’s empire in Canaan (centers at Gaza, Kumidi, and Sumur), the distinction between abiru (= Hab/piru) and shasu (who are geographically localized and tribal), the “normalcy” of the Canaanite inter-city strife as recounted in the Amarna letters, the increased Egyptian presence in the architecture of southern and western Palestine in the first half of the twelfth century, and the decreasing evidence of settlement during the three and a half centuries of the Late Bronze Age in Palestine.
Chaps. 5 and 6, on the settlement of the coastal plain by the Philistines and on the s...
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