When the book Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament came out, Julie at T&S posted a very positive review, and I followed that up with my own (see “Finally!” FARMS Review 19/2 ). A couple of months ago Julie and I had the chance to meet one of the coauthors of that book, Eric Huntsman, and found him to be as delightful a person as he is fine a scholar.
When I saw the title to the book under review, Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament, it was obvious to me that this was meant to be a companion volume to the NT one. Richard Nietzel Holzapfel contributed to both volumes; here he is joined by Dana Pike and David Rolph Seely (an old friend). These are all fine scholars at BYU. And this book shares the same virtues as its NT companion, particularly its graphic richness and its presentation of solid scholarship for an LDS audience. In many ways I could just copy my earlier review of the NT volume and apply it to this one as well.
The book is a large format coffee table book. The main text walks the reader through the OT itself, offering lots of historical context from the contemporary ancient Near East along the way. Every page features either pictures or sidebars, or both, explaining particular issues, texts and concerns. I really like this format, as the text is sufficiently broken up that it is not overwhelming to the casual reader.
Let me just mention more or less at random some of the sidebars and pictures one finds along the way in this volume:
1. Near the beginning there is a lot of good, basic information given to get things started, such as a glossary of OT terms, a genealogical chart of Semitic languages, a comparative chronology of the OT, a chart showing the various canons of the OT, a comparison chart showing the development of the alphabet, a four-page treatment of the names of God, and much more.
2. At p. 58 is a nice full-page explanation of the formation of Israelite proper names.
3. P. 63 features a nice prosopographical chart showing the covenant family line of Abraham.
4. P. 66 features a useful explanation of slavery in the OT, something we KJV readers are simply not prepared for with such renderings as servant and various forms of maid rather than the more direct slave.
5. The Amarna Letters are described in a page-long sidebar at p. 85.
6. The isue of dating Moses and the Exodus is broached at p. 95.
7. P. 102 features an explanation of why Moses is often depicted with horns in art. I remember covering this same point when I taught GD, mainly because the scultures of Moses with horns are just so cool!
8. P. 104 has a cool picture of incense spoons such as would have been used at the tabernacle/temple with an image of a human hand on the curved side of the spoon, thus depicting a hand in cupping shape.
9. P. 108 explores the question of where the Ark of the Covenant is (if it’s not in a big government warehouse, that is…)
10. P. 115 has an awesome picture of Samaritans observing the Passover by roasting lambs on spits. At the very beginning of the book the authors make the point that the temple was something different than we imagine; in many ways it was a slaughterhouse. (This reminds me of a lecture I went to once at the UoU on “sentimental phil-hellenism,” which pointed out that the beautiful white marble temples of ancient Greece that we so admire in ancient times were not white at all but painted garish colors).
11. P. 120 gives a biblical calendar for the various feast days.
12. The problem of large numbers in the Bible is addressed at p. 126.
13. P. 145 describes the Documentary Hypothesis–two words I never heard uttered together in all my relgion classes at BYU.
14. Questions about the historical accuracy of the Book of Joshua are addressed at 160.
15. Levirate marriage is described at p. 189.
16. P. 199 describes how we recovered a verse in Samuel from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
17. P. 215 features a discussion of scribes and the Bible.
18. Pp. 226-27 describes poetry in the OT.
19. A graphic comparison between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel is featured at p. 249.
20. P. 262 describes the Divine Council.
21. A page is devoted to the Tel Dan inscription at 273, and another page is devoted to inscriptions that mention “YHWH and his Asherah” two pages later.
22. Each of the Twelve Minor Prophets gets his own sidebarred treatment.
23. The expression “a virgin shall conceive” is examined at p. 296.
24. P. 303 describes the Sennacherib Prism.
25. The Lachish Letters are described at p. 331, and the Cyrus Cylinder at p. 361.
These random descriptions of what you’ll find in the book cannot really do justice to the richness of the material presented here. Indeed, I will renew my complaint from my published review that these sidebars are not reflected in the Table of Contents; I think they should be.
Anyway, while the FPR crew probably won’t learn much from this book, if the OT hasn’t really been your cup o’ tea in the past, I suggest you give it another chance, and use this volume as a companion to your study in the 2010 curriculum year. I think you’ll find the world of the OT coming to life and breathing actual interest into the pages of the text itself.