Leading off this year is R. K. Harrison’s definitive Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmans). Beginning with an extensive review of earlier Old Testament study, the work continues with essays on archaeology, chronology, text and canon, history, religion, and theology. Then follow the standard sections on individual books, supplemented by a useful introduction to the Apocrypha, written chiefly for Protestants whose access to such material is limited. Although Harrison is more willing to entertain critical theories than his conservative predecessors in the field (Young and Archer), he demands a criticism resting on an “assured basis of ancient Near Eastern life rather than upon occidental philosophical or methodological speculations.” Despite a tendency toward repetition, this introduction will prove itself worth the price of $12.50.

2. A standard reference tool has been brought up to date with the publication of The Ancient Near East: Supplementary Texts and Pictures Relating to the Old Testament, edited by J. B. Pritchard (Princeton). Since the appearance of Ancient Near Eastern Texts (1950) and The Ancient Near East in Pictures (1955), both the archaeologist and the linguist have been extremely productive, and the results of their labors are here collected in popular form. Of special note will be new Hebrew texts, such as the Yavneh Yam inscription with its interesting analogue to Deuteronomy 24:12 and 13, and the editor’s own archaeological material from Gibeon.

3. The flow of Bible atlases continued in 1969 with the appearance of two major works that share the number three spotlight. Under the editorial hand of E. M. Blaiklock, veteran classicist, the Pictorial Bible Atlas (Zondervan) has taken shape. With 528 pages of text, 220 pictures, and 85 color maps incorporating the Trans-Vision Overlay feature, this work will find a place in many a home library. At double the price, but standing in the tradition of the noted Grollenberg atlas, is the New Atlas of the Bible, edited by J. H. Negenman, L. H. Grollenberg, and H. H. Rowley (Doubleday). Here is a large, beautifully bound and illustrated volume, giving excellent archaeological and geographical background for the entire ancient Near East. Neither book will take the place of last year’s Macmillan Bible Atlas, a fact that does not lessen the intrinsic worth of either.

4. A large collection of relevant folklore is presented by T. H. Gaster in his survey entitled Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament (Harper & Row). In what began as a revision of Sir James Frazer’s three-volume work, Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, the author, an acknowledged master of his field, has combined philological treatment of Hebrew words with motifs from myth and folklore in an arrangement that, because of its biblical order, will prove far more useful than the original. The reader need not be a follower of the myth-ritual school to be fascinated by the parallels here presented. Even at $20, this volume cannot be ignored.

5. A fifth book, one concerned with a specific problem in ancient Near Eastern background, is Atra-Hasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood, by W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard (Oxford). It has long been known that the Atra-hasis Epic provided details to supplement the eleventh tablet of Gilgamesh with its flood story, but few students of Old Testament had access to this badly fragmented material. Now the publication of two large tablets discovered in the British Museum, integrated with almost all other extant material bearing on the Epic, permits reconstruction of the story. Of special note is the account of mankind’s primeval history, with its own implications for the student of Genesis 1–7. Although Lambert and Millard have limited their work to technical details of the Babylonian Epic, they have laid a new foundation for many a biblical monograph on these important subjects.

Article continues below

6. Easily the most important book of 1969 for form-critical studies is this biography of its instigator, Hermann Gunkel: zu seiner Theologie der Religionsgeschichte und zur Entstehung der formgeschichtlichen Methode, by Werner Klatt (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht). Growing out of a 1966 dissertation, this volume is at once a biography, the chronicle of a great period in German biblical studies, and an analysis of how an important critical methodology developed. In the opening chapter Gunkel is seen against the backdrop of an evangelical pietism, interacting with the prevalent theological liberalism of his day. The latter two chapters divide his scholarly life into the “religions-geschichtliche” period, characterized by his Schöpfung und Chaos (1895), and the “literaturgeschichtliche” period, with Die Genesis (1901) as its major work. In an era dominated by form criticism and its offspring, the student of Old Testament would do well to consider this first-rate study of the beginnings of the idea.

7. A plum for the linguist comes in the form of a second German work, Das hebräische Pi‘el: Syntaktischsemasiologische Untersuchung einer Verbalform im Alten Testament, by E. Jenni (Zurich: EVZ Verlag). Here Jenni suggests that the doubled stem is neither intensive nor causative, but expresses the accomplishment in action of the state described by the adjective related to the basic stem. His treatment, built on a theory of Albrecht Goetze concerning Akkadian doubled verbs, divides Piel verbs into those whose basic stem is transitive and those whose basic stem is intransitive, with the distinction largely resting on original meaning rather than form of the verb. These categories are the subject of extensive examination within the major section of the book, which then closes with a helpful listing of Piel verbs in the Old Testament and an index.

8. In 1950 G. E. Wright defended biblical theology as the “confessional recital of the redemptive acts of God” in a particular history, with history as the chief medium of revelation. Now in The Old Testament and Theology (Harper & Row), Wright again calls for a return to historical perspective in our Old Testament view of God, largely vis-à-vis the Christomonism of current theology with its inherent Marcionistic tendencies. The God of the Old Testament is defended as Creator, Lord, and Warrior. This political understanding of the world and the sense of cosmic government thus conveyed, the author argues, is basic to a meaningful view of history, a valid New Testament theology, and a personal quest for meaning in a threatening world. Even one who cannot fully share Wright’s rejection of the propositional and systematic nature of theology will find this volume a welcome corrective to some excesses of modern theology.

9. The past year saw the introduction of yet another commentary on the whole Bible with the publication of Volume I of the Broadman Bible Commentary (Broadman). Two major contributions (Genesis by G. H. Davies and Exodus by R. L. Honeycutt) follow nine articles on general biblical subjects by various Baptist scholars. The commentary presents “current Biblical studies within the context of strong faith in the authority, adequacy, and reliability of the Bible as the Word of God.” Within this general framework the contributors have freely built their exposition on the results of standard critical orthodoxy, and whether they will escape destruction by the Scylla on the left or the Charybdis on the right remains to be seen. To the scholar much of the work will seem slightly secondhand, but for the general reader seeking a reverent and sometimes practical restatement of current Pentateuchal thought, the book will have value.

Article continues below

10. Turning to a more original work, we next consider Numbers (Westminster), by Martin Noth, who until his death in 1968 stood as one of the giants in contemporary Old Testament scholarship. Noth’s interest in source traditions, sociological units, and geographcial locations provides some valuable insights, although he confesses to a certain inability to make sense out of the source problem in Numbers. What gives unity to Numbers is its conclusion of the great central Pentateuchal theme, the “theophany at Sinai” and its introduction of the “conquest” theme. Between the two there is much fragmentary material drawn from varied sources, including the “old Pentateuchal sources” of which Noth is fond. Although the pastor will find little of direct practical interest in such a volume, the student will be grateful for this final contribution to the Pentateuchal section of the “Old Testament Library.”

11. That size is no measure of quality is amply demonstrated by our next selection, The Theology of the Book of Ruth, by R. M. Hals (Fortress Facet Book). Here is a valuable form-critical study of a little-used book, built on the conviction that Ruth must be more than just a “lovely little short story.” Rather, its true meaning is to be sought in the references to God (“allcausality combined with hiddenness”), whose unseen hand guides history. Both the student of Old Testament history and the preacher will want to interact with the stimulating ideas presented in this slender, paperback monograph.

12. Another small but useful book is H. L. Ellison’s The Prophets of Israel (Eerdmans). Stressing contemporary values, Ellison builds his picture of the Northern Kingdom prophets on an understanding of the “two-kingdom psychology” that prevailed even before the time of David. Both non-literary and literary prophets are discussed, often with unusual perception. This is not a book to be read in a hurry, but a leisurely journey through its pages may confirm the reviewer’s impression that here we have the best conservative book of 1969.

13. Another excellent study of prophetic Scripture comes from the Heidelberg scholar, Claus Westermann. His Isaiah 40–66 (Westminster), although basically form-critical in its approach, looks for order in the arrangement of “Deutero-Isaiah” and attributes to that prophet the possible authorship of the first three servant songs. While the servant is not identified (“this is not the crucial question”), his status as an individual and his place in the Christian kerygma are effectively discussed. Helpful bibliographies and titles accompanying each section enhance the usefulness of this volume.

14. Continuing the prophetic feast are volumes on Amos and Hosea (Westminster), by J. L. Mays. These books combine clear discussion of recent form-critical and traditio-historical work with a warmth of feeling for the prophetic word. In Hosea the message is devotion, faithfulness, and the knowledge of God, while Amos, by contrast, is concerned with indictment, justice, and righteousness. That two such vivid prophetic portraits should have been presented in juxtaposition serves only to heighten our appreciation of each.

15. Attention is directed to a later prophet in C. L. Feinberg’s The Prophecy of Ezekiel (Moody), a devotional exposition from the dispensational perspective. Ezekiel is seen as a theodicy, chiefly concerned with the sovereignty and glory of the Lord God at a time when this truth seemed to have been drowned out by the state of affairs in the world. Although strongly committed to literal fulfillment of prophetic vision, Feinberg has carefully avoided the kind of speculation that has often limited the usefulness of such a work, and gives us a valuable addition to the preacher’s library.

Article continues below

16. Viewing Job as a unity developed in three stages and built on a common Near Eastern wisdom theme is N. H. Snaith’s The Book of Job: Its Origin and Purpose (Allenson, “Studies in Biblical Theology”). Snaith sees the problem to be one of monotheism and not one of suffering. How can the High God fulfill the functions of the low gods and still be the High God? In this dilemma of God’s transcendence, man can only submit and hope that some intermediary is forthcoming. With the question thus framed, the scene is set for later Jewish and Christian attempts to provide an answer through law and incarnation.

17. Last year’s contribution to the continuing debate on covenant comes in the form of a monograph, Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea (Johns Hopkins, “Seminars in the History of Ideas”), by D. R. Hillers. Central to the thesis is the claim that contradictions among students of the subject can be resolved by a realization that there were two distinct and almost opposite notions of covenant extant in Israel. Subsequent research may reject Dr. Hillers’s historical reconstruction of covenant thinking in Israel, but it will ignore his penetrating analysis of form at its own peril.

18. The knotty problem of priestly origins in Israel has received fresh treatment in a published thesis entitled A History of Old Testament Priesthood (Pontifical Biblical Institute), by Aelred Cody, O.S.B. Turning from the traditio-historical approach, Cody develops his argument by appeal to archaeology, philology, and parallels from surrounding cultures. An etymological discussion of kohen and levi leads to no startling conclusions, and Noth’s argument concerning cultic and secular Levites is rejected. Although some of his historical treatments suffer from subjectivity, Cody has produced an important study of this elusive subject.

19. The Conflict Between El and Ba‘al in Canaanite Religion (Brill), by Ulf Oldenburg, was motivated by the author’s desire to “see whether the faith of Yahweh was a product of the soil of Canaanite religion.” His answer is a reverent and resounding no. Rather, Yahweh is to be identified with an El whose origin must be sought in the desert where, undefiled by later Canaanite apostasy, he was worshipped in the purity of patriarchal religion. Oldenburg brings to his subject a firm control of both biblical and Ugaritic data and has given us a volume worthy of extensive consideration.

20. In a closing double-header of monumental proportions, we can only mention two first-rate collections of essays. In the first, The W. F. Albright Volume (Israel Exploration Society, “Eretz-Israel 9”), edited by A. Malamat, both archaeologist and biblical scholar will feast on contributions by Wright, deVaux, Yadin, Cross, Mazar, Kramer, and others. One cautionary note: over half the articles are in modern Hebrew. The second volume, equally rich, is the Congress Volume (Brill), containing papers read by members of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament in 1968. Vriezen, Ahlstrom, Ginsberg, Kosmala, Martin, Terrien, and Zimmerli are but a few of the internationally known contributors to this book.

Other books of merit that, though some equaled or surpassed those already cited, did not satisfy the criteria used for selection of this “top twenty,” are as follows:

GENERAL AND BACKGROUND: W. W. Hallo, editor, Essays in Memory of E. A. Speiser (American Oriental Society, 1968), a must for ancient Near Eastern students; John MacDonald, editor, Dead Sea Scroll Studies (Brill, “Annual of the Leeds Oriental Society”); J. M. Allegro and A. A. Anderson, Qumran Cave 4:1 (Oxford, “Discoveries in the Judean Desert of Jordan”), but see the reviews for errata.

Article continues below

BIBLICAL BOOKS: W. Dommershausen, Die Estherrolle (Stuttgart: Verlag Kathol. Bibelwerk, 1968), sees Esther as “veiled Wisdom theology”; A. Guillaume, Studies in the Book of Job, with a new translation (Brill, 1968), continuing arguments for Arabian provenance; D. Lys, Le plus beau chant de la création; Commentaire du Cantique des Cantiques (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1968), argues that the original sense is both sexual and sacred; M. J. Buss, The Prophetic Word of Hosea (Berlin: Töpelmann) and J. M. Ward, Amos and Isaiah: Prophets of the Word of God (Abingdon), both form-critical in methodology and important for prophetic studies.

MONOGRAPHS: R. Butin, The Ten Nequdoth of the Torah (KTAV), a reprint essay on the “extra-ordinary” points; J. S. Chesnut, The Old Testament Understanding of God (Westminster, 1968), popular; F. Ellermeier, Prophetie in Mari und Israel (Herzberg: Erwin Jungfer, 1968), dealing with a most fruitful field; A. S. Kapelrud, The Violent Goddess: Anat in the Ras Shamra Texts (Oslo: Universitets Forlaget); B. O. Long, The Problem of Etiological Narrative in the Old Testament (Berlin: Töpelmann, 1968), isolates two types of this form; M. Ottosson, Gilead: Tradition and History (Lund: CWK Gleerup), concerned with ideological motifs connected with Gilead in the “P-work”; H. Schmid, Mose: Überlieferung und Geschichte (Berlin: Töpelmann, 1968), evaluates recent traditio-historical research on the person and work of Moses; J. G. Vink, The Date and Origin of the Priestly Code in the Testament (Brill); and finally, J. R. Wilch, Time and Event (Brill), an exegetical study of the use of ‘eth in the Old Testament.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.