I’ve just finished reading In Search of Pre-Exilic Israel, edited by John Day. For a fine-grained review of the book with summaries of the articles, see Joe Cathey’s review at RBL. These are just a few comments from off the top of my head.
Firstly, I have to admit that I was just a tad, a tiny little bit, disappointed by this book. Perhaps I was, entirely unrealistically I admit, expecting a bit more consistency than I should expect from a series of reworked papers originally delivered in a conference. This is a subject that really should be dealt with in detail, and which would benefit from the kind of consistency in approach that is really only possible in a work written by one author. That evenness of approach is lacking here, but, of course, is only to be expected due to the origins of the papers. If one of the authors of the works contained herein were to write such a book, based on the performances contained in this one, I would nominate, second, and inaugurate John Day for the duty.
In any case, I did find several of the chapters/papers to be especially outstanding in content as well as presentation: those of Ernest Nicholson “Current ‘Revisionism’ and the Literature of the Old Testament”, John Day “How Many Pre-Exilic Psalms are there?”, and W. G. Lambert “Mesopotamian Sources and Pre-Exilic Israel.” Day’s chapter is the prize of the book, I think. It is succint, well-argued, and, perhaps most importantly, not overburdened by too much unnecessary recapitulation of the secondary literature, a common problem in this book. Others that stand out in the Not-As-Stellar-But-Still-Pretty-Nifty Category were Graham Davies “Was there an Exodus?”, William Dever “Histories and Non-Histories of Ancient Israel: the Question of the United Monarchy”, and Katherine Dell “How much Wisdom Literature has its Roots in the Pre-Exilic Period?”
And then there are the rest of the articles, of which I only want to deal with a few in any detail. André Lemaire “Hebrew and West Semitic Inscriptions and Pre-Exilic Israel” suffers from the inclusion of non-provenanced materials from the antiquities market as “evidence.” That’s just tacky. Terry Fenton “Hebrew Poetic Structure as a Basis for Dating” suffers from a non-poet’s approach to poetry: fit the material into the appropriate pattern, everything else is extraneous. B. A. Mastin “Yahweh’s Asherah, Inclusive Monotheism and the Question of Dating” suffers from trying to avoid the explicit connotation in the pronominal suffix attached to Asherah in the Kuntillet `Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom marking it as a noun, not a name. Gary Knoppers “In Search of Post-Exilic Israel: Samaria After the Fall of the Northern Kingdom” is a mixed bag, describing the mass depopulation of most of the northern kingdom, but somehow also trying to ameliorate it for some unknown and unstated reason. Perhaps most egregiously, Bernard Levinson “Is the Covenant Code an Exilic Composition? A Response to John van Seters” takes 54 pages to say “no”. I suppose it’s rather a pet peeve of mine that we are on occasion subjected to the odious original of a thing and then recapitulation of it ad nauseam whenever a response addresses it. Once is enough!
Overall however, the volume is certainly valuable, and I’m glad I’ve read it. I’ve found much of it to be of value, though definitely not as much as I expected. I recommend it to anyone interested or involved in the “maximalist” versus “minimalist” controversy. This book weighs in, a welterweight, in the maximalist corner.
A consistent drawback I’ve noticed shared by this volume with others is that unusual theories, in this case of extraordinarily, unrealistically late datings of the biblical texts, are given validation by interaction, even by refutation. Stupid ideas stupidly posed should rather be ignored. Has anyone taken the time to write a refutation of Velikovsky’s fantasies? Why should some of these other equally unlikely peculiarities be priveleged with response? It’s a waste of preciously valuable time, and original, creative research is thereby left undone because of this dead-ending of attention on second-rate foolishness. It would be refreshing to see the main tendency in biblical studies in general return to study of the primary texts involved, that is, the actual biblical books, rather than an absurd fascination with secondary/tertiary/quaternary texts. The two are not to be equated.