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The Israelite Diet: What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?

The Israelite Diet: What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?

What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?
MacDonald’s thorough investigation of ancient Israel’s diet is available at Amazon USA / UK

The pages of the Bible are filled with references to food of various kinds. Have you ever wondered, what the ancient Israelite diet consisted of? Or how healthy it was? In What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?, Nathan MacDonald provides some interesting and thought-provoking answers. In recent times a popular genre of books have sought to promote a “biblical” diet, selling it as the healthiest of all diets. MacDonald’s book takes a scholarly look at the available evidence and presents a “well-balanced” view.

How Can We Determine What the Ancient Israelites Ate?

The Bible is the obvious starting point for determining the ancient Israelite diet, but what other resources might prove helpful? MacDonald identifies five main sorts of evidence relevant to examining the ancient Israelite diet. They include:

  1. The Bible
  2. Archeological remains (including paleopathology, and zooarchaeology)
  3. Comparative evidence of diet from related cultures in the ancient Near East (e.g., Egypt, Mesopotamia)
  4. Modern anthropological research of nonindustrialized societies
  5. Scientific knowledge on food production and consumption. This category includes considering geography, meteorology, soil science and archaeobotanical work.

Variable Factors in the Ancient Israelite Diet

As Macdonald points out, it is a misnomer to speak of the “ancient Israelite diet,” as if we could lay out a menu that described the cuisine of every Israelite. At the same time MacDonald writes, “We should not speak of Israelite diets, which would suggest a greater diversity within the Israelite diet” (p. 92). A number of variable factors must be considered in determining what was on the dinner table of an ancient Israelite.

Geography and Meteorology

The Israelite diet is partially determined by geography
The ancient Israelite diet was partially determined by geography and climate.

The landscape of ancient Israel was (and still is) very diverse, ranging from the coastal plain, to the foothills, to the central mountainous region, to the Rift Valley and desert area (see map at left). Climate and geography determine what kind of crops can be grown and whether a certain area is agricultural or more pastoral. For example, living near a water source would increase the likelihood of fish being a regular meal fixture. Those living in the Negev (southern region), a drier area would lead a more pastoral life and would thus have greater availability of animal products such as milk, cheese, and the occasional meat dish.

Economic and Social Status

Feasting like a king was a social reality. An average Israelite did not have access to the same quantity and variety of food.

As in any society, the rich always eat better (in terms of quality and variety) than the poor. Royalty and wealthy elites naturally had more access when it came to traded foodstuffs. “Feasting like a king”, was not just an idiom, it was a social reality (1 Sam. 25:36). MacDonald notes that a few passages seem to suggest that the head of the family had the right to determine how food was distributed among family members (e.g., 1 Sam. 1:5; also see, Gen. 43:34). Therefore, he concludes, “It seems likely that prestigious foods, such as meat, would have been distributed with preference given to the family head and his male children” (78). MacDonald also notes that the male, priestly elite would have had more access to meat than the average Israelite. Thus gender and social status played a role in who ate what and how much.

Famine and Enemy Attacks

Famine effecting Israelite diet
Each of the patriarchs experienced a famine in their lifetime.

Ancient, as well as modern Israel, is susceptible to drought, which, when prolonged can lead to famine (E.g., Gen. 12:10; Ruth 1:1). MacDonald states that a genuine famine may occur only once or twice in the lifetime of an Israelite (p. 58). That seems quite enough for me! However, while famines were more rare, an ancient Israelite might experience food shortages  a little more frequently, especially those among the poorer ranks of society.

Judges 6:3-6 is perhaps the clearest statement of how an enemy could devastate the food supply. In Judges 6 we read of the Midianites raiding Israel year after year (for seven years) and not only taking their crops, but their animals as well. The devastation was so complete that Judges 6:5 uses the metaphor of locusts to describe the Midianites.

Temporal Variations

Changing seasons affected the Israelite diet
Changing seasons affected food availability.

In the modern Western world we are pretty used to getting whatever product we want whenever we want it. But throughout most of history, and certainly in ancient Israel, foods were seasonal. This would not only be true of fruits and vegetables, but also animal products. The main source of milk for the ancient Israelite was not the cow, but the goat. This milk would only have been available for five months out of the year. Sheep milk was available for even less time–only three months out of the year. Thus, what ended up on your plate depended a lot of the time of year.

So What Foods Were Available for the Ancient Israelite?

The Israelite diet included bread
Woman preparing bread for her family

First and foremost, the Mediterranean Triad of bread, oil, and wine provides the foundation of the ancient Israelite diet. MacDonald states, “The staple food for ancient Israel was bread, as indeed it was for her ancient Near Eastern neighbors and the rest of the Mediterranean world” (p. 19).MacDonald also points out what I have noted many times in my personal reading of the Hebrew Bible: the word for bread in Hebrew (lechem) also means “food.” Oil from olives had many uses, including being a steady part of the diet, while grapes supplied the main beverage for the ancient Israelite. MacDonald, citing Shimon Dar, states that the average Israelite would consume about one liter of wine per day. Water was not always plentiful and not always suitable for drinking.

This chart illustrates the types of food available for the ancient Israelite diet.

Without laboriously listing the other types of food available, the above chart gives a good indication of what might be included in an ancient Israelite diet. It is interesting that vegetables are on the bottom of the food chart. According to MacDonald vegetables were not thought of as highly as other foods. He cites Proverbs 15:17 as evidence: “Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.” MacDonald also notes that vegetables are hard to trace in the archaeological record since they easily perish and leave no evidence behind. Therefore, it is difficult to know how important vegetables were to the ancient Israelite diet. At least one Israelite king thought so highly of having a vegetable garden that he was willing to murder for it (1 Kings 21)! Although meat is found in the column next to the bottom, this does not speak of its low value, but rather, of its availabilty. MacDonald does correct a 20th century scholarly misconception about meat in the Israelite diet. He notes that meat consumption was more frequent than previously thought. However, this does not mean it was a daily occurrence for most Israelites. And, as noted above, there was probably an uneven distribution of meat (p. 92).

How Healthy Was An Ancient Israelite?

Ancient Israelite family partaking of the Passover. From sutori.com

Answering this question would, once again, involve taking into consideration various factors such as social status, gender, and location. However, based on the available evidence obtained through the examination of ancient skeletons, MacDonald states, “There are good grounds for believing . . . that malnourishment was something that many Israelites would have experienced at some point during their lives” (p. 57). MacDonald notes that this was especially true of Iron Age Israel (1200 B.C. – 586 B.C.), the period of the Judges and Monarchy. While much research remains to be done, “. . . currently the evidence suggests that the population of ancient Israel did not enjoy good health (pp. 86-87). This is a surprising reversal of the modern attitude that the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest of all diets. Perhaps there is some truth to this, I’m not a nutritionist, but, regarding ancient Israel, this assertion fails to take into account the many variables pointed out by MacDonald.

Conclusion: The Israelite Diet

Studying the ancient Israelite diet is more fascinating than I imagined. Hopefully, for those interested, this article has provided some basic information. For those seeking a more in-depth treatment I would highly recommend MacDonald’s book, What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?. Wikipedia also has a very informative article at Ancient Israelite Cuisine, which delves much deeper into the foods available for the ancient Israelite than I did.

Paul and the Power of Grace

Paul and the Power of Grace

Paul and the Power of Grace
Available at Amazon USA / UK

“Paul and the Power of Grace” is a shorter, and updated version of John M. G. Barclay’s “Paul and the Gift.” It is written for a wider audience (being less technical) and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in the last three years. In my opinion it is a must read.  According to Barclay, “. . . this new book as a whole offers both an accessible summary of Paul and the Gift and an extension and development of that work (Paul and the Power of Grace, p. xi).

What Does It Mean to Say Grace is Free?

Barclay asserts that the New Testament concept of grace is not only understood by examining the Greek word charis, but is bound up in the idea of gift-giving.  All Christians would assert that grace is a free gift. But, as Barclay points out, that assertion means different things to different people. He cautions that, “We should beware of labels such as “free” and “pure,” lest they carry the connotations of modern ideologies of gift (Paul and the Power of Grace, p. 5). Barclay contends that, “What we associate with ‘gift,’ including its definition in our dictionaries, may be a product of modern cultural shifts, and it would be anachronistic to retroject these connotations onto the past or to take them for granted in our reading of Paul (Paul and the Power of Grace, p. 11). The tendency, according to Barclay, is to “perfect” a concept. He argues that we push our definitions of gift to an extreme, especially in  relation to a divine gift or grace. As a result, Barclay has identified at least six perfections of gift/grace.

The Six Perfections of Gift/Grace

1. Superabundance–A superabundant gift is perfected in scale, significance, or duration: it is huge, lavish, unceasing, long-lasting.

2. Singularity–benevolence or goodness is the giver’s sole or exclusive mode of operation. The giver is of such a character as only ever to give benefits: he/she would never do anything in a contrary mode, such as harm, punish, or judge.

3. Priority–Priority concerns the timing of the gift, which is given before any initiative taken by the recipient.

4. Incongruity–Incongruity concerns the relationship between the giver and the recipient, and maximizes the mismatch between the gift and the worth or merit of its recipient.

5. Efficacy–Gifts that achieve something, that change things for the better, might be regarded as better than gifts with limited positive effect.

6. Noncircularity–As we noted in the last chapter, Western modernity is inclined to perfect the gift as “pure” only when there is no reciprocity, no return or exchange.

(Paul and the Power of Grace, pp. 13-16).

The Significance of Recognizing the Six Perfections

For further elaboration on the meaning of the above “perfections” see Paul and the Power of Grace. My point here is to note Barclay’s contention that throughout the centuries people have used various combinations of these perfections, resulting in different understandings of grace. As Christians, we may all insist that grace is free, but our doctrine may look different from others based on the perfections we have consciously, or unconsciously accepted. Barclay states, “. . . different interpreters of this concept have tended to operate with different clusters of perfection. Nonetheless, they have often regarded their interpretation as the “correct” interpretation of grace, such that any other is not just different but wrong”. . . Disagreements may arise, not because one side emphasizes grace more than the other, but because they perfect the term in different ways” (Paul and the Power of Grace, p. 17–author’s emphasis).

Furthermore, Barclay maintains that if we want to see which perfections of grace Paul is in agreement with, we should compare these six perfections to what we find in his letters. By this means, we can arrive at a biblical (or at least, Pauline) definition of grace. This discussion alone was worth the price of the book!

What Paul Means By Grace and What He Doesn’t

There are two results of Barclay’s investigation of the Pauline concept of grace that I would like to highlight. One Pauline perfection differs from the Roman world, while the other differs from our world.

Grace for the Unworthy

As believers, we are very used to the biblical idea that God extends His grace to those who don’t deserve it. Paul writes in Romans 5:6 that “Christ died for the ungodly.” He continues by stating that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). We recognize that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23), and therefore, we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

Barclay notes that this concept of grace is counter-cultural. In the Roman world, grace was only to be bestowed on people who were considered worthy. Since the giving and receiving of a gift meant a social bond, one would not want to be associated with a disreputable giver. Neither would one wish to bestow a gift and connect themselves with an unsavory individual. Afterall, “Who would wish to degrade their reputation by tying themselves to people without worth?” (Paul and the Power of Grace, p. 7).

Receiving Grace Obligates the Receiver

Barclay traces the history of gift-giving by pointing out that in the modern Western World a gift is not considered a gift unless it is given without obligating the other person. Nothing could be farther from the truth in the first century Roman world. While a gift could not be earned, the receiver was obligated to the giver. As noted above, a social bond was created. While the recipient might not be able to repay the gift-giver, he/she was obligated to them and expected to express gratitude in various practical ways (See my post on Grace in 3D for a further explanation). This is no less true of the concept of grace in the New Testament. The church has frequently erred in modern times by communicating that grace is free, meaning there is no obligation on the part of the receiver. To put it in Barclay’s words, New Testament grace is unconditioned (it is given without regard to worth or capacity), but it is not unconditional (a response is expected because a relationship has been established between the believer and God). The gift of grace transforms the believer because he/she is now in a relationship with God.

Conclusion

Barclay’s, Paul and the Power of Grace, contains much more than this short review has covered. I have sought to highlight aspects that enriched me as I read. In some cases, Barclay confirmed and fortified things I already understood about the New Testament concept of grace. In other ways his treatment enhanced my understanding of this key biblical concept. Barclay’s treatment will hopefully lead to greater understanding among all Christians about the meaning of grace as we uncover the ways in which we have perfected grace in comparison with Paul and the New Testament.

Paul and the Power of Grace is available at Amazon USA / UK

Demons: What the Bible Really Says

Demons: What the Bible Really Says

Demons
Michael Heiser’s book “Demons” is available at Lexham Press, Amazon USA / UK and other outlets.

Are all demonic beings the same? How many spiritual rebellions does the Bible speak of? Is there an evil being named Satan in the Old Testament? Did Satan rebel before the creation of human beings and take a third of the angels with him? Are demons fallen angels? These are just a few of the many questions answered in Michael Heiser’s new book Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness. How many of the foregoing questions do you think you know the answer to? Are you sure you’re right? If you’d like to test your knowledge on demons take the quiz Demons: Biblical or Myth? A word of warning, however–the quiz is designed to be tricky. Michael Heiser himself confesses that he missed two of the questions! You can see him and Rabbi Eric Walker talk about it here.  I took the quiz and did well, but that’s because I had already read Heiser’s book! Had I taken the quiz first, I would probably have gotten half or less correct. In other words, there’s a lot to learn from this book. Not only will the average person learn new things about what the Bible really teaches on this subject, some misconceptions will also be corrected.

Demons is Heiser’s companion volume to Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host (see my review here). Both books are based upon his foundational study entitled: The Unseen Realm (see my review of the movie version recently released by Logos/Faithlife). No one has done more to reveal the Bible’s teaching on the spiritual realm to the average person than Michael Heiser. This most recent book continues that tradition.

Content of Demons

Heiser’s book is divided into four main sections. Section I is entitled, “Biblical Vocabulary for the Powers of Darkness.” These opening chapters are not for the faint of heart. After a brief introductory chapter, he dives right in to the Hebrew (chapter 1) and Greek (chapter 2) words that describe the demonic realm. According to Heiser, “We simply cannot depend on English translations for an Old Testament study of demons or the infernal powers” (p. 1). His point is that both Hebrew and Greek use a wide variety of terms to describe these powers of darkness and English translations do not fully reflect the significance of the various words and their meaning.

Chapter 1–Heiser groups Hebrew words describing evil spirits into three broad categories: 1) Terms associated with the realm of the dead and its inhabitants; 2) Terms that denote geographical dominion of supernatural powers in rebellion against Yahweh; and 3) Preternatural creatures associated with idolatry and unholy ground (p. 8). Heiser examines more than 15 words that describe evil supernatural powers in the OT. Most readers will be unfamiliar with many of these terms. If you don’t know Hebrew but remain patient, you’ll learn a lot!

Chapter 2–In this chapter, Heiser turns to the Greek terms used in the Septuagint (LXX–Greek translation of the OT). Heiser’s main goal is to establish that the LXX has faithfully transmitted the outlook of the Hebrew OT regarding the spiritual realm of evil beings. This is important as some OT scholars advocate the view that the OT contains vestiges of polytheism that are “cleaned up” in the LXX. Heiser demonstrates conclusively that this is not the case. The OT does not have any vestiges of polytheism, and the LXX is faithful in communicating the same view of the spiritual realm as the Hebrew Bible. What Heiser has to say on this subject is important, but I’ll leave the details of this argument for the interested reader to find out.

Section II is entitled, “The Powers of Darkness in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism,” and is comprised of chapters 3 through 8. Heiser, convincingly in my opinion, maintains that the OT teaches that there were three spiritual rebellions. The first was by the serpent in Eden (Gen. 3). The second by the sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4, and the third at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-8; Deut. 32:8-9). In the succeeding chapters, Heiser looks at each spiritual rebellion. He begins by investigating what the OT teaches, and then follows that up with what the literature of Second Temple Judaism (these are the writings from what is also known as the “intertestament period”) teaches on the same subject. Below are the topics of each chapter.

Chapter 3 tackles what the OT teaches about the rebellion in the garden.

Chapter 4 looks at what the writings of Second Temple Judaism (hereafter, STJ) have to say about this event.

Chapter 5 investigates the OT teaching on the rebellion by the sons of God in Genesis 6.

Chapter 6 follows with the STJ viewpoint on this rebellion.

Chapter 7 looks at the OT rebellion at Babel, recorded in Genesis 11:1-8 and commented on in Deuteronomy 32:8-9.

Chapter 8 concludes this section with the STJ viewpoint and commentary.

Demons author Michael Heiser
Author Michael Heiser

These chapters are full of informative discussions about the meaning of the spiritual rebellions in the OT and how STJ furthers that discussion. One example of this that will surprise many readers is Heiser’s contention that the OT uses the word satan (note the small “s”) in its original meaning of “adversary,” but it does not use it as a proper name referring to the prince of demons (no, not even in 1 Chron. 21 or Job 1). Heiser traces how the use of satan in the OT develops into the proper name Satan during the Second Temple period. Thus, by the time of the NT period Satan has become the proper name of the leader of spiritual wickedness. If this sounds shocking, get the book and make up your own mind. This discussion alone is worth the price of the book.

Section III is entitled, “The Devil and His Angels: The Powers of Darkness in the New Testament.” This section consists of three chapters (9-11). In these chapters, Heiser examines what the NT teaches about these powers and demonstrates how the teachings of both the OT and STJ contribute to the NT worldview. Once again, the chapters are divided according to the three spiritual rebellions mentioned in the OT.

Chapter 9: “The Devil–His Dominion and Destiny,” looks at the original rebel from Genesis 3 and what the NT teaches concerning him.

Chapter 10: “Evil Spirits–Demons and their Destiny,” is an extremely insightful chapter. This chapter shows the connection of the demons of the NT with the rebellion of Genesis 6:1-4. Following what the OT and STJ teaches, the demons are understood to be the dead spirits of the Nephilim. Again, read the book to understand this one!

Chapter 11: “The Ruling Powers: Their Delegitimization and Destiny,” examines the NT language regarding the spiritual rebels from the Tower of Babel. These territorial spirits mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and the Book of Daniel, are “the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil” that Paul refers to in Ephesians 6:12, as well as other places.

Section IV is a very helpful concluding section entitled, “Questions and Misconceptions.” Here are a few samples of the kinds of questions and misconceptions addressed. Demons are fallen angels. Can Satan and demons read our minds? Can a Christian be demon possessed? What is spiritual warfare?, and many more.

Evaluation

Heiser’s writings have been a theological game-changer for me personally. Passages I used to ignore, not only make more sense, but I understand how they fit into the overall story of Scripture. Demons adds yet another layer which contributes to that understanding. As I noted in my evaluation of Angels, this book is probably not for the novice. It is full of copious footnotes and references to Hebrew and Greek words. It is most suited for a pastor,  Bible college student, or teacher. But anyone who has a desire to understand what the Bible says on this subject will benefit. It never hurts to stretch ourselves theologically, so I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading this book who wants to grow in their knowledge of Scripture in this area. The practical questions in the last section of the book are an example of how much there is to learn. Just be aware that you’re diving into the deep end of the pool, but it’s well worth the swim!

Interested readers may also want to check out the review of Demons  and Heiser’s other related books in Christianity Today.

Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness is available at Lexham Press, Amazon USA / UK, Logos/Faithlife, and other outlets.

Many thanks to Lexham Press for this free review copy. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 

The Serpent in Samuel: A Messianic Motif

The Serpent in Samuel: A Messianic Motif

The Serpent in Samuel
The serpent in Samuel is available at Wipf & Stock, and Amazon USA / UK

As the title suggests, this recent book by author Brian A. Verrett, advocates that the messianic theme found in the books of Samuel is enhanced by tracing a serpent motif (on the subject of biblical motifs, see my post here). The serpent referred to is the serpent of Genesis 3. In particular Genesis 3:15, viewed by many as the first messianic prophecy in Scripture: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (ESV).

This motif is not readily apparent to most readers of the English Bible, but by an examination of various Hebrew words, as well as looking at what the text of Genesis 3 might have in common with certain passages in the books of Samuel, Verrett seeks to establish his case. In Verrett’s own words, “This book has a two-fold purpose: (1) demonstrate that Samuel contains a serpent motif and (2) demonstrate that this motif’s significance within Samuel is to present the seed of David as the promised seed of the woman from Gen. 3:15 who will defeat the serpent and reign as king in the new creation” (p. 143).

In his introductory chapter, Verrett demonstrates that previous scholarship has suggested a serpent motif within the books of Samuel. He also notes that the books of Samuel utilize various motifs noticed by scholars (I myself am planning a series on this blog related to various motifs in the books of Samuel–click here for posts currently available).

The serpent tempts Adam & Eve
Verrett suggests that words like going on one’s belly, eating dust, trodden underfoot, or suffering a damaged head, may all be ways of alluding to the serpent.

In chapter two Verrett looks closely at Genesis 3, examining the story and its vocabulary. His main objectives are to “demonstrate that both the OT and NT contain a serpent motif that derives from Gen 3,” and to “develop a paradigm to determine allusions to the serpent by noting those words, images, and concepts that the text associates with the serpent in Gen 3” (p. 10). Some of his conclusions are (1) that the seed of the woman is a singular individual (i.e. the word “seed” is not used in a corporate sense); (2) by examining the words of judgment placed on the serpent, the woman, and the man, one can expect that a text using these images might be alluding to the serpent. Verrett concedes that the words referring to the serpent’s judgment have a “higher chance” that a biblical author is referring to the serpent. He does a convincing job establishing that there is a serpent motif that runs throughout the OT & NT, thus opening the door for the possibility that this motif occurs in Samuel as well.

David and Goliath
Is Goliath an image of the serpent? Verrett’s answer is “Yes!”

In chapters 3&4 Verrett seeks to establish that a serpent motif exists in Samuel. His primary focus is on Goliath (chapter 3) and passages dealing with Nahash (chapter 4). Verrett contends that several factors combine to demonstrate that Goliath represents the serpent. Words and images that suggest this include Goliath’s scaly armor and the four-fold mention of bronze (armor & weapons). The word “bronze” comes from the same Hebrew root as the word for snake. Finally, Goliath’s death suggests connections with the serpent. His falling face down suggests that he eats dust and his beheading parallels the serpent’s head being crushed. As an aside for those who read this blog, Verrett agrees that David struck Goliath in the knee, not the forehead, as I argue in most post “How David Killed Goliath: Are You Sure?

The Ammonite King Nahash seems to hold the most obvious potential for a serpent theme, since “nahash” in Hebrew means “snake.” Nahash is the king defeated by Saul in 1 Samuel 11. His opposition to Israel and Israel’s anointed one (Saul), along with his name make this a possibility. Nahash’s name also appears in 2 Samuel 10 which speaks of his death and the war created by his son Hanun when he insults David’s ambassadors. Verrett argues that Hanun is the “seed of the serpent,” since he is the son of Nahash. The theme of nakedness and shame and his opposition to David (Israel’s anointed) further suggests the serpent motif (pp. 84-85). Nahash is mentioned 2 final times in 2 Samuel 17:25 and 27. According to 2 Sam. 17:25, Nahash is the grandfather of Amasa. Amasa becomes the general of Absalom’s army in his revolt against David. Verrett argues that Amasa’s descent from Nahash and the description of his death, which includes him falling on his “belly” and writhing like a snake, suggests that he is a seed of the serpent (pp. 89-91). Verrett also suggests that Absalom is “serpentine” but doesn’t dwell on this identification, making only cursory observations (Absalom deceives people, he is opposed to David). I found this section dealing with Amasa and Absalom to be less than convincing and will speak of it in my critique below.

In chapters 5-7 Verrett deals with the second purpose of his book which is to demonstrate that the seed of David is the promised seed of the woman who will defeat the serpent and reign over a new creation. In chapter 5 he pulls together all the “serpent” material in Samuel explored in his earlier chapters (3&4) and seeks to show how they relate to one another. This is one of the most insightful chapters of the book. Verrett points out that Saul’s fall begins after his defeat of Nahash (which might have raised hopes that he was the promised seed), demonstrating that Saul is not the promised seed of the woman. David’s victory over the serpentine Goliath gives hope that he is the promised seed. But following his victory over Hanun (the son of Nahash), the story relates David’s fall, thus demonstrating that he is not the promised seed of the woman either. Therefore, the serpent motif in Samuel momentarily raises the reader’s hope that the fulfillment of Gen. 3:15 is on the horizon. However, hope turns to be disappointment when the reader learns that neither Saul nor David is the promised deliverer. This, in turn, leads Verrett to discuss 2 Sam. 7:11b-17 in chapter 6–a passage that promises David an eternal throne and a descendant who would sit upon it.

King David
When God promises David an eternal throne, who is the promised one who will build the Temple? According to Verrett, it’s not Solomon, but Jesus.

In chapter 6, Verrett carefully examines 2 Sam. 7:11b-17, concluding that Solomon is not the promised descendant who would build the Temple, but that it refers to a future priest-king (Jesus). Along with his discussion of 2 Sam 7, he also looks at whether 2 Chronicles pictures Solomon as the fulfillment (his answer is “no”). He also connects 1 Sam 2:35 and the prophecy of a faithful priest with 2 Sam 7, arguing that these passages share similar language and indicate that the promised priest is also the same person as the promised coming king. To bolster his argument, he examines Zechariah 6:9-15, stating that this passage too anticipates a priest-king who is the “Branch” of David (thus an allusion to the Davidic covenant in 2 Sam 7). Finally, he argues that “Hebrews 3:1-6 also understands the faithful priest of 1 Sam 2:35 to be the seed of David in 2 Samuel 7:11b-17” (133).

Chapter 7 is a close examination of David’s “last words” recorded in 2 Sam 23:1-7, and other passages that Verrett believes are dependent on it (Ps. 72, various passages in Isaiah, Jer. 23:5-6 and Zech. 6:9-15). His interpretation of 2 Sam 23:1-7 is that David is speaking of his seed who will reign in righteousness over a new creation (3-4) while defeating the serpent (6-7–he understands the mention of “Belial” to refer to the serpent of Gen. 3). Chapter 8 is a five-page summary bringing the study to a conclusion.

Evaluation

Teacher
Image courtesy of http://clipart-library.com/teacher-cartoon-images.html

Verrett is to be congratulated for a very thorough study of the serpent motif in Samuel. The book demonstrates a good working knowledge of the books of Samuel, as well as an acquaintance with the pertinent scholarly literature. The book is also well written and easy to understand. One does not have to be a scholar to appreciate the many insights offered, although this book is definitely for the more mature student, pastor, or teacher. Among the strengths of this book is an awareness of a serpent motif in Scripture, and a greater sensitivity toward the messianic theme of the books of Samuel.

While Verrett has convinced me of the possibility of a serpent motif in Samuel, I must say with some regret, I am not totally persuaded. At times I was left with the impression that Verrett wanted to prove his thesis so much that he may have gone overboard and found connections where there are none. One example is Verrett’s contention that Habakkuk 3:13-14 is “a poetic portrayal of the David and Goliath narrative” (p. 60). I had never read these verses and caught any notion of a reference, or even an allusion, to David and Goliath. After reading Verrett’s interpretation, I must still confess that I don’t see it. I have similar feelings about his connection of 2 Sam. 23:6-7 with 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, although I see the parallels he is trying to make between these passages.

One glaring weakness in Verrett’s presentation, in my opinion, is regarding Absalom and Amasa. One would think that if the writer of Samuel was attempting to use the serpent motif in the story of Absalom’s rebellion, he would have used language and imagery much more obvious and convincing with regards to Absalom. Why would the writer focus on a relatively minor character like Amasa and picture him as the seed of the serpent, when a presentation of Absalom in this light would make a more profound impression? This doesn’t rule it out as a possibility, but there are other problems regarding Amasa. Although Verrett, to his credit, deals with the textual problem in 2 Sam. 17:25 which depicts Amasa as a descendant of Nahash, this Scripture is much disputed. It asks a lot to base your theory on a disputed passage. I must also take issue with Verrett’s interpretation of Joab. Joab is pictured as a very unsavory person in 2 Samuel. His murder of Amasa is vicious, deceitful, and cowardly. Yet in this passage Verrett pictures Joab as the hero and David as the villain! Quote: “At this point in the narrative, Joab appears more like the seed of the woman than David does” (p. 113). This is a misunderstanding of Joab’s portrayal in 2 Samuel. (For an in depth treatment of Joab’s character, check out my book, Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel). One final problem with Verrett’s thesis is his assertion that the covenant promise of 2 Samuel 7 refers only to the promised seed of the woman. While this is clearly a messianic text and is interpreted this way in the NT, it’s hard to ignore 2 Sam. 7:14 which talks about David’s descendants committing sin. Again, to his credit, Verrett addresses this verse, but all that he can come up with (and it’s all that can be said) is that the Old Greek (OG) leaves open the possibility that David’s descendant might not sin (p. 127). This is not a strong argument and damages  his assertion that this passage only speaks about the coming messiah.

Concluding Remarks

In spite of my critique of what I perceive to be some shortcomings of The Serpent in Samuel, this is an excellent book. The reader will learn much from it. I am grateful for Verrett’s effort, and scholarship and I highly recommend it as a source that will inform and challenge the reader.

Many thanks to Wipf & Stock for this free review copy. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

The Serpent in Samuel: A Messianic Motif is available at Wipf & Stock, and Amazon USA / UK

 

Favorite Logos Commentary: The Geographic Commentary

Favorite Logos Commentary: The Geographic Commentary

Lexham Geographic Commentary
For this and other great resources from Logos click on the link here.

Those who frequent this blog may be aware that I’ve become enamored lately with a geographical approach to Bible Study (see posts here, here, and here). A favorite Logos commentary of mine is the Lexham Geographic Commentary. Last year, I did a review of volume 1 which focused on the Gospels (see review here). Lexham Press has recently published the second volume on Acts through Revelation. Since I’ve already done an overview of this series, I’d like to focus on one particular chapter of volume 2 that points out how valuable this commentary is in Logos. As noted in my previous review, although these volumes are available in hardback from Lexham Press, the Logos version offers many superior advantages.

Like volume 1, volume 2 has chapters authored by various experts on biblical geography and the ancient world. I’ve chosen chapter 41 entitled, “The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus,” by David A. DeSilva. If you want an in-depth sensory learning experience regarding Ephesus then this is the commentary for you! This chapter on Ephesus is chalk-full of maps, diagrams, photos, and videos to enhance one’s learning experience about ancient Ephesus. The screenshot below is an example of one of the great features available in the Logos edition. It is called “before and after.” The picture on the right is taken from the book and shows the way the Odeon in Ephesus might have looked. By clicking on the picture, a screen appears on the left hand side with a little slider allowing you to see the way it looks today, as well as how it looked then. I have left the slider in the middle of the picture so that you can see both the before and after. By using the cursor, you can move the slider in either direction.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
“Before and After” is one of the great features of the Logos edition.

Another superior feature of the Logos edition can be seen in the next screenshot. When DeSilva describes the various deities worshipped in the city of Ephesus, one may wonder who some of these deities are. In the Logos edition, all of the deities are highlighted. By clicking on the highlighted name (in this case I have clicked on Cybele), the lefthand side of the screen produces what is known in Logos as “The Factbook.” This resource provides an enormous amount of information at one’s fingertips to learn more about who Cybele was. Using a hardback copy one would obviously not have this information available, and at best, might put the book down to look up “Cybele” in a Bible Dictionary. Logos not only lists various articles available on Cybele, but also offers photos and a video about this goddess. Here’s the screenshot.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
Screen shot of the Factbook on the left which is accessed by clicking on the highlighted names in the book on the right.

The next two screen shots show an example of a video embedded within the text of the book. The first screenshot shows the book itself. By clicking on the link in the book, Logos takes you to a “Media” page where you are able to then watch the video. See the second screenshot below.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
This is a picture of the link in the book. Clicking on it takes you to a media page where you can watch the video.
Lexham Geographic Commentary
In this screenshot, the media page can be seen. Simply click the arrow to watch a video on Ephesus.

These are just a few of the advantages available in Logos. Photos can also be imported into the media page and transferred to PowerPoint, Keynote, or Logos’s own “Proclaim” for use in a slide presentation. The final screenshot is found at the end of the chapter listing still other resources available in the Logos version.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
Still other resources available in the Logos version of the Lexham Geographic Commentary!

David A. DeSilva, himself, is an extremely knowledgeable scholar on the ancient Roman world. This chapter on Ephesus is a gold mine of information and is greatly enhanced by all of the features available in Logos. This is why the Lexham Geographic Commentary is a favorite Logos commentary of mine. Check it out and the other resources available at Logos by following the link here.

The Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation is available at Logos