The City of Dan: A Legacy of Apostasy

The City of Dan: A Legacy of Apostasy

High place outside the gate of the City of Dan
High place outside the gate of the City of Dan

Did you know that the end of the story of the conquest of the city of Dan holds a very interesting surprise? In my previous article on Tel Dan, we looked at the fascinating archaeological discoveries that have been uncovered, while noting that only about 10% of the site has been excavated. This article will focus on the biblical history of the city of Dan and its sad legacy.

The conquest of the city of Dan (formerly known as Laish), as recorded in Judges 18:27-31, is an inglorious affair from its inception. The story is narrated in two parts: 1) The story of Micah, his house of false worship, and his Levite (Judg. 17); and 2) the story of the conquest of the city of Dan. In short, the Danites, who don’t have the faith to take the territory allotted to them (Judg. 1:34), steal the gods and priest of a fellow-Israelite named Micah and then attack a peaceful, unsuspecting people in the northern part of Canaan (Judg. 18:7-9). A real surprise is saved for the end of the story when the name and genealogy of the previously unnamed Levite is revealed. We are told his name is Jonathan and that he descended from none other than the great lawgiver himself, Moses! (Judg. 18:30).

A Levite, an Embarrassed Scribe, and the City of Dan

At this point you might be saying, “Wait a minute, my version reads ‘Manasseh,’ not ‘Moses'”. In Hebrew the only difference between the names Moses and Manasseh is the letter “n”.

The letter in the middle row raised above the line is the inserted nun
The letter in the middle row (4th from the end) raised above the line is the inserted nun

At some point in the history of the Hebrew text, it appears that some well-meaning scribe was embarrassed by the fact that this unscrupulous Levite could be a descendant of Moses (which is one of the shocking points of the story). As a result, the Hebrew letter nun (pronounced “noon” and equivalent to an “n” in English) was halfway inserted into the name of Moses, turning it into the name Manasseh. Although the scribe was probably embarrassed that the text read “Moses,” his reverence for the text did not permit him to totally change it. Thus, he only inserted the nun part way into the name. This is why the NKJV and other versions read “Manasseh” instead of “Moses.”

It is possible that this Jonathan is a grandson of Moses because he is said to be “the son of Gershom, the son of Moses,” but the word “son” can mean “descendant” and so it is difficult to be certain. Either way, the city of Dan gets off to a very inauspicious start with its first priest being an idol-worshipping pay-for-hire descendant of Moses! The story of the founding of the city of Dan ends with the sad words, “So they set up for themselves Micah’s carved image which he made all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh” (Judg. 18:31). In other words, from the very beginning the Danites set up a false house of worship to compete with the true worship of God. The story only gets worse as we move on to the time of King Jeroboam I.

The City of Dan Under Jeroboam I

Jeroboam was a young man on the rise in Solomon’s administration (1 Kgs. 11:28) when the prophet Ahijah told him that God would give him the ten northern tribes (1 Kgs. 11:29-31). This leads to a text that I find quite intriguing, not to mention surprising. God continues by telling Jeroboam that if he will be faithful, “then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and give Israel to you” (1 Kgs. 11:38). An enduring house like David’s? Wow! As king over the northern tribes, Jeroboam has the opportunity to end the idolatrous history of the city of Dan (as well as the rest of the northern tribes), and lead the people in following the Lord. Jeroboam does indeed become king, as Ahijah said he would (1Kgs. 12:15-19), but unfortunately, if you know your Bible history, he does not lead the people in following the Lord. Instead, Jeroboam reasons that if he allows the people to worship in Jerusalem “then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah” (1 Kgs. 12:27).

Unknown artist
Unknown artist

Even though he had seen the fulfillment of God’s word in making him king, he did not believe that God could fulfill the rest of His promise! Instead, Jeroboam inaugurates a new religion of sorts (Yahweh worship, but with a twist – golden calves!) and establishes temples at Bethel and Dan (1 Kgs. 12:28-30). This act was devastating to the house of Jeroboam, of whom it was said, “And this thing was the sin of the house of Jeroboam, so as to exterminate and destroy it from the face of the earth” (1 Kgs. 13:34). But sin never simply affects one person or household. The sin of Jeroboam was also devastating to the ten northern tribes. It became known as the “sin by which he had made Israel sin” (e.g., 1 Kgs. 15:34; 16:19; 22:52). When Israel is finally carried away into Assyrian captivity more than 200 years later, it is the sin of Jeroboam that is credited with leading them astray (2 Kgs. 17:21-23).

A look at the remains of the temple complex in Tel Dan a reminder of Jeroboam and "the sin by which he made Israel sin."
A look at the remains of the temple complex in Tel Dan a reminder of Jeroboam and “the sin by which he made Israel sin.”

The Legacy of the City of Dan

In both of these stories involving the city of Dan, the word legacy comes to mind. In the first story it is the ruined legacy of Moses by a descendant who cares more about money, power, and prestige than honesty and truth. In the second story the legacy of Jeroboam I sadly continues generation after generation until Israel is destroyed. How ironic that the legacy of Moses, Israel’s greatest prophet and leader is quickly overturned, while the legacy of Jeroboam I continues unbroken eventually leading to the ruin of the nation. Sadly sin has corrupted humankind to the point where it is much easier to follow a bad leader than a good one. That is a truth well worth bearing in mind during these times in which we live.

These stories also prompt us to ask what sort of legacy do we want to leave to future generations? Meditating on the legacy of the city of Dan teaches us that whether we live for good or for ill, our lives not only affect us and those around us, but have a powerful impact on the future. This is a sobering truth and should cause us to pause and ask ourselves about the choices we are making. What kind of world do we want to leave to the next generation and beyond? Our choices today, and for the rest of our lives, will play a major role in molding the future that we bequeath to them.

The World of the New Testament: Book Review

“The World of the New Testament”: Book Review

The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts
The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts

The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts
eds. Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 616 pp.

The World of the New Testament is a mini dictionary of New Testament background topics. It is edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald and consists of articles by scholars (seasoned veterans and new up and coming ones) who specialize in studies of the field known as Second Temple Judaism (meaning the period following the exile until the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD). Studies of this period have opened up a new window on understanding the New Testament. This book is an effort to treat many of the important topics related to a better understanding of the New Testament and the Roman World in which it was conceived.

The Contents of “The World of the New Testament”

The World of the New Testament is broken into 5 sections: 1) Setting the Context: Exile and the Jewish Heritage which includes such topics as the Exile, the Hasmonean Era (including the Maccabean Revolt), the Herodian dynasty, as well as others; 2) Setting the Context: Roman Hellenism which looks at such topics as Greek religion, the Imperial cult, slavery, family life and education in the Greco-Roman world, etc.; 3) The Jewish People in the Context of Roman Hellenism includes topics on the Temple and priesthood, Jewish sects (Pharisees, Sadducees, etc.), the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other matters pertaining to Judaism and Jewish life; 4) The Literary Context of Early Christianity focuses on the reading and writing of manuscripts, and what can be learned from sources as divergent as Homer and Josephus as regards the New Testament; and 5) The Geographical Context of the New Testament is the final section which includes articles about Jesus research and archaeology, and places such as Egypt, the province and cities of Asia, Macedonia, and of course, Rome. As indicated, this is not a complete listing of topics under the various sections, but a sampling so that the reader might have an idea of the subject matter.

Most of the articles in this volume are designed to present an overview of the various subjects that concern New Testament backgrounds study. One who is acquainted with this field may not find much that is new, but the student or curious person seeking an introduction to this area of study will discover a wealth of information at their fingertips. One significant area that was overlooked, however, concerns first century social values and institutions such as those addressed in David A. DeSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity (although family life is addressed in chapter 14 and there is a short section on purity in chapter 25). Perhaps the editors thought this would make a long volume even longer, or that this information could be gleaned from other resources such as DeSilva’s book. Nonetheless, it is an important shortcoming in this volume and there is no explanation offered as to why as significant a subject as honor and shame is overlooked.

Critiquing “The World of the New Testament”

On a more positive note, I greatly enjoyed E. Randolph Richards article entitled, “Reading, Writing, and Manuscripts.” Richards discusses literacy in the first century world, as well as the writing methods employed in producing manuscripts. One point I found particularly fascinating was the expense involved in producing a large manuscript. Richards constructs a chart of some of Paul’s letters and, based on the number of lines and the cost for materials and labor, projects what it would cost in the modern world to produce them. Richard’s estimates that Romans, Paul’s longest letter, would cost $2,275.00, while Philemon, Paul shortest letter (and closer to the usual size of an ancient letter), would cost $101.00. Even if Richard’s figures aren’t totally accurate, this certainly provides a perspective on the value and cost involved in producing the New Testament documents! Other chapters I found particularly helpful include, “Greek Religion” (Chap. 8), “The Imperial Cult” (Chap. 9), “Jews in the Diaspora” (Chap. 23), “Literary Forms in the New Testament” (Chap. 30), and “Jesus Research and Archaeology” (Chap. 36) by the renowned scholar James H. Charlesworth. This is not to say that I didn’t find many other helpful and interesting articles in The World of the New Testament, but these chapters stood out to me. Of course, knowledge and interest often dictate what one finds appealing and another reviewer might chose a different selection of chapters.

Another criticism I have of The World of the New Testament, is the quality of photos included in this volume. Photos are certainly a good idea for a work of this kind, but the black and white photos included are not helpful and in my opinion they mar the overall appearance and quality of the book. The photos are usually very indistinct. Shadows frequently obscure details and frustrate rather than illuminate. The book also includes many maps and charts. Again, this is a helpful feature for a book of this nature. Some charts and maps are very helpful, others less so. For example, in section 5 which looks at the geography of the New Testament world, some of the maps don’t list the cities that are being written about, or, in other cases, you only find a particular city on a map a few pages later and so you have to flip back and forth.

In spite of its shortcomings, there is still a lot of good material in The World of the New Testament, and thus I would recommend it to those who are interested in this field of study. This is a book for the beginning or intermediate student, or interested layperson. However, the language is often technical when simpler expressions could have been substituted or better explained. The terminology and subject matter does not make for casual reading, but for one seeking a deeper knowledge of the New Testament world this book will provide ample information.
(Thanks to Baker Academic for providing this copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.)

Buy The World of the New Testament: Amazon USA / UK

The Conquest of Canaan & Context: Violence in the Old Testament Part 3

The Conquest of Canaan & Context: Violence in the Old Testament Part 3

265The next group of articles on Violence in the Old Testament will be a bit like baking a cake. It takes more than one ingredient to bake a cake and, similarly, it takes more than one answer to respond to the charge of the immoral nature of God as reflected in the violence in the Old Testament. There is no particular order of importance to most of the articles, but I will begin with what I perceive to be one of the most serious errors made by the new atheists.
We are all familiar with the modern media taking the words or actions of someone out of context in order to create a sensational story. This is a chief complaint among celebrities and justifiably so. It often becomes difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. conspiracy-theories-death01Conspiracy theories are also in vogue, and it is interesting how many “facts” can be dug up (or misconstrued) to “prove” or “disprove” something. Though some people like a good gossip story whether it is true or not, if we are honest we must admit how unfair and unethical this practice is. Much the same tactic is used in criticizing the God of the Bible. As I mentioned in my last article, even the church can sometimes be guilty of giving God a bad press. Removing biblical statements and stories from their surrounding context is a favorite tool of the new atheists and those who parrot their position. Whether this is done intentionally or out of ignorance (and I suspect a little of both), it is bad scholarship.

The Conquest of Canaan

One of the most serious attacks by atheists concerns the Conquest of Canaan under Joshua. The new atheists wonder how a God who orders the extermination of a people can be considered good.

Tissot, The Taking of Jericho. Jericho was the first battle in the Conquest of Canaan.
Tissot, The Taking of Jericho. Jericho was the first battle in the Conquest of Canaan.

The God of the Old Testament is disparaged as a bloodthirsty genocidal xenophobic Being. We cannot deny that a command such as the one found in Deuteronomy 7:1-2 to “utterly destroy” the nations that dwell in Canaan, seems particularly harsh. So are the new atheists right? In future articles I will offer other explanations for the Conquest of Canaan, but in keeping with the purpose of this article, I want to focus on the importance of being faithful to the context.
Accusing God of ethnic cleansing is an example of how a passage is quoted without considering the context in which it occurs. This context is actually quite broad. It involves understanding the story that begins in Genesis and extends all the way through 2 Kings. This large block of material may seem quite excessive for considering this question, but in reality the “big picture” is necessary for a proper interpretation.

Mr. Darcy (Colin firth) in the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice
Mr. Darcy (Colin firth) in the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice

For example, Elizabeth Bennett’s rebuff of Mr. Darcy’s proposal in Pride and Prejudice is similar to that of the atheists toward God. Given the facts she has at her disposal, Mr. Darcy seems to be a loathsome human being, and, at the point of her rejection, we as readers are in agreement with her. However, the more Miss Bennett learns about the true Mr. Darcy, the more she admires and loves him, and so do we as readers! The point is, we have to read the whole story to come to appreciate and understand Mr. Darcy. The same is true for God and the Conquest of Canaan. For our purposes here, I will narrow the context to the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, in order to demonstrate how a knowledge of even the immediate context (not to mention the broader context) changes our perspective.

The Immediate Context of the Conquest of Canaan

The first thing we learn, only a few verses later (Deut. 7:7), is that God has not amassed some great war machine to fight the inhabitants of Canaan, but has actually chosen a very weak people. The biblical accounts are very consistent in testifying to the fact that Israel is constantly “out-manned” and “out-gunned” by the superior fighting forces of the Canaanite peoples (e.g., Num. 13:28; Deut. 1:28). In fact, the biblical context declares that the reason the Israelites did not immediately march to Canaan and begin the conquest was because of their fear of the might of the Canaanites.

The Israelites were not bullies in the Conquest of Canaan.
The Israelites were not bullies in the Conquest of Canaan.

While this argument doesn’t necessarily justify the slaughter of Canaanites, it does help provide the proper context for the story which insists that God did not prepare a master race of killers to destroy the Canaanites. This is important because, Israel is often pictured as the bully on the block intimidating the “90 lb.” weakling Canaanites. The Israelites are often vilified by atheists as being some merciless military machine wiping out the poor defenseless Canaanites. Biblically and historically (verified by archaeological finds), this is far from the truth.
Two chapters later, we read of God’s reason for destroying the Canaanites. Deuteronomy 9:4-6 emphasizes that it was the wickedness of the Canaanites that prompted this action. In fact, not only is the Canaanites’ wickedness emphasized, so is the unrighteousness of the Israelites! In other words, the conquest has nothing to do with race or ethnicity, but with righteousness and sin. The Conquest of Canaan is not an attempt at genocide. God’s motive is not that He is prejudice against the Canaanites, but rather that He is judging the Canaanites for their sin. This is also evident based on several other observations. First, if God hated Canaanites because of their race, He would never have allowed Joshua and Israel to spare Rahab and her family (Josh. 6:22-25) or the Gibeonites (Josh. 9). Both stories emphasize that Canaanites who confessed faith in the God of Israel would be spared (Josh. 2:9-14; 9:24). Rahab and the Gibeonites are not only spared, they become a part of the nation of Israel. In fact, they become a very important part. Rahab becomes an ancestress of Israel’s greatest king (David) and also a link in the chain that leads to the Messiah (Matt. 1:5), while the Gibeonites become servants of the tabernacle, and later of the temple (Josh. 9:26-27).

The Commander of the Lord's army appears to Joshua before the Conquest of Canaan
The Commander of the Lord’s army appears to Joshua before the Conquest of Canaan

Second, the account of the Conquest of Canaan is told in a very unusual way which is uncharacteristic of ancient battle accounts. On the eve of the first battle (Jericho), Joshua is confronted by a mysterious figure called “the Commander of the Lord’s army” (Josh. 5:13-14). Joshua asks Him a very important question, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” The response that we as readers might expect is, “I’m for you Joshua and all of Israel.” However, the response Joshua receives is “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” In other words, God is not into playing favorites; He is true to Himself and His purposes. As we have seen from the passage in Deuteronomy 9:4-6, His purpose is to judge the sin of the Canaanites and give the land to Israel, but this does not mean that God has an “us against them” mentality. Archaeologists have never uncovered an ancient battle account of a victorious nation similar to this. The enemy is always put in the worst light possible, while the victorious nation sings of the virtue of its people, king, and god(s). No people in the ancient Near East would claim that their god(s) gave them victory even though they were unrighteous and stubborn! Furthermore, these accounts are always told from the point of view of the victorious king or people, but the account in Joshua allows us at times to see the Conquest through the eyes of the Canaanites (Josh. 2:8-13; 5:1). This creates some sympathy for the Canaanites, something other ancient battle accounts would never do for the enemy.

God is Not Genocidal or Xenophobic

Against this background, it cannot be claimed that God is commanding genocide, especially if by that term we are indicting God for being racially prejudice toward a particular people. The claim that God is xenophobic also cannot be sustained. Not only do Rahab and the Gibeonites show God’s welcoming of foreigners, but the Old Testament itself demonstrates time and again God’s compassion for the stranger and alien in Israel (e.g., Deut. 31:12; Josh. 8:33, among many other verses). The fact is that words like “genocide” and “xenophobic” are very hot politically incorrect terms in our society designed to invoke a negative emotional response when used. Not only does the Old Testament context not justify the use of these terms, it is unfair of the new atheists to use them for the purpose of creating a negative response in the heart of their readers.
Many other objections remain to be tackled. We will certainly return to the problem of the Conquest of Canaan, there are other responses that need to be made. The purpose here is to plead for the importance of context. If atheists are going to attack the God of the Old Testament by using the Old Testament, then, to be honest, they must take the context seriously. It will not do for anyone to lift a text out of the Scripture and create their own meaning for it. No one would do this with other literature and be considered a legitimate critic. Why should atheists not be held to the same standard of interpretation when it comes to the Bible? Furthermore, it is not only unfair to create one’s own meaning by removing a statement from its context, it is also manipulative to use inaccurate buzz words that create a negative emotional response clouding the judgment of the reader.
So far our cake has only one ingredient, in my next article I will look at other responses related to the Conquest of Canaan and Violence in the Old Testament.

Tel Dan (Part 1): An Archaeological Gem

Tel Dan (Part 1): An Archaeological Gem

Did you know that even though Tel Dan  (the ancient city of Dan) has yielded some amazing archaeological discoveries, those currently excavating it (Drs. David Ilan, Ryan Byrne, & Nili Fox) claim that, “the artifacts of more than ninety percent of the mound still lie underground waiting to be discovered”? (http://www.teldan.wordpress.com).

Aerial view of Tel Dan courtesy of google
Aerial view of Tel Dan courtesy of google

The photo on the left gives an idea of the size of the mound.  The dense area of trees shows how much of the tel remains untouched. In spite of the fact that Avraham Biran presided over excavations here for 33 years (1966-1999), and the current directors have been digging since 2005, the exciting news is that there is more to discover. Imagine all those years of digging (43 counting this summer) and archaeologists have barely scratched the surface of Tel Dan! This is an excellent example of what a mamoth task archaeologists confront and how careful we should be about accepting dogmatic answers (that lack proof) from them.

This way to Tel Dan discussion!
This way to Tel Dan discussion!

In this article we will look at some of the exciting discoveries already made. In a second article on Tel Dan I will talk about the significant biblical events that took place here. The biblical history of Dan is fascinating, but frustrating, as it is a prime example of Israel’s idolatry and unfaithfulness. Follow the sign for further discussion on Tel Dan!

 

Famous Discoveries at Tel Dan

In our last article on Khirbet Qeiyafa we talked about the significance of the “house of David stele” that was discovered at Tel Dan. This stele was made by the Syrian king Hazael. Although the Bible doesn’t specifically say that Hazael captured Dan, it does state that he conquered and controlled alot of Israel and Judah (2 Kgs. 8:12; 10:32; 13:3, etc.). Since Dan was Israel’s northernmost city, it follows that Hazael would have to control it in order to penetrate further into Israel’s territory. The stele is proof that he did.

"house of David" stele from Tel-Dan (photo taken from thechristians.com)
“house of David” stele from Tel-Dan (photo taken from thechristians.com)

This stele was probably set up by Hazael around 841 BC after capturing the city. When Dan came back under Israel’s control (2 Kgs. 13:25), the stele was apparantly smashed and used as a building block in one of the city’s walls where it was discovered in 1993. The stele is important because it is the only extra biblical source that mentions the “house of David” and, therefore, supports the biblical claim that the kings of Judah were descended from a real historical person named David.  Previous to this discovery, a lack of archaeological evidence mentioning David had caused some archaeologists to doubt his existence. Even now, some continue to insist that the kingdom of David and Solomon is mythical and that the archaeological evidence does not support it. Again, this is the problem that can develop when archaeologists draw conclusions because of a lack of evidence for something, when there is so much that remains to be discovered. Unfortunately, it is often these very archaeologists or scholars who are interviewed for documentaries about the Bible, leading to greater skepticism among the public who view these programs. One example of this is the History Channel’s “The Bible Unearthed (2009).” (To see comments on David and Solomon’s kingdom forward the video to the 30 minute mark). In spite of the skepticism of some, however, there are other archaeologists who put greater trust in the biblical account.

The Israelite Temple at Tel Dan

The temple complex at Tel Dan
The temple complex at Tel Dan

The discovery of the Temple complex is another exciting feature of Tel Dan. The Bible speaks of Dan being a place of Israelite idolatry as early as the period of the Judges (Judg. 18:30-31). However, it was Jeroboam I who built a permanent sanctuary to house one of the two golden calves he had made (1 Kgs. 12:28-30). 1 Kings 12:26-27 reveals that Jeroboam’s fear that the people of his newly established kingdom would continue to go to Jerusalem to worship, motivated him to build temples in Bethel (the southern border of his kingdom) and Dan (the northern border of his kingdom). Excavators have actually uncovered three phases of building activity here. The first is attributed to Jeroboam I about 930 BC. The second phase is attributed to the infamous idolator Ahab (9th century BC), and the final phase to Jeroboam II (early 8th century BC).

A view of the sacrificial area including a reproduction of  the altar of sacrifice showing its immense size..
A view of the sacrificial area including a reproduction of the altar of sacrifice showing its immense size.

The first phase was destroyed by fire. This may have happened when Ben Hadad I of Syria (Aram) attacked Dan (1 Kgs. 15:20). When rebuilding occurred under Ahab in phase II, the temple platform was enlarged as was the altar platform. In phase III under Jeroboam II, a monumental staircase was added to the temple,

discovered at Tel Dan. (photo from teldan.wordpress.com)
discovered at Tel Dan. (photo from teldan.wordpress.com)

a new four-horned altar (9 feet high) was made with stairs ascending on two of its corners, and a new enclosure wall was added with entrances in the south and east (which can be seen in the photo above). Among the artifacts discovered were 2 small incense altars and 3 iron shovels used for sifting the incense. (photo on right)

One of the important significances of the discovery of this temple complex is that it is only one of two discovered in the land of Israel (the other is in Arad which I will examine in a future article). Because excavation is not allowed on the Temple Mount, the temples in Dan and Arad provide the only examples of what an Israelite (or Judahite) temple looked like.

The 9th century city gate at Tel Dan
The 9th century city gate at Tel Dan

The Israelite Gate at Tel Dan

When approaching the site of Tel Dan, you can’t help but be impressed by the massive stone walls and the gate complex. The gate is four-chambered and directly outside of it is “an impressive courtyard enclosed by the city wall and a single-entrance outer gate” (Dictionary of the OT Historical Books, “Dan,” IVP, 2005, p. 197).

Stone bench in the outer courtyard.
Stone bench in the outer courtyard.

Inside the courtyard is a stone bench, where the elders and notables of the city probably gathered (Gen. 19:1; Ruth 4:1-2). Left of the stone bench (as you are facing it) is the remnant of a canopy structure which may have been a throne platform for the king. King’s were known to sit in the gate (2 Sam. 18:24; 1 Kgs. 22:10).

Me on the throne platform pretending to be king for a day.
Me on the throne platform pretending to be king for a day.
The high place at the gate of Tel Dan.
The high place at the gate of Tel Dan.

Just outside of this 9th century gate complex is a chilling reminder of the idolatry of the northern kingdom. An altar made of stones represents what is called “the high place at the gates” (2 Kgs. 23:8 – the reference here is not to Dan but these high places were very common at the entrance of cities). One of the features of this altar are the “standing stones” (masseboth) which can be seen in the center of the altar. More of these standing stones can be found inside the gate in the outer courtyard. Scholars are not sure what these kind of stones represent. They could “represent the city god(s), divine icons, venerated ancestors, civic monuments or something entirely different” (quoted from teldan.wordpress.com).

The Canaanite Gate at Tel Dan

Another exciting discovery at Tel Dan is the (nearly) 4,000 year old Canaanite mudbrick gate, the oldest arched gate in the world. Although it’s popular to say that Abraham may have passed through this gate (see Gen. 14:14), if it is dated to the 18th century BC, as the excavators suggest, it would be slightly younger than Abraham. Nonetheless, it is still a very old structure.

Old Canaanite gate at Tel Dan.
Old Canaanite gate at Tel Dan.

Besides these significant discoveries, others have been made which I won’t take the time to detail here because they are not related directly to the Bible (like the Mycenaean tomb which has yielded many exciting artifacts). Tel Dan is clearly an important archaeological site and it will be interesting to see what is uncovered in the years to come. My next article on biblical sites will continue to focus on Tel Dan as we look at its spiritual significance according to Scripture.

(all photos the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken, except where noted, and should only be used for educational purposes.)

Calvary Chapel Bible College Transformation

Calvary Chapel Bible College Transformation

Walmgate Bar (short for barbican) is the home of Calvary Chapel Bible College York's Coffee shop
Walmgate Bar (short for barbican) is the home of Calvary Chapel Bible College York’s Coffee shop

No, the above photo is not what Calvary Chapel Bible College used to look like! However, Walmgate Bar (short for barbican) has always been an important part of Bible College life here in York. The video link below is about Calvary Chapel Bible College York where I work. It shows the transformation of the property that has taken place over the last 10 years. Calvary Chapel Bible College is a great place to work and a great place to come to Bible College! I wanted to take this oppotunity to share a little about it. Just click on the link below to see the short 2 minute video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=tKyTs2iOrcg

If you are a prospective student you can learn more about the Bible College in York by visiting our website at: http://www.ccbcy.com Besides the York campus, Calvary Chapel has Bible Colleges throughout the world. You can check out the main site at:  http://www.calvarychapelbiblecollege.com

These unassuming buildings are part of the student flats that make up Calvary Chapel Bible College York
These unassuming buildings are part of the student flats that make up Calvary Chapel Bible College York
IMG_6766
The inner courtyard of Calvary Chapel Bible College York

Of course, the most important part of the Bible College is the people. While the buildings have been transformed over the years, the most important thing is the transformation that has happened in many lives. Come visit us, or better yet, come and enroll for a quality Bible education.

Calvary Chapel Bible College York graduates, Spring 2014
Calvary Chapel Bible College York graduates, Spring 2014

Violence in the Old Testament Part 2: My Journey

Violence in the Old Testament Part 2: My Journey

Before I begin sharing responses to objections about “Violence in the Old Testament,” I think that it is appropriate for me to talk about why this topic is important to me. Besides the obvious fact that as a Christian I believe the Old Testament (OT) is the Word of God, my own background caused me to confront tough questions about the OT quite early in life.
I grew up in a church tradition that taught the OT had been done away with in Christ. Paul’s comments in Colossians 2:11-14 were often interpreted to mean that “the handwriting of requirements that was against us” and nailed to the cross, were none other than the OT Scriptures! Although my church taught from the OT, we considered ourselves a NT church and drew all of our doctrine and practice from the NT. I was left with a strong sense that the God of the OT was a wrathful and vengeful God. Somehow that all changed when Jesus came to earth and revealed God to be a God of love and grace. I even remember as a young man teaching this idea from the pulpit with no one correcting me afterwards.

Born Again “Again”

The change for me came in Bible College. I had several excellent OT professors who really opened up my eyes to the fact that the God of the OT was the same gracious and loving God that I had encountered in the NT. I recall one particular class on Genesis where we were discussing the meaning of God’s covenant with Abram and how the basic meaning behind a covenant was God’s desire for a relationship. When I left that class my best friend remarked to me that he felt like he had been “born again” again! I began to see that there were reasons for God’s judgments and that before God sent judgment, He always gave people the opportunity to repent. We will examine the significance of this in a future article. My point here is that, at the heart of it all, I discovered the OT portrayed a God who was patient and longsuffering toward sinners, not desiring to bring judgment, but desiring a relationship with them. How I came to this conclusion will be part of the responses found in the coming articles of this series.
One of the advantages of the OT is that it is longer than the NT and covers a lengthier period of time. This extra material provides the opportunity for discovering more facets of the personality of an infinite God. I found it provided a better understanding of Him than I ever dreamed possible. This is why I fell in love with studying the OT and have continued to have a passion for teaching it. As a result, I am always disappointed at the reactions of Bible believers who ignore the OT and only want to study the NT, or who think the OT is no longer relevant for Christians. I understand this feeling, after all, I had been raised to have a similar reaction to the OT, and the particular church tradition I was raised in is not the only one that gives the God of the OT a bad press! But having spent years studying and teaching the OT my view has completely changed and my disappointment stems from the fact that now I know what others are missing! This is what provides a secondary motivation for this series of articles. Not only do I desire to demonstrate that there are reasonable answers to the objections offered by atheists and skeptics, but I desire to encourage more Christians to get to know the OT and the God revealed in its pages.
A few years ago I had a student who told me that before she came to Bible College, she avoided the OT. When she signed up for my class on the Book of Judges she confessed that she was fearful of how it might conflict with her belief in a loving God. Not only did a study of the Book of Judges allay her fears, but over the next two years she proceeded to take my classes on Genesis, Joshua, 1&2 Samuel, and 1&2 Kings, books often considered to be among the most violent in the OT! When she graduated her view of a loving and gracious God was unchanged, and her confidence that He could be found not only in the NT but in the OT as well, had grown by leaps and bounds.
If you have been afraid of the OT I encourage you to spend some time really studying it deeply. As Christians we do not need to be afraid or ashamed of what God has revealed in His Word. In the articles that follow, we will look at the theme of “Violence in the Old Testament,” and we will see that there are good and reasonable responses for those who object to this portion of the Bible. I hope you will continue to read along and post any relevant comments that are related to our discussion. Please also feel free to share your own journey with the God of the OT.

 

 

Violence in the Old Testament Part 1: The Problem

John Martin - 1852
John Martin – 1852

Violence in the Old Testament Part 1: The Problem

What is someone who believes in the Bible to make of all the violence in the Old Testament? Only 6 chapters into the book of Genesis, God is already planning on destroying the world with a flood. A few chapters later, God rains down fire and brimstone on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24). In the next book of the Bible God sends plagues on the Egyptians and kills their firstborn (Exod. 5-12). Furthermore, He leads His people out of Egypt for the purpose of giving them a land that belongs to others (the Canaanite peoples) and He commands Moses and Joshua to “utterly destroy” them (Deut. 7:1-2).
Violence in the Old Testament is also confronted in its characters. A man named Shechem rapes Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. In retaliation, Jacob’s sons deceive Shechem and his father who convince the whole town to be circumcised. While the men are recovering, Jacob’s sons slaughter all the males and plunder the city (Gen. 34). Such stories can be multiplied. For example, the book of Judges is filled with stories of violence. Ehud slays an obese Moabite king with trickery (Judg. 3:21-22), Jael drives a tent peg through the skull of the Canaanite commander Sisera (Judg. 4:21), Jephthah offers up his only daughter as a sacrifice (Judg. 11:39), and a Levite’s concubine is gang raped by the men of Gibeah. The Levite responds by chopping her body into 12 parts and sending them throughout the tribes of Israel (Judg. 19), which precipitates a civil war leading to more atrocities such as the near annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin, and the kidnapping of women to marry the few remaining males of the tribe (Judg. 20-21).
These stories disturb our moral sensibilities (as they should). Frequently the bible-believer is embarrassed by them and would rather act as if they don’t exist. Many Christians simply focus on the New Testament. The Old Testament is like the elephant in the room that we pretend is not there, or we try to find some way to apologize for it, much like we would for an awkward relative.
Old__New_Testament_God11-300x196

The Ghost of Marcion

One historical solution, thankfully rejected by the Church, was to label the Old Testament and its “god” as inferior to the God of the New Testament. The 2nd century heretic Marcion took this view and rejected all of the Old Testament. Writing over 50 years ago Bernhard Anderson recognized a similar problem within the Church that continues to this day when he wrote, “Meanwhile the ghost of Marcion lingers on, appearing more in indifference to or ignorance about the Old Testament than in vehement theological debate” (The Old Testament and the Christian Faith, p. 5) But it is important for the Church to wake up from its indifference to the Old Testament, because the Bible is coming under attack from the so-called “new atheists.” These new atheists, including names which have become familiar to many such as Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchins, are forcing Christians (and Jews) to take a hard look at their Scriptures. Fortunately, there are voices within the Church who are responding to these criticisms with reasonable, well-argued responses. (See e.g., the debate between Christians and Atheists in: Divine Evil? The Moral Character of the God of Abraham).
My desire in this series of articles on Violence in the Old Testament, is to examine some of the objections raised by the new atheists and unbelievers that you and I might come into contact with. I’m not a philosophical theologian (most of us aren’t!), or a giant intellect. My interest in this topic is motivated by several factors: 1) I believe the Old Testament is the Word of God and as such, I need to have good reasons for believing that; 2) as a student and teacher, the Old Testament has greatly impacted my life for good and I think it’s important to share some of that journey and experience; 3) I hope to kindle a desire among Christians who read these articles to take their study of the Old Testament more seriously, and to not be afraid of its contents; 4) I hope any non-believers who read these articles will approach the subject with an open mind, and I welcome them to offer their comments as long as it is done in a kind, non-combative way which seeks to advance understanding. I promise I will respond with a similar spirit.
At this point I am not sure how long I will extend this series but my desire is to take it in small bite-sized chunks, dealing with different problems and responses in each article. Part of it depends on the interest generated by you the reader and whether you find the discussion helpful. I welcome all comments and questions, as well as any insight that others may wish to contribute, but again I ask that the comments and questions be made in a spirit of goodwill with a view toward advancing knowledge and understanding. I do not pretend that I will be able to answer every difficulty presented by the violence in the Old Testament, nor do I think that there is one answer that will solve every objection. This is a complex and serious issue which requires various responses. Before delving into the problem and various responses, in my next article, I will give a little more personal background as to why this subject is important to me. Following that, we will begin to look at the problems raised by Violence in the Old Testament.

Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Davidic City

 Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Davidic City

Khirbet Qeiyafa overlooking the Elah Valley (photo courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition and lukechandler.wordpress.com
Khirbet Qeiyafa overlooking the Elah Valley (photo courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition and lukechandler.wordpress.com)

Did you know that 7 seasons of excavations (2007-2013) at Khirbet Qeiyafa have produced a number of exciting finds leading some archaeologists to the conclusion that the biblical description of David’s kingdom is accurate? If you are a Bible-believer, it may have never crossed your mind to doubt the existence of David or his kingdom. However, that hasn’t stopped skeptical archaeologists and biblical scholars from questioning it! In the 1980s the new “literary” approach to the Bible advocated that the biblical text was written centuries after the events they purport to describe (actually the old “higher criticism” of the 19th-20th centuries frequently advocated a similar understanding). The events and people were (are) often considered to be literary creations. The biblical authors merely fabricated a past history that didn’t actually exist.

The discovery of the stele (stone inscription) from Tel-Dan in 1993 which specifically mentions the “house of David” was the first nonbiblical source ever discovered to refer to the Davidic kingdom.

House of David

"house of David" stele from Tel-Dan (photo taken from thechristians.com)
“house of David” stele from Tel-Dan (photo taken from thechristians.com)

This discovery was helpful in putting an end to the theory that King David was only a literary creation. However, a number of scholars continue to believe that David’s kingdom was insignificant. One prominent Israeli archaeologist summed up David’s kingdom this way: “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting.” (quoted from Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec 2013, 39, no. 6, in an article by Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbell entitled “An Ending and A Beginning,” p. 44).

Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Elah Valley

The excavation of Khirbet Qeiyafa takes an important step toward demonstrating that David did in fact rule over a significant kingdom. While not all scholars agree (when do they ever!), there is considerable evidence that this city, that overlooks the Elah Valley, was an important defensive outpost from David’s time (1010-970 BC). As the map below shows, Qeiyafa is located at the junction between southern Judah and Philistine territory (the Philistine city of Gath, not on the map, is only 8 miles away).

Notice the strategic location of Qeiyafa in relation to Philistine territory. (map taken from holylandphotos.org)
Notice the strategic location of Qeiyafa in relation to Philistine territory. (map taken from holylandphotos.org)

The Elah Valley is the famous location of David’s battle with Goliath and it is the valley which provides access from Philistine territory to Judean territory. Thus it is a significant area, and Qeiyafa’s location would have been vital in protecting Judah’s southern frontier.

This photo shows the valley of Elah with the cities of Sochoh and Azekah (1 Sam. 17:1-2), as well as the location of Qeiyafa.
This photo shows the valley of Elah with the cities of Socoh and Azekah (1 Sam. 17:1-2), as well as the location of Qeiyafa. (photo from BiblePlaces.com)

The reason Khirbet Qeiyafa is so significant is because there is basically only one occupational layer. This means that, unlike many cities in Israel, the site was not built upon by later generations (there is some small evidence of other occupations of the site, e.g., a Byzantine structure that dates from about 400 AD, but nothing significant that interferes with the basic city itself). Radiocarbon dating of ancient olive pits found on the site date it to the period of 1020-980 BC (David’s time). The city is constructed like other cities in southern Judah of this period (e.g., Beersheba, BethShemesh), a style which was unique to Judah (i.e., different from Philistine, Canaanite, or even Israelite construction). The discovery of two gate complexes (a southern entrance and a western entrance) leading into the city is unusual and has led the excavators of Khirbet Qeiyafa to identify it with the biblical city Shaaraim (which means “two gates” in Hebrew) referred to in the story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17:52).

Khirbet  Qeiyafa Ostracon

One of the exciting discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa was made in 2008 when an ostracon ( a piece of ancient pottery) was discovered with what may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. The first photo above shows the area where the ostracon was found (see the yellow circle in the photo). Unfortunately, it has proven hard to translate because it is only a fragment of a larger inscription. However, scholars believe the words “judge” and “king” are among the words on the ostracon.

The ostracon discovered at Qeiyafa which may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found.
The ostracon discovered at Qeiyafa which may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. (taken from withmeagrepowers.wordpress.com)

The reason this is such an exciting discovery is that it provides evidence of writing, and therefore, of administration at Khirbet Qeiyafa. For a kingdom to be as advanced as the Bible describes David’s kingdom, there would have to be written documentation and administrative activity. This ostracon provides for that possibility.

The Administrative Building at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Besides the two gate complexes, Khirbet Qeiyafa has a massive defensive (casemate) wall around it. In the final season of excavation (summer 2013), the excavators uncovered a monumental administrative building in the central and highest part of the site. Although the building had been partially destroyed by a later Byzantine structure (mentioned above and seen in the photo below), the archaeologists were able to determine that the original building from David’s era covered more than 10,000 square feet!

The monumental administration building at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The area inside where the tree is located, is part of the reconstructed Byzantine building.
The monumental administration building at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The area inside where the tree is located, is part of the reconstructed Byzantine building. (photo taken from http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/khirbet-qeiyafa-and-tel-lachish-excavations-explore-early-kingdom-of-judah)

The point of all this is, to build a city of this size and sophistication so far from Jerusalem, on the border of Philistine territory would have required a well organized and equipped government. Summing up the significance of Khirbet Qeiyafa, the archaeologists of this 7 year project state: “Khirbet Qeiyafa redefined the debate over the early kingdom of Judah. It is clear now that David’s kingdom extended beyond Jerusalem, that fortified cities existed in strategic geopolitical locations and that there was an extensive civil administration capable of building cities. The inscription indicates that writing and literacy were present and that historical memories could have been documented and preserved for generations” (Biblical Archaeology Review, “An Ending and a Beginning,” p. 46, see the full citation above).

Khirbet Qeiyafa (like the discovery at Megiddo mentioned in the last ariticle) continues to demonstrate that there is much to be learned from archaeology in Israel and that we shouldn’t be disturbed by some who claim that archaeolgy is “disproving” the Bible. In fact, it is interesting how frequently the biblical record finds corroboration in the archaeological evidence. The archaeologists of Khirbet Qeiyafa (Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbell) are moving to another important biblical site this summer: Tel-Lachish. Like Khirbet Qeiyafa it is located in the southern Judean foothills. Although this city has experienced the archaeologists’ spade on several other occassions, the Davidic time period (11th-10th centuries BC) has received relatively little attention. It will be interesting to follow the progress of this dig and see what else can be “dug up” that relates to, and will deepen our knowledge of, the time of David.

(if you would like more info on Khirbet Qeiyafa I recommend Luke Chandler’s site found at http://www.lukechandler.wordpress.com. Luke personally dug at Khirbet Qeiyafa for 5 seasons. Also, if you google Qeiyafa, you will find many other interesting photos and articles).

Tel Megiddo

 

 Tel Megiddo

Model of Tel-Megiddo
Model of Tel Megiddo

Did you know that recent excavations at Tel Megiddo have uncovered a massive Canaanite temple complex that dates to the 4th millenium BC (3500-3000)? This is an extraordinary find as archaeologists believed that Canaan during this period only consisted of small towns and villages with cities only apprearing in the early 3rd millenium. The details of this find and its interesting ramifications can be found at the Biblical Archaeology Society’s website (biblicalarchaeology.org). Unfortunately, you may need to have a membership to view the article, but you can also see a brief report by one of the excavators at the following site: Revelations from Megiddo.

The photo of the Canaanite altar below (the round stone structure in the middle of the picture) gives bible readers an idea of what a Canaanite altar looked like and the enormity of its size.

Canaanite altar and temple complex area at Tel Megiddo. Photo from 2006. Recent excavations have exposed more of this area.
Canaanite altar and temple complex area at Tel Megiddo. Photo from 2006. Recent excavations have exposed more of this area.

But some of you might say I’ve gotten ahead of myself. What is so important about Tel Megiddo anyway? Tel Megiddo is most popularly known by the name given in Revelation 16:16 – “Armageddon” (mountain of Megiddo), the place where the last battle is to be fought between the Lord and his enemies (But see my more recent article entitled: Where Will the Battle of Armageddon Be Fought? for a different solution!). Actually Tel Megiddo has experienced many battles over the centuries, and even though the city was destroyed in the 4th-5th century BC, battles have continued to be fought in its vicinity up to modern times (this includes Napolean, and General Allenby’s battle with the Turks in 1917 during WWI).

History at Tel-Megiddo

Tel Megiddo’s location at the head of the Jezreel Valley guarding the way of the Via Maris (way by the Sea), the ancient trading route between Mesopotamia and Egypt, made it a key player in international politics in ancient times. Archaeologists have uncovered between 20-25 layers (depending who you read!) of civilization spanning 6 millenia.

This photo shows an example of the number of layers of ancient Megiddo
This photo shows an example of the number of civilization layers at Tel Megiddo

Although Joshua initially defeated the king of Megiddo (Josh. 12:21), Megiddo did not fall under Israelite control until probably the time of David. The Bible tells us that Solomon fortified Megiddo and made it one of his royal cities (1 Kgs. 9:15). Although some dispute this, many scholars believe that the remains of the northern palace and the city gates can be dated to Solomon’s building activity.

Remains of the northern palace at Megiddo
Remains of the northern palace at Tel Megiddo
The gate complex at Megiddo
The gate complex at Tel Megiddo

Megiddo is also the place where two kings of Judah died. The ungodly Ahaziah died there after being wounded by King Jehu of Israel (2 Kgs. 9:27), while the godly King Josiah was killed in battle as he attempted to block Pharaoh Neco who was advancing to help the Assyrians against the Babylonians at Carchemish (Syria) in 609 BC (2 Kgs. 23:29-30; 2 Chron. 35:20-24).

The Ever-Changing Nature of Archaeology

There are a number of excellent websites that have more thorough articles on Megiddo such as the Jewish Virtual Library (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org), or you can just google “Megiddo.” My purpose here is first, to introduce people to this interesting site, and most importantly, to show how new excavations continue to transform knowledge in the field of archaeology. Some archaeologists will assert that archaeological data frequently contradicts the biblical account. But archaeology is an ever-changing field as new discoveries are made. No one thought that ancient Canaan of the 4th millenium had any significant cities. This recent discovery changes a former archaeological dogma into what is now known to be an incorrect assumption. There are thousands of ancient mounds yet to be investigated with the archaeologist’s spade, not to mention the fact that even those sites that are being  (have been) excavated are only partially uncovered. This research is incredibly exciting, as new information is constantly being uncovered about the world of the Bible, but with so much more to yet discover, we should also be cautious about accepting as solid fact, every theory that is offered by archaeologists.

Next time I will look at a site (Tel-Qayifa), and a discovery from another site (an inscription from Tel-Dan), that has challenged liberal archaeological theories concerning the nonexistence of David and a Davidic kingdom.

(All photos by Randy & Gloria McCracken. Permission is granted to use these photos free of charge for educational purposes only)

Teach the Text Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

Teach the Text Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

1&2 Samuel Teach the Text Commentary Series
1&2 Samuel Teach the Text Commentary Series

Robert B. Chisholm Jr., 1&2 Samuel, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013).

General Observations on the Teach the Text Commentary Series

The “Teach the Text Commentary Series” was commissioned to help the busy pastor and to fill a void in commentaries that are both scholarly, and yet practical. The aim is to present the “big picture” of a biblical book by dividing it “into carefully selected preaching units, each covered in six pages” (p. ix). There are 5 main areas of focus within these 6 pages: 1) Big Idea; 2) Key Themes; 3) Understanding the Text (this is the longest section including such subjects as context, outline, historical and cultural background, interpretive insights, and theology); 4) Teaching the Text; and 5) Illustrating the Text (pp. xi-xii). It is important to keep this structure and the necessary restrictions in mind when evaluating each commentary in this series.

Such an approach is clearly not intended to be exhaustive. So is there room for a commentary series with this more generalized approach? I believe there is. My own classroom teaching experience has demonstrated to me the need for students to gain the “big picture” of a biblical book. It is important to be able to summarize the main themes and key ideas of a book. Oftentimes people read or study a biblical book and have no idea of how to summarize its main message(s). The “Big Idea” and “Key Themes” features of this series go a long way in aiding the reader to achieve this goal. Therefore, the structure of the Teach the Text Commentary series is not only helpful to the pastor, who may be consulting it for his weekly sermon, it is also beneficial for the beginning student.

Before making specific remarks on Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary, I would also like to add that the “Teach the Text Commentary Series” is attractively presented. Each hardback volume is printed on heavy-duty paper which is ideal for the many helpful maps, photos, and illustrations contained in each commentary.

Comments on 1&2 Samuel Commentary

Chisholm begins his commentary on 1&2 Samuel with a brief 7-page introduction. He summarizes these books by noting the three main characters (Samuel, Saul, and David) and by stating, “David is the focal point of the story” (p.1). Saul acts as a foil to David, while “Samuel’s support of David becomes foundational to the narrator’s defense of David” (pp. 1-2). The high point of the book is the Lord’s covenant with David, securing his dynasty and proving faithful even in the midst of David’s sin. Chisholm divides 1&2 Samuel into 7 sections based on “its major plot movements, revolving around the theme of kingship” (p. 4). His outline is as follows: 1) Prelude to Kingship (1 Sam. 1-7); 2) Kingship inaugurated (1 Sam. 8-12); 3) Kingship Fails (1 Sam. 13-15); 4) Kingship in Limbo (1 Sam. 16-31); 5) Kingship Revived (2 Sam. 1-10); 6) Kingship Threatened and Preserved (2 Sam. 11-20); and 7) Epilogue (2 Sam. 21-24). One potential weakness is that this outline is not clearly delineated in the commentary that follows. Perhaps Chisholm’s reason for ignoring this is because he does not find “clear-cut structural markers” in the text (p. 4), but sees the divisions above as related to plot development.

Chisholm packs a lot of information and insight into each 6-page unit of commentary. The information provided on historical and cultural background, though not found in every section, is very helpful for the beginning reader and student. Topics include foreign gods such as Baal or Dagon, divination, the Amalekites, or documents of the ancient Near East that have parallels with biblical material. This information enriches the presentation, as do the color photos that frequently accompany them. At times Chisholm includes side boxes that deal with special issues such as “The Problem of Genocide” or “The Legal Background of Tamar’s Request.”

Two characteristics of Chisholm’s exegesis that I found particularly helpful include his attention to certain words, and parallels and/or contrasts between biblical characters. Chisholm does an excellent job of paying attention to words or phrases found in 1&2 Samuel and demonstrating their connection with another incident in 1&2 Samuel (or the Former Prophets, meaning Joshua-2 Kings). For example, he notes that the expression “terror filled his heart” in 1 Samuel 28:5, in reference to Saul, only occurs one other time in 1-2 Samuel. It is found in the story of Eli’s demise as his “heart trembled over the fate of the ark of God” (p. 184). This kind of verbal connection suggests the author is comparing the circumstances of Saul and Eli. Similarly, Chisholm frequently points out similarities between incidents or characters in 1&2 Samuel with other biblical characters or incidents. One example is the similarities between the actions of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13-14 with Abimelech in Judges 9 (p. 252). This attention to biblical typology is extremely helpful when interpreting a narrative text (see my discussion in Family Portraits, p. 11).

Considering the constraints placed upon him by the commentary’s design (6 pages per literary unit), Chisholm’s overall treatment of the text of 1&2 Samuel is excellent. There is, however, one exception. Although 2 Samuel 2:1-5:5 can legitimately be viewed as a structural unit, treating it in the 6-page format does it a great injustice. This material is too important and too theologically rich to be skimmed over so briefly. Dividing this section by episodes, or even by chapters, would have been a better approach. This imbalance is all the more noticeable when the following section (2 Sam. 5:6-25), arguably less “meaty” than 2 Samuel 2-4, is given the full 6-page treatment. (For Chisholm’s reasoning on this see my interview with him which was conducted after this review.)

Perhaps the greatest challenge in writing a commentary of this kind is providing illustrations for the text. This is certainly a subjective task. Certain illustrations will ring true with some, while others will find them unhelpful. While I would not endorse the use of every illustration suggested in this commentary (and I’m sure the author would not expect me to! ), I do believe that Chisholm has done an admirable job in handling a difficult task (Another insight I learned from the interview with Chisholm was that he wasn’t responsible for any of this material). The editors themselves point out that this section of the commentary is intended to provide “general ideas” and to “serve as a catalyst for effectively illustrating the text” (p. xii).

In conclusion, Chisholm’s commentary achieves the aims of this series admirably. He is a scholar of high caliber and is a well-established expert on the entire corpus of the Former Prophets. Pastors, students, and others wanting to become grounded in the message of 1&2 Samuel will benefit greatly from this commentary. I used it for my own 1&2 Samuel class this past semester and will continue to do so in the future. I heartily recommend it to others.

(I am grateful to Baker Books for providing this copy of 1&2 Samuel, Teach the Text Commentary Series, in exchange for a balanced review).