Ten Books on the Boil? The First Five

Are you one of those people who have 6 or 8 books on the go at once? A couple at the office, three or four on the bedside table, another one on top of the fridge? It isn’t the most efficient system, is it? Short attention span? Too many interests? When you know how you operate, you don’t keep fighting it, do you. So it’s going to be 6 or 8 books on the go for life.

In the absence of a more coherent & thoughtful piece, here are my ten or so books with a comment on what each is about and how good it is. There is, naturally, an Old Testament theme, and more specifically, most have to do with either Old Testament history and historiography (history-writing) or with Isaiah, my new teaching subject for this semester.

  1. Creation and the History of Science (1991) by Christopher Kaiser. Not the latest, and in a bit of an obscure series, ‘The History of Christian Theology’. Quite useful for understanding how the idea of creation motivated and influenced modern science and its anticipations from classical times up through the nineteenth century. These broad-brush treatments help me to pick up on background science-and-religion info that I miss elsewhere. And the author clearly knows his stuff. If only he cited his sources specifically, meaning not just listing sources at the end of each chapter, but footnoting thoughts and ideas with references. Uni students can’t get away without doing that today, and it would really help to trace good ideas.
  2. Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith (2012) edited by James Hoffmeier and Dennis Magary. I rather like reading Hoffmeier – he’s towards the conservative end, but an authentic Egyptologist/archaeologist to my eye and writes robustly. I read most of the essays in the book, which stems from a panel discussion hosted at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in February 2009 by the Department of Old Testament and Semitic Languages (p. 21). (Some TEDS OT heavyweights were there: besides the chair, Magary, present were Hoffmeier, Averbeck and Van Gemeren.) But the touchstone for the essays is clearly the 2008 book by Kenton Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words, in which the professing evangelical Sparks evidently (I say that, not having read the book to this point) advocates the thoroughgoing embrace of historical criticism. This elicits a fair degree of horror from this collection of conservative evangelical writers, yet there really is quite a range of different approaches here, with some very stimulating essays, e.g. that by Kofoed on the exciting area of ‘cultural memory’. Recommended overall, especially (from an OT exegete’s point of view) the later 2/3 of the book on OT and archaeological issues. And yes, historical matters do matter to faith.
  3. Ancient Israel’s History (2014), edited by Bill T. Arnold and Richard Hess. I felt this book was one step less rightish than the preceding title, perhaps because it is not provoked by a writer deemed as too far left. Intended more as a college textbook, I would say, it assembles well-qualified OT scholars to write on their areas of strength in OT history. The chapters are arranged in chronological order, so they run from Arnold’s slightly daring chapter on the Genesis narratives down to David Desilva’s on the Hellenistic Period. At first I worried that the book might be too basic for my needs, but though I could read some sections quickly thanks to familiarity with the topic of the moment, I still felt I benefited from good ideas at regular intervals. Recommended.
  4. Biblical History and Israel’s Past: The Changing Study of the Bible and History (2011) by Megan Moore and Brad Kelle. This is much more about the methodology of OT history than books #3, really a composite OT history, and even #2. It is broadly evangelical, I would infer, but is more frank about the difficulties of OT historiography, and so has a rather mainstream feel. A challenging book to read but a relevant book for the person who really wants to wrestle with the issues wrapped up in how the OT relates history.
  5. Writing and Reading the Scroll of Isaiah: Studies of an Interpretive Tradition (1997) edited by Craig Broyles and Craig Evans. This one’s a bit more academic, and not absolutely current. Read for my ongoing Isaiah subject, it’s one of those books one reads knowing that some parts will be very technical, some (perhaps some of the technical ones) will feel pretty irrelevant or very ‘nichy’, and then some will offer a stimulating idea or contain the odd gem of an insight into the book concerned. That’s what this one is like. Not light reading, a pastiche of very different methods and interests. One of the best essays would be that of my first doctoral supervisor, Ed Conrad, called ‘Reading Isaiah and the Twelve as Prophetic Books’. Let me also recommend his Reading Isaiah (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1991).

Now, by way of anticipation, here are the other five titles I trust time will permit me to mention in the next post:

  • Isaiah 1-39 with an Introduction to Prophetic Literature (1996), by Marvin Sweeney
  • Interpreting Isaiah: issues and approaches (2009), edited by David Firth and H. G. M. Williamson
  • The Book Called Isaiah: Deutero-Isaiah’s Role in Composition and Redaction (1994), also by H. G. M. Williamson
  • Prolegomena to the History of Israel, by Julius Wellhausen (that ought to get a reaction), and
  • Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction – and Get It Published (2002) by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato.

See you then!

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