Saturday, November 09, 2013

Book Review: Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?

Do historical matters matter to faith?  Editors James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary answer yes with a collection of 22 essays by respected scholars in the fields of Old and New Testament studies, archaeology, theology and church history.  They state that their goal with their book is to “help address some of the questions raised about the historicity, accuracy, and inerrancy of the Bible” (22).  Postmodern literary approaches treat Biblical narratives as fiction (19).   This has led to a minimalist-maximalist historiography debate and a skeptical mood toward much of the history of the Bible (19). The writers offer evidence to support the reliability of that history in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?

Given the size of the tome (560 pages), this review will only highlight a few of the essays in each of its four sections, beginning with Graham Cole’s The Peril of a ‘Historyless’ Systematic Theology.  As the author puts it, “God is no mere organizing idea to help us find our way about” (68).  Rather, he is a God who stepped into this world and, therefore, into its history in the person of Jesus.  Theology is connected to a real Christ who performed a real deed (62).  Therefore, theology cannot be separated from history.

Mark Thompson tackles the issue of inerrancy head-on by looking at several classic definitions of it (B.B. Warfield’s The Inerrancy of the Original Autographs, The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy and, in particular, Paul Feinberg’s contribution to it) and by listing five foundations for it, beginning with the truthfulness of God.

James K. Hoffmeier, in an essay entitled These Things Happened, expounds on why a historical exodus is foundational to the Christian faith.  As a field archaeologist, he notes that “little has actually survived from the ancient past, owing to natural forces . . . as well as human impact” (101).  Therefore, a lack of evidence for the Israelites’ sojourn in the wilderness cannot disprove its historicity.  In fact, he says, indirect evidence from Egypt suggests “the events are plausible and the Egyptian background is unquestionable” (133).

Essays in Part 2 examine issues of history, authenticity and authority in the Old Testament.  Two focus on the books of Isaiah and Daniel in particular.  With regard to the former, Richard Schultz takes a look at the efforts being made within evangelical circles to defend the one-author interpretation.  Alan R. Millard’s work attempts to assess the accuracy of Daniel’s record of life in Babylon by taking a look at such things as the description of building works by various Greek writers and the use of Aramaic in the Babylonian court.

Part 2 concludes with a fascinating study of the Old Testament as cultural memory by Jens Bruun Kofoed.  He bases it on the belief that history is passed on, not simply by professional historians, but by a wide range of means by which a society accounts for its past including commemorative celebrations, re-enactment societies and even reading historical fiction.  This means all members of society can participate in the preservation of the past, albeit it not with the same degree of influence.  Kofoed explains how cultural history reflects the ways in which the past was understood and utilized in the Ancient Near East (306) in general and the Old Testament in particular.

Part 3 looks at the historicity of the New Testament.  Darrell Bock makes a distinction between precision and accuracy and how this helps us understand the differences in the gospels.  For example, in the account of the healing of a centurion’s son, Matthew has the soldier speaking with Jesus.  However, Luke reports that Christ spoke with Jewish emissaries representing the man.  Bock argues that speaking to the emissaries is the same as speaking with the centurion himself.  This makes both accounts accurate, but the additional information regarding the representatives makes Luke’s report more precise (374).

Eckhard Schnabel takes a look at the authorship of the pastoral epistles (Timothy and Titus), asserting that they are Pauline and not anonymous as some have purported.  He reaches that conclusion by examining the historical arguments and the attitude toward pseudonymity in antiquity.

Part 4 examines the Old Testament in light of archaeological discoveries.  John Monson discusses the Israelite conquest of Canaan, noting that no other book has been as thoroughly reviewed by the archaeological community as that of Joshua (435).  Most of the debate focuses on the cities of Hazor, Jericho and Ai.  Monson offers evidence from excavations of those sites that correlate with the Biblical information.

Michael Hasel and Steven Ortiz each take a look at the United Monarchy and the kingships of David and Solomon in their individual essays.  Both discuss the significant findings at Khirbet Qeiyafa.  Hasel comments on “absence of evidence” arguments, noting that “theories based on negative evidence should never be preferred to theories based on positive evidence” (483). Ortiz uses the archaeological discoveries in a discussion of the dating of the reigns of David and Solomon.

This is an academic tome.  As such, it may be a challenging read to some.  However, for those whose main interest is historical apologetics, it is a treasure trove of information from scholars with hefty credentials on some of the hottest topics under debate today.  Therefore, it is recommended.

Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Mary Lou is a Canadian journalist who has just completed her Masters in Theological Studies. She writes fiction, poetry and plays as well as non-fiction.


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