Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple (Revised & Expanded) Revised Edition by Hershel Shanks (Prentice Hall)

There are two broad audiences for histories of the Old Testament period in Israel: those who want to know the archaeology and those who want to know the history as it is depicted in the Bible. Now, there are a wide range of books for those audiences. Some take a delight in debunking the Bible, while others are respectful of it while presenting honest archaeology, while others ignore archaeology (or make very selective use of it) and discuss only what is in the Bible. This book is in the middle category. The editor and the various authors clearly do not regard the history of Israel as presented in the Bible as authoritative or terribly accurate. They do not go out of their way to attack the Bible, but use it as a only a small part of a larger scientific framework of examining Israel's history.

As a believer in the Bible, I would like to reassure those who still would like to know what archaeology has to say, that they can read this book and not lose their faith. Not because the book doesn't challenge some of the beliefs readers of the Bible might have, but because faith and science measure and discuss different things. In my view, knowing what honest examination of history tells us can enrich what we know from the Bible. We also don't need to worry about what God has told his prophets because of what someone without faith has thought up. We can consider and examine everything without having to set our faith aside. Ignoring history out of fear is, I believe, more damaging and a poor witness of our faith.

This book covers the period from the time of Abraham through the destruction of the second temple by the Romans. The period from the Greeks through the Romans is not covered in the King James Bible, so for those unfamiliar with the gap of several centuries from Malachi to the opening of the New Testament, this book is particularly helpful.

You will find this book to be readable, balanced, thoughtful, and informative. There are many useful pictures, diagrams, maps, and footnotes. I found the discussion the range of thought about historical events and how some theories were developed and why discovery favors some approaches over others to be fascinating. I am glad that I have this on my library shelf.

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