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Niels Peter Lemche, The Old Testament between Theology and History by 13ZgpL


									The Old Testament between Theology and History: A Critical Survey

Niels Peter Lemche

Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. xx+476 pp. pb. £32.99, ISBN-
13: 978-0664232450

Niels Peter Lemche’s The Old Testament between Theology and History: A Critical
Survey concentrates on the reconstruction of Old Testament theology based on the so-
called minimalist position on the history of Israel. It largely does not really argue for the
minimalist position, according to which nothing much can be said about the history of
Israel based on the biblical narrative in terms of events before the Babylonian exile,
instead, the history of the related geographical area has to be reconstructed based on
extrabiblical evidence.

The Prolegomena (pp. 1-28) to the book gives a summary of the basic contents of the
Old Testament. This is followed by Part I of the book (pp. 29-98), which concentrates
on summarising the basic tenets of the historical critical study of the Old Testament.
Some critique is also included. In Part II (pp. 101-163), the author presents a summary
critique of the historical critical paradigm. He then moves on into looking at who wrote
the biblical books and how (Part III, pp. 167-253). Finally, in the fourth part of the book,
the author concentrates on elucidating what the minimalist understanding of the Old
Testament means for Old Testament and Biblical theology, in interaction with some
major Old Testament theologies of the 20th century. The book is concluded by an
appendix that summarises some of the archaeological issues that relate to the history of
ancient Palestine, again seen from the perspective of minimalist views on the history of
the area.

As might be expected, the author presents relevant evidence from his interpretative
perspective and argues for his position. His tone is generally fairly irenic (cf. his The
Israelites in History and Tradition), even though the occasional snipe against the
maximalists (which seem momentarily be labelled as “fundamentalists”) is there, and
much of the presentation is of course about arguing against the traditional mainstream
historical critical approach to interpretation. However, none of this should deter one
reading the book, whatever theological persuasion they may have. The book contains a
lot of interesting insights and comments that will be of value to all students of the Old
Testament. For example, the summary overview of the contents of the Old Testament in
the prolegomena is excellent and could easily be utilised by introductory courses
dealing with this canonical collection of writings. Or, maximalists, while not agreeing to
the minimalist position, will find his critique of the mainstream position useful on many
counts, and, for example, as one minor example, this reviewer found the comment that
the mainstream approach is “a graveyard of young scholars” stimulating and a little bit
amusing. Also, the author’s reflections about what a minimalist position means for Old
Testament theology and biblical theology are very interesting, again, they are well
worth reading for anyone (ch.19, pp. 379-392).
While this reviewer himself would probably be seen as belonging to the “maximalist”
camp, and would strongly argue against the ultimate validity of the minimalist position
(much of this discussion is already covered elsewhere, and in general cannot be
included in a short review such as this), he is of the opinion that this book should be
widely read. The author is to be commended for a stimulating piece of work that makes
a good contribution to the study of the Old Testament. In the view of this reviewer, if it
were for nothing else, one of the interesting contributions of minimalist scholarship is
that it can reveal perspectives that other approaches may not be able to, and, certainly,
this book is a case in point. Of course, any readers are encouraged to not limit their
study to this book, but to read material across the spectrum of opinion.

Pekka Pitkänen
Cheltenham, June 2010

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