[K:JNWTS 20/2 (Sep 2005) 47-57]

K.A. Kitchen on the Old Testament: A Review1

James T. Dennison, Jr.

In this hefty tome, we have what may be Kitchen's magnum opus (at least for students of the Bible). Projected for years, I recall his lament when I first corresponded with him in 1975—it is "badly held up, and likely to remain so at present." Praise God, it has happened. Here is a tour de force to knock the liberal-critical socks off the enemies of history, the enemies of facticity, the enemies of biblical credibility, the enemies of orthodoxy. Tragically, but predictably (given the blinders they wear), they will dismiss it as 'rot,' even as Kitchen himself has quipped vis-à-vis the title. In fact, the rot arises from the pipe dreams and hallucinations of the mainline historical-critical fraternity of the past 200 years. Minimalist, Deuteronomist, Documentary hypothesist, reductionist, anti-supernaturalist: they are all purveyors and spewers of rot. And they have all met their well-deserved match in Professor Kitchen.

Would that Kitchen had not sullied this magnificent apology for the historically reliable biblical record with the late date for the Exodus (i.e., 1300 B.C.), instead of the biblically authenticated 1447/46 B.C. (per 1 Kgs. 6:1). Sadly, this defect skews Kitchen's presentation of the Mosaic era and its sequel, the period of the Judges. But our author is back on track with the United Monarchy and thence happily, with no deviations, to the post-Exilic era. The wealth of Kitchen's forty-plus year career as a world-class Egyptologist (University of Liverpool, England) is reflected in a wealth of illustrations, exegetical insights, archaeological corroborations and theological affirmations from the Patriarchal to the threshold of the Christian era. The whole is carefully and meticulously laid out with ample documentation (100 pages of footnotes!) from archaeological texts, digs, reports and surveys. Kitchen's knowledge of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature is encyclopedic! He has brought to bear upon the biblical text of the Old Testament the latest extra-biblical information so as to enlarge our understanding of God's revelation in the history of his people.

We put down this volume even more convinced of the historicity of the events of the Old Testament and are thereby confirmed once more in our faith in the inerrancy of the inspired Word of God. One measure of serious attention to these issues of historicity and credibility (let alone infallibility) of the biblical record in contemporary evangelical and Reformed institutions (seminaries, colleges, Bible schools, seminar groups, learned associations and societies) will be whether Kitchen's book becomes required reading. If evangelical and Reformed students, pastors and Old Testament professors are truly serious about the text of the Old Testament and its historicity, this volume will be mandatory. If they are not, Kitchen will be mere window dressing as filler on syllabi and bibliographical lists. Let us hope that the community Kitchen aims to serve with this magnificent volume does not respond in kind with the inevitable response of his liberal detractors—the book is ROT.

The Monarchy

Kitchen inaugurates his investigation of the Old Testament in parallel with extant outside sources in the era of Israel's kings—specifically the era from David to Zedekiah (1010 to 586 B.C.), including the tragic division of the united kingdom on the death of King Solomon (931 B.C.). Foreign kings listed in the biblical record are reviewed for extra-biblical clues from Shishak of Egypt to Evil-Merodach of Babylon. Then Kitchen reviews the mention of Hebrew kings outside the Bible from Omri to Zedekiah. Using Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian and local sources (i.e., clay seals, bullae, etc.), he confirms the one from the other. Next he reviews the chronology of the monarchical era and the vexed matter of regnal versus accession years (here the justly famous work of Edwin R. Thiele is foundational; cf. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings). A complete list of dates and regnal years follows (30-32). After a more detailed look at Egyptian, Aramaean, Assyrian and (Neo)Babylonian contexts, Kitchen concludes this section with a profile on archaeological finds in Jerusalem, Lachish, Hazor, Gezer, Samaria, etc. (52-57). His conclusion thus far: biblical writers "interpreted their people's history, they did not need to make it up" (64)! And the critical-fundamental establishment sneers "Rot!"

Kitchen moves on to the Babylonian Exile and Return (ca. 600-400 B.C.) with the same results—the biblical record is credible and the biblical writers are reliable (65-79). And this measured against the extant Babylonian and Persian records.

Kitchen now returns to a detailed examination of the data for Saul, David and Solomon (81-158). He discusses the famous 1993/1995 Tel Dan inscription—first extra-biblical record of the name "David" (Byt-Dwd="house of David," 92). He notes the exact parallel with Bit-Khumri (Byt-'mry="house of Omri"), an inscription not in dispute. He then draws on his extensive Egyptian knowledge to identify the pharaoh of the Gezer gift (1 Kgs. 9:16) and Solomon's father-in-law (1 Kgs. 3:1) as Siamun (979/78-960/59 B.C.)(108). In the process, he vindicates the historicity of Kings and Chronicles: "the assumption that . . . the Chronicler would crassly contradict Kings is naïve and simplistic, and implies a lowbrow level of stupidity that we have no warrant to ascribe to that writer" (114). In a passing review of the visit of the Queen of Sheba, he notes that she is "pre-Deuteronomic" (i.e., well before 621 B.C., the critical-fundamentalist date for the first publication of the book of Deuteronomy). Why does Kitchen use the Arabian queen to puncture this tired liberal canard? "After 690 [B.C.], never again do we find any Arabian queen playing any active roll whatsoever in history" (117). And as for the liberal-critical objection to Solomon as the author of Proverbs, Kitchen cites no less than forty surviving texts of ANE wisdom coterminous with his 10th century B.C. era in history (134ff.). Oh, but we must remember, these myth-making liberal scions of the academic establishment (T.L. Thompson, John van Seters, P. R. Davies, N. P. Lemche, K.W. Whitelam, etc., to name only the more prominent contemporary few of the 200-year-old, thousands plus guild) have concluded that "Palestine was almost uninhabited" in the 10th century B.C. (154). Not Kitchen, but these mythologists are the purveyors of "Rot!"

I should alert the reader at this point that Kitchen's detailed examination (and refutation) of historical-critical theories and conclusions is tedious work. It is not always exciting (and it is quite often technical, cf. the voluminous footnotes), but it is essential to unmasking the fabrications and fantasies of the higher critical mind. My only regret is that he does not explore the philosophical underpinnings of the historical-critical mythmakers—but alas we can't have everything from this polymath. Nevertheless, critical theories evolve from critical worldviews, i.e., philosophy. Uncover the philosophy at the base and one understands even better the unbelieving nonsense of the superstructure.

Joshua and Judges

Retreating towards the third millennium B.C., Kitchen considers the evidence for Israel's presence in Canaan prior to 1209 B.C. This is the unimpeachable statement of the Merenptah Stela (159). But this reviewer must humbly suggest that with respect to the era of the Judges, Kitchen departs from his own principle of verification—internal biblical dates. That is, our author condenses the 300 years of the Judges (internal data from the years the Judges judged [Jdg. 11:26] plus—more importantly—Acts 13:18-20) to "almost 170 years" (1210-1042 B.C.). Politely, we say "fantasy!"

Kitchen's proposal for Joshua's conquest of the Promised Land is very helpful. He argues for a 'blitzkrieg' model in which Gilgal serves as a base of operation. Rapidly penetrating the center of Palestine at Jericho and Ai ('divide and conquer' before Julius Caesar), this remarkable strategist fans out to the north and to the south. Complete occupation and settlement came later following these knockout blows to Canaanite centers of strength (161ff.). Kitchen thus sidesteps the historical-critical allegation that Joshua did not completely conquer Palestine. Settlement (full occupation) occurred during the period of the Judges (174).

Deuteronomic Myth

On page 217, Kitchen sallies forth against the Deuteronomistic myth that dominates the Old Testament academic guild. This issue needs to be of concern to our readers since the historical-critical (=liberal) approach is beginning to seep into allegedly orthodox or more conservative evangelical and Reformed seminaries, denominations and churches. The higher critical nose of the camel is already inside the tent. The so-called Deuteronomistic Theology is one of its insidious test cases. Kitchen uses his expertise in Egyptology to observe: if the pattern DPCD (disobedience, punishment, contrition, deliverance) common to the era of the Judges is an invention of the 7th century B.C. (Josianic Reform of 621 B.C.), which the higher-critical fraternity has maintained as gospel since the days of her high priest, Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), then we must date the Egyptian documents of the 13th century B.C. to the 7th century B.C. as well—for they demonstrate a precisely duplicate DPCD paradigm (217ff.). The absurdity of this postulation in the latter case (absolutely no doubt about the provenance of the Egyptian materials) makes the Deuteronomistic theory absurd. But the blind follow the blind, like lemmings trekking to the cliffs, in full defiance of the concrete data from the era itself (2nd millennium B.C.) that acts as a control upon the hypothesis. It reminds me of the old adage: "don't bother me with the facts." Or, as Kitchen notes, the Deuteronomistic theories "are not fact, merely dogma" (234).

Snakes and Plagues

This volume is sprinkled with fascinating insights into the text of Scripture. For example, our author provides documented evidence of catalepsis in snakes. This phenomenon is important to the understanding of Ex. 7:8-12 where Moses confronts the wizards of Egypt. Cataleptic states may be induced in snakes (cobras, etc.) so as to make them appear as rigid as sticks. That the Egyptian magicians were just that—magicians, not miracle workers—is patent when the genuine miracle worker's snake-stick devours their mere (rigidified) snakes (249). At the same time (with all due appreciation for his background illumination), Kitchen's treatment of nine of the ten plagues of Moses appears to this reviewer too naturalistic. That is, Kitchen provides parallels to natural phenomena from the history of the Nile Delta with respect to the first nine plagues. This he does to corroborate the credibility of the biblical record. But this borders on de-supernaturalizing or de-miraculizing the plagues and appears to run counter to Pss. 78:43-51 and 105:27-36. It is possible to have corroboration and supernatural intervention, in this reviewer's opinion.

Old Testament Covenants

Kitchen provides a superb review of the debate over first and second millennium B.C. covenant documents. Reprising and expanding work previously published in his two books (Ancient Orient and Old Testament; The Bible in its World),2 he vindicates the Mosaic milieu for the Sinaitic covenant. The case is made primarily from ANE treaties (more than 80 of which have been recovered over the range of the 3rd to the 1st millennium B.C.), especially those with the marks of the 2nd millennium upon them (particularly relevant to demonstrating the Mosaic provenance of Exodus and Deuteronomy). Only treaties from this era have prologues and benedictions and maledictions (291). No 1st millennium B.C. treaties have these elements. This point is essential to obviate the higher critical (Deuteronomistic) reconstruction of the Mosaic covenant, i.e., it originates in the 7th century B.C. and is projected backwards into the hoary past of Israel's beginnings. Kitchen describes the entrenched un-historical view of these mythologists as follows: "this whole development [ANE treaty comparisons] was not acceptable to the 'old guard' in biblical studies, for whom a nineteenth-century belief in a late 'law' (sixth/fifth centuries), after the prophets, and 621 as the definitive date of Deuteronomy were absolute dogmas to be fanatically defended, even at the cost of the facts to their contrary" (290). In this remark, Kitchen details the critical-fundamentalist creed that Moses was invented after the prophets—the law is a late development in Old Testament religion, succeeding the prophets as nationalistic individualism succumbs to legal regimentation and codification. All this, of course, is evolutionary nonsense, anchored in the outmoded notion that the Jews were primitives whose religious development matched Darwin's Origin of Species, adapted to German Hegelian Idealism. So much for allowing the Bible to speak for itself, let alone in its own historical milieu.

Kitchen is nothing short of brilliant in picking apart the Deuteronomistic hoax piece by piece (299-307). He contends that it is an ideology—a presupposition manufactured as a sacred cow—the golden calf of higher-critical fundamentalism. "It has also become axiomatic in some quarters that whatever the Deuteronomists wrote is theological fiction, not history" (300). And Wellhausen, Briggs, Cheyne, von Rad, Noth, Thompson, Van Seters and a host of others echo "Amen!" Kitchen's review should give any honest scholar pause. In fact, we may hope that every honest scholar would be compelled by Kitchen's argumentation to repent and believe the record of the Word of God. Would to God that it would be so!

On a passing note (297), Kitchen provides a poignant reflection on the etymology of the name "Moses" (Ex. 2:10). He dismisses an Egyptian original opting for Hebrew Mashu ("one drawn out") > Moshe ("'he who draws out,' i.e., his people from slavery, when he led them forth"). Kitchen thus gives a prophetic-revelatory nuance to the naming of Moses that reinforces the inspired insight of Heb. 11:25-26.

The Patriarchs

Continuing with his march towards the beginning of the Bible, Kitchen next advances to the patriarchal era that is regarded as wholly mythical by critical fundies. Kitchen intends "to test the degree of reality/fantasy, and to note any date indicators" (315). His review (noting the toledoth markers in the book of Genesis) demonstrates, from contemporary 2nd and 3rd millennium B.C. records, the credibility of the events recorded in Genesis 11-50. With illustrations drawn from military campaigns, covenants/treaties, marriage laws and king lists, he succeeds in puncturing the "wildly excessive skepticism" of the mythological patriarchs club. En passant, he levels the old higher critical canard (based on Ex. 6:3) that Yahweh (YHWH) was unknown to the patriarchs (the 'Bible' of this theory being Albrecht Alt's infamous classic The God of the Fathers). Kitchen suggests a translation of the controverted Exodus text as a rhetorical negative: "I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El-Shaddai ('God Almighty')—and by my name YHWH did I not declare myself to them?" (329).

Noteworthy is Kitchen's devastating refutation of the higher critical myth that monotheism was a late development in Old Testament religion, dependent on the Babylonian Exile. This dogma of the critical fundamentalist establishment is anchored in the evolutionary theory of the history of religions, i.e., hoary animism yields to polytheism (many gods) yields to henotheism (one out of many gods) and finally reaches monotheism (one god only) as primitive man advances ever upward (?ascent of man) through successive phases of developmentally religious enlightenment from the 3rd to the 1st millennium B.C. Applied to Hebrew religious development, enlightened Jews became illuminated when exposed to the Babylonian pantheon and (mirable dictu!) pure Jewish monotheism sprang forth, but only after 586 B.C., not before. This philosophical, evolutionary, even dialectical methodology flies in the face of the facts amassed from the primary records of the eras in question. A profusion of data on monotheism from the 2nd millennium B.C. forward is presented by our author. Thus, it is not incredible that the patriarchs and their successors worshipped but one God only.

Related to the evolutionary reconstruction of Old Testament religion is the reduction of the patriarchs to a mirage—a mirage of the Hebrew monarchy. This tenet of higher critical methodology suggests that the patriarchs are actually symbolic foils for religio-cultural events of the Hebrew monarchical period. For instance, according to this higher critical fundamentalism, the garden of Eden is actually a projection of Josiah's Deuteronomic reform back into the mystical realm of origins. And the serpent in the garden becomes the foil of the false prophets whom Josiah purged from the land. Eve then becomes the symbol of the Baal cult priestesses (or sacred whores). Such wholesale reconstruction must be labeled ideology, not biblical theology.

The Prophets

Kitchen now turns his attention to the Hebrew prophets. He decimates the Deutero-Isaiah standard of Old Testament critics by noting that "pseudo-Isaiah" who allegedly writes from Babylon in the 6th/5th century B.C. (not Isaiah's 8th century B.C. provenance), demonstrates "no first-hand knowledge of the metropolis of Babylon" (379). Surely this is strange in a person raised by the waters of Babylon, not the walls of Hezekiah's Jerusalem. Here I must register a slight demur. Kitchen is a bit too dismissive of conservatives who maintain that Cyrus (Is. 44:28; 45:1) is named, in advance, by supernatural revelation. In fact, a slightly troubling aspect of this massive book is Kitchen's penchant for pushing the revelatory aspect of Scripture into the background, while advancing the historical or contemporary documentary aspect to the foreground. Surely a sound methodology would credit both illustrative background and the Bible's claim (which it makes more than 4000 times) to be the Word of God. As in so much of sound biblical reflection, the truth lies in a both/and approach, not an either/or approach.

We also have a salient analysis of pseudonymity in Old Testament prophecy. According to our author, such a prophet (e.g., second Isaiah who borrows—better, steals!—Isaiah's name to enhance his acceptance) would be no prophet at all, merely a "deceiver" who claims the prophetic mantle by relaying prophecies after they have come to pass. All who are currently being mesmerized by theories of biblical pseudonymity—especially in evangelical circles—should memorize this section (389-90). It is a sober slap up side the head of reality, not (pseudonymous) fiction.

Kitchen next reviews the attempts to prove that biblical creation and flood narratives were borrowed from Babylonian and other ANE models (422ff.). This standard liberal view has been subjected to careful deconstruction by Alexander Heidel and A.R. Millard (among others). The disjunctions between the biblical and extra-biblical narratives are numerous and insurmountable to the case for dependence. Withal, the parallels in mega-structure are suggestive of a uniform historical bedrock: creation—flood—scattering of the nations is common to biblical and extra-biblical narratives.

Readers should note the intriguing reflections on Gen. 2:4 and the theological significance of the merismus "heaven and earth" (428). Also, Kitchen has a fascinating proposal for the identification of the Edenic river Pishon (Gen. 2:11) (429). And "as for the date of the creation, why waste time number-crunching when Genesis 1:1 says it all: 'In the beginning . . .'—which is soon enough" (441).


Before concluding this review, let me register my disappointment with the publishers in one aspect of the format of this volume. Kenneth A. Kitchen is a world-class scholar with superb academic credentials. Can anyone believe that Oxford University Press or Cambridge or Blackwell or Brill would have allowed this volume to issue from the press with hand-drawn or hand-traced maps and illustrations (603-42)? Undoubtedly many of these are from Kitchen himself—and they look like the work of an artistic amateur (stick to Egyptology and biblical history, Ken—and leave drawing to a 21st century Leonardo da Vinci). This is bush league in a major scholarly tome (the type-face of which is beautiful) that deserved world-class maps, illustrations and drawings. The back of the book, once one skips the deplorable drawings, contains useful subject and Scripture indexes (643-62).

"[O]ne can only shake one's head in sorrow over the sad history of Old Testament scholarship in the last two hundred years" (497). But why are we surprised? In this post-Enlightenment, post-modern age when 'science' is ideology, when nations (Germany, Italy, Russia, China, Vietnam, Iraq) have been tyrannized by ideology, when 'might makes right'—why should we be surprised that the gurus of the academy ignore facts, twist and contrive hard data and otherwise pervert the Word of God? Does Kitchen naively believe that they think, write, lecture, fulminate, and pontificate without presuppositions? That they do not bring a philosophical agenda to the table before they look at the text, the facts, the archaeological record, the world? They have been taught since Immanuel Kant that the world is what they make it—so why not the world of religion, especially the Old Testament and the New Testament? If ultimate truth is in me and my reconstruction, then I force the biblical text to match my ideological reconstruction—from rationalism, to Kantianism, to idealism, to existentialism, to Marxism, to linguistic analysis, to whatever philosophical aberration drives my agenda. Kitchen may shake his head, but he is playing with the boys (and girls) who set the agenda and they are as despotic, as ruthless as their political counterparts. Their travesty of redefinition is different in only one particular—it claims the name 'religion'. But it is as cruel, as intolerant, as brutal, as ruthless as ever any Gulag-like force was or is because it destroys the free exercise of ideas and repudiates objective truth. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Nathan Sharansky could teach these ideologues a thing or two about ideology/propaganda. The same ideological intolerance and insouciance infects religious academics as haunts the political bureaucracies of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Scholarly dogmas are as tyrannical as political dictators! Kitchen argues for a version of external (i.e., archaeological) verifiability. But his appeals are destined to fall on deaf ears. As the recent history of leftist scholarship in politics, the arts and religion in Europe and America indicates, nothing is as despicable as the raw, red truth. All 'blue' babies will continue to whine and despise that truth as 'rot' until Kingdom comes.

In the meantime, we have Kitchen to thank for providing a path in the morass for the true believer. We praise God for his "job well done!"

This volume should be required reading in every evangelical and Reformed seminary in the world. It is a 'Bible' of common sense, hard scientific data (not fantasies) and fidelity, in the main, to the inspired Word of God. If it is not on your seminary reading list, ask for a tuition refund (and transfer to Northwest Theological Seminary where we will require that you read it in order to be educated, not programmed). For we regard Kitchen's On the Reliability of the Old Testament not as ROT, but as a Rich Omnibus of Truth.


1 On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003. 662 pages. Cloth. ISBN: 0-8028-4960-1. $45.00.

2 I would be remiss in failing to cite Kitchen's numerous contributions to biblical encyclopedias and dictionaries. Especially noteworthy are his articles in the New Bible Dictionary (cf. the first edition, 1962).