[K:NWTS 22/1 (May 2007) 38-46]

Old Testament Historical Books: A Critical Review

James T. Dennison, Jr.

Bill T. Arnold & H. G. M. Williamson, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005. 1060 pp. Cloth. ISBN: 0-8308-1782-4. $50.00.

We have in this volume, a cross-section of mainstream, avant-garde evangelical and radical Old Testament (OT) scholars. Overall, it is not a pretty picture. It is a picture very familiar to those steeped in classic higher critical fundamentalism. It is a mirror of avant-garde doubters and nay-sayers of the liberal academy who have dominated religious scholarship for more than a century. But the mirror of this volume is now reflecting young-Turk evangelicals—smart and sophisticated, with well-heeled higher degrees from prestigious schools of unbelief; only now this mirror-reflection shows the arbiters and (near infallible) interpreters of the Word of God to the unsuspecting evangelical world. As one famous cartoon character quipped, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

IVP's Historical Books volume shows us clearly the enemy within the evangelical camp. It is the enemy of supernaturalism; the enemy of God-breathed revelation; the enemy of historicity and objectivity; the enemy of historic Christian doctrine; the enemy of the antithesis between Christianity and liberalism, Christianity and paganism, Christianity and multi-culturalism. The enemy is presently and obviously within the evangelical tent—a tent made large enough to embrace Deuteronomistic History and other patch-work assembly-line theories of the composition of the OT (here a piece of Babylonian mythology, there a piece of Greek confederationism; here a Marxist proletarian, there a hoary ghost of Jewish nationalism; everywhere an ideology, an agenda, a contrivance, an invention—nowhere a God-revealed truth).

If we ask for the line-up of these evangelicals (after all, IVP has been associated with that constituency until recent years), we do note some authentic members of the club (Daniel Block and Edwin Yamauchi). But they are joined in these pages by the avant-garde pretenders who have lusted to rub shoulders with the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) dons and ladies and, having arrived, have assumed their pontifical right to tell the rest of the benighted and erstwhile orthodox world that we are, in fact, unenlightened ignoramuses (Oh yes! That is what they say as they sip their bourbon and soda in the back rooms of the academy!). These great pretenders include Peter Enns, Tremper Longman, the late J. Alan Groves, J. Gordon McConville and a host of others. How they preen and strut their academic proficiency even as they demolish historic orthodoxy. Alongside of these left-of-center evangelicals are the true blue radicals—Marvin Sweeney, A. Graeme Auld and William Schniedewind. How these despisers of all things orthodox enter under the banner of IVP will remain a mystery. One small redeeming element of our line-up are the true scholars (not the purveyors of agenda-based myth, ritual and nonsense): A. K. Grayson, the superb Assyrian expert; Paul-Alain Beaulieu, the master of Persian history; A. R. Millard, great trans-Levantine and Mesopotamian scholar; and K. A. Kitchen, world-renowned Egyptologist. Reading the all-too-few contributions of these giants is a refreshing breath of truth in a sea of fiction.

And a sea of fiction is what we find in this volume. For example, the omnipresent Deuteronomic History is taken as foundational to the origin of the Historical Books of the Bible (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther). But as one scholar (Roland Boer) has noted, the Deuteronomic History is the Defoe-Austen-Brontë-Eliot-Trollope-Ishiguru theory of the OT. That is, these writers of great novels (Robinson Crusoe, Persuasion, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Barchester Towers, Remains of the Day) are joined in imaginative creativity by the Deuteronomist. When Martin Noth coined the term `Deuteronomistic author/historian' (cf. p. 219), he was justifying a written creation of the history of Israel every bit as imagined, invented, contrived and manufactured as one of these great works of fiction (above). Indeed, Boer was right on!! No work of fiction has enjoyed such widely accepted status as non-fiction than the bastard child of Julius Wellhausen called the Deuteronomistic writer. And yet so rigidly does this illegitimate myth enrapture the scholarly elite that any suggestion that it itself is a contrived, invented, manufactured fiction unleashes anathemas hurled from Mt. SBL and Mt. ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) upon any who dare suggest the Deuteronomistic writer has no substance, no historic proof (show me the beef! Opps, I mean, the text), no clothes. The Deuteronomistic writer is an academic croc—a scholarly dupe—a contrivance of brains opposed to the truth, even as the natural mind is enmity against God and his concrete, supernatural revelation.

But we must move beyond our critical broadsides to actual cases, for this is a review as much as a well-deserved exposé and thrashing of a once-upon-a-time evangelical publisher. The sirens of the accepted, the degreed, the literati of the academy, the learned sophisticates have seduced the editors of this volume and its publisher. For shame, IVP! For shame!!

Let me begin with a bibliographical observation. J. P. Fokkelman began to publish his monumental 4-volume Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel more than 25 years ago (1981 to 1993). Now the alleged scholars of the articles on the "David" narrative in our review volume (198-215) show no awareness of Fokkelman's stunning work. So much for informed and up-to-date liberal evangelicalism. Neither the "David" articles, the "Samuel" articles (863-77) or the articles on "Poetry" (798-802) (Fokkelman has revolutionized the reading of Hebrew poetry with several powerful volumes) acknowledge this Leiden professor's work on the Hebrew text. Only in the piece on "Narrative Art of Israel's Historians" (708-15) and the "Goliath" (356-59) entry does Fokkelman make the list of sources used for constructing the article.

The article on "History of Israel 5: Assyrian Period" (458-78) (not, incidentally, by A. K. Grayson) informs us that the texts of the Bible for this period "can be used only cautiously, if at all, as a historical source for ancient Israel" (460). No, you are not reading Otto Eissfeldt, R. H. Pfeiffer, S. R. Driver, Walter Brueggemann, J. Albert Soggin, Werner H. Schmidt or some other authentic, card-carrying liberal; you are reading an article in a volume by once-upon-a-time evangelical publisher IVP. But our article is not done. It goes on to tell us that "reconstructing the history of Israel in the Assyrian period" (461) is the task of the modern scholar. (And you thought I was over-reacting!) But there is more. Reconstruction of the Biblical account of the Assyrian interface with Israel comes from documents written in the Exilic Era (460). Now that assertion represents the pure canon of the Deuteronomistic approach. That is, all of Israel's historical books originate (or are finally redacted) in the period after 586 B.C. They are not contemporaneous accounts with the rise of the Late Bronze to Iron Age I (1500-1000 B.C.), the Neo-Assyrian Empire (900-612 B.C.), etc. Thus, when we read (472) about the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib (701 B.C.), our article informs us that this report (2 Kings 18-19 and parallels) is tendentiously reconstructed along Jewish nationalistic ideological lines. That reconstruction post-dates 701 B.C. by hundreds of years, is invented by the post-Exilic Deuteronomic Historian and projected backwards to the 8th century B.C. as a fiction of Jewish supremacy and triumph over nasty pagan Assyrians. But when our author's treat the Assyrian record of this siege (Assyrian Annals), no such suggestion of tendentious reconstruction along ideological lines appears. The Assyrians, you see, are more trustworthy, objective and truthful than the Biblical writers (so our Ph.D.'d experts inform us).

The next article on "History of Israel 6: Babylonian Period" (478-85) omits the first invasion of Judah by Babylon in 605 B.C. in which Daniel and his three friends were carried off to captivity (480). The otherwise careful scholar, P-A. Beaulieu, has slipped up here. Anachronistically, K. A. Kitchen in this same volume (187) defends the 605 B.C. invasion. Perhaps the editors believe we should do some `form criticism' of our own on these two articles in order to determine who has reconstructed what. Or perhaps we should just note that the editors did not care what was written!

The article on "Elijah" takes 6 pages (249-54) to tell us that the story never happened the way the Bible tells it. No indeed, the Elijah narrative is a cleverly constructed propaganda piece against pagan Baalism. Neat! Bet you never guessed that?! To add insult to this malarkey, the Ph.D.'d (Wowey! Zowey!!) author labels the great prophet of Mt. Carmel a "shaman" (251). Shamans are, well, like "witch-doctors". So much for this one raptured by the theophanic chariot of the Lord. But, of course, that myth of a `fiery ride to heaven' is a (Deuteronomistic) invention as well. This author gives us more of the same in the article on "Elisha" (254-58). If you are able to recognize the Biblical figures after reading this tripe, you have missed the point of our learned scholar. No, he wants you only to recognize how he has recreated Elijah and Elisha in his own scholarly, trendy (Deuteronomistic) image. Say farewell to Mendelssohn's "Elijah" as well as Jesus' and James's.

With respect to "Manasseh" (674-77), we learn that the apocryphal (i.e., extra-Biblical) "Prayer of Manasseh" was "shaped" by the Chronicler to suit his ideological purposes. In other words, the narrative of Manasseh in 2 Chronicles was "invented" to make a nationalistic and ideological point. And the point is—Voila! to endorse the Deuteronomistic reconstruction of the history of Judah and Israel (Surprise! Surprise!!).

Article after article (with few exceptions) follows this absurd paradigm. To add insult to heterodoxy, the volume is written in a bland and maudlin style. These are amateur wannabes. One might label this volume the "Anchor Bible Dictionary Lite"—but that would be an insult to the Anchor Bible Dictionary, which although as liberal, is at least engaging in its prose and responsible in its scholarship (not to mention, more informative, when used critically).

The publisher, of course, could not resist issuing an invitation to the current enfant terrible of the evangelical OT (un)scholarly world. Peter Enns, whose shrine at the recent ETS/SBL meeting in Washington, DC was adorned with a throng of nearly 150 devotees—with the smug doyen of Westmont, Tremper Longman front row center, alongside fellow votary, John Franke—gave his crowd of groupies precisely what they wanted—arrogance, sarcasm and heterodoxy. But, of course, the 21st century `young evangelicals' (Richard Quebedeaux and James Davison Hunter take note!) are themselves full of this type of bravado—this type of narcissism—this type of ME über alles (as the Internet bloggers demonstrate).

Enns's contribution to our present volume is found under the heading "Faith" (296-300). We are informed that faith in the Historical Books "is not a matter of conversion . . . and not even primarily a comment on the disposition of the heart . . . . To speak of faith . . . overlaps considerably with notions expressed in English words such as `faithfulness, integrity, trust, reliability, loyalty, fear, obedience, covenant' and others" (297). NB: according to Enns, in the OT Historical Books, faith = a work of "obedience". Trust (= "covenant obligation", 298) is loyalty and integrity, not "primarily . . . the disposition of the heart." Faith is not defined by Enns as a response to what God does within a sinner's heart; rather faith, as Enns defines it, is a sinner's outward response to what God morally demands. This is, in fact, a radical redefinition of faith as moralism, semi-Pelagianism and potentially worse. Notice that Enns defines each Hebrew root related to faith in terms of "obedience" (297-98). Example: "to love God is a function of obedience" (298, italics in the original). "The most concrete manifestation of Israel's faith, and the one that recurs throughout the Historical Books, concerns Israel's obedience to God's commands, especially as they are enumerated in Israel's legal corpus" (299). More than 25 years ago, the institution in which Enns labors dismissed a professor of systematic theology for allegedly adding works to grace. In Enns, we have works without grace (the reader is urged to cull the article in question in search of the word "grace"; he will find that it is nowhere to be found. That is a supremely telltale omission!). As Bob Dylan reminds us: "the times they are a-changin'."

Throughout his treatment, Enns shows no relation of faith to grace received, grace anticipated or grace fulfilled in Christ Jesus. There is no biblical-theological dimension to this faith; no Christocentric aspect to this faith. This faith is a flat horizontal form of moralism, legalism and obedientialism. These OT `faithful' are saved (if at all—keep in mind that Enns assures us that these `faith' stories are not conversion narratives or saving faith narratives) by "obedience" to the covenant. This is neither Biblical, nor evangelical, let alone Reformed.

What is especially striking in this claptrap is the treatment of Rahab, the harlot, via Joshua 2 and Hebrews 11:31. Enns informs us that "appeal to the story of Rahab as an example of saving faith (Josh 2) . . . would be reading too much into a complex narrative" (296). Then comes the shocking statement: "Rahab is not converted." But Hebrews 11:31 says she was converted and saved—she possessed the "assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). But no—modern, learned, smarter-than-the-writer-of-Hebrews Dr. Enns tells us—"she is, in a word, afraid." She does not believe in the Lord unto salvation; she is "afraid" of the Jewish god. Now if this sounds like comparative religions (religionsgeschichte)—Canaanite versus Jewish—that is precisely what learned Professor Enns is saying. And how does one reduce the story of Rahab to pagan religion versus Joshua religion? By anchoring the Rahab narrative in the Deuteronomistic History—a History contrived around the `myth' (Enns loves that word) that Judaism was `god'-ordained to strike fear into the hearts of her pagan neighbors (i.e., Canaanites at Jericho in Rahab's day). Thus the authors of the Rahab narrative have manufactured her story and projected it into the past mythologized history of Israel (Enns does not really believe the walls of Jericho came tumbling down!) so as to make the socio-religio-political point that the Jews were to be `feared' by their non-Jewish neighbors. Faith has been redefined by the use of dialectics. It now means, in Rahab's case, "fear". Cornelius Van Til, who once taught in the hallowed halls where learned Dr. Enns now pontificates, called this dialectical sleight-of-hand unbelief. It was, of course, the `new modernism' of neo-orthodoxy dressed up to look like Reformed theology. That neo-orthodoxy used the dialectic of Biblical higher criticism in tandem with the vocabulary of Reformed orthodoxy. But all that was a croc—as Van Til maintained. It was, in fact, a lie! It was just the same old, same old—liberalism/modernism/unbelief.

But learned Prof. Enns is not done. Let us see how he understands Hebrews 11:31 as interpreting Joshua 2. After all, he teaches in an institution whose Confessional Standard states—"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself" (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.9). This pre-critical, pre-Enlightenment, pre-Peter Enns statement is surely not the hermeneutic of our learned professor and his ilk. Here is what our learned critic writes: "The use of this story in these NT books clearly is a function of their specific rhetorical-theological contexts, which raises complex questions of its own, as does the whole matter of the NT's use of the OT. Appeal cannot be made to these NT texts to settle the issue of faith in the Historical Books . . ." (296-97).

Mr. Enns has told his readers (he undoubtedly tells his students and Sunday School classes, if he teaches Sunday School classes, the very same thing)—Hebrews 11:31 does not interpret Joshua 2. The Rahab of the epistle to the Hebrews is not the rule of interpretation for the Rahab of Joshua 2. That is to say, Prof. Enns is telling us that as the Deuteronomist contrived the story of Rahab to support his mythological agenda, so the writer of Hebrews has contrived his story of Rahab to support his "rhetorical-theological" agenda. The whole point of this comparison is to demonstrate the various theological agendas of the `creator' of the OT Rahab and the `creator' of the NT Rahab. And poor, naïve Bible student you!—you thought both Rahabs were the same. Tsk! Tsk! You must listen to the learned professor.

Now what is so intriguing to me about this ostensibly evangelical and Reformed professor of OT in an erstwhile evangelical and Reformed theological seminary spouting this rot is that it is exactly what I was taught by my authentic liberal-critical OT professors 40 years ago. Surprise! Surprise (Again!!)! the avant-garde evangelical and Reformed gurus of our day have finally caught up to the liberals—only 40 years later. Ever the Johnny-come-latelies, but ever the prostitutes of critical-fundamentalist recognition, our modern evangelical and Reformed academics are indistinguishable from the crass and forthright radical-liberals of the generation of the 60s. Yes, evangelical and Reformed Christianity has finally come of age. Isn't it wonderful! We are all progressives now!!

But of course that means that objective, revelatory meaning is gone—completely gone.

We will now learn the meaning of a Biblical text from the current mythological whim of gurus like Dr. Enns and Dr. Longman and a whole host of Ray Dillard devotees. And out of it all, we will realize that the same acculturation and liberalism that eroded `Old Princeton' is now eroding `Old Westminster' (not to mention long-gone Fuller Theological Seminary and now Wheaton College and other erstwhile once-upon-a-time bastions of orthodoxy. James Davison Hunter was not so sure of the staying power of the `orthodoxy' in so-called evangelical institutions more than 20 years ago. He is turning into a prophet!).

Let us have no doubt about the learned professor Enn's hermeneutic—it is not the hermeneutic of the Westminster Standards—it is not the hermeneutic of the 16th and 17th century Reformed Confessions (with which the Westminster Confession agrees)—it is not the hermeneutic even of the early church fathers. But it is the hermeneutic of Julius Wellhausen, Herman Gunkel, B. S. Childs, John Van Seters, Martin Noth, Albrecht Alt and a host of related higher critical fundamentalists of the theological left. Enns is not giving us the Bible or Confessional orthodoxy; he is giving us a philosophical reconstruction of the history of Israel. The paradigm is NOT Scripture; it is philosophy imposed as a grid over the Scriptures. And underlying that philosophical rewriting of the OT is the evolutionary paradigm of the 19th century, now made more sophisticated by the developmentalism and acculturism (even politicization) of the 20th and 21st centuries. Reader: this is the Phantom of the Opera approach to the OT Historical Books—philosophy masquerading as Biblical explication. Don't bite. If you want fantasy, buy the novels listed above or the new DVD of the Phantom. In fact, your money would be better spent on that fiction than this tripe.

IVP has indeed published a volume in which it is clearly evident that "we have seen the enemy and it is us."