1 & 2 Samuel

The King and the Land by Stephen Russell

Stephen Russell’s new book, The King and the Land: A Geography of Royal Power in the Biblical World (Oxford, 2016), discusses the various ways the rulers of Israel and Judah used geographic spaces to assert their power.   It’s an interesting look at an under-studied topic in the realm of Old Testament research.

Russell begins by examining how Solomon built his temple in a Phoenician style (see 1 Kings 5:21-28; 7:13-45), which was consistent with his pattern of expanding his power base by engaging his neighbors through intermarriage and trade.

In chapter two, he observes how Solomon’s father, David, used the purchase of the land of Araunah (2 Sam. 24) to emphasize his special relationship to YHWH, which was a common pattern among ancient Near Eastern rulers.

His third chapter looks at Jehu (near and dear to my heart–the subject of my doctoral dissertation) and his decommissioning of the temple of Baal (2 Kings 10:18-28). Russell concludes that, while Jehu’s pious deed was celebrated in the biblical record, his power was limited in comparison to ancient Near Eastern rulers.

His fourth and fifth chapters discusses how Absalom (in the gate; 2 Sam. 15:1-16) and Hezekiah (with his tunnel; 2 Kgs. 20:20) helped legitimate their power within their social contexts.

Baruch Halpern says, “Well worth reading.”  Thomas Romer declares, “A must read for everybody interested in the question of kingship in the Bible and the ancient Near East.”

Particularly for those of you who share my interests in these issues, I hope you’ll check out The King and the Land.

(I have known Stephen Russell since he was a student at Penn in the early 1990’s.)

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The Historical Writings

“It sets the standard for a new generation of introductions to the Bible.”

This endorsement comes from Mark Boda (McMaster Divinity College) about The Historical Writings: Introducing Israel’s Historical Literature, which has just been released by Fortress Press, co-written by Mark Leuchter and myself.

My fourth book, not as academic as my dissertation, but more academic than God Behaving Badly, or Prostitutes and Polygamists.

Here is how it begins,

“The historical books of the Bible contain some of the best known stories of Scripture. Rahab the prostitute from Jericho helped the Israelite spies, providing vital insider information on the state of the nation (Joshua 2, 6).  Gideon the judge from Manasseh defeated the massive army of Midian with only three hundred men armed with trumpets, jars, and torches (Judges 7).  David the shepherd from Bethlehem nailed the Philistine giant Goliath in the noggin with his slingshot and chopped off his head with the giant’s own sword (1 Samuel 16).  Elijah the prophet from Gilead talked trash with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel before his drenched altar was scorched by a flame sent by YHWH (1 Kings 18).  Nehemiah the cupbearer from Susa was granted leave by King Artaxerxes of Persia to return and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2). Manasseh the king from Judah, whose idolatry was legendary, prayed and repented from his Babylonian prison and was restored to his throne in Jerusalem.”

Then we give an overview of the less familiar and more disturbing stories, the conquest/genocide of Canaan (Joshua 6-12), the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19), the cursing and hair-pulling of his country-men by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13).  How is one to understand these stories?  There there are many ways, but we’d recommend reading, The Historical Writings.

Mark and I wrote the introduction together.  I wrote the chapters on Joshua, Judges and 1, 2 Kings. Mark wrote the chapters on 1, 2 Samuel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1, 2 Chronicles.  It was a new experience to co-write a book, but Mark’s a good friend and we complement each other well.

Since it is a textbook, we were able to include a lot of extra stuff (which also makes it a bit more expensive that my last two books, $49 currently on Amazon).

There are 81 maps and images.   Art by Tissot, Poussin, Rembrandt, and many others. Images of the Merneptah stele, the Amarna letters, the Cyrus Cylinder, and many others.

There are 85 sidebars, including “The Sacrifice of Jephthah’s Daughter” and “‘Satan’ as a Cosmic Figure.”

There are 30 tables.  My two favorites are “External References to Rulers of Israel and Judah” (19 extra-biblical sources including the Kurkh Monolith, the Mesha Stele, the Black Obelisk–on the cover of Righteous Jehu) and “Seals Mentioning Names of Biblical Characters” (29 names including Jezebel, Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Jehoahaz).

The cover image is of the Tel Dan Stele which contains what most scholars consider to be the oldest reference to King David.  The letters highlighted in white on the lower right (see image here for more details) read “house of David.”  Reading from the right of the white letters, the fourth and sixth characters look like the Greek delta (triangle-shaped), that’s how the Hebrew/Aramaic letter dalet–the first and last letters of David’s name–were written at that point in time.

So, technically, there are two Davids mentioned on the cover, an author, and a king.

The Reformation Commentary, Dead White Men, and Make-Up

The newest addition to IVP’s Reformation Commentary on Scripture (vol. 5) just came out, on the books of 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, edited by my BTS colleague Derek Cooper, and his colleague, Martin J. Lohrmann.

This is an impressive work (740 pages) which has been in the works for almost 8 years.  Many of the commentators included in this volume have never been translated into English (from Latin).  There is a lot of wisdom contained here, which was previously inaccessible to most modern readers.

Obviously, since this book focuses on the OT, and particularly the historical books, I may be more excited about it than many of you all, but for pastors, teachers, and scholars it contains many gems of Scriptural insight.

The commentators include the usual suspects (Jacobus Arminius, John Calvin, and Martin Luther), as well as some lesser known names (Johannes Bugenhagen, John Mayer, and Konrad Pellikan), each of whom are important Reformation figures and who commented extensively on the historical books of the Bible.

In addition to literally thousands of quotations from commentators, and three indices (Author, Subject, and Scripture), there’s an extremely helpful, forty page appendix giving paragraph sketches of Reformation era figures and works (686-725). If one wanted a quick introduction to the Reformation’s major figures, this appendix would be a great first stop.

For those of you who are thinking, but hasn’t the Western church read enough of these “dead white men“?  Yes, great point.  We desperately need to be reading more scholars from other parts of the world, who can open our eyes to new perspectives, many of which are closer to the thought and mindset of the ancient Near Eastern world than our own.  But these Reformation scholars still offer us profound insight on our own story, particularly for those of us who come from a Protestant tradition.

I’m looking forward to using this resource as I work on my 1, 2 Kings commentary for the Story of God commentary series for Zondervan.  (If you like this section of Scripture my co-authored textbook on the Historical Books comes out in July.)

While it will take me a long time to fully appreciate all the wisdom here, I smiled as I read these comments on the face-painting on Jezebel before her brutal death (2 Kgs. 9:30-8–thrown from a tower, trampled on by horses, consumed by dogs, who defecate her remains in a field), which is part of the Jehu narrative, on which I wrote my dissertation. When these guys talk about “face-painting” it’s not painting butterflies on the cheeks of little girls at a fair, but the general practice of using make-up.  John Mayer observes that Peter Martyr Vermigli condemns the practice of face-painting, along with Cyprian, Chrysostom, and Augustine, “It is practiced to allure men, and it changes their natural face into something artificial. But rather than bettering the face, it actually mars it” (p. 444).

Do you agree with these reformers about the use of make-up? 

Of Kings and Prophets: Canceled

of_kings_and_prophets_abcLike the dynasty of Saul it portrayed, the ABC TV show based on the books of 1, 2 Samuel Of Kings and Prophets was cut short, canceled after only two episodes due to low ratings and bad reviews.  (Here’s my initial blog.)

I discovered the cancellation after watching episode #2 this morning while on my exercise bike.  I searched for the third, which should have already been recorded, but it was nowhere to be found. For more explanation, check out this USA Today article.

Why didn’t people watch it?  Who knows, but here are some possible reasons.

  1. It was confusing.  The two episodes I watched were a bit hard to follow, and I’m pretty familiar with the subject matter.  Most ABC watchers won’t have read or written as much about David as I have (including this article on David’s Trash Talking).
  2. Bible Overload.  Perhaps watchers think there’s too much Bible to watch lately, between The History Channel’s The Bible, Noah, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and other things.  Even though I had problems with this portrayal of the lives of Saul, David, and Samuel, I am always happy to watch the Bible’s story, and see how people interpret it.
  3. Too much sex.  (Don’t they say, “Sex sells”?) While I think we need to talk about the scandalous sex stories in Scripture, perhaps Christians feel uncomfortable watching it come from the Bible.  The scandalous stuff in episodes #1 and #2 were all extrapolations, not based on the biblical text.
  4. No familiar faces.   Apart from Roy Winstone (who isn’t that well known in the US), most of the faces are unfamiliar to most American viewers.  The fact that this series had a higher percentage of people of color than many other biblical TV and film dramas is a very good thing and a welcome change.
  5. No drama.  People already know that David will defeat Goliath and become king, and Saul will die, so there aren’t really any shockers there.  I still enjoyed watching The Martian, even though I had read the book beforehand, but some of the drama was gone because I knew what would happen to Mark Watney.

You can still watch the first two episode on the ABC website, but no decisions have been made about when other episodes might air.

Did you see it? What did you think?