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.

Five Lessons from a Bible Story I Hate

I hate the story of the gang rape of the Levite’s concubine, but I still think we should read it, teach it, and learn from it.  Here a post I wrote for OnFaith: “5 Unexpected Lessons from a Bible Story I Hate“.

I discuss this tragic incident from Judges 19 in my chapter on rape and adultery in Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style.

Check it out.  Share it if you think it may help others. OnFaithJudg19

Barak’s Leadership

Deborah and BarakYes, Barak.  I spelled it right.  You’re thinking of Barack.  I want to talk about the other one, the famous one, the one in the Bible (no “c”).

Barak was Israel’s military leader during the period when Deborah was judge over Israel in the fourth chapter of the book of Judges.

In my class on Monday, we were discussing Judges 4 when one of the students said that Deborah shouldn’t have been the leader because she was a woman.  Men like Barak should have been in charge.  The fact that a woman was leading was an indictment against the men.

I said, “How do you see that in the text?

Here’s the text:

4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”  (Judg. 4:4-9 ESV)

We discussed whether or not Barak and Deborah were good leaders.

Here are the 5 things we talked about from the text.

1) Barak may have been punished for pleading that Deborah come along on his mission (4:9). The NIV makes this explicit, but other English translations (ESV, NRSV, NAS) don’t, nor does the Hebrew text.  On the positive side, Barak is less reluctant than Gideon (Judg. 6), and he does obey and defeat the Canaanites.  There is nothing clearly wrong with Barak’s behavior here.  Our assessment of Barak’s leadership is positive so far based on his overall obedience, but let’s wait on more data for definitive conclusions.

2) Deborah was a real prophet.  What she said came true (Israel would defeat the Canaanite Sisera and he’d be killed by a woman), so according to the definition of Deuteronomy 18:22, she’s a true prophet since what she says comes true.

3) Deborah was raised up by God to lead the people.  Although it doesn’t state that explicitly in Judges 4, earlier in the book it makes it clear that judges were raised up by YHWH (Judg. 2:16), and she was clearly a judge.  Her judge cycle fits the pattern of the rest of the book, so it’s safe to say God raised her up to judge the nation.

4) Deborah and Barak wrote a chapter of the Bible.  Judges 5 is their song.  Although, as you read it, Deborah was clearly primary, and Barak secondary, a bit like some of Paul’s letters where he mentions someone else at the beginning like Sosthenes (1 Cor. 1:1) or Timothy (2 Cor. 1:1), but it’s pretty clear that Paul was primary.  So, if they wrote Scripture, that’s got to be considered a positive thing, an argument that Deborah and Barak were good leaders. (I know the apostate Solomon supposedly wrote a lot of Wisdom books, but he did get off to a great start in 1 Kings 3.)

5) Barak is remembered positively elsewhere in Scripture among lists of judges.  He’s mentioned favorably by Samuel in 1 Sam. 12:11 (LXX, Syriac; Heb has “Bedan” which doesn’t make sense so most English translations go with “Barak”- ESV, NIV, NRSV), as being sent by God.  He’s listed among the faithful judges in Heb. 11:32, with Gideon, Samson and Jephthah.  If the rest of Scripture speaks of him positively, then that seals the deal.

Barak and Deborah are clearly perceived positively in the text.  They were good leaders. There’s nothing in the text to suggest that the woman Deborah should not have been leader, or that the man Barak should not have listened to her.  She was a prophet.  He was obedient.  She was raised up by God.  They wrote Scripture.  He was remembered positively.  It’s all positive.

What can we learn from Barak’s example?  We need more men in the church today like Barak who are willing to listen to, to learn from, and to follow after Godly women.

God raise up more women like Deborah, and men like Barak.  

What would you have said to this student?

Prophets in the Former Prophets

The books of Joshua, Judges, 1, 2 Samuel and 1, 2 Kings are known by three titles:

1) The Historical Books (along with a few other books).
2) The Deuteronomistic History (by scholars, because of connections to the book of Deuteronomy).  My dissertation was on the Deuteronomistic History.
Righteous Jehu and his Evil Heirs: The Deuteronomist’s Negative Perspective on Dynastic Succession (Oxford Theological Monographs).
3) The Former Prophets (within the Jewish tradition).  The Latter Prophets are also known as the Major and Minor Prophets.

One of the reasons the title Prophets makes sense for these books is that there are a lot of prophets mentioned.  Well, not really in the books of Joshua and Judges, but in Samuel there’s a fair amount, and in Kings there are tons (literally).  Hundreds of prophets are mentioned in the book of kings.

As I study, research and write about these books, I like to make charts and tables.  Here is a link to my family tree of the Kings of Israel and Judah.

I’ve included a table below that will appear in some form in a couple of books I’m working on, but those versions won’t be in color.  The title: Prophetic Figures in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-Kings).  Prophetic figures include people the text calls a prophet,  a “man of God,” and several prophet groups (sons of the prophets).

The left column lists all the biblical references.
The middle column includes the prophetic figures, in red when the text provides a name, gray if anonymous, and pink for prophetic groups.
The right column lists the king (only for Samuel-Kings) who reigned while the prophet ministered.  The color coding, green for United Monarchy, blue for the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and yellow for the Southern Kingdom (Judah), matches the color coding used for the Family Tree chart mentioned above.

What observations and patterns do you notice about these prophets and kings?  Add your thoughts in a comment below.  In my next blog in a few days I’ll share a few of my own comments.

If you know people who study the Bible seriously, send them a link to this table.  They’ll find it helpful.

Prophetic Figures in DH