The Bible As History, by Werner Keller
This is a book I might not have read had I not challenged myself to read a large quantity of books originally written in German and translated into English. This is the last book of that series that I have read, and it is a good one. This is by no means a perfect book, as books written about the Bible by those whose understanding is often lacking will lead inevitably to flaws , but by and large this book is an enjoyable one to read that sits at about the “Kitchen line” of texts on biblical history. That makes this book an acceptable one, and the fact that the author takes the Bible seriously as ancient history is itself an approach that I can appreciate, as well as his honest struggles with understanding the mysterious details included (and omitted) in scripture as well. This is the sort of book that sets an acceptable minimal standard of how seriously a work is to take the Bible, and if an author shows less respect for the Bible and less understanding of its factual basis than this one, the book can safely be disregarded.
Overall, this is a somewhat lengthy book of more than 400 pages, divided into OT and NT history, and then several parts within those and more than 40 chapters total. The first section of the book looks at the history of the Old Testament. The first part of this section looks at the coming of the Patriarchs from Abraham to Jacob and contains chapters on the Fertile Crescent (1), Ur (2), the flood (3), Babylonian flood stories (4), Mari (5), the journey to Canaan (6), and Abraham and Lot in Canaan (7). After that the author examines Israel in Egypt, with chapters on Joseph in Egypt (8), the long biblical silence during their slavery (9), and forced labor in the delta region (10). Several chapters deal with the wilderness experience, including Israel on the road to Sinai (11), at the mountain of Moses (12), under desert skies (13), and on the threshold of the promised land (14). The period of the Judges and Saul takes up the next section with chapters about Israel’s invasion of Canaan (15), Israel settling down (16), the invasion of the Philistines (17), and Israel under the yoke of the Philistines (18). Four chapters cover Israel as an empire under David (19), Solomon as a copper king (20), the Queen of Sheba as a business partner (21), and Israel’s colorful daily life (22). After this the author turns his attention to the divided kingdoms by looking at Israel under the shadow of Assyria (23), the end of the Northern kingdom (24), Judah under Assyrian domination (25), the seductive fertility religions of Canaan (26), the destruction of Assyria (27), and the last days of Judah (28). The rest of the first section looks at the exilic and post-exilic history of Judah as Judah is educated in exile (29), Babylon falls to Persia (30), Cyrus shows tolerance (31), some exiles return to Jerusalem (32), Judah faces rising Greek influence (33), and the people of Judah battle for religious freedom (34). The second section of the book looks at the New Testament, with several chapters dealing with the life of Jesus Christ, including chapters on Palestine as a Roman province (35), the star of Bethlehem (36), Nazareth in Galilee (37), John the Baptist (38), the trial and crucifixion of Christ (39), and the Turin shroud (40). After this the book contains two numbered chapters on the apostles including Paul’s life and journeys (41) and the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus (42) as well as unnumbered chapters on the Dead Sea scrolls and rebuilding with the help of the Bible, after which the book closes with a postscript, bibliography, and index.
While this book hits all the high notes one would expect in a book that takes the Bible seriously as history, there are definitely some curveballs this book shows as well. For one, the author pays way more close attention to the Shroud of Turin than I personally have at least to date, although at least he does not show himself to be credulous in accepting all of the claims about it. Additionally, the author shows himself to be deeply interested in the common life of people in biblical times and not only in the large scope of epic political history. There are nevertheless at least a few areas where the author sows himself strangely incurious about various biblical mysteries that other people are fond of, and he does not appear to have an interest in the spread of Christianity via the apostles to far flung areas of the world nor the moral message of biblical prophets by and large. A book like this one reveals the author’s interests and the seriousness he takes the Bible, and includes one intriguing comparison of the Bible with the Assyrian chronicles concerning the overthrow of Pekah the son of Remaliah and penultimate independent ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel. Overall, this is a book to be enjoyed, if not entirely agreed with.
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