An Historical Survey Of The Old Testament, by Eugene H. Merill
This book strives to keep a balance that is very difficult but is also something that is worthwhile, and that is to provide a book that marries a conservative approach with some intellectual seriousness. By and large I found this book to be an enjoyable read as the combination of conservative and intellectual is certainly designed to appeal to a reader like myself. This is a short survey, it should be admitted, although it does a good job at summarizing the historical thread of the Bible and also getting into other issues, such as the biblical law, and its fundamental importance to the Bible. That is not to say that this book is perfect. In fact, it is probably not nearly as long as it could have been, but if you are looking for a short one-volume work that focuses on history and does not sacrifice a strong belief in the value of the Bible as a historical text. As the author fortunately realizes, the reliability of the Bible as a historical text is aided by a high view of its reliability in general, and that is something that is far too often not understood by many so-called critics.
This book is about 300 pages long and is divided into ten chapters that cover the thread of Old Testament history. The book begins with two prefaces and then has a lengthy opening chapter on the foundations for studying the Old Testament, providing a context to matters like the Bible, history, science, prophecy, as well as the people and the land (1). After that comes a look at the period from the Creation to the post-flood world (2). This leads to a look at the founding patriarchs of the people of God (3). It is a third of the book before we leave Genesis and discuss the creation of the nation of Israel (4) as well as the theocratic foundation of biblical law (5). After this comes a look at the conquest and conflict of Joshua and Judges (6) and the age of greatness of the United Kingdom through the end of Solomon’s reign (7). This is followed by a discussion of the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel (8), the period between Israel’s and Judah’s captivity (9), and the return and renewal of Judah after the Persian conquest of Babylon (10). After this the book closes with a bibliography, index of subjects, authors, and scripture, as well as maps.
Despite the overall high value of this work, there are definitely some aspects of the book that will cause some readers to question its approach. Admittedly, this book gets off to a somewhat slow start, as its focus on the chronological history of the Bible means a huge amount of material covers matters relating to Genesis, including the philosophical question of the dating of the earth, where the author takes an agnostic opinion about scientific principles of dating, a position not too different from my own, as the author points out the problem of uniformitarianism and the factors that must take place in order to date accurately, factors that do not often exist. For those readers who are puzzled by the seeming shortage of historical discussion at the beginning of this book, it is well worth reading the book and letting the author catch up to history. As is sometimes the case, an author has many reasons to write a book, and this author has a strong desire to defend the Bible as a text that speaks soundly and authoritatively of a great many matters, of which history is not the only one. Remembering that makes it easier to appreciate this book for what it has to offer.