This past week I had the joy of being back in the seminary classroom to teach a module at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, PA. Dr. Sam Harbin, along with the Calvary Baptist faculty and staff were great hosts to me during this week.
My assignment was OT Backgrounds and the history of Israel. The students and I had a delightful time sorting through a host of background matters like chronology, geography, and archaeology. In addition we had some meaningful conversations about how to use this material in our teaching and preaching ministries. We finished the class with a road trip to the University of Penn Museum in Philadelphia. The Museum is a repository of many significant artifacts from Egypt, Canaan, and Israel.
I have taught this material many times in the past. I am indebted to Dr. Mike Grisanti who, “back in the day” shared his notes with me so I could build out this class for my use.
If you are interested in doing work in this area I would encourage you to consider purchasing Eugene Merrill’s second edition of Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel. I appreciate Dr. Merrill’s theological approach to the history of Israel. One significant advantage of the second edition is the updated first chapter dealing with the issues of history and historiography. Merrill offers the reader biblically faithful insights into these difficult topics.
The other work that I rely upon in OT Backgrounds is V. Philips Long’s book, The Art of Biblical History. This text is part of the series Foundation of Contemporary Interpretation edited by Moisés Silva. According to Zondervan “Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation seeks to identify and clarify the basic problems of interpretation that affect our reading of the Bible today. This unique volume provides a comprehensive and systematic coverage of the field of general hermeneutics. Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation examines the impact of specific academic disciplines on the interpretation of the Bible. Previously published as separate volumes, its various sections explore the interface between hermeneutics and literary criticism, linguistics, history, science, and theology.” The other books in this series include Has the Church Misread the Bible? and God, Language and Scripture both by Moisés Silva; Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation by Tremper Longman III; Science and Hermeneutics by Vern S. Poythress; and The Study of Theology by Richard A. Mueller. Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation is a must have for all students of the Word regardless of one’s level of competence.
Long’s book, The Art of Biblical History skillfully addresses the hermeneutics of history that enhance one’s reading and study of the historical narrative portions of the Bible. In addition, the six-part structure of the book provides the reader a thorough introduction to historical issues. Long’s work and writing style has appeal to both the novice and the advanced student. In the exposition of his topic, Long incorporates his art background to compare and contrast visual and written productions. The chapters include: History and Genre(s) of the Bible: Is the Bible a History Book? History and Fiction: What is History? History and Truth: Is Historicity Important? History and Modern Scholarship: Why Do Scholars Disagree? History and Hermeneutics: How Then Should We Read the Bible “Historically”? An Extended Example: This Rise of Saul.
The major contribution of this work is the careful analysis of historiography as a literary type or genre. According to Long, “historiography involves a creative, though constrained attempt to depict and interpret significant events or sequences of events from the past” (p. 87). Readers with a high view of Scripture will appreciate Long’s attention to the historical, theological, and literary aspects of historical narrative.
The hermeneutics of history presented by Long are designed to develop literary competence in students of God’s Word. This is accomplished by giving attention to how the narrative account is told, embodied intention, the truth claim of the text (what the text teaches, commands, promises, and threatens) and the truth value of the text (the veracity and authority of what the text teaches, commands, promises, and threatens). Long’s approach successfully challenges the reader to interact with the larger context of a narrative account. In The Art of Biblical History Long applies the hermeneutics of history to some of the long-standing criticisms of biblical accounts. Long’s treatment of the history verses fiction debate is unsurpassed. Defining the nature of truth and establishing a biblical worldview are also competently developed by Long.
All readers will appreciate how Long attempts to achieve the goal of developing literary competence. For example he applies the hermeneutics of history to selected portions of the Old Testament. Four out of the five chapters include brief expositions in light of the principles discussed. The final chapter of the book is devoted to a detailed investigation of Saul’s rise to power in 1 Samuel 9-12. In addition, he includes concise summary sections of the chapter that facilitate review and reinforcement.
The negatives of The Art of Biblical History are few. If anything, I would say that chapter 5, History and Hermeneutics: How Then Shall We Read the Bible “Historically?” tends to be abstract and too dependent upon legal argumentation.
In summary, The Art of Biblical History is an excellent addition to your library since it makes multiple contributions to your study resources by addressing hermeneutical theory, expository commentary, and historical issues. The literary competence developed by reading The Art of Biblical History is in no way limited to the genre of history.