Merrill, H. Eugene. Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008. 554pp. $39.99.

Summary

In the introduction to this work Eugene H. Merrill notes that, “The Old Testament is first and foremost theological and not historical literature . . . this does not [however] nullify its claim to authentic historicity as that term is commonly used. . . The theological message, in other words, is grounded in genuine history” (13). Setting forth the history that both undergirds and stands alongside the theological message of the Old Testament is the intent of this volume.

Merrill begins the work by setting forth the nature of historiography particularly as it deals with the history of Israel. He aptly notes that “One’s view of the integrity and authority of that literature affects one’s very approach to the task” (19) It is at this point that one should begin to appreciate the scholarship in the proceeding chapters as he describes his commitment to Scripture as the Word of God. As he explains, “By virtue of our confession that we are under the authority of the very sources we are investigating, we have already surrendered our right to reject what we cannot understand or what we find difficult to believe” (20). This commitment is displayed throughout the work as he continually gives preeminence to the various timelines, sequences of events, and descriptions found in Scripture as genuine historic sources, rather than treating them as tainted due to their theological nature.

From that introductory chapter the remaining fourteen chapters cover the panorama of Israel’s history from its inception to the close of Old Testament history. The second chapter covers the story of the patriarchs and provides a brief, yet helpful, introduction to the Torah. The third chapter begins by establishing the cultural milieu in which the exodus occurred after which it covers the exodus and then addresses the various criticisms surrounding these events. Chapter four covers the conquest of Canaan, describes the Ancient Near Eastern context in which the conquest occurred, and briefly examines three alternative models of the conquest. The fifth chapter sets forth the judges period by examining both the cultural context and the various judges of Israel. The rise and fall of Saul and David’s rise to power is described in chapter six. Chapters seven and eight cover the life of David. The first covers David’s rise to power, the book of Chronicles, and the context in which David was anointed as king. The second covers the remainder of David’s life. The life and death of Solomon is covered in chapter nine. Chapters ten through thirteen cover the divided kingdom and the period leading up to the exile. The exiles and returns are covered in chapters fourteen and fifteen.

Evaluation

Strengths

First and foremost this work benefits from a high view of Scripture which sets it apart from many histories of Old Testament Israel. Merrill’s commitment to both scholarship and the authority of Scripture has been well documented above and will not be repeated here. However, this reviewer appreciates that Merrell is not prone to speculation and is able to accept that the exact location of Mt. Sinai and many of the cities involved in the conquest of Canaan simply cannot be know.

One of Merrell’s opening aims is to discover historical data with the caveat that “the purpose of this study is not so much to interpret them meaning of the underlying events” as that task is better suited for other fields, most notably the field of biblical theology. This is both a strength and a weakness, which will be briefly discussed below. First a volume which attempted to tackle both of these tasks would be quite cumbersome. Second, this allows one to appreciate Merrill as a historian while not being forced to accept his interpretation of sacred history so stated.
While this is a book on history demonstrates the author’s scholarship and ability to refute opposing viewpoints this does not detract from the overall readability and contour of the work.

Weaknesses

While he does well to emphasize the unique nature of Scripture as divine revelation, and this reviewer recognizes that this is not an Old Testament introduction, he largely fails to introduce and discuss the nature of the source texts themselves. Chapter two features brief introductions to each of the books within the Torah, there is a brief section on Chronicles, and Micah; however, as a whole he does little to specifically introduce and explain the texts that both recount and are a product of Israel’s history. This is his work’s greatest weakness.

There are points where this particular review disagrees with the dating of several events; however, this is to be expected in any work on ancient history. Mentioned above as a strength one of the works weaknesses is that he does not provide a biblical theological framework through which one can understand the history of Israel. He has done this in another work which significantly reduces this as a detracting factor from this work.

Conclusion

Overall this particular reviewer found this volume to be quite readable and a very helpful volume for understanding the history of Israel. Above simply retelling history he also aims to give the reader “an increased appreciation of how we too are to live as the people of God” (36) and he does just that. This reviewer would do well to re-read this volume frequently and it should find much use over the course of his ministry.

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