Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Hill, Andrew E. and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009). Pp. 799. Hardcover, US$49.99 CAN$53.99, ISBN 978-0-310-28095-8.

The third edition of Andrew Hill and John Walton's A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd edition is a revision of what was first published in 1991 and revised in 2000. It consists of forty-seven chapters divided into six sections “in the order of the English canon” (p. 12): Part I: Introduction (consisting of chapters on “Approaching the Old Testament” and “Geography of the Old Testament”); Part II: the Pentateuch (with an “Introduction to the Pentateuch,” chapters on each of the five books, and an “Historical Overview of Old Testament Times”); Part III: the Historical Books (with an “Introduction to the Historical Books,” eight chapters on Joshua to Esther, and a chapter on “Archaeology and the Old Testament”); Part IV: the Poetic Books (with chapters on “Hebrew Poetic and Wisdom Literature,” each of the books from Job to Song of Songs, and “Formation of the Old Testament Scriptures”); Part V: the Prophets (“Introduction to the Prophetic Literature,” and one chapter on each of the books from Isaiah to Malachi); and Part VI: Epilogue (consisting of three chapters: “What we have learned,” “Responding to God,” and “the Journey to Jesus”). The book concludes with two appendices (“Critical Methodologies” and “The Composition of the Pentateuch”), a glossary (88 entries on five pages with subjects ranging from “Ahura Mazda” and “alluvial” to “vassal” and “wadi”), and a 25 page index.

The preface includes a summary of the pattern used for the examination of each book of the Old Testament. The authors describe their method as “a ‘synthetic’ presentation for all of the Hebrew Bible” (p. 12). The components of this pattern for each book include a discussion of “the writing of the book,” “the background,” “outline of the book,” “purpose and message,” “structure and organization,” “major themes,” “questions for further study and discussion,” and “for further reading.”

The authors use the table of contents to indicate which of the two composed each of the chapters (indicated by JHW or AEH; there is no indication which of the two wrote “Archaeology and the Old Testament” or “Formation of the Old Testament Scriptures”). I could not find a difference in style, method, or conclusions when comparing chapters written by each of the two. The authors have produced a composite work which appears to have been carefully edited for style.

The preface wisely includes a summary of the values which guide the authors. They speak of the “Old Testament as God's self-revelation,” and affirm that “God's Word is the final word,” “the content of God's Word is true,” and “the act of divine inspiration guarantees the authority and integrity of that revelation” (pp. 11–12). Hill and Walton assert that “these convictions define us as evangelicals” (p. 12). Later they define “evangelical” as “a term in vogue to describe those who acknowledge the authority of the Bible” (p. 753). Based on these beliefs, the authors state that they “seek to bring together the most significant data from Old Testament historical and literary backgrounds, critical or technical introduction, biblical commentary, and Old Testament theology” (p. 12), while introducing the reader to “hermeneutics (general and special), history (Israelite and ancient Near Eastern), archaeology, canon, geography, Old Testament theology (biblical and systematic), and basic methodologies of higher criticism” (p. 13).

I did not find a statement indicating the intended audience of this book, but based on the expressed values of the authors I assume the book is intended for those who are more comfortable with traditional interpretations of critical issues. For example, the authors discuss theories of the composition of the Pentateuch but conclude that they “are inclined to think” Moses put the book of Genesis together (p. 79). Likewise, they end their discussion of various theories regarding the composition of the book of Isaiah with the statement, “we remain unconvinced that the book of Isaiah must be divided among several authors” (p. 522). Not surprisingly, their discussion of the writing of the book of Daniel concludes with the comment, “we see no evidence to preclude dating the book to the sixth century BC” (p. 570).

One of the weaknesses of the volume is the disproportionate space devoted to the various books of the Old Testament. For example, the authors cover Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in only 35 pages, less than a third of the pages they use to analyze the Twelve (totaling 117 pages). Similarly, they treat the book of Psalms in the same number of pages (20 in all) as they cover Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. This is a difficult problem to rectify without producing a volume that is much longer than the 799 pages of this book.

The binding on this hard-cover book is excellent. It is a pleasure to be able to turn to any page in the book (even page 7 or page 799) and have the pages lay flat for reading without a need to find something to prop the pages open. The page lay-out is conducive to reading with an uncluttered feel. The paper quality is superb, allowing for hundreds of good-quality full-colour photographs.

The book is very well written with a style that is a joy for readers. The writing is clear, focused, and well organized. Issues are addressed in a logical manner, with regular reference to sources where a student can find a more thorough discussion of the topics being addressed.

One of the strengths of this volume is the ample illustration. By my count, the book contains 415 photographs, maps, charts, and other visuals. These include 88 photographs of places (e.g., Mount Ebal, Mount Gerizim, Jezreel Valley) and things (e.g., a reconstruction of the tabernacle in the Negev), 51 of ancient texts (e.g., the Egyptian tale of Sinuhe, the Sumerian King List), 13 of artifacts (e.g., a 6th century BCE sundial, a signet ring of Tutankhamen), 114 of ancient art (e.g., a tomb painting of Rekhmire, vizier under Thutmosis III and Amenophis II), 20 maps, 26 timelines, 35 book outlines, 55 charts (e.g., theophanies in Genesis, proverbial speech forms), 4 excurses (scribes, Satan, devotional use of the Psalms, Joel and Pentecost), 3 drawings (e.g., a ziggurat, divination), and 6 copies of ancient texts translated into English (e.g., showing parallels between Song of Songs 4:1–7 and Egyptian Love Song 31).

Many of the visuals are of limited value for anything other than to provide colour to the volume and to make the pages appear more interesting. For example, the number of photographs of ancient texts or tomb paintings seems excessive. The outlines of biblical books are of mixed value. Some are quite thorough (such as those for Kings and Ecclesiastes) while others are very brief (Samuel and Jeremiah). The timelines are helpful in showing the relationship between the texts of Scripture and their Ancient Near Eastern context. However, it is somewhat surprising to see that the timeline included in the discussion of the book of Isaiah ends at 610 BCE while the timeline for the book of Daniel ends at 420 BCE. Even those who hold to early dating for these two books understand that Isaiah refers to 6th century BCE events and Daniel refers to 2nd century BCE events.

Some of the charts would be of use for instructors of the Hebrew Bible planning assignments for their students. The ones with greatest potential for in-class or out-of-class learning activities include: the plagues and the gods of Egypt (p. 115); treaty format and biblical covenants (p. 166); the Decalogue and Deuteronomy (p. 169); foreign powers mentioned in the books of Kings (p. 285); the chronologies of the kings of Israel and Judah (pp. 288–89; these charts compare the dating suggested by Hayes & Hooker, Thiele, Bright, and Cogan &; Tadmor); prophets and prophetesses in the monarchical era (p. 291); military conflicts of Israel and Judah (pp. 300–3); numbers in Chronicles that disagree with Old Testament parallels (p. 317); proverbial speech forms (p. 391); Jewish and Christian canons of the Old Testament (p. 493); the problem of human suffering (p. 549); speech types in Ezekiel's message (p. 560); the Canaanite pantheon (p. 590); social concern in Amos's teaching (p. 612); the structure of the book of Zechariah (p. 693); Zechariah's Messianic prophecies (p. 695); the use of the Old Testament in the New (p. 745); a summary of critical methodologies (p. 758); and characteristics of usage in the JEDP sources (p. 766).

I would recommend this survey as an undergrad textbook within educational institutions comprised of students who are members of evangelical (though a difficult term to define, the authors use it to self-identify) Protestant faith communities. The breadth of material covered might allow this book to be used as one of several textbooks for an “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible” seminary course.

Nathan Patrick Love, Ambrose University College