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Review: Behind The Scenes Of The Old Testament

The biblical drama was situated among a highly complex sociological, political, and geographic backdrop. In particular, the world of the Old Testament was a critical time for human civilization—yet most readers of the Bible tend to imagine that Israel alone was the sole nation on the scene. While most OT surveys identify cultural issues within particular sections of the text, or provide a cursory introduction to the ancient Near East in an opening chapter, Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts (Baker Academic, 2018) provides a comprehensive entry point into the ancient world in the time of the OT.

This authoritative tome brings together contributions from the world’s leading biblical and archaeological scholars to offer a variety of articles on OT background issues. It is divided into three parts. The first, “Elements of the Drama,” includes the stage (historical geography), the set and props (archaeology), the scripts (extra-biblical literature), and the frames (iconography). This section introduces the world in which Israel existed and evidence of its functioning. The second section, “Acts and Scenes of the Drama,” includes the acts (a broad survey of the various time periods in Israel’s history) and the scenes (a broad survey of various events occurring outside of Israel during her history). This section describes the history of the region, seen through the lenses of Israel and of her neighbors. The third and final section, “Themes of the Drama,” is a historical-critical examination of the major themes of the OT, including God, family, sustenance, and governance. This section examines biblical themes through their religious, economic, social, and political contexts.

BTSOT succeeds in its task of peeling back the curtain of the biblical drama. Its authors remind readers that the God of the Bible revealed his Word in a culturally bound context that requires careful study in order to best determine the meaning of the text. Moreover, the array of insights provides an integrated approach to the study of the OT context. Its articles are relatively short and accessible to students and demonstrate clear evidence of being well-researched and clearly organized. A useful Scripture and subject index in the back matter would make this a valuable tool for expedited research, eliminating time and frustration in finding exegetical nuggets hidden in esoteric, dusty dictionaries and commentaries. Most articles include large black-and-white illustrations, including photographs of artifacts or landscapes, and maps.

This volume has serious implications for the study of the OT world. It can serve as a one-stop reference for background research in the greater task of exegesis or scholarly work. While its authors recommend and have designed this text as a supplementary resource for intro OT courses, it would be best suited as a reference text in a biblical geography course. Its sheer size (both physically and in scope of content) and cost ($49.99) make it unrealistic for many introductory settings. Nonetheless, BTSOT would be an excellently received addition to library of serious biblical scholars and pastors who desire to faithfully teach the text as it is understood from its original context.


© 2018 Leitourgia All rights reserved.
A complimentary review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

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