The World around the Old Testament

The People and Places of the Ancient Near East

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Bill T. Arnold, Brent A. Strawn
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Baker Academic
    , November
     560 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


A single volume reference offering detailed historical, cultural, and religious treatments of the major empires as well as regional and local polities that significantly touched upon, impacted, or otherwise influenced biblical Israel is the intended purpose of this new book. As one can easily imagine, such a work is an invaluable supplementary text for students of the Hebrew Bible, and indeed, the concept for Bill T. Arnold and Brent A. Strawn’s The World around the Old Testament is certainly not original. The late D. J. Wiseman edited his pioneering work (Peoples of Old Testament Times, Clarendon, 1973) nearly forty-five years ago. Moreover, the volume under review is essentially a fresh treatment from the same publisher of the well-received and widely-influential book edited by Alfred J. Hoerth, Gerald L. Mattingly, and Edwin M. Yamauchi (Peoples of the Old Testament World, Baker, 1994) and, apart from selected issues outlined below, this new work is a worthy and useful successor.

 There are few surprises regarding the ancient peoples covered as well as the authors enlisted to write about them. Daniel Fleming writes about the Amorites; Christopher Hays and Peter Machinist cover Assyria; David Vanderhooft—rather than Bill Arnold—writes on Babylonia; and Mark Smith naturally covers Ugarit. Aside from data provided in Smith’s essay, bolstered by Christopher Rollston’s chapter on the Phoenicians, there is no specific treatment of Canaan and the Canaanites, and one may reasonably question the editor’s decision to exclude greater Canaan, while focusing upon the admittedly-rich textual archive and corresponding material culture uncovered at Ras Shamra. Philistia and the Philistines is presented by Carl Ehrlich, and while the other Sea Peoples are mentioned in his essay, Ehrlich knows that at least some of these Aegean based groups interacted with Israel, in addition to the Philistines. Thus, the title of his chapter should reflect this fact. Especially welcome is K. Lawson Younger’s study on Aram and the Arameans, which summarizes information found in his recently published book—an exhaustive study of these people and their culture. While each chapter includes a bibliography for further reading, some of these inexplicitly lack important recent general works summarizing their topic, and others cite highly specialized studies in German or French and thus largely inaccessible to many English-speaking readers. Of particular concern are the chapters on the Arabs and Arabians, as well as Babylonia and the Babylonians, both of which omit some important recent publications. Corresponding chapters covering the Egyptians (Joel LeMon), Hittites and Hurrians (Billie Jean Collins), Persians (Pierre Briant), and Greeks (Walter Burkert) complete the volume.

 One regrettable editorial decision was combining treatments of the Transjordanian kingdoms of Ammon, Moab, and Edom into a single chapter. Apart from the omission of the Ammonites in Wiseman’s volume, both earlier works discussed these three kingdoms in separate chapters. All of these polities played particularly significant geo-political roles in the region throughout the Iron Age, which explains their frequent mention in the Old Testament texts, and indeed, warrants more detailed treatments here. Moreover, data from numerous excavations and surveys carried out within the borders of these kingdoms in the last twenty years has substantially expanded our knowledge of them. Of notable mention for biblical historians are the recently-published reports of the Edom Lowland Regional Archaeology Project. Author Joel Burnett does an admirable job in summarizing these three polities, and their respective cultures, based upon archaeological and epigraphic finds and includes most of the recent and relevant bibliography. However, he fails to reference biblical accounts in his discussion of the early periods, and the relatively small number of biblical connections Burnett provides for Iron Age II are disappointing—considering the amount of corroborative data currently amassed and available. Yet Burnett is not alone in this oversight, as some of the other contributors seem to minimize possible or probable biblical links, which may or may not betray editorial stipulations. Bearing in mind that Arnold and Strawn included “Old Testament” in the book’s title, relegation of such associations to secondary importance is most unfortunate, especially considering that much of the book’s projected readership are seminary and other biblically-focused students in addition to informed laypeople.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jeffrey P. Hudon is adjunct professor in the department of religion at Bethel College.

Date of Review: 
June 13, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Bill T. Arnold is Paul S. Amos Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Ancient Israel's HistoryWho Were the Babylonians?Encountering the Old TestamentEncountering the Book of GenesisDictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, and a commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel.

Brent A. Strawn is professor of Old Testament at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia. He has authored or coedited numerous volumes, including The World around the Old TestamentThe Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law, and What Is Stronger than a Lion? Leonine Image and Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. Strawn also serves as coeditor of the Old Testament Theology series and is on the editorial board of Catholic Biblical Quarterly and Journal of Biblical Literature.


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