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78 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Toward a more literal view..., 7 Jan 2004
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
This review is from: On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Hardcover)
Kenneth Kitchen is an emeritus professor of Egyptology and Archaeology from the University of Liverpool; his interests and writings span many millennia of the ancient world across Egypt and the ancient Near East, including the area of biblical history. In this volume (which he amusingly describes as reducing to the acronym OROT, or O! ROT! as some of his critics may proclaim) Kitchen puts forth an interesting argument here against the dominant tide of biblical studies in Old Testament studies, eschewing modern or postmodern ideas of interpretation and preferring a more traditional approach. Having been inspired by his friend I. Howard Marshall and the text by F.F. Bruce 'Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?', he set out on the massive task of producing a similar volume for the Old Testament.
The job presents many difficulties, of course, not the least of which is the ever changing atmosphere, culture, literacy ability, and more of the people of the ancient lands over the millennia. Kitchen does have a care for facts - he doesn't engage in arguments of philosophical import (he doesn't care to address the nature of absolute truth, for instance, seeing that as an often-used diversionary sideline getting away from the basic understanding of reasonably certain objective facts in history). Kitchen supports his arguments with a wide-ranging knowledge of history and the languages of the areas and times. Kitchen makes it clear in the introduction there are three elements he means to address (history, literature and culture) and three he does not (theology, doctrine and dogma). Obviously the nature of the documents require discussion of the latter three, but these are not the focus points. Two primary questions Kitchen also addresses are these: Is there genuine information of the Israelite/Jewish culture from 2000-400 BCE contained in the biblical texts? Secondly, he asks did these documents originate entirely after this period, namely, the period 400-200 BCE?
Kitchen's approach is neither chronological nor canonical, but circles back through the text in a manner looking at culture and exile first primarily through kingdom and exile periods, going then back around to the patriarchs and the progress of history through to the prophets back to the exilic period again. Regardless of one's interpretative framework, much of this information is valuable and interesting, and makes one revisit some of the text from a new perspective.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter is the final chapter, where Kitchen does a survey of the history of the interpretation of biblical history and texts. As perhaps only someone who has spent a lifetime devoted to the subject can do (and no longer has to worry about academic promotions, etc.), Kitchen candidly presents his analysis of key ideas and figures in the development of our understanding of the biblical text over the past 200 years of study. His particular thrust here is against the minimalists, and his biases are very clear here. After discussing the problems with various scholars' approaches, he puts together brief answers to his initial questions, deciding that there is far more reliability than many think.
Kitchen stops far short of proclaiming a word-for-fact inerrant correlation between the text we have today and actual history, but does go to great links to minimise the minimalists, showing that there is far more respect for the reliability of the text due to the Old Testament. Biblical literalists may still find the text difficult to accept because of this, but it does include much information for them to consider in a manner probably less problematic than most mainstream biblical scholarship.
This is primarily a book for scholars, evidenced by the wide range of material gathered, the assumptions of knowledge of history, archaeology, language, culture and biblical studies, and the extensive notes made in the text (the endnotes comprise more than 100 of the 660 pages of the text). There is a generous supply of plates, tables, charts and maps, and reasonable indexes for subject and scripture references. However, it is generally accessible to those with at least an undergraduate or equivalent education.
For those who are looking for an answer to the question, 'Can we trust the reliability of the Bible?', this gives some interesting information. Worth reading by those from the liberal and the orthodox camps.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maximalist Overdrive!, 24 Aug 2008
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First, a personal observation. When I grew up, Sweden was already the most secularized nation in the world. Naturally, the public schools were secular. Yet, the Lutheran Church of Sweden was still the officially established religion! What to do? The problem was solved by a typical Swedish compromise: all public school students had to learn the Bible, but only as history. So I grew up thinking that Moses was a real historical person, that the Exodus actually happened, that the Israelites crossed the Reed Sea (not the Red one), etc.

Years later, when I started reading "Biblical Archeology Review", I was surprised to learn, almost shocked, that archeologists regard the Pentateuch and Joshua as purely mythological! Except a certain Kenneth Kitchen, who wrote interminable articles trying to prove everything from Abraham to Moses with esoteric arguments about ancient slave-prices and bussines transactions. Naturally, I was intrigued. Later, I learned that Kitchen isn't just an Oberprofessor of Egyptology, but also an evangelical Christian. Which may or may not explain his "maximalist" view of the Bible. Still, I tend to symphatize with the "maximalists" in the heated debates about Biblical archeology. After all, the credibility of our secular education system is at stake!

Naturally, I just had to give Kenneth Kitchen's tour de force "On the reliability of the Old Testament" five stars. Kitchen may represent a minorityite position within archeology, but his arguments are nevertheless interesting. In a review this size, only my own personal favorite arguments can be high-lighted.

Kitchen starts by pointing out the obvious: the Bible is confirmed by Assyrian and Babylonian sources from king Ahab (853 BC) foreward. If the Bible can be trusted, as a purely historical chronicle (sans miracle) from the divided monarchy forward, why can't it also be trusted when it talks about, say, David and Solomon? Those parts of the Bible are also written in the form of a historical chronicle. There is no obvious break between the "unproven" parts of the Bible and the proven parts. As for miracles and theologizing, even king Ahab is pretty theologized, not to mention the destruction of Jerusalem.

In a book like this, that old saying "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" must of necessity play a prominent part. Why aren't David and Solomon mentioned in Assyrian or Egyptian chronicles? Because Assyria didn't expand westward into Canaan during their reign, and so wasn't interested in the local rulers. And Egypt was weakened during this period, no longer considering Canaan its sphere of influence or dominion. Thus, there are logical reasons for the "absence of evidence" for the United Monarchy. As for Jerusalem, that city have been destroyed and rebuilt so many times, that it would be a miracle in itself if substantial remains of, say the First Temple, would be found by excavators - in the unlikely case that the Muslims would permit an excavation inside the Dome of the Rock! Nor can we expect hard evidence for the Exodus. Slave-huts made of mud doesn't show up in the archeological record, Egyptian pharaos never commemorated defeat on their monuments, and 99% of all papyrus documents from the Eastern Delta have been destroyed by bad climate (including any secret intelligence report about rebellious Israelite slaves). Besides, Kitchen believes that only 20,000 people participated in the Exodus, not millions.

Other arguments I found interesting include the observation that Jerusalem might have been the capital of a mini-empire although small, since Thebes was even smaller when it became the capital of an Egyptian mega-empire, that Solomon was a quite poor chap by Iron Age standards, and that the Queen of Sheba fits a period when some women played a prominent role in Arab politics (they didn't after Solomon's time). Less convincing is the treatment of Jericho and Ai. I'm not sure if Kitchen have solved the problem of these towns being destroyed at the "wrong" time. However, he does make the funny observation that women in-keepers á la Rahab were typical of the period!

Most of Kitchen's arguments for the reliability of the Old Testament are necessarily indirect. He searches the Biblical texts for information about covenants, business transactions, slave-prices, personal names or special kinds of architecture (and yes, in-keepers), and asks himself whether these were typical of the period during which Biblical text is supposed to have been written. If so, one can conclude that the Israelites either had very long (and very good) memory spans....or the Biblical texts actually *were* written long before the Dead Sea Scrolls! To take just one example, Kitchen believes that the mix of Semitic and Hurrian names in Joshua is typical of the so-called Conquest period, but not later. And yes, poor Joseph was sold for 20 shekels, supposedly a typical price for a hapless slaveboy during the time of the Patriarchs.

As a layman, I cannot possible judge these arguments, and others have taken issue with Kitchen's interpretation, in the pages of "Biblical Archeology Review" (where else?). Still, Kitchen's book makes interesting reading, and apart from a few rather tedious sections about the rethorical style of ancient documents (yawn), it's surprisingly easy to read, and even humorous (unless you are a competing archeologist, at whose expense the jokes are made). I therefore warmly recommend this book to friend and foe alike. Five stars!!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kitchen's monumental work, 29 Dec 2012
Mr. G. M. Cox (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Hardcover)
Kenneth Kitchen (Emeritus Professor of Egyptology, Liverpool University), with the encouragement of friend and colleague Professor I. Howard Marshall, wrote the Old Testament counterpart to F.F. Bruce’s defense of the New Testament. Kitchen’s book, by necessity, had to be much broader in scope, spanning three thousand years of background ANE history and culture and engaging with at least ten ancient languages. A wealth of data are to be found within its pages, supporting the reliability of the Hebrew OT Scriptures.

Kitchen's book contains ten chapters dealing with seven epochs of OT history, his use of end chapter summaries ("balance sheets") is very helpful. Kitchen arranges 500 pages in reverse chronology, so most recent/reliable evidences are discussed first. Buried at the back are a further 100 pages of end-notes and 42 pages of Kitchen's (excellently) hand-drafted plates and maps, all of which would have been better placed within the chapter summaries. Finally, an alphabetical subject list (6 pages), and Scripture index (14 pages), ends the work. However, the lack of an author's index is a pity.

This is certainly not a book for your average evangelical church-attender, the breadth and scope of Kitchen's work may leave some readers feeling swamped by facts, maybe one of its weaknesses is in presenting too vast an array of data, probably better offered up in a series of volumes. Rather Kitchen presents a serious and uniquely compiled academic source-book, designed to answer the question "can the Bible's history be trusted?", and as such, I can thoroughly recommend it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reliable, 20 Jan 2014
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This is a reliable book and worth a read. Kitchen has done a great job and arranged the book by the books in the Bible.
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5 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bible as history, 26 Aug 2009
Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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On the Reliability of the Old Testament by K.A. Kitchen, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, 2003, 688 ff.

The Bible as history
By Howard A. Jones

The significance of archaeological material dating from two to four thousand years ago is a matter of interpretation. Those who believe in the veracity of the Bible will interpret it as supporting their beliefs while others will come to the opposite conclusion: this book belongs to the former camp and is a religious fundamentalist's dream come true.

The author is an eminent historian, an Emeritus Professor at the University of Liverpool, England. In a book packed with immense detail, the author has no time for those who lack `the gumption to inquire into the circumstances of the period'. Well, there is extensive inquiry here. The book is clearly a work of great scholarship, but just as `the ancients did not invent spurious history, but normally were content to interpret real history', so the reader must interpret what is presented here as historical fact.

There are a very great many scholars from Judaism and Christianity who find much of the Tenakh or Old Testament to be historically incorrect. People of the time recorded events for propaganda, not as historical chronicles. The prevalent view today seems to be to regard the Bible as historical fiction - myths woven around real people, places and events to tell a story that provided a sense of morality and societal cohesion for the people at a particular time and place in human history.

For a more balanced view of biblical events, and a more accessible presentation, readers will find the book by Oxford historian Robin Lane Fox much more approachable.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

What the Bible Really Teaches: A Challenge to Fundamentalists
The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible by Robin Lane Fox
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On the Reliability of the Old Testament
On the Reliability of the Old Testament by K. A. Kitchen (Hardcover - 3 Feb 2004)
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