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The Oxford History of the Biblical World Hardcover – 4 Mar 1999
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This is a significant contribution to the field, and will be very helpful to students of biblical studies, and for others who seek an up-to-date and comprehensive "history of the biblical world". (Joseph Sobb, Journal of Religious History Feb 2001)
About the Author
Michael David Coogan is Professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts.
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The first thing to say is that this is not a single 'book', but a series of overlapping treatises, or papers. As such, they differ in style and accessibility from section to section.
Many of the earlier and later chapters are clear and rely on little foreknowledge, but some of the middle chapters make continuous references to the old testament, and seem to expect either an encyclopedic knowledge of the work, or to have it open beside you. This may be fine for a dedicated scholar, but for an 'informed layman' it is a bit of an ask. These sections start to read like a commentary, rather than a self-standing work.
The balance between narrative and technical details also varies. Although an insight into the archaeological details can be very interesting, some authors provide more details than can easily be followed by a layman, and this can interrupt the flow of the narrative.
The sections overlap and repeat each other. This can be quite helpful, as it reinforces the reader's memory. Unfortunately, though, it is not consistent, and it sometimes easy to lose the thread when changing sections.
The book itself is surprisingly poorly printed, with the text slightly irregular - albeit legible enough. Some of the maps, however, are very hard to read as the text is extremely small, and the printing quality does not allow it to be read consistently.
Without taking the time to review each chapter independently, I'd have to summarise the book as a whole as:
- [Probably] a very good source for those with a good grounding in the field.
- Of general interest to those with only general knowledge, but interspersed with a few very dry and 'technical' sections.
On balance, I would say it is well worth reading - I certainly haven't come across any other book that covers this period (although I would be open to suggestions).
All of this is preamble to my review of this latest work. Volumes can be (and have been) written in discussion of the effect of biased research on scholarship. This is discussed in the preface. `Within the last decade, some scholars have adopted what has come to be called a minimalist approach to ancient Israel. In its most extreme form, this approach discounts the Bible as a credible witness because of the ideological bias of its historical narratives and because they were written centuries after the times they purport to describe.'
Michael Coogan, editor of this volume, disapproves of the dominance of extreme minimalism, and strives with his contributors to take account carefully and critically the Biblical accounts along with all other data.
This is a well-researched book. The contributors include Wayne Pitard, Carol Redmount, Lawrence Stager, Jo Ann Hackett, Carol Meyers, Edward Campbell, Jr., Mordechai Cogan, Mary Joan Winn Leith, Leonard Greenspoon, Amy-Jill Levine, Daniel Schowalter, and Barbara Geller. As Coogan says in his introduction,
Coogan's analysis begins with the pre-history of the Syro-Palestinian region (something often neglected in such studies); from there, it expands to include Egypt and the fertile crescent. The historic timeline includes the pre-history, Bronze Age, Egyptian influences, the eras of Judges and early monarchy, the divided kingdoms, the conquest and exile, the Persian period, the Hellenistic period, the time of the Roman occupation, and finally the emergence of Christianity and the differing trajectories of Christianity and Judaism in the Roman Empire.
By academic standards, this text is generous with photographs, drawings, and maps (but it is by no means the high-gloss, coffee-table sort of book).
This is an important recent contribution to the important task of providing context for the Bible and the development of the three great Middle Eastern religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. `The Bible is one of the foundational texts of our culture of of the three major monotheistic traditions... It is a complex document--a set of anthologies, in fact. Thus, to fully understand the Bible requires a knowledge of the contexts in which it was produced, the many cultures of the ancient Near East and the ancient Mediterranean--the biblical world.'
The scope is vast and wide-ranging, covering thousands of years and a wide geographical area, incorporating several different cultures and languages. Each chapter in this volume can be read as a stand-alone article, but each is best served in relation to the others. Each also contains a selected bibliography for further reading and research. In addition to covering more traditional topics of historical and archaeological interest, articles address social concerns, the role of women, urban/rural tensions, and incorporate many of the latest discoveries.
Worthy of the Oxford Press.
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