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on 16 March 2007
V. P. Hamilton's `Handbook on the Historical Books' [of the Old Testament] is a very well presented hardback volume with helpfully clear typeface and simple layout: it would make an especially appropriate gift or presentation to someone really interested in this area of the OT.

`Handbook...' is divided into chapters corresponding with each of the twelve `historical books' (Joshua to Esther). (There are only ten chapters here because 1 and 2 Chronicles are merged, as are Ezra and Nehemiah.) Each chapter begins with a one to four page introduction/overview, followed by a detailed investigation of the text. This investigation usually further divides the text into chapter-ish size chunks where such things as structure, textural specifics and theological implications are looked into. Simple headings - e.g.: `1. Preparation for Entry into Canaan-land (1:1-5:15)' - are further divided by a single letter prefix in bold type: `A. 1:1-18'. Extensive bibliographies follow each chapter. There are also several additional sections - e.g.: `The Conquest as Historical Event' (p58) - but these are extremely difficult to relocate because the `Contents' page consists of nothing more than `Joshua 15', `Judges 97', etc.!

Hamilton calls this volume a `handbook', rather than a commentary or a history (of Israel): `There is no shortage of books dealing with this period of biblical Israel... [like] John Bright's immensely popular `History of Israel'... What I have tried to produce is... [a] companion volume to... [any] history of Israel' [from Hamilton's Preface].

So we have something of a curio... Though Hamilton says there are plenty of available titles for this area of biblical research, if you discount the histories of Israel, there are remarkably few books which deal in any depth with the historical books specifically and uniquely - unless you include dictionaries (which are a very different beast).

Though this work is very informative and Hamilton's writing style is comfortable enough, I found the constant mentioning of `this word appearing xx number of times' and `that word x number of times' felt like nit-picking - which became very repetitive and even annoying!

This is, then, a useful and informative volume which has been excellently researched and neatly presented. It is also an area of biblical investigation not well supported traditionally so all the more welcome because of it. It's a tad quirky (`... the word `mishteh', "banquet, feast(ing)", occurs fifty-five times in the OT...') at times, which makes some conclusions seem quite irrelevant; but I still love my copy! (Perhaps 3½ stars would be fairer.)
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