Introduction to the Historical Book: Strategies for Reading (Review)

Published: RTR 74, no. 2, 2015

Introduction to the Historical Book: Strategies for Reading

Steven L. McKenzie, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010, vii+169. ISBN 9780802828774

This is a basic-level academic book on Joshua to Ezra-Nehemiah, minus Ruth. The first three chapters deal with preliminary information. McKenzie explains that the genre of the texts is ancient history, and so is ideological, with moralising myth, invented speeches, etc. Joshua is aetiology rather than history. ‘Ai’ means ruin, and the story tells how it became so (p. 52). Still, there is a measured approach when presenting issues of historicity, and he quite rightly notes that archaeology cannot prove anyway that God’s hand was at work (p. 49).

After genre, McKenzie gives a concise history of critical scholarship of the Deuteronomist History, indicating that he subscribes to Noth’s theory (one, exilic author writing Deuteronomy to Kings). An overview is then given of critical approaches to Scripture, diachronic and synchronic.

Thereafter, the individual books are worked through—structure, literary features, textual history, and helpful ‘reading strategy’ or ‘tips for reading’ sections that ask significant questions that fuller introductions would answer. Given that McKenzie stresses that these books are ideologically intentional, more could have been done to explore that intentionality, and even to incorporate the driving purpose into the outlines or structures given to each book. For example, the structure of 1 Samuel is put as ‘Samuel’ for chs 1–7, ‘Saul’ for chs 8–15, and ‘David’ for chs 16–31. Surely this reads only the ‘history’ of the book (and even then, overly simplifies the text. The subheadings also only give event after event). This explains little of the book’s central theology.