Review of the Historical Books by Richard D. Nelson

Richard D. Nelson provides a good introduction to the critical issues surrounding the corpus of literature known as the Historical Books or the Deuteronomic History, also known as Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. Nelson, acknowledges that while the Bible, and specifically the Historical Books is theological literature, there is historical detail that is portrayed. This Biblical historiography seeks to tell a story of Israel’s emergence in the Promised Land, conquest, living in the land, faithfulness/unfaithfulness, the monarchy, exile and then restoration. While, Nelson concedes these books tell a history they are not accurate history, or even accurate in its chronology. For students of Scripture, Nelson’s work is helpful in becoming grounded in the critical analysis that scholars use to interpret these books.

Nelson points out there are several different ways to approach the canon of Scripture. One of these ways to read the Bible is a simplistic way that does not ask tough questions of the text and ignores the inconsistencies that are found throughout the Historical Books. This type of reading, the author notes will not provide an accurate portrayal of the deeper issues surrounding these texts or see how these works are composite materials, put together over time, and addresses the historical contexts in which they were edited. Nelson proposes using critical methodologies to engage the text in a more profound and intriguing way. One such issue that I think warrants attention, is the more traditional understanding of the Israel’s arrival in the Promised Land as conquest as described in the book of Joshua. Archaeological evidence presents a different a picture, one that is radically different from the traditional understanding. This body of archaeological evidence indicates that Israel’s arrival in the land of Canaan was less dramatic, less conquest than a migratory relocation from the central highlands to the low lands and more urban areas.

Nelson provides adequate detail to each book mentioned above (Joshua through Ezra-Nehemiah), addressing such detail as historical context, key themes, issues in interpretation, the recipients of these books. The Deuteronomic Historian was careful to weave together common themes throughout this work, one of the key areas of relatedness is the concern with obedience of the law. Covenant faithfulness was thought to lead to God’s blessing, and the adverse is also true and the DH was not bashful about sharing the highs and lows of Israel’s life in the land and subsequent removal from the land. One of the ongoing questions through the DH’s work then is how will the audience, living on the far side of exile live obediently in a foreign land and in light of Israel’s tainted past.

About Jason Retherford

The random musings of a youth minister.
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