On the Reliability of the Old Testament, by K.A. Kitchen

July 28, 2010 at 16:13 (Ancient, Book Reviews, Bronze Age, Highly Rated Books, Historical, Theology) (, , , , , , )


Kenneth Kitchen is an excellent scholar, and has a startling ability to lay out points, facts, ideas and theories in a way that is at once honest and yet utterly comprehensive and compelling. Every paragraph, every section builds throughout the book to create a strikingly plain and forceful image of Kitchen’s worldview, and the corroboration of that worldview in archaeology. As an egyptologist and philologist, there is a heavy slant towards that ancient nation, and towards written and grammatical evidence in favour of the Old Testament’s legitimacy. As an egyptologist and philologist, there is also an utterly unyielding harshness towards those that would abuse those sciences for their own gain.

Much has been said regarding his aggressive stance and unscholarly language towards those who happen to disagree with him. This is not a theme that will occur readily to those not under attack, and the vast majority of the book treats other writers and historians fairly and politely. His final address to specific schools or doctrinaires is certainly a no-holds-barred tirade, and he is crushing in his criticism, like a pamphleteer of old. He is also responding to scientists who are his inferiors in the profession, and who have blithely ignored his – and others’ – archaeological evidence and publications in favour of irresponsible a priori theorising.

Kitchen is scientifically focused in his attention to the Old Testament itself. He spends a remarkably short amount of time on the major prophets and none at all on the minor prophets or post-exilic books, precisely because these are more solidly dated, and under less attack than earlier books. A comprehensive commentary this is not. Unsurprisingly, Kitchen spends the most time where he is most comfortable: Egypt and those things that rub up against it. Consequently, wherever there is contact with Egypt, there we shall find him. The Exile, Judges, United Monarchy and Kings are where he shines, and where his most convincing arguments are displayed.

Throughout the work, Kitchen remains (perhaps wisely) aloof from matters of faith. He offers a few half-hearted explanations for supernatural subject matters or attributions to deity, and throws up his hands at books such as Daniel, preferring not to address that which he cannot dig out of the ground or deconstruct on a stele. His most valuable contributions on theis subject are his efforts to prove that there is nothing absurd about a nation believing in its God, and that to discount their histories because of supernatural accounts is the height of stupid and irresponsible scholarship. So too with the creation. He acknowledges that there was, as Genesis says, “a beginning” – but does not attempt to go further than nail a few definitions in place linguistically and take a hearty hammer to the so-called Documentary Hypothesis. An incomplete work, then, for a comprehensive survey of the entire Old Testament, but a book that will remain the first stop for any serious scholar of the Bible.


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