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Reformed Literature
A Presbyterian Internet Journal

On the reliability of the Old Testament

K.A. Kitchen

Eerdmans, 2003, Grand

Rapids, Michigan.

The name of the author needs no introduction to anyone familiar with the field of Biblical Archaeology. Kenneth A. Kitchen is Personal and Brunner Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and is an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Oriental Studies at the University of Liverpool. Over the past 40 years he has published several interesting books regarding Biblical history and the ancient Near East, each of which solidly defend the Biblical narratives as sound history, in opposition to the theories of the 19th and 20th century higher critics.

In another of his books, The Bible in its world: The Bible and Archaeology Today (IVP, 1977) he writes, ‘Biblical studies have long been hindered by the persistence of long outdated philosophical and literary theories and by the wholly inadequate use of first hand sources in appreciating the earlier periods of the Old Testament story in particular’. It is by the relentless use of the

archaeological discoveries of the last 150 years that he proceeds in this book to demolish the theories of those who challenge the historical accuracy of the Old Testament. He takes the work of Julius Wellhausen in his Prolegomena to

the History of Ancient Israel and dismisses its grand theories, as flights of fancy created in a cultural vacuum that bear no reference to the facts of ancient world. Instead he shows that the Old Testament, far from being ‘pious fiction’ is supported by firm foundation in historical fact.

The book is dedicated to Professor I. H. Marshall (Aberdeen) as it is the result of a conversation between the two of them. They had been chatting about the valuable role of Professor F.F. Bruce’s Are the New Testament Documents Reliable and Marshall asked Kitchen whether he would do a similar service in assessing the Old Testament. At this stage Kitchen protested that New Testament scholars need only study a single century, two basic cultures and work in four main languages (Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic). While, the Old Testament scholar to do equal justice must have a grasp of two thousand

years (arguably three for background), the ability to draw upon and quantity and variety of at least ten ancient Near Eastern languages and a whole

patchwork of cultures. At this stage the idea seemed to be shelved, yet, it is to Kitchen’s credit that he has steadily laboured at this book. We can now all read the fruits of his studies.

Professor Kitchen takes the reader down an interesting tour of the history of the cradle of civilisation. He moves seamlessly from the exile, to the Kings, to Exodus and the covenants and on to the Patriarchs. He explains with a flowing style the history and interrelations of the periods. This is a book by an academic and is designed to defend the Biblical account. He makes copious references, the endnotes alone extend to 100 pages in a 650 page book. It is written by a well respected academic and this differentiates this kind of writing from the newer radical theories of men, like David Rohl. The book takes in much of the material that was covered in his earlier Ancient Orient and Old Testament, Tyndale Press, 1966 and his more popular paperback The Bible and its world. There is one noticeable difference from some of his earlier materials, in that the language he uses is sometimes

a little more colloquial and this change in style is unfortunate. Equally, like

F.F. Bruce in his book, Israel and the Nations, he does not start with creation,

although he does comment on other creation narratives in the Ancient East,

as he views this as beyond his area of expertise. The book has just been

published in the USA and is available at $34.30.

Robert Dick Wilson of Princeton, U.S.A., in his article Historical Accuracy of

the Old Testament, reprinted in Truth Unchanged Unchanging, The Bible

League, 1984 makes the following observation, ‘What we need in the Church

today are more men that are able to follow the critics up to their lair, and

slaughter them in their den. It makes me sad to hear these old ministers of the

Gospel and Christians lament all the time about the attacks being made here

and there upon the Bible, and they never do one thing to train the men to fight

their battles for them, and you know perfectly well that you cannot defend the

Old Testament Scriptures unless you have made the preparation’. The efforts

of Professor Kitchen should be worthy of our attention as they provide a

valuable set of corroboratory evidence in favour of the historicity of the Old

Testament and an edifying tour of the wider history of the period.