A Survey of the Old Testament

I am not going to do a survey myself, but rather comment on a recent survey published in a third edition by John Walton and Andrew Hill, both professors of Old Testament at Wheaton College. Here is some information on it.

A Survey of the Old Testament, Expanded and Redesigned
By Andrew E. Hill & John H. Walton / Zondervan

Hill and Walton’s acclaimed guide now features an expanded text and full-color maps, photographs, timelines, and charts. Their survey addresses the Old Testament as a whole and by major sections and individual books, exploring interpretation, geography, archaeology, and history; theological and literary elements; and the formation of the OT canon and its relationship to the New Testament. 777 pages, hardcover from Zondervan.

This is a generally good introduction to the Old Testament, suitable for college or seminary classrooms, and pastors and laymen alike can benefit from this volume.

Strengths: the images are top-rate and very helpful in full color. Important maps and charts are everywhere, making the text come alive. Indeed, visually speaking, there is no doubt that this is the most helpful introduction on the market. And since the authors come from a generally evangelical perspective, this makes the publication all the more welcome for the Christian church. Introductory chapters cover how to read the Old Testament, and the geography of the Old Testament (including, again, many helpful photos and maps in full color). There is a chapter for each book (including the Minor Prophets, who do not get short shrift in this Survey). Indeed, 120 pages (out of 799 total pages) for the Minor Prophets is most welcome, given that they are usually downplayed in many other introductions. There are many insights into each book’s structure and theology throughout the book. On Exodus, for instance, they have this to say: “Exodus as the book of Yahweh’s redemption of his covenant people complements Genesis as the book of the inauguration of the covenant and anticipates Leviticus as the book of holiness for the covenant people” (p. 111). They further note the parallel of the idolatry of Egypt punished by the plagues, and the idolatry of Israel punished in the golden calf episode, noting the differences and similarities (p. 113). I agree with their general approach to Ecclesiastes, viewing it as an orthodox almost presuppositional approach to what life looks like without God (see p. 461).

Weaknesses: there are a few weaknesses. For instance, I could wish they would have commented more on various entries in the bibliography. I always enjoy annotated bibliographies, but they usually commented on only one or two entries in each section. Their bibliographies for each book usually have good books, but they are uneven, and sometimes shockingly out of date, or have serious gaps. For instance, on Chronicles, there is no mention of Knoppers (published in 2003), or Dirksen (2005), or Klein (2006). Surely, these commentaries deserve more mention than the out-of-date Myers in the Anchor Bible. Some series are completely ignored, such as the Historical Commentary on the Old Testament, where especially Houtman on Exodus and Renkema on Lamentations are among the very best commentaries on those books. These books are all available from Dove Booksellers, which sells the complete series. No mention of the Reformed Expository Commentary series (Iain Duguid is pure gold on whatever he touches), the Focus on the Bible series, with the outstanding contributions by Dale Ralph Davies, or the Evangelical Press series, with John Mackay commenting on so many of the prophets. Meredith Kline’s excellent contributions both to Genesis study (Kingdom Prologue) and Zechariah (Glory in Our Midst) are overlooked as well. Theologically, I don’t always agree with Walton and Hill. For instance, on Pharaoh’s hardness of heart, there is zero mention of God’s prior hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. They only speak of God has having foreseen Pharaoh’s hardening of his own heart, and then judicially reacting to that by additional hardening. There is no mention of Romans 9, for instance, in the discussion. They are also a bit tentative on the specificity of the plagues as being against specific Egyptian gods. They mention that some of them are directed against specific gods, but they prefer a collective approach. My opinion (along with John Currid, whose outstanding work on the entire Pentateuch is completely ignored) is that we can be more confident than that. Also, there is no mention of the first use of the law. They prefer to mix the categories of law and gospel. Furthermore, they do not acknowledge the intricacy of the interpretation of the Ten Commandments as, for instance, the Westminster Larger Catechism 99 could have shown, which would mitigate considerably the supposedly “harsh tone” (p. 118).

In short, the introduction is an excellent achievement, especially visually. There are many insights in the book, and the authors are to be commended for what is certainly a successful and helpful Survey. Despite its shortcomings, I would still recommend it as a good introduction to the Old Testament.