Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey. By richard S. hess. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007. Pp. 423, illus. $34.99.
This book is a careful review of the archaeological and biblical evidence regarding ancient Israelite religions. The plural in the title stems from the recognition that recent findings reflect a more diverse situation than the early monotheism assumed by scholars of a few decades ago. On the other hand, the author often favors a more traditionally conservative interpretation, which stresses the historical reliability of the biblical text. Moreover, he seems to have in mind an audience that shares this view, although he is usually quite willing to explore many of the questions raised by the evidence.
The book is mainly organized around a biblical timeline that follows the sequence of the Torah through the Former Prophets. This approach assumes that each part retains primary evidence from the biblical period to which it relates. The work is divided into twelve chapters, the first three of which deal with introductory matters, such as definitions of "Israelite" and "religion," various approaches to the study of religion, and a review of past scholarship. Chapters 4 and 5 examine pre-Israelite religion in West Asia: Syria and Egypt in chapter 4 and Palestine and Jordan in chapter 5. Chapters 6 to 11 then survey Israelite religions throughout the major eras of the Hebrew Bible, starting with two long chapters on the traditions of the Pentateuch and ending with a short chapter on religions in the exilic and postexilic periods. The core of the book is found in chapters 8-10, in which biblical evidence is set beside material culture and epigraphic evidence for early Israel, the United Monarchy, and the Divided Monarchy. Chapter 12 is devoted to a brief summary of the author's conclusions. The book is well illustrated and indexed, with an extensive bibliography of about fifty-five pages.
Of special note in Hess's early chapters is an excursus on the Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch in chapter 3, which illustrates his tendency to push back as far as possible in time the evidence for a Yahwistic cult. He concludes that, while the Hebrew of the Torah/Pentateuch leaves the impression that it was composed in the first half of the first millennium b.c.e., it "may preserve traditions of greater antiquity than commonly asserted" (p. 58). In chapter 6, on the narrative and legal strands of the Pentateuch...