Interpreting the Historical Books, An Exegetical Handbook by Robert B. Chisholm Jr
This volume is one of six in the “Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis” series edited by David M. Howard Jr. The only others in the series presently available are on the Pentateuch and Psalms. The others: Wisdom Literature, Prophets and Apocalyptic Literature await publication. The books are primarily intended to serve as textbooks for graduate level exegetical courses that assume a basic knowledge of the Hebrew language. However, any well-versed serious student of Scripture would benefit from these works. The book under review, written by the chair of the Old Testament department at Dallas Theological Seminary, is helpful on a number of levels. It serves as an excellent primer and introduction to the Old Testament books beginning with Joshua and concluding with Esther.
Chisholm opens with a long chapter explaining what narrative literature is including basic elements of a story, structural features, dialogue, the role of the narrator and plot, and concludes this chapter with some interpretive principles. Throughout the author illustrates his points through use of biblical stories found mostly in the historical books.
This is followed by a quick examination of all twelve of the historical books found in Scripture, focusing mainly on the primary themes and purposes of the books. Special attention is also given to the establishment of Israel’s monarchy and the life of David (pp. 104-112).
Chapter three lays the ground work for interpretation of the narrative texts and includes numerous recommendations of resources for understanding the text. Chapter four begins the interpreting process by dealing with the question, “What did the text mean to its implied readers in its literary historical-cultural context?” The author handles this question by providing a case study on the story of David and Goliath.
Chapter five moves into the proclamation of the narrative texts by addressing the question, “What does the text mean to contemporary readers who are part of the community of faith?” This is accomplished through a three-fold process: moving back into the world of the text and attempting to answer the question, “What did this text mean in its ancient Israelite context?” Secondly, discovering what theological principles emerge from a thematic analysis of the text. Then finally moving back into our modern world “we take the theologically nuanced thematic emphases of the text and develop homiletical trajectories from these theological vantage points” (p. 189).
The final chapter handles the application of the text primarily by offering two examples: Elisha and the she-bears (pp. 199-211) and Ruth (pp. 211-225). The volume concludes with a glossary of specialized terms used throughout the book.
As a textbook on the Old Testament historical books or as a teaching guide for interpreting narrative biblical literature or as a resource for introduction to these books of Scripture, I would recommend Interpreting the Historical Books as a valuable guide for the serious pastor or Bible teacher.