1 & 2 Kings
A review of Iain Provan's, "1 & 2 Kings," by Dr. Richard Hess.
Provan, Iain W. 1 & 2 Kings. Old Testament Guides. Sheffield: JSOT, 1997. Paperback, 125 pp. £6.95/$9.95. ISBN 1850758026.
Provan has provided an insightful and valuable summary to scholarly study of the Hebrew books of Kings. A great deal is packed within the brief text of 125 pages. For one thing, the work is useful as a summary of Provan’s longer literary commentary on the book, with many examples of his discoveries from there. He is particularly interested in the techniques of patterning found in the books of Kings, in which the character of Solomon is represented in Asa who, however, is no longer blessed with a preservation of the empire as his famous predecessor. Jeroboam is patterned after Moses, Manasseh and Jehoiakim after Ahab, and Jesus in the New Testament after Solomon and Elisha.
Provan also takes on a number of issues. The Deuteronomist is not a proven hypothesis, as far as he is concerned. The book of Exodus should be treated as just as important a source for material in Kings as that of Deuteronomy. There is no evidence in Kings that orthodox Israelite religion was originally polytheistic. The story of Hezekiah is not necessarily composed of several sources but could just as easily be a reliable discussion of the sequence of events as they occurred, with Hezekiah paying off Sennacherib who then turned back and again laid seige to Jerusalem (a position also advocated by Motyer). Provan also enters back into the fray regarding questions of biblical historicity and canon. For him, the burden of proof lies with those who suggest that their version of history is not biased and those who suggest that there was ever a time when the books of Kings lacked a canonical consciousness.
There is much of value here but a few questions remain. Surely some attention should have been devoted to a discussion of the text critical issues surrouding these books in the Masoretic Text and in the Septuagint. The differences, as well as the recent importance and antiquity argued for the latter, mean that this is an issue that the serious interpreter of the books of Kings as ancient Israelite literature cannot overlook.
Important but overlooked is a survey of the contents of the books of Kings. A novice who wished to find out what the story is about would not be assisted by Provan’s work. Indeed, the absence of a content summary could prove confusing for someone not acquainted with the biblical text.
While the literary approach provides many valuable insights, and Provan is brilliant in much of his literary and theological analysis, there is no need to belittle other interpreters who have used a different methodology. His criticism of Wiseman’s historical and archaeological approach (p. 34), for example, is unwarranted. Surely both approaches are useful and necessary and it is a matter of regret that virtually nothing of the historical and archaeological context is discussed in this “guide”. The reader learns nothing about the Tel Dan stele, the Kuntillet Ajrud inscription (mentioned only in passing), the Arad sanctuary and ostraca, and the relevant excavations from Dan, Jerusalem, Lachish, and other Israelite sites. This is unfortunate because some of the historiographical concerns that Provan addresses might be answered even more effectively with archaeological evidence than with reasoned arguments alone.
Nevertheless, this is an important contribution. Both the beginner and the more advanced student of Kings will learn a great deal by reading this short, concise contribution. Provan is to be commended for his effort.
Richard S. Hess
Professor of Old Testament