Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dominion and Dynasty - Book Review

Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, IVP Academic, 276 pgs.

I praise the Lord that God has surrounded me with thinkers who have influenced me positively towards a better understanding of the Old Testament.  This is important for myself who is specializing in the field of New Testament studies.  Thank you, Todd and Stephen, for being that OT influence on me and encouraging me to read in this field and this book.

I just recently finished Dominion and Dynasty: A Theologyof the Hebrew Bible by Stephen Dempster.  This book was a biblical theology of the OT that focused on genealogy and geography or "scion and Zion" in the OT.  Or to say it another way, it focused on a place for God to dwell with his people – a dominion and dynasty. 

One of the many advantages of this book is that it treats the Tanakh as a Text rather than composed of 22 separate texts.  He interprets the OT (and really the Bible) as a whole book with interlocking themes and intertextual links.  Such a view is really where I am theologically and interpretively in Scripture.  With my next reading venture to approach narrative theology, this book is a great example of treating the Bible as a single book telling a single, overarching story.  There is great interpretive value in that.

I am also currently, however very slowly, reading through Pentateuch as Narrative by John Sailhamer.  This book is a brief commentary on the Torah (the "t" of TaNaKh) which reads the 5 books as one Text.  It brings continuity and cohesion to Genesis through Deuteronomy.  Dominion and Dynasty is similar to that, except it has a wider scope of the entire OT and not just the Pentateuch.  Yet it is smaller or more focused than Drama of Scripture which puts the entire story of the Bible on display as one Text.  And so you can determine if this book would be a good fit for you as you read the Bible as a Text or single story. 

The value of this book as that its presentation was concise and simple.  Yet the writer did an excellent job bringing out Hebrew punning and wordplays that clearly and intentionally drew the reader's attention to some of the most defining themes of the Tanakh.  I wish I had read this a month ago when I was doing the OT section of my Sunday School lesson of the Bible as one story.  It is that helpful for making sense out of the OT.  This is much needed today not only for the impact that the OT story has on the NT, but mainly because most modern Christians only see the OT as moral examples and pithy lessons on what or what not to do, along with great Psalms and Proverbs thrown in the mix.  (But many are not sure what to do with the prophets outside of a few obvious passages.)  This book will develop a Christian's theology of the OT like few other books can.

The downside I have with this book is that while I appreciate emphasizing the Hebrew canonical order, and even how that order teaches theological truths, I felt that Dempster could have spent more time developing his canonical methodology and deal with issues like (1) why the order is what it is and (2) give a more theological understanding of inspiration as it relates to canonical ordering.  What I mean is, the 2 Hebrew Bibles that I own display the Tanakh in a slightly different order than Dempster's.  (I know many Christians are not even aware that the Christian OT is not a proper ordering of the books).  Dempster moved Isaiah after Ezekiel rather than leading off the latter prophets (which makes better chronological sense) and Ruth to the beginning of the writings rather than after Proverbs (linking the woman in Prov. 31 with the example of Ruth).  These minor changes do make a difference in the story that Dempster is telling, though not a great deal of difference.  I would have liked him to explain his canonical ordering in more detail rather than just leaving it to a brief footnote.

Also, since this kind of thinking for many Christians is extremely novel, perhaps a bit more about how ordering books in a certain way has a theological value that adds, dare I say, divine revelation to the story of the Text.  That means that inspiration was not a definite point but a process for the OT.  I have a feeling Dempster intentionally avoided blazing that trail, although I would have liked to see him touch on it for those of us not engulfed in OT theological issues like canon formation and ordering. 

Aside from that, this book receives a hardy 2 thumbs up from me.  Student, scholar, pastor, or laymen alike should read this for its informative value on the theology of the OT.

1 comment:

W R Dick Lockhart said...

Enjoyed your review. Thanks