The Land before the Kingdom of Israel: A History of the Southern Levant and the People Who Populated It
Benz, Brendon C.
Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016 pp. xiv + 495. $69.50
History, Archaeology, and Culture of the Levant, 7
Description: Based on several core traditions that dominate the biblical narrative, Israel is widely regarded as having been set apart from among the nations, representing a unique sociopolitical entity in the ancient world. United by a common tribal identity and a commitment to worshiping the God who delivered them from Egypt exclusively, the Israelites established an egalitarian community in the southern Levant that stood in contrast to the hierarchical polities of their polytheistic neighbors in the land of Canaan.
In spite of these traditions, modern scholarship for the most part has recognized the points of continuity between so-called Canaanite religion and Israelite religion and concluded that the two religious systems largely developed from the same cultural milieu. However, scholars continue to contend that the Canaanites’ and Israelites’ social and political structures were distinct. Although modern models vary widely, most scholars agree that the Israelites were geographical, economic, and/or political outsiders.
The Land before the Kingdom of Israel responds to this modern perspective by contributing an original reconstruction of the sociopolitical landscape of the Late Bronze Age Levant that exposes points of continuity between the polities and populations that inhabited the land and those that were later identified with Israel. Interpreting the Amarna letters, Egyptian documents, and archaeological evidence through a dual processual model of power (both constraining and enabling, à la A. Giddens and R. Blanton) and innovative research on the relationship between “tribe” and “state” in the ancient world, Brendon Benz isolates and accounts for complex social and political realities that have gone unnoticed. In so doing, he sets the stage for viewing premonarchic Israel and the Bible’s depiction of it in a new way. In addition to shedding light on historical memories embedded in the books of Judges and Samuel that do not conform to conventional wisdom regarding Israel’s early history, Benz demonstrates that a contingent of the early Israelites was heir to the social and political structures of their Late Bronze Age Levantine predecessors.
Subjects: Bible, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Literature, Methods, Historical Approaches, History, History of Israel, Archaeology
Review by Emanuel Pfoh
Citation: Emanuel Pfoh, review of Brendon C. Benz, The Land before the Kingdom of Israel: A History of the Southern Levant and the People Who Populated It, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2018).
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