Book Review – Warfare in the Old Testament by Boyd Seevers

For most people reading history books is something you have to do, not something you want to do. I am not one of those people. I love history – I especially love historical theology; nevertheless I have always had a hard time with Ancient Near Eastern History. I love ANE literature, mythology, etc. but I have a lot of trouble with ANE history. If I am ever asked to speak about ANE backgrounds I always go straight to stories and myths. This book, Warfare in the Old Testament, contains no such thing. It is pure history yet its history presented in a unique way.

In this book Boyd Seevers, professor of Old Testament at University of Northwestern St. Paul, seeks to describe the military practices of “David, Joshua, other Israelites as well as those of the Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, and others known from the Old Testament.” He uses textual and physical evidence from ANE cultures to describe their military practices.

The book is broken up in a pretty straightforward manner – treating various cultures:

  •   Chapters 1-2: Israel
  •   Chapters 3-4: Egypt
  •   Chapter 5: Philista
  •   Chapter 6-7: Assyria
  •   Chapter 8: Babylon
  •   Chapter 9: Persia

The treatment of each of these nations begins with a piece of historical fiction describing what it might look like for a soldier to participate in a historical battle. These sections are probably the most memorable sections (if students read this book this will likely be their favorite parts). The fact that he tells history in narrative form isn’t necessarily unique (you can think of various other NT scholars who have tried to teach NT Backgrounds through historical fiction), but it sure is effective.  Having a vivid picture of what each culture’s military practices looks like will help students learn more than if they were just told what their military practices were.

I was always told when it comes to writing – Show don’t tell! Seevers doesn’t simply tell us about ANE battle practices, he shows us their battle practices.

After the historical fiction, Seevers describes the historical background for the nation, then its military organization, weaponry, and tactics. The book is filled with illustrations (often taken from ancient documents, pottery, engravings, etc. ). Again this helps the reader to “see” what warfare was like in the ANE instead of simply hearing what its like.

So you might be wondering, do I recommend this book and to whom do I recommend it?

The answer to that first question is, absolutely yes! Interesting books on basic ANE backgrounds and culture are hard to find. Now if you look for books on ANE warfare you will be even more hardpressed to find interesting options. Most of those books will probably be academic monographs or published dissertations that focus on some obscure battle, nation, or period. Yet this book’s scope is wide – it provides basic information for many of the major players in the ANE during biblical times. But just because it is basic that doesn’t mean that its shallow. For instance, Seevers devotes an entire section to Israelite helmets and another section to battle tactics against cities and that is just his treatment of Israel. Assyria also receives a good amount of attention. His treatment of Assyrian short-range weapons is extensive and filled with plenty of diagrams showing what these weapons might have looked like. All this to say – as a history book I recommend it. So who is it for? It certainly is not for anybody well versed in Warfare in the Old Testament – there isn’t much original research in this book; but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I would recommend this book to two people: 1) Bible College or Undergraduate Bible teachers and 2) Bible College or Undergraduate Bible students. This would make a fantastic text book, it would also be great for students doing research on ANE culture.  So if you are looking for a textbook for an Ancient Near Eastern Culture or Old Testament Backgrounds class this is the book for you!

(Note: I received this book courtesy of Kregel and was under no obligation to give it a positive review.)


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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