Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times

Donald B. Redford

Princeton University Press 1992
A book review by Danny Yee © 1994
Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times is a general history of the relationship between Egypt and Canaan/Palestine/Israel from prehistory down to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Of necessity it deals thoroughly with the history of both regions in the process. It is a solid work of scholarship which goes into considerable detail in discussing critical texts and evidence and is backed up with extensive references, but Redford has managed to produce a readable account that should be accessible to anyone with a basic knowledge of early Near Eastern history.

The first part deals with the history and prehistory of Egypt and the Levant down to the Hyksos, drawing on both archaeological and textual evidence. The second part deals with the Egyptian New Kingdom and its Asian Empire. Only then do the characters and events of traditional, Biblical history make an appearance. Redford begins by considering some of the differing theories about the origins of the Hebrews, and then deals with the relationship between Egypt and the Israelite monarchy, both political and cultural. It is after all of this, at the end of the book, that four of the origin stories from the Bible — the Creation, the Table of Nations, the Sojourn and Exodus narrative, and the story of Joseph — are discussed, within the historical context in which they were written.

As well as being scholarly, Redford's work meets my criteria for impartiality and honesty: he provides evidence against his own position and references to dissenting scholars; he uses the same standards for evaluating his own theories and alternatives; he accepts that some of his suggestions are only plausible; and he allows for uncertainty where evidence is missing. In a couple of places he does lapse into polemic, obviously extremely frustrated by the often ahistorical approaches to early Israelite history resulting from religious preconceptions and the resulting pall of confusion cast over the subject. This doesn't seem so bad to me — there is no point wielding sophisticated historical analysis to try and refute positions obviously held on other than historical grounds and, as when dealing with creationists, the really wonky ideas don't deserve much more than ridicule.

Anyone interested in the early history of Egypt and the Near East should enjoy Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Christians or Jews raised on "orthodox" accounts of Israelite history may find some of it disturbing, but should persist unless they are literalists — Redford is not out to discredit the Bible, he is just determined to treat it as one historical source amongst others.

November 1994

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%T Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times
%A Redford, Donald B.
%I Princeton University Press
%D 1992
%O paperback, references, index
%G ISBN 0691000867
%P xxiii,488pp