(Part 2) Review of IVP’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch
Sarah, Melchizedek, and the language of the Pentateuch. Last week I reviewed the articles on each of those topics in InterVarsity Press’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch in Logos Bible Software.
Here’s what the IVP page says about the dictionary in its book description:
The Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch is the first in a four-volume series covering the text of the Old Testament. Following in the tradition of the four award-winning IVP dictionaries focused on the New Testament and its background, this encyclopedic work is characterized by close attention to the text of the Old Testament and the ongoing conversation of contemporary scholarship. In exploring the major themes and issues of the Pentateuch, editors T. Desmond Alexander and David W.Baker, with an international and expert group of scholars, inform and challenge through authoritative overviews, detailed examinations and new insights from the world of the ancient Near East.
My first review contains an initial evaluation of the dictionary specifically in Logos Bible Software; you can read that here. In this post I summarize and briefly interact with three more articles: “Terah,” “Lot,” and “Ur.”
Terah was Abram’s father and Lot’s grandfather. He also fathered Nahor and Haran. M.W. Chavalas notes that Terah was “the family head,” since “all of the material in Genesis 11:27-25:11 is prefaced by the statement, ‘This is the family history of Terah’” (829). Chavalas considers Terah in three parts: the etymology of his name, his time in the city of Ur, and “Terah and Later Traditions.”
Chavalas considers several options for the meaning and linguistic source of “Terah,” but concludes, “An understanding of the etymology of the name Terah has proved to be difficult” (829). It does seem to have “associations with a place name in northern Mesopotamia” (830) and perhaps some associations with lunar worship (though perhaps not). Similarly, Ur, from which Terah comes, has been difficult to pinpoint. Chavalas places it in southern Mesopotamia. Chavalas finally considers the challenge that Acts 7:4 and Philo pose regarding chronology and location.
Chavalas manages to cover most of the essential territory on Terah in a short space. There is not much biblical material on Terah, but this article contains an overview of it all. There is little content in the “Terah and Later Traditions” section, and the article’s bibliography does not point to more resources to explore Abram’s father, for example, in rabbinical tradition. Detailed research on Terah would have to be supplemented with other resources.
Lot was Terah’s grandson and Abram’s nephew. J.I. Lawlor notes that Lot traveled with his grandfather Terah from Ur to Haran because his own father has died (556).
Lawlor primarily takes a literary and narrative approach to understanding Lot’s place in the Abram/Abraham material. He notes “two ‘paired sets’” of Lot material that “have been integrated, one set in each half of the Abraham story” (556). The author/compiler of Genesis does this, Lawlor notes, to “suggest and hold open the possibility of Lot as Abraham’s heir” (556), later dismissing the possibility as Isaac becomes heir (557).
Genesis 14:17-24 marks Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek, occasioned because Abram had gone to battle due to the Mesopotamian kings’ kidnapping of Lot. Abram rescued Lot in Gen. 14, then rescued him again, in a way, by interceding on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen. 18-19 (557-8).
Due to an incestuous drunken encounter with his daughters, Lot gave rise to two groups of people, the Moabites and Ammonites, which Lawlor briefly discusses.
Lawlor’s most helpful contribution is in his situating of Lot in the larger flow of Genesis 12-19, where Lot serves as a possible answer to the question, Who will be an heir to Abram and Sarai? His reading of the “two paired sets” of Lot material is illuminating.
Like Chavalas in the “Terah” article, Osborne locates Ur in southern Mesopotamia as one of its “oldest and most famous” cities (875). Today the two-millenia old city of Ur is “modern Tell al-Muqayyar, located on the Euphrates in southern Mesopotamia” (875). Osborne looks at the archaeology of Ur as well as its place in patriarchal times.
Based on an early 20th century exploration of the tell (hill/remains) where Ur once was, archaeologists think that Ur was “not…one of the most extensive cities of its time” (875), with a population of just under 25,000. Ur was a center of lunar worship in Mesopotamia, as was Haran, where Terah would go from Ur (875). Tomb excavations have shown a wealthy city, which “was most probably derived from its lucrative involvement in trade along the Gulf” (876). Osborne also explores the debate over the birthplace of Abraham, whether it was northern or southern Mesopotamia (he favors the latter). He notes that the Genesis text does not say why Terah and his family left Ur.
Archaeology is not my primary interest within biblical studies, but Osborne introduces the basic archaeological finds to the reader in a short space, and does a good job of it. The bibliography at the end of the article offers titles for further reading.
My impression of the dictionary continues to be positive. At the same time it is becoming clear to me that it is not comprehensive in the subjects it treats. So researchers, exegetes, writers, and teachers will want to consider using it alongside other resources. However, its ability to summarize much detail in a succinct way is a strong point of the dictionary.
I’ll do at least one other installment in my review of Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, and include some concluding thoughts there. See the first part of my review here.