A debut book offers a comprehensive historical analysis of the events of the Old Testament.
In this long work, Sulman’s goal is to subject the Old Testament to a claim-by-claim, virtually line-by-line verification test, to determine which if any of the assertions of the Hebrew Bible are historically accurate. He sifts through these contentions in careful, direct, and fast-paced chapters that are grounded in considerable scholarship and yet immediately accessible to the nonspecialist, all of it guided by an appealingly straightforward spirit of inquiry. “To find out when the Exodus took place looks so simple,” Sulman writes in a typical passage, “just take an incident in Egypt’s history that is also described in the Bible, and then use this as an anchor point.” This may seem like an impossible task for the Old Testament’s far more fanciful stories, but Sulman tackles them all, from Noah’s Flood to David and Goliath to the Tower of Babel to the career of Moses to the Mystery of the Lost Ark (“Nobody has found it yet, and nobody ever will,” the author writes, concluding that King Josiah destroyed the venerated object). All of this is rendered in clear, calm prose that only occasionally descends to snark. (“They killed about three thousand people that day,” readers are told about Moses ordering his people to slaughter their neighbors. “Apparently, that was not enough punishment, because the LORD now struck the people with a plague.”) The prose sometimes shows signs of haste uncorrected by a patient editor (“the worship of the golden calf worship is portrayed as an act by which the people broke the covenant,” for example), but the scrupulous revisionist passion at the heart of the extremely impressive volume more than compensates for such easily ignored (and readily fixed) little gaffes. That ardor extends to reminding readers that the original Hebrew religion was exuberantly polytheistic for most of its history, and that female and male prostitution occurred in the Temple of Jerusalem. Throughout the engrossing book, Sulman is respectful but not reverential, blunt yet not insulting, and, in the end, tremendously informative.
A lively, invaluable, and evaluative Bible reference work, for both believers and nonbelievers.