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Israelite Religions

An Archaeological and Biblical Survey

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"An even-handed work. . . . This is a good, up-to-date survey which is easy to use, well illustrated, clearly written, and thoroughly indexed. It will be of use for any courses on Old Testament religion."--Richard S. Briggs, Theological Book Review

The last several decades have witnessed important discoveries of archaeological and documentary materials from the ancient Near East that shed light on ancient Israel and its religious practices. These extrabiblical materials have had a significant impact on scholarly debates regarding the religion of Israel and the interpretation of the Bible. Until now, however, there have been few introductions that juxtapose these contemporary discoveries with the biblical narrative to help students understand ancient Israelite religions.

Richard Hess provides just that in this accessible account of the discovery of archaeological and textual materials and the debates that have arisen over their importance for biblical studies. After a general introduction to the study of religion, he surveys the field with regard to ancient Israelite and pre-Israelite western Semitic religious traditions. Hess then turns to consider the biblical literature and how other documentary evidence might enlarge our understanding of ancient Israelite religious practices and beliefs. One of the central scholarly debates concerns the question of when the Israelites developed their monotheistic impulse. After examining the evidence, Hess argues for the early establishment of the monotheistic tradition in ancient Israel.

Hess brings a wealth of knowledge to this study, and scholars, students, and clergy interested in the contemporary study of the ancient Near East and the Old Testament will welcome the expert guidance provided in this illustrated volume.


"Having dedicated the last fifty years, full-time, to the study of the Bible and archaeology, I found Richard Hess's Israelite Religions a veritable tour de force. Not only is it a remarkably inclusive review of major issues in our field, but it also presents a well-informed critique of these matters. This comprehensive study attests to the broad erudition of the author and his unusual ability to communicate recondite material in an intelligible manner. This book will serve as an extraordinary resource for a long time; the bibliography alone makes it invaluable. Hess's control of both ancient and modern languages, as well as anthropology and archaeology, enhances the value of his lucid presentation."--Philip J. King, professor emeritus of biblical studies, Boston College

"This new study by Richard Hess is a scrupulously detailed analysis of the most relevant research on the history of ancient Israel. The author has given ample attention to the main views and approaches to the subject. However, this is more than a review of the current state of the art. Professor Hess gives his own interpretation of the evidence, literary and archaeological. The result is a balanced, thoughtful presentation of the religion(s) of ancient Israel as he sees it (them). Every scholar and advanced student will want to use this erudite but clearly written essay on the religion of ancient Israel."--Anson F. Rainey, emeritus professor of ancient Near Eastern cultures and Semitic linguistics, Tel Aviv University; adjunct professor of historical geography, Bar Ilan University

"Writing from a tradition with high regard for what the Bible knows about ancient Israel, Richard Hess puts Scripture in dialogue with the full range of evidence for Israel's religious life. In a lucid, accessible text for students, Hess also pushes forward a crucial conversation among scholars about the Bible and the ancient world."--Daniel E. Fleming, professor of Hebraic and Judaic Studies, New York University

"Richard S. Hess, well known for his numerous studies in biblical and ancient Near Eastern topics, now brings his extensive knowledge to bear on 'Israelite religions.' The plural form of the title is decisive: everywhere the accent is on the pluriformity and complexity of Israelite religion(s) in various periods and locales. The subtitle is equally critical: Hess surveys an immense array of biblical and archaeological data both judiciously and economically. Throughout the book, Hess's attention to what may be unique or distinctive about Israelite religion(s) vis-à-vis its cultural congeners is instructive. Moreover, his care to define key terms, his correlation of textual and artifactual material, his awareness of the relationship of Israelite religion to biblical theology, as well as his trademark skill in onomastics--not to mention the useful and extensive bibliography--are among the aspects that make the present book not only welcome but also essential reading on the subject."--Brent A. Strawn, associate professor of Old Testament, Candler School of Theology and Graduate Division of Religion, Emory University

"Richard Hess's book on Israelite religions displays impressive knowledge of their archaeological and ancient Near Eastern background as well as of the modern scholarly literature (over one thousand items in the bibliography!). Even those who will question some of Hess's more conservative conclusions will learn much from this fascinating volume."--John Day, professor of Old Testament studies, Oxford University

"Echoing the works of William Foxwell Albright and Cyrus Gordon, Richard Hess's new book on Israelite religion offers a survey of Israelite religion fundamentally based on the framework and claims of the Bible and informed by archaeological evidence and extrabiblical texts. The book provides a clear, conservative treatment of this material from the Middle and Late Bronze Age down through the demise of Judah in 586. To the scholarly discussion of these sources, Hess adds his own expertise, particularly in Bronze Age texts. The field now has a general treatment of Israelite religion produced by a scholar with a strong faith in the Bible's veracity. Even if readers do not share Hess's strong trust in either the Bible's historical claims or his high dating for many biblical texts and traditions, this volume nonetheless presents a good listing of research."--Mark S. Smith, Skirball Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, New York University

The Author

  1. Richard S. Hess

    Richard S. Hess

    Richard S. Hess (PhD, Hebrew Union College) is distinguished professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado, and editor of the Denver Journal. He is the author or editor of more than forty books, including...

    Continue reading about Richard S. Hess


"One of the best studies on the religion(s) of ancient Israel that has appeared in recent years. . . . An extremely learned and erudite survey of the field, combining up-to-date (for the most part) archaeological evidence, the relevant biblical texts, and a very impressive philological control of ancient Near Eastern texts. Of particular emphasis (and clearly, his field of expertise) is the author's in-depth analyses of the use of names in biblical and other relevant ancient texts, and their utility for understanding aspects of religion during the various periods, and, inter alia, as a tool for dating the relevant texts and the cultic aspects revealed in them. . . . The cogent and well-argued points that [Hess] raises are worthy of close scrutiny and discussion. . . . The bibliography at the end of the book is of particular importance, since it covers a very impressive array of relevant literature, spanning many disciplines. All told this volume is a very useful introduction to the study of Israelite religion. The book, both in its scope and size, would serve very well as an introductory text book on the topic, for both college level and educated laypersons. Of particular importance is the manner and thoroughness in which ancient Near Eastern philology is woven into the study, something that is all too missing in many current studies of ancient Israel in general and ancient Israelite religion in particular."--Aren M. Maeir, Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies

"This is an extremely valuable and helpful book that will earn the respect of a broad array of biblical scholars. Writing from an evangelical point of view, Hess nevertheless is rigorous and dispassionate in cataloguing the archaeological data that pertain to our understanding of Israelite religions (note the plural). I find Hess's work valuable personally for two reasons. First, it is a very useable reference book for Old Testament students. . . . He presents the data with an economical prose style that exudes first-hand familiarity with the material. Hess is a first-rate scholar of the ANE and ancient Israelite religions, and this work will benefit many. Second, what I find of great interest is Hess's attention to Biblical Theological issues vis-à-vis the study of ancient Israel. . . . [There are] scintillating and provocative observations throughout the volume. . . . Hess is a first-rate historian who is addressing the matter of Israelite religion as an historian."--Peter Enns,

"The book includes several maps, numerous photos of sites and artifacts, original translations of textual materials, a number of helpful excurses (including a cogent analysis of the Documentary Hypothesis), a reference list and several indices. . . . Israelite Religions is a valuable contribution to the existing corpus of materials on ancient Israelite religion. It belongs on the shelf of every student and scholar working in OT, and would serve well as a textbook for use in courses on Israelite religion, or as supplementary reading for courses in OT, biblical archaeology, or history of Israel."--Ralph K. Hawkins, Criswell Theological Review

"Israelite Religions provides a thorough overview of Israelite religions from an evangelical perspective. The plural form 'religions' in the title is quite intentional, for Hess improves significantly upon earlier caricatures of Israelite religion as a dichotomy between radical monotheism and abject polytheism. Hess uses the latest extra-biblical evidence to paint a more nuanced picture of Israelite religions. . . . [Hess's] diachronic approach rebuts the source-critical and history-of-religions schools of OT interpretation on their own terms. The result is an integrative treatment of the biblical and extrabiblical evidence. . . . Hess's analysis is groundbreaking on several fronts. . . . Hess has succeeded admirably in his attempt to carve out a distinctive middle ground between literary-critical approaches on the one hand, and anthropological and sociological models of ANE religion on the other. . . . Such a diachronic approach that deemphasizes the OT itself is a necessary strategy in the current age of skepticism. Hess's book will thus find a welcome audience among those who are primarily focused on the archaeological evidence and extrabiblical texts rather than the final form of the OT text."--Jerry Hwang, Trinity Journal

"Hess brings his wide range of background knowledge to bear on a thorough and systematic survey of Israelite religion up to the end of the monarchy. . . . This is an even-handed work, recording the polemics of others while not engaging in any itself. Hess's particular strength in looking at the significance of the theophoric elements and etymologies in names is also much in evidence. This is a good, up-to-date survey which is easy to use, well illustrated, clearly written, and thoroughly indexed. It will be of use for any courses on Old Testament religion."--Richard S. Briggs, Theological Book Review

"Through a lucid, informed survey of material and textual evidence, Hess underscores the diversity and evolution of religions in Iron Age Israel (1200-586 BCE), and shows that Israel's adaptation and transformation of indigenous beliefs and practices yielded a distinctive and enduring monotheism. . . . Hess presents evidence era by era through the monarchy and includes excellent chapters on scholarly approaches and contributions, plus a brief chapter on exilic and postexilic trajectories. . . . Hess's treatment of divine elements in personal names is noteworthy. . . . Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above."--F. R. Ames, Choice

"An outline of the material placed at the beginning of each chapter and the summary found at the end help the reader grasp the interconnectedness of the extensive material covered. . . . [A] fine resource for serious study."--Dianne Bergant, CSA, Bible Today

"The study of Israelite religion(s) . . . has been burgeoning in recent scholarship. Yet with a few notable exceptions, evangelical contributions to this field have been limited. That void has been commendably filled by this new book from Richard Hess. . . . Hess creatively synthesizes a vast quantity of archaeological and textual material, both biblical and ancient Near Eastern, along with a full range of secondary literature (attested by the 44-page bibliography). He succeeds in a way that commands the respect of secular scholarship . . . while at the same time showing how that data is consonant with a wide variety of conservative conclusions. . . . He illuminates the archaeological data with numerous photographs, many of them his own. . . . The extensive bibliography is a rich treasure trove of studies across the field. . . . [Hess] provides a sure-footed guide for those who seek to journey through this intriguing and challenging field of study. What is more, since 'Israelite religion' intersects with almost every other field of OT study, virtually everyone interested in the OT will find something relevant in this book. In particular, I would commend it to readers . . . as a model of the very best of evangelical scholarship; Hess shows us how to engage with the academy thoughtfully and profoundly, without adopting either a purely defensive stance or sacrificing conservative conclusions on the altar of current academic shibboleths. Would that there were more books like this!"--Iain M. Duguid, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"Richard Hess is one of evangelicalism's finest Old Testament scholars. . . . Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey provides for readers a sketch--with lots of documentation--of the religion's' of ancient Israel."--Scot McKnight,

"I would highly recommend this book to any student of the ancient Near East (whether undergraduate or graduate student), as well as to scholars as an excellent resource tool, due to the very thorough bibliography. Hess's work has proved to be a solid contribution to the numerous works on the religion of ancient Israel."--Owen Chestnut, Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin

"The book is well written and clear. Chapter summaries are especially helpful. The book exhibits meticulous scholarship. The reference list is fifty-four pages long! Forty-three photographs, three maps, and three drawings enhance the presentation. Additionally Hess supplies eight personal translations of ancient texts which are featured in the narrative. The content of this book . . . would serve the graduate student and scholar well. . . . This volume will serve as a valuable resource in the discussion of the academy for a long time."--Mark Mangano, Stone-Campbell Journal

"Those who are familiar with Hess's large body of scholarly work will see in this collection of surveys the same meticulous attention to detail and an impressive command of both the primary and secondary sources. . . . In addition to the bibliography, there are useful indexes of authors, scriptural references, and subjects. The book is user-friendly for the nonspecialist. Technical abbreviations, vocabulary, and references are clearly explained; and theories familiar to the experienced scholar are clearly characterized. . . . One of the great strengths of this book is that the author surveys not only the data but also the various interpretations of the data and the theories--anthropological, archaeological, and philosophical--underlying those interpretations. Hess shows impressive intellectual honesty in consistently bringing to the fore arguments against his own positions. . . . He is so perceptive in noticing subtleties in the texts that I found myself constantly checking the Hebrew to verify his provocative observations and each time coming away with something new."--William J. Fulco, Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"This is clearly the product of many years of research in the library and on the ground. . . . For students and those readers less at home in the discipline, this volume will function as a fine introduction to and study of the debates as they now stand. . . . The magisterial bibliography is a mighty resource in and of itself."--M. Nevader, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

"Hess' survey synthesizes, in a very readable manner, essential archaeological sites and artifacts, as he reviews scholarly discussion of their connection with the biblical text. . . . Hess' work is distinguished by his thorough use of primary and secondary source materials and his accessible presentation of technical matters. . . . Hess' work will serve as a useful resource for exploring interpretations of West Semitic sites in the ancient Near East. It will also be a valuable tool for scholars, seminary students, religious leaders, and laypersons interested in the biblical text, archaeology, and ancient Israelite religion. . . . It also includes an extensive list of sources for further study. Hess does an excellent job with a difficult subject."--Theodore W. Burgh, Interpretation

"One must admire the way [Hess] brings together a vast amount of material, clearly explains complicated issues, and includes diverse perspectives. His engagement with pre-Israelite textual materials is especially strong, as is his use of onomastic evidence. Reader-friendly features include a detailed outline at the beginning of most chapters and a summary at the end of all but the last. Hess also provides ample documentation. . . . The bibliography is extensive, running some 54 pages; the 44 illustrations . . . are well chosen in relation to the various topics; and the three indexes . . . are helpful. The book thus serves as an excellent resource."--Carol Meyers, American Journal of Archaeology

"Reconstructing the religion(s) of ancient Israel presents a puzzle. . . . Richard Hess's new volume thus comes as a welcome intervention in the ongoing debate. His attention to detail, as well as his pronounced tendency toward early dating of texts whenever possible, will force the re-examination of current trends in the field. . . . His work attempts a broad examination of the biblical texts, surviving inscriptions, and non-literary artifacts (of which he presents an exhaustive catalogue). At this he succeeds. His copious footnotes and fifty-five-page bibliography show an up-to-date grasp of the field and a commendable fairness toward alternative views. . . . [This work] will stimulate scholarly discussion and educate many students for years to come."--Mark W. Hamilton, Toronto Journal of Theology

"A useful survey that should be consulted for its substantial and competently-handled archaeological and epigraphic material."--M. Hundley, Vetus Testamentum

"Throughout the book Hess often argues for the traditional evangelical view on various issues. He employs sound arguments, making clear when he thinks the evidence is conclusive and when it is merely suggestive, or even non-existent. . . . This is an excellent book written by a world-class scholar. It is perhaps the best evangelical contribution to the field in several decades and deserves the attention of anyone interested in studying the religion(s) of ancient Israel in more depth."--Peter A. Green, Presbyterion