Reviews of

A History of the Kingdom of Israel

In Ancient Israel, Edward Lipiński, History of Israel, Kurtis Peters, Peeters on April 17, 2019 at 6:43 pm


2019.4.5 | Edward Lipiński. A History of the Kingdom of Israel. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 275. Leuven: Peeters, 2018. ISBN: 978-90-429-3655-3. pp. xii+209.

Review by Kurtis Peters, University of British Columbia

Histories of Israel have become commonplace. The topic of Israel’s history has always intrigued scholars and many have undertaken to reconstruct their own version of that history. Some of the earlier histories of the twentieth century, like that of John Bright, used the biblical text as a primary source, questioning only minimally its historical value. Many followed along this trajectory and some still largely do. Over the past few decades, however, the Hebrew Bible, insofar as it provides reliable historical data, has been viewed with increasing suspicion even with respect to the parts conventionally thought to present more history (e.g. 1 & 2 Kings). This suspicion has led many scholars (e.g. Davies, Finkelstein, Na’aman, Knauf, etc.) to suggest, among other things, that “Israel” should not be understood to apply to the southern kingdom or people of Judah in any meaningful sense, at least not until the kingdom of Israel had ceased to exist as such at the end of the 8th century BCE. This means, therefore, that the use of “Israel” to denote a people that included Judah should be understood as an ideological move of southern scribes at some date between the late 8th century and the Persian period. The present volume by Edward Lipiński sits comfortably in this type of critical reconstruction. From beginning to end he maintains a distinction between Israel and Judah and, as per the book’s title, focuses on the former.

Lipiński follows a traditional chronological format for the book’s structure following Israel from its earliest appearances through to the province of Samaria in the Persian empire. In the opening chapter, considering Israel’s proto-History, he examines the archaeological and textual findings concerning groups such as Joseph-El (known already from early 2nd millennium BCE), Simeon (also known as early as early 2nd mil.), Jacob-El (known in 13th century), Reuben (14th century), Abram (10th century), Ḥatt (10th century, the people presumably from whom Esau finds a wife), Mount Yahwe-El of the Shasu (14th century), and Israel (13th century). For each of these groups, Lipiński employs a philological approach, incorporating evidence from Egypt and Mesopotamia, with only brief explanatory glances at the biblical text. These early tribal identifications do not originate with Lipiński, but he provides thorough argumentation for each of them.

Chapter two concerns the transition period from a tribal confederacy to a monarchy in Israel. Lipiński sees the beginnings of this period not originating with a conquest or peaceful infiltration model, but with the sedentarization of pastoral groups who were already present in the land in the Late Bronze Age (also incorporating Late Bronze Age groups who were already sedentary). This accounts more effectively for the archaeological data. After the period of the judges, for which Lipiński allows a degree of historicity excepting Othniel, the Israelites instituted kingship. In a rather hopeful move Lipiński reads the famous Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon as announcing the very instituting of kingship in Israel. That is, the ostracon informs the people of Benjamin (to which Lipiński assigns Khirbet Qeiyafa) that they will gather to bring kingship into effect and thus announces what is to be Saul’s coronation. During Saul’s reign (980-958 BCE), a skilled warrior, who may have gained experience in Moab, joined his ranks. This warrior went by the title dwd, which Lipiński suggests is not actually a name, “David,” but a title, such as “sheikh.” At some later point in Saul’s reign, David began to reign in Hebron (? – 940 BCE, ending in Jerusalem), during which reign he captured Jerusalem, murdered its lord/king (Uriah=Araunah), and took his wife. When Saul died, his son Ishbaal reigned in his place, but only until a quarrel broke out between himself and David, resulting in David assuming the kingship of Israel, though not without dissidents. David’s son Solomon reigned after him for 15 years (940-927/6 BCE) and managed to ward off open rebellion. Solomon’s son Rehoboam was not so fortunate and Israel rejected him in favour of Jeroboam I (926-905 BCE), after whom followed a number of kings who did not dramatically alter Israel until Omri took the throne.

Chapter three follows the Israelite dynasty set up by Omri, during which time Israel became a major historical player. Lipiński argues that Omri, whose origin is unknown, may have come from Reḥob. This would fit well with epigraphic material found at that site that names an important figure Nmš. Lipiński draws a connection to the Nimshi who is the grandfather of the later king Jehu (2 Ki 9: 14). Assyrian sources, moreover, name Jehu as the “son of Omri” (= descendant of Omri). If both statements of Jehu’s lineage are true, then presumably Omri is Jehu’s great-grandfather and Nimshi his grandfather. Typically, however, Jehu is assumed to have been an illegitimate successor and merely to have styled himself as a “son of Omri.” If Jehu really had been an upstart, however, Lipiński thinks it more likely that the Assyrians would not have called him “son of Omri,” but rather a “son of nobody,” a designation they gave to Hazael of Damascus who had murdered his predecessor. Lipiński therefore suggests that Nimshi was probably another of Omri’s sons (besides Ahab) and that the family came from Reḥob, a town not named in the biblical text. After Omri’s origins, Lipiński goes on to describe the administration of Omri and Ahab and their relations with Phoenicia, culminating in the marriage alliance of Ahab and Jezebel. Ahab also enjoyed peace with Aram, and the battle against Ramoth-Gilead did not involve Ahab, contra the biblical presentation, but rather his son Jehoram and his grandson Ahaziah. This Jehoram, Lipiński suggests, is the same Jehoram of Judah. He argues that there is only one king Jehoram/Joram and he was Ahab’s son and king in Israel. The biblical text is confused and has two kings named Jehoram (one in Israel, one in Judah). Ahab’s daughter Athaliah had married Jehoshaphat of Judah in a political alliance, but in the latter king’s failing years, Jehoram of Israel became co-regent of Judah with him. Two years later, Jehoshaphat died and Jehoram of Israel (son of Ahab) became sole king of both realms and put Jehoshaphat’s sons to death. A few years later, Jehoram put his son Ahaziah on Judah’s throne and together they went to fight at Ramoth-Gilead, where Jehoram died by a stray arrow and Ahaziah fled, only to be killed by Jehu. Lipiński suggests, as mentioned above, that Jehu was tied to the house of Omri, though not through Ahab’s line, but rather through a certain Nimshi, perhaps Ahab’s brother. After Jehu’s subsequent lengthy reign, his son Jehoahaz ruled, and his son Joash after him, during whose reigns Aram posed a regular threat. Joash’s son Jeroboam II then followed and prospered greatly for much of his time on the throne of Israel. Toward the end of his reign the kingdom experienced some decay and his son Zechariah reigned only for six months before being assassinated.

In the fourth chapter Lipiński traces the story of Israel from its fall at the hands of Assyria until the Persian period. His reconstruction of the early part of this period is uncontroversial. His main contribution to this period is in collecting the scattered plausible references to Samarian deportees in Assyrian documents from the end of the 8th century BCE. These references support as well as expand upon the location for the deportees as given in 2 Kings 17 and 18. Lipiński does, however, challenge the normal assumption that large amounts of foreigners were brought into Samaria upon its fall. He suggests instead that there were smaller groups of foreigners brought in over a longer stretch of time, not all under Sargon II. Furthermore, following Israel Finkelstein, Lipiński maintains that, between deportation and emigration to nearby Judah, the land of Israel lost well over half of its settled population, which suggests that the foreigners who were brought in were not anywhere as numerous as many estimates have had them, otherwise the settlement numbers would not show such a drastic reduction.

In chapter five Lipiński steps away from a straightforward chronological retelling of Israel’s story and outlines, as he sees it, the religion of Israel. His topics here are broadly arrayed, including Israel’s original association with El; the roles of Shechem, Bethel, and Shiloh as political or cultic centres; the asherah (argued here to be a holy site or shrine marked by a sacred grove, and therefore posing no awkwardness to “Yahweh and his asherah” in the Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscription); the rise of Yahwism under the early prophets like Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha; the character of priestly teaching; and a lengthy analysis of the foreign deities supposedly brought into Samaria by the incoming foreigners.

The sixth and final chapter returns to the chronological framework and discusses the nature of Israel under the Achaemenid empire. This time period is fairly obscure for Israel’s history, but Lipiński relies on papyri from Wadi Daliyeh to shed some light on it. In these he finds evidence for the continuation of a Yawhistic cult in Samaria on the eve of Alexander’s conquest. What then follows is a lengthy reconstruction of the line of governors of Samaria from Sanballat I beginning in 490 BCE to Jeho‘anah who governed in 332-331 BCE. In performing this reconstruction Lipiński draws from, among other material, the Wadi Daliyeh papyri, Elephantine documents, and Josephus.

The present volume is certainly a welcome contribution to the conversation of Israel’s history. It is highly provocative, as Lipiński does not shy away from controversial topics. Indeed, although he calls W. G. Dever’s volume Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? an idiosyncratic book, the same conclusion might be drawn for Lipiński’s. Idiosyncratic, at least insofar as it applies to the present volume, does not, however, imply incorrectness. Sometimes, however, it is hard to verify Lipiński’s statements because they are rather cryptic and come without explanation. On page 67, for example, he refers to Jerusalem’s ruler as Ḫutiya, implying a Hurrian origin. He does not at this point specify who this Ḫutiya is, when he ruled, or how we know about him. Another example comes from page 72 where Lipiński is discussing the administration of Omri and Ahab and completes a paragraph with the parenthetic comment: “One should remember that Solomon still lacked an administrative system, since even the length of his reign could not be established.” What he means by this and how it relates to the present conversation is entirely opaque. Lipiński’s idiosyncrasies are on further display in his identification of the asherah as a sacred grove or shrine; in his assessment of proto-Israel as basically monotheistic (20); and in reading the name of YHWH as an abbreviated form of YHWH-El and consequently reproducing a now dismissed identification of Yahweh as a manifestation of El put forward by Frank Moore Cross (24). Moreover, it is concerning that, with a long excursus on the religion of Israel, Lipiński does not once cite such experts on the topic as Karel van der Toorn or Mark S. Smith, whose work would have provided several helpful correctives. On a more pragmatic note, the book would have been improved with a scripture index and with a more thorough proofreading.

Despite these drawbacks, Lipiński’s book is still certainly a worthy contribution. His expertise in philology is one of the book’s greatest strengths. His inclusion of Israel’s religion as well as the history of Samaria after its fall are also welcome and help to fill out the picture beyond the particular bias of the biblical text. The fact that he seems unafraid to offer novel or controversial interpretations of the data injects some freshness to what can be a stale conversation. In all, it is well worth the read.

Kurtis Peters
kurtis.peters [at]
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Unceded Territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples


  1. […] volume to his recently published A History of the Kingdom of Israel (2018; see RBECS review here). The present volume proves to be as provocative as the first. From the front cover Lipiński prods […]

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